Having a baby is a miraculous thing.
It is full of elation and exhaustion, fear and excitement. It is glorious yet painful, mystifying yet natural. But with all of the light, anticipation and promise that ushers in the birth of a newborn, there also comes a hint of death; a moment where the definitive line of mortality seems a little more frail.
As a mother walking that line with her unborn — but soon to be delivered — child, it is a bewildering thing to behold. My moment came a little less than two weeks ago as I was laboring to deliver our new little son, Ellis.
He was a week past his delivery date, and I was getting anxious. I went to the hospital to be induced, and about six hours later, I was curling my body around his, pushing as hard as I could to bring him into the world.
At one point, without any explanation, the nurse put an oxygen mask on me as I gulped in air and readied to push again. I asked her what it was for, and she said the baby's heart rate had dropped. My doctor's face tightened ever so slightly as his instructions to me became more urgent, but still calm.
All I could do was push and breathe, push and breathe, but it seemed like my doctor was doing all of the work. I wondered if the baby would ever make it.
Then he was born, as purple as a plum, four minutes later.
It took him a long time to cry, even though my nurse and doctor rubbed him vigorously with a towel. Then the NICU nurses took over, and eventually they handed him back to me, healthy and safe and sound.
A few days later, after we were home from the hospital, there was a moment when my children and husband and I were all sitting around the table eating dinner. The kids were hollering, and it was chaotic and noisy. I looked over at Ellis, blinking away the light as he lay there in a bouncer. As he looked back at me, I was amazed.
In that moment, I felt as though this tiny newborn, too little to speak or eat or even lift his own head, understood me better than anyone. In that moment, and the quiet moments since then when he and I endeavor together alone at night, nursing or burping or changing messy diapers, I realize we are in this together.
We both show the signs of the trauma of delivery, both have bruises that are slowly fading away, both are getting used to our new bodies. Both of us are learning how to sleep and eat and breathe again. Both of us cry easily.
We're adjusting to our new lives.
There was a time, before I had children, when I wondered how family connections are formed. My great-grandmother, Arizona Moritzky — the mother of Ellis' namesake — died when her Ellis was about 2 years old.
There was a time when I might have wondered how close they were in just two years; I might have thought a 2-year-old might not really register the loss of his mother like an older child would. I thought maybe the bond between a mother and her children was forged with time, and the shorter the time they spent together, the weaker the bond.
But that doesn't explain how I could feel a bond with my own paternal grandmother, who I never even met. Those family connections are biological and chemical, it seems, forged automatically and independently of time and place, somewhere between the moment of creation that flirts with life and death.
There was an instant when my new baby was on my belly, purple and warm and wet, and I reached out to touch him. He hadn't even cried yet, he'd only been in the world for a second, but in that moment, our bond was forged — forever.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.
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