I don’t know how we got here.
This time last year we were bounced up to Labor and Delivery for the umpteenth time after the high-risk docs called for continuous monitoring…again. Kid Shanks failed his non-stress test and got a poor score on his biophysical profile, so the care team was on alert.
I wasn’t. We’d failed so many tests before, been seemingly close to delivery before, so many times in so few days. I was pissed because I liked the room we were in on the antepartum unit and didn’t want to lose it, and because they took me NPO immediately after the biophysical profile.
So much for lunch.
But then I keyed in on the tone shift. “We’re going to monitor you for a few hours to see if it’s Delivery Day” turned into 20 minutes of monitoring and a clear picture of a baby in distress. We had to deliver.
I lost it. Daniel was right beside me every minute, thank God, but I was still alone. I sat in the middle of a dark, cold vacuum feeling so exposed and raw, clutching my belly through an askew hospital gown. I was Fear Incarnate. Deep, primal. The first thought I formulated was one I’d been rolling around for the two weeks of bedrest. “Remember, don’t expect him to cry. He hasn’t had enough time yet. He’s not ready.”
And then Dan gave me the biggest gift, one that I hold to this day. I was searching for just a tiny thread, some little glimmering gossamer strand that I could grab on to and ride to the surface. After all, at the surface there were things waiting on me, like Adult Conversations and Important Decisions with Doctors. I needed to put some of my pieces back together.
First, he gave me permission to not hold it together, at all.
“I just need to find that tiny teaspoon of peace that exists somewhere, then I know I can be okay, but I just can’t find it right now.” I said.
He smiled. “I’m not sure that exists right now, love, but that’s all right. You don’t have to be okay.”
I was insistent. So he thought a moment, then asked if I trusted our doctors. “I mean, I trust their expertise but I don’t really know them, so…” He asked if I trusted him. “I mean, I love you and I trust you but I don’t really trust your experience with the baby-birthing process.”
Then he asked me if I trusted the baby.
Everything stopped. Everything that was spinning out of control slowed down to a normal speed again. The gossamer thread I’d been looking for found me. I caught it, and it picked me up out of the vacuum and into the teaspoon of peace that I just knew existed somewhere.
I trusted this baby deeply. For months, I’d talked to him and calmed my nervous heart by telling him that my job was to keep him safe and give him everything he needed, but that it was his job to put all those tiny pieces together and let me know if and where he needed help. Even through the last month, when things got dicey, he was never subtle about his needs. When we flew back to the hospital on Thanksgiving day, he had kicked me all the way, letting me know he was still acting up in there. He had always been able to tell us and the doctors what was up.
“I trust him,” I said. “Yes, I trust him.”
“Okay. Well, he’s the one who’s telling us that it’s time” Dan replied. “So we can follow his lead, yeah?”
And so we have. We’ve followed his lead through the initial days of TPN, low blood sugar, jaundice, nasogastric tubes, gavage-feedings of 5 ml at a time. We’ve followed his lead of suddenly learning to eat and rushing through all his necessary milestones for discharge.
Through preemie clothes and home quarantine and colic,
Through involuntary smiles and giggles and rolling over,
Through the entire month of March, where none of us slept and none of us remember,
Through tides of diapers and seas of laundry.
Yes, through all the expected geography of parenting a newborn.
But he’s also led me through the less-expected inner lands. I am not so bold as to say that the joy of a child’s coming is so beyond the rest that non-parents can’t understand it. It happens, though, that Ezra’s entry introduced me to joy many standard deviations above any other I’ve had.
Because we were separated so much in the early weeks, I rediscovered the flutters and anticipation of infatuation and new love. Separated due to our differing medical needs, I spent the first night alone in my bed, staring again and again at his tiny face and body on my phone screen. I would set the phone under my pillow and try to sleep only to pull it out moments later, staring again. Later, when he stayed behind after my discharge, it felt like all the giddiness of spending time with a new crush every time we were on the way to the hospital.
Once we came home, he led me through The Hours. Mostly working, rather than praying. 3, 6, 9, 12, 3, 6, 9, 12, ever following his lead and need. I discovered that, instead of the misery I’d expected in indentured service to a screaming potato, I kind of liked the constant interruption. Rather than obligation, we mostly felt like partners and companions.
In the past year, following Ezra, I’ve found a lot of unexpected things along the way. I’ve found more ease with myself, more daring, more ability to let things be as they are. Breathing into him and caring for him has taught me how to better care for myself – the exact opposite of what I was taught to expect by popular portrayals of motherhood. I’ve found urgency and bravery enough to start building the pattern of life I want to live, rather than the pattern of life that is most secure or lucrative. I’ve found body positivity, frankness, and satisfaction with myself- at least, on my good days.
More than anything, though, I’ve come to personally understand what it looks like when love casts out fear.
Each of the 17 days of my hospitalization, I was working through fear. It seemed like a new one cropped up each day: first, the fear of diagnosis, fear of bed rest, fear of a very sick baby, fear for my health, fear of pain, fear of c-section, fear of epidural placement, fear of NICU…
The list goes on and, for the most part, almost everything that I feared came to pass. When fear climbed on top of me and sat on my chest, squeezing out my breath and my hope, it was love that buoyed me through.
It was Advent memes and friends who brought nail polish and company and chocolates and prayer books and teeny, tiny booties and food.
It was Eucharist and the kind touch of nursing staff and watchful care of our team.
It was gift cards and assembling baby furniture and a crochet kit and a 24 inch Christmas tree complete miniature ornaments, donated by a kind stranger who knows when.
When the fear got on top of me, like it did every day in those early times, all I had to do was look around. With all the love surrounding us, there wasn’t room in my lungs to breathe in anything else. So with each deep breath more love came in and more fear went out.
And on December 9th, when there was nothing in my body but cold, drowning fear, it was trust that pulled me out, and love that propelled me through.
Through all of this, my understanding of motherhood shifted. Now I’m convinced that mothering, at its most distilled, is choosing love over fear. It is the moments spent waiting for the fear to subside, trusting that love will show itself and reserving one’s strength to do what love requires.
I still trust Ezra Lee. It’s still my job to give him what he needs and keep him safe – and I’m still learning how to do that as he grows and changes. He’s still very good at his job of putting together the pieces and letting us know what he needs.
I don’t know what comes next. I’m not foolish enough to think our rocky beginning will be the most harrowing thing we face as a family. But I hope the practice we got, and the things we’ve found along the way, will continue to carry us through as we follow kid’s lead.