“Okay, goodnight. Get some rest. I’ll be in to check on you in fifteen minutes.”
The nurses at the hospital meant well and, of course, were just doing their job: caring for not only a newborn baby but a mother recovering from abdominal surgery. And that meant frequent checks of everyone’s vital signs, administering tests and issuing painkillers around the clock, a bit frustrating when you’ve just settled a newborn into the clear plastic bassinet provided by the hospital only to have a nurse just starting her shift at midnight burst into your room and rouse her by inserting a cold stethoscope underneath your artfully wrapped swaddle.
But this experience was still easier than our first time on the labor and delivery ward. As first-time parents, we’d been monitored minute by minute, forced to fill out forms documenting our baby’s every ingestion and digestion, and scolded for a brief period during which a knitted beanie was not pulled down snuggly on her head for warmth. When we inquired as to why this time they’d let us crank the AC in the room and run a floor fan 24/7 in an effort to combat the stifling claustrophobia of still hospital air and had been told the paperwork was optional, they were satisfied by confirming that we had another child at home and that it was still, in fact, alive.
The first night, it pretty much all came back to us. We’d been commenting to friends about how little we felt like we remembered about caring for a newborn, but in truth, a little skin-to-skin contact and constant access to a mother’s breast was about all there was to it in the first hours. After a middle-of-the-night post-feeding diaper change, I wrapped Mae back up in stiff hospital blankets pilling from thousands of washes over the years, cradled her head in one hand while supporting her body in the other and found myself bouncing at the knees to the beat of Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier,” a tempo I’d figured out had been just the thing to put our first daughter, Wynne, to sleep. Sure enough Mae’s tiny eyes rolled back in her head and eventually closed, and I flashed back to hundreds of times before as I leaned her into the bassinet, contorting and wincing while gently extricating my hands from beneath her.
The next morning, I dug through some old pictures of Wynne in her first hours and put them side by side with Mae’s. On one level, these two newborns wrapped in the same hospital blankets and topped with the same hospital beanies, looked almost identical. But knowing Wynne as we do, the characteristic smile in her eyes and her observant nature, we could see “her” immediately in one of the pictures. When looking at Mae, it was hard to know what to see because we don’t quite know her yet.
I left the hospital that afternoon to spend some time with Wynne. On the 15 minute ride home, I couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow I was traveling two and a half years through time. I’d left an 8 lb baby, only 12 hours old, and by the time I got home, she was walking and talking and making it clear in no uncertain terms that she would prefer cold hotdogs over a quesadilla for lunch and that afterwards she would like to play with some bubbles. What a huge difference 30 months makes at this age.
We’d been talking to Wynne about being a big sister for a long time, and she seemed to understand that there was a “baby in momma’s belly.” She even took to asking anyone with a less-than-taut six pack if they too “got a baby in there?” She’d been asking to read to the baby and hug the baby and kiss the baby goodnight. While other friend’s toddlers were fighting over Play Doh and blocks, she’d be waiting patiently for a chance to hold one of their baby brothers or sisters. This little girl was ready for the job of big sister.
But still, we had our concerns about their first interactions. The fact was, her mom and dad had been gone for four nights now, and despite the welcome consolation prize of uninterrupted time with her Grammie visiting from the east coast, Wynne was feeling a little fragile. We’d read somewhere about having the toddler receive a present from his or her new baby sibling, a peace offering straight from the womb. Mae had, in fact, been thoughtful enough to buy Wynne an incredibly soft teddy bear with a strong likeness to the “honey bear” she’d yet to realized had a name very similar to her own. And Wynne had scoured the Internet for a smaller version of her special orange and white “Kitty Kitty” for her new sister Mae. (Okay, we assisted both of them a little with their gifts.)
We timed our arrival home from the hospital to correspond with the end of Wynne’s nap which, of course, she refused to take on this particular day. We walked in the sliding glass door, fending off Gorilla’s sharp claws as she jumped up, only slightly less excited by the new smelling animal strapped into the car seat than she was about seeing us again after four days, and made our way to the living room with Wynne repeatedly asking “That my baby? That my baby?”
As we pulled Mae out of the car seat and settled her into Ann’s lap for a reassuring snack, the scene was about as perfect as we could have imagined. Here Wynne, meet your sister, Mae.