As I waddle my way through that to-do list, I try to get a handle on what happened when Ingrid was an infant, why it was so hard and what I can do to make it better this time.
I’ve been keeping a journal, off and on, for a long time. (It made me shriek a little, just now, when I did the math to figure out how many years: 19.) The main result of this is a lot of heavy boxes full of notebooks with not much of interest in them. But once in a while I read back and find something I’m glad I wrote down. Like this, from the month after Ingrid was born:
She already seems so BIG. A and E from work came to visit Friday and went on about how tiny and delicate she seems. And people I meet on errands and walks say the same. But to me she already seems so much bigger and stronger than when she was born. Her face is stronger, is already losing that absolutely peaceful newborn softness and taking on more personality, becoming more a person’s face than a little spirit’s.
The pace of change is almost violent—both what I’ve seen already and what I anticipate. I remember feeling this especially strongly the day my mom left—thinking, two weeks ago I was a giant pregnant lady with no children. Then I was in labor. Then I was in the hospital gazing at a sweet newborn. Then there was this time when everyone was around taking care of me, and now they’ve all left and I am really a mother and she! She is a pound bigger than when she was born and look how much she’s already changed.
It’s like being a parent requires you to be able to roll with lightning-paced change, to love someone who again and again rips you open with her newness. It’s like every day you have to say goodbye to someone you love and welcome in someone entirely different. It’s a new kind of love. The other loves in our lives—romantic partners, parents, even friends—part of the deal is that they are relatively constant. They do change, and part of the challenge of love is to let them change, to let yourself change within it. But in almost every case the pace of change is slow—from one year to the next the difference is small. But Ingrid—this baby—a year from now she will be walking, probably, and beginning to say things, and will have a whole set of needs and preferences and qualities that I can’t even imagine today, and my sweet three-and-a-half week old, with that particular full-of-milk look, that certain way of smiling, those tiny hands and that little munchkin face—she will be long-gone, replaced by a succession of little Ingrids, each of whom I love heartbreakingly much. It is a different kind of love, a painful kind of love, to love someone who grows and grows and grows like this. I can’t imagine anything else that could stretch my heart this way.
Everyone knows parents get sentimental about how fast they grow up. Printed on one of the tiny onesies I unboxed this afternoon: If they could just stay little.
But it still surprises me how intensely I experienced growth, her growth, as loss. I remember the sadness of it, still, vividly.
I still feel these things: Grief when I notice she’s left something behind; intense love for who she is each week, each day, and excitement about what comes next. In a way I’m glad to have the chance to feel those extraordinary, opposite emotions at once. How vital, how thrilling, to be in this. But in those first months, it felt, as did so many other things, like too much. The volume of those emotions was turned up so high it was all I could do to hear anything else at all. What will happen when I go, again, into the storm of life with a newborn—a newborn who will be, barring a major rearrangement of priorities or major birth control failure—our last baby? I hope I’ll be able to take it all in, this time, without being too overwhelmed to see the arc of joy over it all.