Oh darling, don’t you ever grow up.

I’m exhausted. My hands are raw from washing bottles. I can think of a lengthy list of things I would rather do than change dirty diapers. But in the last four weeks (wow, has it been four weeks already?) I realized something: I’m no longer preoccupied with goals I never reached. I’m no longer researching masters programs online with a heavy heart because I know I can’t afford it yet. I’m no longer obsessed with sitting on my computer, typing up elaborate lesson plans for my students. Instead, my life is wrapped up in the needs of one little boy.

I look at him and how small and fragile–yet strong–he is. I listen to his little noises and take in his every movement. Because I know that tomorrow, he’ll be grown. He’ll be an adult.

I can look back on the last ten years of my life and see how quickly they flew past me. The first day of high school, prom, high school graduation, college graduation, wedding day, three years of teaching experience… Where did the time go? So right now, while I can, I want to take in every bit of this little child I am somehow able to call my own. I never, ever thought I would feel this way. But I do.

When I was younger–and I have to admit, even during my pregnancy–I could not understand what would possess my mother to give up her career, her independence, her salary, her seniority, to stay at home with two children. Now I understand. I don’t think I’ll be a stay-at-home mom. But I get why she wanted to be there. Why she wanted to see, hear, do all the things she saw, heard and did. Why would I want to be teaching other people’s children when I could be teaching mine? What could be more important than hearing my child’s first words? Playing on the floor with him? Coloring Easter eggs, picking out Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating… I realize, as my mother did, you can work a job anytime anywhere. But once those moments with my little boy are gone, they’re gone.

William Thomas, tomorrow you will be a man. Hopefully, prayerfully, a good man. But when I look at you, I will always see the newborn sucking his fingers on my chest in the hospital room. I will always see the infant asleep in a bassinet with his long arms stretched above his head. I will see my dad’s cheekbones, my husband’s long fingers, my Bop’s wrinkled forehead. I will see that tiny sideways smile that shows up when you’re dreaming. And I’ll smile, remembering the days when you were my baby, and knowing that whether you like it or not, you always will be.

“Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What’s that supposed to mean? In my heart it don’t mean a thing.” -Toni Morrison, Beloved

11 days early, but right on time.

Here I sit, on what was supposed to be my baby’s due date. Instead of still being pregnant, I am 5 lbs lighter than my pre-pregnancy weight and an 11-day-old boy lies on my chest.

On Friday, April 22, 2011, I decided to drive with Jimmy to Brandon to visit a friend and her newborn little girl. We were going to go on Saturday, but turns out, it’s a good thing we decided on Friday. We spent a good deal of time there with Taylor, her husband, and her little Evie, talking, eating, and watching basketball. When we got home around midnight, I was still pretty awake and felt dehydrated from the salty food. I drank a bunch of water, pried my rings off swollen fingers and went to bed. When I woke up around 3:00 a.m. on April 23, 2011, I just thought I had pains that meant I needed to use the bathroom. So I went into the bathroom stood there for a minute, and let the pains in my abdomen go away. That was weird, I thought. Then went back to bed. I woke up again around 4:00 with what felt like menstrual cramps in my lower abdomen, but brushed them off again to sleep. At around 4:15 a.m., I felt those cramps again. I figured to be safe, I could google “What do contractions feel like?” I mean, surely my baby wasn’t coming—I wasn’t due for 11 more days. But better to be safe than sorry. Sure enough, people all over the World Wide Web described contractions as cramp-like pains. Between the cramps that came every seven minutes and the fluid I started leaking, I thought it best that we go to the hospital. I woke Jimmy up, told him to pack the car, and took a shower. Jimmy thought I was kidding. “Are you sure we need to go to the hospital?” he asked. I didn’t know, but it felt like the right thing to do.

We went straight up to Labor and Delivery and they checked me in around 6:00 a.m. A sassy nurse named Terri welcomed me, took my vitals, checked my cervix and fluid, and assured me it was true: I was having a baby today. They would call Dr. Umstead and get me a room. I started tearing up—how could this happen? I had worked so hard on Senior Projects at school, I had my maternity leave all figured out, I still had shopping and laundry to do, we weren’t even settled on a name. I couldn’t have a baby. But there I was, in full-blown labor. They checked me into room 805, and by 8:20 a.m., a really pleasant anesthesiologist named Eric came to meet me and perform my epidural. A nurse named Karen helped me arch my back in between contractions and what I expected to be a horribly sharp pain with a lot of pressure and needles in my back turned out to be barely anything at all. A little pressure, a little zing down my back and legs. Soon, my left side was numbing, and Karen was helping me lie on my right side so that I would be numb on both sides. Although my wristband informed the staff that I was allergic to antibiotics Ceclor and Bactrim, the doctor ordered antibiotics because my strep test hadn’t come back. They gave me vancomyacin, something I had never had before. Immediately, my head started to itch. My ears turned hot and red, my forehead got splotchy, and I knew it: I was having an allergic reaction. Thankfully, they were able to give me benedryl and change the antibiotic to ampicillin, one antibiotic I’m not allergic to.

Everything went very quickly. I really don’t even remember what Jimmy and I talked about during those hours in the room. I was probably pretty quiet. A nurse checked me—6 centimeters. The doctor came in to talk to me. Pretty soon, 8 centimeters. The doctor was saying my child would enter the world before dinner time. Somehow, I started feeling contractions again. They were pretty strong, like severe cramps, enough to make me tighten up and go, “Ow, ow, ow” and breathe through them. Not supposed to happen with an epidural. Thank God, the anesthesiologist came back to give me more medication. It was then that I felt the strangest sensation ever: total numbness below my waist. I literally couldn’t control my legs or feel anything when someone touched them. As much as I was thrilled that I wouldn’t feel the pain about to come, I started freaking out: how was I going to push?

My dear friends, Jenn and Danielle, showed up to support me, and ended up staying for the delivery. Jimmy held one leg, Jenn held another leg, the doctor and the nurse were at the foot of the bed, and Danielle was at my side. Like it was the last laugh my kid could have before leaving the womb, I started to get completely nauseous and threw up in a bucket on my right side. Pregnancy, labor and delivery are simply a total loss of dignity.

Just after 2:00 in the afternoon, it was time to push. I still didn’t believe it. This was nothing like the movies. I wasn’t sweating, screaming at Jimmy. And everything was happening so fast. I started pushing at 2:20 p.m. with the doctor, my husband, and my friends coaching me that my baby was coming out quickly. The doctor told me that most first-time mothers push for about two hours. That didn’t happen with me. At 2:34 p.m., my little boy entered the world.

The nurse put him on my chest and started to clean him. She asked what his name was. I said, “William Thomas.” It just fit.

I didn’t immediately feel any overwhelming connection to William. I didn’t cry right then. I was tired, in shock, embarrassed, concerned about the pain I might face when the epidural wore off. The nurse took William and Jimmy followed, taping our little boy as he was cleaned and evaluated. His Apgar score: 9.9. He weighed 7 lbs and 15 ounces and was 20 inches long. And he had my father’s face—my face as a baby. It was unreal.
I took a moment to post a facebook status, one I still can’t believe: “I have a son.” I posted the first picture I ever took of him, with my cell phone, on my chest, staring at me.
The room just seemed to spin for a while. The epidural wore off, visitors came and went, and at around 3:45 p.m., I tried nursing Will for the first time. The nurse Karen manhandled me, trying to teach me and help me. Will screamed, I cried, and both of us were tired and frustrated.

In the quiet when everyone was gone that night, the nurses took little Will so Jimmy and I could get some sleep. Instead of sleeping, I broke into deep sobs. I didn’t know if I could breastfeed. I didn’t know what to do once we got Will home. I didn’t know how to raise a child. I wanted to go back to work. Would I love this child like a mother is supposed to love a son? Would I disappoint Jimmy? Between lack of sleep, the surprise of a newborn child, and all the hormones, I was a mess. So unsure of myself.

I nursed Will three times that night. I wanted to try. My insides were contracting and my breasts (TMI) were in so much pain that at 5:30 a.m., I gave in and asked the nurse to show Jimmy how to bottle feed Will. I was able to sleep from 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. and Will was perfectly content to have a full belly.

When I woke up, took a shower, and put on clean clothes, I felt like a new person. I decided to try bottle feeding Will. It was the first time I really sat and held him without other people around. I looked at him, listened to his little noises. It was the first time I was relaxed with him, and I realized I was completely in love.

After hearing tests, birth certificate forms, genetic tests and other hold-ups, we were finally able to take William Thomas home. It was around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 24, 2011—Easter. His first night went well. He didn’t wake us at all. We woke him for changings and feedings (and the occasional picture) and before we knew it, we had survived our first night of parenthood. I probably slept a total of 3-4 hours that first night. I was so scared to leave him, and I think my body was still rushing around on adrenaline. While Jimmy slept, I fed and changed Will, let the dog out, did two loads of laundry, and made a to-do list for the day. When Jimmy got up and the 10:00 feeding was coming around, I decided it was time to go pick up our dog Esme so she could meet her new little brother. I drove to the school where I work because I just HAD to show everyone pictures and I wanted to check on the progress of Senior Project presentations. Everything was going smoothly, and people were thrilled and shocked to see me fewer than 48 hours post-partum. I went to Helen Ellis to pick up a bag we left, dropped off my prescriptions at the pharmacy, and picked up Esme. The entire time I was driving, I felt myself smiling. I was beaming. And I missed my son. I couldn’t believe the feeling. I wanted to be with him. I never, ever expected to feel that way.

Esme was as sweet as could be when I got her home to meet Will. She was very excited, and Jimmy was freaking out about Esme trying to lick Will, but overall, the experience was great. Will sat peacefully in his swing and Esme cautiously walked over to smell him and figure out who the new little person was in her house.

Over the next few days, we had a bunch of firsts: I read Will his first book, Jimmy and I gave him his first sponge bath… I often caught myself looking at Will’s little face, analyzing his features and trying to figure out how in the world he came out looking like me. Bottom line is, just like people told me I would, I just adore this little boy. I want so much for him, and he’s not even two weeks old. The other night, I read “Love You Forever” to Will, and I cried. I didn’t cry out of sadness. I cried because I truly had never felt such a strange, unconditional love before. So Will, I may not know what I’m doing, I may not be the most maternal person in the world, and I’ll probably make mistakes. But I know one thing: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”