Arianna Frances Mallio wasn’t even a day old, and so very small. A tiny newborn child, I could hold in the crook of my arm with room to spare. I could cradle her head in the palm of my hand. She was swaddled in blankets, with a little pink hat on her head. Her eyes, wide open, unfocused, and neutral in color, gazed up at my face.
“Hi, Ari,” I whispered, not for the first time. “I’m your daddy.”
I felt a flood of raw emotion rush through me as I whispered those words. I was a new dad again, at 48, about two or three years after I’d accepted that I’d never hold a newborn again.
Cancer treatment left me sterile, and Sara and I weren’t having luck with other methods, I had given up on having another child. And maybe, considering all that happened since my diagnosis, it was all for the best.
Fear and love
Many days I would look at Aidan’s picture, feel the hole his death left in our lives, and feel an urge to withdraw deep into myself. The last five years had forced me to question literally everything about me, ranging from my sanity, value and fitness as a parent and a person, and the core of my very being.
We still had Michael, who was seven, and a joy, and maybe that’s all we should have. Maybe that’s all we deserved.
And yet, there she was. Tiny. Vulnerable. Beautiful. She gave me a little yawn and considered my face again. Despite her not even being 10 pounds, I felt a weight as she rested in the crook of my arm. The weight of responsibly, and the weight of loss. It was combined with the joy and love of this new little miracle.
I stroked her cheek and inserted my index finger into her little fist and her tiny hand closed around it. It was then, I think, that I realized I was crying.
A happy mess
“Just a word of warning,” I whispered. “I’m a mess right now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a happy mess. I couldn’t be happier right now, but I also have this very real urge to cry. That doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense does it?”
Emerson Hospital did things a little differently from Tufts Medical Center, where our other two children were born. in 2009 and 2011. At Tufts, it seemed baby and mom were separated relatively quickly so mom could take a much-needed rest. But with Emerson, almost as soon as Sara was brought to her room, Ari was brought in, so the bonding process would start. I had no qualms with either hospital. Each delivered beautiful babies to us. And when Michael was born six weeks early, Tufts and their Neonatal ICU stepped in and after a week or so, he was ready to come home.
Sara, my wife and Ari’s mom, was fast asleep. It was the early hours of the morning and, in a sense, I was finally alone with my daughter. She continued to gaze up at me as if to say: And just who are you?
A story to tell
“Man,” I whispered to her. “Do I have a story to tell you. I guess I should start at the beginning, right? You wouldn’t mind that, would you?’
The reality – that Ari was alive and, in this world, because someone else had left it – was getting increasingly harder for me to ignore. She was a little gift, a little miracle, a little joy – and she grew out of the most painful, most agonizing thing that could happen to anyone. After six almost solid years of having the specter of cancer and loss looming over my life, I had a new joy.
“The good news is, you’re going to have a wonderful big brother. His name is Michael and he’s going to be great.” I wiped a tear off my cheek with my palm, sat down in a chair with her, and smiled. “But he’s not your only brother.”
Picture Credits (Top to Bottom):
- Main image: Arianna, just a few weeks after her birth, in her bassinet. (Matt Mallio/Photo)
- Sara and baby at Emerson Hospital in Massachusetts, just an hour or so after birth. (Matt Mallio/Photo)
- Brother Michael holds his baby sister at Emerson Hospital in Massachusetts, one day after her birth. (Matt Mallio/Photo)