Dear sweet friend,
Your letter was so beautiful, and evidenced by the response from so many friends and strangers, it resonated with a lot of people. We are all sort of looking around wondering, “What on earth have we done?”
In response, as strange as it might sound, I keep thinking about how you are such an avid student of the human condition. Part of what has always drawn me to you is that you seem voraciously interested in what it means to be human. Not just in a philosophical sense, but in an experiential sense. When I first met you, you were training to do gynecological exams at a cooperative women’s health clinic, though you are not and have never been a nurse or a doctor. Every few weeks you humbly unveil another skill—cooking purple cupcakes with my daughter, shopping online for vintage cashmere, knowing just the right thing to say when someone has a cancer diagnosis. You can produce a podcast, DJ an elementary school dance, and probably shoe a horse for all I know.
Allison and Stella painting at our local elementary school.
Well, birthing and then raising a human—as far as I can tell—is one of the most fascinating experiences of the human condition out there. I get why lots of people chose not to do it. There are solid structural reasons. Especially now. There are profound personal ones. But you are not one of those people with those kinds of reasons. Or rather, you have those kinds of reasons (as we all do), but they don’t supersede your core impulse to do this most daunting and interesting of things, which is to let a brand new human pass through your own body, and then get acquainted.
It’s true, you will be getting acquainted under very strange circumstances. The world has just turned upside down. The place you thought was safe (the hospital) is now anxiety-producing. The things you thought were most immediately worrisome (sleeplessness and chapped nipples and isolation) now seem quaint in the face of a virus that lives on every surface for days on end. I hate that. I wish you got to worry about bottle brands and baby names.
But here’s what I know about you: you are a fucking warrior. You gave up drinking and never looked back. You have plumbed the emotional depths of who you are in therapy, rose-colored glasses thrown to the floor, and come out the other side a vulnerable, real person. You live in your body better than almost anyone I know, waking early to stand on your head for minutes at a time. When I try to give you the funny story about my pain, you call bullshit in the kindest way possible. When I need help, you say YES (always in all capitals). You have a big, uncontainable laugh and a profound sense of civic duty. That’s the making of a badass mother right there, pandemic or no pandemic.
And here’s what I know about human babies: they arrive fully formed, but without expectation. When I looked in Maya’s eyes for the first time, I was so traumatized by the pain that I mostly only felt relief. When I looked in Stella’s eyes for the first time, I felt like they were saying, “Hey, I know you.” Both of them wriggled up to my breast and started nursing. Just minutes on this planet and they already knew more about how to survive than I did about how to help them survive.
Maya communing with a Buddha.
These strange days are filled with more and more evidence of their innate ability to survive. Maya wanders around the house all day in her pajamas, making so much art that it piles on every surface in the house. She’s old enough to know there is a virus and be scared by it, but she’s not for one minute letting it get in the way of this extended spring break that is a little introvert’s paradise. If you walk by Stella’s room, you will hear a never-ending stream of commentary about cancelled soccer games and babies that need diaper changes. She gets in the bed at 6am between John and me, and starts stroking my cheek and says, “I lub you, momma. Can we go downstairs? Can I watch a show?”
The kids, as they say, are alright. The adults, not so much. But they help pull us along. We go to the Redwoods everyday and stand in the shadows of those ancient reminders. Stella has named us “Team Power” and created a chant that we say, hands piled on top of one another. Where did this spark of endurance come from in her? Where did Maya learn to quiet the fear in favor of art?
Maya running in the Redwoods, 6 years later.
We haven’t a clue. That’s the beauty of this nonsensical decision to birth a human being. They meet the world on its own terms and teach you something in the meeting. You will feel terrifically vulnerable. You are. They are. But their inextinguishable comfort with that vulnerability, with needing and being needed, is the lesson. Over and over again.
We don’t know what will come next. We never really did. They know that. They live outside of time. Let’s follow them there together.
Love you, warrior. Can’t wait to get my hands on that baby.