Look how confident she is. Look how self-assured with that smirk. She’s holding a four-pound-twelve-ounce baby against her chest. She’s doing it because the baby curls easily against her chest, and she’s doing it because it feels good, and she’s doing it because the warmth of her chest probably feels good to the baby. But a sliver of her is also doing it because this seems like something a mother might do. Hold sleeping baby to chest. Smile.
And maybe that’s the first reason for the Hah: I know she’s using mothering models she’s seen already. I know she’s fairly confident those models will make her a good mother to this four-pound-twelve-ounce person. She even has a giant purple book with the words THE BABY BOOK printed on the spine. The book is a tome. It’s a bible. Her sister used it and her friends used it and it’s written by today’s guru in childrearing, so it won’t steer her wrong.
Of course she knows no child is a replica. She believes she will have to chart her own course the same way any mother has to chart her own course, because we are all unique little snowflakes, babies included. But the woman in this picture has no idea that in six months, she will never consult THE BABY BOOK again. She has no clue it will become irrelevant to her parenting experience. She has no idea just how unique her little snowflake is.
At four-pounds-twelve-ounces, her little snowflake is especially little, a fact about which the doctors and nurses at the hospital seem particularly concerned. This fact will grow increasingly worrisome to the woman, who will eventually seek an explanation. A nurse will draw a vial of blood. The parents will get a call. Fourth chromosome, short arm. Who needs that? this woman will think when her husband recites the nurse’s words, because the short arm must be inconsequential in its shortness.
But then a geneticist will order a round of tests, and this woman will become another woman: the kind who sings to a screaming seven-pound baby while a nurse tries (and fails and tries and fails) to insert the tiniest catheter up the baby’s urethra. The kind of mother who watches X-ray images of her baby’s renal function. The kind who holds her screaming baby while a doctor inserts a tube up the baby’s nose and down her throat. She will then have to get the baby, still screaming and still invaded with a nostril tube, to latch, to suck, to nurse. She will sweat a lot. This woman will become the kind who monthly walks the halls of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, carrying her baby in the portable car seat, clenching her throat to hold back the tears because, even as sun streams through the halls’ skylights, this is no-fucking-where near the kind of mother she thought she’d have to be.
Then therapists will start tracking the baby’s delays. Doctors will write failure to thrive on the baby’s file. Appointments with feeding specialists and nutritionists will be made. And the woman will eventually become yet another woman: a person who plays along, who buys the “have-to” messages and stresses over the “tummy times” and counts the spoonfuls of pureed peas and nearly pulls her hair out, trying to get her kid to be and do what kids with all their fourth chromosomes will be and do.
It will take a year or two. It will feel like it takes eons. But eventually, that woman will become me. A mother who found her way. Who learned to listen to her kid. She’ll learn to listen to her kid’s limits, her kid’s interests, her kid’s body’s warnings—the funky spinal curve, the occasional yellow skin. She will also listen to a most glorious sound: her kid’s faintest giggles like bubbles from the ocean’s smallest fish.
She will feel the universe smacking her straight on the forehead, saying, Wake up! Your kid is off the charts? Burn the charts. Your kid is perpendicular to the yardstick? Break the yardstick. Your kid is a gem. Revel. Get down to floor-level. See the star in her eye. Swim there, in the blue. Let her teach you. You are close-to-clueless about what it really means to be human on this planet. And you might never learn another lesson as beautiful as what she, this teensy mystery, is about to teach you.
Ah yes, all of this will happen. The newbie mother will become the worried mother will become the stressed-out mother will become me. Who’s still stressed-out, yes, but not in the I’m trying like hell and failing to swim against stream kind-of way. Just in the, Jeez, this river is sometimes rough kind-of way.
But right now, in this picture, this woman is at the start.Right now, she’s sleep-deprived only a few days. Right now, she’s not even sporting bags under her eyes. She birthed her baby four days ago. She believes her baby will catch up in weight. She believes if she keeps finagling the limp, four-pound-something body to her breast, if she keeps recording every feeding attempt, and if the intervals between feedings never exceed two hours, then the giant worry that is the baby’s weight will lift. She believes in normal, and she believes she and her child will reach it.
Ah, dear Reader, that’s it. That’s why I say Hah! to this woman. She believes in normal. She believes she and her child will reach it. It will hurt so badly when they can’t. And then, it will feel like flying when she lets normal go, because the hurt lifts along with it.
Dear reader, if you know me in person, you know that I am not confident about most things. If I said something to you yesterday, I have since thought of a new way to say it. If I made a decision last week, I am playing out what might have happened had I made a different choice. I rethink things. Many things. I still, to this day, rethink my high school prom hair-do.
But in all truth, I can say this to the woman in the picture: Woman, you will become a Damn Good Mother to this kid. You have no idea right now how much it will take, how hard you will work, how worried you will be. You have no idea how much research you will do, how many hospital visits you will make, how different your life will look compared to what you wanted. The scenarios about to unfold in your life will pry open your grip around many of your beliefs: beliefs about who you are, about why a person parents, about what makes a life worth living. You will be unmade before you are made. It will hurt like hell, and it will be a beautiful thing. Smile your confident if tired smile, new momma. Hold that four-pound-twelve-ounce baby close. I can promise you this: you will become a Damn Good Mother.