This Father's Letter to His Newborn Daughter Will Bring Tears to Your Eyes
Dearest Little Bets,
You’re officially one week young in this world. As weeks go, this was a big one — not to discount your extraordinary achievements of the last eight months. Yours has been a dangerous journey from vulnerable, microscopic seedling to middling sprout, right down to the moment your tiny head, blanched white by a cord wrapped around your neck, broke the barrier between your reality and ours.
I’m all for breaking barriers, but you have so many to break between now and later that I beg you to be more careful. Regardless, know that the next time you’re tangled, your mom and I are here to help at all costs. That’s our job; it’s why God gave you to us.
In fact, though you are a week old, you entered our world long ago. From the moment your mom and I were told to expect you, we have been praying for you, thinking of you, wondering about you, preparing for you, and longing to meet you. And not only us: the brother and sister endlessly fluttering around you are elated to greet their “Ol’ Betsy” and “Betsy Jean,” each time they rediscover you sleeping in some corner of the house that they recently shared with just each other. They must seem like giants now, but they are the most loving, friendly, enthusiastic giants you could ask for, and though today you are impossibly small in stature, tomorrow you will be one of them.
Also waiting for you were grandmas and grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends eager to share this world with you. A few of these even witnessed your first moments. You had your eyes closed for most of them, so I’ll give you the skinny.
Doctors said you would come early, and you did, with a little help. Anxious to hold you — with her arms — your mom had been trying to shake you loose for two weeks. But after two false alarms, two appointments, and one dry run to Labor and Delivery, you were not to be coaxed. (Clearly you are your mother’s daughter: a good thing, since your mom is usually right). That Sunday your Aunt Rachel tried some homeopathic voodoo on your mom’s feet — something involving sage oil and a lot of moaning. I looked on skeptically, a theme traceable through your siblings’ births.
At 9:56 the next morning, your mom called me while leaving her scheduled checkup: “Honey, call Rachel — we’re having a baby!” Having a higher pain tolerance than your dad, she hadn’t recognized her discomfort as labor. You were coming. The voodoo had worked.
By 9:57 I had made my calls. By 10:10, I told your siblings you were en route. Your brother squealed, and your sister, possibly sensing the end of something, asked me to dance. So we danced one song. Then I put her down for you.
Soon after 11 your mom was propped up in a hospital bed, her face aglow despite her muscles involuntarily contracting around your fragile frame, nudging you millimeters closer to the sunlight. After an hour, your Aunt Jenny, both grandmothers, and I entrusted her to an anesthesiologist. Your aunt bought me coffee (that’s the stuff you’re usually smelling on me when I hold you), and by the time we returned to your mother, a new voodoo had taken hold that would make almost everything after sunny.
Things accelerated. On a screen we watched your mom’s contractions rise and fall, along with your heartbeat. After one of these, she told me to get the doctor, who intercepted me in the hallway, having seen the same contraction on a monitor at the nurses’ station. The doctor called for more nurses. They hadn’t expected you so quickly, so the doctor began breaking down the bed herself to help guide you into her gloved hands. Then your mom pushed — and pushed –
And then the doctor told her to stop pushing.
The umbilical cord is a dull, whitish tubing, no thicker than the markers your sister isn’t allowed to color with. Intertwined are gray and red beneath its milky sheath. The red is what matters. Until that moment, this cord had kept you alive, feeding you every nutrient your little body could absorb. Now this lifeline threatened you, turning your downturned face and scalp white and your extremities faintly blue. The room hushed as the doctor reached behind her toward a tray with clamps and scissors. I looked at your mom, who was already looking at me. Then she winked at me. I looked back at you in time to feel a small splash hitting my face and hands, a consequence of the doctor snipping what gripped your neck. Push.
The doctor plopped you atop your mom’s belly, and you cried the sweetest cry I will ever hear. It was 1:30 p.m. on March 2, 2015. You weighed a respectable 5 pounds, 11.4 ounces (the heaviest you have weighed since birth), stretched 18 inches long, and had a 31-centimeter head that was slowly regaining color. I know all this because after the adrenaline subsided, I typed it into a memo on my phone titled “Betsy Starts.” (I meant to type “Stats,” but the error is better. You’ll find this in life.) You are smaller than most newborns, but also more perfect. And you were cold, so the nurses placed you under a heat lamp. We’ve swaddled you thick with blankets ever since. I’m astounded that a creature who just spent the better part of a year crouching in a sunless womb can smell so, so good, but I should not be surprised, knowing the quality of the womb’s owner. We named you Elizabeth Jean: “Elizabeth” from both of my grandmothers, “Jean” from my dad’s mom as well as your mom’s mom. (If you turn out like any of these women, the world will not deserve you.)
A final word on these metrics: Soon, perhaps before you learn to speak, you will discover that humans, by nature, are drawn to measuring each other. In itself this is no vice—but we tend to overdo it, overvaluing each other’s shapes, sizes, colors, ages, speed, skills, brains, bodies, and bank accounts. These have their proper place, if only we would leave them there. I pray you learn young that what matters most is the part of you that human instruments cannot measure. You are not a body with a soul; you are a soul with a body. The Keeper of both spent most of last year knitting them together in a secret place inside your mom, designing machines as masterful as your slender-fingered hands, longish feet, delicate spine, beating heart, sponge-like lungs, and gumdrop nose. These are outward wonders for sure, but they do not approach the marvelous depths of your soul, which only your Maker can fill (and wants to). One day you will break a final barrier between our world and His, and when you do, you will see with new eyes the splendid substance of what my poor words can only sketch in shadows.
More later, but enough for now. Your mom and I entrust you to Him, confident that there is special providence in the fall of a sparrow, as well as in the flight of our great-souled Elizabeth. Sleep well; in the morning we go exploring.