As you’ll soon come to find out…I had a lot of time to think about a lot of things, that having been in labor once before, you don’t tend to give a second thought to. Or at least I didn’t.
I write it for me, not for you. But maybe you need an echo for yourself, in some way.
It’s difficult to write about Grayson’s birth story without looking back on William’s. When people told me that my love for Grayson would be incomparable to and just as much all at the same time, it was hard to wrap my head around, because my love for William–it was an explosion–the day that I met him. And when he was born, our world and our life, shifted completely. Upside down.
I could picture driving up the mountain after the appointment where I decided I’d be induced and try. I can picture the clouds rolling over the peaks and knowing God’s insurmountable presence.
At that point it was just Jeff and I. That was our home, that was our given camp family at the time, and I was delighted to share something so spectacular with my husband. And while I kind of anticipated what was coming, it felt different and foreign still. I think because it was the first time. It felt untouchable. I knew that I would labor, that I would try to bring William into the world the way women had done it for centuries. I knew that I would get to feel the pains of contracting. But I couldn’t predict the outcome. And I didn’t know what either felt like, vaginal or surgical.
At the end of it all, I didn’t have those memories to hold on to– that is seeing Will and knowing what surgery felt like. All I remember are bits and pieces–lights flashing over my eyes, oxygen mask coming down on my face, keep breathing slow from the nurse, brief glimpses of Jeff. I remember them lifting William over to my chest but I couldn’t even tell you what his face looked like until I saw Jeff holding him.
It was different with Grayson. There is nothing so raw as what I experienced three weeks and a few days ago.
When William was born we had twelve hours to ourselves before visitors. And not being able to share it with our families…it felt weird, but I think I was on a hormone and drug high, so elation and taco bell and donuts trumped sad feelings. There were faces there that the Lord knew I needed when I couldn’t have our family. I wouldn’t trade them. The perfect handpicked ones for Will and my heart. It was bliss with William, just bliss, there isn’t another explanation. (But Jeff reminds me now, undrugged as he was, that it was much much harder)
The night before Grayson was born was the strangest thing. My thoughts were spinning, my mind and body exhausted fighting sleep, and not being allowed to have my snacks kept me irked. I think I was trying so hard to process the “step by step” the doctors had given me for weeks prior to this moment, but somehow, still feeling so out of control with what the turnout would be.
Because growing a human for nine months– a human you’re told could have down syndrome, a little person so safe and snug in a world apart from this one–where this one is an unpredictable and harsh terrain, gestating with soft whispers and belly rubs, no breath yet in the uncertain– growing that human is intimate and scary, humbling and holy ground.
Bringing him into the world magnifies that by thousands.
Having the balance of Jeff’s calm is good, but I couldn’t deny myself that night. I had carried him. And carrying him had been completely different than carrying William. When you have a baby, they are an extension of you. It’s a limb you didn’t know before or need before. Its presence is part of you. When William was growing within me I could just focus on him. But when Grayson was inside, I wrestled as I shared, with whether I could love this little person as much as I loved his brother. Which sounds ruthless, but it’s common, I’m told.
Intellectually I did. There was no actual doubt, but my heart felt pulled with tiny tugs of tension. I just didn’t talk to him as much as William, because William is a full time job. But I trusted, that like the first time, the second I saw him it would feel like he was always a part of my life.
But the tugging and pulling of heart strings foreshadowed, deeply, the tugging and pulling apart of my body.
Will he come out knowing he’s loved? Will he want to nurse? Will he feel tied to me? Will we fit like he fit inside of me, so perfectly?
And there was a lot in this last year that made me question whether I deserved this baby, whether we were in the “right” season for it, whether our marriage was steady enough to grow our heart home even wider, whether I mama-ed well enough to raise two. Just a lot of change and soul searching. But it was good.
Still, the night before, I think I got maybe an hour or two of sleep.
I got in the shower and let the hot water run down my body.
My body that was ached and stretched in different places.
Visibly I was ready.
I didn’t need a single, new person to tell me.
But mentally, I don’t know. I’m not sure that I was as prepared as I thought I should have been.
I let the water run down my neck and turned it left and right to get the kinks out, watching it trickle over my toe-hiding belly, one more time.
Soon it would shrink back to another new state of normal.
Tears fell, taking in every curve, every divet that wasn’t there before. The faded stretch marks from the first round, making subtle appearance and reminding me that I would again, shift and morph and change.
And not just in my physical womanhood, but as a mother. As a wife. As a friend.
And to be honest, there were times where bliss was lacking this pregnancy…though ironically, I was ten-fold healthier…and yet I still found myself asking, will I want to be pregnant again?
I think emotionally it was more taxing for me and standing in the shower that morning I felt both grief of this season ending and relief of it being nearly over.
We loaded the car, drove an hour, said our prayers and walked in hand in hand. Later I thought how telling it was that we walked in that morning in the dark, and headed home in the light of day.
I just kept looking at Jeff saying, This is so weird. It kind of feels like a joke.
And it did. It felt so weird to know I was holding my baby in my belly, rubbing the pop of my belly button a few more times, feeling him squirm in his tightened corners.
The nurse took us to our prep room and handed me a plastic bag with what looked like a hazardous materials sign on it, telling me to get naked, pee in the cup, put the flattering gown on, and seal up my belongings.
I stood in front of that mirror for a very long time trying to figure out how to button the arms on the gown. And then I gave up. Jeff told me he was so proud of me for being brave and asking for help closing up that gown…
Yes, I felt like a champion.
She strapped the doppler to my big old belly. We listened to Gray, smiles stretching. As did our yawns.
I wasn’t nervous until she said the doctor would be in to go over the procedure.
That procedure would bring so much unpredictable. I was terrified. There was too much time and space to think.
I asked a ton of questions. I always do. I think it embarrasses Jeff as we do life together.
She tried to find an IV placement. I bled a lot, they told me. I hated that feeling, the needle moving around trying to find the best place to call home for the next few days.
But I hated the catheter more. I even asked if I could poop before hand, but she told me it was just nerves. In my brain, I thought, no it’s actually Plexus, and laughed internally. I needed that laugh.
Because the room felt like it was getting smaller.
The suffocation instinct strong, prelude to the spinal I was about to receive.
The anesthesiologist came in. Jeff called him a bro. He thinks all anesthesiologists are bros. This one looked like the bros my brother used to call beef cakes. He even had a bro name, Bobby. He was the nicest, truly. And he had a wedding ring. Which I’ll get to.
It was tick-tocking closer to the “set” time of 7:45. I couldn’t get over the factual facts of knowing that I’d be holding my baby soon.
The doctor came in next, all smiles, as usual. And the smiles were not always comforting. He was a nice enough guy, plenty of experience, seemed incredibly confident in his abilities, but there was something. Do you know what I mean?
Anyways, all the feelings of inadequacy of having to go through this surgery to meet my baby came flooding back in the brief period between 7:37 when Jeff left the room, gowned up like an ET scientist, to when I walked into the OR at 7:48.
I was alone for such a short time, but so much back sweat from nerves soaked me in that blip.
When I found out with William that I’d likely have to have a c-section, I was devastated. I felt like a failure as a woman. And everyone could try and cheer me up, but lies kept finding their way to poke me and taunt me with crunchiness and vaginal’s best and but the dangers are… and women have been doing this since the beginning of time…
I managed to get past it with some dear ones gut-punching me with love and letting me know how rich I was for there to be a way to bring my baby into the world safely. But even after laboring for twenty four hours, crashing, puking, stats going whack-o and emergency-rushed into the OR (last time), this time I still heard that small part of me frustrated with my birth canal being too narrow to progress and push out a head.
It’s okay to struggle with that. Please don’t try and fix the struggle for women.
But then you have to surrender it, I’ve learned, because good Lord, He IS good, and magic happens…even when you’re split wide open for it.
The nurse walked me in, prickly catheter annoying the hell out of me. Bright lights. Way too many voices.
It’s not liberating…yet.
I climbed up onto the operating table with my bare bottom hanging out and back exposed to the bro with the wedding ring and some students he was “casually teaching” that day. So swollen from the drugs and the end of pregnancy. Poor guy. All I could think was what interesting conversations he and his wife must have at the dinner table.
And, thank God Jeff is in finance.
Words, medical words, as he explains to the students asking questions. They seem unsure. He assures with his bro-voice, and it genuinely calms me, him telling me I was doing great.
What doesn’t calm me is staring straight ahead at the nurse and assistant counting surgical tools that would rip me wide open– really sharp ones, about 27 of them– to make sure they recover all of them out of my body… I felt like fainting.
This whole thing did happen last time, but I was so drugged up and crashing that I had no blessed idea. I don’t know what I expected.
If you think that c-sections are pieces of cake, let me straighten out some truth. You are just as much a badass going through major intensive abdominal surgery where your baby gets tugged and pulled as your guts are dislodged and reassembled, as you are when you push the sweet thing out of you.
Okay, you’re going to feel the heat now.
The spinal didn’t phase me. I could finally stop feeling the catheter move around. And while I was initially most terrified to not feel my feet again, it brought me the greatest physical comfort to have the doctor come in and lay me back and all feelings go numb, for a minute.
Should I be seeing stars?
Yep, that’s normal.
It was the most raw experience I’ve had in my entire life. And I feel like I’ve been through quite a bit. But there was something so holy ground about the whole thing.
The doctor came in and explained to me, again, what was going to happen. Then they brought Jeff in.
Thank God for that man.
As soon as I saw his face, his calming, kind face (a nervous wreck on the inside too probably), relief washed over me.
He told me, It’s gonna be okay. He always tells me that, but this time I believed it. This time it felt fitting.
Would it be okay? Would Grayson be okay? Would I be okay?
None of this is ever anything we ever deserved. How did I get picked to be this boy and his brother’s mom? How did I get picked to be Jeff’s wife? How did I get picked to live at all?
The longer I live, the more time slipping through my fingers becomes something I’m acutely aware of.
Ann Voskamp’s words blanket me in that moment,
“The hands of every clock never stop signing this: the best use of your hands is always love. The best way to say you love is always time. The best time to love is always now.”
My time was never mine. And someday, we’ll all go home.
But in that moment I hold Jeff in all the love I know, in all the love we’ve made, in all the love He’s spilled out over us, even in the really hard of this last year.
Jeff, he just looked at me — I’m sure not thinking about Ann quotes but just get the baby here — and that’s when the raw really started, physically.
My chest was getting heavy. I started getting queasy. I asked Bobby if that was normal and he gave me more nausea medicine.
And the tugging and the pulling. There’s no words to describe that.
Everyone puts on a brave face and says it doesnt feel like anything.
Especially when you think about it, what they are tugging and pulling.
All of your insides getting all out of sorts. It’s kind of unreal.
Bobby said, this is the big one we told you about.
Oh yeah, thanks for explaining that to me, I didn’t know what you’d meant until now.
It really is the big one.
Last time I could hardly breathe, THIS TIME I FELT EVERYTHING. Well, not everything, but as much as you can feel while numb. Which is more than you might predict.
That big tug, that final pull, and the next thing I knew Bobby was yelling at Jeff,
Get your camera, man, this is it!
He didn’t want to, but he did.
As they lifted Grayson up over the sterile curtain, covered in fluid and very blue.
Frightened and joy all at the same time.
His face was perfect.He was perfect. He is perfect.
Jeff looked at me, we smiled soft, and he said we had a good lookin’ baby.
There were tears in his eyes, the best kind.
To see him become a father again, to feel like a mama again, I don’t know…there’s something about it that feels like treasure cupped.
But they didn’t put him to my chest this time, something felt off. I hadn’t heard him cry yet. But they warmed him, he whimpered and then the lungs.
The raw started fleshing out more as I sighed big.
They shouldn’t have a mirror where patients can see the re-stitching. But they do, I don’t know why. As I watched them take the metal to my belly and thread through places God made a way for babies to come out safe and sound, I was filled with gratitude I hadn’t known yet.
Again, there was so much time to think. Time slowed down, which is funny to say now as I watch Grayson’s breath rise and fall and wait on eggshells for his next shrieky cry of gas pains. But in that moment, it was slow churning and I savored every bit of how wild it was.
This miracle of life.
Jeff cut the chord, they put Gray on the warmer longer, I watched my insides get folded back in. They weighed him. 8lbs 4 oz. 20 inches long at 8:09 am.
I wanted him, to hold him and feel him. Our warmth colliding. But I was a ragamuffin to piece back together first.
There’s another sacred thing though, being wheeled to recovery and finding your man holding the little bundle, close to his heart, and staring down into sleepy eyes.
That’s intimate and vulnerable love, like the love that made him.
In moments like those, I know I’m not alone. I know that all is right in the world, as right as it can be in the frayed. When life feels tired, I think back to times like these and rest in the grace that exists in that kind of tired.
They put Grayson to my chest. Skin to skin is a wonder and comfort that I’ll tell them about on their wedding day and make their faces flush with embarrassment. But that kind of closeness, followed by nursing, it’s meeting face to face what I’d known for so long.
He was already a part of me. My love for him was exploding.
He latched, not well, but okay. And there we began our journey. Of life-sucking in the most magestic way ever. Me nourishing him and thinking, I get to love him the rest of his life.
We were in there awhile, the rest of it was strange.
This time I didn’t have oxytocin pouring through my body. Those I just labored for a baby hormones didn’t come. And I was definitely more irritable with my husband. The healing pain was much more acute. I was much more aware of just how exposed I was. The pressing on my belly to make my uterus go down. The bleeding. It all agitated me. But it went by faster.
I took steps quicker, showered sooner, wore something other than a hospital gown and mesh panties by day two, and walked the halls with a straight back and joy.
And the labor of love hormones did come. This time they came in my family. They got to be there all on the same day. On the first day of Gray’s life. Sharing tears and wonder. That sacred space left me speechless and wobbly.
Watching William meet his brother.
Our family turned to four.
The peace of it all.
That’s when oxytocin came knocking.
Grayson Jon, we love all that you are and all that you will be. We welcomed you home, and you are home to us, you always have been.
P.S. Thanks Uncle Jon for capturing our first moments as a family of four. You’re the very best.