There is Beauty in the Newborn Wilderness
Twice now, in the span of two years, I have traveled to a strange land unlike any I have known before, the world of newborns. It is a tangled, immeasurable wilderness, a half-remembered dream, a vast night sky, its darkness streaked with random explosions of brilliant, soul-expanding light.
This land requires no passport or entry fee. There is no true preparation, try as parents might to arm ourselves with books, supplies, and wisdom. There is only a clear border between life outside of this world and life within it, a boundary created the moment the weight of a child fills your arms.
With both of my children, I have only been able to see this land clearly after leaving it behind. When I was in it, I could see only the ground beneath me. As parents, we survive this journey by focusing on the details and nuances of the topography, on the next bottle or diaper change, on the well visits on the calendar, the blocks of time that define each day.The world doesn’t so much narrow when you have a newborn as it does fold and invert, a flat piece of paper turned origami shape. The substance of the world is the same. The paper is still paper. But of course, it’s also not really paper, not anymore.
Tidy, defined days spent at work turn into unwieldy blocks of shifting time, a maze of naps and feeds and rocking. Mothers become foreigners in their own homes, with wild and unpredictable companions who speak only an incomprehensible dialect of cries to communicate their ever-changing needs.
We struggle to find our way in this land. We cut through the heavy jungle, dense with a fog of sleep deprivation and physical pain. We wade through deep rivers with violent, swirling currents as hormones rise, fall and shift in our bodies. We scale mountains with rugged peaks, buffeted by winds of doubt that can carry the weight of an avalanche.
We are isolated here, in the deserts and rainforests and plains, in the long, dark nights when every cry feels louder than the one before. We walk for miles, wear treads in the carpet as we rock and shush and sway. Our bodies are tired, and our feet are heavy, but we walk, because of the wild, precious being we carry in our arms.
There is darkness here, in this remote place, in this newborn world of laundry and diapers and the unyielding, sometimes frightening dependency of another human. There is fear, deep in the heart of the jungle, fear of doing it wrong, of not being enough, of not standing up to the strain of such constant need. The terrain can feel impossible. But after making it to the other side twice, I also know now that there is so much beauty here.
My goodness, there is beauty.
There is beauty in the wide, inky black sea of nighttime, when we are alone together in the stillness and quiet, the only two people on the planet, intertwined together under the light of the moon and stars, a warm pool of physical closeness amidst the cold waves of the ocean.
There is beauty in the physical nearness of this little creature, their pink newborn smell, the tiny hands that wind around fingers, the warmth of their skin that radiates in every cell and atom and molecule of our bodies.
There is beauty in the rawness of the terrain, emotions always so close to the surface, the conventions of politeness stripped away to reveal something painful but also exquisitely honest, in a way life rarely is.
There is so much contrast here; craggy, volcanic landscapes studded with the riotous blooms of flowers that thrive amongst the rocks. There will be day after day of fussiness and cries, a monotonous desert landscape, until the first smile, a sunrise after weeks of darkness, an eruption of pink and orange on a desert that before had only known gray.
The path will get easier. We will find true north, a fixed star to guide us through the remainder of the wilderness. And when we reach the border of this land, when our days and nights align once more with the sun and moon, when we develop a schedule and routine, when our wild, fierce newborn changes into a human child, we will look back and realize what we have left behind.
Only then will can we see clearly the beauty of that fleeting, fragile newborn world, the rawness of so much untraveled soil. We will look back at the miles, the storm-soaked grasslands, the pitch-black caves, the tears and frustrations, the moments it felt too much, the hours spent watching them breathe, wondering how a human heart could take so much love and fear. We will look back on this planet and see it the way an astronaut must see Earth from afar, with enough perspective to make it seem small and precious, like a glass marble held in the palm of our hand. We will see it with enough distance to separate the beauty from the pain, the love from the stress. We will look back and remember that it was beautiful because it was hard, because we were together in a way we will never be together again, two humans in the wilderness, finding our way home.
Elizabeth Becker graduated with a BA in Creative Writing from the College of Charleston in 2008. She received a BS in Nursing from the Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing in 2013. Her essays have been published on Scary Mommy and Pregnant Chicken. She also works as a freelance writer in Richmond, VA, where she lives with her husband and two children.