You sleep in a bassinet next to my bed.
In theory. In reality you sleep right next to me, curled up under my armpit, latched onto my body all throughout the night.
They say I shouldn’t do that. Doctors, nurses, frequenters of the internet’s seemingly endless supply of mommy blogs, militant keyboard warriors on a mission to instill fear and guilt deep in my gut every time I dare Google anything about how to take care of you.
They say it’s not safe. That I could roll over and crush you, smother the breath from your tiny little lungs.
But I made those lungs. I grew them. I watch them work under your skin, under your ribs, pushing your chest up with every breath. I hear you in the darkness, when the crying has stopped and everything is quiet. You are made of me, nourished by only me. My every thought belongs to you. There is no place on this earth more safe for you than nestled under my wing.
Sunlight streams in through the window, colouring us in golden morning light. You’re a late summer baby, brought into the world alongside the most punishing heatwave in recent memory. You sleep in a diaper and velvety soft skin. I sleep in bandages and stitches and pad-lined underwear. I sleep in sweat and legs that haven’t been shaved since before I met you.
My bladder is full. My hip hurts from where I’ve been lying on it all night. My nipples are chapped and raw and my stomach growls with a gnawing emptiness, but your eyes are closed and your chest moves up and down. Your little hand rests on my breast and I won’t wake you. I’ll lie here a mess of a person and wait for you, because I’m still your home, even if you live on the outside of me now.
Your nana comes to visit. She makes me scrambled eggs and toast and I eat them on the couch while she holds you. The apartment is a mess. I can’t blame you, because I’ve always been a mess, but it’s nice now to have an excuse.
Halfway through breakfast, you start to cry. I finish eating on the rocking chair, fork in my left hand while my right cradles you to my chest. We eat together. When a little piece of egg drops on your forehead, you open your eyes and look at me. Your eyes are so dark it’s hard to tell what colour they are. Maybe they’ll be blue like mine. Maybe brown like your dad’s. Maybe they’ll be something all your own.
I make the mistake of looking in the mirror before I take a shower. My stomach is lined with angry red stripes from where it grew to make room for you. The pretty round bump that lived under my stretchy maternity shirts is deflated now, like a balloon only half full of air. My breasts are enormous, so full that they leak when I press down to relieve a bit of the pressure. None of my bras fit anymore except for the pack of cheap stretchy sports ones I got at Walmart.
I only turn on the cold tap. It feels amazing. I can see blood swirling in the water that washes down the drain.
I put on the nicest shirt I have that still fits, something loose and flowy, trimmed with white lace. I almost feel human again.
Nana says we should go out, get some fresh air, see the sun. The pain would have me argue, but secretly I want to show you off, and everyone tells me I’ll heal faster if I try to stay active.
The fancy stroller we bought last month sits untouched on the balcony, and I tie you to my chest in a long cloth carrier. Your dad and I spent countless nights practicing with a doll as a stand in, but it still takes me three tries and multiple viewings of an in-depth tutorial on YouTube before I get it right. It’s worth it; your head is in the perfect spot for me to lean down and kiss the top of it.
You smell like another world. Like something pure and new and completely indescribable. You curl your arms and legs up and fall asleep with the side of your face pressed to my sternum as Nana and I walk the few blocks to the coffee shop. Every step is agony, the damage you did with your arrival only five days into the healing process, but every time I think it’s too much, I lean my head down and breathe in the scent of magic.
At the café, the ladies sitting at the table next to us coo over you when I pull the fabric of the carrier down to show them your face. “So much hair,” they say. “You must have had terrible heartburn.”
I did. I still do. But they don’t want to hear about that. No one wants to hear about how hard it was to carry you, the sleepless nights and kicks to my cervix like stabs from a knife. They don’t want to hear about the swollen ankles and the twinging back and the overwhelming fear of not knowing the first thing about caring for a living breathing human being. They don’t want me to tell them that I’m pretty sure I’m doing it all wrong already, that the responsibility is so much that sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe.
They want me to laugh and say it’s worth it for your gorgeous hair. They want to hear that the joy of seeing your face for the first time eclipses the pain and violence it took to get you here. And so, that’s what I tell them. I kiss the black silk that frames your head and drink up their assertions of your beauty with unadulterated pride. They’re right, you are precious. You are the sweetest little thing anyone’s ever seen.
I’ve got Kleenex shoved in my bra to stem the flow of milk leaking from my nipples. The Internet Mommies tell me that won’t last forever. I feel a bit like an overstuffed sausage splitting little rips in the casing. You wake up and start to cry, little mouth rooting around for what has been tucked away. I take you to the bathroom and nurse you there, because no one wants to see the work it takes to keep you alive, and I’m not brave enough to hold a middle finger up to society’s sanitization of what motherhood really looks like.
Nana goes home when your dad gets home from school. He’s brought dinner with him, and I eat it while you nap on his chest. I eat half of his dinner, too; I’m still eating for two. I feel like I could eat for five.
He puts on a movie and I put my feet up. My ankles are still twice their normal size. I fall asleep until you start to cry, and the milk lets down before I have a chance to get you latched on. Your dad starts the movie over and this time I stay awake to watch what I missed.
Then I sneeze. The muscles in my abdomen tense, and I scream. I didn’t have time to brace myself for it, and the pain of where those muscles were cut in half and sewn back together radiates throughout my entire body. I hand you over to him, climb into my bed, and cry.
The crying hurts almost as much as the sneezing had, but it feels cathartic. I press my palm flat against the bandage that covers my incision, counterbalancing the pressure, and cry until my head hurts.
The blinds are open, and I watch the sun start to set. Golden hour descends just as your dad carries you into the bedroom and lays you down next to me. He lies on the other side in our queen bed, and you’re sandwiched between two people who’ve never been so tired in their lives. Between two people who love you more than they need air to breathe.
I shuffle down so your tiny face is level with mine. You’re awake, more alert than I’ve ever seen you, and you reach out for me, grabbing my hair and yanking. It hurts, but I laugh. Your mouth finds my nose and I laugh harder when you start suckling at it.
Laughing hurts too. Everything hurts. Five days ago, you were still living on the inside of me. Five days ago they cut me open to get you out.
Five days ago, parenthood was a theoretical concept to me, and now it’s real. I’m living and breathing the beautiful, terrible reality of being your mother. Nana tells me it gets easier. She tells me she’s proud of me, that I’m not the failure I think I am, but that I’ll probably always feel like I am, at least a little bit.
It’s dark in the room when you fall asleep. I can hear your tiny breaths, and I don’t put you in the bassinet.
You are made of me. You sleep curled up under my armpit. I am your home.
And you are mine.