Every year on my birthday, for as long as I can remember, my mother would say to me, “I sure am glad it isn’t (X number) of years ago today!” I used to laugh at her, not fully understanding her labor joke. And then I had my own children. My eldest daughter turned five today, and each birthday, for each of my girls, I’ve sat with them and reminded them how lucky I am to have them as my daughters, and that every day reminds me how happy I am that I had them. I thought a lot about this today, and also about all the things I’ve learned in the past five years.
We were sent home from the hospital with Lucy after spending two extra days there due to her severe jaundice from her fairly awful delivery. I remember spending the first night at home in our living room because Lucy was wrapped in a “bilirubin” blanket – which was light therapy for her jaundice. The blanket needed a three-pronged plug and our old house only had the outlets with three prongs downstairs. We were so tired that it never occurred to us to use an adapter and bring baby Lucy upstairs with us. At one point during those first days, Steve looked at me and said, (and I quote) “if this is how it’s going to be, we’re going to DIE.” The good news is that we didn’t die. The bad news is that having Lucy, and then her sister Zoe opened up an entire floodgate of other stress-inducing stuff for us.
Being pregnant with Lucy taught me to see my body in a whole different light. I had always beaten myself up for weight gain or changes in my body. When I was pregnant with her, it was the first time in my life that someone told me it was actually good to gain weight. That’s what you’re supposed to do! What a change – and such a hard thing to grasp when you've spent your entire life trying to lose it. More recently, I’ve become more conscious of the things I say about my body. Complaints of “I’m fat” or “I shouldn’t have eaten that” are kept to myself or sometimes lost altogether, in an attempt to have my girls grow up without body image issues – at least until much, much later in their lives.
Five years ago today, I gave birth to a tiny human being. I will spare you the details (you’re welcome) but suffice it to say that I was amazed and astounded at what I did. I made a person (with some help, thanks Steve). And she came out of my body. I did that…and it still sort amazes me, even five years later. Someone once said that having a child was like taking your heart out and letting it walk around outside of your body. I’m certain I’m misquoting it terribly, but that is what having Lucy (and later, her sister Zoe) did for me. I watch that child throughout the day and every little thing she does gives me an emotion I didn’t know existed until she came along. I get angry when she’s had her feelings hurt, I get sad when she has a hard time at school, I get embarrassed for her when she tells jokes and kids don’t get her silly, wonderful sense of humor.
Mostly, though, I have learned from Lucy and her sister what it means to love unconditionally. Amy Tan wrote, in The Joy Luck Club, “I love my daughter. She and I have shared the same body. There is a part of her mind that is a part of mine. But when she was born, she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and has been swimming away ever since.” Happy birthday, little fish.