Individuals at Birth

Elyn Cone

Trying to figure out our babies, even if they know who they are from Day 1.

Motherhood was a complete mystery to me when I was pregnant with my first daughter. I barely could grasp my own thoughts and emotions on the subject without bursting into tears, so to imagine a little person, who would soon be mine, with her own feelings and personality was beyond my comprehension.

And then she was here.

Iris Ann Noel came into the world ferociously. It was not without drama or danger; she was opinionated and feisty from the get-go. She didn’t want to nap, she’d let anyone hold her, she conquered milestones young.

Perhaps it is easy to see these things in a different light now, as they continue to be indicative of my beautifully wild firstborn. She is filled with enviable, joyous excitability, a reckless, fearless zest for life and for people. Now that she’s four, it’s easier to say, yes, she was always this way.

And it is humbling to look back on that time, to think about myself as a clueless first-time mom, and to see how much Iris already knew of herself from her very first seconds in the world.

My second pregnancy flew by in a blur. I was busy chasing my only-just-one-year-old, and so the things I really remember of Edith in the womb are the clues she shared with me about who she would be. My pregnancy with Edith felt intimate somehow, the way she would dance only when I sang, or how she seemed to tap my belly when I was finally sitting and still. I tried to guess who she would be, and what shape her personality would take.

Edith made her debut with quiet grace and with infinite amounts of instant affection. She loved the simple parts of being a baby—eating, snuggling, staring at me in that newborn way that makes you melt. I would look on and on into those endless gray eyes and swear I could see the universe. She was an old soul from the second she appeared. And this is how I have watched her grow: certain of herself and reliant on her mother’s encouragement, pensive and eager to learn, independent and focused.

I have often mused how babies and young children are actually the purest versions of humans. All they know is what they have in them, unspoiled by the so-called ways of the world or cultural influences. They are wholly and only themselves, and isn’t it funny that we all spend the rest of life trying to be that without fear or hesitation?

Sometimes I catch the purest parts of ourselves—my husband and I— in them, the things that have been passed on to them, whether through nature or nurture. It’s easy to say that Iris is much more like her father, unhindered and thrill-seeking, peacefully content, and extroverted. They are almost manic, unable to sit still, and this endears them to all who know them. They are the big life of our family, filling the walls of our tiny apartment with fun ideas and silly jokes.

Much like Edith, I’ve been called an old soul myself. I like to sit quietly, though not lacking in intensity. I like to take my time. I trust my gut, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t considered all of my options. Reading a book on a rainy day sounds more appealing to me than a raucous party. My emotions are incomprehensibly enormous.

Both of my girls have rich, buttery blond hair, milky skin, and stretched-out limbs that make them seem taller than they ought to be for their ages. They have deep belly laughs and gaps in their front teeth and shiny bluish-green eyes. Every day they hear how alike they are because of these physical similarities. Though 18 months apart, the older they get, the more often I am asked if they are twins. Bubbly, giggly sisters, to a stranger, each one is like the other.

And yet they are nothing alike.

I know a woman who has an adopted son whose skin is a different color from that of his siblings. She shared such rich wisdom with me, saying, “In our family, we don’t talk about similarities, we celebrate our differences because that is what makes us strong.” I loved sitting in this for quite some time, thinking about all four of my family members, each one an individual with unmistakable strength, something to bring to the table.

I love seeing traits in my girls that resemble their father, who is an ideal person to try to be like. I am humbled (sometimes nervous!) about the traits they share with me. It can be shocking to watch them smile back at me, feeling for a second like I’m looking in the mirror. It’s adorable to watch them interact with each other, to learn from each other, to mimic in admiration (and sometimes torment). We are a family, and I love that to know us is to easily recognize that. We stick together. We learn together. We grow together.

We are also individuals, celebrating differences that make us an incredibly strong unit. How I long to hold fast to this truth as I continue to love my family, to mother my daughters.

This is one of motherhood’s greatest privileges, to consider living in a new way through the wide eyes of our innocent babes. I’m grateful for every moment I’m forced to stop and relearn something I already thought I knew. I tell them “Mommy knows best,” yet they have consistently brought to my attention better ways of living.

May I always be in awe of who they are at their cores? May I be eager to learn what makes them unique? May I be grateful for the opportunity to interact with these one-of-kind, vivacious lives who have been making difference in the world since the very moment they arrived?

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