My daughter is two months old, and somehow I've managed to grab a few minutes of peace. She's sleeping in the bassinet near my bed, her arms swaddled against her chest, her right hand sticking out so she can reach her fingers into her mouth, her chosen method of self-soothing.
I lie in bed reading, reclined against my deflated pillows, the room dark except for the glow of my Kindle. I instinctively place a hand on my belly and find myself surprised that it’s flat—not as flat as it used to be, and a little deflated like my pillows, but certainly flat compared to the overinflated basketball it was just two months ago.
Lying in bed was uncomfortable most nights during my last few weeks of pregnancy. The enormity of my belly meant that I had to do a three-point turn just to roll from aching hip to aching hip. When you’re pregnant, you can’t lie flat on your back, you can’t lie on your stomach, and I don’t know about you, but my hips hurt so badly near the end that I woke nearly every hour, groaning as I attempted another turnover.
Now my baby girl fills not my belly but my heart and my ears as she snoozes and snores and grunts just a few feet away from me. Though I longed for the day when I could lay in bed comfortably, when my body would be mine once again, I can’t help but feel as though part of my heart is in her bassinet instead of inside my body, and this time it’s my heart that’s aching instead of my hips.
We shared a body for nearly ten months; my belly her first home. The saggy skin and stretch marks are my physical scars; the phantom kicks are my muscle memory.
In the early days of my daughter's life, we spent hours upon hours breastfeeding, so though she wasn’t inside of me, she was on me. We still breastfeed, but we’re not constantly attached, skin-to-skin, as we once were. With each feed she grows more efficient, and as she takes her fill during the day, she’s dropping night feedings, just as she’s shedding so many newborn traits: her eyes are opening wider, her cries are not so shrill, she holds her head up as if she’s never needed me to support her.
In the daze of the newborn days, I longed for just a little independence, and now that I have it, I love-hate it. I wouldn’t trade my eight-hour stretches of sleep, but I would pay good money for the ability to revisit and curl up inside those sweet, simple moments in time: dozing off while she's snuggled on my chest; breathing in the smell of her hair and gently kissing the spot where her cheek meets her ear; pulling her lips out into the perfect latch as we settle in for another middle-of-the-night feeding, with The Great British Baking Show playing in the background.
I’ve heard that babies don’t understand they are separate creatures from their mothers. We as adult women know that we are separate from our babies—but do we really? Sometimes I forget that my body and my daughter's are not one, that my feelings are not her feelings and my desires are not her desires. I forget that she no longer rolls in my belly as I roll in the night, that she has a will and a voice and a purpose that are not my own, but hers alone.
Once a mother bears children, her body is never truly hers again, not really. Our bodies are homes for the babies we grow, and then they are broken open and given up to birth them. Those babies continue to find their nourishment from our bodies, and even once weaned, they find protection in our arms and comfort in our laps. Our shoulders will be tapped and our arms will be pulled and our legs will be clung to by growing hands. We will be the providers of warmth, of security, of love and affection, our lips providing the words our children desperately need to hear as they grow.
My daughter is learning to be an independent being, and I’m constantly torn between nurturing her independence and wanting to keep her dependent on me, needing me on some level. I hope she will seek me when she’s sick and hurting, when she needs help or wants to celebrate, when she wants to speak her mind to someone who will listen.
I hope she knows that I am a place where she will always find unshakeable refuge, a place where she will always be at home.