Our daughter Sonali Robyne Bryant was born on May 26, 2016. Her name means ‘golden’ in Hindi. Robyne is my mother’s name. I’m now a father.
As I wrote about here, Sasmita and I decided not to learn our baby’s gender before birth, we both wanted the surprise. The doctors and attending nurses assumed we knew whether it was a boy or girl. We got caught up in the moment and forgot to tell everyone that we didn’t know. As they were cleaning the baby, Sasmi finally asked, is it a boy or a girl? Upon learning she was a girl, we let the joy wash over us.
Sasmita had a five-hour, uncomplicated labor. The biggest drama occurred when Sasmita crawled on the ground outside of GWU Hospital enduring a labor contraction.
Sonali is two months old, and we’re all doing great. I’m getting a modicum of sleep, usually more than Sasmita. We’re adjusting, creating routines and getting used to our new titles as Mom and Dad. I’m surviving with little sleep and reflecting on fatherhood and Sonali.
For months Sasmita asked me to read any of the half-dozen birthing/baby care/parenthood books adorning our bookshelves. Newsflash: I never read any of them. I informally polled friends, asking if they read books before their children were born; the answer was a resounding no. A few read paragraphs or chapters, but not a single one read a full book or even half of one.
After Sonali’s birth, however, I read segments and open them weekly. My pursuit of baby knowledge brings up thoughts of my birth. I am conscious about my attentiveness to Sonali, my actions and reactions towards her and comparing them to what I imagine the first year of my life resembled. I don’t know for sure, but I’m fairly certain they were nothing alike.
Before my adoption, as one of many children in St. Joseph’s Foundling Home in Kerala, India, I’m pretty sure no one catered to my every whim. I was not picked up just because someone could, no one held me for hours at a time or walking around calming me down. Chances are, I was held when needed, not out of great love and affection, but more out of a sense of obligation and duty.
I do not know anything about the first year of my life, but if my story is like many other children who spent time in orphanages or state-run facilities, then my life was not for envy.
That one aspect of fatherhood keeps my mind churning. It also removes some of the pressure I put on myself. I didn’t have a parental relationship with anyone until my adoption. I think I turned out alright. That’s a reminder to me, that though the first year of life is one of the most important, there’s a lot of grace for me to discover how to be a good father.
Another facet for me as a father is a visceral one because Sonali has my DNA. Sonali is my first biological connection since birth.
Sonali has my long, piano-playing fingers and thin toes. She has her mother’s rounded face. We’re trying to discover her eye color while acknowledging it will change dramatically. Currently, they are blue-ish brown, but neither of us knows anyone in our families with blue eyes.
Most mornings Sonali and I walk together through our neighborhood. It’s just Sonali and me, she curled up in my arms. I decided that as long as she’s light enough to hold, I’d rather carry her, then put her in the stroller.
It’s precious time that spent together; moments that I’ll look back on and cherish forever. I hold her and we slowly stroll along, talking to her or humming Broadway/movie themes, hymns or made up little ditties, walking around the blocks.
If she’s not asleep, I’ll ask if she ‘wants to see the world,’ which means I prop her up in a sitting position with my hand on her back and neck and she can ‘see’ everything around her.
That is my favorite way to hold her because her eyes aren’t developed and she can’t ‘see’ the world just yet. But she can look up and fix her beautiful brown eyes on me. As she stares at me, there is one overarching question in her mind, is she safe?
She has two parents utterly committed to raising her in love, giving her every opportunity for success and being her eyes for now, until she’s old enough to see the world for herself.
As I think of my first year of life, after I left my biological mother, I had no one that loved me or was committed to me forever. No one in my life told me I was safe and secure. I didn’t receive that type of unconditional and consistent love being adopted.
Every morning I pledge anew that despite what my first year of live was, Sonali’s will be completely different.