Whence that three-cornered smile of bliss? Three angels gave me at once a kiss. ~ George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind
First things first, as they say in the 12-step programs. My new granddaughter is a “first thing,” and here’s a photo my daughter captured of the baby smiling in her sleep. Pause a moment, and think of sleeping, smiling babies.
There are so many states of being, longings, imaginings, memories, and feelings that one can project on a sleeping, smiling baby. What do you see when you see this smiling baby? What do you feel? What comes to mind, to heart? Do you have wishes or feelings, intentions or memories, perhaps some sorrow or anger, now that you settle in with the image?
Among all I might project onto this image, the idea that carries the most power for me is the warmth, unity, and fellowship of the family my husband and I have built over the years. Here is my granddaughter, on the one hand: sleeping contentedly on the bed in which she was born, her mother only a sigh away, exactly where she has been for the two weeks since the baby was born. The baby hasn’t left her mother’s side for any reason. She’s nursed whenever she needs or wants it, day and night. The entire universe revolves around this baby, as far as the baby’s concerned. Even as far as my daughter and her husband and the rest of us are concerned, too.
One rarely sees a better situation for setting the foundations for a healthy human being. Conceived inside a loving, devoted marriage, my granddaughter was nourished and nurtured from the time she was first known. Privileged to be at her home birth with a seasoned midwife, I caught her with my own hands as she came sliding into this world like a little league player running for home.
Once here, she was warmly welcomed by a huge family. Four generations on both sides of her family were at hand to rejoice, pray, cook, clean, babysit big sister, do laundry, or be called for advice in the wee hours. Great-grandma visits several times a week to help; grandparents are at hand because we live within minutes of my daughter and son-in-law.
When my dear young friend Ruth had her first child, the outpouring of love and support from her family members and friends was similarly impressive. Two sides of the family paced the waiting room while Ruth groaned and grunted, her mother at one elbow, I at the other, while the new daddy reassured her, his big hand supporting her, rubbing her back, urging her to push. Push! Push!
Later, after I witnessed and was part of the happy party that welcomed her perfect son into the world, I felt weepy over the majesty and beauty of it all, the power of birth and those transcendent moments so necessary to continuing our sense of community and belonging. I felt weepy with gratitude and longing, for I had never had that level of support although both my parents waited anxiously nearby at each of my births, and for the birth of one son my mother was in the room. Ruth told me later that her mother, too, had reflected on the lack of support in her own life when she’d been a young mother, and had told Ruth how grateful she was that Ruth had what she herself never did. Ruth’s mother, who lives just across town and is an almost daily presence in the lives of her grandchildren, does for her daughter what was not done for her. She’s there. She is present.
Birth is important, and what happened before birth is important, but most important of all is what happens afterward. If a baby is welcomed into a real family, and is wanted and loved by his parents, then he has a wonderful start. If hour after hour and day after day his needs and wants are catered to, he gets the idea that the universe is benevolent, good, safe, and there to meet him. If too much doted upon, we call him King Baby, as we called my late-born son who is still King Baby and a delight to all of us because he goes through life to this day with a sense of grace, strength, and compassion that few people have.
In my very large family where the majority of the children are now grown, we’ve had the opportunity to witness the nurturing and growth of not only always-wanted and well-received children, but also of children who were set adrift moments after birth, who didn’t have what my own grandchildren have all had, which is nurturing parents and families from the moment they were conceived. I’ve had the privilege of seeing what helps and what doesn’t, what grows a healthy person and what hinders, over the years. I have seen that people can and do heal from early trauma, and I have seen that some do not, cannot, or will not.
The Sleeping, Smiling Baby
For now, for today, hold an image in your mind: a sleeping, smiling baby. Ask yourself today where you were on the day of your birth. What was your own birth like, do you think? Do you know the story of your first day? Do you have a living mother who will tell you about her memories? As Mother’s Day approaches, there’s no better time than this to ask.
Take what you learn and look at it. Be there in the room where you were born. Imagine it; conjure it up in your mind, according to what facts you do have. Be the baby, and be there with the baby. Since I know you see them coming already, go ahead and add the images you associate with infancy and early childhood. Imagine that child growing up with the parents you had. Take him or her to about age five and stop the camera. Sit with that little person from birth to about age five, and be ready to go with me on a journey of discovery.