Before Cedar was born, I never knew babies very well. As a nanny, I’d cared for plenty of toddlers and preschoolers, but anything younger was still an abstract entity: cute, but slightly frightening. Delicate, fragile. Liable to cry if you held them wrong, or if they sensed that you weren’t comfortable.
This baby stage of motherhood was the one that I was the most unsure of, the one that was the most unknown. I’d never rushed to hold another’s baby, afraid that my inexperience would show itself quickly and that the parents would secretly be happy when I returned their child to their arms. But the learning curve is sharp and forgiving when you are with a child 24 hours a day. And I’ve quickly learned that it’s not the end of the world if you let their heads flop a little now and then when attempting some multi-tasking maneuver and that their necks aren’t that fragile. I’ve also learned that there is not just one way a baby likes to be held, and even if they have a preference, that preference is always changing. The best thing to do if they are fussing is often to switch their positions again and again, back and forth, rocking and bouncing and shushing, until you find something that works. You just keep experimenting-- and try to remember to trust your instincts-- in addition to all the advice you take in from people and books.
Before Cedar was born, I suspected that babies were pretty amazing, but I never knew this in my bones. Babies were cute, but I preferred interacting with two-, three-, or nine-year-olds, or even middle schoolers for that matter; all these other stages of childhood development were much more familiar. Since I’d never gotten the chance to get to know a particular baby intimately, and since babies can’t express who they are in ways that are as immediately apparent as older children can, I’d never gotten to know or even to sense the huge gift of getting to know the specific feeling and preciousness of a baby. Especially when that baby is your own.
Now, although it is too early to put into words the “personality” of this baby of mine except, I already know the feeling of my child, the spirit of this being that has arrived and that will eventually evolve into distinct character traits as he continues to learn how to express what he wants and who he is. Every day, every week, my baby continues to change, and every day this being delights me. I especially love our time together in the morning. After Cedar wakes around 7:00, I change his diaper, then bring him back to bed to feed him—and hopefully lure him back to sleep. Sometimes this works, and other times he is too wakeful, so I’ll give up on extending my own sleep for now, and lean over his face and we’ll look at each other and smile and make noises in a call and response. Or I’ll prop his back up against my raised legs,or lay him against my chest for some “tummy time” on mommy, letting him take in his surroundings from new angles and perspective. I love, oh how I love, his early morning eruptions of smiles, gurgles, and coos, sounds that even now are evolving into language.
Where does this happiness come from? Not come from any rational chain of thoughts, but rather, a spontaneous place of being. A bubbling wellspring of unfiltered existence, a place inside all of us, except that as adults, it is harder for us to experience this place because we live too much in our minds. We unconsciously rush to name, analyze, and judge everything that filters through our awareness. Yet with a baby this young, there is no thought process, no sense of even being separate from mother or caregiver, from world. Life is a continual kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, and noises. Moments of discomfort or pain do not come with a story or a self who is experiencing the story.
Babies are so raw and pure it hurts my heart.
It’s hard for me to put in words the awe and love I feel for my baby, and by extension, for all babies (but of course especially for mine). Naturally, I feel a huge responsibility since I am the one who provides this child with his nutrients and care most days, all day long. And I reap such a huge reward as I see my child’s awareness of the world evolving, not to mention his recognition of and delight in me. There is a deep satisfaction that comes from being so needed, and from having one’s job so clearly defined. Even if I am exhausted and long for a break and more time for myself, at core there is no question that I will do what I have to do to take care of this child the best I can, which makes it easier to surrender to this new role.
Much of it boils down to instinct. Genetics. Blood. Myth. The human drive to procreate, and the motherly drive to nurture, protect, and love. One of the only jobs in the world in which you are asked to give and give and give so much, and where the reward is not material nor visible to others, but instead felt in the rushes you feel every day as you are given the chance to love, so wholly, another. It is true that there could be many sorrows ahead. There is risk involved; there is no guarantee that you will have the kind of relationship with your child or your new family that you envisioned. But you invest all your energy in this being and you trust in the unknown, because you have no other choice. Raising a child can be as spiritual a path as any religion or philosophy. For what other kind of path but a spiritual one envelops everything and plunges you forward with such devotion, because it’s the only direction to go?
I feel so blessed that I have the opportunity in this life to watch another being, my son, take in everything from his very first breath onward, and to witness how all of these lights, colors, sounds and movements are slowly now transforming into specific people and environments, imprints and impressions. And I love being the one who is here to help him interact with the world for the first time, as he slowly begins to learn to support his own weight, and eventually, to call each thing by name.