On Thursday, my second niece had a baby boy, her first baby. I am a great-aunt again. She is far away in Colorado, her mom and sisters in Pennsylvania, her dad and brother in North Carolina. We are far flung. I am missing her, missing family, missing my mom, who would be thrilled that William Beckett has arrived.
Our niece was with us the night our son was born, 13 ½ years ago, living in our empty NYC apartment. We had moved to Ohio, but kept a few things in our apartment because the baby was coming in July, and we would have him in Manhattan. Constance was living there, already a sophisticated New Yorker, exploring the city.
Constance entertained us through dinner at Mary Ann’s as my water broke, through Ocean’s Eleven, as I paced the apartment, contractions intensifying. It was Constance who beseeched Benny, our favorite doorman, to find a cab as a monsoon raged that hot July night. When our son was born, our third--a no drugs VBAC delivery in less than an hour from the time we left for the hospital till I held him in my arms--I felt powerful, fierce, triumphant—my own version of Wonder Woman. If I could do this, I could manage anything. Constance was the first to arrive to welcome Atticus to the world. He worships her, has already acquired a box full of presents he intends to send his tiny cousin: a Clifford onesie with matching socks, a Clifford book, other books, a teething animal, a bathtub book, and several outfits plus a card he chose and signed himself.
“When can we go see them, Mom?”, he asks, impatient, as if we could simply tesser to Denver.
All weekend, I’ve been thinking about babies, about all the things I thought I had forgotten. In those days, when Atticus was born, I was not a writer. I was not a writer when our girls eleven and nine years before our son. I didn’t capture all I wished I had thought to write down, to remember forever. So, now, I concentrate. I work to recall the moments of my last pregnancy and our son’s birth and my early days of mothering him as a way to reach across the country, to honor Constance and her first few days of being a mom. Here is what floats back to me:
The feeling of a baby moving inside me at about seventeen weeks, like champagne bubbles bursting or a tiny minnow swimming, my thin nightgown fluttering so faintly that I think I’ve imagined it, but I haven’t. With the third baby, I feel the movement earlier. I know what to expect.
My husband singing low to my distended belly, as we lay in bed: “Buffalo baby, won’t you come out tonight, come out tonight, come out tonight and dance by the light of the moon.” He sang this song to every one of our babies.
The actual moon glowing through the small bathroom window, which I noticed as I got up in the middle of the night—every single night--during those last bulky weeks.
The sight and sensation of a foot or elbow moving across my taut belly, one side to the other, in slow motion, part-horror-movie special effect, part amazing act of nature.
Getting stuck, turtle-like, in a deep chair, unable to rise by myself, and calling, plaintively, for someone to come to help me up.
The swollen ankles that came only with the last baby in heat of summer. Doing legs up the wall in our apartment.
The extraordinary fact that, after two girls, we had made a boy baby, who lay on my chest, exquisite, vermix-covered, delicious.
Trembling uncontrollably as Seth wheeled me to my room. I was not cold; I felt great but shivery, as if adrenalin, no-longer needed, was still coursing through me. The marvel of a heated blanket that helped my body relax.
That last washed and snuggled burrito baby, tightly swaddled next to me in the hospital bed. My pride in showing him off to the visitors who came to greet him and to send us off into our new life in Ohio.
The smell of his wizened baby body, his dark hair a sleek cap stretched over his skull and those first hours of wonder as we came to know each other.
Grimacing at his early latching-ons and my poor raw nipples, un-soothed by calendula ointment, resistant to nipple shields, paradoxically only better the more the baby nursed, my uterus aching with each suck.
Finally, with the third baby, feeling confident about how to pop him into the Snugli, how to read while nursing, how to fit him into the contours of our lives.
The startling spray of baby pee as I leaned over our new son—actually, I’m okay forgetting that one.
A few hours after we learn Constance’s baby has arrived, my second daughter and I talk on the phone as she takes a bus across Manhattan. She has spent the afternoon babysitting a rambunctious toddler and wonders why women choose to have babies. “They’re smelly and they’re sticky and you have them for the rest of you life. Everything you do revolves around them forever.” Yes.
And forever goes fast. Welcome to the world, little Beckett. Welcome to motherhood, Constance.