Apart from a split second of “Oh God, what have I done?” as I looked down at the two blue lines encased in a pee-splattered plastic, I’d never wanted anything more than this baby. I gently rubbed my tummy. My baby. My child. Forever mine. I couldn’t cross off the days fast enough before I’d have my little wrapped tamale in my arms.
The next eight months were not the radiant glowing bliss I’d been led to believe flipping through glossies at my OB-GYN's. I developed a phenomenally large belly, and thighs, and ass, along with now cheeks trying to impersonate a chipmunk. Only instead of nuts I had a continuous supply of pineapple pieces and chocolate chip cookies. I didn’t care. Against the odds, I’d conceived unassisted after years of trying and I was going to relish every second. Bring me another plate of pasta carbonara to ease the nausea. My bundle to be was worth it.
When my midwife flopped the baby on to my tummy, I’d been trying to get this kid out for 36 hours. I’d spiked a fever since my waters broke long before labor started. I’d been vomiting since about halfway through; doubling up by champagne flute of caster oil and orange juice I was recommended to drink. I’d been practically hung upside down to dislodge the baby stuck behind my hipbone.
Such was my level of delirium, that when I looked down at this little-who am I kidding-monster-sized bundle of fat wrinkly love, I was surprised at my first thoughts:
Why does this baby look Chinese? Wait, I am pretty sure I married a Mexican. Was I roofied one night out in China town? I didn’t say a word. I didn’t want to alarm everyone else who seemed not to notice that this baby looked nothing like what I’d imagined. I was panicked but I also was just relieved to finally have a baby, no matter what it looked like.
My subconscious registered the midwife asking Papa loudly: boy or a girl? Javier snapped out of the same state of paralyzed awe and lifted up one of the baby’s legs. I was too delirious to figure out what I was looking at. I could hear his hesitation as he cautiously uttered ‘girl?’
One thing was for sure; I could see the umbilical cord attached. The baby is definitely mine. I have a girl. I must protect my daughter. I will encase her in my titanium arms and shield her forever. Even then, I knew it was battle I will someday lose though I couldn’t figure out why.
This mama vehicle was worn out. I felt like I’d driven my poor body through the Indie 500 without an oil change or gas refill. And yet I knew I didn’t want my husband to cut the cord just yet. It wasn’t for the benefit of the baby, it was for me. I wanted her as an integral part of me for just one more moment.
I clasped my husband’s arm and looked deep into his eyes like the dehydrated somewhat insane sleep deprived crazy woman that I was. I told him that if he wanted to hold on to his balls, he better stay glued to our daughter.
A few days later, when I was back in the comfort of my own bed and gazing down at my little girl sucking away like a Dyson vacuum on steroids, I had this crushing feeling. My mother’s pale face carved by anxiety came back to me. How she would wait, lying awake in bed, with one eye on the crack of her bedroom door, desperately trying to see me creep in after hours. The memory of all the stunts I pulled, using daylight savings to stay out or simply running off to Harlem, blowing off my curfew to do nitrous oxide with blues musicians and college students. I was barely 16.
Her words, then incomprehensible, now resonated through every cell: “Someday you’ll understand. Someday you will have a daughter and you will understand what you are putting me through.”
My Baby sweet Pea was nursing, clutched into place with one arm, while my other hand started clawing around the sheets for my phone. I had to call my mother and apologize immediately for all the pain I had caused her. Now I understood how much she loved me. How her irrational—and not so irrational given my antics—fears and concerns were deeply rooted in her. She couldn’t help it. And now I couldn’t. I was already dreading the days my daughter would choose a fickle guitar player over my unconditional love.
I reckon we have about six months, six months of the baby needing and wanting us every second possible. When the baby starts sitting up and working its way to crawling, so begins the process of separation started with the snip of the cord.
I’ll never forget standing in the doorway to Pea’s room. She’d been practicing getting up on all fours since Thanksgiving. Early January, in her long-sleeved onesie, she crawled off her dotted play mat, across the wooden floor towards me, grinning from ear to ear and lifting her arms up. My heart combusted. It dawned on me that from now on she would spend more time crawling away than towards me.
Sure, for every few steps away from me, she takes a step back. I relish these moments, as I know they are fleeting.
I now have two little girls. The other day, we were hanging out on my bed amidst dolls and books. Pea turns to her little sister and says:
“You know, when you go to college, you can either go far away and sleep there or you can chose one close to home and come back to sleep with Mama every night. I am going to stay close and live at home with Mama.”
We’ve had this conversation before. The first time, I simply relished the idea and told her that would be amazing. There came a time when I knew I needed to float the idea that she might not actually want to. She always protested the craziness of that idea. Happiness is Mama’s hug and a finger rub on her security blanket. Surely it always would be.
Tonight, I grabbed and pulled her up to me. Snuggling her tight, I explained again that despite being always welcome, as she got older, she may find she changes her mind and no longer wants to be so close to Mama.
She looked up, perplexed, but this time, she didn’t insist. I could see that seed had taken root. I figured I rather be the one to unlock the cage than have her learn to pick the lock while my back was turned.
Still, she pushed in and snuggled just a little bit closer. I inhaled deeply and held her tight. But even then I knew this was another step she was taking away from me.