When my daughter Hannah was a tiny baby, I insisted on dressing her in what I called “people clothes”. Think little-bitty-baby-jeans and T-shirts and dresses and overalls. She wore sleepers at night, but the rest of the time she wore outfits. While many of my mom friends declared baby clothes a total waste, I couldn’t get enough.
I dressed my tiny baby in real clothes to make a statement, both to the world and to myself. She spent the first week of her life in the NICU, where I constantly heard about how very small she was, and how even though things seemed to be going well, they could change suddenly. From the moment my water broke unexpectedly at 34 weeks pregnant, my baby was labelled as at-risk and both of us found ourselves on a crash course with high-tech medical care. And I understand why, I really do.
One-month old Hannah, wearing an outfit
All the same, once I had Hannah at home, I felt the need to get rid of all of those medical trappings that surrounded her birth and first days. I needed to remind myself, and everyone around me, that my baby was okay. She was fine. She wasn’t sick. She didn’t need to be wearing pajamas in the middle of the day. She could wear people clothes, because she was a person – a much-valued member of our family – and she was going to be all right.
I like to think that I’ve gotten over that early trauma. Seven years later, I no longer feel the need to obsessively check her breathing while she sleeps. I no longer track her weight for signs that she’s growing. And I no longer cry on her birthday, because I’m sad about what happened. I say that I’ve made my peace, and for the most part, I have. But parenting wounds leave lasting scars, and we can never really erase them from our psyches.
Jacob’s less than 24 hours old, and he’s wearing shorts and a T-shirt
Yesterday, Hannah was feeling tired and cranky and feverish when a cold developed into sinusitis. Not a big deal, and I knew it. Most infections heal on their own, and if they persist, they can be treated. And yet, as I held my sad, sick girl in my arms, and she laid her head on my shoulder, I felt silent tears come to my eyes as my body was filled with a memory. It recalled a much smaller girl nestled against me. Back then, I wasn’t so confident about her well-being. I needed to dress her in blue jeans and do everything I could to remind myself that she was real. She was mine. And she would be okay.
These memories of my babies are always there, somewhere, in the back of my mind. That time my son Jacob fell from a tall play structure. The surgery my daughter had at four and a half to correct an umbilical hernia. The sad face my son wore when he got locked in his room during his big sister’s birthday party and nobody found him for 10 (very, very long, for him) minutes because we couldn’t hear him over the gaggle of shrieking little girls. That image of my children, small and vulnerable, never really goes away.
One day, these babies of mine will grow up and leave home. They will be able to take care of themselves. But I doubt that I will ever be able to look at them without remembering how they were when they were small, and hurt, and scared. When I was their sun, moon and stars, and they needed my strength and protection. I will always remember how I dressed them in people clothes in a statement to the world. These are my babies. They will be okay. I refuse to even consider the alternative.