March 30th, 2017
Gabriel arrived one week and four days ago. Though it feels inaccurate to call him “eleven days old" as he was doing just fine on his own - eating and sleeping and hiccuping - before he made his appearance in the outside world. And after meeting him I am easily convinced that he was just as complete a being before any of us conceived of his existence.
But he is here at last, sweet Gabriel, the tiniest of humans. In my arms, squirming in your sleep as I write this. Your little mouth searching animal-like for my breast. So small I can’t convey your size in pictures, which is causing me panic because I swear you are getting bigger every day. And already I am feeling that form of nostalgia described so perfectly in the poem by Basho: Even in Kyoto— hearing the cuckoo's cry— I long for Kyoto.
I didn't sleep much the night before you were born. And I didn’t sleep more than an hour the night after your birth, or the next day, or the night after that. It was like I didn’t want to be apart from you, not even in sleep. I only wanted to lay beside you, your baby skin soft against mine, and look at you. Memorizing every detail of your face. Breathing you in.
And sometime in the middle of night number two, things finally clicked into place. I saw, as if it hadn’t dawned on me before, that what was happening was entirely about you. This was your fearless beginning - not your beginning into Life itself - but your courageous start into this life-experience, beginning in the small sanctuary of room 450 in the midst of downtown Denver, bundled in white hospital blankets and placed in my arms.
In that 3 a.m. moment it finally became clear that this birth was not about my own experience - not about the night nurses or the hospital bed and the orange sherbet melting on the cafeteria tray. It was not about those fabulous mesh panties or the disappointing luke-warm drip of the shower or the view from my window of the building next door. It was not about how many minutes you had nursed and on which side, how long you had slept or who was coming to visit in the morning. All those things didn’t really matter. The birth wasn’t even about the experience of birth itself, the accomplishment of labor, that extraordinary feeling of being held and supported in the midst of excruciating pain as you broke free into the world.
This birth was not about any of that. It was always about you, all along. Only you. Your small, upturned face. Flickering in and out of a smile as you slept beside me.
I knew that in a few hours the sun would come up and the morning would be filled with daytime nurses, phone calls to family, taking pictures and telling the story of your birth. And soon you would return home to a family whose voices you already knew, the familiar path from room to room, an entire house of small, unwashed hands fighting to hold you, to touch your soft head and put their faces next to yours. This modest world you have been born into, already prepared, awaiting your arrival. And life would once again become not only about you but about the world you had entered. All the mundane things that fill our days competing for attention.
And so I sat in the dark and tried to hold onto that clarity as long as I could. I thought of my own life next to yours, and time no longer seemed to make sense. Only 36 years in and how much love and heartbreak these days have held. Have the years gone quickly, or am I just setting out? And will your years pass quickly? What will they hold? I felt your life ahead like a wave building up around you and I wanted to hold it back, to shelter you, so innocent towards all to come. And yet here you were, choosing this life. How very brave of you, I thought. Such childlike trust, to begin this journey. To step so completely into the unknown.
A friend once shared with me the idea that somewhere out beyond what we can humanly comprehend, our children are the ones who have chosen us. Though the truth in that we can never know, when I think about the possibility of it I feel a great honor and a great responsibility. And I'm filled with a small bit of hope, that if this child chose me they did so knowing all of who I was. And maybe it's okay that I'm not yet perfect. In spite of my struggles, my fall-outs, my weaknesses, they chose me to be their mom.
Looking into your tiny face that night - just barely over twenty-four hours old - and thinking of all this, something inside of me shifted. I felt such gratitude that I might be given again this chance to be a mother. To love a child unconditionally. And all the small injustices, the grudges I’ve held, all my fears and regrets seemed so paper-thin, so insubstantial that I saw they had been unnecessary all along. I wanted to promise you, from now on, only Love. In this household, in this family, only love. I put my face next to yours and laid very still. “Only love,” I whispered, though it felt foolish to be making promises so early. But I wanted the chance to keep this one as best I could.
I stayed like that for a long time, in awe of you. In complete wonder that in the midst of such a messy, worn-out world, another life was just beginning. A new child was starting out with everything still before him. It seemed such a contradiction, such a miracle. And I remember thinking to the Divine, Ah, how very wise of you. To keep me up for two nights straight so that I might finally glimpse what this moment is actually all about.