Audrey Jane’s purpled, uncertain face in those first few hours of her life was so much stranger and more remote than her big sister’s had been. She was still a mystery, perhaps because her entry into the world was a great deal more hectic – a labor I managed to stay on top of until the very end, unsure if she was ready to come until she was already coming, crowning with the cord wrapped so tightly around her neck that she was whisked into the anteroom before we even had a chance to see her face.
When I finally held her, the bruises under her eyes reflected my body’s pains as the midwife stitched and pressed and put bits of me back together. I had labored through the night but she was born in the full light of day, nothing like the dreamy dawn of Miss E’s birth. Nothing like Miss E at all, those first few hours, and me nothing like the first time mama I’d been.
It wasn’t until she had her bath, cheeks pinked against my breast, that I could really see her, what a beauty she was and so strong already, head bobbing a course to breakfast. We were a unit, suddenly, just as Miss E and I had been from the moment she was placed on my belly. Even when her big sister clambered into my hospital bed for kisses and hugs and the first of many urgent, gentle touches, that bed remained a little island where Little Sister and I weren’t so much stranded as living in seclusion, wondering, beginning to understand what it was to be mama and daughter. For her, for the first time. For me, again.
Before me stretches the first week without my husband to support me at home with two girls of many and varied needs. And I am still thinking what I thought those first few days in the hospital, and in the days that followed at home with a shouty toddler and a restless newborn: I know how to parent them separately, but not together.
It’s a cruel thing to realize with your second child that caring for a newborn really isn’t much trouble at all, the rhythms of nursing and napping and endless soggy diapers coming back quickly, easily, and aided greatly by an ample Netflix queue. But how to be good to them both? I’m only just able to sit cross-legged on the floor for more than a minute at a time for block towers and puzzles, and when I pick up Miss E, I am staggered by her weight, the broadness of her back, her tangled head tickling my chin as she flails. Little Sister wants all the cuddles and besides, can’t be settled anywhere without aggressive loving on the part of Miss E. Even her crib isn’t safe, where books are like to be launched over the rail with the very best of intentions.
It’s just as everyone said it would be, that I love them both enormously, with every part of me, but differently, too. When I am alone with one I pine for the other, but together they threaten to unmake me. Not just because I’m not sleeping, or because there aren’t cookies and casseroles enough in the world to stave off the hunger Little Sister’s appetite inspires in me. It’s because I have two daughters, because I am the mother of two girls, sisters. Because we are a family of four and I’m not sure yet what that means for me or how I parent or who I’ll be in six months when this cloudy time is cloudier still in recollection.
What I do know is this: just because I know how to be Miss E’s mama doesn’t mean I’ve got Little Sister figured out. Not remotely. Beyond the basics, it’s like we’re starting over. Terrifying as it is, it seems right, somehow, that I should have as much to learn as she does, that she should still get to teach me, like her sister did.