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Hello, Sweet Baby

Wonderstruck
mother holding baby

Sarah Wilkins

By Elissa Brent Weissman

Being pregnant was one of those things I couldn't think about too much without it blowing my mind. Sure, I took Health and AP Bio in high school, I looked at websites that compared my growing baby to pieces of produce; but the process still baffled me, like when I contemplate how cruise ships float.

In the delivery room, when I first held my daughter, I stared at her, speechless. Was this really the person my husband and I had created, the one whose movements had made my stomach contort into visible waves? Did I just push her out of me and into the world? It struck me that I was once this small, this remarkable, this new to my name. My husband cried, but I was too awed for that. The whole experience seemed less like life and more like magic.

Yet here was Karina, breathing and blinking and looking around with quiet curiosity. She was soft and wrinkly with spiky hair and my husband's face. And she was my daughter. I had a daughter!

When I first got my driver's license, I'd inched down the road, my mirrors perfectly positioned and my hands at ten and two, thinking, I'm driving. Ten years later, I sat in a hospital bed, sweaty and hungry and holding a baby, thinking, I'm a mother. I'm this baby's mother. What a thing of wonder.

Elissa Brent Weissman, from Baltimore, is a novelist for young readers and mother of two. Her latest book is The Short Seller.

He has hair where?
mother holding baby

Sarah Wilkins

By Sarah Jio

Six years ago, I gave birth to my first son, Carson. I had envisioned this moment in my mind, I don't know, 403 million times. I'd labor bravely, and when my baby arrived, there'd be no eye drops or shots right away. I wanted the two of us to bond properly. It was all in the four-page birth plan I'd presented to my ob-gyn weeks prior, naturally.

However, things didn't go exactly as planned. Thirty-six hours after my first contraction, I asked -- begged -- for an epidural. After a fourth-degree tear (TMI, sorry), out came my baby boy. I remember my husband's smile, nurses bustling around me, and the tense, determined look on my doctor's face as she began the somewhat gruesome process of repairing my nether regions.

And then someone handed me Carson, loosely swaddled in a blanket. I surveyed his round face and dark eyes and...hairy back? I rubbed my eyes, looked closer, and confirmed that, indeed, my son's upper back was all but covered in a fine, dark layer of, well, fur.

I looked up at my husband. Had he noticed? And the nurses? Were they snickering in the corner? "Manscaping?" I imagined them whispering. "The child's going to need babyscaping!"

Plagued with anxiety, I pulled the blanket a bit higher around Carson's shoulders, while scolding myself for being superficial. So what if he's hairy? He's healthy! And yet, I was mortified. Sensing my concern, a nurse whispered, "Don't worry, honey, many newborns are born with extra hair. It'll fall out in a day or two." I wanted to hug her.

I grin when I think back to those first few moments. The nurse was right -- the hair all fell out. But Carson's nickname will always be "Monkey."

Sarah Jio, from Seattle, is a novelist and mother of three. Her latest book is The Last Camellia.

The bone-weariest sigh

By Lynn Messina

My first son, Emmett, was so perfect at birth that even his hair was parted neatly, making him look as if all he needed was a briefcase for his first day at the office. (Barely ten minutes old and already late for work!) Curious, he lay on my chest and stared up at me with calm blue eyes.

My second, Luka, was gross -- slimy, gloppy, gunky with with goo that glowed eerily in the harsh glare of the delivery room and gleamed off the top of his pointy head, still elongated from birth. His eyes were squeezed tight, as if shutting out the world.

I wasn't ready for Luka. He came three weeks early, while I was still trying to convince myself that I could love another child. We had no name for him and no plan of what to do with Emmett while I was in labor. My water broke at 7 a.m., and my doctor gave me twelve hours before she induced. We had all day to prepare, but once we finally found a friend to come stay with Emmett, it was time to deliver.

Luka cried immediately. I lifted him and placed him on my chest, against my heart, which always calmed Emmett. It had no effect. I raised him higher, to my shoulder. That did nothing. I bounced. Nope. The wails continued, and I felt the hot flush of embarrassment as I failed to comfort him. I worried what the doctor thought. This is her second time around, I imagined her thinking. She should know this by now.

Desperate to soothe him, I started to softly sing "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, another standby from Emmett's infanthood. It didn't work either. Nor did rocking, shushing, pleading.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, he sighed. His eyes still shut, he let out the deepest, saddest, bone-weariest sigh and it stretched from his soul to mine.

Two years later, Luka still sighs that like after a hard cry, and every time I hear it I recall all the absurd things I worried about. As if I possibly could not love him or be ready for him. In that moment, even under the harsh glare of the delivery room light, everything settled gently into its place.

Still, though, someone could have warned me about all that goo.

Lynn Messina, from New York City, is a novelist and mother of two. Her new book, Henry and the Smart Human, is for young readers.

Separation pangs
meeting baby

Sarah Wilkins

By Lauren Daisley

While pregnant, I read all about the importance of skin-to-skin contact for bonding with your baby, and I couldn't wait to start in the delivery room. But when the nurse handed my son, Casper, to me, he didn't nuzzle into my neck or root for my chest as I envisioned. Instead, at only a few minutes old, he seemed more interested in looking around the room, even though I knew he couldn't see more than 12 inches in front of him with that blurry newborn vision. Though he had just entered the world, he was entirely his own person. I already missed him, which took me by surprise. I didn't expect to experience the pangs of separation until much later, like when he started walking or going to day care. The oneness of being pregnant with him was over. Now it was time for us to build a new bond -- one that wasn't based on my expectations for the future, but on who this little guy was right now.

Lauren Daisley, from Cold Spring, New York, is a writer, TV commentator, and mother of two.

Scary delivery, healthy baby

By Bekka Besich

On the day our second daughter was born, I drove away from the house with the bed unmade, dishes in the sink and the vacuum out for some cleaning. My due date was six days away, and I naively thought I'd be back after a routine doctor's appointment. In the exam room, the nurse checked and rechecked my blood pressure, then quickly left and returned with my doctor. My blood pressure was too high. I needed to go to the hospital, and it was there that I first heard the words "preeclampsia" and "seizures".

Tears of worry poured from my eyes as my doctor explained that she wanted me to deliver that day. I was immediately placed on anti-seizure medication. The drug gave me an instant headache. It felt as if someone had placed the fuzziest of clouds around my head and I could not surface. I asked the nurses to turn down the medication because I wanted to be more present, more in the moment when my baby was born. They obliged.

Just hours later, my daughter Finley Juliet was placed on my chest. I couldn't stop crying. My husband Randy couldn't stop crying. She was here, and she was safe and healthy, announcing her arrival with the sweet sound of those angry first cries.

My arms ached for her, but because of the preeclampsia, I couldn't continually hold her. I cried because it wasn't supposed to be like that. But Randy gave me perspective. "I can't lose you," he said. "and neither can our girls." I handed her over to him and she looked so peaceful in his arms, arms she'd just met but clearly loved. Later, Randy tried to sleep. I stayed awake and stared and stared at Finley, filled with the matchless love of a mother who has just met her new babe.

Bekka Besich, from Mesa, Arizona, is a writer and mother of two. Most recently, she was the Great Expectations blogger at Parents.com.

Originally published in the May 2013 issue of American Baby magazine.