My oldest child, a daughter, turned 28 today. Before she was born, I had no experience with young children. I didn’t have younger siblings, I didn’t babysit, I didn’t even talk to the younger kids in the neighborhood. We didn’t have those What to Expect When You’re Expecting books, or even the internet, so I had to rely on my Lamaze classes and old wives’ tales. I was entering a foreign land. I remember our birthing class instructor telling us that not everyone bonds immediately to their baby, so if it doesn’t happen right away, don’t worry — you aren’t a bad mom. I stored that sentence away for future use — you know — just in case. As it happened, I needed it.
The delivery itself was pretty typical. My husband was with me. My parents were close. It took all day, with a few hiccups — dehydration, labor induction, hyperventilation, a shoulder caught on the umbilical cord — nothing exceptional. I still remember the relief when she finally surged into the world. I felt done. Spent. I wanted to be left alone. But there was a placenta to deliver, and an episiotomy to stitch — complete with novocaine shots in a most sensitive area. I just wanted to be left alone. And there was this baby they held next to me as if she were some type of magical pain reliever. But I was still in pain, and this expectation being placed on me wasn’t helping.
Later they fed me the best food I had ever eaten. I think it was a cheese sandwich. I fainted in the shower, I was wheeled to another room, and I tried to sleep. They brought her to me for feeding, and showed me how to swaddle her, how to hold and burp her, and always asked if I had any questions. If she cried, they came. If I cried they were there wanting to know why. After one has a baby, there are tears. There just are. And not knowing why made me feel like I had failed another test. I just wanted to be alone. There is no way to be alone in a hospital.
A day and a half later they told me I was going home . . . and I was taking this breastfeeding, crying, pooping person with me. There were things to arrange, papers to submit, a car to bring up, and finally they left me alone. Me and this . . . person.
Sitting in our hospital room with the sunlight filtering through the blinds, holding my baby exactly as I was instructed, I looked down at her. I shifted her so that she was lying in front of me along both arms, looking into my face. I called her by name, and told her about all the things waiting for her; the home, the flowers outside her nursery window, the little outfits folded into a new dresser, and the crib that had been waiting vacant for so many weeks while she grew. I apologized for not knowing a whole lot about being a mom, but that it would be okay, because we would figure it out together.
In those few minutes, a special place grew in my heart that exists to this day. It is the place where I hold everything that belongs to motherhood — the love, the memories, the heartache, the sacrifice, the ferocity, and the wisdom.
For all the times I’ve wished that I’d had this motherhood thing from the onset, I have this one perfect memory of finding it all at once; like opening a door you never knew existed in a house you had lived in all your life. The three children who followed had a mother who, before they took their first breath, already held them in that very special place in her heart. But my first has the honor of planting it there. Of all the gifts I have received from her . . . or anyone in the world before or since . . . it was this first gift from my newborn that I hold most dear.
Peace and Love on your birthday, sweetheart . . .