For a long time, babies were a mystery to me. I come from a large extended family on both sides of my parents – more aunts, uncles and cousins than I can keep straight. But our branch of the family in New York City had moved far from the rest of the relatives, was tiny by comparison, and the last new addition – that was me – arrived back when bellbottoms were first in fashion. So when my sister Pelli and her husband announced over a wintry birthday brunch that they had some News, I couldn’t be more excited.
Like many mothers-to-be, Pelli documented each of her doctor’s visits with the diligence of an investigative journalist, issuing reports via email after every ultrasound. At their home she and my brother-in-law assembled the requisite library of pregnancy books, looked into hypnotherapy for childbirth, and formed a plan for the big day.
Bit by bit, my sister’s belly swelled, and along with it everyone’s sense of anticipation. My parents were thrilled that what they’d wished for for so long – and silently, too, since they didn’t want to nag – was finally going to happen: They’d be grandparents at last. My brother applied himself to researching high-tech strollers. I fretted about my duties as sister of the first-time mother. First, how could I throw a baby shower if I hadn’t ever attended one myself? (Was there really some kind of game involving a diaper cake?) Second, and more importantly, Pelli had asked me – almost a decade her junior – to be her backup birth coach; I’d take over in the unlikely situation that her husband couldn’t be there. I felt simultaneously honored by the trust my sister had placed in me and petrified by the responsibility. I couldn’t wait to meet my niece and I wanted to provide moral support for my sister, but the prospect of ushering another human being into the world was daunting. How could I possibly know how to do the right things?
Naïa made her entrance on a glorious summer day. I was by my sister’s side, as was her husband. Everything went smoothly, Pelli was brave and spirited, and by evening we were marveling at the new person in our midst: pink, perfect, and with a penchant for knitting her brows – an expression that even now, years later, steals across Naïa’s face when she’s pensive.
Sometime afterward, when it became clear just how much work parenting involved, I remarked to Pelli that I wasn’t sure when I’d be ready to have a baby. My sister, by then wizened by sleepless nights and new motherhood, chuckled and responded, “I don’t think anyone is ever entirely ready.”
And so it is the same with many life changes, like moving to a foreign country, getting married, starting a new school or job. There’s no telling what lies ahead, but we’re game for adventuring anyway, thrilled by new beginnings and the promises they hold.