We crept up the stairs together, she and I. Her fingers laced through my hair as her cheek pressed against mine, “Me sleepy. Crib. Mama. Read.” She laid her head on my shoulder, her cheek filling the hollow of my collar bone and the curve of her head slipping into my neck and matching its lines seamlessly. We slipped through the hallway, the morning light dusting over us, and then into her room.

Her body moved from mine, stretching for the narrow spines of her beloved books. “Cakey-Cakes. Babies.” Her little fingers spread wide, then clasped emphatically as if trying to pull the books from the shelf and into her hands from across the room. “Ok, sweetie, ok.” I didn’t so much carry her as I did guide her questing form for the coveted keys to dreamland. Once they were in her hands she melted into me and our move from standing to cuddling was a familiar swoon.

I leaned into the chair, the reality of my growing belly making her roost slightly different with each passing day. She shifted to and fro, shook her head, and settled off to one side with her head resting on my chest. I lifted the book and she placed her hand on my wrist. That skin, her skin, and the familiar weight of her hand on me never fails to steal my breath, rocking me to my core. Each day she is bigger and more independent, but the gossamer line between womb and fetus is still visible to me, like ripples of a long since submerged skipping stone.

Before we’ve turned the last page of the book she is turning to me, her mouth and hands seeking me out as flowers to sunlight. “Mowk. Mowk, mama. Mowk.” I am so grateful for this, knowing that soon she’ll turn from my breast and my helping hands, running to adventure and freedom, leaving me standing, once indispensable and now an impediment. It will be a milestone of significant accomplishment, but success, I am learning, does not mean an absence of hurt in this journey of parenting.

As she nurses I study her face, the delicate smudges of violet beneath her eyes before sleep, the apples of her cheeks and their healthy glow remind me of sourdough fresh from the oven, and then her hair. That dark hair and its tireless curls, so buoyant and wild, a mirror image of her personality. Her eyes flutter closed, little dimples still winking at me from her cheeks as she suckles, and then she is still. We sit this way for a moment and then I stand. She stirs, moving her face from my breast to burrow beneath my chin.

Our reflection shines in the mirror and I am transfixed. She straddles my belly, her legs pull at my shirt and her hands press into my sides. Beneath her my belly peeks out, no longer hinting so much as declaring its purpose, the fullness almost a perch for her form and I feel a tap. Her sister is pressing against her, rising to the surface of my belly to join us in this dreamy moment as one. My face smiles back at me as if to say, “can you believe we did this?” and I begin to cry. Because I can believe it and am humbled by the blessing.