I felt my mind shudder. Like a disused door pulled unexpectedly over warped floorboards and open for the first time in many dusty years. Like a cold engine under the rusted hood of a car long parked in the drive. Like the thick, taut, chestnut skin over the hock of a horse bitten by the first nasty fly of summer. Like the empty shake of the faucet head after the pipes thaw and water surges forth again.
It happened in my 19th Century American Literature class at the University of Oslo.
Some might think 8:00 a.m. on a Wednesday is a bit early for Walt Whitman's famous ego-trip (or transcendental treatise) "Song of Myself". Not I. It's one of my favourite poems. Fourteen hundred-odd lines. Alliteration and assonance and anaphora abound. Catalogues of people and jobs and points of origin. Hot, sweating, teeming, odorous imagery. Free verse. God and god and you and I and democracy and sex and the procreant nature of our species and a lens on the world that zooms in and out and violently, reverently in again.
Being back in the program after a year of maternity leave has not all been easy. Leaving the Cheeks with her dad three days a week took some adjustment. And though I managed to step into the classroom setting in the same old way--taking a seat near the front, speaking soon and loudly and often--I felt rusty, to use a seriously predictable cliché. I still feel that way in Week 3.
But as we delved into Whitman's "Song", zeroing in on one of my favourite sections, the dust seemed to shake itself out of the crevices of my brain.
A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
My teacher chose me to read these lines aloud. Lines I love dearly and have thought about a thousand times since I first read them as an undergrad more than a decade ago. Lines I'd forgotten, along with all other literary references and artistic trivia, due to my pregnancy and the birth of my daughter.
Ammetåke, the Norwegians call it. Breastfeeding fog.
Reading again of grass and the many things it could be--for Whitman, for you, for me--I felt my mind shudder. Like the sulphurous snagging of the head of a match dragged fast across the rough panel of a matchbox. The rasp of it was delicious even in its unsparking first effort. I could smell the potential.
I offered my close reading of the text and enjoyed the viewpoints of my classmates. When the two-hour lecture ended, I sighed with pleasure and exertion and packed my bag in a hurry so as to return home for a couple of hours and see my husband and daughter. That's how fast my mind can regress into those lower gears. It's a relief. A retreat.
But suddenly a girl who sits near me in class was standing before me. Her eyes were wide and bright, her smile the same, as she asked, "Do you teach?"
I struggled to pull myself back into student mode. My mind shuddered. Like a stick shift pushing against a sluggish clutch.
"I have taught," I answered carefully. "But only writing."
She nodded. I recognised in her all the things I was in the years before I became a mother: enchanted by literature, smitten by learning, eager and interested and dying to be the one who has the answers if only to keep these conversations going with any kindred spirit wiling to join the fun. And then I heard myself say:
"Actually, that's why I'm here. I want to teach literature someday, and this degree will allow me to do that."
Would you believe, friend, that my time in the rabbit hole of early motherhood had made me forget that? I'm in school for a reason. There is a goal. A return to an original dream. To teach. To connect Whitman and his everyman, all-consuming love, pondering of the divine skin-to-skin with people who have never read him before.
That goal feels far away. Impossible, to be honest, particularly with my mind in this shuddering state.
"You would be a wonderful teacher," she said.
This time, beyond the shudder, there came a spark.
We barely remember what life was like without her. Until we do. And then we wish for the old ease. Time, energy, money, the ability to focus on and tend to one another. But then we hear her wake from a nap, and we both want to be the one to collect the grinning, nine-month-old babe from her crib.
I was asked if it's been worth it. This monumental change. This tectonic shift. The trials and tribulations of trying to change something that wasn't in need of changing by being crazy enough or foolish enough to stuff something else bigger and shaped differently inside of it. Was it worth it? The way no single thought will remain solidly in my mind; like undercooked spaghetti hurled at the wall, everything just bounces and flops disappointingly onto the kitchen tile.
She is worth it because she is here and full of exuberant, inspiring promise. And because there's just nothing else you can say about having a child once she's no longer a luxurious and naïve hypothetical.
She is worth it because she overwhelms us with joy at odd and surprisingly frequent moments. And because she looks exactly like both of us at the same time, even though that doesn't seem like it should be possible.
I don't know that I'll ever forget those first dark, chaotic weeks of her infancy, but maybe I will. I'm still not myself. Often I feel like I've ransomed my intellect and my emotional well-being just to have her.
Worth it. Absolutely.
Or at least that's what I'll say without thinking about it too hard. After all, anything less than reckless and total commitment to the cause of motherhood will get you branded as some very unfortunate things in this world.
And besides, I love to sing to her--Red River Valley tonight at bedtime--and I love to kiss her toes, and read her books, and brush her hair. I drop down on all fours in our dirty hallway to coax her forward in the rolling walker. I burn my fingers as I skin hot sweet potatoes to puree and I wipe her running nose again and again. The indiscriminate ma-ma-ma sounds she makes send my heart scampering in my chest, because soon she could say it to me and mean me all at the same time.
Won't that be something? Her Eve moment. Naming the things that walk, crawl, swim, and fly in her garden.
This is motherhood. Parenthood, actually, as Jonathan is now on papaperm three days a week.
We've put the ball in the air and we're moving downfield. Tomorrow we get the keys to our new home. It's all so adult, I can hardly stand it. And though we're exhausted, and though we sometimes question who we are, and though my self-esteem has been hobbled, and though our bathroom often smells like dirty diapers, we wouldn't trade that little girl away.
She tried to pinch a freckle right off my soft, fleshy forearm today--thinking it was just another small thing to be inspected and picked up--and I laughed through the smarting tears in my eyes, because that girl is the most precious, perfect little being in the universe. And we get to keep her for a while. Guide her, guard her. It's a privilege.
You couldn't pay me to have another, I don't think. (And Norway would!) But this little one, this Cheeks McGee, this Little P, this dancing baby... oh, we thank everything from God to our lucky stars for letting us be the ones who have her.
Perhaps, one day, my brain will unfracture; perhaps my hands will refind their places on the steering wheel of sanity. Until then, I'll be taking photos and videos of my giggling, squeaking, precocious girl child and hoping she'll look back on her life with us one day and decide it was all also worth it.
The husband and wife who stormed a work party and murdered 14 people in San Bernadino yesterday left behind 6,100 rounds of ammunition, dozens of unexploded bombs, and a six-month-old daughter. A six-month-old daughter. A six-month-old daughter.
Just when I didn't think these acts of terror could be any less explicable, a mother leaves her six-month-old daughter to follow her husband on an errand of murder and suicide.
A six-month-old daughter. A six-month-old daughter.
My daughter just turned seven months. She is a delight. Her eyes are incredibly blue. Her cheeks are as soft as whipped cream. She is strong, dexterous, curious, patient, determined. Her innocence abounds. The only way I could abandon her on the way to commit an act of violence would be to do it on her behalf. To throw myself in front of her. A mama bear. Walking through fire because it's the only way to secure her safety.
Maybe that's what this woman believed she was doing as she worked in her garage, fitting together the parts of a makeshift bomb. Or as she knelt to pray. Over and over again.
I feel ill at the thought of this woman, because new motherhood binds us. I don't want to be anything like her, but we are alike, simply because having a new baby requires a level of base, primal, survivalist thinking that is unique. I know how many diapers this woman has changed. I know how long she has stood on aching feet, holding a warm, wiggling, wailing bundle. I know she has sung lullabies and blown tummy raspberries and counted piggy toes and played peek-a-boo endlessly. And I can't sync any of those rituals--rooted as they are in tending to the future--with someone who sought violence on any level.
Then again, mothers are sometimes soldiers.
"Tell me this isn't the worst the world has ever been."
Yesterday, after the Hazelnut had been tucked into bed, I sat beside Jonathan and pleaded with him to help me sort these things through. The honey-sweet smell of our baby girl's freshly shampooed hair still clung to my nightshirt. "Tell me that we haven't brought her into the scariest time in history."
It took a few minutes of discussion before we agreed.
No. The world has always appeared to be on the verge of absolute disintegration. World Wars and Cold Wars. Epidemics and pandemics and plagues. Holocaust and genocide. Religious fanatics and witch burnings. Mankind has been attempting to annihilate itself for centuries. The rise of mass shootings in the United States and the rise of ISIS in the Middle East are only the latest in a long, sad, predictable string of avoidable catastrophes, and have replaced things beaten back by the better elements of our society (e.g. HIV/AIDS and other diseases, destruction of the world's rainforests).
This didn't cheer me up.
Since the November attacks in Paris, I've been sitting under an especially dark cloud. I still go out almost every day. I dutifully dress my baby girl in layers of wool and fleece, buckle her into her pram, pull a beanie low about my ears, and walk out the door. I remember where I was on 9/11, and I know that hiding at home and changing my personal prerogatives means the terrorists win. So, we go out.
Sleet melts in the gutters, and I move the way the Norwegians do on the colder days, leaned forward to avoid slipping on black ice between the painted white stripes in the crosswalk. The tree branches are bare and dripping with moisture in the perpetual shade of late-autumn this far north. Until recently, I have always felt safe in Oslo. Even after a Norwegian Christian man set off a bomb in front of the Labor Party's buildings downtown, then massacred almost 70 children on an island in the fjord, I have felt safe. But I'm losing my grip on that feeling.
A pair of cafés. A concert hall. A soccer stadium.
A work party.
A Planned Parenthood office.
A shopping mall. A movie theater. An elementary school.
Today, Oslo's police force is armed. When we moved here, beat cops didn't carry guns, but that changed as terror threats against European cities began to rise. The government almost disarmed the police again recently, just days before Paris. Now I doubt my daughter will ever see the peaceful, optimistic city we once moved to. Rather, she'll grow up believing that all law enforcement officers must carry weapons because criminals are likewise armed, and she requires that level of protection.
Perhaps she'll be right, too, which is more depressing.
Good god, what do I tell her.
And who am I addressing when I say things like Good god?
Every time I see a news story like this one, I hear Lieutenant Dan's voice in my head. Where the hell is this God of yours? he asks Forrest, a man of childlike faith. Indeed. Where the hell is this god of mine?
Politicians slink around and pay lip service and cower before the dismal and confounding fact of the NRA's power. Some of these politicians even claim to pray for an answer to tens of thousands of gun deaths. More than 330 mass shootings in 2015 alone. The Daily News ruffled some feathers today by declaring on its front page that God Isn't Fixing This. Which is true. It's not fixed. Some people think He can't, because He doesn't exist. Some think He won't, because He does exist, but He isn't involved in our everyday lives. Some think He can and will, and so they keep on praying. And some don't think about it at all, but toss out the sinfully easy hashtag with their morning coffee-and-status-update, as though that counts for something.
I did that after Paris, too.
Dear Husband & Father of Our Child,
Thank you for stopping by the grocery store on this cold, drizzly morning to pick up bread and milk. Our cupboards need refilling so much more frequently these days, and the kid isn't even eating solid foods yet!
And thank you for swinging by Crepes d'Elen for a pain au chocolat, as well. It was a lovely treat to have awaiting me after I failed to put our daughter down for her morning nap. Again. After having been cried and screamed at for almost twenty minutes in the dark.
Drinking a cup of hot tea and eating a French pastry allowed me to hold it together a bit longer. Meanwhile, you played on the bed with our daughter, distracting her from her fatigue, making her smile. You know, by juggling or making hand-fart noises. Whatever works.
Isn't that smile beautiful? And isn't it a rare kind of privilege to be one of the two people on earth who know exactly what to do to coax it from her?
I love watching her draw a tiny, pink palm across your face, perplexed a bit by the texture of your stubble. This is Daddy, she is thinking.
Daddy. The guy who woke and sat up in bed beside me last night at 3am as the kid cried herself into an unprecedented frenzy. This, after I'd fed and changed and burped her. We were all up for more than an hour for the first time in months. Your hand on my back as I sat on the edge of the bed, sighing heavily at the thought of returning to her room again--oh, again--made the whole thing infinitely more bearable. Your level of calm maintained my level of calm. You refusing to blame me for any of these tough moments makes it easier for me not to blame myself.
Well, no. I still blame myself for every failure--major or minor--but I don't have the added pressure of your blame. And I can turn to you in those dark moments of self-flagellation and hear you say, No, she's not still awake because you're doing something wrong. She's still awake because she's a baby. She's 25% the product of what we do and 75% random banana. (Which, by the way, is my favorite thing you've ever said to me. Ever. When she goes bananas, I always think of this. It saves me. It save us all.)
In one of the least explicable parts of early motherhood, I find that, after battling to get her down for yet another nap, and finally finding some peace and alone time, I spend some measurable amount of that priceless time flipping through photos and videos of the kid sleeping in the next room. As if I miss her. Which is true. This shocks me. It's like the way I miss her when I manage to get away for a quick, afternoon run--the way an astronaut's body must miss gravity while in space. I run in a loop, and I find myself picking up the pace to get back to her, even though my bondage to her was what I was running gratefully away from in the first place.
These days, the Hazelnut is more alert than ever. She bounces and wiggles when she wakes up and sees me. Being awake is her joy. As I hoist her from the crib and press my lips to her cheek, I am simultaneously overcome by two thoughts:
Look how marvelously big and healthy she is, and
Where is the the little newborn she was just yesterday?
There's so much I won't miss about those first weeks. For example, how in the dark I was about why she was upset and how I might stop it. Attempting to problem-solve through the air-raid level of her wailing.
Actually, come to think of it, that's it. That's all I won't miss. I mean, I wouldn't want to go through the physical discomfort of labor or breaking in my breasts for nursing again, either, but other than that, it wasn't so dreadful. What I do miss is the general tininess of her. The crumpled, curled-up look of her. The dark eyes meeting the light in the room as if for the first time each day.
She is always making new sounds. The latest is a high-pitched peal that seems half sigh, half screech. She explores the bounds of her mouth with itself, sucking at nothing and pushing her tongue in behind her upper lip so that she looks like a little monkey. Every part of her seems to be moving unless she's asleep or leaning that way. I'm exhausted and I yearn for her to nap long and deep and without needing me.
Then, the second this happens, I begin watching videos captured after her last bottle of the day before--huge smiles and prolonged, happy noises--or of her twisting on the activity mat in a bid to roll over. Or, many weeks ago, swaddled and gazing uncomprehendingly into the camera's lens uttering the faintest, least intentional, most darling series of little coos. What a thrill that was, and how far we've both come since then. My heart cracks at this thought.
There's no going back. There's no again. From here on out, there is only new and different and forward and bigger and louder and more complex and more sophisticated.
That crack in my heart mends quickly under the balm of hope for the future--hopefulness being a byproduct of the mere presence of such unabashed and vital youth in our home every day--but there remains a scar. A hairline of glistening, slightly stretched skin. It joins the rest of the little splinter-sized heart scars: one for the first night we moved her out of our room; one for the first time Jonathan fed her with a bottle, and my breasts went disused; one for the first onesie she outgrew; the swaddle we discarded; the first time she seemed to recognize her name; the first time she looked for me when placed in the arms of a stranger. All these good milestones I prayed to come to pass. They hurt. And they are what make me want to run into her room and pull her close and breathe her in just the way she is now. Bottle the moment. Never let her go.
Today marks our little Hazelnut's 100th day on the planet. In honor of that, and in honor of the super-sized crush I've got on my kid, I thought I'd list one hundred things I love about the fact of her. A little sappy, I'll admit. Don't care. I'm too sleepy to be more original, and too much in love not to do exactly this.
1. 1. Pulling open the curtain and looking at her for the first time each morning.
2. 2. Her big, bright, blue eyes, so much like her Daddy's.
3. Smiles of recognition. (Mommy. Daddy.)
4. How toasty and cozy she feels once unwrapped from her swaddle or sleep sack.
5. Nursing. I never expected it to be so precious.
6. Tiny fingers brushing back and forth across my chest, gripping my fingers, feeling the air.
7. The way her body alternates between firm and floppy.
8. Her constant (constant!) kicking
9. Placing her between us in bed for morning snuggles.
10. Planting kisses on those cheeks!
11. Watching her play with Daddy.
12. Little soft burps.
13. Great big window-rattling burps.
14. The growing range of intentional sounds she makes, like a piglet, a cricket, a mouse, a bird.
15. Furrowed brow as she inspects anything "new," from a rattle to a blanket to her own hands.
16. Smiles of wonderment. (The sounds of whistling.)
17. Smiles of joy. (As she kicks the jingling heck out of her baby gym.)
18. Adorable baby clothes.
19. How fast she outgrows them!
20. The fact that she has grown five full inches and doubled her birthweight in three months.
21. Her hair, soft as duckling down, blond in some light and dark in others.
22. Eyelashes. Invisibly blond when she was born, now dark and long and precocious.
23. The way she brings her hands together and entwines her fingers, as if plotting.
24. Talking to her all day long.
25. Hearing her "talk" back.
On the floor, she kicks and kicks
and looks at me
and kicks some more,
softly and firmly,
so that I might expect little grunts of effort
--like a piglet or a tennis player--
but she is silent.
I lift her to me,
glad at the breadth of her
abiding little body between my hands.
Blue eyes open wide, and bubbles
burst from pursed lips.
Her shoulders shrug upward
as if to say,
I wish I knew.
I sing; she smiles.
Lying at my breast.
the way her hands press my flesh,
the way my life transfers to her. So hot,
in the duck down of her hair.
Satisfied and serious, she speaks.
In the babble, the gurgle,
the burble, the coo,
I hear something else, too.
Though I didn't know I hadn't yet heard it
--and in a language alien to all but her and me--
she calls my name.
Dear Mom of the Crying Newborn who lives on my street:
Yes, I hear her. But I also hear you, moving in the darkness of that room alone. Or maybe with a boyfriend or husband or partner. But still, mostly alone. You are trying everything you know how to do, as well as quite a few things you don't, in a bid to soothe that little screamer. The one with the big eyes that are identical to her father's. The one who hasn't yet learned to smile, but will, and when she does, will light up your life with a single flash of those pink gums.
Yes, I, your neighbor who wants to sleep blissfully in my own home, can hear your crying child. But I can also hear your heart, beating harder than ever these days. There's the anxiety of trying and failing to calm your baby. There's the fatigue after so many nights of interrupted sleep, and what feels like a million napless days in a row. And then there's the stress over how your little one's wailing might be perceived by the rest of the adults who inhabit your city block. Because they can hear her. Oh god, WE can hear her.
Can I tell you something? Forget us. You're on the front lines of hell: a screaming child who cannot communicate her needs any other way. You're growing a seedlet of human being into a person, and these first months are a level of crucial that rises above the desires of others. Yes, one day you'll be responsible for keeping your kid quiet in our civilized society. But not today. Today, it's about feeding her. Keeping her clean, dry, warm. Bringing her to your heart and singing every song you know. Walking the floor in your home until she is soothed.
And this will go on until your feet hurt. Your throat aches. You're light-headed from all the shhhhh-ing. Until your arm goes numb. Your eyes burn. You smell like sour milk. It's all you, babe. I hear you. And I'm with you all the way.
The next time you're in your home and your newborn is shaking-the-walls-wailing, don't think about the neighbor who might be disturbed or offended by those cries. Don't allow her insensitivity to ratchet up your loneliness and desperation. Don't stare bleakly and angrily at the contorted face of your baby and hiss, Shut up! Miss So-n-so needs her sleep! Don't close your windows if it's too hot and stuffy for your baby to sleep, or for you to breathe. No, dear one. Rather, think of me, your fellow mom-of-a-newborn, also in the dark, also wrestling a child into a swaddle she doesn't want, or out of a bathtub she wants to stay in, or through the first cycle of a nap that she can't complete without help. You aren't alone.
We are in the darkness together, windows flung open for a reason. And anyone who doesn't understand that... anyone who doesn't have sympathy for our position... anyone who doesn't trust us to make the right decision for our kid under the heavy artillery fire of a late night scream session can go straight to hell and sleep there.
I hear her. I hear you. And you know what? There's something you've said a lot recently--have whispered endlessly over the cradle to ears that often can't seem to hear it--but it may have been a while since anyone else has taken you in their arms and said it to you. So, allow me:
It's okay, it's okay, shhhhhhh, it's okay.
Those first four weeks after bringing the Hazelnut home from the hospital were some of the most overwhelming of my life. Scratch that. They were THE most overwhelming of my life. Exhausted, confused, desperate, frustrated, fearful, and utterly clueless about how to manage life with a newborn. I became the single neediest person on the planet.
My husband took his standard two weeks off after the birth. (His Norwegian papapermisjon will begin in January.) My mom flew in from California for two weeks. While I fed and changed and comforted my wailing baby daughter, they fed and changed and comforted me. Then my mom flew home, and Jonathan returned to work. And there I was, with a tiny baby who seemed to cry endlessly, angrily, and inconsolably.
Here I have to state for the record that I am exaggerating. I didn't know it at the time, but the Hazelnut's crying was absolutely within the normal range. Maybe three or four hours total during the day in the beginning, and never consecutive. Any little thing would set her off, which made it seem endless; the sound she made--frantic, earsplitting--made her seem angry; the fact that Jonathan and I apparently sucked at consoling her made her seem inconsolable.
After eight weeks, I'm happy to report that both of us now have a repertoire of baby-comforting moves. Rocking, bouncing, shushing, swaddling, patting, pacifying, dancing, singing, swinging... No single thing always works. No single thing works two days in a row, in fact. But something works. Every time. It might take five minutes or an hour and a half. It might need to be combined with something else. But she calms and, eventually, goes to sleep. She's done it every day, multiple times a day, for the last two months. This is something we have to keep reminding ourselves of, especially on those days when she fights off her nap, and it seems that she may never ever ever ever ever sleep again.
Thankfully, in my neediness, I was never alone. I've managed to surround myself with strong, savvy, sensitive women in Oslo over the last four years, and many of them are mamas already. When I was at my most lost and confused in those first weeks, my friends came through for me. The following are three products, introduced to me by my mama friends, which have saved my sleepy, weepy self over and over. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh delivered to me by three wise women.
On one especially rocky Saturday, the Hazelnut stayed awake for fifteen straight hours. I didn't know newborns could do that. She was exhausted and on edge the whole day. Jonathan and I were beyond fried as the screamy time stretched into the evening. Along the way, I posted something about our mini-hell on Facebook, thinking I was being self-deprecating. I wanted to tell the "truth," while hiding just how hard it was actually hitting me.
When the doorbell rang after 9pm, Jonathan and I stopped and stared at each other. We were zombies. Unshowered, dressed in pajamas from the night before, with spit-up covered burp cloths draped over our shoulders. The Hazelnut was weeping madly into Jonathan's chest. I picked up the intercom phone.
"Audrey? It's Maddie. I have wine. Let me up."
My neighbor, my hero. Maddie swept into our home that night with hugs for me, an offer to babysit, a bottle of wine, chocolate, chips and salsa, and some advice. Carry the baby, she said. Strap her to your chest. Like a bomb, I thought.
But baby-carrying, especially in the first three months of her life, was something I'd always intended to do. It's just that neither of the carriers I had (ErgoBaby360, Sakura Ring Sling) could be employed fast enough or comfortably enough to be convenient.
It was Maddie who told me about the stretchy Boba Wrap. She'd donated hers to the Oslo Sling Library, but she urged me to borrow it. So easy, she promised. And the Hazelnut would sleep in it. And I'd get my hands back.
All this sounded too good to be true, but I attended the next Sling Library meet-up and tried the Boba. Immediately I was in love. Tying it on is already second nature to me, and it takes a simple knot. Because the material is stretchy, it will continue to accommodate my growing daughter for months. The Hazelnut sleeps long and hard in the sling, both in our home and out on walks.
This week, I stopped in at Bæreglede in St. Hanshaugen to buy my own. I use it every day. My hands are more often free. My heart is lighter. And I owe this to Maddie.
This morning I shuffled to the Moses basket-style bassinet in our bedroom, pulled back the hood and looked down into it, my eyes still taut with sleep, and looked into the face of my daughter. It is a face I already know better than my own. Round as an apple. Cheeks like marshmallows. A hint of a widow's peak. Tiny upturned nose. An expressive little mouth and two big, bright blue eyes. It is a face I have both dreaded and craved in the last seven weeks. So often, this face is contorted with displeasure or discomfort into a frown, a grimace, a cry, a scream. Far more often than I would have imagined before she arrived.
That was late April. Back before I had learned how to dance with an infant on my shoulder until she calmed. Back before I'd learned to eat, wash, type, and live with only one hand at a time. Back before I'd learned abject humility. I knew nothing about motherhood and even less about babies. But there I was, teetering on the brink of this freefall, excited.
I'll leave my birth story for another day. Suffice it to say, with one or two exceptions, my labor was average and the birth was a natural one. Suddenly there was a small, warm, wet lump of human being laid on my chest. Her eyes were scrunched shut; her hair was slicked flat to her soft skull. In awe and terror and excitement, I looked to Jonathan. He was holding onto me, tears in his eyes. We'd done it. There she was. Still attached to me. Breathing. Heart beating. Flesh turning pink as the dawn outside the windows.
She rooted and found my breast on her own. I cried with relief and joy and fatigue. It had been 27 hours since my first contraction, and now it was over.
But I kept crying. For four days at the hospital hotel. For four weeks at home.
Nothing could have prepared me, though I'd tried valiantly to prepare myself. My life was upside down. An apt cliché. Everything revolved around feeding the tiny breathing, pulsating human I'd given birth to. My daughter. I heard myself say those words aloud, but they felt utterly foreign. Almost fake. My child. I knew it was true in an empirical sense, but in my arms, she was still an alien. I feared an absence of love. While a great, primal force compelled me to feed her and comfort her and protect her, I knew it was biology. The thing which has perpetuated our species since the beginning. There was extreme wonderment. I could spend hours staring at her, counting her invisibly blond eyelashes, marveling at her miniature fingernails, tracing my finger down her spine and feeling the velvet of her skin. But love? Perhaps. But it felt off-kilter and heartbreaking.