October 31, 2013

Letter to Alannah. ~ Catherine Wilkie

Alannah: Aleanbh, from the Gaelic phrase for “dear child.”

Dear Alannah,

Today you are all of six weeks old, and this is a benchmark day for both of us.

For you, it is the magic marker where all the experts say that you are settling into ‘yourself’ and ‘settling down’—settling into what I wonder?

I assume this means growing accustomed to life outside the womb—the power house of all human life; getting used to life beyond the selfless placenta and the clever umbilical cord that kept you nourished and sated for the 40 odd weeks that you were a passenger in my body.

It’s only now that I can begin to appreciate the huge changes that you’ve experienced already in your very short life—from unborn to shell-shocked newborn and now, to cradle-wise six-week-old, feeling your way in a brand new world. Sometimes I wish that I could ask you what you see and how you feel, but it’s enough that you trust us to guide and guard you through this time, this becoming.

When you were born, I watched you tumble out of me and all I could say in response to those midwives frenetically commentating around me—to register my awareness for them and assure them that I was with it—was ‘oh my god.’ The words were spoken softly and quietly, almost to myself—a dramatic contrast to the cries of the mother seconds before that had accompanied those last, desperate pushes. There was no more crying after that, all the tremendous pain was forgotten: straight onto the next chapter.

I watched the scene as they presented you to me, as if it was an out of body experience and I remained outside. There you were, partly covered in sticky white vernix and the rest of you underneath all pink and wonderfully alive. I was stunned, shocked, silenced, the sound-box muted.

What was next? After all that time getting through pregnancy, getting from one week to the next, psyching myself up for labour, getting through the shopping list of must-haves and basic needs to see you through those first few days, and most importantly—staying calm (daily pranayama and meditation without breath retention was a powerful aid).
And then you were there.

They, the heroic midwives, left us alone together, all bunched up on the delivery bed, our first meeting together—you, your father and me. We gazed into your bright blue eyes gaping wide as they took in the light for the first time.

What was that like, Alannah? Your first breath—your first gasp of air?

The first sensation of cold versus warmth as they weighed you naked and checked to make sure you were perfect and then brought you shivering and crying to my chest.

Nestling there under soft pink cotton shirt against my skin that was warm and tanned from sitting in the garden while waiting for you all summer long—you lay there and took it all in. You, newborn warrior: no fear, no worry, no concerns despite your complete and utter helplessness and dependence upon on us, the newborn parents.

Those first few days in the hospital you kept a firm grip on both us—your father held you in his arms for as long as he could and then in the night time when everyone was sent home, we got to know each other. We sat together, we lay down together, we walked around the room together and mostly we had cuddles together, both of us learning about a closeness and a nurturing that neither of us could fathom the depth of in that brief and magical first few days.

We were both just following instinct, as we still are.

Since that time you’ve never been more than 50 yards from me—just about the distance from the kitchen to the bottom of the garden or from one end of the shop to the other, safe in your loving father’s care on our brief excursions to the outside world. You have met the rest of your family and some of your neighbours too and you have enraptured them with your alertness and those eyes that hypnotise the beholder and slow time as you work your newborn magic.

From early morning, hunger takes precedence and that must be satisfied. But feeding is followed by quality ‘you time,’ when you are enthroned in your chair to watch white and steel gray clouds move rapidly past and cover the great glowing fireball in the sky in this very wet and very Irish October. This is the time when you explore your own ability to make sounds and I imagine you are matching them to the abstract paintings that the sky has gifted for you.

Your newly developed smiles are enough reward for the fragmented sleep sessions and the constant care that you must receive these days.

The constant demands don’t bother me. Time spent before is left in the past, and what will come will come, but this is my job—my only cause for attention—for now.

And other rewards? There is the utter peace and calm when you are latched on, feeding with such naturalness and sheer infant grace that all I can do is gaze down into your eyes hypnotized, while allowing your fumbling fingers to wrap around my own giant-sized thumb.

When we are like this, I say to myself and to you, that this is only the beginning, that in some shape or form I will hold your hand all the days that I can—for all the days that are left of my life. Because I am yours and you are mine—not in some crazy psychotic way—but in the only way that matters for a mother and a daughter. Because that is what we are now—I am mother and you are daughter.

I wonder sometimes, did my own mother feel the same or did she have that luxury in her world where there were already three that came before? I doubt it.

And what of me? Today is the end of the six weeks and I should be completely and totally ‘healed’ of the whole experience of pregnancy and childbirth. The obvious external wounds have healed, all thanks to the powers of the human body’s ability to self-heal. The internal changes I will assume to have been undone and all has reverted to the norm—all organs back in their place and squeezed intestines reverting to previous un-pinched strongholds.

I still can’t believe that you were in there, living and growing inside me. Out of sight, yet presence made known by precious and intense phases of kicking and hiccuping—mostly at night, but enough assurance to send me to sleep smiling.

In these first six weeks it has been take it as it come—the newness of it all.

It is a case of focusing on the things that you need and what I must do to provide. Instinct has dictated so far and I will continue to go with that. Sometimes, it may be useful to call on the wisdom and experience of those who have gone before, but this is our journey and I have to trust that everything I need is in me, and everything that you need, you will tell me—in the only way that you can, and in the only way that we will understand.

At some point in the future I will look back on this time and appreciate my own changes, my own becoming, my own journey as newborn mother. But for now, my gaze is held firmly in the present and my mind totally in this moment. As the days pass and turn to night and back again, as you feed and grow and become aware; as I listen and learn and surrender, we are mindful together, mother and daughter.

It leads me to wonder who is the student and who is the teacher?

Le míle grá a leanbh

Do Mhamaí


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Assistant Ed: Bronwyn Petry / Ed: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Ceri Padley.}

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