A few weeks after I gave birth to Jasper, I wrote this:
I do it every night now. When it’s dark, when the rest of the house is asleep, or almost, I untangle my tiny newborn bundle from my arms and lay him down in his nest and ease my birth-battered body from our bed. I make my way – gingerly, gingerly – around the bed, supporting myself on furniture, against the walls, down the hallway, to her door.
I open it slowly, holding my breath against the creaks, and slip inside. There, in the dark, is she, my first baby. Rumpled and tangled in her blankets, her breathing slow and deep, strands of fluffy blonde hair stuck to her damp, pink cheeks, she is every inch the baby. A big baby, but still. A baby, my baby. In the quiet, in repose, she is no longer toddler, no longer little girl, no longer big sister – she is just she, my first born, my first baby, always a baby, always soft and vulnerable and in need of me, always in need of me.
I bend over the rail of her bed, and kiss her cheek, and stroke her hair and whisper nothing, everything, about how I love her so, how I adore her, how I miss her. How every nuzzle of her brother’s cheek brings a memory of her; how every clutch and suck and moment of skin pressed against newborn skin makes my heart burst for him and yearn for her; how my love for him has made my love for her grow and stretch and strain and ache.
How I love her, how I love her.
In the morning she will wake, and run past me, blowing a kiss as she clambers into Daddy’s arms, waving gaily as she embarks upon the great adventure of a new day, while I sit, constrained, restrained, by the injuries of childbirth and new motherhood (shredded nethers, ravaged nips), my new love in my arms, my new love demanding everything of me and yielding himself to me, pressing himself to me, in return. I will drink up his love, bathe in his love, as she speeds away, leaving me in her wake, grasping at droplets, holding back tears.
But it doesn’t matter, because, always, she will stop again, however briefly, and rest, and she will allow me to bend over her bed, in the dark, and stroke her cheek and tell her how I love her, my first, my girl.
How I love her.
In those early days of my son’s life – those days that were so like the early days of my daughter’s life, the days that were so often defined by exhaustion and anxiety and discomfort – my physical attachment to my daughter was a lifeline. The same, of course, could be said of my physical attachment to my son – his constant physical presence, his rootedness at my breast, night and day and day and night, around the clock, always – but this attachment carried certain anxieties: was my attachment to this baby drawing me away from my other baby? Were my demonstrations of love and devotion uneven? Would my daughter resent me for this, for my divided attention, for my allowing this other baby to usurp her place? How could my heart be in two places at once?
It was, of course, in two places, and it lived – it lives, now – in those places comfortably, expansively, but I could only recognize that and believe that, at the time, when I clung to my daughter and inhaled her and allowed myself to remember, to know, that my connection to her is always.
Jasper just turned two. Two years old. Two years have passed since he came into our lives, since we went from three to four, since Emilia went from being our one and only to being one of two. And he is such a big presence, this little man, with his stampeding feet and his grabbing hands and his dimpled grin, and his sister loves him so, but still, there are moments when she grabs my hand and she whispers I want a hug from just you, Mommy and my heart seizes a little and I hug her and I whisper, back, you’re my very favorite girl, did you know that? and I inhale the fragrance of her hair and feel the flutter of her heart and even though I know that I don’t need to keep her hand in mine or clutch her to my chest or curl up against her sleeping form to reassure myself that she is, always, my girl, I want to, I want to, and I tell myself, tonight I will sneak into her room and I will wrap my arms around her and sing, in a whisper, songs of love and candy and I will think – for the hundred-trillionth time – how I love her.
And I will wish that I could do it every night; I will wish that I could hold her and tell her that I love her constantly; I will wish that it were possible to live my love for her, my unique love for her, in every single moment and in such a way that she never, ever, had to tug on my hand and ask for a hug. But there is only so much time for so many hugs and so many kisses and there are only so many nights during which one can sneak into a child’s room and snuggle and sing and there are two of them, now, and I want both of them to have all of my love and then some and even though I know that my love for them is infinite, that is has no bounds, I sometimes feel the weight of those limitations – not enough time, not enough energy, not enough arms – like a mantle of chains.
We know that we have more than enough love to give. Whether we have one or two or six children, we know that we have more than enough love to give. So why do we sometimes worry that we’re not giving enough?