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.
The only love I've ever known has been in the form of relationship. Reciprocal. Offered and given freely by the other party. My husband. My friends. My parents. Never have I loved--really loved--someone who couldn't love me in return. Until those first four weeks of the Hazelnut's life.
I gave her everything. Time bent and fractured. Where once I might have consulted a clock or a calendar to orient myself, I was suddenly at the mercy of an endless series of cries. She was hungry, wet, tired, uncomfortable, confused, all of the above. She'd scratched her own face with her fingernails. She'd tangled her flailing fist in a blanket. She'd opened her eyes to too bright a light. It all triggered the same response--wailing. Frantic, Jonathan and I attempted to resolve each need as it arose. We were perpetually on the defensive. We were perpetually guessing wrong and delaying comfort. And so the wailing continued.
Who knew that such loud, aggravating, unflagging sound could unreel itself from such a tiny person?
These are things I intend to write about in the future, which are relevant to this story, but I can't quite get to now because my child is set to wake up from her nap at any moment:
- Seeing Jonathan in the role of Daddy, and how that's affected my ravaged heart
- My indebtedness to the midwives at the hospital
- The ways and number of times my friends have shown up for me in this rocky beginning
- The crushing of my ego
- The enigma that is a newborn, and all the mistakes I made and continue to make from day to day
- Good things that have happened during these first weeks, too.
For now, I'll just raise my hands to the sky and say, Here I am . Still alive, if depleted and shell-shocked. I just needed to get some of these words out onto paper. I lost myself for a while. It was five o'clock in the morning on April 27th, I think. Since then, my priority has been keeping my daughter fed, burped, diapered, clothed, rested, comfortable, loved. Sometimes in spite of her. Sometimes in spite of me. If I get a shower, it's a good day. If I get to make a sandwich with both hands, it's a miracle. If I get quiet alone time with my husband, it's too good to be true. So, I haven't written a thing in seven weeks. Turns out that, for a writer, this only exacerbates the problem.
Having survived that first month with the support of my husband, my mother, and my friends in Oslo, I am relieved to say that the next three weeks have been a smidgeon easier. So, here I am. Here we are.
The Hazelnut is growing fast. She is alert, energetic, studious, curious, and oh so very loud. She is sturdy and strong, holding her head up straight since week three. Maintaining eye contact. When she fights her swaddle or refuses to sleep or screams on a walk in her pram, her energy and determination are boundless. I often feel as though I am engaged in a battle of wits. And losing.
But then she'll smile, giggle, "talk" to me, learn something new, give some fragment of my heart back to me.
This morning I shuffled to the Moses basket-style bassinet in our bedroom, pulled back the hood and looked down into the face of my daughter. Her eyes were already open wide. I could feel the burn-ache of milk accumulating. I could feel my pulse quicken. I wanted her weight in my arms, the pillow of her cheek against mine.
"Good morning, Cheeks," I said softly. Her mouth stretched out into a dazzling, gummy smile of happy recognition. The words sailed through my mind effortlessly, on the winds of second nature... my daughter, my love .