For so long I’ve intended to record your birth story, somehow trying to capture the how you came into this world. And yet your story, sweet girl, doesn’t really begin happily.
I could begin with the birth of your oldest brother, somehow cramped in my womb, struggling for far too long to make his entry into this world. Who had severe jaundice followed by months of screaming. I ate not more than pears and lamb in hopes to calm his shrieks and thought: “So this is being a mama” ever while anxiety coursed continuously through my entire being.
Or perhaps when only four months pregnant with your middle brother when my father called confirming the fear I had already known: yes, it’s cancer, yes it’s spread.. and his struggle that continued from there. Or my determination not to have that baby cut from my womb, only to labor for hours with artificial hormones to be greeted by blood – so much blood – and then rushed to the OR as I cried for my many failures as a mother, a daughter, a woman.
Or it could begin as I sat by my father’s bed, he gasping for his final breaths and you, just a speck inside me there, witness to it all. Or a few days later as we shook the hands of countless visitors, confronting death and loss as he slipped more permanently into absence as simultaneously you grew at startling speeds, coming to be.
Or maybe even when just two weeks later I received the call that my grandmother, our precious Jane, your own namesake, had fallen unconscious. I remember sleeping in the window of her hospital room, wondering how for such a young not-yet life you had already witnessed so much. And then grieving that you would never meet her when the phone rang letting us know that she had passed and we had all been absent even though we had so wanted to be there to support her as she crossed from earth to be united with the greatest loves of her life – God, Jesus, her husband, and her son, our Daddy.
Each of these stories of loss, of fear, of hurt: they somehow are braided into the fabric of your being. Yet, your story knit within them–even the mere idea of you–offered a glimmer of hope in the midst of some of the darkest and ugliest hours of my then-thirty-six years.
Oh sister, I longed for you. I thought I longed to make it or get it “right.”
Fittingly, the Monday after Easter I met with a doula. I shared my story. She named it: I actually longed for joy.
About nine months later, my body would begin to feel the common pains of labor. Oh, I would say, she will come soon. For weeks, labor would begin and end, begin and end. I thought you were taunting me – showing me, “Ha! Three children later and you still have no clue.” (You see, my dear child, I have always been anxious in whatever role I’ve been cast – even when I’ve fought endlessly not to be so.) Now I think you were saying “Just wait. Just wait and see. The Lord is good.” But perhaps that gives away the whole story.
Finally, more than a week overdue, I knew. This time the pains didn’t subside. They grew longer and shorter together. I tried to sleep and finally at 4:30 a.m. came and lay on the couch. I considered prayer, but hadn’t get gotten there yet. I texted my doula and said “I think it’s today.”
I made breakfasts and sent your oldest brother to school. Our dear Becca came and played with Crawford. Our doula showed up. I decided a walk would be nice, despite the rain.
We walked. We talked about faith and family and fears and hopes. As I moved, I felt more and more powerful, more and more certain that today was the day we could meet.
I knew I didn’t want to be home when Gaines arrived from school. So we decided to drive to Greenville where we would be close to the hospital. We met with the midwife who wanted me to weigh. I refused. She took my blood pressure. It was high (again, a fear I struggled with with all three of my pregnancies) and I slowly had panic return. Ever calm, my doula convinced us to have the midwife check my progression. “4 centimeters, she confirmed. Walk for an hour and return.”
Here’s where my fear became resolve. I wouldn’t get my blood pressure checked. I wasn’t going to go through that anxiety again. I would walk and walk and walk. In the rain. Through parking lots, around a small garden. It would rain and I would hum “Glory Glory Hallelujah” through contractions as they intensified. If I made it through one verse and a refrain I knew there would be reprieve.
Finally, our doula suggested lunch. We ordered sandwiches to be delivered and began waiting for them to arrive. At some point with each contraction I would just ever so slightly push – just to take an edge off. I started growing panicked that the Jimmy John’s sub would never come. “Glory Glory” was getting hard. Finally, we let ourselves into the downstairs birth center. Between tasteless bites of turkey sub, I realized I couldn’t do this much longer. Between sobs I admitted “I can’t get my blood pressure checked, but I don’t want to have a baby here.” I began breathing harder.
Our ever-calm doula marched me upstairs and directly to a treatment room. There, the midwife who had looked at me in the eyes during my previous labor and said “I’m so sorry. We have to take care of this baby…” smiled and calmly announced I was fully dilated and with a bulging bag of waters. It was time to go have a baby. Fine, I said, I would walk across the street. Apparently this was not going to be okay with the rest of the team.
Off we went in your daddy’s Volvo. I remember walking through the lobby convincing myself I wouldn’t have a baby there. An automated piano played “Scarborough Fair” and though I hadn’t listened to one minute of music I was certain that would not be the song to accompany your birth. I would wait for a contraction to end and march to my next destination. We were a sight to see: running and abruptly stopping, then running again, to make our way to a birthing suite.
One last contraction in the hallway and I really didn’t think we would make it. Upon walking into the suite, I saw a team of people there, all more ready to deliver a baby than I. Within seconds my water broke and suddenly things seemed more real.
The tub couldn’t fill with water and I didn’t really care. I was tired and still not certain you were close to coming. But first: prayer. Together, we chanted the Lord’s Prayer as I stood and pushed. I screamed. I yelled. I remember a wide-eyed team of student nurses watching and feeling simultaneous defiant and worried that I would scar them for life.
Finally, one of the midwives suggested I lie on the bed (and to be honest, a break would be nice as we had been walking for about 8 hours at that point.) No more than 10 minutes later they promised they could see your hair. They assured me you were close. That’s all it took. I decided that the time was now to meet and I pushed – contraction or not – continuously. And there you were. Perfect – where loss and life and fear and hope and despair and love all came tumbling together in you.
I hate to cast you in a role for the rest of your life. But Celia Jane, you continue to bring joy to us all. You’ve helped me heal. You’ve taught me the necessity of asking for help – of embracing chaos and tossing off anxiety. You have proven that joy, does in fact “come with the morning.” You have been a glue to unite us all – to remind us that love isn’t always pretty, but it is always perfect. And perfect love has no fear. Don’t get me wrong: I have so much left to learn. But thank you for being a reason for us all to do so.
So today, on the eve of your first birthday, together, let us all “… sing for joy at the works of Your hands.” Glory Glory Hallelujah.