You and I have spent days in this dull room, which, I suspect, is not as sterile as they pretend it is. I have no idea how I look because there’s an old lady in the mirror who won’t get out of the way, no matter how much I yell at her.
There are so many old women here. I don’t know how they keep sneaking into this wing. They gather around, asking to see my baby. I indulge them. They remind me of my grandmothers.
I am going to forget this. Your first layer of skin peeling off in white flakes around your milia-spotted nose. The way your hands reflexively grasp my finger. And on the few occasions they’re open, your blue eyes, so dark they’re navy.
I am going to forget this, the most exquisite moments of my life. I don’t remember many of the details with your older brother. Sleep deprivation erased most of his early days. But muscle memory makes everything about you familiar. My hands tell me that I held him skin to skin, asleep against my chest after feeding. Just like you are now. Your short-fast breathing. The tiny, pink O of a mouth. The impossibly smooth skin of your forehead, like glass against my lips.
I won’t forget you. I could never forget you. But in the future, when you’re a toddler, a teenager, and someday, impossibly, an adult, I won’t remember you as you are now. When you’re older, when you and I both sleep through the night, when my brain is once again capable of making short-term memories, the baby you are now will be gone.
You never cry. You nap when I need to nap. You don’t fuss when I’m eating. You always patiently wait for your bottle. And you’re so light, my arms never tire of rocking you.
“What a good baby,” the old ladies tell me.
“What a pretty baby,” the nurses say.
“She’s the best baby,” I reply.
The old ladies aren’t the only ones interested in us. The woman in the mirror watches us, looking tired and confused. I feel sorry for her, even though I wish she’d leave us alone. Sometimes, I wish they all would leave us alone. When do I get to take you home?
Your older brother used to cry so much that we thought he was teething at four months. Of course, that was just the paranoia of being new parents. It must have been gas or the usual infant disorientation at being alive. It wasn’t even enough screaming to meet the definition of colic. But you, you never cry. You sleep against my chest with your head inside my elbow, heating me from my arms inward.
And you’re so still! I keep checking that you’re breathing. I did that with your brother too. All parents do.
It’s never-ending with the nurses here: take your medicine; eat your breakfast; no cookies at snack time, only at dessert. I’m looking forward to taking you home, doing things my way. Your daddy set up the bassinet for you before we left for the hospital. Where is your daddy, anyway? He’s been gone for so long. I thought he was just running out to the car.
They tell me it’s my bedtime. How ridiculous to order a mother with a new baby to keep to a bedtime! You don’t have one yet, you’re too little. They should realize that my bedtime is your bedtime.
Who makes these rules for mothers?
They haven’t even provided you a bassinet. I’m not sure how I ended up in such a place. They should be prepared for newborns. “Where will the baby sleep?” I ask. But the nurse says you can sleep in my bed. “What about a co-sleeper?” I demand. But she says it’s safe for me to hold you while I sleep.
They must know something I don’t. Maybe it is safe to go against standard pediatrician advice. After all, we haven’t had a doctor come by the room yet, just the nurses. I find, even in this awkward hospital bed, there’s nothing more relaxing than falling asleep with you in my arms.
When I wake up, you’re facedown, and I panic. I worry that you’re not breathing. I watch your chest until I see it rise and fall.
But the nurses take you away from me so they can bathe me. A bath! I scream at them that I don’t want to sit in that filthy tub. I can shower on my own. They have to hold my arms so I can’t smack the nurse again.
Well, who could blame me? They took you away. I can’t calm down until they place you back in my hands. The nurse smoothes your swaddle and then my hair. “There,” she says. “Your baby is back.”
Later, a man and a woman come into my room. They have the same wide faces and wavy hair. The man says, “Hey, Mom.” But your brother is only three years old. Plus, I’m younger than all the other women here. By decades.
“I don’t know you. Try those old folks down the hall,” I say. “They’ll help you find your mom.” He sighs. I laugh at him and lie back with you. The woman in the mirror laughs too.
“How’s the baby doll, Annie?” he asks.
The woman elbows him. “How’s baby Lina?” she says loudly.
“Lina,“ he grumbles, and she shushes him.
I scowl at them. “Don’t fight in front of the baby,” I snap.
“Of course not,” the woman says. “What a pretty baby she is.”
“She’s the best baby,” I say.