To the day, I am thirty and three months, and our Greta-who-grins is three months. I did everything in my power for that not to be the case, but the good Lord wanted to humble me, I guess.
Greta’s due date was March 14, a comfortable 3 days after my birthday on March 11. But Miriam had come five days before her due date, so I was on high alert. Every day I’d wrap everything up before leaving work, just in case. One night in late February, I had contractions that kept me up for hours, analyzing the crampiness, the discomfort, the frequency, trying simultaneously to decide whether this was the beginning of labor and to ignore it altogether and hope it would just GO AWAY and wait for the the right day. I found it frustrating that I didn’t have a better read on my body this second time around.
So when I awoke in the dark, early hours of my birthday to mild contractions, I didn’t trust that it was labor. I still spent the night analyzing the particularities of the sensation, but I figured that denial was the best way to keep my birthday to myself and eventually fell back asleep.
My greatest hope for my birthday, after not having to share it, was to go to brunch with Dan. The contractions had subsided enough that we decided to send Miriam to church with Dan’s parents and enjoy a peaceful brunch at a nearby crêperie. Over the course of our meal, my belly seized up here and there, but I didn’t pay it much attention. The contractions were mild. It was my birthday. I could forestall the birth by ignoring them.
We wandered through an antique store and along the Thornapple River, savoring the aimlessness of the morning and the uninterrupted conversation.
When we picked up Miriam from Dan’s parents after church and our brunch, we mentioned the contractions, emphasizing that we really didn’t know and this might just be a fluke but that we would probably have her spend the night at their house, too, just in case.
We went home, put Miriam down for her nap, took one ourselves, and pulled out pizza dough from the refrigerator. The day before, we had texted a few friends, tentatively inviting them over on Sunday at 4:30 for homemade pizza and the chocolate torte Dan had baked. At 3:30, I made the call: party was on! My belly tensed up every now and then, but it was late enough in the day and what I now was thinking of as very early labor hadn’t picked up anymore, so I felt sure that today was safe. We’d almost certainly have a March 12 baby.
As friends arrived, we put them to work assembling a salad and concocting a dressing. Too numerous to fit around the kitchen table, we spread into the living room to eat. I remember perching on a tiny child’s chair, my belly swelling onto my lap, and lifting Miriam onto my knees. Both girls, right there. My friends sang happy birthday and we cut into the cake. I wondered whether I should eat much (you know, throwing up in labor and all), but Dan makes a mean birthday cake, so I helped myself to a good-sized piece. We talked, about what I don’t really recall—probably the baby another friend was due with in three months. The contractions registered with me, but they didn’t hurt.
As 6:30 crept closer, Dan tried to catch my eye. He had to take Miriam to meet his parents, and it had to be soon if she was going to get to bed on time. I had been dragging my feet about this part, the saying goodbye to Miriam. I took Miriam up to the chair in her room, held her in my arms, and said goodnight, my voice breaking. Until now, Miriam had essentially had us to herself. And at only two years old, she had very little understanding of how this new baby would affect her life—as if we did, either. I wanted her to feel how deeply I loved her and how the birth of her sister would not diminish that love.
Dan, attentive to the clock, pried Miriam from my arms. Full of feeling and not wanting to face anyone, I asked him to send our friends home. I sat in that chair, pensive about the one daughter in my belly, the other on her way to her grandparents’. I listened to the shuffle of feet on the steps, the creak of the front door, voices receding until they were gone.
Eventually, I collected myself enough to head downstairs, where I found two abiding friends, Travis and Mariah, cleaning up the kitchen. I plopped down on a stool and let them clean. Their presence brought me comfort. They were exactly what I needed—people who didn’t need me to play host or even keep it together, people who could let me be in early labor, it seemed, without a bit of unease themselves.
At some point, the cramping got a little deeper. In the bathroom, there was blood. Denial, over. Labor, here. Still, it was already after 7. I had hours of labor ahead of me, likely even the whole night. I breathed a sigh of relief. March 11 was mine.
I told Mariah that I was indeed in labor, although it didn’t feel very strong. She encouraged Travis to speed up his dishwashing. Dan returned home, confessing to speeding because he had felt awful leaving me crying alone in Miriam’s room. The four of us leaned against the counters in the kitchen and kept talking. Travis snagged another piece of pizza. We finally migrated toward the door for goodbyes around 7:45 and hugged each other tightly.
Just as they opened the door to step out, I had to stop and breathe through a contraction for the first time all day. Once they closed the door behind them, I had to lean on Dan and breathe through another one.
Dan wanted to let our midwife and doula know that things were “picking up.” I was now on my hands and knees, rocking to ease the pain in my hips. I texted Ginger, our doula, to say that labor was suddenly stronger. Dan called our midwife, Breck, and then passed the phone to me. I had to clench my teeth through parts of the call. Still, Breck told me to not bother timing contractions, to keep an eye on things, and to call her back in two hours.
I decided to draw a bath, which had gotten me through most of my labor with Miriam. I sent Dan on a wild goose chase for a few tealights and a lighter, but by the time he returned with them, I was back on all fours in the bathtub, two inches of water around my knees, moaning in pain. “Push on my hips!” I begged.
“We need to go to the hospital NOW,” he said. I didn’t want to. Both Breck and Ginger had asked me to give them a decent heads-up. This was hardly advance warning.
He blew out the candles, along my hopes for a little bit more time, and called Breck back. We were coming. Now.
We grabbed a bucket (in case of throwing up in the car), a scarf and wooden spoon (a complicated solution for getting counter-pressure on my hips that I couldn’t make work), and our hospital bag. The pressure was so intense that I wondered aloud who I could quick call and ask to push on my hips during the twenty-minute drive. No time. Dan sped to the hospital, counting down the minutes for me.
When he screeched to a halt at the hospital entrance, I heard Ginger call out, “I’m over here!” She helped me hobble in while Dan parked. I unwound the pointless scarf and clambered onto a waiting wheelchair, still on my hands and knees, and was wheeled to triage, where the nurse made a joke of the name Claus and complained that it was hard to check my progress while I remained on all fours.
Suddenly, Dan and Breck were there too. “Nine centimeters!” someone announced. Dan later told me that the nurse didn’t want me to leave her supervision until she got the full 20 minutes of monitoring. Breck, awesome Breck, said: “Keep her only if you want this baby born in your triage room.” So off we went, me still on all fours, dress hiked up around my waist, barely covered by a white sheet, all while moan-wailing like a wild animal past hushed first-time moms walking the halls to help labor progress.
In the labor room, I looked up, dazed from a contraction, to see the pregnant belly of an acquaintance from college. “Andie!” I said between contractions. “Hi! You’re pregnant, too!” I assured her I was happy to have her as my nurse, stripped down to my bra, and made my way onto the bed.
Nausea hit me. “I need a bucket.” Ginger slipped one under my head. “There’s my cake,” I joked weakly. Ginger and Dan laughed.
I couldn’t get comfortable. I tried all fours. I tried my side. I got on my back. Breck said, “You can push if you want to.” “Seriously?!” I said; it had taken a full day of intense labor to get to this point with Miriam. I was hardly 45 minutes into it this time!
So I pushed. I curled my body around my belly, trying to squeeze this baby out like toothpaste from a tube. It HURT. So bad. I had pushed for two hours with Miriam, and the thought of that made me want to give up. “I can’t do it!” I said.
“Yes, you can.”
“Hold my legs,” I cried. I was feeling shaky and weak and unable to get a good grip on my legs to hold my position. So Dan held one and someone else held the other. I curled and pushed, curled and pushed. On one push, I felt a spray of warm fluid—my water breaking.
“She’s close!” someone said. “Here’s her head.” There it was, bulging. (Oh, the beauty of labor.)
A few more pushes; her head was through. I heard someone ask Dan if he wanted to catch her. He declined, saying he wanted to stay near my head to support me, and I jumped at the chance: “May I?” Suddenly, it all felt possible. That was the incentive I needed. Push, Grace, push! You’ll get to hold your daughter!
It was 9 p.m. and there was no time left for disillusionment. I’d have a birthday buddy.
So I pushed again, groaning, straining the blood vessels in my chest nearly to the point of bursting. A breath. A push. A breath. A push. And then—I reached down, slid my hands around the torso of my tiny, wet, warm DAUGHTER and pulled her to my chest. Ah! My GIRL! Our Greta.
Here we were, three of our family of four, lounging on the bed, at 9:07.
9:07. Less than an hour and a half (!!) after the first serious contraction. I was hardly winded! My hair hadn’t been disturbed! Alert and acutely present, I held my newest, youngest daughter, stroking her damp head with my finger, marveling at her speed, her arrival into this room, into this world, into this family waiting for her.
Her: Greta Marie. Greta, meaning pearl, a name we chose because we hope that she discovers the kingdom of God as the pearl of great price and trades all she has for it. You are precious to us, Greta, and the kingdom of heaven is even more precious. And Marie: Dan’s mom’s middle name, a name whose roots wind back to that of Miriam’s—another bitter, rebellious child, but again, one we pray rebels against the evil one and his wiles.
And now she is three months old. She grins and chuckles, and she has the shallowest of dimples on her right cheek. She adores her family. As my mom says whenever I’m in Greta’s presence, “She only has eyes for you, Grace.” Yet it’s not just me. Greta’s got that enchanted, steady look when her big sister is around too. When Miriam “reads” to her, Greta twists her head over her shoulder and watches Miriam out of the corner of her eye, which is full of love. She already thinks her big sister is the coolest.
Now that I know what a baby turns into—namely a child who converses and imagines and insists that I “do a pencil dive, Mama”—I am so eager to watch her grow. Who will you be, Greta girl? You are you, and you’ll only become more of yourself. May you love the Lord. May you love this world, its color and song and givenness. May you know our love, darling girl. We love you always.
And I say this sincerely: You are the only person in the universe with whom I’d willingly share my birthday. (Except I call birthday brunch. You get dinner.)
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
Three years ago, I had just received a call back from the Reformed Church in America for an interview for an editorial position. It seemed like a good fit, and yet it ripped us away from all the plans we’d had—plans to copastor, plans for Dan to pursue what he thought God was calling him to. We moved in with Dan’s parents because our lease in Holland was up and we weren’t sure what was next. I was two months pregnant.
On my first day at the RCA, I learned that because our baby would be born six months after I started, I didn’t qualify for FMLA. I sobbed the whole drive back, apologizing to our baby for the abbreviated maternity leave. Talk about going out weeping.
Not quite two months after accepting the job, we spotted this duplex online. It was close to my office and the rent was reasonable, so we contacted the landlord. Eager to find tenants, he threw in a new washer and dryer, the first of many kindnesses. We moved in the next weekend.
Now, three years later, we’re moving back out and across the country to Seattle, where Dan has accepted a call as pastor of a church. Psalm 126 feels so fitting for today—sowing with tears, reaping in joy. These three years have been some of the hardest in our marriage. They’ve tested our faith in God, asked us to trust him when Kentwood, Michigan, has felt like exile. These years have humbled us.
And they’ve also been some of the richest. Our spunky Miriam was born IN THAT HOUSE! Our Greta with the big grin, though not born there, has come to know the play of light on the bedroom ceiling, the way the breeze blows through the living room. We’ve cooked meals in that kitchen (Dan, mostly), and accepted meals in the early newborn days. We’ve hugged people hello and goodbye on that awkward little landing between upstairs and down. We’ve fought some of our worst fights in those rooms, and we’ve filled them to bursting with love. We’ve cracked tiles and broken blinds (bye bye, security deposit!) and assembled cribs and sewn pair after pair of toddler pants. We’ve stood outside the bathroom door, waiting our turn and longing for a second bathroom (our new house has three and a half!). We’ve walked dozens of times to the park, learned the names of the plants along the way, grown from sitting on the grass to clambering up the rock climbing wall. We’ve greeted bunnies and robins in our backyard, tossed maple helicopters into the air and watched them fall to the ground.
Despite these years sometimes feeling like exile, the life lived during them was never paltry.
Our home was not a house with character by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s on the busiest road we could find, and yet it has held so much life in these three years. Today, we packed up our house so that Dan could pursue the calling he has dreamt about since eighth grade, and if that’s not restoring our fortunes, I don’t know what is.
We move, not filled with sorrow—although leaving the Midwest after three decades here is bittersweet—but filled with gratitude. Thank you, little white duplex. Thank you, suburban Kentwood. Thank you, Lord. You have done great things for us. We are filled with joy.
Dan and I used to take real pleasure in cooking together. It started back in college, when we, off our meal plans for the first time, were finding our way around the kitchen, discovering appliances beyond the microwave, looking up what to do with artichokes and beets. (This was the year of the vegetable parties and the year Dan bought me knives for my birthday. What a dream.)
The routine migrated with us to seminary, where, newly married, we were so busy with schoolwork that making meals became our time together. We’d set aside our books and laptops for an hour or so and crack open a cookbook and challenge ourselves to try something new, or to make it better than the last time.
We had a rhythm in the kitchen. You should have seen us make beef and broccoli. Or pizza—we had that down to a science: I’d knead the dough, he’d cook the sausage, I’d grate the cheese, he’d stir the sauce. We could have a pizza in the oven in no time.
These days, though, it’s a little trickier to cook together. These days, it’s more like: I feed the baby, he chops, he cooks, he stirs, he grates, he bakes, he plates. On very rare occasions, if she’s not hungry but insists on being held, he’ll take her and I’ll do the cooking, which is what led to these muffins. It’s good to be back in the kitchen.
Like half of what I bake, I deviated from the recipe to accommodate my own cupboards. (Or, frankly, because I was halfway through pouring in the corn flour before I realized the recipe called for cornmeal, which we had run out of the week before.) I got the basic recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction, but Kim Boyce assured me that I could manage with corn flour, and she inspired the scallion/cheddar combo. As I’m typing this, I’m imagining how delicious these would be with the addition of a cup of corn, too!
1 cup (120g) corn flour
1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup (67g) packed dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp honey
1 large egg, at room temperature if you remember
1 cup buttermilk (or my trusty hack: 1 tsp lemon juice + milk enough to make a cup)
handful of scallions, chopped (to make about 1/2 cup)
2 cups grated cheddar
Preheat oven to 425°F. Grease a 12-count muffin tin.
Whisk together the corn flour (or cornmeal!), flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cheddar in a large bowl. Set aside. In a medium bowl, stir together the cooled melted butter, oil, brown sugar, and honey until completely smooth. Whisk in the egg until combined and then the buttermilk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until combined. Fold in the scallions.
Spoon batter into the muffin tin, filling each cup all the way to the top. Bake for 5 minutes 425°F, then, keeping the oven door closed, reduce heat to 350°F and continue baking for another 15 to 18 minutes, until puffed and golden.
These are best fresh with a hearty knob of butter, by they manage to taste pretty good on day two, too, reheated just barely.
Lest you think I go about my life drained and never filled, exhausted and never replenished, hear this:
my daughter brings me so. much. joy.
I realized this when I was tracking my health habits for a rewards program through our insurance company. One of the habits is laughing—a good belly laugh at least once a day. In 2015, I almost never recorded that I had laughed. Because I almost never laughed.
In 2016? I check that box every day.
This girl. It’s hard not to laugh with her. She chats with her koala buddies, who hang from her bouncy seat. She kicks up a storm when she’s naked on the changing table. She squawks cheerfully when we read Go, Dog. Go! to her. She wakes up, wide-eyed and ready to talk. She smiles when she’s supposed to be sleeping. She smiles when she’s sleeping: her little mouth moves, unaware of its expression, and lands in dreamy happiness.
Our hearts burst.
Surely it was a nursing mother who first used the word “drained” to describe her exhaustion at the end of a day.
I’ve felt tired before; I’ve felt spent. But until now, I’ve never fallen into bed feeling weakened, empty, utterly void. Because I am. I am empty: I no longer carry a child within me. My belly is not round and full, it is hollow and flabby. All day long, my breasts are drained of their milk. I spend my days tending to this little life, so needy, unable to do a thing for herself. By the end of the day, the stopper has been pulled and all the energy just glug-glug-glugs right out of me. That’s when I lie in bed, my eyes half closed as I feed the girl, who is wailing and inconsolable and greedy as ever for milk, and tell her, “Honey, mama’s got nothing left.”
The sensation seems appropriate for the season. Lent: a season of self-giving, of self-emptying. Christ gave of himself, emptied himself, even to the point of death, in order to give us life. On a much smaller scale, I am emptied so my daughter might live.
I find myself identifying less with Christ, though, and more with a toddler my mom and sister saw while running errands once. The little boy, clearly worn out from the day, and apparently with a nearly-empty bottle, sighed to his mom, “I’m runnin’ outta energy—I’m runnin’ outta milk!”
Today, our Miriam Elaine turns four weeks.
It was hardly more than that—four weeks and a day, really—that we were at Dan’s parents’ for Christmas, me still a week from my due date, his aunt telling me that my face had that flushed look of a woman about to give birth, my sister-in-law cautioning me against getting too eager. (Her daughter was almost two weeks overdue, and from what I hear, those after-due-date days are torture.)
Dan and I came home on a Sunday evening and went to bed, just the two of us, the way it has been for four and a half years, and woke up just hours later to contractions. They were low and crampy, not high and hard like the Braxton Hicks I’d been having for months. We monitored them for a couple hours, then called Kim, our blessed midwife, who recommended a bath (always a bath) to see how the contractions responded. They didn’t ease up, but they didn’t increase, either, so I texted her and climbed back into bed, sleeping off and on till morning.
I didn’t know what to make of the contractions, which were still hugging my pelvis periodically when I woke, so I emailed my supervisor and a colleague, saying that I didn’t know if this was real labor or not, but that I’d be staying home today. Then I called Kim again. Dan was lying next to me on the bed and overheard her telling me about the ice storm headed our way, about how she didn’t want us to make the hour-long trek to the birth center if the roads were as bad as the weather people were saying, how she’d stop by after her morning appointments to check my progress and drop off supplies for a home birth just in case.
Secretly I’d hoped for a home birth all these months, but we were too nervous to go for it. When I got off the phone with Kim, I looked over at Dan to see what he thought.
“Did you hear that?” I asked. He nodded, laughing at the irony. Then he drove to the grocery store to stock up on food in case this storm and the baby came and we were home-bound and without power for the next few days. I took a shower. When he got back, we played cribbage, our old standby, pausing between hands for me to lean over and rock my way through a contraction. I was still unconvinced that this was real labor. I was just pregnant and uncomfortable, as a woman who is 39 weeks pregnant usually is. These contractions would stop. I’d stay pregnant for two more weeks at least. They’d probably have to induce me at 42.
Just after lunch, Kim arrived. She brought in bins full of stuff—an inflatable pool, an oxygen tank, other things I never saw or knew she used. We all talked about the weather. I had to stop and lean against the coffee table while another contraction hit. We went up to the bedroom and she checked me. Four centimeters. I was shocked at how easily I’d gotten there.
Somewhere in these minutes, it got decided that we were not leaving the house. I have no recollection of the process of coming to that decision. It had something to do with the crazy-icy roads and the distance to the birth center and the contractions that were coming closer together and growing more intense and demanding that Dan press harder on my lower back. This baby was gonna be born at home.
For a home birth, Kim would usually come to the house at 36 weeks, to see the space and to make sure it had all the supplies for a birth. In our case, she had to assemble everything on the spot, which meant that she ran to the Walgreens on the corner.
When she got back, she and Dan pushed aside our kitchen table, inflated the pool in the middle of the floor, and started filling it. When the faucet ran cold, they heated pots of water on the stove and dumped them in one at a time. By mid-afternoon, I decided to try laboring in the pool. We turned off the lights, lit a few candles. The water was glorious—warm and soothing to the contractions gripping my hips and lower back. I took to moaning through each one: when I’d feel one coming on, I’d pause my sentence or cut off Kim’s or Dan’s or Stephanie’s, the birth assistant who had arrived, turn over, lean my head against the pool’s fat edge, sway my aching hips, and hum low and deep.
Dan and I were grateful we weren’t responsible for judging when to leave for the birth center. Our birthing class told us that a sure sign would be my attitude: if I was still smiling and laughing, we should keep laboring at home. But right up until I started to push, I was either chuckling at Dan’s jokes or attempting lamely to crack my own between contractions—and that would’ve been far too late to be driving!
It was in these early-evening hours that I learned the intensity of labor. The contractions worked on my body: I was worn out, as if I had spent the day carting wheelbarrows full of boulders. Between contractions, I drifted off, too tired to keep up with the conversation. A voice in my head told me I couldn’t keep this up. I was getting discouraged.
The hours get messy here. My memory is blurry and sharp at the same time: I recall particular moments in strong detail but have no idea about the order. I just know that the contractions were nearly unbearable now, to the point that I threw up as they hit. (The prospect of throwing up terrified me; the last time I threw up I was ten.)
“Throwing up is worth ten contractions,” Stephanie said. That’s the only thing that let me yield to it.
Kim checked me again and invited me to try pushing. I was terrible at it. People had said I’d feel the urge to push, but it was more like I forced myself to. The water wasn’t working for me anymore—I couldn’t control the pushing—so Kim and Stephanie set up a birthing stool. Someone helped me out of the water, and I straddled the stool. I leaned back on Dan between contractions, trying to summon my strength.
Pushing hurt. People told me pushing would be a relief. It was anything but. I tried to use the rest of my body to force the baby farther down, farther out. Babies—at least this one—don’t move quickly or easily. Everything was pinched and pressed and pained. It’s not poetic to say so, but what they tell you is sure accurate: pushing is like having a huge poop. Huge.
Next thing I knew, I was shuffling up to the bedroom, a step at a time, using Dan as a crutch. He helped me onto the bed, where I lay on my side and used my leg as leverage to push. I was miserable. Surely pushing would make me rip open and explode. And there were other reasons I didn’t want to push. I wasn’t ready. If I didn’t push, I could preserve our life as it was, the two of us, content and familiar. I had the power to do that, right?
Stephanie suggested that I refrain from pushing for a few contractions and let my body do its work. It was designed to push the baby out whether or not I cooperated, so I might as well relax and give it some space. Trying not to push killed me. It was a thousand times more painful to try to rest than to work with my body. I was crying by now—in pain, but also in apology to Dan. I knew he was ready to be a parent, and here I was, prolonging labor and putting off the birth.
In those moments, something shifted in my spirit. I had to work with the contractions. It might’ve been a sudden coming to terms with parenthood; it might’ve been the incentive to have her birthday be December 28 (a nicer number than 29, I thought). Even though Stephanie hadn’t given me the go-ahead, I determined to push. With the next contraction, I strained with all my might. If I thought before that I was going to explode, now for sure I would.
I moved back to the birthing stool. Kim called Dan over and told him to look: the head! I reached my hand down and poked the tiniest tip of our baby’s head. It was squishy and rough with hair. Oh, girl. You are on your way.
Her head half out of me, I waddled back to the bed, got on my hands and knees. With each contraction, I gripped the mattress and pressed my body backwards, forcing that girl farther out. I was in agony. Having a baby’s head half out of you burns. And that burning lasted for nearly half an hour while she s-l-o-w-l-y made her way out. All I can say is that those minutes were the most excruciating minutes of my life. I cried out in pain. I think I swore. I got back on my side to ease the pressure (when the pressure is that great, easing it is a joke). And then Kim slipped in a finger to make a little extra room—which then took first prize for the most excruciating moment—and suddenly everyone was saying, “The head! The whole head! Now her shoulders!” I thought the shoulders were supposed to be painless, but they were not. I cried some more and pushed, and then—
onto my chest came a squirming, slippery fish of a baby, her body still bundled and wrinkly. Hard to hold onto. Hair matted. Eyes squinting and blinking.
I was bewildered. This—this!—is what I couldn’t fathom twelve hours earlier when we were playing cribbage on the carpet. This person is who I was resisting when I should’ve been pushing. This daughter, Miriam Elaine.
I lay exhausted on the bed, bleeding, sweating, shaking, leaning on Dan. I did not experience the euphoria I had anticipated, but I did feel relief. Kim and Stephanie cleaned everything up—me, Miriam, the bed, the rest of the house—and left us, the three of us.
We slept together that night, our daughter resting on our chests.
Now she is four weeks old. She is plump and expressive, though her expressions correspond to precisely nothing yet. She smells soft and sweet; even her sour milk-breath has a sweetness to it. Sleeping is her favorite pastime, though nursing comes in close second, and her periods of wakefulness are growing longer and more purposeful. She sees us now, rather than looking through us or past us, and she’ll turn her head to hear us read or sing. When she sleeps, we listen to her quiet wheeze, watch her tiny lips and eyelashes, nuzzle her downy cheeks, stroke her small hands.
We named her Miriam after the Miriam of the Old Testament, who kept an eye on her little brother Moses as he drifted down the river in his basket, the Miriam who would later sing to the Lord after he delivered his people from slavery in Egypt. It is our prayer that our Miriam will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living and, like her biblical counterpart, will bear witness to his faithfulness. The name Miriam also means both rebellion and bitterness. We desperately hope she will not rebel against us (please not the teenage years just yet!), but we do pray that she’ll be wise enough to see what things she ought to rebel against—like the edicts of Pharaoh and captivity to evil. May she not be conformed to the pattern of this world.
And we gave her the name Elaine, which means light. It’s my middle name, as well as the middle name of my mother and both my grandmothers. We’re oh-so-aware of life’s seasons, sometimes bright, sometimes bitter, and we hope Miriam knows both and gives thanks to God in all seasons.
She is a gift to us, a gift we wanted but a gift far better than we could’ve imagined. We are grateful to God.
A special thanks to our talented friend and photographer, Ryan Humm, for taking some photos of our new family. The one of Miri and me and the one of her tiniest lips are his.
“Peace, peace,” they say,
when there is no peace.
Every evening, I lie in the tub and swirl Epsom salts through the water.
If I do not do this ritual, at 1 or 2 or 3 in the morning, my belly will seize up and wake me, getting progressively harder and then finally releasing, repeating over and over for hours. I will grow agitated and unable to fall back asleep.
So every evening, I lie in the tub and swirl Epsom salts through the water. My belly is a mountain above the water, a mountain that rolls and swells as if tectonic plates are shifting beneath it. The ground surges and shudders. No parts are distinct. It’s all a heaving, trembling mass.
Amiina plays and I close my eyes. I imagine our baby in her watery home while I lie in mine. She is nameless, faceless to me yet, as I am to her. She doesn’t know me as her mother; I’m just her environment.
I pray that she will love me, not as her home but as her home. I pray that she will not break my heart as daughters are wont to do to their mothers. And I pray that when she does, I will be as tender and gracious to her as my mother has been to me. I pray that in the midst of these restless days, this girl and I will come to terms with each other and ready ourselves to meet. May we grow into love.
I’ve written before on the elusive nature of joy. I could write more, or I could just say this: that’s what Advent is for.
Advent is for longing for the things that are not here yet. Advent is for praying for them, for trusting that God has not forgotten, for asking him to come soon with joy in tow. It’s so easy for me to wallow in the not-joy, but Advent isn’t for wallowing—it’s for waiting.
In a rare moment of sitting down at the piano, I came across this lovely song of Marty Haugen’s—My Soul in Stillness Waits. Of all the Advent songs I’ve sung this season, this one seems to capture best the active waiting—the asking—of Advent. (And that second verse! Man, it nails it.)
My Soul in Stillness Waits
For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits,
truly my hope is in you.
O Lord of Light, our only hope of glory,
Your radiance shines in all who look to you,
Come, light the hearts of all in dark and shadow.
O Spring of Joy, rain down upon our spirits,
Our thirsty hearts are yearning for your Word,
Come, make us whole, be comfort to our hearts.
O Root of Life, implant your seed within us,
And in your advent draw us all to you,
Our hope reborn in dying and in rising.
O Key of Knowledge, guide us in our pilgrimage,
We ever seek, yet unfulfilled remain,
Open to us the pathway of your peace.
This is the irrational season
Where love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.
I am disheartened by the room that we are failing to leave for the child.
It’s Advent for goodness sake and I’ve heard nothing but vitriol and swagger from politicians and celebrities and—most heartbreakingly and frustratingly—religious leaders. Their blustering rhetoric has taken up all the space in the inn, forcing Christ out into the stable.
I suppose he’s used to it. Isn’t that, in some ways, the story of his life? From beginning to end, no one made room for him. The innkeepers took no pity on his mother, a woman obviously in labor. The other guests didn’t want to give up their rooms or disrupt their sleep. Everyone was too comfortable, too scared, too scornful to make room for Jesus.
Now imagine if Mary had felt the same way. If Mary had been filled with reason—or fear or hatred or bravado or any number of the other things that fill us these days—there’d have been no room for the child.
Bless you, Mary, for being filled with love. Bless you for your hospitality of the most intimate kind. Woman, you opened your body to a child. You submitted to nine months of the discomfort that comes from sharing your abdomen with another being. And then you gave your life over to being his mother. Thank you for your irrational love, which allowed Love himself to enter the world.
Before falling asleep last night, I read through my journal from earlier this year—from the months we were trying to conceive and the early months of pregnancy. Like Mary, we were not filled with reason. We had no idea what we were asking for (nor, frankly, do we now). We didn’t take into account the financial cost of raising a child, nor did we consider what an imposition she’d be on our relatively smooth life.
Instead, we were filled with bright-blooming, wild love.
My prayer is that the irrational season will overwhelm our nation. That we will let love do what it does: bloom brightly. That we will take the risk of making room.
These days should be rich with meaning! I am pregnant right along with Mary, due only eight days after Christ himself was born. I should feel this Advent all the more forcefully—and really feel it: feel the waiting in my body as it grows fuller, nearly to the point of bursting.
But I do not. The layers of meaning sit there, unmined; the resonance with Mary, unfelt. Was it the warm November? Have I been thrown off by the new environment and schedule that I’m still unaccustomed to? Where is my Christmas spirit? And where is my baby spirit?
When I confessed to Dan my lack of anticipation, he assured me that perhaps the not-feeling has something spiritual to teach me. Maybe we’re not always waiting with eager anticipation. We don’t always have a clear idea of what to hope for.
So much of my emotion about our coming daughter is simply blank, unclaimed. I’m neither excited nor fearful—I simply have no feeling about it. I don’t know what to feel because it’s utterly new to me. What are the proper emotions for an expectant mother? Not knowing, I go about my business, feeling nothing.
Is this how Mary felt, too? Did she feel swollen as the moon, ready for the dawn from on high to break upon her body and the world, or did she just have a worse-than-usual backache that was too mundane to attribute to the growing body of the Savior of the world? Was she keenly aware of the meaning of her pregnancy, or just as ignorant as I am? Was she full of hope as her belly grew big and her sleep became restless, as she waited out a Braxton Hicks contraction (and later on, a real one), as she watched the drum of her stomach slither and shift—or were those just the odd symptoms of a completely natural process?
I want to have hope: both for our baby and for the coming of the Christ-child.
It helped a bit that we got to meet our brand-new niece, who gave us a little glimpse of the sweetness that’s in store.
It helped that we spent Thanksgiving with my grandmothers, who recounted their own stories of labor and birth, who hadn’t seen my belly yet and delighted in it in ways I’ve taken for granted.
I may not be waiting with great hope, but I’m certainly waiting. Our little babe will be here yet. And Christ will come.