There is a moment after a baby is born into which I tiptoe, still feeling surprised I’m allowed. I place the soft and sinewy creature we call a newborn under warmth and examine her from head to toe, looking for anything of concern, and then I give her a bath. Most babies close their eyes and stop crying when their hair is being washed, their first spa experience, I always say. This is when the hard work is done, the room is mostly empty, and things feel still and sacred. There’s a tired, triumphant mama in the bed, and her companion in a chair or over my shoulder taking pictures, watching. When all is done, and baby is plenty warm, I wrap him up and give him to his mother. Then, I tiptoe back out of that moment, because it doesn’t belong to me.
These moments tend to give me pause, and I remember my own birth experiences, sometimes with a tenderness that hurts. I’m probably done with all that–my baby is two, and things are moving forward. I’m struggling to parent the ones I have; learning these new stages. You don’t know, when you have your first baby, that you’ll look back on those times as simple. They certainly don’t feel simple. And now, it doesn’t feel simple either. Perhaps we feel ill-equipped all along the way.
My work, in a way, keeps that tenderness alive for me, which is a blessing and a curse. I crave that feeling, just one more time, of they swaddled treasure on my chest, the way time stops for a little bit but not nearly long enough. I think, I didn’t do it quite right, not yet, maybe I would next time–but we all know that’s not true. Each child shows us our trying-but-broken self in such undeniable starkness, and there will never be a thing that we get completely right.
I think of this, when I wrap up the baby. It reminds me to be gentle with myself, too–to mother that part of me that needs so much understanding. In therapy, I’m learning to see my children as healers and not just instigators of all that searing, intolerable emotion. They are here to teach me at least as much as I’m here to teach them. I’m taking steps toward wholeness, for myself and for them, so that they know what it looks like to seek happiness, so that they know they have permission for that too.
The afterglow: who’s to say we can’t find that in our everyday lives? Children are born, and parents are reborn through that, and continue to have to stretch out of our current dwelling places. It’s the only way to move forward.