Each baby’s arrival—however eagerly anticipated, however expected and planned for—is a surprise. Nothing is so common, so universal and so unique all at once. The process of giving birth does have certain trajectories, and when you get to know them, you can sense labor’s probable arc. You can’t know for sure, though. What we confront around birth and babies is the truth of our animal selves. We dive into something we cannot fully regulate and cannot fully control. Maybe the shock in that tells us how routinely we fool ourselves about having as much control as we think we do (but that’s another story). Fundamentally, there’s so much of the new—encumbered yet unbridled hope—in a baby. It’s impossible to resist that ball of unknown familiarity. So, regardless of whether it goes as you imagined, regardless of the fact that babies are born every minute of every day, each birth is unique. Each baby is a revelation.

My brand-new nephew Ian Gregory Edwards is no exception to the carefully-planned-for-total-surprise rule. He made his entrance on the first of September, four weeks early. In fact, my extremely organized sister, Emily, was feeling rather comfortably pregnant and on top of the whole late pregnancy situation just the night before his arrival. Sure, she expected to get jittery and sure, she understood “according to plan” existed only in the realm of fantasy, but she was grateful for feeling good and having time to finish tasks at work and at home and see friends and take walks… Ah. When her water broke—no little leak, gushed—the next morning, Ian let it be known he had other plans.

As an aunt, you cannot help but admire a little guy—four weeks early, yet still a robust six pounds—for his initial dramatic prowess. He changed his parents’ lives in all sorts of ways they might have imagined and then he tossed in some significant surprise for good measure.

My friend, Amy, an OB/Gyn in Ohio, delivered many babies four weeks early this week, too. Hurricane Dan, she holds you responsible (barometric pressure changes with such a powerful storm).

Whatever the reason—like so much in life, we will never know, even if we develop our own stories about possible cause and call that reason—Ian arrived four weeks early, and most fortunately, he landed in a large hospital with capable doctors and nurses to help him through these early days until his lungs are ready to do the newborn’s work of breathing on his own. For his parents—and the rest of us, too—these first days are both joyous—he’s here, he’s perfect, he’s loved—and poignant—he’s in the NICU, and as much as the promise of holding him and bringing him home is in sight, that time is not now. That aching sensation of longing folds in. That wish to do more, that desire to do “enough” is fierce. As Emily said last night, “We love him more each day and so it’s harder not to be with him.”

If you believe, as another friend Vicki Forman—author of a heartbreaking and heart-fortifying memoir about her experiences as a parent of an extremely premature son, entitled This Lovely Life—does, that our children are our greatest teachers, then you can see how Ian is offering lessons and gifts galore right up front. It seems to me he’s teaching his parents that their love is enough—and not everything—and that their patience and faith will carry the three of them along (and they are being so patient and upbeat, it’s really breathtaking) and that he’s made clear a thing you know—brass tacks, you care about health, you care about something as simple as holding your baby—but you can forget in the morass of details about getting everything ready for a baby. Order may go out the window, more often than you anticipate. And somehow, that’s okay. But that’s just one possible lesson; Ian’s parents will undoubtedly find he’s offering some different ones.

No matter how the children in our lives come to us—no matter whether they stay—we carry our stories of parenthood or aunt-hood or uncle-hood, sisterhood, brotherhood, grandparenthood with us. I found myself struck by that all week, as friends and family reminisced about early entrances, about inducing labor and the NICU and all iterations of babies entering the world. Somehow, the universality and the precious singularity commingle in such a way that we seem to hold a particular tenderness surrounding babies that prevails almost apart from other forms of or reasons for compassion. And well we should; babies need total care. Beyond custodial duties, babies require a suspension of reason; they need for us to feel unflagging affection for them and complete belief in them and to sustain a very intense love for them that transcends all other love. Lucky Ian: he has all of that.