OPINION: By the time you read this, it'll be done. My baby - that tiny, perfectly formed angel laid gently in my arms one warm and windy Thursday afternoon - will have already turned 15.
I can remember her face the day she was born, her cupid lips pursed, fluffy blonde hair sticking up at all angles, blue-grey eyes staring at me like she was trying to figure out who this gigantic person with the familiar voice was.
When I sang to her, she cried. When I talked to her, she listened and looked in muted fascination, like she was gazing straight into the essence of me. Her gaze widened as her two big brothers fought to get their hands on her tiny delectable delights of sweet- smelling flesh and downy hair.
We dressed her all in pink, as you do when your first two are boys. The little outfits swamped her like dumper waves, the sleeves and legs rolled up thrice and still hiding her hands and feet.
Newborn beanies covered her eyes, socks reached her knees and the smallest nappies wrapped over at her breastbone.
I remember her dad holding her away from his body like a priceless piece of porcelain. "She's so tiny," he said in wonder. "I'm only used to holding boys. How do I hold a girl?"
It had been an unusual gestation, punctuated by a health scare at 22 weeks. Up until that point, I'd been strangely ho-hum about the whole thing, happy in my new job and finally on top of being a mum to two pre-school boys. I didn't even tell my husband she was coming until 12 hours after the stick turned blue. It just didn't seem real. Even at work, my morning sickness was my greatest concern. When I eventually confessed to my new boss that I was 14 weeks' gone, I bawled my eyes out in embarrassment. I'd only been there five minutes, yet here I was, destined to leave again before the wind turned direction to the wintry south.
To a future stuck at home again with three pre-schoolers. My stomach flopped with nerves at the thought, even though I tried not to think about it. Sometimes I seethed at my stupidity. It was bound, I thought bitterly, to be another boy.
Just to add fat to the fire.
The day they told me she'd stopped growing, in that precise instant with the radiologist's eyes filling with concern and sympathy, all the indifference I'd felt for weeks peeled away to expose red and tender need. I wanted her more than my next breath, more than all my Christmases at once.
I remember praying that if she'd only start growing again, I'd never do anything terrible in my life.
I'm not sure who I was praying to . . . the God we all hope beyond hope is there when we need them the most, I guess, but I didn't care.
The doctors explained that she was weeks behind normal development, that she was right at the bottom of the lowest percentile, that it was probably an ill-functioning placenta and that she might die before full gestation.
"Is it a boy or a girl?" I asked, desperately needing to know. Somehow, knowing she was a girl was comforting, like we were in it together, she and I. Two girls against the world.
I sat in the car afterwards, and listened on the radio to Beatrice Faumuina throwing 66.82m for gold in the discus at the Athens world athletics champs. I felt like being calm and controlled, yet I was neither. "Might" is an ugly word, even uglier when a baby is concerned. I decided I hated it.
Every four days for the next two months, I dragged my heels down to the radiologist's rooms, dreading what revelation that seedy black-and-white image on the screen might reveal each time.
I religiously counted all her movements whilst I was awake, and often late into the small hours when I lay listening to talkback and worrying about her future. I relaxed as much as I could, taking long baths whilst the boys splashed around in the shower until the water ran cold.
At 29 weeks, quite suddenly, she grew. Just a bit, enough for the ruler to register, enough for hope.
There was still no reason for what was happening, but the radiologist's secretary smiled at me for the first time in a long time. I almost skipped to the car, and I somehow knew things were going to be alright.
I picked her birthday in mid- October - as the leaves turned towards the watery spring sun - because it seemed like a pretty date. She was born by scheduled caesarean three weeks early, a smidge under six pounds and heart-stoppingly beautiful. It was love at first sight.
Today, I look at my daughter and still see the innocent beauty of that day. Her hair is now bottled dark brown, her eyes lined with dark kohl, skin perfected by foundation and a demeanour befitting her "difficult" age. She hates every piece of clothing I suggest would look nice on her, yells at times that I am the "only mother" who won't let her daughter hang out at the beach after dark, and sighs exasperatedly when I ask her to tidy her room.
I understand. Fifteen is a time of great change, literally teetering on the edge of adulthood, yet thankful for the safety of childhood to cushion every fall. As you inevitably do. We parents just have to stand there with our arms stretched out like cricket wicketkeepers, waiting for the googly to hit us squarely in the chops.
But as one girl grows up, another is born. Tomorrow, probably the final baby in our extended family . . . a wee girl to complement my baby brother's set of two . . . will arrive in Dunedin Hospital with 10 fingers and 10 toes, destined to give her parents the love, joy, promise, difficulty and yes, sometimes disappointment, of parenthood.
A tiny perfectly formed angel that, before they know it, will be 15 . . . just like mine.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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