Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Magic of Babies

Babies, Infertility, The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey, Books

In the past few weeks, I've read two books by Eowyn Ivey: The Snow Child and To the Bright Edge of the World. There are three themes which both of these books share, and about which Ivey writes with eloquence and genius: the majesty of cold and wintry Alaska, the heartbreak of pregnancy loss, and the mysterious magic of the inexplicable.

Maybe you remember last year when I wrote a post on Magical Realism and how I just did not get this genre. Everyone in the comments recommended checking out The Snow Child (and then I kept seeing it recommended by practically nearly everyone who's bookish taste I trust), and so I put it on hold at the library (and yes, it took nearly a year for me to actually get that book off the holds list, it's that popular... or my library just has that one copy and someone lost it for a while). And you guys were totally right. You were all exactly, wonderfully right. The book is amazing. The writing is exquisite. The characters and the story are beautiful. But also, don't hate me if I think I might like To the Bright Edge of the World  just a tiny bit better. Not that it's a contest. It's not. Basically, they are both incredible books that I highly, highly recommend. And while reading both of them I just kept thinking THIS IS WHAT I WANT MAGICAL REALISM TO BE! THIS IS WHAT IT SHOULD BE! THIS IS AMAZING!

But what I really loved about these books was not that I finally had the magical realism book I'd always wanted. What I really loved was the theme of infertility.

Hold on a second, because I know that sounds weird. How could I love such a depressing theme? Also, I know I have no business writing about infertility. I have never struggled with this particular trial, I have never experienced this pain. And I know it's a trigger topic for so many women who do struggle with infertility or who have lost a baby. I hope I don't offend here (just stop reading now if this is a trigger topic for you).

Both of these books deal with pregnancy loss and infertility in magnificent and different ways, but there was a passage in The Snow Child that particularly took my breath away.
For years, her arms had ached with longing. It was self-indulgence she didn't often permit herself, but sometimes she would sit in a chair, her eyes closed, her arms crossed against her breast, and she would imagine holding a small baby there--its trusting warmth against her body, its tiny head smelling of milk and talcum powder, its skin softer than flower petals. She had watched other women with infants and eventually understood what she craved: the boundless permission--no, the absolute necessity--to hold and kiss and stroke this tiny person. Cradling a swaddled infant in their arms, mothers would distractedly touch their lips to their babies' foreheads. Passing their toddlers in a hall, mothers would tousle their hair or even sweep them up in their arms and kiss them hard along their chins and necks until the children squealed with glee. Where else in life, Mabel wondered, could a woman love so openly and with such abandon?
I read this passage while sitting in my chair, distractedly nursing my own perfect, sweet little baby. But this passage gave me pause because it made me question whether or not I'm appreciating this permission, this necessity, to love with such abandon in my life right now. So much of my interaction with my baby is distracted: my mind in a book while I nurse her, swaying her on my hip while I cook or change out the laundry or pick up toys, praying she'll just sleep a little longer so I can get one more thing done. I keep looking forward to when she'll be sleeping through the night, to when she'll be done nursing, to when she can crawl and walk and play on her own and not need me so desperately.

I do this with all my children--look forward to the time when they can do this or that or the other on their own, without my help. I often joke that my affection for my children directly corresponds to their level of independence from me.

But reading that passage, reading of Mabel's simple and heart-breaking yearning, was a timely nudge for me to treasure my sweet present, to stop reading and snuggle that sweet baby, kiss her plump cheeks, smell her milky breath, and revel in my opportunity to love with open abandon. I know this, but I also need to be constantly reminded of this. I need to treasure my present moment.

While I will never reconcile myself to the sleep deprivation and discomfort of sharing my body that this season of bearing and nursing babies brings, there is still so much sweetness, so much joy, so much magic in the process. It's a miracle, these babies, one to be held close and treasured before it grows up. As Mabel says at an earlier point in the book:
The exact science of one molecule transformed into another--that Mabel could not explain, but then again she couldn't explain how a fetus formed in the womb, cells becoming beating heart and hoping soul. She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from clouds, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable? You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had come to suspect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped like water between your fingers.

It shouldn't take the fertility struggles and loss of another woman, fictional or otherwise, to make me slow down and hold on to my fleeting babies a little tighter. But I always love it when I read something beautiful, something that makes me think about my own life a little differently. And I'm grateful for the little reminder I needed to stop and marvel at the simple miracle and magic that is my little baby right now, and give myself permission to love her with just a little more abandon.


  1. I loved The Snow Child so I'm excited to read To The Bright Edge of the World. This was such a great post. Beautifully written. And your little girl is so adorable!

    1. I may be biased, but I think she's adorable too! And I'm pretty sure you will love To the Bright Edge of the World, definitely check it out!

  2. This is beautiful, Suzanne--both the quoted passages and your own thoughts. The Snow Child has been on my list for a long time, but I might save it for colder weather. :)

    1. Yes, this is PERFECT cold weather reading material. You should read both of these books next winter, for sure!

  3. Totally understand what you mean, have experienced these thoughts and emotions myself

  4. Yay! I'm so glad you got around to reading this one--and that it lived up to your expectations. I'm looking forward to having another baby around our house soon. My oldest (he's 9) already ducks away from kisses and barely puts up with hugs. The other two still permit some affection, but there's nothing like a baby for loving on! I didn't remember that theme from The Snow Child, but she gets it exactly right, doesn't she? There's got to be someone around you can kiss all you want to! :)

    1. Luckily all of mine still want/need lots of loving on, but I know it won't last. So excited for your new little one to get here!