Well, I'm just going to start typing. Because you have to begin somewhere. Writing a birth story three years after writing the birth story is interesting. My, how we change over time. And yet really, I'm still the same girl. The one who started dreaming of being a mama when she was barely big enough to hold a baby. The one who held giant spaces in her heart reserved for three beautiful children, and she didn't even know it. The one who possesed a multitude of strengths that would stretch and grow throughout the years, guiding her through challenges, pulling her toward victories, and always always pushing her towards a greater love.
First, I'll preface this by saying that writing the stories of my babies' welcomings is done freely. I didn't reread or edit my girls' before posting, and this will follow suit. I write. I write and I write and I write, and whatever falls onto this screen gets published. Love and honesty without censoring is how I like my kids' birth stories to be preserved. A bit has changed on this blog since I wrote Nella's birth story. More readers, more hearts, more stories, more scrutiny, more perceptions, but I'd like to believe--and I do--ultimately...more love. For our families and our children and our unique journeys. I think that's all I have to say about that.
There are scribbles of precious unshared moments from my children's births that are hidden in baby books, and there are parts of these chapters--also precious--that I share. It is a common thread that runs through the tapestry of motherhood--all kinds of mamas, hundreds of thousands of unique and beautiful children, miles of earth that separate us, cultures and beliefs and families that identify us--but each of our children has a story of how they were welcomed.
This is Dashel's.
A Little Story to Begin
Last year, Brett's Grandma Betty passed away on May 25th. She didn't say much the last couple days before she died, but she had a few moments where she asked some interesting questions, according to Brett's dad. "Who are the people in the mirror?" was one. And another..."Who's the baby?"
Brett's dad asked "What baby?," and all she replied was, "There's a baby." A month later, we found out we were expecting. Grandma Betty would have celebrated her 91st birthday last week, on February 13th. She always wished she was born a day later...on Valentine's Day.
I felt a deep desire for this baby shortly after Nella was born. I wanted this baby for Nella, for Lainey, for us, for a lot of reasons really. But it didn't happen like I planned (hello life lesson #242--I think I'm finally gettin' this one). A couple miscarriages and then crickets for almost a year--until I self-therapy'ed myself into a very good place of peace and acceptance and moving on. I was thankful for my two girls and so very aware that we can't control a lot of things in life...but we can be happy. If it happened, it happened.
And then we went on the best vacation of our lives last year--a road trip to Michigan where Wanderlust and Relaxation traded hands at the wheel and drove the ship together for three weeks. I felt so presently aware of how much my family makes me happy. Even in the car, after seven hours of driving when the girls were shot, there was us. And for three weeks the four of us were together, walking the busy streets of Chicago, scouring Lake Michigan for smooth stones, fishing from the edge of the dock by our cottage. I had no idea that the four of us was really five of us until I snuck into the tiny bathroom of Glenn's grocery store in Lewiston, Michigan to take a pregnancy test. When I screamed, the four cousins who were standing outside started banging on the door. When I let them in, we tightly huddled, shared a group hug, jumped up and down and took a picture in the blurry mirror above the dirty sink. We called the baby "Squirt" because we went back to the cottage for a toast, and among the clinks of Coors Light glass bottles, there was a tinny tap of one soda can, my Squirt.
I waited until we heard a heartbeat, until we made it through a couple of "this one's going to make it" ultrasounds before I let it sink in. And while I thought I wanted another girl because girls are what I know, I had no idea that what I really wanted was a boy. Sometimes you don't know you want these things until fate picks them for you. And then you're thankful that you don't get to make all your own choices because that would be kind of selfish and boring, and you'd never get to experience your secret wants--the ones only fate knows.
A boy. My son.
My water broke last Thursday morning. I went in for a quick appointment to check on everything and was sent straight to the hospital with nothing but my purse. That's what Heidis are for. They pick up husbands and baby bags and cameras and everything you need for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
I spent an hour alone in the birth room before anyone arrived. We chose a different hospital for this birth--a half hour away and close to the Isles of Capri. I loved the peaceful environment, the view, and that calm hour I spent alone with the comforting sound of my boy's heart, transmitted in a constant stream of ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum from the monitors strapped around my very large middle. I wasn't nervous or scared or anxious, just present.
One of my favorite things from all my births? The warming bed--the tiny diaper and bulb syringe and stretchy striped hat that's laid out for my baby--the one who's still inside me. There's always this gripping moment of reality when I see those three items. They represent the transformation that's about to happen--that the baby I've dreamed of and felt move and imagined holding is moments away from being real, from being placed in that diaper and dressed in that hat and placed in my arms. That realization has made me cry for all three births. "Send me a picture of the empty crib," my sister texted. It's important, that moment.
Brett and Heidi arrived along with a little surprise--Nella came too. I got to hug her as my baby one last time before Brett ran her home to his mom for a nap.
And then several hours of this incredibly significant time. Baby prepares, Mama prepares. Our room felt full of love--music and candles, favorite things from home, stories with friends and my husband who was very nervous and cautious. I didn't realize until after Dash was born just how nervous he was this time.
Heidi feng shui'ed as Heidi does. I ate popsicles. Brett paced the room and constantly asked everyone if they needed anything.
And the pain increased. "Tell me if you want an epidural," the nurses said, and I made note of the fact that they estimated half an hour for the anesthesiologist's arrival. I knew I'd probably want one eventually--I had one with the girls--but I also wanted to breathe through some contractions. I wanted to feel as much of this birth, as crazy as that sounds, as I could.
Pre-drugs, your pain is monitored only by your own perception of contractions, on a scale of 1 to 10. "That was a four," I started off reporting. Then four built to five, five to six, and by seven, I had invented a brilliant pain management plan. Instead of moaning or cursing, you yell celebrities' names--obscure ones--the more interesting, the better. I admit I stole this from Steve Carell in Forty Year Old Virgin when he screamed "Kelly Clarkston" during a chest wax. But I can honestly say, shouting "BOB HOPE!" and "FLORENCE HENDERSON!" pulled me through the dooziest of doozies. And Heidi snapping "Oh my God, you can do better than that" makes you laugh; and when you laugh, Contraction-of-an-8 feels like Contraction-of-a-3. Which is good, contractionally speaking.
Somewhere near breaking point, we said that thing you say to make it feel better: "Just think, he's going to be here soon, and everything's going to be perfect." That's when I let myself honestly confront my fears. I cried--not for long, but long enough. Because I remembered saying those same words moments before Nella was born. And even though everything turned out fine--more than fine--I like to listen to these feelings and to fears and to everything that hums within. My last birth and my present birth shared a bridge for a short moment, and I felt the depth of those beautiful moments again which is exactly what propelled me to the place I needed to be when they told me that my boy was ready to come out.
Oh, and the epidural? I finally asked for one. And got it. But his head was too big and down too far, so it didn't work. Even after two "refills" and a billion clicks of that clicky thing they give you to administer your own boost. I actually think the clicky thing is for purely psychological reasons now because even when I knew it wouldn't give me anything, it felt really good to click the bejesus out of it during a bad contraction.
So they say "You're ready. Time to push." And right now I can close my eyes and remember everything about what happens when they say that. How the room suddenly shifts as nurses excitedly prepare; how the ligthing changes; how the faces of your friends suddenly express more love as if that's possible; how your husband holds your hand so tight, you can feel his fear through his grip, and if you've ever wondered how much he loves you, you have a pretty good idea by the way he looks at you; how you start crying and can't stop--a little bit because it hurts but a lot because you know that you're about to meet your baby and mere seconds separate you from one of the single greatest, most love-filled moments of your life.
They told me to push. And I did, crying "Am I supposed to feel all of this?" through all of it. I remember holding Brett's hand so so tightly and feeling like he had such strong safe hands. I remember him telling me I was doing a really good job. I remember the pain. I remember the comfort of my friends and hearing them cry and feeling lucky to share moments like this with people I love so very much. I remember my doctor and her kindness, her gentle instructions and feeling safe and comfortable with her in charge. And in hindsight, I'm glad the epidural didn't work so good. Because I felt my son make his way into the world.
Oh to go back and have that moment again. The euphoric moment of seeing him held high, pink and perfect and crying. Reaching out my arms in the most desperate grasp to hold him, and finally feeling the weight of his body and drawing him to my face where I could kiss him. Skin to skin, we connected. He cried one good hearty cry while I sobbed steadily but smiled. Beamed. I kissed his nose and made note that it was cold--colder than the rest of him. And we fell in love, my son and me.
*My friends Heidi and Laura once again captured our sweet first moments
The nurses took him only for a moment, but my eyes didn't leave him.
Dr. Clements, our wonderful doctor who helped bring this boy into the world
Brett asked about fifteen times "Is he okay? Are you sure? Is she okay? Are you sure?" But I knew the moment he let go and breathed in the relief that everything was okay. He was suddenly calm and elated while together, we welcomed our boy.
Sweet Baby Dash. He blink-blink-blinked just like the girls did, taking in the first lights and sounds of his new world. He clearly responded to our voices, even stretching and reaching back towards Brett when Daddy hummed his first hello. "Did you see that?" I asked Brett. He was smiling radiantly. "Yes."
These moments? I have them forever. These are the ones I'll go back to both when things are rough and when life feels glorious. When parenting is hard, when years replace days in separating me from the moment he arrived, when I don't have the answers and he's not tiny and I'm not the one and only thing he needs for survival, I'll remember what it felt like to be handed my son--how quickly and deeply that love began, and I'll find perspective hidden in these memories.
Later that evening, Brett returned home to our girls while I paid no heed to the things they tell you about resting that first night. I can't sleep. I want to stare at him and study everything about him. I want to talk about babies and life and begin tallying up the hilarious moments during the birth that we knew would be shared later. So Heidi and I whispered for hours by candlelight and Bon Iver and ate chocolates and roasted almonds while Dash got kissed and snuggled.
I talked about how different it felt from Nella's birth--how nice it was not to be crying and scared and yet strangely, I admitted that part of me actually missed the memory of those painful, precious moments after her birth. It's hard to explain.
We finally slept a few hours, Dash's little cradle cart pulled perfectly parallel to my bed so that when I opened my eyes, I could see his face; I could reach over and touch the cold nose that I had kissed for the first time just hours before.
Everything felt so incredibly calm. The evening, the next morning, the trail of visitors, Brett's voice on the phone when he called to take food orders and let me know the girls were on their way. Calm and sunny--a giant picture window framed our room and poured a constant stream of sunshine throughout the day.
one of my favorite photos from the hospital, taken by my friend Monica, from her phone
For both girls' births, there were so many specific things I had planned for and remember happening, and this time around I was in a happy haze, observant in a different way of the events around me. Relaxed, receptive.
I didn't cry when the girls met their brother but rather smiled and sat calmly on the bed, watching them, marveling at the fact that it seemed so meant to be--like he'd always been here and they'd always loved him.
Babies who suck their fingers are funny
*Thank you to my father-in-law who took all the beautiful photos of the girls welcoming their new brother
Brett's dad who shares Dash's middle name
Curious sisters watch his hearing test
Lainey and I shared some very special hours together in the hospital. After a stream of visitors left, we decided to let Lainey stay alone with me and Dash for a little bit while Brett took Nella home for a nap. I know she'll never forget those moments. We veered from our nursing routine for one feeding to give her the opportunity of giving him a bottle, something she had talked about a lot before he was born. Watching that? Well, that one made me cry. Such a quiet bonding experience between little brother and his second mama--a relationship that has captivated me this week in way I hadn't anticipated.
I love the hospital moments. I love that for every second I'm there, it feels special, like a vacation--the one where a new baby is welcomed and mamahood is celebrated. And being that this was my last mamahood hospital vacation, my heart was raw. I remembered each of my children's stories--how they were welcomed, how the moments in that hospital were spent.
His coming home outfit, crocheted by my mama; and that's a yawn, not a cry
Saturday evening, as we packed up and gathered all the memory tokens from the room before we headed home, I held back tears and turned around once more before we left. Room 11, added to the Hall of Fame. I thanked the sacred space for the memories it delivered. Another birth story written. Another soul to love. And he's ours to take home.
I can't believe it's been a week. I've succumbed to a few normal postpartum blues breakdowns this week--just wanting to stop time, wanting to go back to that day, wanting to preserve that memory as long as I can--hence the hospital bracelets still hugging my wrist and the playlist from his birth continuously repeated. I am trying to balance my sentimental heart with the one that embraces reality and understands that the present is the most important time. Not yearning for the past, not needlessly anticipating the future. Just living right now, in this moment.
So, we're doing that.
Something about the juxtaposition of a big strong teenage boy holding a tiny fragile one completely melts me.
*Another favorite photo. How inventive this girl is in finding ways to get to him. Unlike another moment earlier this week, this one didn't involve a pointer stick between the crib slats. Or Frosted Mini Wheats flung into his Moses Basket.
You know, we've come a long way as women. Our culture recognizes and celebrates our accomplishments, talents and unique gifts far more than it did fifty years ago. Much good has come from voices for feminism. And today, we talk a lot about recognizing and valuing our identity outside of motherhood. I know that's important. I have no doubt that if I didn't have children, I would have found fulfilment and happiness in other things and I wouldn't have been any less of a woman or lover or nurturer as I am today as the mother of three.
But I can also say that I am an independent woman who is completely and utterly in love with motherhood--so much that yes, my identity is and forever will be intertwined with this gift--being their mother.
How incredibly grateful I feel right now to be given our boy. And what a treasure this week has been.
So there you have it.
A birth story--more laid back, but then again, so is he. Pretty chill, pretty calm.
The best thing about birth stories?
They are just the beginning. There is more to be written for our family, for our love, and for the life of our precious Dash, the sleepy boy who purrs when he dreams and cries in tiny, raspy, velociraptor squeaks.
It's as if he's always been here.