Yesterday, Chris and I kept looking at the clock. “At this time last year, we were checking into the hospital.” “Now we’re deciding whether to take the Cervadil or not.” “Now we’re switching rooms.” “Now you’re going out for a beer and a sandwich.” (That one was Chris.) Abby was born at 3.37 in the morning on July 14th, and all I could feel was relief: it was over. According to books and movies, I was supposed to have a moment when everything changed. I was supposed to take one look at the tiny, screaming bundle lying on my chest and suddenly realize that the world was full of danger, that my life counted for nothing in comparison with this little life that I now had to keep safe, I was supposed to be blindsided by love for this stranger that I had just met. I felt none of those things. I felt relief, but I also felt recognition. When she was lying on my chest moving her head from side to side with those so-familiar jerky, stretching movements like she couldn’t figure out where she was and what had changed, I recognized her. I recognized the way she moved because that’s how she moved when she was inside of me. I knew her tiny limbs already. I didn’t need to meet her, because I already knew her.
As those hours changed into days, I lost some of that feeling. She was a difficult baby at first, and when I was holding her at three in the morning as she screamed unconsolably, as I desperately, ineffectually tried to get to her nurse, I felt completely alien from the creature who needed me so intensely without even knowing it, who knew only that something was wrong. The first night we were home from the hospital, I wandered the downstairs with her all night as Chris slept upstairs to rest for an interview for a job that he didn’t get. She cried and cried, and I cried. I looked at our table filled with flowers and cards from our loving family and friends and I sobbed, because those cards and flowers were full of hope and congratulations, and I hadn’t slept in three days and I just knew, from the bottom of my heart, that I couldn’t do it. And I had to. I had never experienced that feeling so profoundly, that lethal “and” rather than “but”: I could not do it, and I had to.
Little by little, of course, imperceptibly, it changed. We figured out how to get her arms through her onesies. Nursing became routine and comfortable. She started enjoying her baths. She smiled, and then laughed. She sat up, and then stood. She reached for toys, then learned to drop them, and bang them. She ate a banana, and then a mango, and then lentils, cheese, meatballs, crackers, strawberries, blueberries, hummus, and quesadillas. She figured out how to take things out, and then put them back in. She scooted and then crawled. She said “Dada” and “Dog.” She took a step and then a few more. She slept through the night. She waved when we said “Bye-bye.” She learned to hug her doll and then us. She gave kisses. And now when she nurses, she smiles and pats my face.
Before she was born, I resented a little that she would have Chris’s name, since after all the work of carrying and bearing her, I hated to think that she would take another name and lose her connection with me, in name becoming part of a different family. We even thought about giving her both our last names (I didn’t change my name), but decided in the end that she would just have Chris’s. I wanted her to have that connection with her father, of course, but I also realized that it was because I bore her that she didn’t need my name. Even now, she doesn’t like to be too far away from me; she doesn’t say “Mama” because, to her, she and I are still hardly two separate people. I look at her sometimes, when her face is very close to mine, and I recognize that I will never know another person as intimately as I know her. Next year will change that. She’ll grow up and away from me, from both of us, and while I can’t wait to see that happen and to see her day by day become even more herself, I am so grateful for this year. I grew her in my womb and on my breast; she is the child of my body and my heart. And this year, she was mine.