"But the last one:
the baby who trails her scent
like a flag of surrender through your
life when there will be
no more coming after ---
oh, that's a love by a different name."
"The Poisonwood Bible"
Tomorrow is Mac's fourth birthday. Fourth. It doesn't seem possible and at the same time it seems completely normal. Mac is now at the age where she wants to know what she was like as a baby. How did I look mommy? What did I do? What was it like when I was born?
How do you tell you child that the day she was born was the best and possibly the worst day of your life? How do you explain the absence of pictures in her plastic cradle in the hospital? How do you explain the absence of pictures with friends and family celebrating her arrival? You can't really. You just give her the story that she wants. The one that she can understand.
So I tell her that she was born on a clear Monday morning, at seven twenty four. And that mommy stayed up all night waiting for her. And when she was born she was so small that even the doctor was surprised. She had the smallest nose, and the tiniest fingers. And when the nurses wrapped her tightly in the stripped blue and pink blanket that she looked like a doll, no bigger than Daddy's brown football that sits on the chair by the sliding glass door. I tell her that she slept most of the first night, and that she slept on my legs, as I lay in bed, watching her so closely as if I had never welcomed a newborn into the world before. I tell her that I loved her instantly and that for lack of a better song, the only one I could think to sing was Hey Jude by the Beatles. And since I have a terrible voice I whispered most of it as I held her as close to my heart as I could.
I leave out the scary parts. I don't tell her that mommy could have died that day. That it took the doctors almost five hours to stop the bleeding. That my soiled bedding ended up weighing almost as much as she did. I don't tell her that I cried, and grandma cried, and that Daddy spent almost three hours alone with her in a recovery room with an empty bed. I don't tell her that my life flashed before my eyes, like a cruel slide show, showing me all the things I loved about being mother, as I woke from the anesthesia. I don't tell her just how close we came to losing this life, that after four years, we take comfort in and take for granted.
One day, possibly when she has children of her own, I'll tell her how she saved me. How she taught me just how wonderful it is to be a mother. How she was able to show me and make me believe that I was a good one. The kind of mother I always wanted to be, and quite possibly the kind of mother I was from the very beginning. I'll tell her that I'm a better person for being her mother, and I'm a better mother to her sister because of that too. I'll tell her that with every year she gets older my heartaches for that tiny bundle of joy, that I finally got to hold after the longest day of labor and delivery. That by the time I really got to look at her the sun was clouded by grey skies, and my arms almost too weak to hold her tightly. I'll tell her that once I got her, in that room well after three o'clock in the afternoon that I didn't want to let her go. Not for nurses, or Daddy, or Grandma. That today, I still don't want to let her go.
One day I'll tell her that her birthday will always be bittersweet. There will always be big parties to celebrate her and the gift that she is to us. But there will always be a quiet celebration for me. Celebrating the precious life I'm so happy to be living. Celebrating the second child I wasn't sure I wanted. Celebrating the discovery of the absolute joy motherhood can be. And it will also be a day to remember that she is my last baby. And she does trail her scent in everything that I do, into every aspect of our lives, reminding us just how amazing life is, and bringing joy to all the chaos and to all the ordinary.
Tomorrow she will be four. And I will tell her that on the day she was born I watched the sun rise over the mountains behind the hospital as I waited for her. While Daddy napped, and Auntie and Uncle broke every speed limit from Tulare to Fresno. I'll tell her that sister drew her pictures, and that Grandma was one of the first people to hold her. I will tell her that the day was perfect.
Because it was. And it is. Happy Birthday Mac.