My son was born at 10:21 a.m. on a bright August Sunday. Eleven hours of labor with a failed epidural made for a quick – albeit intense and overwhelming – night, with puke dripping from my face, clothing, and hospital sheets during every couple of contractions. Then, he arrived.
7 lbs, 3 oz. 18 inches. A cone head so sharp you could prick your finger on it. His velvet skin was wrinkled as an old man, with a receding halo of soft blonde hair to match. A complete lack of chin left his bottom lip to quiver so rapidly that each cry had a distinct vibrato. He seemed a foreign-looking alien creature, yet somehow familiar.
I didn’t sleep at all for the first 48 hours. Everyone told me I should. Guests kindly left quickly so I “could get some rest.” Nurses recommended the age-old “sleep when the baby sleeps.” But hormones and adrenaline make impossible bedfellows.
Every two hours, I strained against my stitches and limped from the hospital bed to Frankie’s nearby bassinet for his feeding. He didn’t nurse well those early weeks (a story for another day), but after each successful struggle, I would simply hold him, look at him, and admire each miraculous feature on my new baby. He slept almost exclusively during that stage, but instead of joining him in rest, I stared at his sleeping form with a perverted intensity that is only appropriate if you are a parent. After the first few back-and-forth trips to his bassinet, I realized it was a waste of my tender body’s energy to pretend we were both going to bed. So I just propped myself up in the hospital bed and held his slumbering body against my chest for two nights and two-and-a-half days straight.
I’ve gotten a little more sleep these last six weeks, bits and pieces snagged here and there, seamed together to create something resembling a healthy amount. But I am still constantly holding him. Staring at him. Marveling that his eyes, mouth and fists somehow all know how to open and close on their own. Reveling that this expressive, fast-growing little human is actually mine. Sometimes, I confess, I pick him up not because he is crying and needs me, but because my arms feel empty without him.
When Frankie is fussing, I always lose the ‘you take him; no, you take him’ argument with my husband because I never actually say ‘no.’ Part of my willingness, I confess, is because it usually means the other person has to cook supper; I’d hold a crying baby over cooking any day. But the other part is my willingness – perhaps eagerness – to tackle any chore so long as it is a tangible problem I can try fix.
The anxious anticipation of pregnancy was difficult for me. I remember the hours spent sitting on the nursery floor, quietly angry that I couldn’t yet hold my baby…at only six or so months along! I do not do well in moments of in-between – of discussion, delay, fermenting, saving, or waiting. I like to just do the work. Make executive decisions. Roll up my shirt sleeves. I honestly think I would have stretched my un-medicated 11 hours into a week if it would have cut gestation by even half!
So now that he is finally here, I try not to resent a single moment. I enjoy wearing the problem-solving, detective hat of motherhood: every ear-shattering, angry scream; every pitiful, droopy-lipped pout; every slow development as muscles and cognition grow; every interrupted or never-begun task halted by diaper changes, feeding, or general fussiness. I have learned to set down my personal productivity and place him in my arms, instead.
Now that he has started raising his head, holding Frankie has become much more dangerous and involved than when he was first born. No longer does he lie limp and prone however I place him. Rather, he pushes himself up and flails his little body around to try see whatever fancies his curiosity, moving in blind trust that my hand will catch his floppy head when the neck muscles give out after only seconds. Then he screams in anger, as if it were somehow my fault that he is not yet stronger and more able.
Usually, Frankie looks beyond my shoulder, out to the side, or straight up at the ceiling. But every once in awhile, on rare occasions, he tips his round head back, long neck stretched like an accordion, and stares straight at my face – choosing, out of everything in his vast, new world, to see his mama. Those literal seconds he has before face-planting into my chest, he gives to me. After the untold hours I have spent staring at and studying my son, finally he returns the favor and studies me back. And in that moment, I feel that I’ve been given the greatest honor – like the novel I’ve yet to write just won a Pulitzer. So I kiss his little round mouth with enough gusto to give the poor kid an Oedipus complex, squeeze my arms around him, and hold him for several more hours.