I will share this bit, though, because it was on my mind again last night. Last night, when the older children had gone to bed and our tiny wonder had woken up after an hour and adamantly declared she would not be peacefully returning to her slumber just yet. Chris and I sat sleepy eyed in the softly lit living room and watched her happily roll around on our old beige carpet. In low voices we talked about nothing much and soaked up the opportunity to peacefully wind down at the end of the day. Clad in blue striped footy pajamas and sheer determination, our little babe focused her eyes on a piece of colorful twisted rope about three feet in front of her. She clenched her muscles and pulled her dimpled knees up below her body, rising up off the floor and balancing on her elbows. She inched forward one limb at a time, her belly falling the inch and a half back to the floor in between every stride. In about five seconds flat she'd successfully traversed the three feet, having crawled for the very first time. We clapped and cheered and she smiled proudly, and I wondered if we'd taught her playing with dog toys was a great achievement that would be awarded with much celebration and praise in the future.
In my joy I thought of my older children, and I thought of the night just over seven months ago when my daughter was born. I was utterly exhausted and, quite literally, deliriously happy. I gazed into her beautiful face and was completely overwhelmed with gratitude for how lucky I was. I had waited a long time for that moment, and worried uselessly needlessly endlessly about whether or not it would ever come. As I lay in my hospital bed tired battered and worn, I held my baby and I thought about this tiny little human who was only just beginning: I pictured this moment in time where she rested in someone's arms who was so wholly thankful simply that she lived and breathed, and I thought... what a lovely way to begin.
I thought of the nights my older children were born. I imagined their mother. I wondered if she held them close and breathed them in, and felt lucky they were alive. I watched my husband look at our baby and I wondered if their father had looked at them that way. I desperately hoped so. I desperately hope so. I wept. I kept my eyes open and stared at my baby through the tears that rolled down my cheeks.
I was overcome by the power of the story I'd written in my head- about the moment a baby is born and how the way it is received affects the rest of its life. I imagined the unconditional love I felt for my daughter on that first night, before I knew almost anything about her, being both anchor and buoy for her for the rest of her life. I thought of it like a karmic well she could tap into later when she was hurt or struggling. I briefly imagined becoming a doctor or a nurse just so I could be there for as many births as possible, as if I could somehow ensure that those babies were well loved.
Delirious, I told you.
I know this is all a fairy tale. A beautiful fairy tale perhaps, lit by love and happiness and deepened by the tragedy that not all babies are born wanted. It's only a story, though. It's the result of a very tired mama whose body had just done a lot of big things, with a newborn in her arms and three babies sleeping on the floor at a friends house not far away. A mama facing the monumental task of raising four children and marveling over the significance of a single moment.
Life however, real life, is much much more complicated than that. If nothing else life is LONGER than that, which thankfully means it is also much more forgiving. Birth is only a moment in time. There are so many different factors that can affect the relationship between a newborn and its mother, and we are fortunate enough to live in a time when we know all about them and there are systems in place to help. We now know that birth moms*, foster moms, adoptive moms, moms with post-pardum depression, and moms that just need a little time to bond with their babies all will have an entire lifetime of opportunities for precious moments. The length of time between your child's first breath and the first time you gaze adoringly into her eyes is not by itself a measure of how fulfilling your relationship will be, nor how happy and successful your child will be.
I know this is true.
Yet here I sit, mother of four children, the night after my baby crawled for the first time, and I think of my oldest daughter. When did she learn to crawl?
I missed it.
First foods first teeth first steps first words, and all the days in between. The drool, the chunky thighs, the babbling. Holidays, naps, missed naps, buckling babies into car seats over and over and over again. Wiping noses and butts and checking temperatures and sending them off to the first day of kindergarten and crying because it all happens so fast. I missed a lot.
So you see how this is more than a fairy tale for me, because it's personal. Once you strip away the grandiose proclamations about all the babies and drop the dramatic implications of some sort of predetermined destiny, you are left with just me and my feelings.
Sometimes I get the impression that people think since I've procreated the old fashioned way now, I'll no longer lament the fact that I missed the beginning of my older children's lives. It's not so. I've come to terms with the fact that my children had a life before me- a life without me. I respect that time as valuable and important, and I fully appreciate the fact that I am not nor will I ever be the only mom in their lives. It's no longer a source of anger or frustration. I feel no inner turmoil, and most days I don't think about it at all.
Mostly, I just wish I could have been there. Every time we reach a new milestone with our fourth, I feel a twinge of grief that I missed it with the first three. When I make a note in her baby book about the way the weeks have been going and what she's learned, I long for these days with the others. I don't feel robbed or jaded, nor do I feel like the sweetness of our moments with the baby are at all embittered by wishes about the past. I only mean to say that, far from being some sort of consolation prize, our baby is a precious and beautiful gift, the perfect addition to our family, and occasionally a quiet reminder that I know very little about the early years of my older kids' lives.
I love them all, I am grateful for them all, and I know that no matter when you get them they grow up too fast. Even on my worst days, when all I want is a baby sitter and a hot tub and maybe a margarita, I will tell you that I am thankful for this time in my life when they fill my house with noise and shoes and never-ending requests. I just might follow it up with a 'but OH MY GOD when will they stop...' whatever annoying thing has got me all tied up in knots that day.
*Please note that when I say 'mom' I also mean dad, it would just be cumbersome to write both every single time.