Hollis and the twinkly lights

Tomorrow will mark one month since the newest member of our family, baby Hollis, was born.

When Linden was born, we went simple–we packed our bags with the bare minimum, and forewent many of the items that were listed as necessary on the hospital bag lists that I found.

This time around, we knew what to expect: flimsy, uncomfortable pillows that’d crick our already tired necks, thin blankets that we’d shiver beneath, saltless, soggy, food, and harsh fluorescent lighting. So for baby number two, we went for maximum comfort.

It was quite the procession as we arrived at the hospital: my belly first, followed by the rest of me as I huffed and puffed my way through contractions. Jordan next, hauling three massive bags stuffed with pillows, snacks, blankets, my giant DSLR camera, massage balls and oils, and, to combat the fluorescent lighting: 100 feet of warm, white twinkly lights.

When we got to our room, Jordan strung the lights up while I focused on the turmoil happening inside my body. Neither of us were sure how they’d be received–I was pretty sure they were a fire hazard, and that we’d be told to take them down, stat.

The nurse knocked, and stepped briskly in. She paused (we cringed) and then her face lit up, almost as bright as our lights. “Oh, it’s so cozy in here!”

We both relaxed.

For the rest of the night, our lights were the talk of the maternity ward. As I worked to expel a football sized human out of my body, nurses popped their heads in at intervals to see the lights and exclaim over how wonderfully warm and festive they made the room feel.

“I could hang out in here all night,” said a round, jolly-looking medical assistant, as my nurse inserted an IV in my arm. That seemed to be the sentiment throughout the hospital wing.

It was like a Christmas nativity scene (the Jewish woman giving birth to a newborn son…), except the twinkle lights were the main attraction. By the time I was ready to push, our room had collected a ragtag band of medical professionals.

Our room’s popularity came in handy–one of them grabbed my phone and snapped photos, another exclaimed at intervals over how she’d never forget my birth (I think she was in training), and we had a lot of people to help us admire the baby once he’d been safely placed on my stomach.

“Feel free to leave the lights,” said one of the nurses as Jordan packed up after everything had been said and done, and he laughed–still flushed with adrenaline from the arrival of our new baby–before sticking them back in our bag.

When we arrived in our new room, he caught my eye. It was already 9:00 p.m., and the natural light was fading. “Should I string up the lights again?”

I shrugged. “Why not?”

Soon, our twinkle lights draped gracefully over the window and along the walls. When Hollis opened his brand new little eyes, they glimmered in their depths.

Again, we had a sense of uncertainty over whether they were allowed. This was a new section of the hospital, and a new group of doctors and nurses.

But we need not have worried. Each new person who hurried into our room–whether they were carrying vaccinations for our new baby or food trays–exclaimed over how cozy it felt.

And they suited us well too, casting warm golden light over each of Hollis’s firsts–his first time nursing, his first diaper change, his first clothing, his first shots and ensuing first bandaids.

The pinnacle of our lights’ notoriety came when two nurses poked their heads in early in the morning. A beautiful sunrise still lit up the window, mingling pinks and oranges with our lights.

“I told you they were on our floor!” said the first as she took in the scene: the lights strung up, the fluffy white throw we’d draped over the bed, Jordan, Hollis and I all snuggled up in bed together. “Isn’t this cozy!”

“We saw the lights from the parking lot as we were coming in for our shift, and we got so excited when we realized they were on our floor!” explained the second nurse. “It’s such a joyful sight, twinkle lights. It made my morning,”

(You’d think for people who watch new life come into the world on a daily basis, a string of twinkle lights wouldn’t make them so excited… but perhaps maternity-ward nurses are easily delighted).

By the time we were discharged, we were well aware of the mood-lifting effects of twinkle lights on medical professionals, but we hadn’t realized the impact they’d had on the littlest member of our family.

Our first night home was a flurry of activity: Linden’s exclamations over his little brother, hugs from my parents, the dogs’ clattery toenails on the wood floor as they danced with excitement over the new arrival.

When at last all had calmed down, and we were ready to go to bed, Jordan and I were bone tired. We put Linden down to bed, and then began the first rendition of our new bedtime routine with Hollis: nursing him, changing him, swaddling him up, and laying him down in the bassinet next to our bed.

Usually, newborns like the dark. It mimics the conditions they’re used to in the womb and helps them sleep better. Anticipating a few hours of rest in the beautiful, pitch black of our bedroom after the hustle and bustle of the hospital, we switched off our bedside lamp.

Immediately, Hollis (who up until this point had hardly fussed), began to cry. We waited a few seconds, and then turned the lamp back on to check on him. After a little soothing, Hollis drifted back to sleep. This time when we put him down, he stayed asleep, his little face turned toward the lamplight.

Our failed attempt at introducing a pacifier

We followed that same dance each time he woke to nurse for the rest of the night: nurse, change, swaddle, put down, light off–crying–light on, sleep. Hollis, it seemed, had also taken to the dim warm lighting of the twinkly lights in the hospital.

After an exhausted week of trying to sleep beneath the brightness of our bedside lamp, we strung the twinkly lights up in our room.

That night as I nursed Hollis before bed, he lifted his wobbly newborn head, and the lights caught his eye. He stopped mid-nurse, and gazed and gazed, his head bobbling occasionally on his unsteady neck.

I had to rub his cheek a few times to remind him that he was still hungry, and even then, he took occasional breaks from nursing to stare up at the lights.

This time when we put him down in his bassinet, he didn’t require any soothing to fall asleep–he just watched the lights until his eyelids drifted closed. We got more sleep that night than we had in a week, both thanks to the dimmer lighting, and a baby who had discovered his own unique brand of visual pacifier.

Newborns don’t have great vision, and usually require close distances and high contrast to see well. So I imagine that the lights shine like blurry stars across the room. Whatever they look like, Hollis seems to find them endlessly fascinating.

We sometimes will try to turn them off, just to test whether we can get away with a darker room (it’s still too bright for my sleep-tastes, so I’ve taken to sleeping with a pillow over my head), but each time, he fusses until we turn them back on.

His light gazing has become a nightly ritual as we feed and burp and change him: he gazes up at the lights, mouth agape with wonder at the twinkly beauty of the LED stars that welcomed him into the world. Somehow he looks simultaneously wiser and younger as he stares up at the lights. They shine bright against the black of his pupils, and cast a soft warmth on the pink of his newborn skin.

Already, those lights seem to reflect the kind of person we’re finding Hollis to be: warm, bright, cheerful and soft. One thing is for sure–his presence in our lives is as cheering and bright as the lights shining out of our hospital window, welcoming the nurses as they traipsed in at the beginning of a new day.

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