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When She Exploded Into My World

She was born on the fourth of July. Which was cool, but it wasn't at the forefront of my mind as I lay on my hospital bed several hours later, guiding a nipple into Em's waiting mouth, her fingers splayed across my chest, my body sore. Instead, my thoughts went: sleep, sleep, sleep, baby, sleep.

When she eventually relinquished the breast, I called out to Michael—in a whisper—so he could take her from my arms and place her back into her bassinet. I had lost a lot of blood during the delivery and was feeling weak. I was also in pain and had difficulty getting out of bed, with or without a baby in my arms. But when I said his name, he didn't respond.

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"Michael!" I said, but there was nothing.

"Michael!" I hissed, slightly louder. There was still nothing but his light snore, his jaw hanging open, slack.

"MICHAEL!" I yelled across the room, an extra bite in my voice. Nada.

I threw my empty water bottle across the room. It hit his sleeping form. He remained asleep. I may have considered killing him.

I looked down at Emily, feeling helpless, anxious, unsure of what to do. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the fireworks exploding in the sky outside my window.

It was my first quiet moment alone with her and, as I relaxed back into my pile of pillows and cradled her in my arms, I looked out at the fireworks and cried. I felt overwhelmed: with shock, with fatigue, with the overwhelming responsibility I now had to this tiny human. But I was also overwhelmed with love. "Look Emily. Fireworks," I said as Michael continued snoring across the room.

But Emily only had eyes for me. And eventually, she slipped away into sleep.

In the year to come, things moved fast. Michael's two-week paternity leave was over before I could even take a breath, before I could even take hold of my new reality, before I could even comprehend it. I didn't have a choice but to learn quickly: how to handle poop-splosions; how to use the baby carrier and the breast pump; how to deal with cluster feeding.

Then two months in, when I dove back into my at-home freelance work full force, I had to find my rhythm all over again. I scrabbled my way clumsily through the juggling act of baby work, housework, and work work. I questioned my personal and professional identity many times over. I questioned my sanity. I struggled, as we all do.

At the same time, she was growing so fast, before I could even take a breath, before I could even take hold of who she was at each stage of her rapidly changing existence. At the beginning, Michael and I marveled at how alert and non-alien-like she was. But then, seemingly overnight, she was holding up her head, bouncing up and down, splashing in her tub, grabbing my slice of pizza, pulling her sippy cup to her mouth, zipping around the house in a quick crawl, eating carpet fibers, wearing rompers and totally pulling it off.

A year in and I am still reacting to the ways in which she has exploded into my life, shaken things up, and forced me to reevaluate what I still have room for, what I can still work toward, what's important.

And when we looked back at those old photos, we couldn't believe what an inert blob she had actually been.

Our hometown just had their fourth of July fireworks and, considering that Emily is a fourth of July baby, we felt we had to bring her. Even if it meant keeping her up past her bedtime and exposing her to what might be a traumatically deafening and blinding display.

They were setting them off just a few blocks away so we pushed her over there in her stroller, a picnic blanket stuffed underneath, a diaper bag slung over my shoulder. As we spread our blanket out on the grass amidst all of the other families, I took note that our child was the only child in attendance not yet old enough to walk.

"This is a terrible idea," I said to Michael. "We are terrible parents."

But she was soon speed-crawling her way after the children who were running around in packs, swinging around their glowing swords and light sabers. I watched her butt wiggle as she crawled her way over to other people's blankets and reached furtively for their soccer balls and glow sticks and empty water bottles and cell phones. I couldn't help but smile, even though I was worried about her being overtired and being scared. She was having a blast.

When it was fully dark, I pulled her into my lap and wrapped my arms around her. I looked up at the sky and waited.

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Her body jolted as the first series of fireworks exploded in the sky. She looked at me and I looked at her and I rubbed her back and I wondered if I should take her home. But then the next series of lights flashed across the sky and she swung her head back around to watch. And for the next half hour, she stared up as the color sizzled above us, as white lights boomed and popped one after the other, as purple and gold and red sparkled and lit up the night.

And as I alternated between watching the fireworks and watching her, I found myself holding back tears. Because I am an emotional mush. And because I was remembering our first night together, just me, her, and the fireworks. I was thinking about how far we had come.

A year in and I am still reacting to the ways in which she has exploded into my life, shaken things up, and forced me to reevaluate what I still have room for, what I can still work toward, what's important. How I must change.

And this has been scary.

But what terrifies and excites me even more is how much she is changing. How much she has already changed. And how quickly she will continue to do so.

Images via Steph Auteri

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