My baby turns four today. Four years is the time it takes most of us to earn a high school diploma, mint a college degree. I am earning my degree in affection from this boy; he melts me on the regular. I was told during an early ultrasound that this baby would be the one I'd have living with me until his rehearsal dinner, because he was hard to get moving. He sometimes lacks inertia these days, as well, as he is very busy snuggling with whomever is on the couch. Time will tell if this prophecy fulfills itself. For now, I am glad to have my little lump of love in the body of a gymnast 4 year-old who makes the greatest faces.
Happy Birthday, Little Man.
In remembrance of your birth story, I share it below:
*** I used to keep a baby photo of myself in our living room. One of those “Who’s That Baby” games at my workplace netted me a reprint of the photo with an emerald frame that compliments our home decor.
I have since left that job, but the baby guessing game is ongoing, which is why I keep the photo prominently displayed. Guests to our home are captivated with the photo. Who is this baby? This ruddy-faced baby with plums for eyes. Who is she, this little doll with the peach fuzz for hair. She doesn’t look old enough to be standing. And look at her Popeye mouth! Guests are incredulous. I don’t blame them. That duckling has had quite a metamorphosis over thirty years.
My eyes are still blue, but somewhat slitty now. My hair is chestnut with gray streaks unless I dye it.
My face bears a constellation of freckles; some are dark and others appear to be fading into the atmosphere. These freckles have long been the bane of my youth. My dad would console me, “They make you look young and healthy,” he would say, his childhood freckles replaced by a reddish perma-tinge from the stresses of middle age.
I would have instantly traded those youthful freckles for the clear olive complexions of my girlfriends, whose bronzey tans made me green with envy, under several applications of SPF 50.
Indeed, I would have called that a fair trade until May of 2010.
That year I had a baby. Whenever I say that out loud, it sounds like such a clumsy summary. Like, I woke up and had a doughnut. And then I had a baby. The verbiage doesn’t seem to capture what happened on May 20, 2010.
I woke up and had…maybe cereal? I left the house before two year-old Madigan had awoken, preserved in the silent promise that my mother – who was staying with my daughter – would not say good-bye to me. Good-byes make me nervous.
John and I brought Scrabble to the hospital. Like these blithe people who would be finagling Triple Word Scores while the birth canal widened to 10 centimeters.
I arrived 4 cm dilated, already contracting. The midwife team gave me Pitocin.
My contractions and the Pitocin syncopated like brassy instruments. The baby’s heart rate kept dropping. The delivery team put me on my side. The baby’s heart rate dropped even more. Suddenly, there was a whole squadron of nurses putting me in child’s pose on the bed. They shot me with something to make the contractions slow. Activate oxygen mask. The midwife suggested I get an epidural so that I could relax and allow the baby’s heart rate to stabilize. The anesthesiologists arrived but as they started prepping, I started sweating so hard, they couldn’t keep the area clean. They say you lose all sense of modesty in childbirth. I know this to be true after writhing naked on a bed and begging the nurse to stop touching me; the slight touch of her hands was too much heat to endure. I started screaming. I couldn’t stay on the bed. The baby was coming.
THE BABY WAS COMING.
On my side.
Lift leg, push push push push push push push.
Baby’s heart keeps dropping, I’m sorry, the opening is small, we can’t use the vacuum, the baby’s heart rate keeps dropping…
I wasn’t scared this time, not like my first c-section. I had the same anesthesiologist, and I knew she was amazing in the way that Bob Ross was amazing, making happy little pricks on the canvas of my body and behold—a masterwork of numbness.
The surgeon said she was glad I didn’t try to go for a vaginal birth. Something about my bladder being in the way, something might have burst? She leaned over the curtain and said, Don’t you EVER labor on this uterus again.
“John, can you see what it is?”
“Hahah, Kenny, you were right. Boy!”
We named our son Tatum Jay. His middle name is a nod to his grandfather Jae. His first name means “joy bringer.”
My limbs were still numb but inside of me, relief splashed to every extremity. I heard my newborn son’s cry and knew I was 2 for 2. Two healthy, perfect babies. Thank you. Thank you.
The hematocrit level expresses the proportion of red blood cells in the body. Adult females hover around 38-46. After surgery, I was at 26.
I had lost some blood.
But then I dropped to 24. And then to 18. I was at the hospital alone now. I was struggling to feed my baby, but I felt too weak to pick up the phone and press numbers and talk. I saw myself in the mirror when I went to use the bathroom. I could barely see my freckles.
So I got a blood transfusion. Some plasma, too.
And then I dropped on down to 16. I just kept losing blood. Where was it going?
My friend, a pediatrician in the hospital, checked on me. I begged her to stop making me laugh. The incision was still painful and I didn’t have much energy. She said she didn’t know how I was still sitting up with so little blood in my system.
After an MRI, we saw that the blood had pooled into a hematoma around my liver.
More blood transfusions. The next day, my levels stabilized.
My doctor friend visited again. Oh, you’ve got your freckles back, she said.
For the next six weeks, I was in excruciating pain. You can’t take pain killers for irritants like blood. You can, but there’s no swollen tissue to flatten, no torn muscle to mend. It’s just ounces and ounces of blood irritating your insides while your body does what it’s supposed to as it re-absorbs the blood lost.
Every time I felt the excruciating pain, though, I paused and considered the blood of Christ. I thought about how my own blood was shed to bring forth my son’s new life. I am a mess of a mother who could never hope to be anyone’s savior, but my blood was not shed in vain. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, reminds us that Christ’s blood was not shed in vain, either. If our guaranteed one-way ticket to Heaven came from our own perfection, from our own righteousness, then Christ would not have needed to die for all humanity (Gal 2:21). This message is echoed in Hebrews 9:22, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” This lesson was made palpable for me over and over in that painful season with a newborn and a daughter in the violent throes of sibling adjustment.
Sometimes I wanted to go back to the hospital, if only to have a team of nurses to assist me.
John was still working three jobs. Our parents came for a few days to help and their very presence was a huge blessing. But then they had to go back home. John was sleeping minimally and doing cloth diaper laundry and going to work and helping adults heal from childhood traumas. I was still trying to push through the pain from the c-section and hematoma. I was fortunate that Tatum was a champion sleeper and only grunted when he was hungry. But Madigan was more demanding of time and energy, which neither John nor I had in spades.
After taking a family walk at a nature preserve, John came home and laid down in our bed. He barely got up from that position for two straight weeks, except to go to the ER and discover that he had a “whopping case,” as the doctor put it, of double pneumonia.
The hot mess express was breaking down, practically right out of the station. I felt a bit forsaken by God. Didn’t God know what a hard business being a parent was? And moreover, the parent of a newborn baby and toddler, the parent recovering from major surgery with complications, the parent whose husband was rendered inoperative from pneumonia? I leaned on my girlfriends in a big way that summer. One particular friend who had also just had a son a few weeks before Tatum organized a mealshare for my family. She was only a little bit further post-partum than I was, and, I was reminded, she had also overcome pneumonia during her pregnancy. Yet she somehow had the faculties to coordinate meals-on-wheels for us. “That is SO nice of your friend,” Taryn gushed to me on the phone. “I know. It’s like a steady revolving door around here. I don’t know who will come through next but I know there will be food.” “That’s awesome,” Taryn said. “What’s this friend’s name again?”
“Her name is Miracle,” I said. Miracle, who was aptly named.
One morning later that summer, I ran with an exercise class for mothers. It’s a superlative work-out because everyone is pushing children in strollers while getting their exercise. I ran and sprinted. I sweated and smiled. I did leg lifts with my exer-band while holding a pacifier in place for a robust 3 month-old baby. I handed a snack bag to a spunky toddler. It was not easy getting my groove back but that day I felt strong. I pushed the stroller up the hill and Madigan yelled, “You can do it, Mama! Faster! You’re almost there!”
I thought about the miracle of life that had unfolded a thousand times that summer. I thanked God for His amazing handiwork in all of creation, in this short, stumpy, strong body of mine that was privileged to care for this family, to enjoy the perfection that was that late August weather.
When I got home, I couldn’t wait to take a shower and peel the milk-stained, sweat-soaked clothes off of my body. I placed my son in his seat in the bathroom and wondered when the next time would be that I could take a shower without an audience.
There is usually a moment before I shower when I reawaken to the truth in the mirror that I am no longer sixteen, that I am not just masquerading as a mother. The saggy stomach is not a body suit; those dark circles and puffy eyes belong to me.
In that particular moment, however, I saw life backlit by freckles. I was proud of the woman in the mirror.
Tatum had been porking up nicely, having not missed a meal since birth. He was not only smiley but also a giggler and his laughter felt like a bonus paycheck every time.
I looked down at the miracle of my son. The combination of his dimples and big twinkley brown eyes--what a beaut.
As I stepped into the shower, I looked at him starting to drift off to sleep in his carrier seat. I wondered if one day he might have freckles like mine, ones that would someday betray his baby portrait.