Today is Easter and in this season, filled with hope, rebirth, baptism, and the liturgical color of gold, it feels fitting to share a journal entry I started writing the night my youngest daughter was born. After a harried 24 hours with an extremely fast labor, equally fast removal of Doe to the nursery for oxygen, then to the NICU for an unspecified amount of time (it ended up being 9 days), I was finally able to take my first postpartum shower (an event which I’m sure many mamas can attest can feel close to holy). Mossy and Posey were tending the home fires for me, the visitors had all gone home, and I sat on the stool in the hospital shower at midnight by myself in complete silence for close to two hours, letting the water soothe my sore muscles and lull me into this trancelike reflection (aided, I’m sure, by sleep deprivation and the postpartum hormonal rollercoaster).
It’s an absolute miracle that any of us exist. The act of giving birth– producing life from the warm, safe, waters of the womb is amazing. Water itself is central to so many of my favorite rituals and places —the ocean, a bath, a baptism, a cup of tea, rivers, lakes, rain . . .
Our bodies are simultaneously incredibly fragile yet so strong. My newly postpartum body in its saggy, stretch-marked, distorted, aching state is equally beautiful, resilient, and capable. As I soak in the streams of hot water, I thank my body over and over for all of the hard work it does – not only in a monumental effort like childbirth – but day to day as it carries me around, climbing in and out of cars, working in the garden, walking up and down the sidewalks of my small town, kneeling in church, bending to pick up my heavy preschooler, flexing minuscule muscles in my fingers to pluck the strings of my instruments, and on and on. I’ve grown up with a distrust of my body due to health issues that have prevented me from being able to run, play sports, or even turn certain ways without risking a sprain or dislocation and I have a heart condition that makes me extra sensitive to stimulants, stress, and fatigue. None of these ailments are debilitating by themselves and I feel very lucky have a working, healthy body most days. Many people aren’t granted that luxury. However, growing up with injuries that could spring up out of the blue and stick me with bandages, braces, and crutches for weeks at a time trained me to doubt my body.
I walk with a sort of tentativeness that feels a little like walking on eggshells. I haven’t run since I was 8 years old. I’m protective and guarded with my movements because I know that simply stretching the wrong way in the morning could trigger a shoulder dislocation. I’m getting closer to 40, so my physical quirks are mostly unconscious now and don’t command my attention until I have a careless moment where I accidentally overextend myself and incur an injury. My heart condition is the reason we delivered in a hospital rather than a birth center or at home. It was a precaution we took so that I could have the medication and support on hand if my heart went haywire. I’ve been extremely lucky that both of my labors have been fast and complication-free. They’ve been two of the rare times in my life that I’ve experienced total confidence and trust in my body. So, I sit in the hot water of the hospital shower and keep thanking it.
I also picture Doe’s pink, vulnerable body in the NICU crib, connected to monitors and tubes. She’d felt so strong and solid to me when she was born –a whopping 9lbs 12 ozs. But she was whisked away to the NICU so quickly and now she looks so small. The doctors seem unclear on her diagnosis, so they started antibiotics and the uncertainty is nerve-wracking. Not being able to hold or nurse her for fear of overstimulating her feels painfully unnatural. But we have family and friends around, helping us and praying for her and we have faith that she’ll be coming home soon. So I sit in the hot water and say thanks for that.
I also reflect on how my husband continues to be unflinchingly hopeful and thoughtful about me and Doe while being the sole provider and comfort for Posey until I’m discharged. I’m not surprised at his strength. We’ve weathered enough trials together that I know he’ll rise to any challenge. But it’s still such a gift and a comfort. So I sit in the shower some more and send a prayer of thanks for him. I also feel a flood of gratitude for community — a friend who is willing to show up with a magazine, wine and chocolate in the middle of the night just to keep vigil and celebrate with you is worth fighting for. I send some more silent thanks through the water.
By now the hot water had turned my fingers and toes to prunes and sleepiness was finally starting to take over. Before I shuffled back to the bed I said a thank you to my new vantage point. As seems to happen in major life events, the scope in my world had clicked from macro to micro. The previous day, my husband and I had been devouring spicy food and pineapple and speed-waddling around World Market in an attempt to induce labor before our scheduled induction. Everything about Doe still felt hypothetical then, veiled in the pinkish watercolor world of the womb. Now my focus is zoomed in to the pinprick focus of her tiny fist curled around my finger in our first moments together and to the joy in seeing my first, hard-earned drop of colostrum. Even though I’m yearning to be reunited with her physically, that drop symbolizes a tangible beginning of a lifelong journey with her. So I give one last thanks for that golden-hued drop that contains so much hope and I make my way out of the water.