by Mallory Cash
Juniper was my second pregnancy. I finally understood those women who said they loved being pregnant. It was such a joy to walk around knowing I had this tiny little beating heart with me at all times. I was really uncomfortable during my first pregnancy with Early because I was almost 30 pounds heavier, diabetic, and very swollen, and I was sitting at a desk for 8-9 hours a day. With Juniper, I was fit, active, not diabetic, and not swollen. I knew Juniper’s gender and her name, something I didn’t have with Early. Every ingredient seemed to be present for a smooth transition to life with my two babies. I felt immensely close to Juniper, until she arrived.
The moment she was born, she was crying with more force than Early every did. I remember being caught off guard that she didn’t stop crying like her older sister did when they put her in my arms.
Once she settled, I held her close and experienced bliss. I felt in control and confident this time around. I asked the labor and delivery staff to do everything in their power to let me go home as soon as possible. I was ready and empowered.
Once we got to our room on a different hospital floor it was already in the early morning hours. The room was dark and quiet. My husband was sleeping on the couch, and I held her in bed for hours as I watched the sun come up. The longer I held her the more I realized she wasn’t Early, she wasn’t anything like the child I already had and loved. I questioned whether I could love her the way I loved my oldest. Every single thing about this pregnancy and delivery was easier and went smoother, but it all felt so unfamiliar and odd to me now. Juniper and I were both trying to adjust to life with her outside of my womb. The comforting kicks and infant hiccups I used to look for to center and relax me were no longer there.
I kept a journal for Juniper and wrote in it during the months following her birth. The first thing I wrote to her was shortly after we arrived home from the hospital.
“I took a nap and was alone for the first time in days. I rolled over and noticed your absence from my body then. I cried so hard and realized it was the first time I had been alone in months.”
I didn’t remember feeling this way with Early. As a first-time mom, my adrenaline was flowing for much of the first few months, and I never really had the time or wherewithal to register how I was feeling. With Juniper, it all felt so different. I could not figure out how her long-awaited presence could somehow make her absence so apparent and so painful. I continued my journal entry from that day:
“Later that night, Early was asleep in her room and you, daddy, and myself were in our room. Your daddy lightly passed his hand over my now deflated belly. I wondered if he felt your absence from my body, but I didn’t ask. The next morning (this morning) he said he didn’t remember touching my stomach.”
Giving birth is joyful, seemingly miraculous, and such a gift. It’s also isolating. Nursing was something I had to do completely on my own. Healing from birth and missing the feeling of baby hiccups are things no one could do for me. I wrote all of these things down and then, apparently, forgot them immediately because when I read those words last week I was caught off-guard. The pain and sadness from those early days swept over me, and I was instantly back to that moment in our bedroom when I was alone and crying. I don’t remember feeling that way beyond the first day or two, and I can’t say for sure when that sorrow left me, but I had not thought about that moment again until I opened that journal almost three years later.
Occasionally, I find myself unconsciously touching my stomach seeking the comfort I used to get from doing that. I did that last week while reading these journal passages, but halfway through a tiny, soon-to-be three-year-old burst into my room and shouted, “Mama, you are kind and beautiful!” I closed the journal and embraced her a little tighter than I normally do.
I’ve been using film to document my family over the last year. Above are a few of my favorites. Film stocks include Ilford hp5 plus 400, Kodak tri-x 400, Kodak Portra 400, and Ilford Delta Pro 3200. All were scanned by Richard Photo Lab. The birth photos above were done by Alicia Juniku. The photo of Juniper and me walking away from the camera was taken by Early Cash.