To pick up where we left off:
This is the world that Asa came into.
It was still and peaceful in the room, with the lights dimmed. After Asa was born we were given a minute or two to hold him. Anjli clamped off the umbilical cord, but gave me the honor of severing it, cutting Asa free from his mother.
Then the nurse, Sandra, whisked him over to a heat lamp, and tidied up his cord stump, and weighed him, and put a nametag on his wrist and an alarm sensor on his ankle.
Selam meanwhile had clambered out of the pool and had been helped onto a bed. She was having some stitches inserted when Asa was handed back to her a few minutes later, wrapped in a hospital blanket and wearing a handsome cap.
"All citizens of the republic shall be issued at birth with a Phrygian cap, to insure against monarchist proclivities," my dad remarked.
Kitted out with cap, anklet, and armband, Asa was well on the way to official personhood before he'd even had his first meal.
|Asa in Selam's arms -- in Phrygian cap (as per federal regulations).|
But the meal was coming soon.
As Selam's repairs dragged on (a painful business, even more than the birth) the surgeon, Margaret, suggested we unwrap the baby and put him skin-to-skin on his mother's chest.
Lying there at about 15 minutes of age, Asa had a go at sucking on his mother's nipple. He did pretty well for a beginner, although it would be several more hours before he started to suckle properly.
What was beautiful was to see Asa stretched out on Selam's chest -- and that even in the midst of the painful surgery, she would smile every time she looked down at him.
Now Asa is 9 days old, and he's settling into the world.
Outside of home (great-aunt Sylvia's house in Decatur) he has caught glimpses of Atlanta on the way home from hospital, and seen parts of the neighborhood on short walks in the arms of him mum and other relatives.
But mainly his world has been our home.
At the pediatrician's office last week (when Asa was 5 days old), the doctor asked me how many people were living in our house.
"Four, isn't it?" I said to Selam. "You, me, Kuri, and aunt Sylvia."
"Including the baby?" the doctor asked.
"Oh, no. Five including him."
I will have to get used to counting him as a member of the household.
Up until now he's still around 3.5 kg (7 and a half pounds) -- about a sixteenth of his mother's weight. Small enough that it's easy to overlook him.
|Asa in a reflective moment.|
But in spite of being small he has exerted an extraordinary power over friends and relatives.
Although grandfather Jan Stevenson has now returned to England, grandmother Kay Stevenson and honorary grandfather Clive Hart have come from England to meet him.
Cousin Caroline Crownover and husband James came from Tuscaloosa yesterday, and great-aunt Ginny Fikes is due to arrive from Tuscaloosa today.
Grandmother Kuri Shibo has scarcely left Asa's side since he was born.
Friends and neighbors have dropped by to admire him, and he has been showered with gifts and blessings.
"I've never seen such a rich child," Kuri said yesterday, as a consignment of presents arrived.
Various things that we notice about Asa:
- how his head flops around when it's not supported
- how the skin hangs loose from his shoulder blades, like a shirt he has room to grow into
- how his eyes wander, sometimes making him look cross-eyed
- how his chin trembles when he is distressed
All these things tend to prompt from his mum and grandmother Kuri the comment, "Yasazenal," or "Siyasazen!"
This Amharic expression is difficult to translate into English.
Literally, it means "It's sad," or "How sad!"
But that's not the sense of it: It's not really sad that he can't support his head, or control his eye movements; it's normal at his age.
What the expression gets at is that these things (like many other aspects of babies) elicit pity and empathy -- a particular mixture of emotions that we reserve for children in particular, and which tug at our heartstrings, and make us want to take care of them.
And take care of them we must, because they need us. And we need them.