From the moment the nurse places her on my stomach, I know she is mine.
My daughter's first cries fade to silence, and her dark brown eyes widen, looking up at me as if to say, "That was tough, Mom. But I'm glad I'm home."
Due to my high blood pressure, I had been admitted to Kennestone Hospital at 38 weeks pregnant on a Monday afternoon. But Leizel Aurora Avila wouldn't make her grand entrance until 6:58 a.m. on a Wednesday, the morning of my 24th birthday.
Looking at her now, I realize no other birthday gift will ever be quite the same.
Over the past seven weeks, she's grown from a beautiful and curious little stranger into someone I have come to know and love with each passing day. Each new milestone is a surprise–she opens her eyes and gazes into my own, she makes an unexpected sound, she furrows her brow in anger–and then, she smiles.
At this age, the smiles are still a rarity. My husband and I make a game of it, watching her as she sleeps to catch a glimpse of a dimpled half-smile, or sometimes, a big, gaping toothless one.
I watch as she grows and looks more and more like her father. She looked like me in the beginning, but now, it is clear that Balde's genes have taken over. Leizel has inherited the distinguished Avila nose, the lips which turn down delicately at the corners, and those dark doe eyes, accented by long, thick lashes that curl at the tips.
She has my eyebrows, people say. Well at least I get that much.
A co-worker asked me the other night what surprised me most about parenthood. "The lack of sleep," I said. But on second thought, I'd been warned about that.
Rather, the real surprise lies in how happy I feel despite the lack of sleep.
I'm tired. But it's the same kind of tired I felt the moment after I gave birth–exhausted but utterly blissful. Sure, there are crying fits, endless loads of laundry and diaper messes which turn into how-did-this-reach-the-other-side-of-the-room messes.
But in those silent moments–when she sleeps contentedly, or gazes at the world around her with wonder–the joy washes over me. And I am at peace.
After all, there is something very special about sharing a birthday with your first child. Of course, from now on, I know the celebration of my own birth will be only an afterthought, if even a thought at all. But I'm okay with that. Most of us eventually come to dread birthdays anyways as the years pass and the age lines deepen.
But for me, the 17th of August will always be a joyous occasion no matter how gray and old I get, how many goals I fail to accomplish, or which dreams I forget over time.
My birthday will always be a time to rejoice in the day Leizel came into my world, and I, into hers.