Thursday, April 30, 2009

One Hour and Six Years Old

On this day six years ago, at the corresponding moment of this post, my son was exactly one hour old. I had delivered him (after a two-day medical dance of IV pitocin, raised and lowered doses, fetal monitors, anticipation, frustration with the stalling process of induction . . . ), and I had held him close to my heart, touching skin-to-skin after nine months of wondering what that moment would be like. Then he was whisked off to the NICU. I was too exhausted to think straight; my blood pressure too high to be calm, and yet I had no energy left to be anything but. I wondered when I would see my son next—the fact that I'd had a son took time to sink in, as we had elected to wait until birth to discover the baby's gender—and I wondered whether it was somehow my fault that he was in an incubator and not sharing my postpartum room. It turned out to be something fairly common (who knew?) with a horrible sounding name: he had a pneumothorax, a tiny air leak from the lung tissue into the space outside the airways. The pediatric specialist in the NICU explained that this happened sometimes during the initial air exchange, when a newborn is first required to breathe on his own. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that when my son was born, the umbilical cord was around his neck. I don't know. The condition was monitored, and in the space of four days, it resolved on its own and my son came home. On the night of April 30, 2003, though, I just remember an odd collision of emotion: elation and anticlimax as I lay in bed alone, unable to caress or feed the baby I'd carried to term with such care and unfocused (but intense) love. Later, we'd make up for it, my son and I. We'd take naps together, his tiny body sleeping peacefully on my own rising and falling chest, his fingers curled tightly around my thumb. We'd become inseparable, and learn to read each other's faces. Now, six years later, that initial separation seems insignificant. Then, it was emptiness and longing mixed with the contradictory feeling of having a full and satisfied heart. And really, this is what parenting is, I suppose: the contradictory impulses of wanting to keep a child with you, contained inside you, and also wanting to let him be a separate and even unknowable person, his own self without you. One hour and six years after his birth, my son reveals himself to me daily, little by little, but there will always be silences, absences along the way. Today, though, I focus on joy. On that brief moment after he took his first breath, when he was passed into my care, and I held his curled body—like a comma, a pause—in the cradle of my arms and wished for him every beautiful thing that life has to offer.

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