Cleveland, Ohio — Since Brie Jennings, 34, gave birth to her daughter six months ago, it has been a daily struggle to find one word to encapsulate her feelings.
“Each moment has been filled with elation, then fear, then frustration, followed by overwhelming loneliness, then a kind of dreadful joy,” Ms. Jennings reported from her living room couch which she’s barely left since bringing her daughter home. “And then there’s the numbness. Though I can’t find numbness on the Wheel of Feelings at all.”
Lyla Castro, friend and neighbor, gave Ms. Jennings the Wheel of Feelings a few days after she came home from the hospital. The well-meaning woman thought it would help Ms. Jennings put a name to the whirlwind of feelings women experience after giving birth.
“You see, the innermost spokes on the Wheel of Feelings are the main emotions like sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust,” Ms. Castro explained. “These are then further broken down into finer descriptions of how someone’s feeling, like provoked, repulsed, or ecstatic.”
Ms. Castro says the Wheel helped her label her own conflicted feelings in the year after her own son was born.
“Craig Jr. took his first steps at eleven-months-old. But he took them toward my mother-in-law. Even though I was sitting right there, topless, ready to breastfeed him. And then my mother-in-law gave me a smug look. And I felt myself begin to lactate. Like my nipples were doing the crying for me. A lot of complicated emotions that day! Oh boy, was that Wheel spinning!”
As for Ms. Jennings, she says, “It was both the best and worst gift. I’m not sure which and that both frightens and confuses me in a devastated kind of way or something like that.
“I mean, what’s the word for when you go through five diapers in under five minutes starting with a diarrhea blow-out? And then she pees while you’re cleaning her, and it’s like she’s a boy and shoots up in the air so pee gets on your glasses so you start the process again, and she pees again, and as you’re trying to clean that up, she poops again, and this one’s got some jet propulsion or something which gets several innocent bystander diapers covered in poop, and then, when you’ve finally cleaned everything and gotten a fresh diaper on her, she burps in contentment, so even though you felt close to tears a minute before because you felt so alone, the whole situation suddenly strikes you as hilarious, so you start to laugh, and you realize how glad you are you were alone so no one saw, but, on second thought, because you feel kind of like a hero, you kinda wish someone had been there to see, only maybe not that friend whose white maternity jeans you borrowed, because you’ve just realized they’re also covered in poop. . . . What emotion is that?”
Ms. Jennings paused to sip from her empty coffee mug like a mindless drone while glancing over at her baby. Then, as she turned back to folding laundry from the endless piles surrounding her, she suddenly collapsed in tears. She gestured at the TV where a commercial about fabric softener was on.
“I’m sorry, it’s just . . . the mom in that ad . . .” After fortifying herself with another sip of nonexistent coffee she continued, “It’s just, like, really important to her that her baby’s clothes be soft, y’know?”
Then she sighed and sat up straighter, a steely resolve in her eyes. “We’re gonna need a bigger wheel.”
About the Author
E. R. Catalano is a writer and mother of one evil mastermind living in Brooklyn, NY. She writes a humor blog at www.zoevstheuniverse.com, and she’s a contributor to I Just Want to Be Perfect, The Bigger Book of Parenting Tweets, and Never Will I Ever (and Then I Had Kids). Her writing has also appeared on McSweeney’s, Scary Mommy, In the Powder Room, and HaHas for HooHahs, among others. You can follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/zoevstheuniverse and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse.