She Brought Forth Her Firstborn Daughter . . .
On Sunday, she discovered a toy – a black and white butterfly that makes her sputter in delight and holds her wide-eyed attention for minutes at a time. “She acts like this is the most amazing thing she has ever seen in her whole life,” I said to my husband. “Oh, wait . . . it probably is.”
I’ve kept her world narrow these first few weeks. I hated the 24 hours we spent in the hospital post-birth: the heel prickings, the wakings every two hours, the constant stream of nurses, form pushers, photographers, hearing testers. I’m trying to keep the world away just a little longer.
Now she’s asleep on my chest, a little milk dribbled on her chin, and I am thinking about energy and tethered psyches. On Saturday, after she helped herself to a generous breakfast, I set her down for a morning nap. She was limp and breathing heavily, so I took advantage of my husband’s presence to steal away to the supermarket. I returned an hour later to a debris of soothing devices littered across the living room. “The moment your car door shut, her eyes sprang wide open,” my husband relayed. “And she began to wail. I did everything right – swaddling, diaper changing, shushing, rocking, singing. I even pulled out the white noise machine. She started shaking, she was sobbing so hard. She turned pale. And then about ninety seconds before you pulled in the garage, she suddenly stopped crying and looked up at me content. She knew you were gone. And I don’t know how, but she suddenly knew you were back. It was like her universe tilted in your absence.”
For the record, she normally does not cry much and my husband is very good at soothing her. When I returned from the store that day, she remained content in my husband’s arms while I put away the groceries, finally falling asleep on his chest. “It’s enough for her to know you are in her orbit,” he said.
I believe it. For 42 weeks, our fluids and hormones and souls co-mingled. She felt my moods; she drank the changes in my body chemistry. We played the poke game for hours. I sang “Annie’s Song” so frequently that, on this side of the womb, her eyes begin to flutter shut the moment I hum its opening bars.
I believe it because I know what it is to sense the presence and absence of others, even across the miles. At least once a month, I reach my husband’s voicemail because we choose to call each other at the exact same moment. When my phone rings, often know who is calling – if that person is family. I had one friend who, for a decade, sent me letters perhaps twice a year, but they always arrived on a day I absolutely needed to know I was remembered and loved. I shared a room with one sister from my birth, and all those hours of breathing the same air created an indelible link. We sense things about each other. During perhaps the worst contraction of my 34-hour unmedicated labor, my phone lit up with a text-message of support. She knew, but didn’t know that she knew. So should it surprise me that I often open my eyes just moments before my daughter opens hers?
In church, when we talk about the Godhead, we usually explain their “oneness” as “one in purpose and mission.” But that seems too limited, too reasonable. I think it’s goes far beyond that – for them and for us; a link so profound that it creates a physical ache when that presence is withdrawn. It’s the soul wound I felt when my father died, a severing of energy in this plane of existence. What sense of absence caused Jesus to cry, “My god, my god; why hast thou forsaken me?” Is there a cosmic loneliness we feel in our mortal separation from our heavenly mother and father?
The only emotion I have ever felt that was as primal as the evening my father left the world was the evening I pushed my daughter into the world. When I let go of conscious thought, my body knew what to do, how to push – and with sheer force that shocked me and that I would never be able to consciously recreate. I wonder what else my body and soul know, what they can sense, that I do not allow.
My daughter will surely begin untether herself from me as she explores her world. The bond will evolve and she will rightly latch on to others as well. But for now, like Mary, I’ll take “all these things and ponder them in [my] heart.”