If a newborn can’t smile, how is it that she could, dreaming, laugh?
Newborn babies can’t really smile. All the parenting books and articles, all the pediatricians and obstetricians, assure us of that fact. Oh, babies “smile”, even in utero, they explain, but it means nothing. No, no, it’s not gas—that explanation is old hat; after all, do you smile when you feel gassy? Heavens no—you grimace. But, nevertheless, for a newborn, it’s not a smile; it’s just a reflex; just “testing the equipment”, as it were.
And, of course, all new mothers and fathers know this is absolute, total hogwash.
A newborn’s smile may not be that wide-eyed grin, the delighted beaming countenance that it will be in just a few months, but it is, unquestionably, a smile.
When my first grandchild was born, I remembered and hunted down the newborn photo of her mother, my own daughter. Thirty-three years ago, there wasn’t a camera living in everyone’s pocket; photos required posing, planning, film.
And so on the day the two of us left the hospital, I dressed my two-day-old daughter in a white dress and shoes sprinkled with tiny pink rosebuds and handed her over to a nurse who carried her down the hall for her very first “official” photograph. Returning her a few minutes later, the nurse laughingly explained that she’d done her best to make my little one not stick her tongue out at the camera, tapping her mouth gently and exclaiming, “We don’t do tongues!” It hadn’t worked. But when I picked up the photo package later, I could not help but smile myself: tongue or not, that baby was smiling.
Everyone who saw the picture exclaimed over that fact. “I think she is happy to be here,” her Grandma Mary explained.
I myself, by the way, didn’t plan to be “Grandma”. Because of family divorces and remarriages, my lucky little granddaughter was going to have a plethora of grandparents. The titles Nana and Mamaaw had already been co-opted, while being called the old-fashioned “Grandma” just didn’t appeal to me. But choosing my moniker turned out to be easy, because I’d already come up with it. My “extra daughters”—young women who my daughter had grown up with–all called me either Mom 2 or sometimes Mimi’sMom, jumbling the two words into one. For their children, we’d run the syllables of “Mimi’sMom” into a further sliding scale, creating a fresh version for my almost-grandchildren: Mimsey. So for my own grandchild, also, I would be proudly a Mimsey.
So Mimsey I was, sitting there in the hospital an evening three days after Morrigan’s birth, as my daughter endured her prolonged recovery from a difficult, fruitless labor and eventual C-section. An old friend had dropped by to see our perfect new miniature human, and was holding the little one as she quite obviously dreamed; we both remarked on it as we marveled, watching her tiny eyelids twitching and moving in REM sleep. Not wanting to wake her, we adults spoke quietly together…quietly enough so that we all heard it when this three-day old, tiny person chuckled in her sleep. That’s correct: chuckled. Laughed. Chortled. Our eyes rounding, we stared at one another before all bursting out, our words tumbling over each other’s, “Did she just laugh?!” “Did you hear that?!” “Was that her ?!”
If a newborn can’t smile, how is it that she could, dreaming, laugh? Laugh in her sleep?
But then, I had no reason to doubt the laugh, even if there had not been three of us to hear it. After all, I already knew from raising my own daughter that the “newborns can’t really smile” presumption was utter nonsense. Even had I not known it, though; even if this sleeping newborn child had not just laughed in the presence of three witnessing adults, I would have known the “can’t really smile” theory was utter bunkum because of what had already happened on the very first morning of Morrigan’s life.
As my daughter and son-in-law each slept the deep, healing sleep of exhausted new parents, I held that ever-so-small, magnificent child in my arms, whispering to her of all the wonderful things I hoped awaited her in this lifetime; blessing her; speaking not just to her tiny, listening ears, but, I hoped, directly to her soul. Her little eyes remained closed while she slept and I murmured, until I finally made my solemn promise to her: “I am your Mimsey, and it’s my job in this lifetime to protect you. I vow to you that I will do anything to achieve that, even to giving my life for yours.”
And she smiled.
Once again, I send
Birthday Blessings and So Much Joy to You, Morrigan Lynn
Great Queen of the Water
Mermaid Queen with the Heart of a Dragon
From Your Mimsey
Who Loves You Beyond Life Itself