You turned 1 three weeks ago. I had hoped to write this letter before celebrating that milestone, but since your arrival in this world, I don’t seem to be on time very often.
I’m writing, sweet girl, to tell you happy birthday, and that I love you, inexpressibly so.
When we announced my pregnancy with you, almost everyone had one of two responses: “Your life will never be the same!” or “When you hold that baby for the first time, you’ll finally know what love is.”
Both of these statements annoyed me, for different reasons. “Of course life will change!” your dad and I would repeat to each other later, in private. Why else would we have waited so long to bite the bullet and have a baby? We knew we weren’t taking in a stray cat.
The second declaration was even worse. To me, it implied that sure, I thought I loved my husband; sure, I thought I loved my family members; but a few minutes with this 7-pound stranger would reveal how shallow those relationships were. This, finally, would be the real thing. Whenever someone told me this, I politely smiled and nodded, thinking to myself, “Clearly, I love my husband more than you love yours.”
I heard that line so often, though, including from older and wiser parents whom I respected, that as your due date approached I started to look forward to this magical moment in which you and I would experience immediate mutual enchantment.
It didn’t happen. Not for me, anyway. Labor was long and exhausting, and for the first few minutes after it was over, I was just glad to have survived.
We brought you home and started settling in as a family of three. Your dad and I were blessed with an abundance of support from family and friends, but still, dealing with the biggest change of your life, while sleep-deprived and unable to zip your favorite jeans, is no joke.
I remember one night – I don’t think you were even a week old yet – when I was trying to get you back to sleep after a middle-of-the-night feeding. We rocked and rocked and rocked, and you were screeching, and my eyes were burning. I looked out the window and thought to myself, “I wish I could return her.”
Don’t take that personally, Claire. I didn’t know you at all back then. The only reason I even mention it is that around that time, a few of my most honest friends quietly acknowledged having felt the same way in their children’s newborn days. But, they were quick to add, I would grow to love you more than I could believe. Their assurances helped me keep my chin up and feel a little less like a fraudulent mom without an instant-bonding gene.
The first six or eight weeks were a crash course in self-sacrifice. You were entirely helpless, and my schedule revolved around yours. For the first time in years, I wasn’t bringing home my own paycheck, and I was turning out to be a terrible housewife, despite being home all day and feeling too guilty to nap while you napped. Some days lunchtime would roll around without my having showered – the whole morning was gone, and I couldn’t even say where it went. I hated the feeling of being utterly unproductive.
I know now – and I knew then, theoretically, anyway – that those early months were far from unproductive. Every 3 a.m. nursing session, every messy diaper change followed almost immediately by another one, every time you slept snuggled against my chest, rendering me unable to unload the dishwasher – these and a thousand other gestures helped convey to a tiny you, still flabbergasted and indignant at being out of the womb, that you were safe and protected, valued and loved.
Almost imperceptibly, just as I was starting to accept my new greasy-haired reality, things began to improve. I started pumping and storing breast milk, so other people could help feed you. You started sleeping longer stretches at night, so I did too. Best of all, you started offering sweetly contented smiles: the gold standard of immediate gratification.
Somewhere along the line, it’s become impossible to imagine life without you.
“We love you as much as that very first day. Thank you, God, for sending sweet Claire our way!” proclaims one of your favorite books. That part bugs me every time. “I love you much more than that very first day,” I think to myself.
Everyone says our love for you will only deepen as the years go by. I can’t imagine.
But I’ve been wrong before.