"Mommy, I have a question," Ashlyn asked with her usual sweet demeanor.
"All right then, my sweet," I said, turning to face her. "I'm ready for it."
"Do you remember when I was in your tummy?"
Ah, yes. This one again.
Both girls have been revisiting their collective pasts over the last few months. The surge of Growing Up that has hit them has also left its traces of melancholy and an extreme need to know and understand what came before.
And both are fascinated with the idea that they ever, ever could have fit inside of anything at all.
"Yes, as a matter of fact sweetie, I do remember it. Very well. That was a very special time for me." I smile at her, welcoming her to continue.
"What did I feel like in there, Mama? What was I LIKE in there?" Her head is cocked to one side. Curiosity has gotten the better of her. I have memories of herself that she does not own. She wants the information I have. Who was she then.
Pulling her into a hug, I wonder where to begin. How can I tell her how amazing it was? To feel not one but two little heads moving around. Two bodies twisting in a space built for one?
What words can I use to paint the picture of awe that I felt when they were fighting inside their confined space? There were the kicks from 4 legs, punches from 4 arms, and 20 fingers grabbing all around. Never enough room. Never. And two little girls who made it very clear from the earliest moments that they needed their space and would have it, one way or another. (Even if it meant punching at their mother's rigid frame.)
There were the peaceful moments where all I'd feel is a flutter here or there. A brief stirring as if one was waking from a nap. Gentle movements that felt almost fluid, comforting in their reassurance that the two lives inside me were quiet and okay.
There were the uncomfortable moments too. Times when those collective 8 limbs felt like 80 or more. Their motions so quick they morphed into a squirming sensation that radiated throughout my entire being. True to what became their nature, these night owls performed feats of dexterity and flexibility throughout the night hours. When they were not at rest, I was not at rest. Could not be at rest. My prenatal night times were spent rocking on the glider chair in their nursery. A dry run for the months to come. Months before the big day arrived.
How can I put these many feelings into words that will truly express how it was?
How can I tell her that even though I couldn't see her or hold her while she was wrapped tightly in her cocoon, even though her features were dark to me, I knew her the moment I held her. The first time she was placed in my arms, it all connected. The little girl whose face I stared into was the one who sat on this side of my belly. The one who spent the happiest of hours with one toe wedged delightfully in between two of my ribs.
How was she in there? WHO was she in there? She was exactly herself. Exactly the way she is today; this girl standing before me, a grown up version of her baby-self.
There is no way to put this all into words. No way to make her understand that entire experience.
So I look at her, wrapped in my arms and smiling up at me, waiting for an answer.
"You were you, Ashlyn. You were a precious miracle. When you moved I smiled. When you kicked, I laughed. Sometimes that hurt a little and I would say, 'Ouch'. I knew when you were awake, and when you were sleeping. I knew which baby was you and which was your sister. You were both yourselves, even when I couldn't see you. Even when I couldn't hold you."
"Did you love me in there, Mama? Even when you couldn't hold me?" Her face turned somber. Serious.
"Oh yes, my love. I loved you very, very much when you were in there. And I love you even MORE now." I give her a squeeze.
She looks up at me, wrinkling her nose with deep concentration.
"Was I ever really that small?"
"You were then. For that very short period of time you were very, very small."
"Mama?" Her look is thoughtful again.
"What's for dinner?"
And just like that, our trip down memory lane is over and we're back to the present once again.
Come back again, my love. Anytime. Your history is written inside my heart. I'll be here when you're ready to learn another part of it.