It started as a tiny pain in my heart, or at least, that’s how I remember it. It was just after Simone was born. That little soft ball of dark hair and the smoothest skin I’d ever felt with my face. I didn’t even know that you could measure softness with your own face. I remember lying in bed on cotton sheets, made warm by our bodies. A towel under my middle section that was not quite as soft, but was there just in case any of my healing parts were still leaking fluids. The room was dark and still.
Simone was 3 days old. Stillness, darkness, comfort, and confusion. Looking at the top of a black head of hair, I wondered if she was still breathing. Suddenly I was overcome by a wave of anxiety. Every thought in my head started with “What if…” and my moment of peace was transformed into something like this:
What if she’s not breathing?
I got out my cell phone to take a video of her. That way I could watch it and see, as I didn’t trust myself, with her head in the crook of my arm and my hand down her little fragile body, how could I?
What if something went wrong during my natural birth?
I could feel pain spreading like warm water from my belly button, expanding down and out toward my thighs.
What if I were a terrible mom, unable to do anything, everything that my family needed?
What if, my older daughter, almost three now, was not happy?
Something still hurt inside of me. More like an ache. The room was starting to fill with light from the edges of the paper accordion blinds. Would there be an earthquake? Had someone made coffee? I could smell my favorite reminder of the time of day wafting in from the kitchen outside the door. The baby squeaked. I rolled carefully to the side and put the phone I was still gripping under my pillow. I heard the silver door handle turn and little feet padded unevenly in.
“Hi, Baby,” I said to my two-year-old, with tears in my eyes.
She came for a nuzzle and a kiss on her cheeks. If this was paradise, this birthing and creation of beautiful beings. If this was supposed to be the fruit of my primal urges and the pause of my global career. If this was supposed to be a single moment in time after a glorious pastrami-sandwich induced water birth, just down the hill from the hospital, then why was my bed feeling so deep? Why were my movements so heavy? What if something else was wrong with me? So very wrong?
I remembered my therapist’s advice. A breathing exercise that I could do even around my two-year-old. She’d think it was a game.
I started to count aloud as I took deep breaths.
One. IN, OUT. It will all be okay.
Two, IN, OUT. She smiled at me and the little one moved her head back and forth.
Three, IN, OUT. I looked at those sisters, eager to see tender glances between the new pair.
Four, IN, OUT. The door opened again, and I heard my husband’s footsteps.
Five, IN, OUT. He came in with a big smile and a big good morning and in his hands, a big cup of coffee.
Six, IN, OUT. I was ready to sit up and keep breathing deeply.
Seven, IN, OUT. I slowly put my hands under the dark head of hair and the softest little heater of a body and lifted the baby onto my lap. She would be ready to nurse soon.
A trickle of milk formed a circle on my t-shirt. My husband put the coffee next to the bed on the nightstand as my eldest grabbed his leg in a big hug.
“Good morning,” he smiled.
“Yes,” I replied.
With each calming breath, I knew there was a chance to heal and have a good morning.
Leah Klass is the mother of two girls and has hosted multiple exchange students. Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, Leah has lived in South America, Germany, Australia, and Spain thanks to her adventurous pursuit of learning and also as an Army wife. Her professional background is in international business and public relations. She is a poet, a community organizer, a friendly neighbor, and believes in connecting people and resources.