Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Night

The first week was blissful; almost otherworldly, but marked by panic. Panic mostly in the night, when my mind was hazy and groggy and less able to distinguish now from then. The baby, tiny and frail and smaller than any other baby I'd ever borne, would be curled next to me in the bed when I awoke, in her thin cotton nightie, swaddled tightly in the thin cotton blanket that I'd knicked from the hospital. Using their blanket, I reasoned, must be the safest temperature for the baby. I worried constantly about temperature: about heating or overheating. I wanted her next to me, but wondered if my heat would bring hers too high. Too warm, you know, isn't good. So I would always try to put a tiny bit of space between us when I would finish nursing her, to lay her on her back like I knew was the safest, and to give her that buffer to maintain her own cool temperature to be as safe as she could be.
But each time it was the same, when I awoke, she had inched herself across the bed and lay on her side, her face pressed into me, memorizing my scent. Like many mothers, I often awake before she is stirring, anticipating her need to nurse only seconds before she herself begins to root. And in that moment of silence, before the nuzzling began, my heart would stop every time in that first week, because she was too, too still.

It was like this, in the moment of my awakening: I would begin to come to, the hazy edges of awareness beginning to break into my sleep, when I would feel her little body next to mine and remember this new life I had with me, this new cherished being who seemed so precariously here. And then, suddenly, that hazy almost-awakeness would shift to an alert, alive panic: the baby was here, but she was still, too still, and most certainly dead. Her face was mashed into my body and how could she breathe, she could not breathe, she was suffocating in my own body and it was all my fault. I would bolt upright in my bed, grasping at her tiny body with my two hands and despairing at its limp flop as I lifted her to me. My adreniline would pump, and then I would push my face into hers and meet milky breath, and I could kiss her soft, wet lips then and feel their warmth, and I would realize that I was wrong that time, that she was still there, and we were in the clear.

The panic was precise, and hard, and real. I was telling my closest friend that I was having the roughest time yet with fearing death and I explained these nighttime wakings, and she said, "Don't you always worry that the baby has died in her sleep?" And I said no, not like that, not a worry, but it was real, and it was every single time. I would bolt awake and it was almost like she was dead, she was lost to me, until I found her. That is very, very different.

And then, in the days, I worried constantly. I couldn't think about her growing older, about her being an older baby or a little girl, because it seemed too unlikely to consider. I felt mean, awful, like I was slighting her as my daughter because I wasn't giving her the chance but I was just so, so scared. When I sat on my bed backwards, as I am prone to do, leaning on the footboard of the sleigh bed, I could not even look up to the framed photos of Charlotte. I could not consider one dead daughter when I was holding an alive one who, I might add, resembled her in an uncanny way. I couldn't risk sending the live one back. I couldn't even begin to recall the horror of losing one. It was all too much.

And through this all, this week of fearing she would die, of bolting upright in the night and shaking her awake, and generally feeling traumatized and slightly psychotic, there was also this incredible wash of bliss: of good fortune, and true delight in my new baby and my family. It was almost as if I was so thrilled to have her, so completely overjoyed to have welcomed her safely into the world, that this had to be countered with the true fear of loss. Fear, as I have said before, that feels so intimate to me because I am fearing what I know as a truth in my life.

And now? Fiona Clementine is SEVEN WEEKS OLD. My, how the time flies by. She is gurgling and smiling and getting oh-so-chubby as I watch on in delight. She is still mostly fetal, mind you, sleeping most of the time and tired after about 25 minutes of being awake a few times a day, but she is just unfolding into a little person before my very eyes. It is so amazing each and every time. Of course I still fear for her life, but it is not the same. It has faded into a worry that matches what I worried for Liam and Aoife, a worry that does not impair my function. I do not cry with fear for her any longer. The fear does not wake me in the night.Instead, when I wake just moments before her, I turn her face upwards and breathe in her sweet smell, and listen to her breath, and feel every so grateful for that very very moment. That panic, probably some sort of post-traumatic stress induced by hormones, has faded. I can rest comfortably with the fact that my baby can and will migrate into me every night while we sleep, and I can trust her body to do what all babies do, what all people do, to breathe in, and out, in and out, and for that little heart to beat.

I do, though, remind her, every night. "Don't forget to breathe." Just in case.


Beth said...

fiona looks so tiny in your bed. and i love the photos of charlotte above... love them. we have a collage in our room too. but it's above her basinette (still in our room, with a memory box in it instead of a baby) rather than our bed.

your fear sounds so real and debillitating... like i can feel it right along with you. which, im sure, is because that will be me, whenever i have a living child in my house. you know, a million years from now.

Aimee said...

OMG! Evan is wearing those same pj's that Fiona has on (those green/greenish striped ones) RIGHT NOW! (Though his are size 12 months....)

And I have a confession...I woke with panic for the first two weeks--the exact same panic you describe--the absolute deep down for sure feeling that the baby is dead, of course the baby is dead! What else could he be??? And know what? I did NOT write about it because my whole family would call me crazy and tell me I was exaggerating and that "all moms" feel that worry. But it isn't worry, is it, it is PANIC. I know what you mean. I know.

Once again, thank you for putting it into words.

Anonymous said...

I love that babies look you in the eyes. Love it. =)

she's beautiful. all your babies are so beautiful.

Adelaide's Mom said...

Love pic of her looking at you. LOVE! 7 weeks - how did that happen?

Hope's Mama said...

I can't imagine Angus as anything other than a tiny baby, and that scares me. I think that comes from having one baby who will only ever be a tiny baby, and nothing else. The fear is so debilitating. I hope it gets easier. But here you are, three more babies at home with you and it still stops you in your track. We'll get there though.
Love to you Carol.

kris said...

She is stunning, you are beautiful, Liam & Aoife are amazing. Your family is joy rising.

7 weeks. She's here to stay--but the reminders to breathe won't hurt her.

Happy 2010, Carol. Love!

Christy said...

omigod she is absolutely adorable. and you look so happy and in love.

Delia said...

Such a beautiful baby!! And such a touching post!! I remember carrying my second child down the hall at night and nearly jumping out of my skin because she looked so much like my daughter that was stillborn. After about 2 months, the panic subsided somewhat, but I still she her sister when I watch her sleep. Thanks for sharing this!