Oh, strangers gasp when they spot Petra in the infant carrier. She looks new! How old? they ask, and I tell them. Three weeks, or Four weeks, and they nod and say they thought so. And I smile. Actually I beam. But I also note the difference.
With Fiona, strangers gasped a different way. Not, Look, new life! But, Oh my God, she’s so tiny. And not so tiny as in how sweet, but so tiny as in too tiny. Crushably small. Breakably, abysmally diminutive.
Then came the inquiries. Usually, Was she premature?
No, I said and averted my eyes, and that was usually the end. They didn’t offer adoration. They usually didn’t ask follow-up questions. What’s her name?, people ask about Petra, their faces still lit with revelry for new life. Instead, with Fiona, the conversation ended. Or flummoxed, a few bold strangers harped. How much did she weigh when she was born? How much does she weigh now? I never got up the nerve to return the question: And how about you, ma’am? What’s your current weight?
One woman straight-up asked, all knowingly, like she thought she was the wisest woman in the world, How premature was she?
She wasn’t, I said. We were in an elevator. She didn’t know what else to say. We all resumed our staring forward as the numbers lit in ascending order, taking us upward.
The difference is constant. A floral newborn onesie that hung loosely around Fiona’s 3-month body already clings tightly to Petra’s expanding belly. Pants that were always too wide for Fiona’s narrow waist now hug Petra’s rump.
Two years ago, the newborn clothes made me sweat. Why couldn’t my baby fit them? Now, as I slip them over Petra’s eight-pound body, they are triggers. They remind me of how nervous I was, how desperately I wanted someone to say: Absolutely nothing is wrong.
I put Petra down on her belly. They call it tummy time. She lifts her head up an inch or two, looks around. Fiona wasn’t capable of doing this until she was maybe 4 months old. I already see the difference in Petra’s springy, tight legs—she’s designed to get stronger than Fiona. In her body I can already see the easy unfolding of what I witness in other babies, of what the milestone charts tell me babies should do: sit, crawl, walk. All without hours upon hours of therapy.
The two of them are happy to be supine right now. I put Petra on her back on a quilt, and she squirms and jerks her arms and legs. She brings her hands together. She blinks at the lights and shadows. She eventually cries for milk. Fiona is there, too. Happy to lie on her back for hours if I let her, happy to roll to the side only to grab the nearest available toy, after which she’ll roll onto her back again. Today she rolled over to her sister, attempted to claw at her head. But Fiona didn’t sit herself up to get a better view. She stayed firmly on her back.
My babies—both staring up at the ceiling—are like semi-equals for now. Loving the ground, giving their bodies to gravity. At the end of the day, I join them, hear my lower vertebrae and hips pop with relief, feel my bones align themselves. Let go of the day, a yoga teacher used to say when she instructed us to lie on our backs. Now let go of the week, the month, the year. For many pregnant months, I couldn’t lie like this. Now it’s a treat, and I lie face-up and sigh and sense what my muscles ask of me: let go of the weight of the past two years, when I carried in my body two different girls. And let go of the future, too, while you’re at it, an uncertain place where the two bodies of your girls will continue to tell two different stories.