Baby spotted dove in front of peach sunrise

The Cracks that Make us Whole

I was seven months pregnant when I found an injured baby bird hopping around the middle of the road in front of our house.

He was lethargic and in a daze. I didn’t know if he had a broken wing or had just been tousled by a passing car. Either way I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him scared and alone, to starve or fall prey to the foxes I’d seen around the neighborhood.

I had no clue how to care for a baby bird. There were stacks of baby books in my house but none were going to help me with this. Still, my pregnancy emotions had hijacked all logic and convinced me I had to nurse him back to health. I was going to be a mother soon — I should be able to do something.

I placed the little guy in a basket full of grass and twigs with a tiny bowl of water and took to Google…

Grey and white speckled bird
New York state bird species
bird grey beak
how to feed baby bird
give baby bird water
heal broken wing

It said I should place some bird seed in a shallow bowl nearby. It said I should keep the bird near a window where he could get sunlight. It said the bird I had found was a baby mourning dove, just around the age where they start flight training, and so they often fall from the nest unable to return.

And then it said that if you find one, you should leave it where it is because its parents will be watching over it to chase away danger and bring it food until it learns to fly.

My heart sank.

In trying to protect him I had probably done the worst possible thing. There was no returning him to his habitat now. Dusk was setting in and I knew a predator would snatch him up before his family found him again.

I set the basket with the bird and seed and water under the window in my daughter’s soon-to-be nursery — the safe space I had created for protection and warmth. I went to bed and prayed, but deep down, I knew I had sealed his fate.

I woke before sunrise and ran in to check. All of the seed and water was still there and he was lying on his side slowly opening and closing his beak as if struggling to call out to me for help. My eyes flooded with tears as I scooped up the basket and rushed outside to where I found him thinking maybe if I placed him on the ground his mother would swoop down with food and save him.

She didn’t.

I ran back and forth from the house to the basket, sobbing, desperately hoping for some revelation that would help me save this tiny, helpless creature I’d doomed. I grabbed the water dropper and cupped him in my hand in a last ditch effort to get him to drink, but he closed his beak one last time, and I watched the light fade from his eyes.

I fell to my knees, head in hands, and wept — crying out I’m so sorry! over and over and over again — to the baby bird, to God, and to my unborn daughter who was destined to be raised by this obviously unfit mother.

Why? It was just a bird.

But it wasn’t just a bird. Not to me. Not at that time. In just 12 short hours he had become a symbol of new life, of nature and nurturing and maternal instinct and the embodiment of everything I was about to embark on in my new journey; and then suddenly became the manifestation of all of my fears of inadequacy and failure.

I sat and cried, one hand on the baby bird and one around my belly, until the neon coral sun breached the horizon wrapping me in a warm, peach haze.

For a brief moment, I felt comforted.

Nearly two months later my daughter entered this world, but not without a struggle. Not that childbirth is ever without struggle, but it was a much different struggle than I’d envisioned.

There were oxygen masks and a dropping heart rate and a vacuum extractor and a chord around her neck. There was the panic in my husband’s face as he watched our daughter emerge; silent, still and blue. There were abnormally low APGAR scores and a diagnosis of neonatal encephalopathy and an ambulance ride through a snowstorm to the NICU. There were 72 hours of watching her shiver on a cooling blanket from induced hypothermia to prevent brain injury, wishing I could comfort her, already feeling like I was failing her.

That first night after her birth as I lay next to my rock of a husband, the deluge of emotions consumed me. I curled myself up into the tiniest ball, and

I.

broke.

down.

It was the primal kind of cry that pushes out from within, expelling all the blight that’s twisted up and knotted inside — the physical agony, the emotional exhaustion, the fears, the guilt, the shattered expectations.

It was cold, but as my tears settled I felt a familiar warmth; and in that reprieve my mind flashed back to the baby dove and that summer sunrise. I remembered the anguish I felt, and I knew in a way that that heart-wrenching morning was preparing me for this.

Because baby books and Google searches don’t prepare us for the unexpected; for the uncontrollable. They don’t tell us how to grieve the loss of something intangible, like an experience or a hope. They don’t tell us how to not blame ourselves for things that aren’t our fault or how to forgive ourselves for things that are. They don’t teach us how reach down and pull our strengths up and out of our weaknesses, and emerge ready to face the day.

Nothing can prepare us for life except for living.

And when we live out our nightmares — the aches that shake us so deep to the core that they almost break us — those are the cracks that make us whole.

More Than Love

Ever had that look in your eye?

It’s a look made not of love alone.

It’s the reflection of a bond strengthened by truths confessed, “I-love-you-even-thoughs“, and the comfort of being held just as you are.

It’s pizza and wings and Netflix binges, then re-watching 3 episodes tomorrow because someone fell asleep last night.

It’s a look made brighter by impromptu slow-dances and inside jokes and “yea, you get me” moments.

It’s a union strengthened when two souls become one and two hearts create another. When magically there are two more tiny hands and ten more tiny toes, a head of hair that looks like dad’s and two bright eyes like mom’s.

It’s giving 100% and then giving fifty more when the other has nothing left to give.

It’s nights gone to bed angry and days spent silent, and grace and forgiveness and working it all out in the end.

It’s gratitude that gleams when pots and pans are clanking and garlic is sautéing and you’ve been dispatched to the couch with a glass of wine in hand.

It’s scaling life’s mountains together and backsliding every few feet because maybe someone forgot their hiking shoes (probably me). And pausing to take in all the breathtaking views along the way.

It’s being at your worst—unraveled, split open, spilling over, inside and out—and still being seen as The Best.

It’s a gaze intensified by the once too-close prospect of losing it all—in moments that rip the air from your lungs and the power from your grip, and shake the earth beneath your feet.

It’s a listening ear; a kiss on the head; and arms that hold and heal and steady.

It’s hands that help, that provide, that protect (from bad dreams and from giant fast-moving spiders).

This is a look made up of so much more than love. It’s longing and contentment. Trust and insecurity. Support and surrender. Laughter and tears.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s been too long since I’ve cast this look his way.

Some days I fear it looks more like annoyance; frustration; disapproval.

And I hate that. Because that’s not the love letter I want to tell with these eyes of mine. That’s not the true story that resounds in my heart.

But this look is a rooted one, often lodged deep within, woven into all of the memories and emotions and promises that make it up. And we have a tendency to live our day to day lives on the surface, wrapped up in responsibilities and task lists and too often fail to reach down and set it free.

But even though I sometimes forget to show it, I hope he never forgets to know it. I hope my words tell it and my actions reflect it.

I hope he remembers this look; I hope it’s a permanent fixture in the forefront of his mind as eternally as it’s been captured in this frame.

I hope he always feels it—that this love we have is a so-much-more-than-love kind of love.

My dear hyper-sensitive daughter,

I see it starting.

When I put your jacket on and your sleeve bunches up and you scream and shake your head.

When I walk away from you for a brief moment and your bottom lip curls under and tears well up in your eyes.

When the laughter of others around you makes you beam with joy and tiny giggles bubble up from inside you.

The way you dance giddily to techno music and stare, seriously and pursed-lipped, at the sound of sad, somber melodies.

The way your happiness can switch to a full-blown tantrum at (literally) the drop of a hat (or a toy).

Perhaps these super-charged emotions are fleeting and temporary.

But if this is a prediction of what’s in store for your big heart, my dear, I can already tell— you’re gonna let it all in.

I know, because you get it from me.

You’re gonna feel everything to the fullest extent, no holds barred. You’ll wear your heart on your sleeve. You’ll feel things deeply and you’ll take things—everything—to heart.

Childhood teasing will crush your spirit. High school bullies will almost break you.

You probably won’t take criticism well, even the constructive kind.

You’ll seek acceptance.

You’ll ball for days if you hit a squirrel with your car.

You’ll put yourself out there. Your thoughts, your feelings, your secrets. You’ll reach out for deep and meaningful connections with people who understand you, who’ve been where you’ve been, who can relate. And you’ll be devastated when those attempts are met with harshness or callousness or judgement.

And they will be. Because bullies don’t disappear when school’s out.

But my dear daughter,

this over-feeling trait you’ve got—it’s got its upsides too—ups that far outweigh the downs.

You’ll be a loyal friend and an empathetic stranger. You’ll be self-aware, or at least you’ll try your damnedest. You’ll be a listening ear and a helping hand. You’ll lift others up and fight against those who do the tearing-down.

You’ll keep your word and your commitments, because you’ll know the hurt of broken ones.

You’ll sob incessantly to cheesy, romantic movies, feel the pull of poetic, lyrical music deep in your soul, and have the fullest appreciation for art in all its forms.

I wish I could promise you you’ll never feel heartache—that you’ll never be emotionally bruised. But I can’t. I’m afraid it comes with this territory.

But I can promise I’ll do my best to arm you with the confidence and self-assurance you’ll need to combat the barrage of attacks on your ever-exposed heart.

And you’ll enter each battlefield standing tall, poised and ready to dual. You’ll fight a good fight and you’ll emerge—virtually unscathed on the outside—and inwardly wounded with a cut that will need healing, every single time.

But, my dear sweet girl, you won’t ever harden.

tiny human, baby sleeping

Tiny Human

I stand leaning over the side of your crib, forearms resting on the hard plastic frame. At least I think it’s plastic—or some other man-made material that they texturize and paint to make it look like wood. Because nothing is actually made from real wood anymore—at least not anything that new parents can afford. Real and authentic are commodities these days, and therefore expensive. But not you. You are the most real and authentic thing in my life, and yet you’ve cost me nothing. In fact, you’ve given me everything. 

I’ve come to know this position well—this slightly bent at the waist, spine curved, head half-down—position. My body readily takes this form throughout the day, nursing you, bathing you, playing with you. And from the mere weight of holding you in my arms, balanced on the cusp of my hip. Someday, standing upright will feel natural again. When you’ve grown so big that you no longer require my body as a vessel to feed you, entertain you, and move you from one place to the next. When you’re so tall that I no longer must crouch to meet your gaze. When I long for the days you were little.

I just laid you down on your back (the position they tell me is safest) and watched you stubbornly flip, wriggling into your favorite sleep position. You let out a long, squeaky sigh—the sound I’ve come to learn is the sign that you’re down for the count. Only new parents know this bittersweet feeling of freedom and somberness. I could finally straighten my back if I wanted. I could go stretch out and relax. Read a chapter of my book. Drink that glass of wine that sounded so good an hour ago when you were screaming in the bathtub and I couldn’t figure out why. You’re sound asleep and you don’t need me right now. But I can’t pull myself away. I miss you already.   

Your puffy diapered bottom distends in the air, your knees curl under you, little feet resting one on top of the other, your arms awkwardly tucked under your belly. I bend down further and listen closely for your soft breathAre you still breathing? Of course you are—it seems silly to check—but I just need to hear it.

What a perfect, tiny human you are. I’ve called you this before, but you aren’t, really. Perfect and tiny, yes. Human, no. I mean, literally and scientifically you are, I suppose. But I’m not sure I’m ready to label you with all that accompanies that word, not just yet. There’s far too much baggage and negativity and responsibility attached to it. Sure, humans possess many distinctively beautiful qualities. But humans also sin. They lie and they hurt, ill-intentioned or not. They have insecurities. Faults. Scars. You have none of these.

You’ve yet to develop the critical thinking that, when mixed with selfishness, is the perfect recipe for hurting others. You feel no contempt for those that hurt you. Despite your relentless screams and squirms when I try to suck snot out of your nose, or wash your face, you still beam with joy when I walk in the room.

You’re entirely free from preconceptions and judgement; the kind that will ultimately be imposed on you by those around you, including, unintentionally, by me.

Your smile, the truest possible depiction of genuineness. Completely uninhibited by insecurities; unmasked by facade, unlike the smiles of grown-ups. You don’t care that you have no teeth, or that your jaw goes crooked when your grin is stretched to the max. It’s nothing but the deepest, most primal emotion of happiness that turns the corners of your mouth upward, glittering your eyes with wonder and lighting up my life. 

And then there’s your laugh. So free and guttural, bursting up and out of your belly so fiercely it could knock me off my feet. 

Babies are often referred to as angelic, and this makes sense to me now. There’s simply a ‘not-of-this-world’ quality about you. It’s somewhat unfortunate that you won’t remember yourself this way—unscathed by society and life experiences. It seems almost too coincidental that your first childhood memories will likely coincide with your earliest human-like behaviors. The ability to lie and manipulate based on fear of consequences. The feeling of disdain for not getting your way. Or even the positive human traits like kindness and empathy. The time will come when you will need to choose which traits you exude, but right now, you don’t have to.

When these infant days are behind you, so too will be the flawless innocence that defines them. I can’t help but sense a metaphysical disconnect between the being that you are now, and the being that you will become—as if somehow they are two separate individuals with their own souls.  

This crib that contains you now, keeping you safe while you sleep, will not do this job forever. You will outgrow your crib, and you will outgrow your ignorance. The world will crush you as often as it inspires you. It will twist you and bend you and shape you and mold you, tearing you down and building you up, and you will have to fight to become what you want to be against what it will try to make you. And when you’ve reached it, well, there’s yet more bending and shaping to come. Because you’re never truly done learning and growing—trying to be the best version of you that you can be. And the world will never stop finding ways to teach you. 

So I stand here—watching you sleep, staring intently, partially wishing I could freeze time—but mostly looking forward to being by your side as all of your transformations unfold.