I don’t remember taking this photo twelve years ago
Like many moments in the weeks after I gave birth to my first baby, this moment dissolved into the floodwaters of intense emotion that characterized that time in my life. I was falling in love with and nurturing my baby while also nurturing a body I no longer recognized – and a mind that was forever changed.
I remember my Mom coming to help me out during the week that my husband, Patrick, would be away doing research at some archives in DC. I felt this pang of jealousy, noting that he was heading away for a week of “normal” – uninterrupted sleep, the same body he’d always had, and plentiful mental space to follow a thought from idea to completion, like an aged professor at a wine and cheese party.
I, on the other hand, was leaking profusely from both my breasts and my eyeballs, with nothing to do but feed my little one and try to get through menial tasks like laundry and grocery shopping before the baby I was wearing started to fuss.
Like most new mothers, I was a mess, and I hadn’t the slightest idea of how to put my bits and pieces of self-conception back on their shelves, because the old shelves had crumbled, and the new ones hadn’t been built yet.
Knowing that I could use some distraction in the form of handwork, my mom brought a gift – a hand sewing kit to make a reverse appliqued swing skirt from Alabama Chanin.
Sewing was one of the few activities that tied me to my past life, before parenthood. Although the time I had to spend on this hobby was definitively less, and any hand sewing (or knitting) was accomplished while standing and swaying with a baby in a wrap, it was doable, at a time when formulating a coherent thought seemed an insurmountable task.
But I doubted that the finished skirt would ever fit me
My mom had purchased a size small kit, perhaps remembering my compact frame pre-baby, but I had gained over forty pounds during that pregnancy, and I just didn’t think I’d ever return to my pre-pregnancy size. I was just fine with that, and began stitching with the intention to gift the skirt to someone it would fit.
But there was always a part of me that really wanted to fit into the skirt. I loved the color. I loved the style. Maybe one day, I told myself. And so I started stitching, very slowly.
Over the years, the four reverse-appliqued skirt panels would occasionally find themselves tucked in a project bag while on vacation. (I ended up running after toddlers instead.) I would occasionally pull out a panel and stitch around a few leaves while at home, but sitting down as a mother of small children is like setting off an alarm: Mama isn’t doing anything! Mama isn’t doing anything!
The progress was slooooooow
But it wasn’t agonizing. Every time I picked it up, as the years passed, I would be reminded of those nebulous early days of motherhood.
And I still didn’t know if the skirt would fit. (How many of you put off sewing clothes altogether – or only sew clothes with plentiful ease – because you’re nervous about them fitting? I think all of us have been there.) This particular style is straight out of 1998, a low-waist, hip skimming a-line, and as such, I started to think that, perhaps, my daughter would end up wearing it one day. So I kept on stitching, between the years that the project bag was lost in the back of a closet.
I rediscovered that project bag during our recent move. I held it up to my waist, now 7.5 years post childbirth. Maybe, I thought. I packed the nearly finished panels in my luggage and headed West with my now 12 year-old son to visit my grandmother for the first time since before the pandemic.
Now that tiny baby of mine is as tall as I am
He rarely complains during travel, his face buried in a book or his tablet. He runs after my Dad, his grandfather, who takes a wrong turn in the airport – a consequence of his journey through Altzheimer’s disease. That baby of mine guided my childlike father back on course.
As I put the finishing touches on the panels the other day, I realized that I had been right. This skirt was not meant for that new mom. This skirt was for me, the woman she would both struggle and ease into being over the course of a dozen years.
This skirt was a twelve year project
My mind was a twelve year project. My body was a twelve year project. And you are, too. Every little stitch is part of a large, beautiful project of YOU.