It’s a no brainer that new babies bring joy. They are fresh, innocent, full of hope and potential — the personification of pure love. Most people respond with warmth and smiles to a baby, any baby. That reaction is magnified a million fold when the baby is near and dear to your own heart. Some life events cause our natural happiness levels to soar dramatically; Madeleine’s arrival is the happiest event I can even imagine.
I won’t try to over analyze this most obvious of happiness highs. But I do want to highlight a few fundamentals of day-to-day personal happiness that my granddaughter’s birth brought into sharp relief.
First, savoring. Over and over in Madeleine’s first week, I watched her mother delighting in her every detail — the perfect fingers, the amazing tiny toes, her head of silken hair, soft breaths, ability to hold her head up, etc. Jennifer just drank in every aspect of Madeleine. “I don’t want her to ever change,” Jennifer sighed. “She’s perfect right now.”
New babies are scrumptious — but more ordinary opportunities to savor are multitude in our daily lives. For example, as I rocked my grand baby on the front porch this morning, I could also savor the beauty of pink balloons wafting across a leafy green and sky blue background. Earlier, I savored the coffee that helped wake me up before going on baby duty. I could hear birds, and my daughter’s laugh, and watch butterflies, bumblebees and wild flowers. All this, in an ordinary neighborhood in a rural southern town. Here, there, everywhere, we can savor away … The very thought is enough to make me smile.
Gratitude. Jennifer went into the birth experience somewhat apprehensive of hospitals and modern medicine and determined to have a natural birth — but that was not to be. Despite many, many hours of excruciating pain, Jennifer’s cervix did not dilate enough for the baby to come out the birth canal. Without an epidural, my daughter’s agony would have been unspeakable. Worse — in another time and place, when C-sections weren’t viable options, Jennifer’s situation may have led to both maternal and infant death. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe that’s over-dramatic — but both she and I are very grateful to Doctor Jennifer Logan and all the compassionate and skilled staff at Montgomery Baptist East Hospital for providing the care that meant a happy, healthy homecoming for mommy and baby.
This is gratitude writ large, for sure. Also, for sure, we all have many reasons to be grateful every day. Today, I have been grateful for things large and small — like Madeleine finally falling asleep and a well-stocked refrigerator as lunchtime drew near. Like savoring, the opportunities for gratitude are always at hand. We need only invest a conscious effort in acknowledging our appreciation.
Community. While I would never want to relive my daughter’s labor, I will always treasure that night. The community gathered around Jennifer — the baby’s dad, the doctor (on-and-off), Jennifer’s best friend and the friend’s teenage daughter, and I — shared her sacred journey. We laughed, cheered, cried, wept, ate, slept, and waited during a period of time in which no reality existed beyond Jennifer’s efforts to give birth. As we supported Jennifer, we also leaned on each other literally and emotionally. We were intensely connected.
The next day, as I walked past the labor room on my way to Jennifer’s hospital room, I felt a pang of nostalgia. There was so much love and beauty in that one-time-only community! It was a powerful reminder of the importance of building and maintaining community connections in our “regular” lives.
Then there’s money. It is costing me a lot of lost income to be with my daughter and granddaughter for a few precious months. I live in Vermont, my daughter lives in Alabama. To be here, I had to close my “Happiness Paradigm Store and Experience” for two months, and turn down other income-generating opportunities. Plus, the trip here and back — by car, and staying with friends — is pretty pricey.
I am not entirely sure how I’ll pay my bills over the next few months, but there was really no question about what I should do. How could I have possibly chosen money over the opportunity to be with my daughter before, during, and after she gave birth?
This is a particularly valuable lesson for me personally. I constantly struggle between the desire to move away from the demanding paradigm of making more money, and the desire to actually make more money. Perhaps my choice this spring will help me find greater comfort and balance around money questions in the future.
One last observation: caring for a newborn and the newborn’s mother is hard work — so much so that I haven’t found time to invest in my specific happiness strategies since Madeleine was born. I haven’t meditated, done yoga, sung in the choir, written in my nightly positive journal, or painted a gratitude watercolor in weeks. I miss those practices, but Madeleine has lusty lungs and will not be ignored. Soon enough I’ll go back to Vermont, where I will no doubt pine for the hours of rocking this infant to sleep. I love her. That love fills me with more than enough happiness for now.