I was not entitled to fret about being alone now, I chided myself, as if allowing oneself to panic was an indulgence afforded only to two-parent families. I’d longed for this, subjected myself to all kinds of emotional and physical obstacles, never mind financial, to welcome the miracle of my daughter. The books I consulted were all hopelessly out of date when it came to modern parenting. They coached me to involve my husband: get Dad to put the baby to bed after feedings, handle the diapering!
In graduate school, I’d juggled nanny jobs for three different families with infants and toddlers, children I adored. Had I forgotten everything? I did not recall this much spit up. My baby soaked onesies, blankets, my clothes. I changed sheets at 2 a.m., then while she slept soundly, typed hormonal worries into the Google search bar until I diagnosed my baby via WebMD with various rare conditions. I left panicked messages, “I read this article today….” until my mother and sister wisely begged me to please stop reading and trust myself. “She’s healthy,” they reminded me. “You’re doing just fine.”
I’d invested years and a small fortune in my education, honed a particular set of talents and skills that seemed, from what I could tell, to actually matter to people in my profession, skills I also teach—none of which was serving me especially well in new motherhood. “But you are very quickly the world’s leading expert on your baby,” the writer Clare Beams kindly and sensibly reminded me in the midst of an exceptionally sleepless week, “which is a pretty amazing thing to be.”
I learned the wood floors of our house as if it were a giant chessboard—avoiding creaky boards here and there as I deftly moved my light-sleeping newborn from the rocker in her nursery to the bassinet, now next to my bed. My overzealous online research paid off when I scored a swaddle that allowed her to self-soothe, hands near her face the way I’d first observed them in ultrasound images. We survived Target. She began to sleep for three-hour stretches, sometimes six. She smiled at me, and the Heavens opened. I stopped looking everything up and instead attuned myself to my daughter: her cries, coos, stares, and grins. I trusted her expanding capability to communicate her needs, my knack for watching and listening, the implicit bond between us. I became so enamored with knowing this thoughtful human, I forgot to worry about doing it alone.
I wasn’t doing it alone anyway. My parents, sister, brother-in-law, nieces, and friends were helping me; seeing them love on Birdie was nothing short of magic, whether they were smothering her in kisses or holding her until they both fell asleep watching golf.