I walked down to the café at the end of the street the other day with Kathleen. A woman there smiled at me, asked me how old Kathleen was, and then asked "the question": Is she your first? I said that no, she was my second and took a deep breath in preparation for the follow up question that never came. Instead the woman said, "You can tell. You're too relaxed." I smiled at her and thought, "You have no idea."
I suppose it could have gone either way. After what we went through with Henry, I could have been a nervous wreck. I could right now be paralyzed with the fear that gripped me during much of my pregnancy. But I'm not. Maybe I'm relaxed with Kathleen because she is my second baby. I have done this before, at least this part of it, though it was so different. Maybe I'm relaxed because I know I only have so much control over the situation. I think I'm relaxed with Kathleen because in so many ways this is easy, normal, expected.
Summer 2007—Same café, same corner, me, my mom, and Henry. He was roughly Kathleen's age now. We had walked down, pushing Henry in the stroller, and when we got there my mom helped me juggle Henry, his oxygen tank, the monitor, and his diaper bag. I don't know that I enjoyed being there, but I was satisfied. Proud that we made it out, that I had accomplished one of the things I had expected to do with my new baby. Relaxed? Not at all. Surgery was looming. We had a better handle on keeping the oxymeter from driving us crazy than we did in the first week or so, but we were constantly on guard for signs. How is his color? Is he struggling to breathe? Does it look like he's retracting? What are his numbers? It isn't that I did not enjoy any of that time, but I was constantly vigilant—and waiting. I counted the days until he'd have his surgery and life would be "normal."
With Henry nothing went as expected and Brian and I did so many things to lend some sense of normalcy to our life which seemed any but normal. With Kathleen, I tried not to expect anything, but things went smoothly and life seems normal.
In fact, life is quite mundane lately, and I’m not complaining. Our days have fallen into something of a routine of waking early, changing diapers, feeding, smiles and play, changing diapers, feeding, sleeping, changing diapers, feeding, fussing, . . . We take walks when the weather cooperates, entertain visitors, and make the occasional outing. I wash bottles and diapers and tiny, cute outfits. This is what I expected having a new baby at home would be like, what I expected the first time around—except it's not, not quite, because I have done this before and I am missing Henry.
I hate the idea that losing somebody helps us sort out our priorities. I like to think mine were in order before and not much has changed. Family has always been high on the list. Surely even if I hadn't lost Henry, I'd take the time to trace Kathleen's tiny ear and stare deep into her eyes and have my heart melted by the warmth of her tiny hand on my chest as she sucks. I'd hold her tight and enjoy her warm body snuggling into mine. Yes, surely I would. But perhaps I wouldn't caress her cheek quite so often or keep her in my lap when she could surely be transferred to her bed or recognize the wonder of her being quite as deeply. Perhaps I would be distracted more easily from her smile or take the time to hold her less. Perhaps I would find the repetition, the very ordinariness of our days to be dull. But I relish every smile, I hold her knowing that this simple act is not a given, and I delight in our day-to-day, normal life. I will mark milestones with Kathleen, but in between them, I marvel in the miracle of the mundane—the weight of her warm body curled on mine, the quiet coos, and sweet smiles.