Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Infant Absolution

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I barely caught a glimpse of her.

"Go with her," I'd told Todd, just seconds before the anesthesiologist knocked me out. Now I hear the sound of wheels rolling down the hall, getting closer. My eyes open and Todd is here, pushing a crib into the room. Two hours with her and he's an old pro. Nieces, nephews, friends' babies: he'd held them stiffly, keeping a breath of space between his body and theirs.

Not now. He stands in this sterile room and lifts the little oval with the pink and blue hat. She sinks into his broad shoulder. No space.
His smile is relief and joy and gratitude as he gives her over to me. "Here, Mommy," he says for the first time. He has the kindest brown eyes. I take her in my hands but they are not my hands. They are twice the size of mine, shaking, with plastic tubes poking out, plastic bracelets encircling them.

We had planned for months for a natural childbirth. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Twenty-six hours of labor and then a c-section. The epidural didn't take; I felt them cut me.

She's all puffy, too. The long labor was hard on her as well. Chubby little moon face. Dimple in her right cheek. She opens her eyes and Todd fades into the background, striking the perfect balance between being there and stepping back.

Because this is our time, finally. Hers and mine. I lay her on my chest. My throat tightens and I try to speak. "Oh, my God. Oh, my God." The voice that comes out is high pitched, quivery, angelic. It doesn't sound like me at all.

Clinging to each other we are no longer in a hospital, we are in a dream I had years before she was conceived. We are ecstatic sea otters: flipping, twirling, moving effortlessly in the deep, calm water below the surface waves. Who's the mother? Who's the daughter? We've been together for thousands of years.

It's the rawness of the moment that makes me want to call. She wasn't invited to the birth. After all those years of her passively looking the other way while my father rained down abuse, my wall is sturdy and thick. I didn't allow her to help me get ready on my wedding day. She's barely allowed in my life.

"I want to call my mom."

Todd's eyebrows lift, his head tilts to the side, and he smiles. He puts the phone on the bed tray and pulls the list of people to call out of his pocket. Pushing the buttons quickly, he hands me the receiver.

"Hello?" she answers, her voice groggy. It is so early.

"Mom?" I whisper.

There's a pause.

"We have a girl."

The sound through the line is her crying. I'm trembling. In that moment, I surrender. I love my mom.

I hand Todd the phone. His lips, soft and warm, press my forehead. He hangs up the receiver. My body is sore, but it's my heart that is cracked open. Cradling our baby, I pat her, covering her whole back with just two of my fingers. Closing my eyes, I marvel at her power. This tiny person. This huge soul.

Michelle O’Neil is a former radio news reporter and a registered nurse. She lives in Lynchburg, Virginia, with her husband and two children. Michelle has contributed to the upcoming anthology A Cup of Comfort for Parents of Autistic Children, due out in 2007, and is currently working on a memoir. She blogs at

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