The earth shakes when the doctor places your firstborn in your arms. Your love for him is colored by terror because you are positive that he is going to die with each passing minute. You bring him home understanding that the Universe has made a mistake, that someone more qualified, more motherly will show up to retrieve him soon. So while you wait, you play house for awhile. You hold him with trembling, clutching, sweaty hands. You still do. You do not trust that he will be able to navigate his world. You eye his doctors, his playmates, his teachers, even his grandparents with great suspicion. Will they be gentle enough with him? He is so sensitive.
What you really mean is: I am so sensitive. I can’t handle the ferocity and fragility of this new love. Please be careful with us.
You think if you just hold his hand tight enough, read the right books, choose the right foods, choose the right schools…if you just hold your breath forever…it’ll be okay. You’re not sure what okay is anymore. Maybe okay means you’ll succeed at keeping him and the world apart forever. Maybe okay just means that you’ll both survive this love, this love so intense it threatens to consume you both like a fire.
Holding your second, you become human again. You are elated and concerned. Your firstborn is replaced. You can’t look at or listen to both of your babies at the same time. So you look at your baby while talking about your firstborn. You say, hold on honey/baby/boogie far too many times. Your guilt is relentless. How will you convince them both that they are the center of your universe? This new angel seems like a stranger at first, and then your firstborn does. Suddenly he appears to be a giant. You wonder when he’ll start pulling his weight already. You are worried you’ll never find your balance. What is the right division of time, love, attention, fear, worry? And then, for the first time, you become concerned with how the juggling act you’re attempting to perform looks to the world. Am I doing it right? Am I saying the right things? Am I buying the right diaper bag, house, car, invitations? Are they wearing the right clothes? Am I? Do I appear to be enjoying motherhood enough???
But then again, you have your moments, don’t you? When they smile at each other, when he retrieves her toy, touches her hair, tickles her feet. When you hear two giggles coming from the family room for the first time. When you and your husband look at the two of them on the floor and exhange a glance that means – look at what we did. We’re doing it. We’re making a family.
Then the third arrives. And as you hold him for the first time, you notice that your hands are steady. The all consuming fire is gone. Love is just . . . love. You don’t feel threatened anymore by him or the world. Because all of a sudden you see in his teeny little face that he is the world, no need to protect him from himself. And you understand now that you’re not his protector anyway, he has One of Those. You’re just his teacher. You’re just borrowing him for a little while. You decide not to spend so much of your precious time begging God to protect him from the world. Seems silly, all of a sudden.
Then, as you count him impossibly tiny fingers with yours, you check your heart and find no guilt there. Because you understand that you are about to present your older children with the greatest gift of their lives. Who else but a sibling travels with you from the start of Life’s path to the bitter end? And you know, now, that if the olders spend the next few months relearning that They’re Not the Center of the Universe…well, good then. It’s an important thing to know, and it’s a lesson best learned early. So there’s another gift to them, courtesy of you, and this new littlest one.
And now, you understand that things will get tougher at home. You will sweat even more at the grocery store. You will look far less graceful at play dates. But you will care less. Because by now you have listened to and spoken to enough honest mothers to understand that we’re all in this together. That there is no prize for most composed. So you’ve decided to stop making motherhood harder by pretending it’s not hard.
Then you look down at him…your third… and you think: what’s so different about you? But before you’ve even finished asking the question, you know the answer. And your heart says to him – Oh. You’re not different than the other two…I’m different. I am learning how to love without so much fear. How to relax a bit, in this brutiful world. How to let go and trust. You are helping me breathe easier, you three. One at a time, and together.