Not this year, but last. The Saturday morning after Mini was born late Thursday night. I spent Friday entertaining a stream of visitors at the hospital, friends and family all coming by to celebrate with us. Friday night was awful. Mini, from the very beginning, wanted to be held, cuddled, loved — my milk hadn’t come in (and wouldn’t for a week), but at that point I wasn’t concerned. But my child did NOT want to sleep in the “bassinet”. I’m not sure why they call them that; they’re clear plastic buckets, bigger versions of the one in my fridge, propped up on room service carts. Whatever they are, he wanted to be held. I rocked him in the glider, slept with him propped up on my chest. After a few minutes, I would start to ache, my abdominal muscles like bread dough, still not yet up to the challenge of carrying around my love lump. I really, really wanted a lamp or a nightlight or SOMETHING other than the little orange indicator on the nurse call button, just something so I could see the boy without waking up Manly, who slept fitfully on the fold out sofa. We walked, we swayed, we sat in the glider and rocked, we tried to nurse, we dozed in the bed propped up on a mound of pillows. He whimpered and grizzled and snorted and farted and generally expressed his displeasure with being in this cold, dark, loud world. It was a long night until the nurse came in in the morning to whisk him off to the nursery for observation and evaluation.
She left, Manly got dressed and went in to work, and I was left all alone. I managed to get myself up and dressed: soft, loose black cotton drawstringpants bought to fit my expanding belly, a nursing bra purchased while bent over the store counter in contractions, a stretchy navy blue long sleeve tee to keep me warm while we worked on nursing together. I slept for a short while, until Manly called and made me order breakfast. And I swear, anyone who thinks that hospital food cannot be as bad as people make out — let me assure you, my oatmeal came garnished with parsley. I shit you not. It took me 5 minutes to identify what the green stuff in my breakfast was. I tried to take a picture with my phone, but it was still too dark and it wouldn’t turn out in a recognizable form. What else did I have that morning? A banana, milk I remember; I know I also ordered a banana muffin, but they mixed up my order and it didn’t come. At some point I must have remade the bed. I know the bedclothes were straight later, and housekeeping didn’t do that.
And then the nurse brought him back to me. Weighed and measured, with a fresh blanket and clean diaper and blue suction bulb. Everything fine, she said, enjoy your baby. He and I, alone in that room, in the quiet of the morning. The window didn’t have a view; it looked into the side of the building where the hallway made a corner outside. Our view was only of the rooftop below. But the white concrete block wall outside reflected the early morning sun into the room, giving everything a softly illuminated whitewash. He was wrapped up in that plain hospital blanket, the white one with the red and green stripes that are immediately identifiable anywhere as institutional quality, but larger than any of the pretty ones available in the store. A blanket actually big enough to swaddle him tightly, that he couldn’t break out of. A pink and blue striped knit cap. A tiny white t-shirt sewn with the green threaded seams on the outside so as to not irritate brand new skin. Again, the same as in a thousand hospitals across the country. But wrapped in those anonymous baby clothes was my child. MY child.
Asleep, finally, after the long night before. And yet, I could not leave him lying in the plastic bucket beside me. I pulled him out, resettled him in the bed with me. I was sitting up, my legs stretched out, him resting in between them so as to feel the contact with my body all down his side. In that quiet, lovely moment, I took his picture, still one of my favorites. And I cried.
I cried from the hormones, I cried from the exhaustion, I cried from the exquisite joy of having this new small life finally with me. I cried because I had never trusted that the moment would come, and I cried because I knew (and still know) that I might never have a moment like that again. I cried out of sheer gratitude for the grace that brought me out of the darkness and pain and fear and into the light of the life I live now. I cried then, and I have cried since that day, and I cry even now.