My across-the-road-neighbours have just become parents. I haven't been over yet, wanting to give them the space to delight and coo over their perfect pink bundle, but I've had a present wrapped and waiting for weeks.
It's the card that's had me up nights, pacing the hallway. What to write? Something wise. Something witty. Something that says, "Hey there. Welcome to the toughest job you'll ever love," without sounding like an ad for the armed forces.
This is it. Her. Every triumph, every disappointment, every decision, every heartache, wrong turn, right choice, wish-upon-a-star and bitter regret has led you here to this moment, to THIS child and nothing will ever, ever be the same.
You will understand, possibly for the first time, what it is to love another person with your whole heart, without conditions. (You may now realize that you'd been previously misled, believing that your love for your husband was unconditional. Phffttt. Whatever. The sooner such drivel gets taken out of wedding vows, the better off we'll all be. But I digress...)
Your marriage is forever changed - no longer are you a unit. You are a family. Allow your gratitude and overwhelming affection for your husband to buoy you on the days when you want to throw him out the window. Praise his efforts to dress or bathe the baby, even if he's doing it all wrong. Tell him that men who wear babies - in their arms, on their chests, on their backs or on their hip - are sexy and that you read online that they resume marital relations sooner than the average. (This blog counts as "online" just so you know.)
A newfound appreciation for your loved ones may surprise you, but I urge you to enjoy it. There will come a moment, in the middle of it all, when it will occur to you that this is how YOUR mother felt when she held you for the first time. It will stun and awe you and you will, not for the first time but perhaps most profoundly, feel part of a powerful kind of sisterhood. Call your mother, whether she's across the country or just in the next room. Say, "Thank you for loving me this much" and watch her face soften and bloom. She knows.
Now that you are a mother, the world will shimmer with previously unseen beauty - you will smile at strangers more often and exchange a secret, knowing look with every woman with a stroller. Isn't it all so amazing? I am delighted to tell you that this feeling doesn't ever entirely go away.
Conversely, the nightly news will bring you to tears and you will feel crushing guilt that you brought a child into such a terrible, war-filled, violent, depressing world. Suddenly, every show on TV will be about a child/mention a child/have a cast of characters who were, at some point, children themselves and this will prove to be your undoing.
These feelings don't ever really go away, either, but you will gain some perspective around Year Three, when you are in Potty-Training Hell - a terrible and depressing place all of its own. See? It all balances out, in the end.
As you rock and snuggle her tiny, perfect form long, long into the night (or perhaps greet the day with her tucked up close, next to your heart) you will feel more like a woman than you ever have before and you will think to yourself, "I was born so that she would be, too."
You may also think things like, "If my tiny, precious angel doesn't let me sleep soon, I am going to KILL myself."
This too shall pass. Eventually, she will settle into a routine of her own choosing - you will learn to adjust your bedtime schedule accordingly. You will also learn to sleep standing up at the sink, whilst eating yesterday's toast.
In the meantime, if you have any friends or relations who say things like, "I wish I had some advice for you. Mine slept like an angel, straight through the night, from birth," stop talking to them immediately. In the bubble that is New-Parent Land, there is no room for liars.
Welcome to Parenthood: Part II