My fifth baby is a week old today. In fact, she will be a week old at 3:32 this afternoon. A week ago at this moment, I had been in labor for about eleven hours. A week ago at this moment, I was starting to get really tired and frustrated. My labors have always been pretty short and not incredibly difficult. This fifth labor was different. It was longer. And it was tough. But here we are a week later. And the world is a different place. As I write, there is a beautiful newborn girl sleeping next to me. I love her more than I could have ever imagined, even though I’ve experienced this miracle four times before.
Pregnancy is so common. Every person who has ever walked the earth was once a fetus in a mother’s womb. Every person was born — maybe not vaginally, although the vast majority of human beings throughout history did enter the world through the birth canal of a mother. But even the small percentage of people who were born through surgical intervention, were born nevertheless. Gestating, growing, moving, stretching, thriving inside the body of a woman until the appointed time.
Yet as common as pregnancy is, and even in my fifth pregnancy, I found the experience to be all consuming. When you are pregnant it is hard to remember that you are anything else. The experience of carrying and growing another human being takes over your entire person, mentally and physically, psychologically and spiritually. The way you walk, the way you sleep, the way you eat, the way you work, the way you relate to people and events, to the present, past and future — everything is altered by the fact that you are pregnant. And this reality grows as the weeks go by, so that by the fortieth week of pregnancy everything you are is really, really pregnant.
There is a desperation that comes to rest on those who reach the end of pregnancy. In your body and in your soul you know that your position is unstable. And as much as you may be concerned about the process of birth, or perhaps reluctant to part from the kicking baby who as become so constant in every moment of your existence, you know that things cannot stay as they are. This baby who was once very much a part of you, whose very body was once indistinguishable from your own, has grown to a point and is moving in a way that communicates to you the undeniable truth that he or she is an independent being. Still housed in your body, but clearly not intended to stay there.
So as hard as it is to cognitively believe that the pulsing, vibrating, stretching, kicking creature in your belly is actually going to emerge and become your daughter or son, your body understands. Your mind struggles to keep up. I’m convinced this is why women are able to boldly walk into the daunting experience of labor and birth. The physical mandate to regain a place of stability is so overwhelming that the whole woman, body, mind and soul, is willing to do whatever needs to be done.
My baby was due November 15th, 2014. At the beginning of November I had a realization. While I knew that the baby was due in two weeks, it was still hard for me to believe that we were actually going to add another person to our family. And I’m a baby person! I love newborns and had such deep hopes that there would be a fifth baby. But the whole pregnancy I distanced myself, holding my hopes at bay, in case something went wrong. Two weeks before my due date I continued to do the same. Hopefully we will have a baby in two weeks. Hopefully everything will be fine.
But the realization was this. By the end of November, assuming I live through the month, I will be in one of two places. Either I’ll have baby, or I’ll have a broken heart. Those were the only two options. If not one, then the other. There was no way nine months of pregnancy could possibly result in anything other than one of those states. And that realization was strangely comforting to me. Because the truth is, that is parenthood as I’ve experienced it. You either have your kids — with all of their accompanying challenges, complications, joys, sorrows, stresses, you name it! — or you have a broken heart. It’s as simple as that.
But the miracle for me, today, is that I have a baby. A beautiful newborn. A fifth child. A second daughter. I couldn’t even imagine what she would look like, which is hilarious in and of itself because she looks like all my other babies! But I couldn’t, and here she is. Living, breathing, nursing and digesting milk, exactly the way she is supposed to. She came out of my body. I didn’t force her to. I couldn’t have if I’d wanted to. But she did, and she’s here. My heart is full. It’s not broken. Because she’s healthy. And she’s here.
Of course, my heart is already a little broken because that’s just part of it. Because she’s already changed. She’s already not the skinny, scrawny, curled up creature she was a week ago. She’s stretched out a little. Her feet are still curved the way they were in the womb for so many months, but not as curved as they were a week ago. And my own body… my body feels the pregnancy slipping away. Which is awesome because I can tie my shoes again, and walk up the stairs without feeling faint, and sleep without every muscle threatening to cramp up. And I haven’t had heartburn in almost a week which is truly unbelievable given its daily occurrence for the past five months. But it’s also heartbreaking. My baby was so close, literally living and moving and having her total being inside of me, and now she is separate. I still “feel” her kicks, but I know they are not really her. Just my imagination the way you continue to feel the waves after a day in the ocean. The pain that remains from a difficult birth is lessening every day, and I know that soon I will be able to walk and jog and lift my two year old and do all the things I am so longing to do.
As much as I want to recover, as much as I want to integrate this precious new girl into our life, into our family, I want to hold on to the sacred experience of her creation and arrival. I want time to freeze for just a moment so I can sit in the reality of the miracle. I don’t want to be pregnant. I would never want to stay pregnant. Pregnancy always points to something else, something to come. It’s not a state to stay in. And I don’t want my baby to stay a newborn either, as much as I love newborns! Because there is no life without growth. If she doesn’t grow we will worry. If she doesn’t gain weight, something is wrong. Being alive means changing.
But for today I sit. One week, exactly one week after her birth, I sit. And hold her. And stare at her. And marvel at the greatness of life. At the miracle of love. I cling to the promises of a God who gives so generously, so joyfully. I feel her soft skin, hear her tiny noises, my hand moves gently with her back as she breathes. I did none of this. For some reason this tiny person was given to me. For today. For this moment. So I sit, amazed and grateful.