It hit me a few weeks ago, snuggling with my 4.5-month-old daughter, Lyra, during one of the increasingly-rare times she lets her head rest on my shoulder: She won’t always be a baby.
She won’t always be a baby.
This baby, the one right here in my arms every single day, won’t be around anymore.
I know this seems obvious. Babies grow up, God willing. You see, this baby has only been around for 136 days, but they’ve been the most revelatory and intense ones of my entire life. This baby–her sounds, her expressions, her scents, her every move–has been the most grueling and joyful job I’ve ever had, and I’ve never taken anything so seriously in my life.
I know every single inch of her. The downy flap of dark hair at the nape of her neck. Her smooth cheeks and doll-like nose. Her long pianist fingers and tiny razor-sharp nails. Her big feet and clammy toes. The birthmark on her collar bone. Her violet eyes, so ready to lock with mine. The same eyes that always give the first indication of her coming smile, the smile that washes over her face like a sunrise in her soul. How she flexes her feet when she’s concentrating on nursing, then relaxes into me like I’m all she wants in the world.
This beautiful baby has worked her way into every tongue and groove of me. Imagining the absence of this soft, tiny, precious baby, I felt grief as raw and hot as any I can remember. Panic overtook me and tears sprang to my eyes. The anticipated void sent me spiraling.
How will I ever live without her soft little body cuddling against me?
What will I do without her beautiful coos and tiny feet?
You mean I won’t be able to smell her head for the rest of my life?
I can’t keep this baby forever?
When I mentioned this experience to other mothers, they immediately nodded, deep recognition in their eyes. Evidently this realization hits us all. I never used to get why moms would say, “Don’t ever grow up; I want you to stay little forever!” I would think, “You’re SO LUCKY to have a healthy baby who is growing.” But you know what? I get it now. I do.
For the first time, I realize what people mean when they say, “Enjoy this time. It goes so quickly and you can never get it back.” Maybe now that I’m past the stupor of early motherhood, I can enjoy the wonder.
A wonderful, wise friend is sending her first child off to college this year. She said to me during my pregnancy, “Enjoy the feeling of closeness you have with your baby during this time, because this child does not really belong to you. Birth is merely the first step in releasing your child to the world. And before long, you will see she was never really yours to have.”
Lyra, I know you don’t belong to me. You belong to this beautiful, vast world of ours, and I can’t wait to see you come into your own and take it by storm. And while I’m so excited for all your life has in store for you, part of me can’t bear to let you go.
So I will let you sleep on my shoulder just a little longer, squeezing back tears as I try to mentally imprint the way your body feels against my chest and the rhythmic pulse of your warm breath on my cheek. I will savor every moment of this season, knowing the next one will likely be even better. But just remember that no matter where you go in life, you will always be my baby girl.