E kuʻu pēpē, You will be born in a few weeks. I am so excited, but also so scared. Scared that I might not know how to help you when you cry. Your dad tells me, “Don’t be scared, we will all be meeting for the first time. We just need time to get to know each other.” You are my hiapo and that is so special.
When I am in labor, I will be looking at a star. It will remind me of a proverb that says, “Babies are bits of stardust blown from the hand of God. Lucky the woman who knows the pangs of birth for she has held a star”.
I will be thinking of your name, Kaniuloa – the name given by your grandma. It means, the one who came from afar to fulfill a promise. I will be thinking of your middle name, Mataatuakūikawenaokealoha – the face of God that glows with grace.
Kaniu, I love you. I look forward to celebrating your life and your journey. Please be patient with me – I have never done this before. I have never hoped so passionately or loved so deeply. Forgive me if I hang on too tight.
Love and hugs and kisses and baked cookies and parks with ducks and bubble baths and bedtime songs and books and twinkle, twinkle, little stars and splashing at the beach and Christmas trees and puppets and fingerpainting and knock-knock jokes and how do you spell….., and girl talks and music and dreaming and missing tooth smiles and secret notes under the pillow and growing and changes…. I look forward to all of these…
As I read this letter, 15 years after I wrote it, I laugh. During labor I didn’t think about stars, or the promises held in my daughter’s name, or all the wonderful memories that we would make together. Although I had envisioned labor to be a slow, beautiful build up with breathing and coaching, culminating in one final push that led to the rapture of a newborn placed on my chest who perfectly and painlessly latched onto my breast to suckle, labor was – painful – and the weeks that followed, as Kaniu and I both learned about breastfeeding, were also – painful.
In fact, most of the plans and promises I had made about the kind of mother I would be - the perfect mother of course – weren’t realized.
I had planned to use only cloth diapers, and, well we won’t even go there because we mama’s stick together and never place judgement on the those who are facing the reality of a newborn and completely forgets her resolute dedication to the earth. I had also planned to kanu Kaniu’s ‘iewe. Following her delivery, her ‘iewe had been given to my brother with directions to take it home and put in the freezer. After weeks had passed and the haze of sleepless nights began to clear and my nipples stopped bleeding, it was time to plant. We searched for her ‘iewe in the freezer in the house, and we searched the freezer outside. Her ‘iewe was nowhere to be found. To this day, I only hope it was not used as bait for ulua fishing or made into smoke meat.
As I read this letter, 15 years after I wrote it, I smile and dab at tears that trail down my face. How incredible it has been to get to know my daughter and to experience her grace poured out in countless moments when I had no idea what I was doing – only knowing that I loved her more than anything in the world – and I so wanted to do everything right. How incredible it has been to get to know myself – so different from the self I was before motherhood. I smile lovingly at the stripes Kaniu and I made together on my belly, reminding me forever of those sacred months when she was all mine. I smile lovingly at the way I have learned to be with my daughter, rather than only being there for her, and how that lesson has helped in times when I needed to let go. I smile lovingly and remember the many hugs and kisses and bubbles and songs and jokes and pictures she drew of mom as the princess, mom as the mermaid, mom as the most beautiful mom in the world….. He pūkoʻa kani ʻāina. A coral reef grows into an island. A woman grows into motherhood. It takes time.
As I read this letter, 15 years after I wrote it, I think of you. A new mama about to learn about perseverence and strength born out of struggle and pain (yes, labor is pain like no other), and grace born out of failure (and no, using disposable diapers is not a failure).
I think about you and one of my favorite ʻōlelo noʻeau, ‘I ke alo nō ka ‘ulu a hala. The breadfruit was just in front and it was missed. This proverb has always reminded me to pause, notice, and treasure the moment – even the messy ones – each moment will pass, quickly, and you don’t want to miss it.
I think about you and how out of your great, incredible, marvelous love you only want to do everything right. And you will, and you won’t. And 15 years from today, I hope you are so honored to encourage and breathe for and coach another mama – even if only through a letter - as she steps into motherhood.
And so in the words of a not so distant, but nonetheless very wise kupuna, I leave you with a final, simple ‘ōlelo noʻeau -