You caught me by surprise, swooshing into the world a little earlier than expected, your newbie parents reeling in surprise, staring at you in wonder.
Your warm skin, your tiny chest, your perfect little feet – the same feet that had been poking me from inside out just hours before. The shoulders. Why do I remember the shoulders so clearly? Small and smooth but already strong and determined, a glimpse of the girl you would become.
Your fingers, curling and uncurling, latching on to mine. Tiny nails at the end of each one, like something designed by a miniaturist. The curve of your heel, the touch of your delicate skin; the look of surprise when they showed us how to bathe you.
I remember when they told us we could go home, I wondered how anyone could trust us to know what to do. “You’ll just know,” said the midwife, but I wasn’t so sure.
I remember you lying across my chest, breathing the small baby air of sleep, as I examined the top of your head, counting the hairs, and wondering who you’d turn out to be.
I remember you stirring, snuffling, searching for milk, knowing what you wanted even in those very early days.
I remember passing you to your dad, marvelling at how you lay upright on his chest, wondering what was holding you there. Invisible Velcro made of trust and nature.
I remember unpicking you, little by little, as I lifted you to bring you upstairs. Cradling your head as we’d been shown, feeling you melt into my shoulder, still asleep. Marvelling at the vulnerability and the trust, astonished at the responsibility. Doubting myself as I climbed the steps I’d climbed so many times before, but never with such precious cargo on my shoulder.
I remember putting you down in the basket, wondering if it was too far or too cold or too different from the womb and the arms you’d known so far, but still, you slept. And I sat on the edge of my bed, watching you. Watching your little chest rise and fall with tiny breaths, reaching out to touch your cheek, because I couldn’t not touch your cheek.
I remember the surprise when I woke to crying in the middle of the night, not knowing at first where I was or who was calling. But it was you, telling me it was time for milk, both of us figuring it out together.
And in the next days, we fell into a way of being – you leading, me following. I learned from you, watching your cues, trying to interpret your cries. Reading books, then putting them aside, not quite but nearly understanding that the only way to learn was through you. In those seconds and minutes and days, you changed my world. You made me a mother, but more than that, you made me understand what it is to love someone so much it almost hurts.
“Look, she’s holding on to my finger!” I told my husband when he came home from work on his first day back.
“Don’t they all do that?” he asked. They do, but there’s never been one who was mine before.