These first days after birth melt one into another, a beautiful fog.
She was born at 12:38pm. Tonight I don’t have dinner, but drinking apple juice and being able to move my legs again are glorious, and she is beyond perfect. I drink in her tiny nose; velvet cheeks and eyelids fluttering open and shut. Her mouth searches and closes around my breast, sucking and sucking the sticky colostrum. She is the fourth babe I have nursed, but still every time I’m afraid my milk won’t come in, it feels impossible that this miracle will also happen. I’m floating on cloud nine and constantly worrying that she isn’t getting enough, that my body is starving her. Before we drive home from the hospital her already tiny legs will have grown skinnier, but the kind nurses remind me this is part of the process and to trust.
Trust is all I have held onto for nine months. At every milestone I think that I will be able to breathe after we pass it, but the truth is that we are never safe this side of the grave. And so I continue to hold carefully, to nurture and to worry. But the truth is we are always safe, because we are held by our loving Father God. I cradle my children within his arms wrapped round me.
So now I hold this good and perfect gift, a daughter born after two sons and a daughter lost. Only hours ago I walked into this hospital with her full inside of me and laid down on a table where they cut me right in half. Only hours ago she laid on my chest for the first time, skin to skin, us both finding each other. Hours ago they wheeled me upstairs still in the shine of anesthesia and helped me slide into this bed that will be our home for the next few days.
The first time I rise to walk my legs don’t remember their role and the pain slashes through me, unfelt before. When I birthed Jeremiah after an emergency c-section I was terrified to stand, but this time I am determined that fear will not rob these moments with her. So I stand and slide one foot faltering forward after another.
I will stand in peace this time.
I will walk forward in peace. This time it’s just to the bathroom where I am still raining down blood. After a full-term loss and a torn placenta six years ago panic rose every time I saw the red running down. Trauma takes a toll that’s not always reasonable. But this time I stare the crimson down because I have decided peace will win the day. I look in the mirror at my still swollen belly, knowing the wound that is bandaged there. I feel it every time after birth, the thoughts creeping dark, telling me that because my body is a weeping wound I am unlovely, disgraceful, but this time I know I am not only beloved but blessed in this brokenness. As the nurses take the catheter out and ask about my bodily functions I see the tender awe in their eyes. As they take my babies vitals they scoop up miracle in their arms, sit on my bed and talk of this joy a child has brought. I am thankful for women caring for and reminding me of all the sacred this sterile hospital room holds.
This first night I am afraid to sleep. It feels strange that my body is no longer automatically caring for her, that she needs air and food and arms holding her. So I prop pillows to keep her safe and finally rest my eyes, nurses waking me from shallow sleep every few hours. I know we are watched and I can rest.
Light peeks through the window, heralding the morning and I am relieved to stop my charade of trying to sleep. I lie with her, alone for half an hour as the rising sun brightens the courtyard outside our window and Jesse sleeps curled in a chair.
The best scrambled eggs I have ever eaten, oatmeal, yogurt and cantaloupe are delivered. There will be cantaloupe at every meal that I will snack on through the day. Our whole world has shrunk to this bed, her tiny body, and the tray next to me holding fruit, chapstick, lotion, a pencil and my book. The nurses joke that we are the musical room as classical and worship music alternate out of the tiny speaker I packed in my hospital bag.
Here my husband and I are. Here she is. In this room there is peace and nothing else. There is pain and discomfort, my healing body wrapped in comfortable nightgowns and robes, but I have never felt more blessed. She is swaddled, her ankles wrapped with hospital bracelets, and to look at her is to remember that life holds promise.
Pregnant with her I would stand in the back of the auditorium, hands raised in worship as she kicked in rhythm to songs sung by crowds of believers.
“Like a tidal wave crashing over me, rushing in to meet me here, your love is fierce.
Like a hurricane that I can’t escape, tearing through the atmosphere, your love is fierce.”
We are only lying here peaceful because his fierce love has dreamed us, formed us and fought for us. We will gather her and go home. Real life will resume and I need the peace to rest on us. I will need the peace to come like a tidal wave, washing over me, a force of nature unstoppable.
I need to be the tidal wave, yet I am weak. In this hospital room I realize that strength can flow through me when I lie broken. Miracle can overtake when I enter a story greater than myself.
I search and flail until I sit down to write – my story, and now her story – and then the peace comes. All I know to bring it is to write the next page, a remembrance and a prayer.
In this writing I stay within the mystery, remembering the miracle, overtaken by peace.
“You’ve been my King of Glory, won’t you be my Prince of Peace.”
Elizabeth Joy, one day old. November 10, 2016
The only place I marched today was to the grocery store and back home for my son’s thirteenth birthday party.
But I have marched many places as a woman – on stage for my college graduation, to my first day at work as a teacher, down the aisle at my wedding, across the threshold of our home holding our first child.
As a woman I have marched to the beach to sprinkle my son’s ashes in the waves, and to the nursing home to hold my grandmother’s hand as she passed away. I have marched those first steps to the restroom after giving birth and having a c-section, and I have marched up and down the aisles of Trader Joe’s week after week as I grocery shop for our family.
I am so grateful to live in a country where anyone can march for or against anything, where I have a voice as a woman and every person has a right to express their joy and discontent.
My first daughter is only a few months old and my hope for the future is that it will be fair. But I know that in this world we will have trouble. Cancer and rape and poverty and war are not fair. It’s not fair that some babies’ hearts stop beating and some mothers’ hearts break. It’s not fair that I was born in this country and across the sea another mother watches her child starve to death.
So I pray for my daughter that she will grow up in a world where the health care that brought her safely here through a high risk pregnancy and c-section will still be accessible and affordable for her. I pray that her body and heart will only ever be touched with respect, love and goodness. I pray that whatever her hair color, bra size or body shape she will know to the deepest core of her being that her physical and spiritual health and vitality are what matter. I pray that if she desires to make her home her workplace and raising children her career that she will never be made to feel less than. And I pray she will be able to develop and utilize the gifts and talents God has given her to leave a large footprint of love in this world and the one to come.
I pray all of this to a God who has described himself to us as Father even though so many have only known abuse and neglect from their earthly fathers. I pray to Christ who calls us all, men and women, his bride.
I know my story is easier than that of so many. I live in a country where I have rights and safety. My daughter and I are loved and cared for by a wonderful man. But none of our stories have a sure ending so I pray most of all for my daughter that I will have the strength and tenderness to march with her through this life, and when I fail her that I will have the courage to say I’m sorry and take another step in love.
For six years I have wondered if it’s cruel to put them through it all over again. When we began talking about trying to have another child, one of my first thoughts was that it would be unfair to these three boys of ours… They had already been through too much, losing a brother during birth after watching their mother carry him nine months, and then waiting through another long pregnancy and the hard recover after an emergency c-section that brought our Jeremiah safely into this world. They had lived too many years with their mother’s body broken from all this birthing and dying. What if we tried and it happened all over again?
But then… Jeremiah was surely always meant to be part of our family and he wouldn’t be here if we wouldn’t have crazy and brave come together to create him just two months after Joshua was pushed from my body cold and still. Jeremiah wouldn’t be here without Joshua dead and the doctors cutting me open fast when the contractions were coming sharp and blood was pouring out. He wouldn’t be here without the whole family sacrificing to help their broken mama, or without two months of me bleeding so much after his birth that I could hardly stand up and walk a straight line.
His older brothers can’t imagine life without Jeremiah Asher, the beauty made from all those ashes, and so I thought maybe there is another little one that’s meant to be here too. Maybe all this desire welling up and spilling out of me isn’t selfishness, maybe it’s destiny. Maybe this desire is God’s whisper or another soul he wants to make. Maybe if we don’t try they will live the rest of their lives with their mama’s broken heart and a story unfinished.
So we tried and a little heartbeat fell silent at sixteen weeks and three boys laid on my lap and cried when I came home from the doctor to tell them. After that we didn’t try again. How could I let their hearts break any more? We didn’t try but we were surprised, and then that little one failed to grow. There was no heartbeat to go silent, there was just an empty ultrasound with little more than a speck where our baby should have blossomed. And that time when I went home to tell my boys, their faces were hard as if they had been expecting this. “Again?” is all they said.
It felt absurd to try again after all that. It felt selfish, cruel even. But we did. I had to. Even as she grew, even as we named her Joy, even as I held her, I wondered was it too much to put them through? Does the Maker know how heavy of a story their young souls can bear?
I wondered all that until the moment they walked through the door into our hospital room, and I saw the light all over their faces. That was the moment I knew she was meant to be, and they were always meant to hold her, no matter how hard the story has been to get here.
Head over to Childhood Unplugged for more unplugged moments this January…
This time my breath is calm and my hair brushed. I could have turned and walked back out, this is no middle of the night rush to the hospital after water breaking all over the bed. This time I sign the admittance paperwork without doubling over in pain. 4am I had risen to eat scrambled eggs and oatmeal and then curled back in bed to feel my daughter wiggle and begin the fast that would bring her to me.
These kicks are sacred, the final time I will feel life moving within, but they’re moments I thought would never come after losing and losing again. The last two times I walked hungry into the hospital it was for the doctors to empty me of babies with hearts fallen silent. This baby girl’s heart has beaten strong nine months. It’s a cadence that has sung out courage for me as I have laid in the doctor’s office twice a week for the past few months with a monitor strapped across my stomach. Now I walk into the hospital feeling her stretch and kick as the woman in front of me winces with each contraction. This showing up at an appointed time without the steady rhythm of contractions is so foreign to me that I wonder that they walk me back to a hospital room instead of turning me away. I am not being carried along on the tide of labor as I have been before, but I have known since the beginning this would be this birth’s story, so we keep our appointment and they tell us our baby will be here before dinner.
Unlike my first two children, the last baby I held in my arms was cut from me also. He came fast and fearful in a midnight rush to the hospital and blood down my legs. He came three weeks early, scrawny and so quick I couldn’t think of all the fear until afterwards. Now the nurses take their time instead of rushing me to a table where a needle is pushed through my back. Their eyes and hands are calm, the IV drips steady, each step is explained and my husband chats coffee in hand. There is no panicked rush, no trauma, but this means I can still think. With my brain free from shock I can see clearly that we are on the precipice… This could be the fourth baby lost, this could be my final breath. I have signed the paper that states all the risks and I’ve experienced too much to think everything always goes according to hopes and plans.
It doesn’t matter if birth is a natural process or a medical event, it is pure miracle, my body’s most powerful moment, and it is a stripping away of everything I am into utter vulnerability. My nurse chats with us about her college classes as she draws my blood and shaves to make sure I am completely bare where the scalpel will touch.
They prepare me and we wait. I tell my husband I am scared and I am excited and I am so happy and I am terrified. I breath prayers, telling my Maker that my life is in his hands, I am not in control of these moments. I never am, but what is about to unfold makes it perfectly clear how little control I hold. I cannot keep my heart beating or cause my daughter to take her first breath. So I read a book – what else is there to do? Then the complex dance begins as a nurse comes in to tell me everyone is ready. Quickly I am wheeled to the operating room where I climb onto the operating table and tell everyone my name and I why I am there – to have a baby.
The lights are shockingly bright. I bow forward as the needle pierces my spine, then I’m laid back, arms out, the table a cross. My legs are so cold they hurt as they turn to feelingless ice.
I lie there shaking as the blue sheet is drawn up and everyone whirls around the room, each doing their part to finish what my husband and I began, the work of the last nine months of my life. And then my doctor is there, his smile and voice a reassurance. A needle is drawn along my legs and up to my chest. I can feel it’s path but I don’t feel the prick until it reaches my breast, and so they say we are ready. I don’t know when exactly or what it looks like, but I know they will begin to cut right through to the core of me, separating muscle and flesh and finally my womb. I tell the anesthesiologist that I feel like I can’t breath. He says I am, I just can’t feel it, most of my body has been taken beyond my control. The room swims, something else is pumped through the tube in my arm and the walls come back into focus. Jesse, my husband, is there and he strokes my forehead. It’s the only place I can feel and his touch brings me back to where I am. I am here, and my daughter is on her way to me.
Next there is pressure as if my ribs are going to give way. I hope we are close and I hear the doctor telling the nurse to lower the sheet a bit. My cloudy mind isn’t sure what this means, but I hope I will see my daughter soon.
Suddenly she frames the sky. She is raised aloft and it is the image I will most remember. There are no words, and no photograph was snapped. There is just her, pulsing with life and heavy with the weight of her being. She is wet and perfect and a wail rises up uncontrollable. My voice escapes me with cries of all we have lost and found – the purest joy. Then she is out of my view. Tears fall onto the hard table, her cry pierces the air and my own cries join hers.
As I am stitched back together, my daughter is cleaned of my blood and wrapped in a warm blanket. My husband holds her to my face and I tentative kiss her, wondering if this is allowed. This perfect creature that moments ago I could not touch is here and I wonder if I can be so bold as to lay my lips on her. My foggy mind remembers that I am her mother and I kiss her silken cheek as she pouts against the bright lights. In that moment I remember all my children – Aaron and David pressing hard between my legs into this world, Joshua’s soft cold forehead and his still eyes shut tight, two babies I never held, their hearts stopped quiet even though I wanted them so and then scraped right out of me, and Jeremiah pulled from me amidst blood and fear, his pink face held near to me before the blue sheet backdrop just like this daughter is.
This daughter, Elizabeth Joy. Joy come for us and a phrase I never thought I would say – my daughter. Three boys at home and now this little one shares my same destiny of womanhood. She will be her own soul, but we are more alike than the others grown inside my body, we are women.
Time is at a standstill and it is opening up and racing on, a new beginning. Before I can even realize it we are under blankets in a recovery room bed, her and I. Tiny arms and legs curl on my bare chest and instinctively I help her find my breast and begin to nurse. She is alive and I have been sewn back to wholeness, still with a lot of healing to do. Every birth wounds, and in this wound we mothers are brought quiet and still to the same weak place where our child begins. Together we will heal, together we will grow strong. Together we will nourish each other.
Right now I can only move my arms and they embrace her. Nurses march around us checking vital signs, doing paperwork and tending to whatever is coursing through my IV, but her and I are in a sacred space. This room is not sterile blue sheets, hard metal scales and plastic warming trays. This room is a thin place, a conduit opened up to bring her to us. We will move on soon enough, growing strong together, but right now there is this one moment and it is everything I am, everything I have to give, everything I had been given.
The Giver is large in this place, in this moment we see him as he ever is.
I lie back, she falls asleep, her ear to my heart. There is only Joy.
Elizabeth Joy – born November 9, 2016, 8.25lbs, 20.5in
“Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hand, called out “Pooh!”
“Yes?” said Pooh.
“Yes, Christopher Robin?”
“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again. “Yes, Christopher Robin?” said Pooh helpfully.
“Pooh, when I’m–you know–when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”
“Will you be here too?”
“Yes Pooh, I will be really. I promise I will be Pooh.”
“That’s good,” said Pooh.
“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little. “How old shall I be then?”
Pooh nodded. “I promise,” he said.
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt Pooh’s paw. “Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I–if I’m not quite–” he stopped and tried again– “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”
“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet.
“Where?” said Pooh.
“Anywhere.” said Christopher Robin.
So, they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”
― A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
Over the past month I read all the Pooh books to Jeremiah before bed and when I got to the end and read this there were tears on my part. He is on the cusp of growing up, but this is a golden time, and always he will be here in this light with this magic in his heart.
For more unplugged images this month head over to Childhood Unplugged
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