I expected to feel it all at once. That final push, the moment where they laid her across my chest, sticky and purple and wriggling. I expected to feel all of the emotions at the same time, this grand culmination when I held my baby girl and knew she was part of us.
But the truth is, it's taken me a few weeks to piece together my feelings, which is why I waited to write it down until now. I wanted to remember it with a clear mind instead of the muddy sleepless state I've existed in--hours of sleep but mostly awake, my nights and days blurred. I still exist in it somewhat, but the feelings I am able to discern a little better now. It's funny because it's not really that I just want to remember it all. I want to live in it. It's a new way of life and I never want to never leave.
She was born at 10:40 am on September 1, 2014. I was induced the night before, had five long hours of contractions before my epidural at 5:30 am, where I cursed more than I'm proud of and whined like a puppy, Kevin gripping my hand and staying quiet like I told him to.
At 8:00 am my doctor broke my water and at 10:00 am I was at a 10 and ready to push. The staff came out of the woodwork, scrubbing up and circling around me. Just twenty minutes later she entered the world in her puffy, miraculous glory.
She didn't cry too much at first, and when they placed her on my chest I worried that she wasn't alive. I frantically asked the doctor, "Is she breathing? Is she okay?"
He just smiled. "She's perfect."
The first night in the hospital she aspirated something and had trouble coughing it up. Me and Kevin responded quickly of course, but after that we were too afraid to sleep. It was as though everything so far had been a dream and if we let ourselves sleep she would evaporate.
We took shifts, one of us staying up with her while the other secretly stayed awake as well, watching her breathe, her chest rise and fall in the din of the hospital room television.
Her breathing was the best sound in the world to me. Still is. It is rain in a barren desert. It is bread and water. It's my lullaby.
I fell apart the second night in the hospital. It was my third night of no sleep. (We had to stay two nights after the baby came because I tested positive for Group B Strep.) Kevin finally succumbed, snoring on the pull-out couch and she wouldn't stop crying and I was too sore to get out of bed.
I called my nurse, who came in with tired eyes. Her name was Margie, and I thought she was weird before - her words slurred together, her eyes refusing to meet mine. But for an hour she stayed in the room. She rocked the baby, she massaged my feet, she taught me how to nurse. Around 4:00 am she told me she was going to take the baby with her so we could rest. (The hospital we delivered at didn't have a nursery so they didn't take the babies at night... Never again.)
I cried when the shift changed and Margie left. She was a real-life angel. I think I'll always love her even though I doubt I could pick out her face now in the light of day. But her voice in the dark that night was heaven sent.
We brought baby girl home and my mom was with us by that point. Her flight was delayed and she waited for 8 hours in the airport.
I loved having my mom with us for Claire's first week. She cooked every meal for me, cleaned our house, and went with me to the appointments Kevin couldn't make it to. I didn't have her come for the induction, but now I wish I had, because for those five hours when I felt every pain and every contraction, I kept telling Kevin, "I want my mom."
It still hasn't really set in that my daughter could feel that way about me someday. What a gift it is, to be loved and to love so much.
We named her Claire Olivia. My whole pregnancy I wanted to name her Claire Valentine, which I loved and Kevin tolerated. But when she came she didn't look like a Claire.
"What do you want to call her when you look at her?" Kevin asked.
"Olivia," I replied, surprising myself. Olivia was never on my list.
"Let's use it as her middle name, and later if she still doesn't look like a Claire to you we can call her Olivia." I agreed.
He called the social security lady and told her we'd agreed on a middle name. "Olivia, he said, O-L-I-V-A."
I shook my head frantically, imagining my baby's birth certificate reading Claire Oliva Voisin.
It took several more tries for him before he got it right and we were laughing so hard by that point I doubt anything he said made sense.
The woman came to our room before we were discharged and walked right over to me, shoving the paperwork in my hands. "We're going to let mom take care of the spelling."
I took the pen with a laugh, a surge racing through my heart.
That was the first time I'd ever been called mom.
My very favorite thing the baby does is her conductor hands. When she gets scared or startles she waves her hands in front of her like she's conducting an orchestra or something. We have a picture of her when she was first born and she did them and it was and still is the cutest thing I've ever seen. Whenever she does them we call her Maestro, and follow that up with classical music singing. Usually Beethoven's fifth. The amount of culture she's getting in this house is unprecedented.
She still has her nights and days mixed up, which has been a real treat. Kev is busy with rotations so I've shouldered the bulk of the late night feedings, occasionally kicking him and telling him it's his turn when I can't bear to open my eyes.
I won't say that the lost sleep is a blessing or anything, but anyone who has nursed a baby in the dark night after night, feeling their sweet breath, and looking down to see their eyes watching you knows that there is something holy about those hours. You feel this tiny body, this warm wriggly person breathing against you, and you know - you just know that there is a God and there is a purpose for each of us.
You know that Ram Dass quote, "We're all just walking each other home" ? That's what waking up to feed a baby in the night is to me. She's here, and she's mine and once I was her and my mom was me and before that my mom was me and my grandma was her. And we're all just walking each other home.
She poops all the time. My mom warned me that she would, but I guess I believed that I would have this poopless wonder.
The other day Kevin changed her and two minutes later she pooped again. He began to lecture her on the cost of diapers, telling her that he's sorry, but she was born during our poorest years and she needed to pull her weight. Now we cheer her on when she makes the best use of her diapers. If you had told me three weeks ago I would be writing about baby poop on my blog I would have laughed in your face. Now it's something we discuss over dinner, and sometimes text about.
We're simple people, really.
I've been a mom three weeks now and as paranoid as it sounds, my heart still sinks every time I put her in her bassinet. I drift off to sleep with a prayer on my tongue: Please let her wake up again.
I still struggle calling her Claire. It seems so adult and she's so miniature. Her nicknames though, are never ending and almost daily she gets a new one but here are the few that are topping the charts:
Baby baby (because she's my baby and she's a baby)
Poor thing will be lucky to have a real name by the time she starts kindergarten. I can see her introducing herself to her friends as "Baby Bird".
Names are hard.
I cry a lot. My pregnancy wasn't that emotional, which Kevin appreciated and I was surprised by. But post pregnancy really caught me off guard.
I had a call with my sister Melissa a few nights after the baby was born and I didn't mean to lose it, but I totally did. "I just love her so much," I said to Melissa. "I just wasn't expecting to feel this much and I'm overwhelmed by it."
She got choked up too, because she knows.
I sat there on the phone and cried for awhile because I was so tired and so happy and so overwhelmed with everything I was feeling.
Barbara Kingsolver is famous for saying, "Love weighs nothing."
But she's wrong. It's the heaviest thing there is.
These weeks have been the hardest and the best of my life. It sounds strange I know, but it's the truth. They have been my own personal Bethlehem. Sacred and monumental and uncomfortable but mostly hopeful. Because three weeks ago this tiny girl came to us and in her wake, a period of sadness and loneliness ended for our little family.
She's the brightest thing we've got.