I never failed to love him. I never faltered, but I was terrified from the outset. His small fingers scared me, they seemed so breakable, so fragile, like tiny twigs. When I fed him he was a bird under my wing, cooing until he fell asleep again. The nurses were rough with him, and would turn his ragdoll body over onto his stomach to burp him, his neck around their large fists. Could you hold a baby like that? Like you were about to choke it? Apparently you could, because he always burped and let out a little sigh of relief.
I can remember the early days at the hospital, with its long quiet hallways and soft colors. With the cherubic nurses and scratchy sheets. It felt easy there. I have no bad memories of the hospital. It wasn’t the most ornate hospital. I don’t even think we had a TV in our room, or if we did, we didn’t watch it. I don’t recall fluorescent lighting, just the soft blue light that came in through the large picture window we had in our room. I believe it overlooked the courtyard, it was lovely, but I was too in love to even notice. We have a picture of me dancing with him the day he was born, and imagine, I felt well enough to dance! 8 pounds, 9 ounces and I felt like dancing, it was like a dream. I had wanted so badly to meet him for so long. Pregnancy had been a sickness, an illness for nine months. The day he arrived, I felt like I could conquer the world. In a mess of humanity and blood and tears and vomit, I delivered him. Or did he deliver me?
The hospital was quiet. I could hear no other women screaming in pain, no babies crying, just silence. There were five nurses and two mothers, a wonderful ratio. In retrospect, I don’t know why I was in such a rush to leave the wonderful arms there. It felt comfortable, like we could handle anything. When we had to change his diaper for the first time and the black tar of meconium was there, we just pressed a little red button and a nurse arrived to do it for us. That first night, he slept in the nursery, and even the next night, when he awoke in the night I just held him and brought him into bed with me. There was no fear.
The great fear started the moment we left the hospital. It arrived in the form of the overly sunny day (his sensitive skin!), the other (many) reckless drivers, even the small bump in the road. Anything could hurt him! He was delicate! Don’t touch him with your germ filled hands! Those first few weeks I was scared to take him out of the car seat carrier when we were out and about. He just seemed so frail and the concrete so hard. But we did leave the hospital; we had to begin our new life as a family. And it was that first night home the fear really set in, inching under our skin. How could they allow us to just bring him home like that? Didn’t they know we had no idea what we were doing? His breathing was so quiet I was constantly terrified it had stopped. Just up and stopped, that I would lean over the crib, and there would be a little doll, not moving. I could picture it so well. That was the scary part. Little did I know this is the curse of a mother, the clarity with which you can picture horrible things happening to your child. For months afterwards, every time I went over the causeway bridge I could picture our car breaking through the barricade and soaring into the water. It was only a few feet away. All I had to do was let go. In the midst of life, we are in death.