I felt the tug of death so strong in the last year…
I realize that’s an odd way to begin a birth story but I can’t untangle life and death; they’re ever entwined, tussling and rolling around like teenage boys in a heated wrestling match. J mentions it too in his (exquisite) letter but suffice it to say, Ivy’s birth bookmarks both end and beginning for us.
We found out tiny she was swimming in my womb just a few short months after a devastating miscarriage that took not only a baby we adored already, but nearly me (thanks to a short hospital stay and a couple of blood transfusions I’m fine but recovery was a big part of the mess that was our life last year.) But there she was, our eighth little one, 10 weeks new on a fuzzy black and white screen, arms and legs steadily dancing along to the beat of her own heart. I can’t… I still… we never saw our little Olivia’s legs move, nor heard her heart beat. So when we saw Ivy on that screen, a week or so after we’d seen that second little pink line that sent us reeling, just… tears and smiles. And disbelief.
The pregnancy was lovely but the loveliness of it if I’m honest, scared the shit out of me. We saw her dance on screens four more times and I was still scared to death she’d never make it eyes open and breathing into my arms. It was Grace for sure that I was well, but I’d never actually produced another life without months and months of debilitating sickness. Knowing for sure this was our last though, I tried to enjoy it. I cherished her little hiccups, kicks and flips, documented regularly my ever-swelling belly, and threw my heart and soul into preparing our home for her arrival.
God speaks to me pretty regularly but as you may have heard me say before, I don’t always listen right away. Luckily without fail He finds a way to get through to me though. This time that looked like our babygirl kicking around inside me for what seemed like an eternity (10-14days) past my due date (my poor midwife, I was relentless, we tried all the tinctures and remedies and positions and… everything). Around day 12, I stopped trying things and just let Him have it, I told Him everything He already knew, and tried to listen (how many times have my kids done that to me?). We both took some deep breaths and sighed a little, (yes He sighs at me, not in exasperation but in that soft and knowing way parents do sometimes when their kids are pouring themselves out emotionally).
Then one night a day or so later, around 3am, Ivy decided she was definitely on her way into our arms. We alerted midwife and family, and I braced myself for the fast-paced roller-coaster that was Eli’s birth, but that never came. Eventually we got the hint that this was going to be entirely other, and settled in to the peace and quiet that was the labor of our newest Love. Just Joe and I at first, (with the absence of me loudly groaning and moaning like I’d done every time before, the kids slept easily upstairs). Lynette came after a while and sat quietly in the corner. (In case I’ve never thanked you for sitting quietly in that corner the whole time and trusting me to labor on my own, no checking, no unnecessary directions, no demanding or even nudging, just simple but powerful grace and trust… Lynette, you are meant to be a midwife, my friend.)
And Joseph… goodness it had been a year, aye babe? But none of that mattered that night (or maybe all of it did…) You never went far, you rocked and swayed, attentive and loving, tuned into my pain and my needs and my heart, you rubbed my back, brushed the hair out of my face and whispered sweetly everything I needed to hear. And when I needed you to, you let me be without leaving my side. I rocked in my chair a good long while, eyes closed praying and hoping but truly still disbelieving Everything would be Okay.
Labor was short enough, a good four hours of our baby making her way through me, just painful enough to make it really real. Then it was time to push, and I can’t tell you how much I really did not want to. Not out of exhaustion, just plain old terrible fear. I just… listen if you hold a tiny baby in your hands that never took a breath once it will make you doubt even as a kicking and twisting little one barrels their way out into this world. So Joe stood by my side as we got ready to meet our girl and tears of fear and grief ran together down my face. And even as my body began to push, I feared holding another lifeless baby.
He was supposed to catch Ivy, our Papa Bear. We talked about it plenty, how much he loved catching Eli, being the first to lay hands on his boy. But I couldn’t let him go. I needed him, his strong hands around mine, his kind eyes locked on mine. And so he stayed.
Lynette leaned in a little closer and said something incredibly encouraging, and I decided to trust too, to hang onto the truth a little tighter that God is good. I leaned in to the pain and pushing my body already new well and prepared as much as I could to meet her. But you can’t prepare yourself to meet your baby. It is entirely impossible in any and every scenario. When that squawking little cry breaks into the earth the first time, it is otherworldly, the most real representation of heaven coming to earth that I know.
Ivy came. At 7:30 in the morning she came, just as the sun rose up in the sky and our bedroom lit up golden and bright. She drew breath on my chest, blink blinked away until her clear grey eyes opened, looked up at us and latched on to me immediately, undeniably alive, here, with us, Ours.
And she is a bundle of peace and joy, evidence that God is a show-off, gosh she’s gorgeous, and Loved. She is so Loved.
Listen, this I know- There are hard, hard things. But God is good. And that doesn’t always look like a new baby but it does always look like New Life.
(a special thank you to my mom and sisters for coming to welcome our babiest girl, a huge thank you to Alisa for taking these photos, and another huge thank you to Donna Miller for being the best birth assistant ever).
And in case you are not already crying, here is Joseph’s letter to Ivy:
Ivy, my sweetest and most precious girl,
I could not begin to tell you what we were going through when we heard about you: death of my father, my grandmother, your Momma’s grandfather, and the passing away of your sister, Olivia.
These storms and the pains that we were going through in our own heart and souls tested the mettle of your Momma and Papa’s marriage and relationship and shook the foundation of our family to the bedrock.
Before we knew of you, it was dark. Joy was fought for and sometimes never won.
By announcing you, God reminded us that He is not far yet closer than a whisper. He promises hold infinitely true: eternal past, present and for the eternal future. He revealed that He has infinite mercy for us. He put on the most powerful display that we are indeed His kids and He is our Father in heaven. (Hosea 2:14-23)
He sustained us through your first three months in Momma’s tummy when we were so anxious about you making it since it wasn’t even a year ago that we lost your sister during the same trimester.
But even through the first half of you growing in the womb, your Momma never fell ill. Never got sick. Never got weak. With all of your brothers and sisters, well, it was a different story. We thought for sure your Mom would be too sick to even get out of bed or keep any food or water down. Nope. She was alive, happy, and strong. God is so good He heals and restores.
Not only does He heals and restores the body but He went to work on my soul and our relationship. He began the work to heal my mind, heart, and soul and did the same for your Mom. In that, he gave confidence and peace to our family when there was none before.
And just like your brother, Eli, you were strong. Kicky and squirmy. And just like your Bubba, you stayed in your Mom weeks past what we thought was your due date. Smh. That might have been a mere indication—maybe even a prophecy—that you two were to be as thick as thieves. And by the Bub’s sweetness on you, I say that indication is coming to past.
But no matter how late you were, we knew that you couldn’t stay in your Mom’s tummy forever We knew you would get here. We knew we would be holding you soon.
And just like the pregnancy, your arrival was just as sweet. You woke us up at 3 am. It was time. Calls to your midwife, Lynette, were made. Texts to our family and friends were sent. Your Ganna, Amanda Panda, and Alisa Pizza were on their way to help with everything.
Unlike the Bubs, we were able to take our time preparing our room for your arrival. No rush. No fuss. Breakfast made. Coffee poured. Siblings chilling.
And then you arrived. I was so ready to catch you just like I did before with Eli but your Momma didn’t want me to leave her side. I looked at her and was overwhelmed by her powerful love and gracious heart and breathtaking beauty. I thought about the incredible struggle and pain she felt in our marriage and in our lives to this point and we are still together. I decided I wasn’t going to leave her side. Not now. Not never.
Beside, Lynette was a pro. You were going to be in great hands until you could get to your Momma.
The moment you arrived: it was all the joy. The happiness. The sweet relief. The bliss. It was everything I could ever feel in one moment in time. I felt like cheering and yelling to celebrate your life and everything that the Lord has done in us and for us.
And I couldn’t stop smiling. My cheeks hurt because my grin was ear to ear.
Unlike your brother’s arrival, which was fast and furious, yours was what at one time what I called, “normal”, but that’s not it. Looking back, your birth was just like everything else your announcement brought: peace, calm, and joy.
And your Momma. She never looked as beautiful as she did when she was able to hold you for the first time. She was all the love and joy and happiness and gladness that her little heart could hold and being poured out on you.
I remember her cheeks and my cheeks were streaming with tears as I leaned over and kissed her deeply. I remember touching her face and looking into her gorgeous blue eyes and thinking to myself, “We made it!” God is so dang good to us.”
In the midst of an incredible storm in our lives, God sends you here. In so many ways, you are God’s mercy and healing for your Momma. You are God’s peace and restoration for our family. You are my prettiest and a joyful reminder that God is so mindful of me and He loves me so much.
That’s why I kiss you with my very prickly lips a hundred times a day. That is why I dive my nose into your neck smelling your sweet baby smells. That’s why I don’t want our conversations to end. You are the best reminder of who God is and what he has done for us.
I love you, my most gorgeous girl. You are my sweetest. My sweetest sweet. My Happiest Girl. My yin to Bub’s yang.
I will always love you. I will always protect you. I will be there to make you laugh and hold you tight when you cry. And I will fight for you, and us, and we, and me until my very last breath.
You mean the world to me. I thank God that you are a part of our lives forever.
I love you, Sweet Girl
Love for life,