I hover over Henry and Augustus's incubators, watching them glow under the sinister ultraviolet lights. The nurses tell me I can hold them, but I'm afraid. I touch the palms of their hands, and they do The Grasp. Nature or God, take your pick, declared that all newborns grab your finger. It is only a reflex, neither a sign of affection nor even an acknowledgment of our existence. I believe it's a reflex whose express purpose is to endear them to us. What if they had a reflex to flick away our hands dismissively or, instead of staring at us intently, to roll their eyes like teenagers? There'd be far fewer babies.
Their skin is almost translucent. If I pick them up, it might peel off in my hands like a layer of boiled onion.
Changed diapers this afternoon. I was ready with several boxes of surgical gloves for this eventuality. Having barely held a baby before having my own, let alone changed one, I was sure I'd be too squeamish to do this bare-handed. I was wrong. They're much less gross than all other babies. Odd.
After the diaper change, it took me approximately twenty minutes to put a onesie on Henry. I told the nurse not to help me. At first, I somehow fit it on him like it was a straitjacket. I untangled him, but I managed to twist part of the outfit into his mouth, like a gag. The nurse leaned over and said to me gently, "What do you do for a living?" I said, "Well, here's a hint: it doesn't involve fine motor skills."
It's not a question of whether I will kill them; it's just a question of how. Drowning? Tumbling off the changing table? Will the dog think they're food?
Friends and family visit, and I'm caught between the curious pleasure of showing off what came out of me and embarrassment at having turned out tiny creatures so pink and raw and unformed. They remind me of nothing so much as baby gerbils. It seems such a poor effort on my part. If only I could put them back in and let them bake a while longer.
Elizabeth breezes in. She is a woman of many gifts, not the least of which is her inability to see the obvious, if the obvious is in any way bad. She is the most optimistic person I know, utterly genuine even when she's wrong. Being friends with Elizabeth is like hanging out with your own personal sun.
"Where are they?" she demands hungrily. Elizabeth is the eldest in a family of six. Under those conditions you either love babies or you hate them. She loves them. Hesitatingly, I show them to her; she coos over Augustus and then immediately hones in on Henry. With his enormous cranium and sparrowlike body, Henry had passed homely and gone directly to frightening. "That," says Elizabeth decisively, "is a beautiful baby. Look at that noble brow! He radiates intelligence." For years Elizabeth ran a parenting magazine; she has spent much of her life around small children. I run my fingers over Henry's bald scalp, shuddering only slightly as I touch the soft spot that yields like the bruise on a peach. Beautiful? Well, who am I to argue?
I'm afraid I rushed Elizabeth out of the hospital quickly. I didn't want her to see me cry.
Excerpted from the book, You Make Me Feel Like an Unnatural Woman
Judith Newman, author of You Make Me Feel Like an Unnatural Woman, writes a monthly column for Ladies Home Journal and is a contributing editor for Allure and Self. She also writes for Vanity Fair, Harper's, Discover, and the New York Times. She spent seven years and $70,000 trying to get pregnant and is now the mother of twins. She lives in New York City with her sons and her golden retriever.
Copyright © Judith Newman. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.