I'll never forget the first time I saw her; a little head covered in the faintest silky down, rosy skin, a tiny face peeking out from a well-worn, hospital-issue flannel blanket. They handed her to my young husband and I and we marveled at how perfect our daughter was, crying tears of joy and gratitude.
Motherhood was never something to which I aspired as a child. I played with frogs, not dolls, and climbed trees instead of sitting in the shade dressing Barbie and her friends. So I was completely unprepared for the all-consuming passion and obsession I would one day feel for my own children. I loved everything about being a mother—feeling the baby kick and turn inside me, nursing, bathing and rubbing lotion on each individual finger and toe. I memorized my baby's face while she slept, brushing hair back from her forehead and beads of sweat from a button nose. I'd trace the shape of my son's ear with my finger as I nursed him, marveling at how absolutely perfect he was—and that he was mine for this brief moment in time.
Babyhood gave way all too quickly to Toddlerhood with all its complexities and wonder. I celebrated each milestone in my own overly-sentimental fashion—crying at the sight of a new tooth at six months and, again, at the loss of that same tooth six years later. I delighted in the development of language. At last! I could communicate with this amazing little human who is my child.
I reluctantly surrendered my children to the Institutions that Educate but not without remorse. I made the most of each lazy summer day and cried the first day of every school year when I'd send them off with their new pencils and backpacks, jealous that their teachers got to spend the best part of every day with my favorite people. Years of piano lessons and T-ball, swimming lessons and wrestling meets progressed to drivers' training, sleepovers, and Prom. And, before I was ready, graduation and college, engagements and weddings popped up out of nowhere. My child was grown. But a marvelous thing happened along the way: My child became my treasured friend.
This past August, I found myself with my daughter/friend in the birthing suite of an unfamiliar hospital. Her darling husband and I were to be the support team that helped her deliver their first child. She had the birth plan all mapped out and had prepared herself in every way possible, reading and taking classes, in order to give this baby the best possible start in life. But, as best-laid plans are wont to, things did not go as planned. First there were hours of excruciating back labor that didn't seem to be doing much to dilate the cervix. Then, on a routine check with the fetal monitor, it was discovered that the baby was in distress. The heart rate dropped dramatically with each contraction.
Minutes dragged into hours with little progress. I sat on the edge of my daughter's bed, mopping her forehead with a cool cloth, stroking her hair, trying to distract her from the sound of the baby's erratic heartbeat on the monitor. My son-in-law stood at the foot of the bed, rubbing his wife's aching legs. We exchanged concerned glances, wishing there was something we could do to help. She refused any medication for pain, not wanting to further jeopardize the baby's delicate situation. She panted through each contraction on her knees, showing more strength and courage than I could have imagined possible, thinking only of her baby's welfare. I leaned over my daughter's damp head and sucked in the familiar smell of her hair, comforted by the ritual of 26 years of head-sniffing. I wanted to take the pain. I wanted it to be over. I didn't know what would happen to my daughter if something went wrong with her baby. I wished there was more air in the room for all of us to breath.
I found myself day dreaming about my four little girls and reflecting how, unlike their own mother, they had always loved babies. Out in public, they would maul every strange infant they could reach and paraded around our house with dolls under their shirts, pretending to be pregnant. My oldest stood up at her Kindergarten graduation and announced her career aspirations proudly to the whole gymnasium, "I want to be a Mommy." The much anticipated moment was upon us.
After what seemed an eternity, the midwife consulted with an OB-GYN who suggested the water be broken and the pace of labor immediately intensified. The contractions came harder and faster, and my child had to gasp through each one, defying her body's demand to push. Centimeter by centimeter, literally hair by hair, the child came forth. Suddenly a tiny face emerged, disgruntled and a bit surprised, as the team quickly applied suction to the scrunched little visage, unwinding loops of umbilical cord from a mottled neck and trunk. The rest of the baby's body slid into view and my son-in-law cheered, "It's a girl!" I was laughing and crying all at once. Relief, inexpressible relief, flooded over me and I felt the need to sit down. My daughter had become a mother. From my chair to one side I watched the miracle unfold; a young woman and a young man held their newborn for the first time, marveling at how perfect she was, crying tears of joy and gratitude.