All around me, there is activity. I feel the room filling with people.
As I situate on the bed, I glance at the clock and see that we've passed into the next day.
12:01 a.m. I know your birthday now. I will celebrate it for the rest of my life.
I am up on my elbows, my legs held back by my mom and Aaron.
The pressure in the lower half of my body is so extreme.
I am burning.
I am being ripped in half.
I can't believe how much noise I am making, how primal and unabashed.
Moaning, screaming, grunting, groaning.
Everything is dark except for the light in front of me, which illuminates the midwife perched serenely on the side of the bed.
I focus only on her face.
I am begging, pleading for answers that will bring relief.
What's happening? Can you see the head? What should I do?
I am terrified.
Push? Now? Please. Help me. Is it almost over? I can't do it. Please.
I draw in a breath, and, calling up every ounce of strength in every molecule in my body, I give one final push.
In a split second, it is over. A flurry of movement, a rush of air, and then, relief.
I feel nothing. The sensation is incredible.
I slump downward and backward toward the bed. I am a shell-shocked survivor, unable to move. But I sense the eyes and energy of everyone in the room shift, so I struggle back up on my elbows to watch as you are pulled up and away from my body. I hear the words, "It's a boy!" but I don't know who says it. I ask if you are okay, and then, I hear your small, angry cry.
You are whisked away by the nurses and doctors. I fall back to the bed in exhaustion.
While I wait to hold you, I look around the room and see shining, radiant faces: your father, your grandparents, the sweet young nurse, the doula, our midwife. Everyone is smiling and crying happy tears. I am amazed at this transformation from pain to pleasure.
Eventually, they place you in my arms.
You are pink and smushed, swaddled and angry. I hold you gingerly, awkwardly, uncertainly. I see your face now, for the first time.
You are beautiful.
The next 24 hours were a blur.
He is having a little trouble breathing.
We're going to transfer him to the nursery for extra oxygen.
The x-rays show dark spots on his lungs.
He needs to be in the NICU for extra attention.
I pulsed with a strange combination of elation and fear.
At 5 lb, 8 oz., he was bigger than we expected. Not long after he was born he began to make a quiet grunting noise, a sign of Neonatal Respiratory Distress. He wasn't getting enough air. We learned that his lungs hadn't fully developed, a fairly common issue in premature boys.
He spent the first four days of his life underneath a plastic oxygen hood, hooked up to a feeding tube, IV and a myriad other monitoring devices. It was nearly impossible to hold him. After that he received air via a nasal cannula. He developed jaundice, so he wore foam sunglasses to protect his eyes from the phototherapy lights.
The NICU was such a strange and intimidating place, full of contradiction. The brightly colored quilts and stuffed animals stood in stark contrast to the serious nature of what was happening there. The silence was often interrupted by loud beeping monitors and the almost inaudible sound of a tiny baby crying.
Daily, I vacillated between feeling enormously sad at being separated from my child, and feeling enormously guilty for feeling sad. Isaac was one of the healthier babies there; how could I feel sorry for myself when all around us were the translucent bodies of micro-preemies fighting for every single breath?
I was discharged from the hospital two days after he was born, and they told us to expect that Isaac would be in the NICU for about two more weeks after that. The day I left the hospital to go home was one of the worst days of my life.
I stumbled out of the hospital in tears, empty-handed except for a colorful bouquet of flowers in my hand. I looked and felt like a deflated balloon.
My body was empty. I walked into our apartment and cried.
I struggle out of bed. I pick up the clothes that I discarded on the floor last night, and put them on again. I avoid looking into the mirror while brushing my teeth, because I don't want to see what I already know -
I am a mess.
I slip on a pair of moccasins and walk to the refrigerator. I open the freezer and begin methodically packing bags of frozen breastmilk into a little black cooler.
Keys. Purse. Phone.
I drive to the hospital and park in the Visitor's parking lot, which happens to be a million miles from my final destination. And then, I begin to walk:
From my car to the building,
down a long glass enclosed bridge,
through a dingy beige hallway,
around a colorful corridor.
I shuffle along slowly, my breasts overflowing. My body is still bleeding and aching and unable to heal, because instead of resting I am making this trip three times a day.
I am weary.
I wait for the elevator. I go up, then right, then down a short hallway. I am buzzed in to the reception area. I show my identification, and am buzzed through yet another set of secure doors.
I spend the required three eternal minutes washing my hands, until finally, I am cleared to walk back.
There, in the in the furthest corner of the last bay - I see you.
You unfurl yourself slowly, pressing your tiny foot against the thin bubble surrounding your body. You are unaware that I am transfixed by your every move.
I place my finger to the plastic and instantly I feel your foot react to my touch.
My heart soars.
Early one morning, I exited the freeway and drove west, toward the hospital to visit him again in the NICU. I fiddled with the radio, searching for music to fill the silence. I stopped when I heard this song.
You're just to good to be true
Can't take my eyes off of you
You'd be like heaven to touch
I want to hold you so much
I began to cry: big, heaving, shoulder-shaking cries. Happily, I let the feeling wash over me, because this time it wasn't pain or fear or guilt or disappointment.
It was love.
Oh, pretty baby, now that I've found you stay
And let me love you, baby
let me love you...
I wrote most of this story about a month after he was born, scrawled into a journal in snippets and pieces. Putting it all together these last couple of days has been surprisingly cathartic.
Isaac spent 10 days in the NICU. He came home on a Friday night, and walking out of the hospital together as a family was one of the highlights of my life. He is 2 years old now, happy and healthy.
His arrival was a crash course in letting go and resting in the sovereignty of a kind and loving God.
It exposed ugly areas in me (I never realized just how much I let my need for control, control me); conversely, it brought to light strengths I didn't know I had (my mental toughness during labor surprised my husband, who later admitted that he never thought I'd actually be able to handle the pain).
It broke me open and let me understand and feel love in an entirely new way.
It taught me that a major part of parenthood is simply knowing that our children are not our own. The sooner we commit them into God's hands, the better.
Abraham called the place on the mountain where he was tested with Isaac, "Jehovah Jireh" - The Lord Will Provide (Gen 22:14).
Our beautiful son Isaac is my daily reminder that God provides only His very best to those who trust in Him.