First Days as Family
Journal entries from Joan's first month in the world.
Since the flood God has refrained from renewal through destruction. He redeems instead of erasing, and creation is the ultimate act of redemption: he makes something new to complete a thing that seemed irreparable.
He made Joanie. He doesn't erase families that have lost their way here and there. He finds ways to add to their beauty, and draws us toward himself by clarifying the vision he held for us at the moment of our creation.
She came from my womb, I came from my mother's, but we all came forth from the Lord. If Joanie were to forget her place of origin, I could not forget. I remember her taking shape within me. I believe the Father remembers the moment we took shape in his thoughts, the moment he smiled with the idea of us. He remembers us together in that most parental, intimate of moments.
I don't think I would have survived this labor if God hadn't taught me over the years that it is okay, and actually glorifying to him, to name my weaknesses bravely.
At so many points I was tempted to be angry with myself, or to be discouraged by where I felt my choices had brought me - working 14 hours on Friday, working all day on Saturday, going into labor already exhausted.
I forgave myself so many times. The difficulty I had with pain, the need I had to pause my contractions with water, so many small concessions I made when I just wanted to be strong. Not finding a moment of spiritual clarity in early labor. Not being able to eat.
In the end, I think naming weakness is one of the things that brought me through. Asking for an epidural refreshed me and the medication allowed me to make up lost sleep. Asking for help when nursing became painful. Asking for extra bandages when I was taken aback by how much I was bleeding. He gave me weakness as a tool to cry out for what I needed in the moment that demanded my greatest strength.
David and I dream of each other even we are lying in the same bed, after having been together all day.
More than ever before, I am primarily conscious of my experience as a physical body. I want to experience God and life in mind and spirit, as I've been trained and trained myself to do, but this seems nearly impossible right now. I am preoccupied with the fullness of my breasts and how to empty them of milk. I had a temperature and chills yesterday after being too exhausted and engorged to get proper rest. I feel my uterus contracting with each feeding session, shrinking back to its old size. I am constantly trying to rest in a way that doesn't irritate my stitches. My lower back hurts. My pelvis hurts. My nipples throb and burn; yesterday the left nipple bled.
I've wept daily because I am exhausted by the constant pain, and my stamina ebbs when the pain comes in surges - a fever and chill followed by a sore back and an excruciating nursing session. I joke with David that postpartum days are like a pain buffet: I take pain in multiple iterations, course after course.
I cried out to the Lord. Where are you in the pain? Simply, he is here, and he is not asking me to form a spiritual narrative or derive a lesson from this experience. He simply encourages me to persist. All he says is do not be discouraged.
What I'm grateful for regarding Joan's development:
Joan is healthy and perfectly formed
She eats heartily and often
She digests her food without issue, generating a mound of heavy diapers daily
She gains weight impressively
She sleeps deeply
She cries when she needs something
She stops when she gets what she needs
My desires for her are simple. I want her to do what she has to do to thrive, and seeing the above fills my heart. Thank you Lord for these gifts. I am so grateful.
When Joan is wrapped in her swaddle, I feel her tiny wrists and elbows and feet, small firm lumps rendered amorphous by the intervening layers of fabrics. They are so familiar to me. I cherish this time while she is still small, as much as I rejoice in her growth; I cherish this period of discovering points of recognition and familiarity in the midst of enormous change. These are the little appendages I felt and wondered at when she was in my belly. These are the protrusions that would slide under my ribcage, or poke out with insouciance at my side. I marvel at how familiar her shape is to me. She is a little stranger but we have already shared the same column of space, lived together in the most intimate of ways.
I think back to the first moment Joan was placed on my chest. She was red and purple. Wet and slippery and very warm. She felt heavy with water, as if she had soaked up the fluid she had rested in up until that point in her life - weightier than her size would imply.
She felt a little bulbous and rubbery. Like what I imagine a fat baby dolphin to feel like.
She was flailing and squirming against me, alien but also so familiar. I knew these limbs. I cried and laughed, delighted, moved, amazed that we were face to face at last. What a face. What a body. The intimate stranger I had wondered about for so long, no longer a conjecture or anecdote, but a being in her own right finally revealed.
The memory of that first embrace still brings me to tears. In the way heaven must drive out any remaining sting of earthly suffering, seeing her drove out the thoughts of the labor that had just preceded. I don't remember delivering the placenta. I didn't realize I was so exhausted that the muscles in my mouth were trembling. I remember looking at her in a shock of awe and delight, knowing that the moment we had anticipated was meeting us full force, and it was more beautiful and visceral than we had imagined.
She crawled, haltingly, to my breast. She latched and fed immediately. She was perfect, eyes open and alert, chest rising and falling with her breath.