Friday, February 25, 2011

Newborn babies and something about death...

I had the absolute pleasure of holding a friend's newborn baby this week. It felt good. I mean, really really good. But, not quite good enough to make me forget life six months ago, when Louisey was 5 weeks old. C-sections and sleeplessness. I don't quite know for sure that I definitely don't want another one, but I know... Not yet.

Louise slept for the first 3 weeks of her life. 20-21 hours a day. She slept so much that I actually called the doctor's office, convinced that something was wrong with her, because there was just no way that I finally had two children and it was this easy. But then, she boinged to life and even lived up to her big sister's reputation for being a terrifyingly demanding baby. Although, she wasn't really demanding anything, I guess. She just cried a lot. All the time. Inconsolably. For hours.

Doctors don't really know why some babies are colicky. They think maybe it's related to digestion or over-stimulation. All they can really tell you with any degree of certainty is that they'll grow out of it by the time they're 3 or 4 months old. Both of my babies screamed for at least 3 hours every day, red-faced and tightened up with little muscled fists. The worst time for them was always nightfall. I would cook something nice for dinner, and we would sit at the table together in the fading daylight, pretending to enjoy ourselves for the sake of my fragile domestic sanity, while the baby screamed and screamed in the swing next to us.

They're wondrous, newborns. Doctors say they're not sure why babies cry like that, but I'm pretty sure I am.

I watched my grandmother dying this winter. She had breast cancer that eventually settled into her brain, and she just slowly became less and less like a person inhabiting a body. At first, she spent almost all of her time here, with us on earth, and over the course of a few months, she slowly existed more and more in the place people go when they die. At the end of her life, she slept almost all day. Long stretches of sleeping, punctuated by waking moments of serenity where she would stare through the world with faraway eyes. And sometimes she woke up in a panic, unsure of where she was or what was happening. She would cry like a child and she craved simple things, like ice cream and sunlight on the back porch steps.

Seeing somebody die made me a better mommy to my second newborn daughter.

When Scouty was born, I went from being a fuckup junky kid with nowhere to be, to being the keeper and protector of a little, perfect life. I was just a jerk, but then suddenly, I was mommy... and newborn babies scared the shit out of me. Scouty slept a lot, too. But when she was awake, she was crying. I even remember asking my mother at one point, "Is there ever a time when babies are awake and not crying?" She told me, "That's what we're aiming for."

Scouty wanted to nurse all of the time, and she would cry and cry when I ran out of milk too soon. She cried when I bathed her, dressed her, lay her down in her crib. She cried if I had to shower or use the bathroom. She cried in the car seat, when I swaddled her and when I didn't. I didn't realize that this is just what babies do. Any time you move them or jostle them or leave them for a moment, they cry. I didn't know that it wasn't actually scary.

I think of this "crying all the time phase" as the period where my babies crossed over from being in the place people are before they're born, to being fully here. Of this world. In the place where people are when they're alive.

By the time Louise was born, I had already been through having a baby, once... and I'd also watched my grandmother sleeping 20 hours of every 24. I saw her plucking at the fabric of her bedding. I saw how she looked through me unless somebody startled her back into being. If you wanted her to really see you, you had to yell her name, "Grace!" She would blink into existence for a moment and say hello and smile, then slowly drift back into the place between worlds.

I really believe and understand that both of my daughters knew what it was like to be dead, when they were born. When they slept and slept, and opened their eyes to see the world as being different than I did, because I've been alive for long enough to forget what it was like before I lived. Both of my daughters were so small and new and soft and sleepy, and they remembered what it was like to not exist, yet.

Over the first few weeks of their lives, they plucked and stretched and peered their way into themselves, into their places in the world. They slowly stopped existing in that other realm and became a part of this one. They woke up. Came alive. And oh baby, did they let me know it!

Why wouldn't a new little person cry and cry and cry, given that they used to not be born, and now they were awake for longer and longer periods of time in a place where everything was new and shining and relentless? Where sounds and light and sensations, most of them beautiful and some of them terrible, just wouldn't go away. Where every time they weren't sleeping they were somewhere unfamiliar. Only, the world wasn't only unfamiliar, it was their entire existence exploding into being! Why wouldn't they cry, especially in the evenings, after waking softly and holding it together for hours and hours, until it started to get dark and the world closed up shop and everybody huddled up under a ceiling and said sleep now, darling. Just close your eyes and shut out the world and its wonders and sleep.

I'd flip my shit, too.

Little babies are so still and wise and perfect, but they're only that way for such a very short time. Well, they're our kids. They're always perfect. They become like us, though. Like people who are alive... and they quickly get hungry and wild for being and its captivating sensations. If they're lucky, (like they all should be,) they learn quickly that being alive means being surrounded by color and light and wrapped up in love. Everything they do is new, and it's wonderful and magical and most of all, worthwhile. Most of them don't even want to sleep, once they really wake up, and I don't blame them.

I believe that when babies are born, they're smarter than we are. They know something that we don't know. They know that we don't have to be afraid to not exist.

My friend's gorgeous, wise, perfect little guy at 5 weeks old.