“Hey sweetie, I think she’s ready to nurse. It’s…it’s five AM.”
The thought didn’t occur to me when I sat up and switched on the lamp, nor while I was unbuttoning my nightgown, nor when I held my 11-week-old daughter in my arms and brought her to my breast. I didn’t think it while she was nursing in the dark bedroom (having switched off the lamp again; she finds the bright light so mesmerizing she cranes her neck so she can gaze at it and forgets entirely to nurse), nor when I handed her back to my husband so he could lay her down again.
But at six AM, while I sat in the living room with a hot cup of tea (the whole of which I drank, uninterrupted, while it was hot — another milestone), a scented candle burning (“Nonnatus House” scent), and my journal open on my lap — then, finally, I thought : this seven hour stretch is the longest stretch in her entire life that she and I have not touched.
Of course there have been many “longest stretches.” I’m not sure why it was the seven-hour stretch that sparked this thought. The first stretch was only several seconds : right after I pushed her out, when the midwife held her and brought her up to my chest. (But I suppose we were still touching — because her umbilical cord was still attached, and it went down from her belly and back inside of me — we were still touching even then.) So I suppose the first moment was when my husband cut the cord. (Except, wait, in that moment, she was laying on my chest, so even as that one connection was broken, another remained.) I suppose it really began, to be precise, when a nurse lifted her from my chest to weigh her, when she was one hour old. Those couple of minutes began the lifelong stretching of time that will slowly separate me from my daughter.
I remember when I reached the moment that marked the longest I had gone without seeing my father. He died when I was 20 years old, a sophomore in college, so we had been parted, at the very longest, for ten weeks, the length of a quarter-term. That eleventh week after he died, it was a new slap in the face in a series of many — I had crossed over some threshold. There had been many to cross and were (are) many still to come : there was the first midnight, marking the ending of the last day we had shared, and the beginning of the first day of my life that he was not alive for. There was the ending of the month of February, marking the end of the last month when he had ever lived. And later came New Year’s Eve, ending the last year of my life I would ever share with him. I have recently entered my thirties : the first decade of my life he wasn’t here for (he just barely touched my twenties).
Someday, God willing, I will reach the tipping point where I will have lived more of my life without him than with him. And I hope to surpass his age, someday having lived a longer life than he did. By that time, my daughter and I will have had our minutes and hours stretch into days and weeks, and likely months, that we have gone without touching. And this will be a blessing.
I think of my father every single day — there was a time, after his death, when I don’t think a minute went by without my thinking of him. That stretched to hours, as my grief faded, but it has stretched as far as it will ever — I don’t believe there will come a day when I don’t think of him. I know there will never come a day when I don’t think of my daughter, no matter where she may be. And someday, when her life takes her far from me and her father, I trust that she will think of us.