After Katrina was born, I did not call her by name for months. "Baby Girl," I would say, with all of the love and wonder and paranoia in me. At first, it seemed bad luck to call this little stranger by name quite yet. She was small and fragile and I was drained of blood and of sleep and of my old solitary self. She was always there, all the time, unlike anyone else I could remember. I had been freelancing for five years by that time, used to long stretches of time alone in the house. I was never alone now.
My first came into the world with a vengeance, with a loud voice and seemingly constant need. She took over, as first babies are wont to do. She was fire and passion and noise. She made me a mother, which for me--and I suspect, for most women--was a profound shift in my heart, my soul, my thinking. Everything was different. And despite my initial anxiety, Katrina made her impact within weeks. I was taken up with her, and everything else fell away. I could not imagine anything other than mothering her.
Annika was Annika from the beginning. The name sounded strange in my mouth, but I said it often, to make her real for Katrina. But she was even more fragile, delicate, translucent skin stretched over bony limbs. I looked at her through clear plastic, judged her health by the sounds of the beeps. Went home and put on a good face for Katrina. Others would say, "oh, it must be so hard not to have her home." And it was, but not as much as they thought. Subconsciously, I kept some distance, I think, just to survive. When I was home, Annika was like a dream. I tried not to think about her (often unsuccessfully), lest fear overtake me. When I visited her, she was real, but not quite solid. She was light in my arms, always pale, usually quiet. Ethereal. And after almost losing her, I found it even harder to trust that she would come home.
So when she finally did come home, it all still seemed quite unreal. Newness usually does, to me. Some quirk of mine. I was juggling baby care with older sister care. Katrina remained fiery and loud, a giant next to her baby sister. She took up so much space.
Annika still seemed ethereal, waking only to be fed, making her thoughts known fiercely, but briefly. I held her close, or others did, trying to make up for those weeks in the warm, hard incubator. But the distance remained. In the back of my mind, I worried. Despite her hard entry into the world, she did not make the splash in my heart that Katrina had. Perhaps because I was already a mother. That shift had already occurred. Perhaps the weeks of suppressing worry, fear, and maybe? love as we drove back and forth to the hospital had taken their toll. I loved her, of course I did. But the all-encompassing surge I remembered with my first baby, well, that did not happen. A futile attempt at self-protection.
Slowly, though, Annika grew and changed. She gained weight. She now has chubby cheeks and fat legs and little creases around her wrists. Her weight in my arms, or lying on my chest, is noticeable. And one evening, last week, I held her to me, the unmistakable weight of warm baby on my chest, and everything changed. She no longer seems breakable, a translucent fairy child in a world of giants. Finally becoming solid, deepening her imprint on my heart.
Self-protection and motherhood just don't mix.