Observations of a Newborn

March 30, 2015

It is good to be back with you again after a little break. Midday on Friday, March 13, we got the call that our daughter Katy had started labor. By three o’clock we were on the road in our 24-foot sprinter van RV, packed and equipped for a week-long stay. After an overnight in Oregon, we arrived at Swedish Hospital in Seattle to meet our first grandchild, a girl named Eleanor (Elly), less than eleven hours after her birth.

I do not want to resort to clichés about her beauty, perfection, cuteness, or any other accolade attributed to newborns. She was all of those, of course—this is Nana writing, after all—but there was another observation that took me by surprise. Perhaps it is because grandparents may come into the situation with a clearer head, not having lost a night’s sleep, not having worked hard for ten hours to give birth, not having been shocked into parenthood, nor overwhelmed with its responsibilities.

I know all those feelings, having given birth to two daughters in the early 1980s. I remember my exhaustion, the self-doubts, the early nightmares about Katy suffocating in her bed (a “responsibility dream” if ever there was one). Looking back on my entire life, the most jarring, life-changing thing that ever happened to me was to become a parent. It was exhilarating, serious, laugh- and cry-inducing, frustrating and fulfilling, and the beginning of the most amazing learning experience a human being can undergo.

So now, fast forward to 2015 in a Seattle hospital (where, by the way, thirty babies were born on Pi Day 3.14.15!). Yes, Elly was tiny, but not that small at almost nine pounds. Yes, her skin was incredibly soft to the touch, her little fingernails perfectly formed. She knew her mother’s voice and was comforted by skin-to-skin contact. And yes, she was helpless and totally dependent. But unlike my early observations of my own children, this time I saw something different.

I saw bewilderment.

“Life on the outside,” as some have coined it, is a rather rude introduction to glaring light and unmuffled sound, No longer suspended in fluid, baby is now breathing on her own, nursing from her mother’s breast, experiencing the sensations of a gastro-intestinal track at work, and hiccupping. All of this is new. Every once in awhile, I would catch a glimpse of this bewilderment, after which the only reaction in Elly’s repertoire was to cry. Crying communicates everything at that early stage, and as her tiny little body warmed up to its new environment doing its natural things, Elly hardly knew what to make of it.

A few remedies were always at the ready: a clean diaper, more milk, and swaddling blankets to comfort her. But sometimes, especially during those early diaper changes, life is momentarily cold, uncomfortable, and messy, and crying seems just the right way to show displeasure.

What struck me most, in those post-confusion cuddle times, was that age 61 has its own bewilderments associated with new experiences, uncharted territory, foreign environments (in the neighborhood or on the far side of the world), and bodily changes. As responsible adults, we are expected to deal with these discomforts and take care of ourselves. But really, what do we do when we are plunged into the world of Parkinson’s Disease (a neighbor’s diagnosis), or we lose your home to fire, or the earth slides out from underneath us? The only one who can hold us, nourish us, and keep us emotionally safe is our gracious Heavenly Father. He holds us together until we can gain the necessarily experience, wisdom, and courage to stand up again. It is completely all right to cry in order to get his attention, especially when words fail. But God is attentive, ready, and very strong at our moment of deepest weakness. So to Elly and to you, I give this blessing: “May God’s power rest upon you, for he has promised, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

This week: We will finally finish Colossians with some observations on the fourth chapter.



One Response to “Observations of a Newborn”

  1. Jodie Gallo Says:

    When my son was born, he had that bewildered expression. A “What just happened?…” look on his face. Took him three days to figure out how to nurse. When my daughter was born, she had the opposite look. An “oh yea, I got this” expression. She nursed right away.

    Over the last 30 years almost, that has sort of been the theme of their entire lives. It was all there written on their faces, the moment they came out of the womb.

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