Friday, March 28, 2014

Separation

I remember the moment my daughter was handed to me, naked and caked with evidence of her dwelling inside me, with one eye wide open and the other stuck closed with the remains of my womb. I remember feeling the pulse of the umbilical cord, so aware of the short life that remained of this connection. In that moment I still nourished her completely; she was still completely reliant on my well-being. And then, in the haze of adrenaline and stitches and staring into her dark, attentive eyes, it was severed, and she became her own.

In the weeks and months that followed it was so difficult to envision her life apart from mine, because she didn't have one. On days we could coordinate schedules I would nurse her, drop her with Curtis at his office, and scurry quickly at the gym around the corner--mindful of the short window I had before she would need me again. At times she would settle into the carrier while he would work on notes of patients he had seen that day, and I would return to an infant wrapped against her daddy's chest, fast asleep. Other times I would return to find him circulating the office after hours, chatting with coworkers as he balancer her on his right arm, rocking her constantly, ever aware of her love of movement.

These glimpses of time I found beyond this nursing babe were fleeting at best, coming in spurts of an hour or so, requiring coordination and effort that felt at times so far beyond my exhausted self. It is hard to explain the contradictory feelings that come on so strongly in those early weeks and months: as suffocating as it felt to be on call for her needs all day and all night, as long as those days stretched into what felt like an endless abyss, the thought of being without her was equally as oppressive. The weight of parental responsibility coupled with the fierce attachment and bonding that happens invisibly and yet so strongly left me struggling to picture the time away that I craved.

Before I had a child I enjoyed my independence. I would happily spend free hours in the summer sunshine biking across the city in trails that wove under busy roads and along creek sides until reaching the ocean, or scaling one of the mountains hovering along the city's skyline with friends. I perused book stores, pieced quilts and experimented with new recipes. I made bread from scratch while listening to audio books. And all of these things seemed to fade into oblivion when the little one arrived, compromising everything from having a full night's rest to accomplish unnecessary tasks to having the hands free to accomplish them. She was attached, and I had to adapt, whether I wanted to or not.

Changes that felt so extreme initially predictably became normal. Outdoor adventures came with the consideration of whether a stroller or backpack could be accommodated. Babysitting that accommodated long outings was cherished, and glimpses of our former freedom allowed retrospection of how far we both had come. Our lives were changed.

And then one day this intense attachment seemed to shift. I am sure that it was gradual, just as it was with her stretches of sleep, just as it has been with the additions of food to her meals. Yet it is hard to see this shift when you are in the midst of the haze that is living-with-a-baby. All of the sudden, she is ready to stop nursing. She can stay with others for hours at a time with minimal preparation on my part. And for as happy as she is to see me when I walk through the door, she would have been okay if I'd stayed away even longer.

After a year of such an intense connection, it feels odd to have such an easy separation, one that came with so little ceremony when compared to her birth and the severance of that pulsing cord.

I realize this is only the beginning, that nearly thirteen months finds a baby still terribly dependent on someone to provide for the most basic of needs. Yet, in a way we have marked our first step of separation since birth, a separation that will continue as she grows and matures and learns how to exist in a world all on her own.

In the days and weeks that followed birth I daydreamed of being free again, of having time to myself to exist and explore and be as I was for the years before she came along. Now I know that that person doesn't exist in the same way. For no matter where I adventure, what projects and plans I pursue, I will always wonder where she is and what she is experiencing. Though we are destined to be separate, though she will inevitably be on her own, I cannot imagine ever being completely free of her. I doubt I ever will.