Outside my window sits a mother. She barely moves, only turning her head from left to right. These actions are sparse. And hasty. When I look down to take another sip of my coffee, I miss them. But I know she moved. A beady eye peers left. Then right. I think she’s always looking at me.
I think, Does she wonder who I am? If I, too, am a mother?
A feather props upward out the other end, just like a wooden spoon balanced on the lip of a steaming pot of soup. I try to picture what she is protecting. How small they must be. Featherless. Frail. Still shelled or not? Either way, they are more precious than broth-softened carrots and celery bits.
The sticks and twigs that loosely hang together form a home so solid it withstands rain and wind. She nestled herself and her brood under the jutted out windows of our upstairs bedroom, just atop the outdoor meter. I stare in awe of her ability to scrounge the earth, build on instinct, and protect a family.
My own baby wasn’t supposed to be born when she was. At a routine high-risk ultrasound check, the doctor advised that I wasn’t close to giving birth. I was two months out from her due date.
Two days later, I held my baby in my hands.
She stayed mostly in her incubator, the one place outside my womb that could keep her warm and safe. In fact, it was the only place that could do both. My womb was warm. But it was no longer safe. I didn’t realize the growing internal hazard had reached a limit when my body began preparing for her decent. I didn’t realize it when the new resident ER doctor examined me, only to leave the room immediately, making a poor effort to hide his look of horror.
His words trailed behind him: I’ll be right back. I need to ask my supervising doctor something….
I didn’t realize it when my baby was cut from my torso, and when from behind the sheet I could see nothing, feel nothing, and hear nothing within the chaotic cacophony only an OR room full of nurses, doctors, medical assistants, one terrified husband, and one drugged mother could make.
I set my coffee mug down again just in time to catch the movement outside my window. Her wings outspread. Her legs, her feet, merely twigs themselves, such as those she used to construct her eggs’ incubator.
I wait a few seconds longer, watching her glide to the grass. Then the fence. Her place of origin appears empty, but I know better. I don’t dare leave the safety of my dining room chair. Except when I move closer to the window. And then outside the patio door. And then to the edge of the concrete. But that is it. I know I had to give her space.
The first time I saw my daughter, I was loopy on medication, numbed from the waist down, and had doctors sewing up the lower flesh of my abdomen. I didn’t realize that they would insert a long, blue, plastic strip along the fresh seam of my skin.
It’s the way this doctor does sutures. She claims it’s better than traditional stitches, the postpartum nurse later told me. This nurse was also the one who had to rip the plastic straight across my stomach.
I’ll try and do this quickly, she said.
It burned so badly I grasped the edges of the bedsheets. I hadn’t noticed I held my breath until she was done and I exhaled.
The nurse looked relieved it was over.
I’m sure this nurse doesn’t think it’s better than traditional stitches, I thought. Just as my daughter’s birth was unplanned, I was glad no one warned me of the impending excruciating extraction.
The second time I saw my baby, she was in a plastic box. Hooked up to cords, and monitors, and a CPAP machine, she looked alien. I couldn’t see her face, as even the smallest of breathing masks engulfed what little features she had. The respiratory therapist and a NICU nurse helped me get her out of her box. One held cords out of the way, another made sure they didn’t pull
out of her mouth and off her chest, and after my baby finally rested in my hands, the therapist pulled the CPAP mask aside.
The mother bird comes back, day after day. Sometimes hour after hour. She often sits, statue-like, and waits.
How does she stay like that? I wonder. So still. So calm. I sip another cup of coffee lightened with almond milk. I eat another breakfast of Cheerios covered with banana slices. I show my daughter the mommy who lives outside our dining room.
One day, the mother flies her familiar path to the lawn. And for the first time, two tiny heads poke up in her place. One seems more feeble than the other. One stretches higher, stronger, and louder. They look like they are wrestling—bumping wings within the only tiny home they know. The mother comes back. She prods at her babies with her beak.
What is she doing, Mama? My daughter asks.
I think she’s feeding her babies. She’s taking care of them until they are big enough to fly away, I say.
Like me, Mama? You always say I lived in a box. I had to grow. And be strong!” She says the last part gritting her teeth, flexing her arms, and elongating the word to match her motions. She always says it this way.
Yes, Sweetie. Just like you. All babies need to grow stronger.
And then what, Mama?
Then they will fly away, Sweetie.
Two days later, as I drink my coffee, I walk to the window to check on the nest.
It is empty.