Natalie is two weeks old today. In celebration, the world outside our window is blanketed in fluffy white frosting: the first good snowfall of the season has turned our neighborhood into a giant confection. In true two-week-old form, though, Natalie does not seem to have noticed.
She’s a good baby. She’s a ridiculously good baby, leading us once again — as we did throughout the pregnancy, labor, and delivery — to marvel at our luck. Natalie is a good eater, a fantastic sleeper, and generally a quiet kid, although she seems to be developing a habit of early-evening fussing. She lost quite a lot of weight over the first weekend of her life (wish I could say the same; ~sigh~) but had regained all but four ounces of her birth weight by Tuesday’s pediatrician appointment, which I guess means that breastfeeding is working out for us too.
All of this is amazing. It’s only been two weeks, but an entire novel’s worth of plot and character development has unwound around us since the hospital staff handed me a baby who had only recently emerged from my own body. My mystery child. It was shockingly awkward, how strange she felt to me. The human formerly known as Mayhem screwed up her face, blinked at me, and nursed inscrutably.
“You,” her father intoned over her in a voice of formal blessing, “will never be a Redskins fan.”
“Awww,” said her Aunt Katherine, then added with a sigh: “I guess it’s for the best.”
I waited for the overwhelming wave, the inversion of the universe that would turn this into the greatest day of my life. The baby dozed. The hospital room gradually grew quieter as all the staff dissipated and the relatives went home, until the only people left were &, the baby, one last nurse on cleanup duty, and me. I was still shellshocked from the lightning-fast birth, still waiting to feel something other than taken aback.
“Well,” I remarked, “this is why we went to college, right?”
& took the baby in his lap, sat in one of the delivery-room chairs, and read to his daughter for the very first time. Reading to his offspring has long been a dream of &’s, and for this inaugural lecture he’d chosen a passage from The Name of the Rose. Mayhem’s mommy had fed her Beethoven and Mahler in utero; now Natalie was being introduced to the words of Abbot Suger, via Umberto Eco, via her daddy. I had the warm fuzzies and a rush of affection for my magnificent husband. But I still hadn’t been knocked off my feet by the attendant emotion of new motherhood.
That night, I took the advice of my wise friend Amanda and elected to send Natalie to the nursery rather than have her room in with us. After all, this was, in theory, the last good night’s rest we’d have for the foreseeable future. By 3 am I’d been installed in a postpartum recovery room, & stretched out on a foldout recliner next to my hospital bed, and we shut our eyes in search of sleep.
But I couldn’t fall asleep.
I spent that night staring at the insides of my eyelids, periodically startling for no apparent reason, at no point actually falling asleep. I chalked my insomnia up to the “birth high,” the electric afterglow of parturition…but this did not explain why I again could not sleep the following night.
Natalie spent these nights in the hospital nursery, in a wheeled Lucite bassinet adorned with a pink index card bearing my name. A nurse would wheel her into my room every three hours at feeding time, then take her back to the nursery when I signaled that we’d finished. On the second night in the hospital, she fell asleep on my collarbone right after I burped her…and then, I realized, I could sleep too.
I am not an Attachment Parenting devotee. Far from it. The parenting choices I’ve made thus far (and I’m trying not to make too many before I’m actually presented with the decision) tend to be driven by far more selfish motives. Yes, breastfeeding is best for the kid and so forth, but I would be lying if I did not confess my cherished hope that nursing Natalie will directly correlate to rapid-fire weight loss. Yes, constant physical contact with a newborn baby helps her learn to regulate her body temperature, but boy, it sure is nice and efficient to have the kid RIGHT THERE at night when she wants to nurse.
What I wasn’t expecting was to have these things sneak up and overtake me by stealth. Suddenly, I realized, with my baby in close proximity I could sleep. Not only that, I could not sleep without my baby in close proximity. It was almost like pregnancy withdrawal: after having Mayhem constantly with me for so many months, my reaction to any degree of separation from Natalie was as much physiological as emotional. Other people could hold her, but not for long. And when she was stowed away in the nursery — ostensibly so that I could sleep — I drove myself crazy, needing her near.
Since we’ve been home she has slept in the bed with us. I know, I KNOW. This is the kind of thing that would freak me out when I heard of other people doing it. But even as I’ve slowly progressed past my need for constant contact, Natalie hasn’t yet; she still prefers warm human proximity to any sort of isolation. And I’m much happier settling her on the mattress next to me than gritting my teeth through the fussfit she throws whenever we try to put her down by herself. Now is not the time to worry about it, I figure: we’ll get her into the sidecar eventually, and then the crib, and some day a Big Girl Bed and then she’ll be going to school and sleepaway camp and band camp and college. And then we’ll think back to the days when our daughter was so tiny that you could have fit several of her into a standard pillowcase, and we’ll hardly believe that she’s the same person.
Maybe she’s not. Maybe that’s the magic of these early, strange, subtle-physical-bond days: this little protoperson is, of course, your daughter, but won’t truly grow into herself for months and months (and years) yet. For now, she feels like an extension of you, because she technically still is one. And there’s no shame in giving yourself a little space to relish that connection. She’ll outgrow you soon enough. There’s no rush.