I’ve written letters to your brother on each of his birthdays, and I intend to do the same to you. Your first letter though will be for this first Birth Day when you entered the world, and I’m writing it now when it’s only been a few weeks, and I can clearly remember all the sights and feelings of those first few hours. I know a day will come when I might forget some of these tiny details, but there are so many things about that moment that will remain stamped in my mind forever; I know it.
Your brother’s birth cracked me wide open, in every sense of that phrase. It was a long process and ended with some details I did not anticipate, and as surgeons pulled his little body from my belly, I was ripped open literally and figuratively. All kinds of new love came from the cracks in my broken heart, and I love him for it. His birth taught me a million things I didn’t know before and gave me new eyes for so many things I’d never seen, but sadly, I didn’t really believe in my ability to do everything I needed to do to consider myself a real mama, and part of me assumed I just wasn’t made for birth. The scar on my belly and in my heart stayed there for a long time.
Then you came and you grew and that scar literally disappeared from my view as the nine months progressed. I think you were already whispering to me from where you were, telling me that I was every bit the woman I wanted to be and that we could do this together.
When May 18, 2012 arrived, and I felt that first contraction, I really thought it would be a slow, painful, long process and my nerves started to set in as my old fears crept up a bit. You didn’t leave time for much of that though. First a reminder at 11:30am, then another at 11:45, then another about 12 minutes later. You were telling me that my body was working, and it would work so much faster than I thought it could. I insisted on a full tummy though, so I made your dad and brother sit with me to eat lunch. It was our last meal as a family of three, and in typical Jude fashion, he was shouting, “Stop dancing, mama!” as I tried to sway through the contractions. Your Grammy came to get him, and then Nana arrived and your dad drove us to the hospital. Drove is an inaccurate depiction really. He flew like a bat out of Hell and cursed the traffic while envisioning his precious daughter making her entrance on the side of GA 400. Contractions were coming every three minutes at that point, and he and your Nana were getting nervous that I was close to meeting you and the hospital was too far away.
But we made it, with four hours to spare actually. I waddled in the door of the hospital and stopped every couple of minutes to grip a wall or a doorway and moan through a contraction. As you grow, you will find this funny, I think. I’m typically a fairly private person about that sort of thing, but I didn’t care. Again, your perfect pace didn’t leave time for self-doubt or second guessing, and I am so grateful for that gift. A surly woman checked us in and took too long on the monitor strip, but once she was done, we got settled in our Labor and Delivery suite with a kind nurse and our awesome doula Pam, and things really took off.
Contractions were coming one on top of the other, and I started shaking and became very demanding of your father, which is a trait you will see the rest of your life. It hurt. And I was starting to wonder why it hurt so badly when my dilation was only a “four or a five” when I was checked minutes ago. I thought a hot shower might help, so I stepped in and let the water pour over my back and I did find some comfort, but you were still being heard so much more loudly than I expected at this stage of the game. I asked to be checked again since I really wanted the warm comfort of the tub. My midwife told me that I was progressing well, so I stepped in the warm water.
I think you had your sights on being a water baby from the start because often the warm tub will slow down a laboring mom, but for us, this is where things really picked up. Your dad was playing a soundtrack of El Ten Eleven and City and Colour, and I just listened and pretty much held on to him for dear life, and before long I found myself loudly vocalizing to get through the contractions. With your brother, I endured nineteen hours of unmedicated labor and a surgery following that, and the whole time I remained so silent you could hear a pin drop. I tend to turn inward when dealing with discomfort of any kind, but you sent me a message that sometimes we surprise ourselves, and I found that vocalizing really helped me with the pain.
Sometimes I lamented that “Oooooooch this huuuuuurts.” And sometimes I told my body to “open, open, open.” And at one point, I started talking to you and telling you to “come on baby, come on Norah.” And with every all-consuming contraction, you were talking back to me and telling me it wouldn’t be long. I think we are going to talk a lot, you and I, because we were doing it from the very beginning.
Then next thing I know, my body starts pushing a bit with each contraction as you move downward. And then pushing a lot. I push and I push, and I thought I would be so anxious at this point of the delivery because it’s where things went awry last time. But again you were looking out for me. No time to be anxious or question or even think really. I just rode the wave of each contraction and listened to my body and pushed when it told me to. And for the first time in thirty-one months, I began to think maybe I really was strong enough to do anything I wanted and perfectly created to do this. I started saying so aloud, “I can do this; I can do this; I can do this,” like a chant. Everyone in the room was assuring me that “You are doing this,” and I gladly hung some hope on their words of encouragement.
With each push, you came closer to meeting me, and it hurt more and more. I began yelling loudly, or I remember it that way. Your dad assures me it wasn’t that out-of-control, but I swear he is just being kind to me because I seemed to remember screaming like a banshee as you moved through my pelvis. I started to waver a bit on my confidence, but my midwife looked right at me and assured me that I was doing it and you were minutes away from my arms. She told me your hair was waving in the water as I would sway between contractions, and a smile emerged for me because I knew we were close. With another push, she encouraged me to feel your head, and so I did. You were partially out and all soft and warm from the water and from your place in my own body. That moment of feeling your fuzzy little head in that water while the rest of you was still part of me will forever remain in my memory, Norah. Someone in the room commented on how amazing it was that the perfect song was playing at just the right time, and I like to think that was another little nudge from you that everything was coming together exactly as it should to make this magic moment. The next contraction came, and I gave it a few good pushes, and out popped your shoulders and the rest of your tiny little frame, and with the help of my midwives, I lifted your beautiful body right from that water to my own chest.
And you did not utter a sound or make a cry yet, but I felt as if you had been talking to me for months, telling me that we could do this together and I was not broken and that I was every bit the mama you needed. And you looked at me. Just looked. For the longest time. Those big silent eyes just looked and blinked a bit as if to say that you completely expected this moment and there was nothing surprising about it. I talked to you and I kissed you, even with all of your gooey birth stuff on your sweet little head. And I remember saying aloud that I felt like a new woman. I think what I meant at the time was that the all-consuming pain of the work of labor was over in an instant. But now I hear that statement with new ears because I really was a new woman in that second, one who knew that she wasn’t broken. And I can never explain to you in enough words or long-winded letters how much gratitude I have for that lesson, Norah.
Being a woman is hard. We judge ourselves and we expect too much and we internalize everything. It breaks my heart that you will learn these lessons someday, but I know you will. All I pray for in my life with you, in my years of being your mama, is that I can somehow give you the confidence and love and overwhelming gratitude that you gave me at 6:39 pm on that day. I look at you and I know with all certainty that you are beautiful and perfect and created to do anything in the world that you set your mind to, and apparently so am I. Thank you for teaching me that and for loving me before you even arrived.