Beneath the day-to-day rituals of feeding, coping with tiredness, rinsing out pooey nappies, 5.30pm cranky time and thinking up new ways to amuse, there is something more wondrous happening.
I’m falling in love with my baby. Hour by hour, day by day, the love grows with an intensity that sometimes feels unsustainable. Fragile. Surely something so perfect can’t last?
Like any forging of a new relationship there are unbelievable highs – the first smiles and chuckles, the first open-mouthed ‘kiss for Mum’ brushing your cheek. And painful lows, when you have yet to learn how to bring her back from the dark place she has gone – screaming back arched, little fists clenched and beating you on the chest. Unreachable. When nothing can comfort her but sleep, but as yet neither you nor she know how to get her there.
I’m standing in the shower with her. Holding her to my chest, our skins – hers pink and white, mine tanned and freckled – fuse and for a moment we are one again. Slowly rocking and singing ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’, water flows over her little head and down chubby arms and hands that cling to me. Her long, dark lashes close as she listens to the water and my heartbeat.
She is quiet for once. Not squirming in my arms, wanting to see something else, learn something new. The feeling of love and the fierce need to protect is too overwhelming for an instant and tears roll down my face. I hug her tightly and whisper “Please God, don’t ever take her away from me”. It’s these quieter moments that bring out this feeling. Just the two of us. A grin as she pauses in feeding to look up at me. Finally rocking her to sleep in the rocking chair at 11 o’clock on Christmas Eve, singing ‘Silent Night’, but not wanting to put her down.
We finish our shower and I put her on her towel on the bed to dry her. She smiles up at me, the way only a baby can smile. Her whole face lights up.
“I know bub,” I murmur. “That was a lovely shower wasn’t it?”
Her slate-blue eyes follow me around the room as I get dressed and then seem to question, concerned. “Your face looks funny today – what do tears mean?”
I try to smile and sniff. “Sorry bub – Mum’s being a bit silly today.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. Other moments come to mind – getting lost in the intensity of love. With my husband of course. Watching him sleep sometimes or listening to music with him that we both love. Thinking ‘I love you so much it hurts’. Or watching my little sister creep into my bedroom to wake me up because it’s time to play. You’ll notice that I don’t mention love for my mother. You don’t fall in love with your mother. That love is assumed, constant, unquestioned. It is just there. Amazing to think that’s how she must think of me. And I realise now how deserving my mother was of this love. I hope I will be as worthy.
With such love, comes a fear. A fear of losing. Speaking to a friend of mine once, on the birth of his second child he said to me, “I know it sounds silly, but we decided we needed to have a second because there was just too much love tied up in this one little being”. Now, it doesn’t sound silly at all. I know exactly what he meant.
It’s that nameless fear in the dark of night, sitting by her cot, watching her fall asleep after a feed – will she wake up? The line between her existence and non-existence is still too near for comfort. Three scant months, 92 precious days. With a fervour never felt before, I say the old prayer over her, “Guide us waking, guard us sleeping. That waking we may watch with Thee. That sleeping we may rest in peace”. Amen.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem