Welcome home, Grace
It was a simple chalkboard, made from a do-it-yourself craft kit and gifted to me from one of my students. Framed with purple and dotted with gold glitter, I decided it would be the perfect add-on to the baby’s room.
9 weeks! I wrote with a fresh cylinder of white chalk, hanging up the mini-board next to the door and tiptoeing to rest the chalk above the door frame. “Can you believe we’re in single digits?” I asked Adam as I sat on the carpet of the bare, echo-y room, googling “maternity dresses” as he puzzled together the crib.
8 weeks! I wrote, dripping with sweat before the day had even begun. “How is it still this hot in September?” I grumbled to Adam as I put on a dress for school. “Can we plan our next child so she’s NOT born in the hottest summer I’ve ever lived through?”
“A flare for the dramatic,” Adam smiled.
7 weeks! I looked at my phone. Late afternoon sun streamed through the cracks in the shades. “Five minutes ‘til we’re leaving!” I called out. “This is your last chance to learn how to have a baby!” I reached up to replace the chalk, half of it bouncing back on the floor. After tonight, our final childbirth class would be over… another “check” on the before-baby list.
6 weeks! I wrote, returning the chalk and walking back to the washer to continue carefully cutting the tags off the massive pile of baby clothes, dropping them in and dutifully topping with a capful of sensitive-skin laundry detergent. “What if I know I’m never, ever going to dress her in something?” I held up a small jacket reminiscent of a miniature pink Yeti. Adam shook his head.
5 weeks! I wiped the chalk dust on my leg and turned back to her closet, organizing dollish clothes from newborn to nine months, complete with pink and gold size markers. “Jeeeez,” Adam stared at the row of fabric and color. “Taking after her mother already, I see…”
4 weeks! I swirled away a stray white mark on the corner of the board. I grabbed a duffel in the closet just outside of her room, walking to our bureau to stuff it with sweatpants, a heating pad, and other “labor must-haves” listed in our hospital guide. “Do we need all that?” Adam stared at the not-quite-zipped back on the conference table, overflowing with Gatorade and slippers and massage oil.
3 weeks! I replaced the chalk. “Don’t forget I’ll be home late,” I reminded Adam. “Mom and I are going to the breastfeeding class in Burlington.”
“Didn’t you read two books on that already? What more is there to learn?” [Post-script: There was a lot.)
2 weeks! I looked at the frighteningly small number, waves of anticipation and anxiety running through me. My last day, I thought to myself. Twenty-one parent conferences separated me from the end of my work duties, physical release, and our new family. I rubbed my pulsing lower back and walked to pack my lunch.
1 week! I tiptoed to replace the chalk and poked my head in the bathroom. “Can you believe that’s the last time I’ll ever write ‘week’ on the board? Another PERSON could be living here next week!”
* * *
I looked up at the door, my red-rimmed eyes meeting Adam’s in the entryway to her bedroom. I rocked back and forth, back and forth. Exhaustion and nerves weighed heavily on my chest with every breath. When I looked up, Adam had swirled away my chalk writing, “Welcome home, Grace” now in its place.
We’d arrived home from the hospital a few minutes earlier– after a tear-filled, momentous forty-five minute drive– appalled that the hospital staff trusted us enough to leave with a baby. “But we don’t know what we’re doing! And she’s so tiny!” I had cried in the parking garage, my face wet and blotchy.
Her crying now softened to a whimper, and I laid her across my lap. Welcome home, Grace.