When I read that an average baby would smile some time between one and eight weeks of age, I hadn’t anticipated what a deeply emotional and memorable event this milestone would be. While some developmental milestones like crawling and pulling to a stand would pass without much fanfare, my baby’s first smile became ingrained in my memory as a hallmark for the bittersweet joy of motherhood itself.
My daughter was ten days old, and it was four o’clock in the morning. I hadn’t slept for more than an hour at a time since the day before she was born, and, although lost in my own love-drunk motherhood euphoria, I was also incredibly exhausted. She woke me up for the fifth time in two hours, utterly helpless and needing to nurse. For perhaps the tenth time that night, I dragged my bones out of bed and carried my tiny newborn to the rocking chair, where I struggled to get her to latch onto my breast.
“Go ahead and nurse,” I said, exhaused. And then added, “Mama loves you, sweetie.” She cried, and I began to sniffle. Suddenly, my tired cries turned into deep, moaning sobs. I couldn’t do this. I was hungry, I was utterly fatigued, and my entire body ached with the trauma of childbirth. My head hurt, my breasts burned and ached, my back was crippled, and my entire lower body felt like it was destroyed beyond any repair.
Despite being lossed in a state of total adoration for my daughter, I struggled with feelings of resentment for her as I tried to get her to nurse. “Please, Baby,” I begged. She continued to cry. I continued to cry. Then, finally, at long last, she started to nurse, and our tears stopped together.
Looking at my beautiful newborn, I remembered how enthralled I felt when she had been born a few days prior. She was tiny, perfect, helpless, and totally innocent. Her deep gray eyes were like darkened mirrors, and glistened as she stared at me while she nursed. She studied my face intently, memorizing my face, my scent, and the feeling of security. I stroked her soft, fuzzy head and breathed against her curls. I thought to myself: this is what love feels like.
As my face almost involuntarily broke into a smile, my daughter abruptly stopped nursing and locked her eyes on mine. She grinned. Ear-to-ear, with her new eyes crinkling in delight– my baby’s first smile. Suddenly, all the tears from a few minutes before came rolling back, and I swore to myself that her first smile would be a milestone memory that I would cherish until my dying day.
In her first smile, my daughter silently said all that I would ever need to hear from her: “It’s okay, mama. We’re in this together and I love you.”