The first time was at his birth, and it was just for a minute or two. He needed to be measured and weighed, and started on IVs.
The second time was at Children's Hospital, intubated with a too-big breathing tube and on enough morphine to manage his discomfort and render him unconscious.
The fourth time was when we were saying goodbye and he was already slipping, lingering in that place between alive and dead.
No one had to teach me to reach for him: I already loved him and wanted him, but stretching out my arms for him was visceral and instinctual. I had already held him from the time he was the size of a poppyseed. Holding him close was the most natural thing.
But, as any family having a baby with a heart defect knows, nature must give way to medicine: to prostaglandins and canulas and isolettes (appropriately named), to IVs and yellow paper gowns and hand sanitizer. You know it is what is best, but everything in you rebels. He needs those things, perhaps, but no one needs to teach you that he also needs you: your heart, your skin, your warmth, your arms.
If we had any really good days with Ewan, it was the third time I got to hold him: when he was four days old. His only oxygen support was from a nasal canula, so there was no need for morphine. He was awake, alert, and engaged. There were no major tests or procedures that day. For a little while, he just got to be mine. He rested with me for awhile. There were no plastic walls to lean over -- just a mama's ready and willing arms.
Chronologically, it may have only been an hour and a half. But in that space where minutes stretched into an hour and a little more, I lived an eternity. It may not have happened in the way which we had hoped, but it happened: skin to skin, mother and child. For what could have been a minute or so, the universe slowed down, and nature was righted if only so slightly. No more separation. Instead, heavenly peace.
* * * * *
In preparation for Ewan's first birthday, I've been reviewing some of the photos we have of his time with us that have never been processed and have never been seen by anyone else. This is one of those photos. I will share a few more as his birthday approaches, and have something special planned to share with you for the day itself.