The First Time: A Birth Story

The apartment is quiet and we are slow dancing to Tchaikovsky in the living room. Your little arm fits just so around my shoulder; your little head rests in the crook of my neck as you gaze out the window. You are six weeks old, and I am crying.

I'm thinking about my grandmother, your namesake. It is hard to explain to others how you embody her, for it is her character, her expression that lives in you and only those who knew her well can spot it. She was story come to life and as a storyteller, I am haunted by what I cannot provide for you: a story with a beginning, middle and end of how you came to be.

Your birth feels like a lifetime ago. Now, smiles and coos emerge at the sight of me and it is balm on the ache in my heart. Twenty-four hours of labor ending in an emergency cesarean left me unable to recall concrete moments, unable to fully understand the danger of it all, every memory inhaled through an oxygen mask, awash in a swirl of blue and white: the uniform of an operating room.

When the bitterness of being the last to hold you begins to ebb, I cling to the memory of all the firsts we shared: you, crying in everyone’s arms upon entering the frantic din of this world only to finally settle in my arms. Me, discovering what it's like to whisper your name into your ear. I try to forget that we almost lost you or how much I was shaking, as if my limbs were acting out against me, and instead, cling to the memory of your eyes opening for the first time, and seeing me, only me, as I held you tight, afraid I would shake you right out of my arms.

They tell you each week gets better, and it does, but at the start, it’s easy to believe everyone is a big fat liar. On your one week birthday, I wept, because only one photo was taken of me and you together. I felt absent from that first week, hooked up to a bed or unable to lift you for long periods of time. Another story, lost.

Your daddy was your hero, and he was mine too, but I imagined a whole different first week of us learning you together. Instead, I was the slowest at getting to you when you cried, unable to know what it was like to come to your rescue first. Those first two weeks, I struggled through breastfeeding and bonding, feeling my confused memory of meeting you for the first time robbed us of something special, something people tell you is ingrained in you as a woman, something they say is basic human function...and I didn’t have it.

The apartment is quiet and we are slow dancing to Tchaikovsky in the living room. You are six weeks old, and I am crying. I miss the ones I've lost that cannot meet you. I grieve the fear that came with almost losing you. I fret over every cry I cannot console.

The apartment is quiet and we are slow dancing to Tchaikovsky in the living room. You grow still and quiet, feeling my sobs against your little body, teaching me in silence that we are connected, writing the story for me, following in the footsteps of storytellers before you: a glimpse into the woman you will become. You show me that you are a story I have never known, and yet, have always known. A story made up of the generations that came before her into something beautiful and brand new.

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