My first two weeks of motherhood were awe-full. Not awful, awe-full -- full of awe and amazement, as I looked at my new son with bleary-eyed amazement that he had grown inside my body. Did he really breathe in and out? Was I really a mother? What were those nurses thinking letting me bring this little person home?
And yet, there he was -- all mine, sound asleep (sometimes) in my house, in my arms. I could hardly breathe for the sheer wonder of it.
Of course, I loved him from the first moment, but it was an untested love, akin to the first blush of a heady romance. He was perfect. He was mine. He could do no wrong. That first rush of mother-love I felt for him was unmistakable, but it wasn’t fully the real thing. Not yet.
That would come two weeks later.
I remember the moment with absolute clarity. Adam was two weeks old, and my husband’s boss and his wife stopped by our house to bring a gift and meet our boy. And I, of course, had him all dolled-up and beautiful and sweet-smelling. Because I was a Very Good Mother, and at this point, the extent of my knowledge about Very Good Mothering meant, simply, that I made him look cute.
Our friends arrived, and the wife (let’s call her Lynn) asked to hold Adam. I settled my perfectly lovely baby in her arms, and she sat in the rocking chair. I crossed the room and sat on the right armrest of our green side chair. I wore a plaid shirt. I carried a burp cloth in my right hand. (See? Perfect clarity, almost 12 years later.)
Lynn cooed and gooed over my peacefully-sleeping boy precisely as she should have done. She held him out in front of her for a better look. And then, she popped the pacifier out of his mouth. “I want to see what he looks like when he cries,” she explained, sweetly.
Now, there was nothing overtly, inherently threatening about that gesture. She was a very kind woman, and I knew that her intentions were light-hearted.
Good intentions or not, though, she wanted to make my baby cry.
And I don’t know how to explain what washed over me in that instant. It was a surge of protectiveness so fierce that I actually felt the weight of it on my chest. Part of me wanted to leap out of my chair and snatch my baby back; another part of me was completely paralyzed by whatever it was that was stirring inside me. While the chit-chat went on all around me, I sat there in that old green chair, struggling to breathe, awash in the new reality that I could happily and easily die for the little seven-pound bundle across the room. I could walk across hot coals for him. I could throw myself into the ocean or out of an airplane. I could -- oh help me -- tackle the boss’s wife.
What happened in that instant (though I wouldn’t fully process until later) was quite simple: I became a mom.
Incidentally, I didn’t tackle the boss’s wife, a very sweet woman who had no idea she was only moments away from death at the hands of a newly-awakened (and hormonal and tired and leaky) Momma Bear. I quietly crossed the room and mumbled something about needing to feed him. I smiled. She smiled. No one was the wiser.
No one, that is, except me. I was much wiser in that moment, and as I took my son back to his nursery to feed him, I was overcome by an emotion even more powerful than the awe of those first two weeks.
I loved him. Really loved him. The kind of mother-love that stands and fights. The kind that wakes you up in the middle of the night. The kind that mystically sends off an alarm when something is not right. The kind that propels you through the terrible twos and the snarky teens. It all roared awake that day, very suddenly, and it nearly took my breath away.
Twelve years later, it still does.