Happy birthday, beautiful girl. You’re a whole year old. Just think, only 20 more to go before you can buy bourbon ALL BY YOURSELF. It’s important to have goals, remember that.
I’ve been thinking for a while about what I was going to tell you on your birthday, and I think I need to start by telling you how badly I wanted to have you. Your father and I had only been married a month when I started, ahem, threatening to go off birth control because I was ready and tired of waiting. I would never have gone off birth control without telling your father — although you are probably related to hundreds of women on my side of the family who do that often — because we knew that having you was going to be a hand-in-hand effort from the beginning. We didn’t have insurance at the time, and I knew that having a baby without insurance was not an option. So I would tell him, “You have exactly one month to find us some insurance before I go off the pill.” He didn’t find insurance for another eight months. You could say he took me VERY seriously.
Here’s a picture your father took of you right after he said, “Stick ’em up Duke Boys!”
The day that we were eligible for insurance I stopped taking the pill. That was at the beginning of April 2003, and I was sure that I would be pregnant by the end of the month. The women on my side of the family are as fertile as the day is long, something your Granny might say and Granny gave birth to 10 kids. Her reproductive system knows what it is talking about. So your father and I went straight to it and pretty much did nothing but, ahem, try to make a baby for four weeks straight. That was one of the most fantastic months of my life.
On April 25th, 2003 I started my period and was completely devastated. It was the first period I had experienced off the pill in over seven years and it felt like it was going to kill me. I stayed in bed for two days with monumental cramps and cried all day long. I thought, what if I’m not like the women in my family? What if I can’t get pregnant? Your father had to calm me down in one tear-filled rampage when I started babbling nonsense about how we’d have to go on fertility drugs and they wouldn’t work until I was 40 and then they’d all of a sudden work and I’d have quadruplets all at once and I’d never be able to care for them because I WAS SUCH A FAILURE. I apologize now for the hormones you have inherited from the Women Who Came Before You.
We decided that we’d just keep trying, and I sought the advice of my doctor. She told me specifically which days of the month I would be most likely to conceive, so I planned in advance to engage in the act of making a baby at least 14 times during those two days, if not 24 or 34 times. Unfortunately, those two days happened to be the days that your father moved all of our furniture and boxes into the house from storage, all 7,800 pounds of it. He came in from returning the moving van, totally exhausted, and I was standing in the bedroom door RARING TO GO. He looked at me like, “Heather, it would take an act of GOD right now.”
The next night over dinner I collapsed into tears again and accused your father of falling out of love with me. I actually screamed at him, “I’M OVULATING, AND YOU DON’T LOVE ME.” I was worried that he was making excuses because he didn’t want to have a baby with me, but he had just moved 7,800 pounds worth of junk WITH HIS BARE HANDS. My ovaries could wait a few hours. I’m pretty sure you were conceived that night.
On Wednesday May 28, three days after my period was supposed to start, I woke up at 4:30 AM unable to sleep and took a pregnancy test. It was positive, and I cannot adequately express in words how I felt when I saw the double pink line: joy, relief, indescribable excitement, like I was going to conquer the world. We immediately started brainstorming ideas for names and settled on the project name “Fawnzelle La Bon Marché Armstrong” so that our families would be horrified. You just wait, one day you will RELISH the endeavor of making me uncomfortable. But don’t think it’s going to be easy, at least not as easy as my family makes it for me.
Here you are now, a year after they laid you on my chest and you reached your arm out to me. Those first few weeks with you have changed me forever. They were the hardest, most terrifying weeks of my life, not because you weren’t wonderful in every single way, but because I was not as confident as I thought I was going to be. I was not prepared IN ANY WAY for what having a baby would do to my life, to my heart, to my capacity for worry and love. There were at least three feet of old snow on the ground outside, and the days were dark and cold. Your father couldn’t get very many days off work, and during that time it felt like my spirit was being shoved through a paper shredder. I didn’t think I’d last a month.
Here I’ve managed to last 12 months, but of course “lasting” could be interpreted several different ways. And you did, too! LOOK AT YOU GO. You are a totally different kid now than when we brought you home. For one, you sleep at night. I didn’t think that would ever happen, and I can remember one night last March when I was certain I had given birth to the world’s first human being who required no sleep. For the past six months you’ve been a terrific sleeper, but in the last month you’ve started going haywire during the day with your naps. CUT IT OUT.
You also scream a lot less more often than you used to. I think that comes with being more mature, being a little wiser, being able to reach for things instead of just belting out a horrible noise because you can’t get to it. You still scream from time to time, but now it’s usually because I’m putting you down instead of CARRYING YOU EVERY WHERE I GO, MY GOD IT’S GETTING OLD. What’s really funny is how your father tells me that we need to teach you how to be okay when I put you down and leave the room, except when he’s here on the weekends and I do that, HE FLIPS OUT, and he goes over and picks you up. Do I tell him how to do his job? I DIDN’T THINK SO.
One of the greatest things about your personality now is how coy you are. When you hear your father pull into the driveway at night you immediately try to hide in my shirt, and when he comes into the house you start laughing and peeking at him from over my shoulder. You do the same thing when you hear the dog coming into the room, or when Grandmommie comes to visit. I love how you sit and read books to yourself, and since you can’t yet read of course, the books are always upside down and the only words you can get out are, “DUCK!” or “DOG!” or “BUHBUHBUH!” even if the book is totally not about ducks or dogs or buhs, but about pigs going to market.
I also love how you grin with your nose scrunched up, your mouth full of all these teeth that are sticking in different directions. I love how excited you get after bath time when your father holds you in front of the mirror, so excited that you almost pass out from screeching with glee, so excited that you kick your legs and have knocked your father square in the groin on more than one occasion. Your father’s groin, alas, it has a hard road ahead.
Leta, I feel like I have been given a second chance at life, a life through the magic of your eyes, a life that I am finally able to appreciate fully since I got the help I needed for my disease. The world has more color in it because you are looking at it, music is a bit louder because you are hearing it. I never knew how funny a noise could be until you laughed at it, or just how excruciatingly handsome your father was until I saw your profile next to his. I thought that there was meaning in my life before you came along, but Hell if I even knew the meaning of meaning. For the majority of my life I thought I had religion, but never has there been a more reverent moment in my life than walking into your room late at night to watch you breathe, to hear your life in the air. If there is a God, you’d certainly be proof that he or she exists.