Morgan turned a year old this week. I baked a carrot cake, I wrapped presents. She won’t remember any of this, but I would like to think that this is the start of childhood traditions. Besides, for me her first birthday is a much a celebration of her entry into the world as it is a celebration of me becoming her mother. It was not some magical transformation. It was messy and involved a fair amount tears, as well as a fair amount of smiles.
Everyone prepares you for the pain of child birth. When I was in labor I imagined that the contractions were only as half as bad as they could be. This made the contractions almost bearable until I thought of Adam and Eve and all the sins of the world being blamed on Eve, and then I thought God owed me an epidural. (Yes, at the time that’s exactly how the logic went). In the moment it seemed like a brilliant act of contrition for God to make not only birth control but epidurals available to all women. I said as much to the nurses, who then informed me that I was fully dilated and could therefore not receive any drugs for pain. So much for being a heretic.
But really, the labor was the easiest part of this year. It was physical, active, there was no “right” or “wrong”—I just had to push a baby out. I don’t mean to minimize the birthing experience, but somehow the baby comes out. But what do you do once the baby is in your arms?
The first night we brought Morgan home, and, as expected, she woke up crying. I opened my eyes and all I could think was Really, I have to do this right now? And then my heart got tight with her tears and I did whatever I could to fix it. Which meant a lot of eighties dance parties at 1am the first six weeks. She seemed to have a penchant for Tina Turner, Black Eyed Peas and Van Morrison. It was a schizophrenic period. My husband and I could go from laughing at our Richard Simmons aerobic style soothing techniques to snapping at each other in about 10 seconds.
Oh, the crying. I can’t tell you the amount of times I called friends for support over Morgan’s wailing. Let me be clear: she did not have colic. I may not have been able to get an epidural, but at least God knew my motherly limitations in terms of crying. I was not raised in a big family. I’ve never belonged to a church with lots of kids of all ages. However a person becomes normalized to the sound of a baby crying was never passed on to me. In addition, there are no sound barriers in our house. Sound not only carries everywhere but reverberates. So after months of laying Morgan down to sleep and of her waking up 10 minutes later terrified and screaming “abandonment” (at least that’s how my Mamma heart interpreted it) I let her cry. I preferred that then her feel the resentment of my tired arms and back. I hated myself for not having enough patience. I hated the pain I could hear in Morgan’s wails. Nothing has ever filled me angst like that period.
But of course there were also all those intimate moments that made me feel like I was the luckiest Mamma in the universe, like watching Morgan smile in her sleep for the first time. At 9 months old she picked up a baby doll and tried to share her pacifier and do all the nurturing things I do.. And then there was the first time she exclaimed “Mamma!” and kissed me when I picked her up from the babysitter. When she learned to wave she waved at every tree or plant blowing in the wind—it took me a long time to realize she thought they were saying “hello” to her.
And it keeps getting better. She snuggles me now not because her body gives her no other choice, but because in the morning she likes to lay curled up on my shoulder. After naps she brings me her favorite books to read. She plays in the kitchen while I make dinner. Today at lunch she picked flowers, pointed at butterflies, and made a row of rocks on the porch of the restaurant we were eating at. Last night when I gave her a bath she laughed when I “hid” behind the clear plastic shower curtain. Over and over she kissed me through the plastic and each time we would laugh together. My favorite part of being her Mom is the sound of her laughter.
I don’t think we remember being infants because I think it can be pretty painful getting used to life on earth. New parents can be rather inept, and I’m kind of grateful she will have no literal memories of my more undignified moments this year. I have to believe that in her bones she will always feel all the love we, her Dad and I, feel for her. Becoming a parent has definitely reaffirmed the love I know my parents have for me.
No, becoming a parent is not some magical transformation. It’s complicated, the emotions can be conflicting, and new parents are faced with some of the most underdeveloped aspects of their personalities. I don’t have it figured out yet, but I’m sure excited to see what Morgan has to teach me next.