These Murky Waters

These Murky Waters

Rachael MacPhee honestly

Tonight, I lie here, sending my thoughts into the glowing screen, letting the soft tapping of the keys be the lullaby to the baby on my chest. His breaths are deep and even, but I know if I dare to set him down, the deep sleep will not last. The spaciousness of his crib will invade the peaceful slumber and his quiet cries will begin.

He sounds like a baby bird when he cries: full of air and strain, with no punch or power to it. The power in his cry was ripped away when they intubated him, when they put him to sleep and operated on his heart at just 5 months old. Everything I thought I knew about life and motherhood, and having it all and balancing it all, fell away into the dark depths of helplessness as they took my infant son away to fix his heart.

His story will be one of hope, grace, perfect timing and the miracle of modern medicine. For these things, and to still have him with us today, we will be forever humbled and grateful.
But for me, most days I struggle to know where these experiences leave my story. Maybe it’s selfish to think about myself while still caring for him as he recovers, but in the unexpectedness of it all, and in the fear it brought to our door, my identity feels swallowed up. Lost beneath the current of constant need from our three babes, and recovering from this unexpected and terrifying journey with our youngest, I find little time for personal growth, reflection on these recent life-changing events or for … me. From kissing boo-boos, to giving reading lessons, to changing oxygen cannulas, I wonder if I am only a shell of the woman I always thought I’d become by my 30s.

As I write this, the feelings of being victimized by motherhood run like a sweeping river through my heart and my head. I am weary. I want this sweet baby to be content, to sleep alone and to feel safe after the traumas he has endured. The house is a wreck and I never got a chance to clean it after bedtime. I’m emailing a client to turn down the opportunity to work. The general air around me is heavy with disappointment, with how the day went, how often I spoke harshly, how frustrated I was over little things, how few interactions I turned into teaching opportunities. I feel the weight of how little I did for myself. Did I even brush my teeth today? I honestly can’t remember.

Writing these words, in the dead of night, my sense of loss and exhaustion ran to the deep places that felt familiar from my previous struggles with depression. But as I finish writing, trying to tie it all together in a better place, I must say that as always, the morning brought new light, new hope and an opportunity to see a bigger picture.

I could keep recounting to you the regrets, the exhaustion and the sense of loss that haunts my days. But I know I don’t have to, because at one time or another, you have felt this way too. No matter your story, no matter what brought you here, whether it be an unexpected tragedy or sorrow, simply a really long day, or like me, a little of both, it is the camaraderie at the edge of these murky waters that binds us together. Instead of focusing on the current that threatens to sweep us away into all-consuming motherhood, I’m thinking that maybe we should take a step back.

In the morning light, I commit to seeing a bigger picture; a picture that encompasses not only the moments in the day, but the moments that combine to make the good years and the bad years.

To see days full of mothering and the days full of creating and contributing as an artist and professional, all of it adding to my own sense of self.

I see endless wakeful nights for weeks on end with an infant, and the peaceful nights of a 6-year-old putting himself to bed.

I see “easier” ages and the ages that threaten my sanity (it’s age 3 by the way).

I see healthy babies, and the baby who was in critical condition lying in the CICU and the babies I never even got to meet.

I step back from reliving the moments over and over from 17 traumatizing days in the hospital and my knees are weak when I remember the big picture:

He survived.

Finally, in the big, grand and diverse picture, I see me. A woman who sits on the threshold of her 30s, looking perhaps more haggard than she wished, but full of strength, hope and the capacity for joy. Strength to swim upstream, against the current of the hard and helpless times, and hope that the good times will come like a lazy river and some sunshine. I see a woman who has been through enough to know that this too shall pass, and that having it all or balancing it all was a delusion all along. When I step back, I see that my identity, my womanhood, my journey through motherhood, and all the other facets of me are secure and bound together by the infinite possibility that joy may be found in it all.


RachaelRachael MacPhee is married to her high school sweetheart, mother of three and an artist at heart, living in Denver, Colorado. She seeks daily to be a safe haven for all those she loves.


This article currently appears in the summer 2017 issue of The MOPS Magazine. If you didn’t get a copy and would like your own, you can subscribe to get The MOPS Magazine in your mailbox every season. If you subscribe, forward your receipt to magazines@mops.org and we’ll shoot a copy of the current issue in the mail to you for free … just because we like you.MOPSMag_cover_Summer2017