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Servatius Junior: Part 2 

The arrival

"That's not my baby," I said when they first showed her to me. Then I rolled my head to the side to throw up.

"There hasn't been another baby in this operating room," said my doctor, who was sewing me up after the C-Section. "So she has to be yours."

She didn't look like me, my husband or anyone related to us. In truth, to me, she looked more like a cross between a junk yard dog and a misshapen potato. Everyone assured me she was beautiful, but I was suspicious.

"I'm glad she didn't get your nose," my mother-in-law said after they rolled me out of recovery.

"What's wrong with my nose?" I snapped. "I like my nose."

"Nothing," she said. "We're just glad she didn't get it."

Were I any less stoned on painkillers and able to get out of bed without falling down, I'd have finally lost my patience with the woman, God bless her.

I later became convinced the baby was mine after I discovered she inherited my funky kinked pinky fingers, the likes of which I doubt are widely distributed in the gene pool. We strapped her in the car seat and drove her home and so began our life with Annika.

Most people, I'm told, are in a hurry to leave the hospital. Not me. I hung around until the last bloody minute and would have stayed a week or two if they let me.

I'm a pretty even-keeled person, but as we pulled into the driveway, the full enormity of what we had taken on hit me hard. We were on our own. No more nurses to help. No one to tell us what to do an hour from now, much less for the next 18 years, and that is a mighty long time. I had the closest thing I've ever had to a panic attack. I had difficulty breathing and got butterflies in my stomach.

"Is something wrong?" my husband asked me. I shook my head no. How do you put that kind of fear into words? And why ruin the moment?

Childbirth and everything surrounding it is cleaned up marvelously in American popular culture, reduced to a series of Hallmark moments punctuated by baby smiles and the occasional diaper change. Not so in real life. The baby doesn't learn to smile at you for a couple months I'm told, and the only consistent face mine makes so far is the one before she screams, needs to be burped or has gas.

Sure, I read that they need to be fed every two-and-a-half hours before I delivered, but somehow the implications of that never sunk in. Throw in jaundice and difficulty feeding and you can go days with almost no sleep.

When I worked for The Leader newspaper, I once covered city council, county commission and waited tables part time. The paper later hired another person full time to do half my job. So I'm no stranger to hard work and fatigue. But the six-pound wonder who now rules my house is in the process of kicking my rear end.

A day and a half after we pulled into the driveway, I still hadn't bathed. When I passed by a mirror, I was shocked. I looked like a war-zone blast survivor. My hair jetted out in wild directions. I had baby poop that I had somehow missed on one arm of my bathrobe, dried vomit down the front and a smear of Desitin across my forehead. Still more Desitin was caked in my hair. I started to cry, then took another look at myself and burst out laughing. I sat on the edge of the tub with my head in my hands and alternately laughed and cried like a loon. And sometime during that cry, I accepted that my life had changed forever. A big part of it now belonged to her and wouldn't be fully mine again for a long, long time. After that, I felt much better about the whole thing.

Now I'm setting small goals. Get dressed. Get dressed and blow-dry hair. Get dressed, blow-dry hair and leave the house. Leave the house with makeup on. Write this column.

Sometimes, through the drunken-haze of sleep deprivation, I look at her and remember she's mine. Not just a baby I'm taking care of, but my actual child, a part of me and my husband, a continuation of generations past and the best I have to offer the future and I'm awed by the miracle of it all over again.

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