Forty-one weeks ago, Miss P made her long-awaited debut- all 7 pounds, 1 ounce, and 20.5 inches of her.
She didn’t emerge with gusto, the way some babies do. Instead, she was limp and silent.
We were transferred from a free-standing birth center to the hospital in the final stages of labor. Before Miss P’s entrance, a nurse explained that there was meconium in the amniotic fluid. Though this didn’t necessarily signify a problem – it actually wasn’t too uncommon – a team from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit would be standing by incase of complications.
The moment Miss P was born, time was suspended like the lingering pause between a bolt of lightening slashing the night sky and an angry crack of thunder in the distance.
“Meconium. It’s the meconium,” I heard someone say.
The doctor rushed to cut the umbilical cord, swaddled a languid Miss P in a receiving blanket, and placed her in my arms for a fleeting moment – a moment in which someone snapped our first family photo. I barely had the chance to look down at her before she was taken from me, whisked away to the NICU.
Suddenly, there was so much going on around me: bright lights, loud voices, medical staff shuffling back and forth. I could hear the incessant chatter and laughter of nurses seated at a desk in the hallway and the bleeps from equipment in neighboring rooms. A nurse scolded me- something about bending the IV – an IV I wasn’t even supposed to have – as I gripped my cell phone and tried to focus on the 2″ by 3″ photo of my baby girl the student midwife from the birth center had sent me before she left the hospital.
The whole thing was so far from the peaceful private entrance I’d been fantasizing about since we switched to midwifery care and found a supportive doula.
Then for the first time in forty-one weeks, I was completely and utterly alone.
Miss P had what we like to call a rough start, but less than halfway through the day, she was breathing unassisted, alert, and nursing like a pro. Even so, the first 48 hours of her life were spent in the NICU under observation. During this time, Tim and I were allowed to stay with her. We were allowed to hold her and care for her, though not quite in the same ways we would have had the situation presented itself differently.
I find myself often wondering what it would’ve been like had my baby not been pulled from my arms moments after her birth- to have experienced the “Golden Hour” they often referred to in our childbirth classes in all its sanctity: no weighing and measuring, no bath to compromise the precious vernix, no generic blanket and cap to mimic the warmth of that initial skin-to-skin contact with the mother.
I wonder what it would’ve been like to hold my baby close without a tangle of cords hooked up to various monitors intruding between us, to know the sound of her breath without the drone of equipment – equipment that in our case was completely unnecessary. I also wonder how I would’ve felt had I not had to watch a nurse push the empty plastic bassinet from my room, its wheels squeaking across the tile floor.
I don’t often recount the first days of our lives as a family of three, but when I do, most of my listeners tell me to move on. After all, I was fine. Miss P was fine. It was just a rough start. We live under the guise that a healthy mom and a healthy baby are the only things that matter when they are not. And, by the way, the term healthy isn’t limited to outright physical vigor. We can’t know for certain the repercussions – regardless of how delayed or seemingly unrelated they may be – of separating a newborn baby from its mother. I’m not sure I’ll ever emotionally heal from Miss P being taken away from me, even if it was only for a few hours, even though we both ended up being outwardly “fine”.
As much as I daydream about it, I can’t go back in time and make Miss P’s entrance a peaceful one. I can’t change the fact that she spent her first hours in a stark bassinet instead of in the arms of her mother and father. I can’t change that she spent her first two days adorned with tubes and wires. I can’t alter the past, but I can move forward consciously and with intention.
I think this is one of the reasons I’ve really resonated with many aspects of attachment parenting. I didn’t set out to be an attachment parent; I didn’t read books on the subject or watch documentaries, I just started doing what, to me, felt natural, and I’ll continue to do what feels natural- to utilize the mother’s instinct that was born with my daughter. I don’t want my sweet baby to succumb to fear or loneliness. I want her to know I’m here for her, now and always.
So, here I sit, forty-one weeks later, with Miss P napping beside me. The room is dimly lit, piano music is playing softly in the background, and the scents of lemongrass and cedarwood tangle in the air as they escape the diffuser. This has become our evening ritual- a nightly Golden Hour of sorts, albeit delayed.
I can’t alter the past, but I can move forward consciously and with intention.
As I sit here this evening watching Miss P sleep, I’m trying to wrap my head around the significance of this extraordinary milestone we’ve just achieved as a family: nine months in; nine months out. Or, in our case, forty-one weeks in; forty-one weeks out.
It’s no secret that human infants are nearly helpless at the time of their birth. Though a full-term baby is born around the nine month mark, its gestation period most definitely continues outside the womb, and in many ways, the nine month milestone, with its bold determination and mobility, seems to bring this external gestation full-circle.
I think back to the night we brought Miss P home from the hospital. Those first few weeks were visceral. They were full of laughter, tears, ambivalence, joy, and utter mental and physical exhaustion.
Everything was methodical, and there were so many calculations to keep track of: last nursing session, which side it took place on and for how many minutes, wet and soiled diaper output, frequency and duration of naps, and duration of nighttime sleep.
What was her temperature? Did she burp after she nursed? Did she burp twice? Was she too hot or too cold? There was also the uncertainty about how much milk she was actually consuming- a figure that I now know wasn’t something I needed to worry about, yet I spent our first month together agonizing over this lack of information and intermittently texting my midwife for reassurance.
And don’t even get me started on the fit of anxiety that stems from clipping those itty bitty fingernails, keeping her floppy slippery body upright during baths, and pulling her head and delicate limbs through the tiny openings of her sleepers and onesies.
Now Miss P tries to climb right out of her bathtub, and she pulls her shirts up over her head to undress herself. She creeps and crawls and cruises along the walls and furniture. She points when something catches her interest, bounces when she hears a song she likes, and she clears out the kitchen cabinets at least five times a day.
She calls for our cat, Oliver, with me- says, la la, pssst psssst – and wobbles with excitement as he trots over to us. She buzzes and hums and clicks her tongue, and she never tires of smiling at her reflection in the mirror or probing her finger along the owl wind chime that hangs in our living room if you hold her up beside it.
She’s full of spunk and a touch of sass, and she has so much energy that all of our latest pictures are blurry because I can never get her to stay still for more than a moment.
Our baby girl has now grown outside the womb for more or less the same amount of time she spent developing within, and although her exit was turbulent, every day thereafter has been filled with peace and love and a surprising amount of clarity.
Sure, there’s clutter, and chaos, and exhaustion sprinkled in as well. There are often dirty dishes piled in the sink, and baskets of clean laundry that take far too long to get put away, and there are days here and there that end before I’ve even had a chance to shower, but there’s a certain element of beauty in imperfection, and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it.
I’m constantly astounded by this little person who now consumes me. I don’t know how I existed before her, and then I remember I didn’t exist; I was born alongside of her forty-one weeks ago. And oh, how we’ve both grown!