We don't yet understand that nothing can stop this baby from coming. We don't know that she will be smaller than a mozzarella—less than a pound. We can't yet imagine how the preemie diaper will make her appear like a piglet wearing human underpants, or how the baby in the next bassinet, born only ten weeks early, will appear to us as enviably well formed as an adult. We don't know that after a nurse curses and whacks at one of the life-support machines with the heel of her hand, after we all watch the baby's fluttering breath in the tiny cage of her ribs and cry into our masks, I will say, inexplicably, "I really believe she's going to be okay." Or that years later, after the months of neonatal intensive care, after too many near-death experiences to count, a dramatic medical evacuation to the United States, the countless tanks of oxygen, the ceaseless fretting, this baby will be dark-eyed and beautiful, mischievous and, save a wintertime tendency toward bronchitis, perfect.
In the church, I force myself to look up into Mary's eyes, to study the twisted agony of her mouth. I kiss my baby's sleeping head, bend down to press my nose to the fragrant scalp of my own son, squeeze the hand of Sam's older daughter. I am so sorry to see the limp curve of His only child, although I don't actually believe in God. But standing before this stricken Madonna, surrounded by what I love most in the world, I wonder: Was an entire religion generated from a mother's most fervent wish that her child not be dead? The twinning of loss and love seems suddenly to explain everything: To devote ourselves properly to one another, we must brave love's terrifying undertow, which is grief. I am awed, suddenly, by our courage to love each other as recklessly as we do. Awkward and confused, rational and godless—I am all of these things. And yet this moment must be what people mean when they speak of grace.
"Remember?" Sam will say to me later. "Remember how you said she would be okay?" And I will say, "Yes," because I do. "What made you say that?" she will ask me, and I will think, "Some things just seem kind of magical," but it will sound too hocus-pocus to say out loud. "Because it's how I felt," I will say instead. And it will be the truth.
Catherine Newman, author of Waiting for Birdy (Penguin), writes a weekly column at Family.com.
Could these 4 questions change your life?
From the May 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
We Hear You!