I had somehow managed to avoid having any hands-on experience with newborns and babies all the way through my late twenties. So when I turned 31 and found out that I was pregnant, I had to rely completely on everyone else's experience to prepare me for what was to come. I was petrified by the idea of having one of those long, painful deliveries (it seemed as though everyone had horror stories about 72 hour-labors or botched episiotomies) but I was very much looking forward to meeting this sweet, little boy that had been growing inside of me. When I went into labor, I was pleasantly surprised to find that that my feelings of excitement and curiosity seemed to outweigh the fear that had been my semi-constant companion for nine months.
I'm finally going to meet my baby!!
On February 24, 1998, I was admitted to Cedar's Sinai Hospital at 2:00 in the morning. Six hours (and four easy pushes) later, Miles popped out into Dr. Katz's catcher's mitt (I don't know if I was in a delusional state, but I distinctly remember my doctor running in with a catcher's mitt just before he delivered Miles).
Slow motion chaos broke out at that moment:
Can I get some suction?
Yes, it's a boy!
Veronica, lets get his APGAR score.
I propped myself up and looked around at everyone running back and forth. Somewhere behind the controlled shouting, I heard someone giggling and realized that I was literally laughing out loud at how easy it had been to give birth.
Hell yeah! I was so scared for NOTHING! Four pushes and he's out!! Those bit$%es didn't know what they were talking about!
My laughter was cut off abruptly when I saw the doctor cradling Miles and moving in my direction. Without thinking, I used my hands to scurry backward until my back was flush against the exposed, delivery-bed mattress (the sheet must have fallen off when I was pushing).
I stared in horror at the paste and fluid-covered, flailing, screaming, miniature human coming toward me in slasher-film-style slow motion.
Why are they handing him to me now?! Aren't they supposed to clean him up first?
Not knowing what else to do, I took him clumsily in my arms.
How do I hold this creature? Why is he fighting me?
After I figured out how to grab him in a way that seem to put everyone at ease, he screamed, punched and kicked so wildly that I thought he'd slip out of my arms like a greased pig.
Please stop squirming, everyone is staring.
"I think he's hungry Laura," whispered Veronica, my L&D nurse. I jumped slightly, startled by her close proximity to my ear. I could smell the Altoid she'd popped into her mouth just before I delivered. It was actually a pleasant distraction from the antiseptic smell of the equipment they'd used to deliver Miles.
I looked away from Dr. Katz, who was in between my stirruped heels, busily sewing me up with a scary-long, hooked needle. I couldn't feel any pain, but I was trembling. Suddenly I felt as though all of the blood had been drained from my body.
I'm so cold.
"Let's see if he takes your breast," said Veronica. She looked as though she were assessing me. She placed a thin, faded hospital blanket from a warming drawer around my bare shoulders and offered me a sip of apple juice from a small plastic cup next to my bed.
"Takes it where?" I declined the juice with a wave of my hand and summoned the strength to curl my lips into faint smile, so that she would know that I was attempting a joke.
The truth was I was terrified of nursing him. He was not at all what I'd pictured. I thought he'd come out cooing, scrubbed squeaky-clean and pleasantly sleepy. Instead he seemed to be enraged, wide awake and fighting me with every inch of his slime-covered body. Everyone had told me that no matter what the birth was like, I would feel this amazing love for my baby the moment it was born.
What's wrong with me? How come all I feel is scared?
"Try it," said Brian who was watching the whole scene from over my left shoulder. He was standing slightly behind my head so that he could look at Miles's face. I couldn't see Brian's expression, but I heard concern in his voice. "Try nursing him."
"Okay," I said as confidently as I could.
I opened my flimsy, light-blue hospital gown and placed my hand behind his small, slick head, trying to guide him toward my chest-area. Once his lips bumped against me, his body suddenly stiffened like a bloodhound locating his prey and he began to ram my breast with his wide-open mouth over and over again with impressive, (albeit reckless) force. Moments later, I felt the sharp, soon-to-be-familiar pain of razor-sharp gums sinking into the flesh around my tender, swollen, nipple-area.
All at once, his whole body quieted down and relaxed. His infinitesimal fists began to open and close rhythmically and he began to emit contended newborn, gulping sounds.
It wasn't until Brian wiped my cheek with the edge of the blanket that I realized I was crying.
"He was hungry!" I said staring at him. I sounded like I had just discovered a gazelle in my living room.
"Very," Brian chuckled.
"He needed his Mommy," Veronica smiled. "You're the only one who has what he needs."
I broke my gaze away from Miles. My tears had begun to pool under my nose, I used my wrist to wipe my face. My eyes narrowed and my brows knit together as I looked up at her.
What do you mean I'm the only one who has what he needs?
Suddenly I was seized by an emotional tidal wave. I felt myself expanding and swelling with a mixture of melancholy and an intense sense of purpose.
Miles needs me.
I cradled him closer to me. His clear, paper-thin fingernails were razors slicing up and down my breasts. Crisscrossed welts were beginning to rise on the skin of my chest-area too. I had no reference point for this sticky, humid feeling that was quickly spreading into every crevice of my body. I thought it would choke me when it rose up my throat and into my mouth. I gritted my teeth against it.
My son needs me.
"Hi Miles," I whispered into his ear. I looked at his profile for what felt like the first time. His left eye glanced slightly toward me before he ferociously turned his full attention back to nursing.
A light burst from the center of my body and emitted a glow that I was sure everyone could see. My heart pulsed blood down through my fingertips. I was flooded with a warmth unlike anything I had ever known. I caught myself holding my breath and opened my lips abruptly to take in a long, slow, drag of oxygen-infused, delivery room air. The breath filled my lungs and moved Miles's sweet, little head up and down -- he seemed to grip my side a little tighter.
So this is the love they were talking about....
* * *
Miles is sitting in my office with me. I am crafting a letter to his high school principal, asking for his diploma to be sent to his new school as soon as he graduates next week.
"Can I finish this first?" My voice is all business. I feel a rush of irritation that he wants to start this new project now. Lately I feel like I'm his assistant and not his mother.
"Sure," he shrugs.
I turn my head to shoot him a look of disapproval.
His 6-foot-3 frame spills off the sides of the little, white armchair that sits in front of my office window. His long legs stretch across the floor, causing the toes of his vintage, blue and white, size 12, Air Jordan's to almost touch the opposite wall. The hand that isn't holding his phone dangles above the floor, his long, brown fingers skim absentmindedly up and down, along the uneven lines of the floor boards. He's busy — undoubtedly scrolling through the "Gram" on his phone. I observe that he never looks up at me as he expertly using his left thumb to "like" posts. All at once, as if pulled by some unseen tractor beam, I spin fully around in my chair. I am suddenly, utterly and completely captivated by his profile.
I feel like I'm seeing Miles for the first time in a very long time. I am overwhelmed by the desire to go over and hug him and kiss him repeatedly on his forehead (he would hate this). I am seized with a feverish need to sit at his feet and beg him to stay here in Los Angeles (he would laugh at that). I feel compelled to reason with him, to tell him that he can't possibly go to live by himself in New York City (even though I know in my heart it's not true).
Who's going to take care of you there? How can you go from being my baby to living across the country all by yourself?
Its been just like this. As we get closer to graduation, I go for long periods of time where I'm like some android mother-prototype preparing for his departure — all logistics and no emotion. But when were not preparing for his departure, he and I are hanging out as though there weren't any sense of urgency — no June 7 departure date looming in front of us. We laugh, bicker, watch our TV shows and plan our summer road trip. You would never know to look at us that he leaves for New York exactly 26 days from now -- possibly for good. But that feeling I felt that day in the delivery room -- that warm, humid, welling and swelling is building inside me and the dam that I've spent years building against it is threatening to break at any moment. Suddenly, I've become two distinct people; One who is the sane, pragmatic, helpful mother of a graduating senior ("Oh no! I think it's wonderful he's moving to New York! I'm SO excited for him!"). And another who is a frenetic, emotional basket case, excusing herself to weep privately after every Subaru commercial.
* * *
"What do you mean?" I said in an icy tone as I turned slightly away from my computer. My side glance was a dagger aimed straight for his jugular.
"I mean, I know that on some level, you have to be dealing with the fact that Miles is leaving. I don't think this is about Kofi's ticket."
I glanced down at my hands in my lap.
I need to get my nails done before graduation...
"We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
I steeled myself before meeting his gaze. His kind, blue and hazel eyes regarded me with --
Is that pity?
"But you know I have experience with this," he continued. "I've been living across the country from my kids for 8-years now."
Oh not pity, I decided. Compassion.
"I could be in denial," I said slowly. "I'm really just trying not to think about it."
Scottie laughed a little and then walked over and placed his hand on my leg, still holding my gaze.
"That's actually kind of the definition of denial, Hon. Look, it's okay if you're not ready to think about it. I just want you to be aware that you're harboring something. And I think it might be beginning to effect how you are with other people. I think it may be starting to get in the way."
* * *
Miles is grinning down at me in a fitted black t-shirt and sweatpants, his car keys hang from his pocket on a Nike lanyard. He hoists his turquoise SC backpack on to his right shoulder.
"I don't want to talk about it," I say with sideways smile.
"Why are you so worried about me leaving, Mom?" He grins at me like the Cheshire Cat.
"I'm ready, Mom. I've been ready. I'm done with LA for a while. I need to be in New York now."
Suddenly I am exhausted. My shoulders slump forward and I sit down on the settee near the front door. I clasp my hands in front of me and look up at him with what I hope is a neutral expression.
Don't tell him how you really feel...
"I know that you're ready," I say with a sigh. "And it's not so much that I'm worried about you. It's just that -- you've got to understand -- you're my baby boy..."
"No, I am a MAN," he smiles, pulling himself up to his full height, placing his hand firmly on my head. His palm covers the top of my head like a hat. Seconds later, he lifts his hand slightly and pats my curls lovingly.
"Poor, poor, worried Mommy..."
"All right," I laugh. "You're a man. But I'm going to miss you, is all. You know that, don't you?"
Miles stared at me for a moment with no expression. I start to get up and try to hug him when he speaks again, in a low, thoughtful tone.
"You'll be busy making sure that Justin gets into college, Mom. And I'll be back every six weeks for the weekend. And didn't you say you were going to start writing every day?"
I try not to look too shocked.
He's thought about this! He's thought about how I'm going to miss him!
"I guess you're right," I say grabbing his hand in mine. "I will be busy. But that doesn't mean that I won't miss you."
His hand is so soft.
I put the back of his hand to my nose and inhale the sweet, lemony scent of the hand soap he uses.
His hand smells so clean — so good! And his nails! I screamed at him to cut his nails all last year! Now he clips them himself without me telling him to -- it almost looks like he's had manicure...
I felt my eyes tearing up.
"Maybe it won't be so bad," I say out loud.
Without shifting his gaze, his fingers find the gaps in mine and interlace with them. We are like that for a moment. We are both facing the dining room window. I am sitting very still, not wanting to scare him off. I can hear his strong, steady breath against hum of the early morning traffic outside our house. I rest my head cautiously against his thin waist. The fabric of his t-shirt is soft and cool.
"Okay, Mom," he says pulling away a little.
It's not a question, it's a statement. He's ready to leave.
"Okay, Sweetie." I make sure my voice is full of cheer and assurance. "Have a great last day of high school."
Do you have experience with a child going away to college? I'd love to hear your story, please share it in the comments of this post. Thank you!