On the morning of March 15th, one year ago, I sat on the edge of my bed and held my round belly. I sat silently as I felt the swell of her tiny body stretch and press against mine. This pregnancy had left me exhausted and achy and gestationally diabetic, but I loved knowing that no matter where I was, she was there with me. Every flutter and kick was a secret told just between us. I held my belly tight, embracing these private moments because I knew this would likely be the last time I would ever feel any baby cuddles from the inside. Remember this, I whispered to myself. Today was the day we would meet our little girl.
I don't have an exciting movie-worthy, water-breaking, racing-to-the-hospital birth story. I don't have a tender, weepy, push-her-out-and-clutch-her-to-my-chest story either.
I had a planned and scheduled, contraction-free, smooth and easy C-section. Actually, it was kind of awesome, especially after the excruciatingly long, painful and drawn out births of her brothers (my babies, it turns out, are not that fond of being born.)
On the morning of the 15th, John and I strolled into the hospital and were ushered right into pre-op by a staff of jovial doctors and nurses. I sat on a bed in my hospital gown with curled hair and extra mascara. (I was determined to not look like a drowned cow in all the post-birth photos this time around.)
"So what are we going to name her?" my husband asked. It was a question we had been tossing around for nine months without any resolution.
"My favorite is still 'Willa'."
"Honey," he said with exasperation, "I promise you, whenever she says her name everyone will think she is saying 'Willow'."
"They will not! You're over-thinking it!" Now it was my turn to be exasperated.
A few minutes later a nurse popped in to check on things. As she went about her duties she made pleasant small talk, "So, do y'all have a name picked out for this baby girl?"
"Well, my wife likes the name 'Willa'," John answered.
"Willow?" she asked.
And that was the end of that.
When you are pregnant and you imagine what your birth might be like, you never envision yourself exposed and strapped to an operating table with a roomful of strangers staring at who-knows-what beyond the blue sheet. It's hard to be appropriately sentimental while feeling your insides being tugged and shifted, and rather than listening for your baby's cry, you are instead concentrating very, very hard on not throwing up for the third time (oh, the blessed, cursed anesthesia).
Instead, I focused on my husband and experienced our tiny baby's birthday through him. He nervously gripped my hand and lovingly stroked my forehead. He gasped when her tiny wail pierced the air and he yelled, "I see her! She's beautiful! She's so beautiful!" as the doctor lifted her into our world. I watched as he held her bundled body close to his chest and wiped the tears from his eyes.
I was still chanting my ever so calming mantra of don't vomit, don't vomit, don't vomit in my head, but I knew these were memories I wanted to lock away and revisit someday, once I regained feeling below the chest. Instead, as I took deep breaths in and out, I began to repeat Remember this. Remember this.
Later that night, after pictures were snapped, and a final name was chosen, after visitors headed home and a ravenous mama scarfed down a rather large sack of Five Guys (good-bye gestational diabetes, hello carbs!!), I finally had my baby all to myself.
I nuzzled her tiny six pound body into my neck and I held her. And I held her. And I held her. Remember this. I examined her perfect toes and lips and I memorized the weight of her body on my chest. Remember this. We stayed cuddled together all night long and I don't think I really slept. I just willed time to stop, because I now knew how truly fast babies grow. Remember this. Despite my best efforts, morning came and I could already feel the minutes slipping away...I could see her smiling and cooing, sitting up and grasping a pink rattle with chubby fingers. I could see her laughing and babbling with her brothers, feeding herself tiny peas and (finally!) crawling to get a toy. One day she would eagerly reach for the candle on her first birthday cake and one day she would yell my name and come toddling to hug my legs. And through all these milestones I would again tell myself remember this, remember this.
Life is unpredictable, particularly when it comes to babies. Some children are not planned, some names are a compromise, and real life birth stories usually write themselves. It's not our version of perfect, but it's these events that point to an Orchestrator, to a Designer who has planned an even better version of perfect than we are capable of imagining.
All we can do is to step back, embrace the journey and repeat Remember this.