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173 beats a minute: On one surprising little baby and the possibility of tiny miracles

FiveFamilyPlusOne

It was an early summer morning when I realized that we might need a pregnancy test. This was hilarious to me.  I mentioned it to my husband and we laughed about it – of course, it wouldn’t be positive, of course.

We were done having babies. We had made the decision to move into a new season of life more than two years ago – after a lot of prayer and conversation and waiting. The reasons for our decision were our own but we knew we had made the right decision. We were a “five-family,” as the tinies called us, and I was content. I was even learning to make peace with The Ache. I loved the baby season of our life and I will always miss it. But I loved our new season of life, too, and we had begun to orient our life to school-age kids. I began to “lean in” to my own vocation as a writer and even an occasional preacher with joy.

So when I picked up that early-result test really it was just to put my mind at ease. I couldn’t be pregnant, no way.

***

One early Saturday morning in June, Brian sat on our bed waiting for me to emerge with the expected news. Instead, I walked out of that washroom and simply looked him dead in the eye. “No way,” he said, “no. way.”

And we began to laugh – a little hysterically, I admit.

We laughed every time we looked at each other for the next three weeks.

***

We told the tinies that very day. We made the tactical error of taking them out to dinner at a non-kid-friendly establishment. Evelynn had not had a nap that day and she was ferocious in her exhaustion. I ended up spending most of the meal walking her out of the restaurant for her behaviour. When Brian finally blurted into a brief quiet moment that we were having a new baby, I was feeling frazzled and exhausted, Evelynn was still on the brink of a melt-down, the other two tinies were starving, and we looked like a three-ring circus to everyone else within range.

The serving girl looked overwhelmed for us when we told her why we were there “to celebrate! a new baby!” And then the tinies cheered and I cried because I was nonsensically happy with my circus. And then Evelynn and Joe got into a yelling match about whether the baby would be a boy or a girl and I decided to pull the plug on the dinner. For pity’s sake, let’s just go home, I like all of you people better when we’re at home and properly rested.

A new baby, of course, Lord, because life isn’t crazy enough already.

***

We told our families and closest friends that day, too. I think we needed the moral support. I think we needed someone to say, “it’s okay, you’re going to do great, you can totally do this.”

Because in those early days, all I could think about was how my life was being completely reoriented and I hadn’t planned for this and my life was going to have to run to catch up to this news.

I felt scared and overwhelmed, grateful and disoriented.

And yet I was so happy.

***

We told the tinies not to tell anyone. We made a great show on the Sunday morning about keeping secrets. But the very first thing that the tinies did when they walked in to church was to inform everyone: “Mummy’s having a BABY!”

PSA: Tinies are crap at keeping secrets. We only managed to keep this pregnancy a secret from Facebook. Everyone in our real life found out within 2 minutes of running into the tinies.

***

But it didn’t take long for the fear to set in. This is my eighth pregnancy even though I only have three children. We seem to be able to get pregnant easily – it’s holding onto the babies that is the trouble. And now I am considered “an older mother” – my risk factors in early pregnancy are high.

And so my primary job in early pregnancy seems to be fighting the fear and the anxiety, trying to choose hope and faith on a near daily basis.

With every baby I have lost, I have had zero pregnancy “symptoms” – no morning sickness, nothing. But with my three tinies that we have earthside, I was sick as a dog and grateful for it. Perhaps the only women who rejoice over morning sickness are those of us who have experienced the pain of miscarriage and early/mid pregnancy loss. Every bout of sickness, every day of exhaustion, every ache, it all testifies that someone is still there, still growing. It’s when your body goes quietly “back to normal” that you start to fear.

But with this pregnancy, I have not been sick. I have not been overly tired, nothing.

I go through my days and there isn’t a single indicator that I’m pregnant. And that has terrified me.

***

Finally I went to have the initial checks. And it only seemed to confirm my worst fears: there was no heartbeat.

I drove home from my doctor, numb. I pulled over on the side of the road to call people. I called Brian, I called my mum, I called my sister, I called my dad. And I called a couple of friend who I know are prayer warriors.

I wasn’t ready go give up. Not yet. I was still hopeful. For that day, anyway.

***

We went to our regular midwife a few days later. This was the one that was supposed to find out the truth once and for all.

Again, no heartbeat.

And I think that was the point when I gave up. Brian still continued to hope and pray, he agreed with our midwife that there could be any number of reasons why the heartbeat wasn’t showing up. I wasn’t there anymore.

Hope was too hard for me. 

My family and my friends decided that since I could not hope that they would hope for me, they would have faith for me.

We were scheduled for a final ultrasound check. I began to make my plans for how to handle this. As in times of great sorrow in my life, I went very deeply within myself. I stopped talking and completely withdrew. My family all knows this about me and they gave me the space I needed, my soul felt like it was in survival, shut down to just the basic functions.

How could we be here again? I felt like I could not bear this loss. We had done this so many times already – this was part of the reason why we decided to stop with our three. I felt like I should be grateful for the little ones we have in our home and that it was too much to expect more. And sure enough, here we were again. I began to make plans, figure out schedules for medical procedures.

My sister had bought the new baby a little white and grey sleeper in soft cotton the day after she heard our news. But on that day, I stood in my bedroom, looking at that hopeful little sleeper hanging in the closet, and I folded it up and put it away mechanically.

On the morning of the final ultrasound check, I went to the coffee shop and I wrote an entire blog post telling the world about how we had lost another baby and how the sorrow was swallowing me whole this time. I scheduled it to post the next morning. Then I drove to the doctor’s office to meet my husband.

***

I lay on the table, numb. And we explained why we were there and so thankfully no one was happy or excited, wounding us further with their blind hope.

Our tech quietly went about her business and the minutes passed, so slowly. Then in a tone of complete shock she said, “173 beats a minute.”

“What?” my entire body woke up. What? What? What? What?

“173 beats a minute!” she crowed. “There’s one little baby here and … it’s alive!”

Brian started to cry and I started to laugh, this is what we do when babies come to us. He broke all the rules and texted from the room: “173 beats a minute! We are having a baby!” over and over and over again. Little arms and legs were moving, a heart was beating, life!

I called my friends and they almost couldn’t believe it. Sometimes we get so used to our prayers feeling unanswered that we don’t know what to do with ourselves when the miracle happens. This baby has a lot of people longing for his or her life now.

Later that night, I went to my blog dashboard and sat looking at that post I had written just a few hours ago. My great act of faith was to not only unschedule it, to not only put it back into Drafts, but to entirely and irrevocably delete it.

***

I still don’t know if that was a miracle or not. It feels like one. It’s entirely possible that the doctor and the midwife simply didn’t get the heartbeat for whatever reason. But all I know is that there was no heartbeat and then there was – 173 beats a minute of a little heart still hanging in there.

There was nothing there and now there is precious life.

***

“This one might be your desire-of-the-heart baby,” Brian told me one day this summer.

He said that because, even though I made my peace with The Ache, even though I was in complete agreement that we were done with our three, even though I was ready for this new season of life without any babies in my arms, there was still that part of me that longed for one more. Perhaps it was the desire of my heart broke through all the expectations and plans somehow.

I don’t know why Tiny #4 came to being – even that part feels like a miracle, to be honest. But I know that Tiny #4 was so longed for, deep in my heart far from articulation.

***

I’d be lying if I said that was the end of my fear, that since then I have walked in total assurance. It has still felt like a roller coaster all summer. I go through days when I feel sure we’re destined for sorrow still.  Even now, I don’t “feel” pregnant which makes it hard to keep the fear at bay.

It is still my daily battle: faith over fear, hope over despair, over and over and over again.

(I certainly look pregnant though – hello, fourth baby, my abdomen muscles have given up any pretence.)

I had another appointment just last week with our midwife and again, trouble finding the heartbeat. Finally on the third check – 160 beats a minute, so faint but unmistakably there. Still there.

Now we have crossed 14 weeks and I have decided to be hopeful anyway. Every day that passes feels like a victory somehow.

I bought a baby name book this week.

Continue Reading · baby, family · 138

Surprise!

Remember how I mentioned that there were a few reasons why I needed to take the summer off from blogging? Well…..I’m just going to go ahead and leave these family pictures here and then walk away whistling with a grin, okay?

Anne

JosephEvelynn

FiveFamilyPlusOne

(I have a story to tell you, believe me. This is might just be our miracle baby.)

Continue Reading · baby, family · 126

In which I am learning to live with the ache

Evelynn newborn

Evelynn at two months old, photo by Rachel Barkman Photography

Our old baby crib is now sitting in pieces in the garage. We will take it to the dump soon (it has one of those now-outlawed dropsides so we can’t resell it or donate it). Whole sections of the bars are gnawed to bare wood by little teething babies, there are bits of sticker glue and swipes of Sharpie marker here and there, the screws are a bit loose. It’s in rough shape after nearly eight years and three big babies-to-toddlers in quick succession. There are a lot of sacred memories hidden in that dismantled old crib. The day we took it apart, I cried over that junky old crib. Goodbye, old friend.

It is likely that there are no more babies for us.

I was never one of those girls who wanted to have a houseful of babies, who just wanted to get married and have babies and stay home with them. I mean, I was okay with kids but it wasn’t my thing. I quit babysitting at 14 because I figured there had to be a better way to make money than that. And even after our miscarriages and challenges with fertility, I was unprepared for how completely transformative I found motherhood, how I loved even the mundane dailyness, how I found joy here.

I know that everyone’s experience is different, and I’m not saying that mine is normative but it’s real and I can’t deny it: I came into myself when I became a mother. I was reborn, all over again. The experience of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding my babies profoundly changed me AND it changed my view of God entirely.

So, of course, it’s hard to know that stage of my life is done now.

But it is.

It’s likely that I won’t ever be pregnant again, that I won’t carry a baby within me again, that I won’t ever give birth again. (Yes, I’m one of those awful women who loves pregnancy and giving birth.) When I think about not breastfeeding – one of the most real things I’ve ever done with this body – ever again, I catch my breath with longing.

And yet, I love this new stage of life with the tinies. Just when I think we’re at my favourite stage with them, something new comes along and I think, “oh, wow! no, this part is my favourite!”

People tell you a lot about how much parenting will change your life and they’re right. But usually they mean that you won’t ever sleep in again (you won’t) and a few other things about how much we “give up” to become parents. No one tells you how much you’re going to laugh. No one tells you how much wisdom resides in these small humans, how much they will teach you about love and life and friendship and forgiveness and worship. No one tells you how good and freeing it is to leave your selfishness behind. No one tells you about recapturing your own wonder and innocence, about re-reading the Ramona books, about playing football in the basement, about birthday parties and snow days and every day beauty. All the best things I know about the big nouns and verbs of a life came back into my life because of them.

But there likely won’t be anymore Bessey babies for us. Our family is complete, it seems, we’ll always be a Five-Family, as the tinies call us. There are many personal reasons why we’ve come to this decision as a family.

In my head, I know that this is the right decision. In my heart, I know this is the right decision. Brian and I are in complete agreement.

And yet there is The Ache.

Always The Ache, right underneath my lungs, in the pit of my gut, the ache of what that means and the grief of moving on, of love, of knowing: No more babies. No more nursing quietly in the night. No more flour sack of milk-drunk baby bliss. No more gummy smiles. No more tiny diapers. No more baby clothes. No more crib. No more baby wearing. No more new baby smell. No more of the millions of moments that knit your heart so completely to another small soul.

The season of having babies – the one that so radically changed me – is over. I’m okay with that. Most days, I’m even very happy about it, relieved perhaps. It’s an intense season of life, make no mistake. We’re ready for this new season, looking forward with anticipation to new things. Other days, it’s hard.

I know we like to pretend like we can have everything all at once. It’s a nice illusion. But there are transitions in our lives: times for certain seasons and times when those seasons end. Are we happier for pretending that we can have everything anytime we like? Or are we better when we acknowledge the end of one chapter of our lives, grieve and sing and give weight to the passing of it, and move forward? To everything, there is a season.

I am starting to think that, no matter how many children we have, no matter the reasons why, no matter how old we are, when you’re done having babies, we always carry The Ache.

I have a friend who had six children, and she said that she had The Ache when they were done. I have other friends who had two, who had The Ache. Other friends who had four or five or six. I have friends who are in their thirties with toddlers, in their forties with teenagers, other women in their fifties and menopausal, and they still talk about The Ache: I miss that still, they say wistfully. That was a nice time in my life.

I don’t know that we ever lose that ache. I don’t know if we ever get rid of it. I don’t know if we should. Maybe it’s meant to be there with us. So I’m learning to live with The Ache now.

I’m learning to let it be there, part of me, probably always a part of me, without justification or change of circumstance. When you have been given the tremendous gift of being able to have a baby, to give birth to that baby, to love that baby, it marks you. It should, perhaps, and so this season has marked more than just my stretched-out body, it has marked my soul.

The Ache reminds me of the great and terrible beauty I have seen, of what love I have experienced, of the sorrow and brokenness of loss, of all the love that is still here, of the wonder and miracle of life, of the sweetness of co-creation, of the labour and release, of transcendence.

Praise God, my babies are growing up and that is its own joy and beauty. I’ll miss toddlers in the same way, I’ll miss preschoolers, I’ll miss their kindergarten self, their Grade Two self, as well, and so on through their lives.

Right now, the Ache is for no more babies in my life. This was a beautiful time in my life, please notice that it’s changing. But the Ache changes and grows as we move through our years, I imagine, perhaps in proportion to the life we live, the love we gather and give. Someday, I’ll miss these very days, talk about them with the same language, perhaps.

And in another few years, the blink of an eye, I’ll be sitting in a house, alone: the laundry will be done at last, the house will be clean – and it will stay clean, and the floors will be quiet, no one will be asking me for anything at all, my time will be my own, and I will feel the full weight of The Ache for which I’ve been holding vigil at last. 

It’s simply the Ache of time passing, because this is what time does, and our souls are noticing the passing of a season, and it’s okay. It’s okay to let it Ache. It means we’re living and it means we’re loving our life as it stands, loving it enough to notice a transition away.

I am making my peace with The Ache, holding a bit of space for its presence in my life today. Someday it will be my old friend.

Continue Reading · baby, babywearing, family, giving birth, gratitude, journey, love, parenting, women · 344

In which I thank the Duchess of Cambridge

To Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cambridge (or, as we all refer to her, Kate):

THANK YOU!

Signed,

Every woman who has ever given birth

kate2

As we’ve already established on this blog, I’m a raging Royalist. I know it completely flies in the face of my anti-establishment tendencies and my social justice wannabe self with a heart for the underdog. I can understand and affirm all the arguments against the monarchy with my reasonable brain and my theological education, absolutely. But in my heart of hearts, I’m still the little girl who grew up in the 80s in Canada at the height of the Princess Diana years and so God save the Queen and everyone else can bugger off. I’m letting the soft animal part of me love what it loves (with apologies to Mary Oliver….yet again).

And I love the Royal Family.

So of course I was elated over the news of the safe arrival of Prince George. I have grown to (embarrassingly) love the Duchess of Cambridge over the years. I didn’t think there was anything she could do that would make me love her more than her grace, dignity, discretion, and beauty had already accomplished.

But then she walked out of that hospital in her blue polka dot dress – which, of course, immediately reminded me of Princess Diana’s own polka dot dress at the introduction of Prince William to the world – and a delightful little baby pooch.

And women everywhere cheered.

Because in the face of supermarket tabloids that barely allow a woman’s perineum to be stitched up before they are gleefully asking “how she’s going to lose the weight” and a celebrity culture that plans a tummy tuck before even nursing the new babe for the first time, we have forgotten how having a baby actually looks on a body.

Here let me tell you: it’s a big deal to have a baby. After you have a baby, you are left with a softly pooched out tummy and aching nether-regions, sore breasts and your entire heart now laying beside you making noises like a kitten. You are weepy and exhausted, gloriously alive and powerful. You are a life-giver and so now you want both a nap and a hearty roast beef dinner for your troubles. Your skin is criss-crossed with stretch marks because you don’t participate in co-creation with God without being marked by the experience. You became a mother and, no matter how many sit-ups you do, your body will bear the imprint of that truth for the rest of your life in some way.

It can take a year, maybe longer, for a woman’s body to recover from birth. And right after having a baby, one’s focus should be bonding, nursing, sleeping, trying to figure out who the baby looks like, eating well, and healing – not on how soon one can fit into pre-pregnancy  jeans or appear on a D-list celebrity rag in a bikini.

Now Kate looked beautiful and well dressed, of course, unlike us peasants in our maternity yoga pants and nursing bras for weeks after giving birth. (I have my suspicions that she may have been standing there in her heels wondering how much longer before she could go back inside and sit on the ice pack again though.)  I’m no dummy either – I know she’s going to drop the baby weight quickly (and she likely has a nanny so she’ll look more rested than even those of us without infants any longer).

But still, she walked outside with her adorable baby belly on display and the world noticed. She did not hide her body and she did not demure from the truth of what she had just accomplished. I could have cheered because truthfully I’m a bit proud of my own pooch, I earned it three times over.

Related: In which I promise not to call myself fat

In which I write a love letter to my own body

 

 

Continue Reading · baby, giving birth, health, women · 52