Birth is an easy place to start. Logical, even. But that doesn’t necessarily make it true.
A truthful beginning is a much murkier thing. Does your story start the first time we heard your heartbeat? At the moment of conception? Or earlier, even?
Your story may begin in the losses that preceded you. Each one a domino that had to fall in order for us to get to you.
Your story may begin with the union that led to you, overlapping with the best parts of our story, in the times we had to chose one each other so that we would one day get to you.
Your story may begin all those generations ago, with people whose names are no longer known, with our parents and their parents and all the preceding generations of parents who found the necessary mixture of hope and bravado that having a child requires.
But that story, your story, would be far too long. It would go beyond the scope of what I know, of what I can say with confidence, of what feels like mine to tell.
Here’s what I can tell you: I wasn’t sure you were really coming until you were nearly here.
I mean this in two ways. First, your story didn’t match the story I had heard time and time again. I made your daddy sit through hours of natural birth classes in which they reiterated that first-time-moms always go to the hospital too early. They prepared us for an arduous, painfully slow, early labor. Stay home as long as you can, they said.
I was told that the body needs time to prepare itself for birth. Expecting this gradual crescendo, I was baffled when my body, which in nine months and two days had experienced many first-time sensations, but none that could be conclusively called a contraction, went from a whimper of discomfort to a full-on wail.
It was undeniable, but it was sudden. I immediately began to doubt myself. If this was the beginning, how would I endure what was to come? The waves of pain came back to back, and I no longer cared if I wound up being the typical first time mom who arrives too early. We had to go. Now.
I saw it in the nurse’s eyes when they admitted me. She sized me up and concluded that I was a lightweight, a drama queen. She openly scoffed when I refused the epidural, saying that if I was reacting like this already, she didn’t think I would make it when things really got going. But she changed her tune after the internal exam. I was in transition. You were wasting no time. Maybe you knew just how much we needed you.
In a second sense, for nine months I had been afraid to let myself believe. That’s what loss does to you, unfortunately, if you let it. It corrodes parts of your heart and the rusty hinges are stubbornly slow to open again. With each routine checkup, I’d tried to wiggle the door a little. Sometimes, it would give an inch and then panic would flood in. Believing seemed like such a risk, like something that cost more than I could afford.
And while I knew a million things could still go wrong after you were born, your birth seemed to be the only thing that could blow the rusty, stubborn door of my heart wide open. I needed to see you. Hold you. Inhale you.
Luckily, I would get to.
After convincing a succession of medical personnel that I wasn’t making this up, we wound up in a delivery room with our designated nurse and a medical resident. Our doctor was suspiciously absent. You threatened to push your own way into this world, and I asked the resident if she was qualified to deliver a baby.
Fortunately, there were things happening beyond the confines of that hospital room. The on-call doctor for our practice decided to call for backup. He was tied up across the street doing the same procedure at the same facility that I had undergone for the first time exactly two years earlier. I know the magnitude of the loss that was being felt by that woman, and if they had asked me, I would have said that I wanted him to be completely present for her and whoever I hoped was there to hold her hand.
The person who answered his call was the very doctor we had seen the day before. The doctor who had listened openly when I tearfully explained that my father was in hospice care and whose combination of impeccable bedside manner and human decency had set my anxious heart at ease when I asked if the tremendous grief I was feeling could in any way harm you, as you were, still nestled inside me.
She walked through the door the very second I had no choice but to push. She gave me permission to surrender to what my body so desperately needed me to do.
Ten pushes later, you were here. I heard you. I held you. I inhaled you.
I loved you.
I know its a such a cliche that many mothers are fearful when they don’t feel it. I knew even then that it didn’t mean I’d feel it in the same way in every moment that followed. But much like your birth, it was forceful and it was instant. It was a reaction to three simple facts. You were here. You were real. You were ours.
In the days that followed, we would bury my father. We would realize how very little we knew about caring for an infant. We would doubt. We would grieve. You would cry and I would weep and weep and weep.
But please know that this does not make your story a sad story. Your story is already my favorite kind of story, one where the dark and dreadful stuff is there to make the light seem even more bright.
For me, my lucky Penny, you will always be the light.