Why I Can’t Give You All My Love

Chrissie Dunham

A small hand flies up, hangs suspended with tiny fingers curling, then slowly falls as the chubby arm relaxes. I’m told my one-week old’s movements are largely involuntary, but as he cranes his neck, flexes his toes, sweeps both arms out and up and back, I see him conducting an invisible orchestra.

I put my hand on his chest and feel the rise and fall of his breath, the tiny heartbeat inside.

His eyebrows are down, eyes wrinkled tight, then eyebrows up, eyes still a tight line — a sleepy question mark. The right eye ventures a slow yawn open and I get a glimpse of grey-blue infinity. I catch my breath, swept up in a heady wave of —

Some new shade of love — ephemeral, gripping, slippery and soft. My heart teeters on a skyscraper seesaw, my eyes zoom in on an impossibly perfect face then zoom out and he’s five, fifteen, fifty old years old. I’m staring at a man and thinking of the baby I held in my arms.

I hear my own blood pumping and my ears tingle as he takes a breath, exhales, I exhale along with him — how long was I holding that breath? My scalp tightens and my stomach drops and the mattress beneath me is firm but for a moment I’m falling. I look out the window at the trees that are the same trees swaying that swayed outside my window a week ago, and I cling to those trees.

I look back at the little balloon tummy rising and falling in my arms. I wrap my arms tighter and draw the downy head to my chest. Kiss soft brown feathery hair and breathe in the sweet dusky infant perfume.

I lay back and his heavy head settles below my chin. His soft torso sways down my belly, and long-toed feet splay out, then tuck up, on my lap.

I look down at butterfly eyelashes and a pie-crust-crinkled upper lip, mouth open wide in a silent ‘O’. Oh? — a million questions for this big new world.

If I look at him long enough, hard enough, can I preserve this memory in its three-dimensional, five-sensory glory?

No. When I tighten my grip it turns to smoke, slips through my fingers, clouds my vision and I’m dizzy.

I’m holding the most beautiful intoxicating terrifying enchanting delicate thing in my world. But he can’t be my entire world. His tiny body is too fragile to bear all that emotion. He would be crushed under the weight.

I am now a mother, but I am also still a wife, daughter, sister, friend, disciple — writer, software developer, lover of long walks and lists.

I reach to my right and pull my laptop towards us. I prop up my knees and unfold the screen from the keyboard. My arms flank his putty body and prop up wrists that guide fingers onto the keys. I begin to type and the words formed by my fingers create an anchor for my mind.

My thoughts slow their swirling and form clean lines, my heart stops its firehose spray and returns to a steady flow. Love washes over and around the small creature lying on my chest, caressing — not suffocating — in its embrace.

Chrissie Dunham

Written by

Bay Area native, software developer, convert to Catholicism

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