Two days after Christmas, my family and a few very close friends gathered at my parents' house and my father gave Henrietta a blessing. She wore a dress that Sam's mother wore, and Sam wore to be christened, and it was the most beautiful article of clothing I have ever seen. She was the most beautiful baby, and I sat in front of her as she was blessed, sneaking glances at her enormous wide-open eyes and her kicking feet. When I welcomed those who attended, I tried to say a version of what I wrote below, but I was pretty emotional and I'm not sure how clear I was. So I record it here, on the first day of 2013. 2012 was a good year. A very good year.
A few years ago, I was working on gaining a sense of God's love. I was taught from the time I was a little girl to recognize the evidence of his love--the tangible, physical manifestations of it, the hand he played in blessing me and my family. But I confess: I'd never felt it, never experienced or gained a sense of it as an emotion he had toward me. And this one night, I really wanted to feel that. It was raining when I drove home from wherever I was, and when I got inside and realized Sam was asleep, I drew the warmest bath I could stand, climbed in, and prayed. I prayed until the water was cold and I was shivering a little; I prayed that God would help me feel his love for me. I told him I needed to feel it. But I didn't feel anything. I climbed out of the tub and dried off. I was disappointed.
Another night, a few months ago, I was up with Henrietta at three in the morning. She was less than two weeks old, and I had dropped my parents off at the airport that day. They had been here for ten days, taking very good care of us. My dad had attended faithfully to the list of small projects I'd been saving for him; my mother made meals and cleaned them up and gently helped when I had questions about how to care for a baby. But mostly they just loved us all and held Henrietta while I slept, and let her sit on the table in her little chair while we ate--the most adorable centerpiece in the world. Those were some of the sweetest days of my life, and that night, having dropped them off at the airport, I missed them fiercely. Sam's mom wasn't in town yet, and Sam was sleep-snoring in bed, and the baby was awake like there was a party she'd promised to attend, and I was so exhausted, and I felt so alone and overwhelmed that I cried as I rocked her, cried for and rocked us both, wishing someone would rescue us.
I began to pray as I rocked and cried, and almost immediately I was flooded with a sense (or an almost-memory) of myself as a baby, being held as I was holding Henrietta, in the middle of the night, by my parents who loved me. And I realized it felt similar to how it had felt for them to be there, holding both of us through those early difficult and sweet days. I knew I would stay up with Henrietta all night if I had to, that I would do absolutely anything to make her happy. And more than that, even if she choose to be the most miserable creature on the planet, I would stay with her and love her because I wanted to, because there was nothing else I'd rather do in the world. The power of that emotion nearly knocked me over. The realization that my parents had felt that way meant I was worth more than I'd ever supposed. And I could also feel that this was how God felt about me too, that all of us, as his children, were tied to this love I'd always longed to feel, and there it was, waiting for me, hidden plainly in how I'd feel about my own child. My place in my family and in the universe had never made so much sense.
Getting to know Henrietta as a little soul, and becoming her mother by extension, have answered a lot of things that have never made as much intuitive sense as I'd like them to make. My whole life I've been somewhat baffled not only by God's love, but also by things like community and service and work and (to be honest) sex and saving money and housework and on and on, and one by one, her very existence seems to be ironing all of that out. My difficult pregnancy taught me about community by showing me how naturally and beautifully a community rallies around and supports new life. Spending my days taking care of her has taught me about service, about service that doesn't come out of choice or even forcing oneself (though sometimes, I admit, there's a bit of forcing myself), but out of doing the next thing that makes sense because your heart is full of another person. My partnership with Sam is sweeter and more focused. I'm finding there's something satisfying about digging into housework putting things in order. I worry less what other people think of me. I worry less about my dress-size. I feel inclined to frugality, which is truly miraculous. I could go on and on, and I probably will in later posts. But to sum up, it's true what Sam's friend told us before she was born: the instant your first baby arrives, the whole world changes.
Dear Henrietta, thank you for coming. You're a beautiful change.