I rest your little head on the stuffed monkey’s lap on top of the changing table. I keep your wobbly head elevated, because it helps keep acid reflux from bubbling to your throat. You hate the hygiene ritual about to happen. I’m not sure why – is it the cool air touching your naked skin, the cold wipes, the pungent ointment, the chafing of Huggies Velcro? Judging by your screams, the annoyance of fastening a diaper is equivalent to a first-degree burn. When the routine is over, I lift you to my shoulder and you snuggle into me. Your cries have turned to sweet sighs and coos.
Your brother’s framed portrait is in the hall. I drew the picture. For you to remember. His peaceful face framed so you could know and love him. Judging by the photograph I used, you look so much like him when you sleep. I’ve only ever seen him sleep. I only have so many pictures of him. But he is as precious as you are. Exactly as precious.
Since your reflux is healing, your little personality has returned. I’m surprised I can speak of my daughter’s personality when you’re only a month old. You only eat, poop, and sleep, and haven’t figured out yet why to smile or not. But I know the old you is back by your quiet sighs and you softly smacking your lips like a contented dog after a meal settling in for a nap. When you hurting disrupted all this, it destroyed me.
It seems love is a neighbor to pain. When mom or I change you, it seems cruel to you. But we are providing a need you don’t understand you have. When you were helpless over reflux, your tearful eyes looking into mine broke me in a way I didn’t know I could. And I suffer in every memory of your brother: my forearms physically ache to hold him. Would he have hated diaper changes like you? I know even less about him than I do you. And I love him, having never knew him. Pain comes tagging along with love once again.
Life is accompanied by the desire to eliminate life’s inevitable agony; love now accompanies this with desiring to eliminate hurt outside of yourself. My desire is to end your hurts, daughter. But for you, son, your suffering will never be, and my heart shatters because I don’t have the chance to love you more. So pain will be here as long as I’m alive. It tells me I’m alive. And it tells me I love you both.
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