Thursday, September 8, 2011

life with a newborn

I had forgotten how elemental, how primal, life with a newborn is. It makes perfect sense that this flows directly from childbirth, perhaps the most primal act of all. Caring for a newborn you are boiled down to all the most basic elements in nature: food, air, love, light, breath, sleep, exhaustion, pain. You spend hours skin to skin, babe to breast, listening to baby breathing, swallowing, panting. When you're not thinking about how much you love your new baby or how much you miss sleeping, your thinking about food. Communication is reduced to its simplest forms: touch, comfort, nourishment, staring into your newborn's impossibly deep, cobalt blue eyes, seeing the world and light and your face for the first time.

Even in the early morning hours when I'm aching to go back to sleep, I find myself staring at Oscar, amazed once again at how deeply and completely I am in love with this child. I sit and fight back sleep just to watch his little face, waiting for a fleeting smile to cross his lips, watching him nursing in his sleep. When I look at him I can feel the love surge through me like the blood in my veins. I love every little detail about him, from his funny spiky hair to his freakishly long, skinny toes (sorry Oscar - you got those from me). He has soft, tiny white hairs all over him, covering the sweet, soft curve of his back, arms, shoulders. He looks like Brian, looks like Dora as a newborn. He even smells delicious - just they way he should, like one of us, a member of our tribe. 

Even with that deep love coursing through my veins, it takes a lot of faith to get through this time. It is a time of great blessing, and of great pain as well. In the labor room, I was crying out to God to help me. And I need God to help me now - to calm my fears as I fall again in such all consuming love with my children, to give me wisdom and patience in the late hours, when I am bleary and sleep-deprived and hardly functional, while simultaneously being relentlessly tested by my children. I need God to help me believe in myself, believe that I am a good mother, believe that I can manage this. I need God to be listening, perhaps now more than ever.

In my first week of late-night feedings, I re-read "Traveling Mercies" by Anne Lamott, one of my very favorite authors. In this wonderful book she chronicles her journey of faith, which is quite dramatic and extreme - from alcoholism and drug addiction to a strong, enduring commitment to her faith and her church. I love this book (and all of Lamott's writing) because it is written with such honesty, acknowledging her personal flaws and shortcomings while simultaneously showing us the grace and humility (and humor) of life. She doesn't shy away from the pain that she and her friends and family have in their lives, but instead shows that by coming together, by "showing up", we help each other get through all of life - both the bitter and the sweet. 

In his three weeks here with us Oscar has been to church a couple of times. It has been wonderful to be there, in that sacred space, surrounded by so many people who love us and have supported us and our growing family. I love that my children are growing up in that community, where there is always someone willing and ready to hold the baby, to wrangle my wild 4-year-old, to bring us a meal, to "show up" without even being asked. In our church family and with our community of friends here in Asheville, we are surrounded by people who just step in, just seem to know when they are needed.

Last week we also went to a memorial service for a wonderful friend and co-worker who passed away this spring after a battle with brain cancer. He was a lovely, warm, positive person and is sadly missed by many people. The service was held outdoors at the NC Arboretum. Friend after friend approached the podium singing this man's praises as the sun rose above the trees, bathing all of us in warmth and light. As the day wore on it became uncomfortably hot in the sun, people moving around trying to catch the last bits of shade. The service was almost over and a friend was reminding us of how we can keep Joe alive in our hearts by learning from him about positivity, about enjoying each moment, about having a smile on our faces. A deliciously cool breeze blew through the crowd as the service ended, and I felt our friend's presence strongly among the people present, all of us who had "shown up" to remember him and acknowledge his loss.  

Having children does open your eyes in ways that few other things do. Living with a newborn is a great reminder of how much we need other people, how much we need them to "show up", to come together around us, to step in, to know when they are needed. The newborn reminds us of all of our primal needs, shows us how these needs continue even in the complicated world of adulthood. We need each other, and we need God - from the delivery room to the memorial service, from birth to death, from hours spent staring lovingly at every detail of the newborn baby to a lifetime spent remembering, and learning from, our lost friends and loved ones. I am thankful for this time of reflection, for being reminded of these things, for the opportunity to accept the love and help of others. Thank you to everyone who has "shown up" for my little family - we are truly blessed by your love.