It was late, and dark, and I was tired. But I held her nonetheless and rocked her back and forth in a chair that squeaked every time I moved. Every so often she would surrender to sleep, only to wake minutes later with a shudder as her body heaved and coughed, trying desperately to root out the infection deep inside. Monitors beeped and tubes trailed from her tiny body, making it difficult to cradle her the way I really wanted to, but I held her as close as I could, in the corner of a sterile hospital room, as the moon rose high.
She wasn’t mine—that baby in my arms. And I am not a mother. I have never watched my belly grow round with life. I have never felt the rush of that first movement from within. I have never pushed my body beyond my presumed limits to birth another human being. I have never felt the immediate instinct that binds a woman to her child as he is placed upon her chest for the very first time.
And if I am being honest, those are the things I want most, second only to finding a love with whom to experience them—so much so, that there are nights when I will place a pillow under my shirt and imagine what that roundness feels like.
Her mother, an old friend and severely sick herself, had called earlier in the day. Would you please go hold my baby for me? she asked. She had three other children at home who desperately needed “mother time,” not to mention she needed rest, and little Lissy had just been released from the NICU.
There was no need to think. Of course I would go hold her baby. There was no work meeting, no appointment, no previous commitment more important than driving straight to the hospital to stay with my friend’s baby, all night in the squeaky rocking chair, if need be.
At one point, I looked down at her soft, round face and traced her nose with the tip of my finger. Her teary doe-eyes looked back at me, whispering volumes of wisdom beyond her few short months. And a distant memory came to mind. I was five and had fallen and scraped my knee. My first impulse was to call for my mother. She came running out of the house, scooped me up off the driveway and carried me inside, where she sat me on the kitchen counter and reached for a wet cloth and band-aid.
Suddenly, holding Lissy, I found myself more grateful for my life than I’d been in months. No, I had no family of my own to care for, no husband to be home with, no children to tuck into bed, but because of that, I could easily and immediately go to the hospital when I was needed most.
And I understood—though I may not have birthed a child myself, this is what it is to be a mother: to come when you are called—as soon as you are called, to wrap your arms around another person, and to cradle them with love–all night if necessary.