You know, it’s strange. I can write about a lot of things, from the ridiculous to the deeply personal. But when it comes to the birth of my children, I find myself stumped. I have so many different starts with so many different angles in the telling of Clara and Sammy’s births, but the words never flow. They never seem to stick without getting sticky, you know what I mean? I don’t know, maybe one day I will sit down and stop self-editing long enough to just tell the stories without worrying about telling them right; until then I’ll choose an alternative mode for organizing their birth stories, which is to keep making poorly edited movies and slide shows. (Cause if you can’t do something right, just keep doing it worse. I think that’s a saying, isn’t it?)
I know it’s almost March and that means my son turned one almost two months ago, but I finally finished the video I wanted to make for his birthday. This movie is much more intimate than anything I’ve ever shared about my kids’ births or their first few days. I’ve gone back and forth with myself wondering if I should post it at all, if maybe it’s a little too much to give the world. But, Sammy’s life has been shared by many friends and family and strangers even, a whirlwind of prayers bookmarked by two frightening January events, cold days bitter with wind and fear. The video opens with my baby hooked up to IV’s and ends with him hooked up to IV’s, stark images that bring back a lot of feelings.
Due to some complications with my pregnancy and some impossible decision-making, which you can read about here, Sammy was born 2 1/2 weeks early weighing 4 1/2 pounds. That’s a small kid. When I watch his birth video I feel sad for the mother I see on that hospital bed, sick with worry about the baby that she knows is too small and the panic of not knowing why. Nothing was wrong- we just make tiny babies. But I didn’t know that. I just knew that the boy I pulled up onto my chest was the tiniest human being I had ever seen in person, a bundle of bones and tight skin, dark hair and the most impossibly skinny legs. We spent the week in the NICU letting him gain weight and learn to stabilize his own blood sugars, and then took home a four pound three ounce human, ours to feed and nurture and keep safe from a world full of germs and idiots.
It was terrifying. I wasn’t very happy: in fact, I was depressed. I didn’t see it at the time, I just knew how tense I felt about his health and how pressed in I felt for the two months we weren’t allowed to leave the house. But now when I watch these videos, these 3 minute snippets of our new life as a family of four, I can see that tension in my shoulders and the aging on my face. Over the course of the year I watch my baby get fatter and the sun start to shine again and it is a peculiar phenomenon to actually watch yourself climb out of a hole and back into your own skin.
It’s emotional insurance for when dark days most assuredly come again.
It makes me ache for that woman I see on the screen, and it makes me love her very much. For straining towards the light, for opening her white knuckles one by one to let the fear drop like stones into a pond; I want to hug her long and tight. God was so faithful to me this whole year, as I was squeezed and shrank and then grew again, as I learned a new way to be myself and found joy in the morning. Joy in each morning, joy in the letting go, joy in the new life that filled each corner of our house. New life in our children and a whole new life for me as well.
I graduated from college a few weeks before Sammy was born and didn’t look for a job afterwards. We decided to keep our kids home and that meant that I would stay home, after 12 years working and 3 years pursuing my writing degree, after a decade of paychecks and staff meetings and projects and leaving my house every morning with a cup of coffee and my hair looking good; I chose to stay home. This was the first year since I was 15 years old that I didn’t receive any W2 forms in the mail for tax season, and quite honestly, that wasn’t easy for me. Money is such a straightforward measure of success, a spendable way to know you are appreciated. No one pays me for anything I do. No one really knows anything I do, nor do they care. That’s also hard to swallow. It’s not for lack of opportunity- I’ve had job offers almost every month this year, but it’s never been work that was worth time away from our family. So I keep saying no, and I keep wondering what the future holds, and I keep holding tight to these precious, quiet years that I have with my babies. Sam’s job affords me this luxury, and it is a privilege I don’t take lightly, but it’s been an ego and identity adjustment all the same. And I see that too, as I watch this video- I get to see where my time went, get a visual of the dividends I am paying into my family and see fruit from my labor as my children grow and change and live good lives with me, their mother. Not just their mother; a million other things as well, but for now: mother most of all.
The video closes with pictures of Sammy back on hospital beds and monitors, his face swollen with fluids and anesthesia. His infection and emergency surgery (talked about those here and here) were an arresting reminder that his life is completely out of our hands. He started his life scaring us and brought his first year to a close scaring us again. What a potent message from that happy little son of ours:
That no matter what we feed them, no matter how many times we check both ways on the street, no matter the brand of carseat or which direction it faces for how long; no matter what meager measures we put in place to protect the heartbeats of our beloveds, we cannot control their breaths. Each day with them is a gift, truly, even the shitty days, and if I’m thankful for a million things from this last year, the simplest is that their blood kept flowing and their lungs kept expanding.
God brought me back to life after a dark season, and gave me 365 more days with my kids than I could have given myself. So I sing my thanks, and I cry silent tears for the grace of it all, and I hope in the light that reflects on this crashing river of love. Darkness will not win. Tragedy will not triumph. No matter what comes, no matter the loss we carry or the fear we fight, hope will come again. Because hope never left.
This video was so fun to make. Our son was, perhaps, the happiest, easiest baby we have ever met. I forgot how early and often he smiled- it was almost impossible to find pictures of him NOT smiling. Every time I watch this I fall in love with him and that twinkle in his eyes all over again. He’s a lover, that Sam guy of ours!