My friends recently had a baby. And when I say recently, I mean a couple weeks ago, they had a baby. She is a brand new infant: soft and light, with wisps of dark hair and chubby cheeks and deep blue eyes that haven’t learned to focus quite yet. Last night, my boyfriend and I went over for dinner and stayed late into the evening, talking and laughing and watching Casino Royale. I held the baby for over an hour after dinner. We were still sitting around the table, and her mom held her out to me – it was like time froze for a moment. I mean, I’d held an infant before, but they were infants I was related to, infants placed in my arms as I sat securely in a cushioned chair in a hospital room. Holding other newborns had been a big deal: the holding itself was the event, and people stared at me the whole time. My mom would stare. The baby’s parents would stare. The baby would stare at me. My arms would be tense, my jaw set – because in my arms was the world. This newly-born world, this delicate, soft, terribly fragile world.
Those were the thoughts that crashed down on me last night as my friend, this young, beautiful mother, held her twenty-day-old child out to me, this twenty-one-year-old adult who still feels so childish. The baby’s dark eyes gazed in my general direction, and everything about her was perfect. I wanted to hold her. A voice that sounded vaguely like my own mother’s ran through my head, a steady mantra: Support the head, support the head, support the head. When I took her from her mother, I realized that my middle fingers were as long as the space between her neck and the crown of her brunette head.
I nestled her in the crook of my right arm, muttering something like, “I don’t really know exactly how to do this…” as people went on talking around me. No one stared at me. The baby’s eyes fluttered closed – I couldn’t get over how dark babies’ eyes are – and I exhaled. Then she started screaming.
I looked up at my friends, my eyes wide, poised to return the screaming child to a parent who knew how to fix whatever I’d just messed up. But no one moved to take her. “It’s okay,” they said. “You’re not doing anything wrong.”
How could I not be doing something wrong? Of course I was doing something wrong; the baby in my arms was screaming. Her face contorted, red and furrowed and blatantly unhappy. I took a quick inventory: yes, I was supporting her head; no, I wasn’t crushing her arm; yes, she was, in fact, breathing. I started drawing gentle circles on her back, swaying in my chair, praying for her to stop screaming, to fall asleep, for me to look like I was somewhat competent. I whispered to her, “Shh. You’re okay. You’re okay.” And to myself: You’re okay, too.
Gradually, her dark baby eyes opened again, her face un-crumpled. She stopped screaming, just looking at me for a while. Then, she slept. She woke up a few more times to scream, but this time I held onto her, prayed again, drew more circles on her back. Eventually, she slept deeply, making small baby noises, slipping neatly into the space between my ribs and my arm. I held her and talked, laughed, listened to stories. We stayed that way for a while, four friends and two children, one waddling around the kitchen pointing and asking for names – “That’s a table. That’s a pan. That’s part of the pan – well, it’s the handle. That’s still the table.” – the other in my arms. Sometimes I tuned out of the conversation just to look at the miracle I was holding: the magic that was this baby, knit together the way God said He would, an unspoiled combination of millions of atoms, strands of DNA, a personality and a heart that already beat for Him. I looked at her and I knew in my head that humans were fallen, that sin was real and that this child, too, would screw up during her life. But I didn’t feel it in my heart – all I felt was peace, that this: this cradling, this nestling, this keeping-safe – this was right. This was some tiny remnant of Eden that maybe God had left un-cursed.
Maybe I should have seen more Jesus in it – maybe I should’ve seen that in the same way, He holds me; that in the same way, I am safe. He holds me as I scream, and He does not look for someone else to pass me off to. A blogger I like said it a few weeks ago: if I got to the Jesus part of this quicker, I’d be a better blogger, a better writer, a better Courtney. But I am selfish, so I had to go by another path to even get close to the Jesus part. You see, when the baby had screamed, all I could think was that I’d done something wrong. It shouldn’t be a surprise, really: lately, I’m quite prone to thinking I’m doing something wrong. I think my feelings are wrong, my ideas are wrong, my hopes and goals and prayers are wrong. There isn’t really a rational explanation for most of my fear. I’m coming to think that perhaps it’s just a place God has me right now. I’m being challenged and shaken and tilted, maybe not because I’m altogether weak, but because it’s time for me to be stronger.
All this time, even in the midst of my ups and downs, there’s God, and He’s whispering to me shhhhh. Shhhhh.
You’re not doing anything wrong. It’s okay. You’re okay. You know what you’re doing. Support the head, but release that tension in your neck.
We were talking later that night about what it was like holding the baby while she cried, and worrying for a moment about what you were doing wrong. And I don’t remember who said it, or even if it was a conclusive statement that was said, but it was what I left with, and what I’ve been thinking about in the hours since then. Maybe we’re worried about something we already know how to do. Maybe the key isn’t in figuring out why the baby is crying, what we’re doing to cause the pain or the fear or the discomfort. Maybe it’s in realizing that there isn’t anything happening that we need to fix. It’s in realizing that we know how to hold a baby. Finding that quiet confidence, releasing the tension, and drawing circles on her back while waiting for the cries to end. Trusting our God to hear our prayers. Trusting ourselves to listen for Him. Trusting Him to speak.
I am wrong about a lot of things. But I know how to hold a baby.