The square white washrag with the aqua trim floated in the one half inch of tepid water. A rectangular white towel with aqua trim lay spread out on the tile drainboard next to the kitchen sink. This area of the kitchen was spotless. Behind me on the stove was a saucepan with a glob of blue in the bottom. The glob was a plastic Evenflo baby bottle. At two a.m. in the morning, when I had put the bottle on to heat, gone back into the bedroom to pick up my ten day old daughter and discovered she had gone back to sleep; I was so grateful, I crawled back into bed, fell instantly asleep, and jumped out of bed when an awful rubbery smell and black smoke penetrated my unconsciousness. Luckily. Otherwise, I might not be here, (nor my daughter or anyone else in the house), to tell this story. A partially scrambled egg lay congealing in butter in a skillet next to the saucepan. I had turned it off when I heard my firstborn cry; no breakfast for me again, and probably no lunch or dinner. She seemed to always wake at the smell of food. This was my first day at home, alone, with my baby. A week in the hospital, and then a week-end with my mother helping, and now she and I were alone for the first time (except for the 2 a.m. feedings, when, of course, everyone disappeared).
The kitchen was dark. The blinds had been pulled to keep the sun coming in through the eastern window from shining in the infant’s eyes. Normally, the bright sun spilled into the kitchen and illuminated the yellow walls and made the day look bright and possible. Today the room looked dingy and the day impossible as the overhead light was also too bright, and the only illumination was the forty watt stove light. I picked my girl up from the crib, and walked us both to the kitchen. I hoped to divert her from the thought of eating (do babies think of eating)? as it had only been two hours and she was on a strict three hour schedule; no colic for her if I complied, her pediatrician had promised. She was awake often enough; I couldn’t imagine colic. It was all enough to make me strict with her schedule. I held her in the crook of my left arm all rumpled and crumpled and smelling of baby powder (back before we knew not to douse them) and slightly damp while I tested the water with my other elbow as I had seen my mother do so many times with my brothers and sisters. It was perfect, so I laid the baby, I mean, my baby (I was still getting used to that) on the towel beside the sink, and began to unwrap her layers, talking to her as I had also seen my mother do, “First bath, won’t it be fun?”
My firstborn, Lisa, stared up at me with round, muddy, dark blue eyes; the eyes of all babies, squinting to focus and trying to find out where the voice was coming from. As her gown was removed, and the air hit her skin, she began to slightly wave her arms, and as the last vestige of covering came off, and I unpinned her diaper (pampers had not yet been invented), and lifted her; her arms flailed. I tried to murmur to comfort her, but I was also juggling her, and putting her gently into the sink; no, not the sink itself; another towel covered the bottom to cushion the sink for her. So a lot on my mind, but not so much that I didn’t see her rosebud mouth purse up, and then as she hit the water, a flinch, and then….a howl. I gently splashed the water over her tummy, trying to reassure her, but that only made her cry louder. She began to turn red, and really scream. I was trying to soap her gently, and turn her somehow, to get her back clean (why did I think she was that dirty, anyway)? That did the trick; it was full out yowling and boy, did she have a set of lungs! I turned her back over, and then I saw…..the actual tears on her red, scrunched up face. The same face that loud cry was coming out of. The tears did me in; I started crying too. I realize for the first time and in an instant how responsible I am for her....for her life.....for at least as long as I am old.
So tears are running down my face as I am trying to hurry and finish bathing her and not startle her (was warned about the startle reflex in the hospital) and the tears are running down her face as I gently wipe it with the wrung out washcloth. My poor little red, screaming, naked baby has no idea what is happening to her, (and I have no idea what I’m doing as she has obviously figured out). She is probably crying because she has a nineteen year old mother, and I am crying because I had no idea……..of any of it. The labor, the birth, the no sleep, and now…..I can’t even keep her clean? Much less, heat her bottles. I pick her up and hold her against my breasts and cuddle her, no clothes and all, and then wrap her towel around her for warmth. She snuggles and quietens, and I sit in the rocking chair in the den, and we rock, for a long time, sans diaper, sans clothing for her; can’t risk another meltdown for either of us.
Maybe my little princess will never be bathed again.