There are so many reasons why this birth center birth was special. But let’s begin with the superficial, selfish one – it happened on my birthday. I had guessed this would happen from the beginning. She went past her estimated due date, as did I and so I like to think of this sweet baby girl as my kindred spirit. Secondly, her mother who’s also a dear friend, has given me two opportunities to photograph her birth experiences.
You can see her second son’s birth photos over here. And lastly, along with these images of her magnificent arrival, this dear baby has a letter from her mother to accompany them. The letter is personal, authentic, and brave. It reveals a mother’s personal account of her fears, doubts and joys of welcoming a third baby into the family. Grab a cup of coffee or tea and immerse yourself in her journey through pregnancy and delivery. She’s such an amazing writer. (and mother)
I loved this letter and the sentiment behind it so much, that I decided I’ll offer “letters to baby” with each birth post. It can be short, simple, lengthy, detailed or vague but I think any personal note to your baby is such a special thing to accompany the images. And, while the newness is fresh on your mind, I think it’s the best time to really emulate the elation and raw emotion that comes with birthing a baby.
And now, I present to you… Sweet Baby B.
Dear Baby Girl,
I want to talk to you about my middle name. Or, more accurately, our middle name. It’s Marie. And for most of my life, I hated it. Maybe “hated” is too strong a word, but I certainly thought it was boring. I wished I were named after a family member, or that my name had some history behind it. But I wasn’t, and it didn’t. Just plain old Marie. So Mom, you’ll most likely think when you’re old enough to read this, if it’s so horrible, why did you feel the need to pass it on to me? Good question. Let me try to explain. But I’ll have to start at the beginning. And I mean the very beginning.
You were conceived quite unexpectedly, on the second-to-last night of my spring break, after I had downed a few cocktails with my girlfriends and blissfully floated home to your father. But as you can probably figure out by doing some quick math, the spring break I’m referring to didn’t take place when I was in college. Actually, by this point in my life I had taught at a college. I was, in fact, 33 years old, married to your dad and a mother to your two big brothers, on holiday during my twelfth year as an English teacher.
So how did I come to find myself in this situation? Maybe it boiled down to one simple explanation: I was on vacation. I was unwinding. Life was easing up a little, and not just during that week-long hiatus from work, but in general. Your oldest brother was three, and was starting to transition from constant melt-downs to moments of rational thought. Your other brother was just 11 months old, but was a pretty easy-going kid who often slept through the night. Your father was wrapping up his final months as a full-time student and stay-at-home dad, and soon he would begin his last semester student teaching and then graduate. We were beginning to see a light at the end of our hectic, exhausting tunnel. And by day seven of spring break, I was (just barely) starting to relax.
How else could I account for my caution-to-the-wind actions that night? After all, up until that point I had prided myself on my expert family planning skills. The birth dates of both your brothers had been meticulously calculated, with each one arriving in the spring so I would have the whole summer to spend with them before I returned to work in the fall. They were just two years apart, in the hopes that they would grow up to be playmates and best buddies. And, most notably, there were only two of them. And from what I had gathered from observing polite society, two is the maximum number of children a modern couple should have. Two is neat and tidy. Two is manageable. Two is the status quo, and fits into society’s picture of a traditional family. But three? Three is messy. Three is overwhelming, with the kids now outnumbering the parents. Three is a financial burden, a strain on the environment. Three is, in a nutshell, irresponsible.
At least that was what raced through my mind as I stood in the bathroom two weeks later, staring down at a positive pregnancy test in one hand and a glass of wine in the other (an indicator of just how confident I was the test would come up negative). And, of course, the bigger question: How could I have let this happen? I mean, I’m still nursing my 11-month-old! Of course I know a breast-feeding mother can get knocked up virtually any time, but my body hasn’t tossed down an egg in, what, 21 months? What are the odds that on this very day, the first time my body is able to get pregnant in nearly a year, and the ONLY occasion during that time that we don’t use protection, it happens?! Knowing it would be my last for a while, I took one last swig of wine and dumped the rest down the drain.
Instead of immediately calling Grandma and Grandpa to share the thrilling news, I felt paralyzed. Now don’t get me wrong; of course I felt some excitement. After all, I loved your brothers intensely, and I came from a family of three girls, so I knew how rewarding it could be to have multiple siblings. Plus, your dad and I had talked about possibly having a third child at some point, and on the night you were conceived I remember thinking that if (by a one-in-a-million chance) a baby were to result from our actions, that could actually be pretty exciting. But of course it’s far easier to think that way when you’re almost certain it won’t happen. And so I tried to give myself a pep-talk: Here I am, “lucky” enough to get pregnant seemingly by my husband just looking at me (which was how Grandma always jokingly described her own experience with fertility). There are so many women out there who long for a baby but can’t have one; I should be more grateful for this pregnancy. This baby is a gift, and somehow everything will work out. After all, wasn’t that the way an expectant mother was supposed to feel?
But as much as I recited this mantra to myself, a majority of the time I felt completely overwhelmed by the thought of having three children under the age of four. THREE CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF FOUR. I still shudder at the thought. And to be honest, I was embarrassed by that prospect, as well. It seemed so… backwards. I had the idea that children should be well thought-out, evenly spaced, and, perhaps most importantly, financially accounted for. By that, I simply mean I believed that if we were going to have kids, we should be able to afford them. But your dad and I? We were living on one teacher’s salary, our finances stretched painfully thin. I had often dreamed of the day we would finally earn two paychecks again and I wouldn’t have to feel my stomach drop at the sight of a bill.
But above all, at the root of my doubts was a feeling of stupidity. I knew better, but here I was, pregnant. And as a result, I worried about the stupidest possible thing I could fixate on, a part of life over which I had absolutely no control: I worried what other people thought of me. One day my sister (your aunt), who was expecting her second child, posted a photo of the two of us with growing bellies on her Facebook page. When one of her friends commented that I was “brave” to be having a third child, your auntie tactfully hinted that the baby may not have been planned. The comments that followed cut like a knife. “I love when people say #3 is a surprise… ya’d think they have figured the whole process out at this stage!!!” “Time to schedule my vasectomy!” I knew they were trying to be funny, but those were not the encouraging words a scared, anxious mother-to-be needed to hear. Instead of feeling uplifted and proud of my pregnancy, I just felt more irresponsible, and sank deeper into my own head.
And so my worries and guilt continued to mount for nine long months until… well, until the night my contractions began. You waited until everyone was asleep, when the chaos of the house had calmed so that you and I could be alone in this most intimate of life’s exchanges. It was early morning on December 21, the first hours of the Winter Solstice, and I labored in the soft lights of the Christmas tree. You were gentle with me, nudging me from within in preparation for your arrival. All night we took turns: you moving into position and me dozing between contractions. By morning, the action had slowed almost to a stop, and you held off with hardly a movement for the rest of the day. But again you stirred at night, when seemingly the whole world was asleep but us. At least that’s how it felt. For the first time, it was just me and you. And the pain was unbearable. You were a force to be reckoned with. I am here! you cried as your head pushed lower. Don’t you dare feel ashamed! you roared, your tiny fists clenched.
When it was time to push, my first few attempts were shallow, intended only to help relieve some pressure. I wasn’t ready to commit to the full process of birthing you yet: I was scared. I feared that the pain would overwhelm me. I feared that each excruciating push would be in vain. I feared that I was wrong, that it wasn’t time, that my I had made a mistake in thinking you were ready. But your focus was unwavering as you guided me through each contraction, right up to the moment when I didn’t know if I could go on any longer. And that’s when I reached down and felt your head. How can I describe the sensation of pushing a life out of your body and cradling it as it enters the world at the same time? I gave one last series of heavy pushes, and with one final guttural yell, you were out. Someone passed you under my body and into my arms, and I held you for the first time, pressed to my chest, perfect and warm and miraculous and beautiful.
And just like that, the fear was gone. You were no longer an idea; you were here in my arms, and you were all that mattered. Until that moment I didn’t know how my heart could possibly make room for one more child. How foolish I was for ever doubting its capacity to love! And the worries I had held to so tightly, which felt so earnest at the time, now seemed trivial. We had been in this together from the beginning, and in the end it was you who led me through the pain and the fear. And now here you were, my stunning baby girl. My third child.
And what was three now? Three was still overwhelming and messy and chaotic. But three was also strong. Three was confident. Three was two little boys smiling wide-eyed at their new baby sister. Three was, in a word, perfect.
And so, sweet girl, why did I give you my name? I gave you my name so that you will always have a piece of me with you. So that even though you have heard my doubts, you will never doubt my love for you. So that when you face an unexpected situation and you don’t know how you will possibly make it through to the other side, you can speak your name and remember that you once led me through such an unexpected journey. And perhaps, just as was true for me, it will turn out to be the most beautiful adventure of your life.
All My Love,