My little girl came into the world after a long and frustrating birth. With the help of time, her challenging 24-hour long entry into life becomes less and less emotional and is replaced by the wonder and joy of her birth and some of the happiest moments of my life spent with her and Daniel in those first days and weeks. What a beautiful time.
I look back on the last year and cannot believe how much we've been through together. I think the first birthday of a first child is especially momentous, not least because what you are celebrating is the growth and change in you as a new parent as much as the incredible growth and change in the baby. Making it through the first year virtually unscathed, maybe a little tired, but mostly just grateful for the gift of this beautiful child is enough to celebrate. And then there is this perfect child that you love more than you ever could have imagined and her first birthday becomes something particularly sentimental, emotional and important.
Even though June is now mostly (and finally) sleeping through the night (thank God), I awoke at 5 a.m. this morning and looked at the clock until it said 5:24, the exact time June was born one year ago today. Daniel was at my side in the hospital and we held our baby girl and cried, all three of us overcome with the emotions of that moment of meeting each other for the first time. She was so obviously healthy and robust and strong willed, having chosen exactly the right moment to be born, regardless of the plans and the vision I or anyone else had. She continues to be strong and feisty, intense and funny, and a joyous little girl.
It seems appropriate now to look back and see how far we've come as a family, how June's presence in our lives has changed us and turned us into parents, something I've always thought was one of the toughest jobs there is and that is now confirmed by first-hand experience. When you decide to have a child everyone tells you that "your life will change forever" and that "your life is no longer your own," and all that is true. But it's true on a level that you can't really accept until it happens and how you react to that can be one of the biggest surprises and learning experiences of the whole parenting thing. It determines a lot whether you accept this wholeheartedly, or some part of you resists it.
For example, I remember worrying while I was pregnant with June about how much I would miss my former, childless life and fretted about how I would ever go back to work and "be a productive member of society" (I actually wrote that, as if being a mother is not being productive and contributing to society enough) and when and what would I do "just" taking care of a baby all the time. That all seems like irrelevant and unnecessary worrying to me now.
I don't mean that I don't sometimes have moments when I wish I was free to just go get a haircut and stay out until late and take a bike ride in the morning by myself. What parent of small children doesn't wish for more time to themselves? The last year has been full of sacrifices that I knew I would have to make, but that nothing prepared me for making and nothing surprises me more about myself than how I've made them. I guess being an older mom probably makes me more ready to make these sacrifices than my friends who are younger moms in their 20s and 30s.
I did whatever I wanted for the last 40 years of my life (well at least the last 20), and I had some amazing experiences that I am so glad I had *before* having a baby. I've been to Europe more than a dozen times, I attended conferences all over the world as an academic, studied and lived in Italy for months at a time, taught in some top notch colleges, went to Spain to study flamenco from the masters when I was 25, lived in Seattle, Oregon, Colorado and Rome. I miss those days of traveling unencumbered by anything but how much money I had left in my bank account (which even that hardly ever stopped me). But I don't ever want to go back to that. It would seem so lonely to me now.
Now I look forward to sharing those kinds of experiences with my husband and daughter. I can't wait to take her with us on all kinds of adventures: to Colorado (my birthplace and where I consider home) for the first time; to Italy--my adopted second home and where I feel most comfortable; maybe to Mexico or Argentina, where I long to go and learn more of the language and the cultures; and all over the U.S., most of which I haven't seen myself. We will take those trips, and more. And it will be all the more enjoyable because I have June and Daniel to share it with.
Some of the challenges June and I have faced have brought us so close together. I know how cliché that sounds, but it's so true. Breastfeeding was very difficult for us at first. It was a huge sacrifice until we got the hang of it, probably the most difficult one of all because you are giving your baby everything you have and suffering through it the whole time. It made me cry several times and I did not look forward to it every 2-3 hours all day long. But then, one day, things changed and all of sudden we were doing great and she was gaining weight rapidly and it no longer hurt and I felt a sense of accomplishment that I was feeding my baby with nothing other than my body --something no other accomplishment in my life has compared to.
Sleeping has been another challenge. Just like she entered the world, on her terms, June's sleeping patterns were also going to be on her terms, not mine. She taught me early on that she would decide her schedule and she would take her time becoming a better napper and sleeping through the night.
She took 10 months for the former and a whole year for the latter. But I learned patience and perseverance and I got exhausted and grumpy in the process. But again, I knew it would eventually change and it did. We shared a bed and our sleep became synchronized and that was lovely and worked for a long time. Until it didn't and Daniel and I were being awoken a few too many times and the night nursing (or "snacking") became unbearable. That's when we moved her to her own bed and the transition went surprisingly well. Maybe that's because I didn't listen to everyone who claimed we were "spoiling" her and putting her in danger of never being able to sleep alone, and I listened to my instinct that said she will do it eventually, when she is ready, and then it will go easier for all of us. I am proud of myself for sticking to that and for getting through that sleep-deprived time without losing my mind (though it almost came to that).
There are many other challenges and milestones and things to be proud of about our first year together. And I am sure there will be many more ups and downs and major hurdles as well as monumental joys. It's hard to believe but she is almost walking and "talking" a lot, she's very social and fun-loving and what I am most proud of is that because of all the sacrifices we've made in the last year, she is a sweet, loving, secure and very happy child.
Happy 1st Birthday to my little Junebug!