“Just as there is no warning for childbirth, there is no preparation for the sight of a first child. I studied his face, fingers, the folds in his boneless little legs, the whorls of his ears, the tiny nipples on his chest. I held my breath as he sighed, laughed when he yawned, wondered at his grasp on my thumb. I could not get my fill of looking.
There should be a song for women to sing at this moment, or a prayer to recite. But perhaps there is none because there are no words strong enough to name that moment.”
Anita Diamant, The Red tent, p. 226
One month ago we welcomed our little girl into the world with great joy. On Sunday, February 16, after just passing the 37 week mark (which given our circumstances, seemed like a real feat), our sweet baby girl, Miriam Eden, was born. It was a quick and relatively easy birth; I called the midwife at 4 am from the car en route to the hospital, and by 6:15 I was embracing a tiny miracle.
Despite the fact that our baby waited until term to be born, things didn’t go exactly as I had hoped. We had known for a while that she was small for her age, so it had been arranged for the pediatrician to be at the birth to assess her. This led to 24 hours in the nursery where I would visit to nurse every 3 hours, and then a (surprising) second 24 hours of hospital observation, during which she and I bunked together. But before any if that, the midwife made sure I had a full hour alone with my beautiful girl, snuggling and feeding. And what a precious time that was. Then, after I cleaned up a bit, little handsome arrived to meet his new sister, and then more cuddles until finally it was time for her to go.
Having had a previous preterm birth, our 5 pound beauty didn’t seem so small to us. Big handsome and I both were surprised how much she looked like her brother, except that, being a full inch shorter and 8 ounces heavier, she almost seemed plump. We don’t know much about her yet, but we know she has a healthy appetite and a generally content disposition (so far). She prefers to be with people, which we’re hoping is a newborn trait and not the first signs of extroversion because we are an entire family of introverts, and that might stretch us just a little too far. (Haha)
Her name, Miriam, means bitter. Despite loving the name, I struggled with its meaning for months. I don’t want a bitter child, nor do I want to foster bitterness anywhere else in our family. But Eden, whose meaning was ideal for our situation, didn’t feel like her name. Then, somewhere between ultrasounds and discussions about calcified placenta, I had a moment of clarity. The high risk pregnancy was stressful, tiring, worrying…in a word, bitter. But the potential problems made the reality of our little one all the more precious, joyous, awesome…in a word, sweet. So much of life is this way; that for which we struggle is more beautiful, more satisfying, more profound.
The first few days after sweet baby was born were blissful. Sure I was in pain and felt tired, but it was a satisfying, almost invigorating painful-tired, akin to the feeling that (or so I’m told) follows a good workout. The days were long and lazy, with feedings and snuggles, naps and tv shows. I even spent a bit of time working on the baby blanket I hadn’t had the chance to finish before her arrival.
Little handsome was at my parents’ house where his out of town cousins were also visiting, so he was having the time of his life. And his absence made it possible for big handsome and I to spend some time focusing on getting to know this newest little family member. Since big brother’s return, he has been cautiously curious about his sister. It’s been a joy watching him warm up to her, stroking her head tenderly, giving me reports (“Her eyes are open!” “She needs to eat, mom. Feed her.”), and kissing her tummy. Being four years apart and different genders, *I’m* cautiously curious about what their relationship will be like as they grow.
This time of newborn bliss was followed by what I consider the dark days. As the days of interrupted sleep turned to weeks, everything seemed to get so much harder. Showers became less frequent, simple outings seemed daunting, little handsome spent more time entertaining himself, conversations begun after 8 pm lacked kindness, putting together a balanced meal felt award-worthy, and the apartment became accustomed to a different definition of clean. Fortunately my mom was here for a week to feed us healthy dinners and keep the laundry piles under control. And I practiced extra grace with myself, allowing my body as long as it needed to rest and heal, and to get used to meeting the changing needs of this new little life.
And yet, the entire last month has also been filled with joy. Every day there have been times when I simply look at our precious little one and marvel at her existence. I breathe in her scent, immersing myself in this fleeting moment, knowing all too well that babies grow up much, much too quickly. Quite a few times I have found big handsome doing the same.
This birth and newborn experience really cannot compare to my first – not only did it have a better, more supported start, but it also lacked the all pervasive doubts of first time parents. We are more relaxed, more confident, more grounded, more aware of what we need, and more balanced. Having been through this before, we know all the great parts that are yet to come, and clinging to this anticipation helps me get through the dark days.
Now, four weeks after baby’s arrival, we’re all still adjusting to our new reality. I think of these as the grey days – not quite as dark, but still challenging. It will be months before I will enjoy a full night’s sleep, and I’ve still got some healing to do. My energy levels have much room for improvement, and I still have to talk myself into going outdoors. But things are looking up. Sweet baby continues to grow, there are hints of spring around (interspersed with snowstorms, unfortunately), feeds are getting ever so slightly less frequent and more efficient, and I thought about something besides baby earlier this week.
I am so grateful for the past month. I’m grateful for an excellent birth, for support while in the hospital, for home visits from my fabulous midwife. For borrowed baby clothes, for thoughtful gifts, for kind wishes. For kisses from big brother, for gentle rocking from dad, for visits from family and friends (especially those that were accompanied by food!). For morning naps, for afternoon snuggles, for involuntary infant smiles. Most of all, I’m grateful for our family of four. I’m looking forward to the coming years, as we grow as individuals and together.
“[My child] stayed with me day and night so that I could nurse him whenever he cried. He slept by my side, and I held him and played with him and memorized his every mood and feature. …My son grew from hour to hour, becoming fat, and sleek, and the finest baby ever born.
The days passed without shape or work, without memory. The baby at my breast was the center of the universe. I was the entire source of his happiness….”
Anita Diamant, The Red tent, p. 228