His eyes - huge and dark and startlingly grown-up for a baby that was less than five minutes old - were wide open and seemed to be calmly taking it all in as he observed his new surroundings. For a second his eyes locked on mine and I knew then that I was his and he was mine and it all felt heavier than six pounds, three ounces.
I have a baby, is what I thought.
I didn't think, I am a mom.
For two days I was surrounded by nurses who called me "mom" instead of by my name and a stream of visitors who managed to work the word "mom" into the conversation when they were barely over the threshold of my hospital room.
I changed diapers and fed my baby. I hobbled around as best I could, assisted by extra large doses of whatever painkillers the nurses brought to my bedside. I sat next to him in the backseat of our car on the way home from the hospital. I did whatever came next without thinking much about it. I cried for all the reasons and for no reason at all. I had dirty hair and dirty sweatpants and baby clothes piled on my kitchen table and I was too tired to sleep. Nothing was the same as it was before.
But I wasn't sure if I felt like a mom. I didn't know what it was supposed to feel like. No one ever told me.
Our third day at home. The call from the pediatrician. Jaundice. Levels rising instead of falling. Hospital. A lab tech pricking the heel of my tiny baby. His startled cry. Another call from the pediatrician. Levels rising again. Back to the hospital.
Our second trip was on the Fourth of July. It's a suburban hospital and was all but deserted for the holiday weekend. The pediatrician assured us that he took care of everything and we just had to show up and it would only take a few minutes. But there was a skeleton crew and no one could find his faxed request and there were phone calls back and forth for an hour and I didn't have any cell service and no one was answering and they couldn't find a lab tech and the receptionist was frustrated and angry with me, as if I was the one who caused this mess by having the audacity to show up at her hospital on a holiday with a three day old baby in urgent need of a blood test.
It hurt to stand up. I wanted to sit on the floor and curl up into a ball. I wanted to cry. I wanted to go home. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to let someone else take control. I wanted my mom.
And then I looked over at the dark, empty waiting room, at my now not even six pound baby sleeping in his car seat under a blanket to ward off the hospital chill, oblivious to the goings-on, and with a fierceness I didn't recognize, I didn't want any of those things as much as I wanted to protect him. As much as I wanted him to be healthy. To be safe.
I stood up a little straighter. This is what it feels like. I understood.
I'm the mom now.