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