The couple next door had a baby last Thursday, April 4. The day before, I visited the very-soon-to-be new mom. She had that look of weary ripeness that visits expectant mothers in the last days of a pregnancy, when your pelvic floor feels papaya-tree-heavy and seems to hang somewhere down around your knees. She’s a midwife and her husband is an MD. They have a two-year-old daughter who was born at home shortly after they first moved in, and they planned another home birth. Wednesday night, there was a wind storm, gusts of air whooshing around the house and jangling the little iron bell that hangs outside our back slider, its “ding, ding, ding” sounding into the darkness. As I went to bed, I recalled how my labor with Nate began with a similar weather event and wondered if perhaps the swirling air would usher in the neighbor’s new baby, Mary Poppins-like. Thursday afternoon, a steady line of cars coming and going out their drive suggested it was so. Their newborn son arrived at 2:45 p.m., robustly healthy.
On Friday afternoon, I walked through a break in the line of hemlocks that separates our properties to meet the new kid on the block. He was exactly as he should be: ears whorled like pink seashells, perfect fingernails, a delicate cap of gossamer hair, his skin so soft but red-raw at the insult of being expelled into the harsh air. I sat with his euphoric parents, still high on the drama and wonder of birth, and we all marveled at the perfection of a newborn (when you’re fortunate, like them, and like us, to have lustily healthy babies). We laughed about how much you forget about infants, what alien little beings they are at first. They told me the baby’s birth story, how gentle their dog had been as she lay near the birthing tub, how the big sister initially wanted nothing to do with her little brother until love worked its magic and she relented, planting kisses on his beautifully round, be-capped head, the big family meal they shared Thursday evening with visiting grandparents while the little guy slept off the stress of his big move. What an adventure it is, I thought as I walked home, to have another human being emerge from your body, flesh of your flesh, and to watch them grow into themselves.
I, too, had an April baby, and today she turns 21. My heart brims at the thought of all the richness and joy she has brought into our lives. For a while, I wasn’t sure I wanted a third child. We had a boy and a girl, under two years apart, a young dog, a house constantly under renovation. Perhaps the days of newborns, sleepness nights and unwieldy car seats, sore nipples and midnight diaper changes, should stay in our rearview mirror. But as Nate and Lucy got older, I developed a nagging feeling that someone was missing, our family was incomplete. John is a third child, my younger brother Welles is, too. Where would I be if their parents had decided to stop at two? The world would be without two pretty amazing guys. And Mia herself made it clear, from the great beyond, that she wanted to come, knocking on the door of my soul, left ajar, whispering to me to let her in.
I realize that may strike you as an outlandish statement. But here’s the woo-woo, goosebump-raising story behind it. John and I had begun talking about when to start trying to get pregnant—I had just turned 37 and chop-chop! The media at the time was full of studies reporting the decline in a woman’s fertility after 35. We believed we may be heading into the fourth quarter of the game, just minutes left on the clock to score.
Unrelated to family planning, one dreary March weekend we took a drive to Gloucester to visit an old friend of my mom’s, Sue, who was that rare bird: a legitimate psychic medium. I thought it would be fun to give John a past life reading for a birthday gift. When Sue was done reading for him, she sent him off, then crooked her finger at me, saying, “let me do something for you today.” “I’m okay,” I told her. Having already had my past lives read by her years ago, I didn’t feel the need to unearth increasingly exotic incarnations over and above the court jester, tough-as-nails rancher’s wife, and “beam of pure, cosmic light” she had read in the book of records for me when I was younger.
“I’ll read your chart then,” she said, “Sit.” She gestured to a much-used couch across from her desk, cushions dented by the heavy bottoms of Sue and her husband, a local cop. She pulled out a large volume of astrological data, no internet charts back then. After asking for the particulars of my birthplace, date and time, she began running her fingers down the columns, flipping pages, silently studying. Several minutes passed before she put the book down on the table and looked at me with her wide blue eyes, guileless and a little myopic.
“So,” she said, “when were you thinking of getting pregnant?”
I’d known Sue since my twenties, so I wasn’t as gobsmacked as you might think that she knew to ask this question. She had an otherworldly stillness about her, with a sometimes-hazy expression suggesting she may be seeing through veils of illusion that appear as brick walls to the rest of us. I mumbled something about maybe starting to try in the spring. She thumbed through the book and said, “So they’d be born maybe next February? Nope. That’s not the baby for you. That’s not who this is. This is someone very clear.”
She kept reading the tome before her. “April,” she announced with quiet authority. “This soul needs to be born in April. You and John will be in love with that baby. Their Jupiter will sit on your Pisces and that’s just unbelievably expansive for all of you.” She turned back a few pages. “That means you should get pregnant in July. Which is perfect, because whoa,” she giggled, “You will be very fertile in July.” Something about my moon sign. I know the exact date Mia was conceived (which might mortify her): July 4th, the day we started trying, and our only encounter before John went on a business trip. I knew immediately I was pregnant; I took a pregnancy test seven days later, before I’d even missed a period, that confirmed it.
I can tell you that Sue was breathtakingly on the money: having Mia in my life has been an amazingly heart-opening, expansive experience. Sue was also right that Mia’s spirit is very clear. John always describes her as an old soul. I had two other psychic experiences of Mia when I was pregnant with her, so I’m convinced she was in touch with me from whatever realm she inhabited before her birth. One was a dream I had when I was three or four weeks pregnant. We were staying on Nantucket with our in-laws and preparing to celebrate Nate’s fifth birthday in early August. One muggy afternoon, I felt nauseous and lay down for nap, thinking vaguely about baby names, and just as I was waking up, a voice sounded in my dreaming mind: “How about Grace?” it said. “I like ‘Grace.’” Only four weeks pregnant, I didn’t know yet the baby was a girl; my first ultrasound wouldn’t be for another month. Her middle name is Grace because she asked for it directly as far as I’m concerned. The second was also a nap-born dream, this time when I was perhaps two months pregnant. In it, I met her twice, initially as a baby of eight or nine months old. She was sitting on the floor, blond and blue-eyed like Nate, surprising, since John, Lucy and I all have dark coloring, and I expected Nate to be the outlier. This dream-baby looked directly at me with the most clear-eyed, intelligent, knowing gaze. My dreaming mind thought, “Oh, so she knows what she is here for. I just need to not get in the way.” The dream fast-forwarded to a girl of around seventeen, sitting outdoors at a picnic table with friends. A long, thick braid of dirty blonde hair hung loosely across her shoulder, and she was laughing, a wide-open guffaw that held nothing back. In both instances, at nine months old and at seventeen, that dreamed-Mia matched the real-world girl, both physically and energetically: direct, vibrant, present, committed, even when she beats herself up, as we human beings are wont to do.
Mia has not always seen herself with the same clarity as the rest of her family. She was prone to the same self-doubt as any other teenager, the complicated friendships, the exhaustion of caring so much, the dramas, the working through of identity, the family vulnerability to disabling anxiety. It hasn’t been an easy path, being the third child when your siblings are hyper-achievers and also at a different stage of development than you are. She spent a lot of her childhood racing to keep up, finding herself wanting in comparison to her brother and sister. But she is crystal clear to each of us: her rock-solid competence and executive skill, her creativity and keen intellect, her passion, her natural emotional intelligence and extraordinary empathy. Mia’s heart is as big as Jupiter. An introvert, she’ll insist that she “hates” people and prefers the company of dogs. I suggest that she loves people (well, certain ones), deeply and passionately, and that caring so much, being so loyal and concerned, living up to her own high standards of devotion when others fall short, this sometimes saps her strength. People don’t give back as freely as dogs.
Here are some snapshots I will be holding in my minds’ eye today as she celebrates her milestone birthday at college across the country:
Mia, Eve and Chessy, Chessy, Eve and Mia, Eve, Mia and Chessy. Girlhood friends from our small suburban town, it’s hard say one’s name without immediately calling to mind the other two. Nursery school and glitter, ballet classes, birthdays, playdates, hours spent out in our pool playing “mermaid” tag, baking, piercing, attending each others’ crew races and theatrical performances, visits to Grammy’s Florida house and a college road trip to see Chessy in frigid Maine. They haven’t gone to school together since they were five years old, and you know there are probably more road trips to come. They are strands of a braid.
Mia singing, always singing, toddling after her older sister/second mother, Lucy, also always singing, in matching cotton dresses with pink rosebuds. The day we brought Mia home from the hospital, Lucy announced, “She’s mine. My own little baby girl.” I don’t have a sister. I hear from friends that some sister relationships drive them crazy–toxic, competitive, bitchy. But the first hint of tension I ever saw between our daughters was last summer when their grandmother was clearing out a closet and asked if anyone wanted a vintage Coach bag. Mia snatched it up before Lucy knew what hit her, and Lu was annoyed to have been scooped. I asked them that day if they had ever fought. They looked at each other quizzically, their minds running down the years. “No,” they said, in unison. This spring, they are celebrating their milestone birthdays (Lucy turns 25 in May) with “sister tattoos.” Mia’s will read “April come she will,” and Lucy’s “May she will stay,” a quote from the Paul Simon song. The artwork will feature a drawing of their birth-month flowers, daisy for Mia, hawthorn for Lucy. I’m not a tattoo person myself, and they know I struggle to make peace with it when they permanently ink their beautiful bodies. But that is pretty damn sweet.
Mia feisty, throwing herself at life, skiing with gusto to impress Nate and breaking her thumb, or riding a bike too fast to keep up with an older friend and getting a concussion and a fractured front tooth. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, she fought off the EMT trying to give her an IV as if he were Satan’s spawn. He looked astonished at the resistant strength of this injured little seven-year-old. Her girlhood bookshelf was lined with a multicolored collection of discarded plaster wrist casts from her many fractures, displayed alongside her Harry Potter audio CDs and Flower Fairy chapter books. She got another concussion performing in a high school play, when fellow actors failed to catch her in a choreographed trust fall. The girl commits.
Me and Mia in curled up in her twin bed or my king one, with story books, or just talking, sometimes in the dark. I lay beside her nightly while she fell asleep until well into elementary school, and it was precious time for me.
Raising children is an education for the parents as much as the kids. Here are a few of the key things Mia has taught me:
- Baking is good therapy.
- Dogs are better therapy.
- We are fucking over the planet and it’s terrifying.
- When this gets you down, you should go sing.
- Bi-sexuality is a fully-realized expression, not a phase, a fiction, or a stop on the spectrum along the way to something else.
- Knitting is good therapy.
- Self-compassion is hard work.
- Shitty first drafts are easier said than done.
- Sarcasm is an art form.
- The patriarchy has gotta go.
And perhaps, most importantly, at least for me:
11. We just need space to feel our feelings, not fixes to make them go away or “better.”
When Mia is hurting, she doesn’t want hugs. All the well-intentioned words in the world only make her crazy. All she needs from me, really, is presence, the unspoken reassurance, “I’m here if you need me.” And I always, always, always will be. Even some day, hopefully several decades from now, when I’m gone, I will be there for her. I’m planning to reincarnate as a southerly breeze, or maybe a Corgi. Either way, I’ll find her if she calls me.
I am so glad that those Cosmic forces of love and wisdom drew you to me twenty-one years ago, dearest Mia. If it was just the luck of the draw, well, damn, I won the lottery when you showed up in my womb. If that old soul of yours chose me to be your mom, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I can only say it’s been an honor, a privilege, and a great, great joy.
P.S. No, this does not mean you are getting a puppy for your birthday.