At nearly four weeks of age, Natalie is starting to look like a Natalie.
At least I think so. To someone else she might have looked like one as soon as she was born, but to me, all newborns look exactly alike. There are some people who prefer to wait and see their baby in person before settling on a given name for the child. I am not one of those people. If it were up to me to name a newborn based on first impressions, the poor kid would probably wind up being called Monkey, or Squash, or maybe Old Man, since that’s what newborns look like to me.
Fortunately Natalie saved us the trouble by naming herself, well in advance of her birth.
Back in March, when we were trying to get pregnant, I signed up for a course of acupuncture treatments. (Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It’s awesome.) I’m not normally a holistic-therapies type of person, but wow, acupuncture! How did I live so long without trying this? I would not have imagined that a stranger sticking me full of pins like a human voodoo doll would have felt so wonderful, warm and tingly, electric yet thoroughly relaxing. I melted right into the experience, lapsing almost immediately into a near-dream state.
And there I met my daughter.
Mind you, I wasn’t even pregnant yet. But during my first acupuncture session, I felt a strange rush building up in me, something like excitement or anticipation, slow-growing yet very much alive. And then I felt like someone was reaching for me, so I reached back, and the words that materialized were Natalie, mommy loves you! Natalie, mommy loves you! over and over.
The next day, the results of my regularly scheduled blood work were off the charts. And not quite three weeks later, the day after I sang the Rachmaninoff Vespers with CASW, our pregnancy test came back positive.
“Well,” I said to &, “if it’s a girl we have to name her Natalie.”
He heartily agreed. Natalie had always been one of his favorite female names, and, coincidentally, happened to be the name of Rachmaninoff’s wife as well. Crucially, it also passed my litmus test: any daughter of mine would require a name equally suitable both for a famous opera singer and a federal judge. “Natalie Martin, soprano” and “The Honorable Natalie Martin” both worked for me.
(This may look like a Type A mom projecting her ambitions on her daughter, but I assure you it’s not. Let the record reflect that Natalie can grow up to be whatever makes her happy, and that will make her parents proud.)
Her middle name, Eleanor, was almost a casual addition. & happened to be reading a book about Eleanor of Aquitaine while I was in rehearsal for the Rachmaninoff, and as soon as we heard the names “Natalie” and “Eleanor” in the same breath, the harmony was clear to us both. Our daughter was going to be Natalie Eleanor. Self-evidently. She couldn’t be anything else.
I was certain I was carrying a girl. Ever since my acupuncture experience, I was convinced that I’d met her, that I even had a sense of her personality already. Throughout my first trimester, whenever I’d fret that something was in danger of going wrong with the pregnancy, I’d reach deep: are you still there, Natalie? Everything OK in there, Mayhem? And I would be rewarded with the answering rise, that almost-like-excitement feeling that was certainly and inevitably my daughter reassuring me that all was still well.
So it surprised me when I first laid eyes on my daughter, the actual person to whom I had just given birth, and did not recognize her. The answering rise was gone. I didn’t feel the connection that had sustained me for all those months. After nine months of astonishingly intimate and intuitive bonding, I was suddenly confronted with a total stranger. The only thing I knew about her was her name.
And then I understood the mothers who worried about failure to bond with their babies. Previously these stories had made no sense to me; I couldn’t imagine how you could spend a whole pregnancy sharing every heartbeat with someone and not bond with them. But prenatal and postpartum bonding are two very different things, and making the leap from one to the other is neither instantaneous nor automatic. There is a real difference between your fetus and your baby, and yes, it is quite possible to be thick as thieves with one without ever having met the other.
Happily, we have had no trouble bonding with our adorable little girl in the near-month since her birth. She is no longer a stranger. She is no longer an empty label, a tiny squashy person swimming around in a name that’s too big on her. Now she’s someone we know and love, a fixture in our lives, a member of our family. Our daughter, our Nata-loodle-doo, our Noodles: our Natalie.