The First Year of Parenthood

February 11, 2015

A year ago at this very moment, I was waiting in a hospital room to meet the little baby I carried like a kangaroo in my middle.

At 37 weeks pregnant I had a shock of an ultrasound and learned that the baby was breach— sitting head up, warping my rib cage, and punching me square in the side. Two weeks later, Mike and I waltzed into the hospital for a scheduled C-section. We were showered and rested and entered the hospital as if we were walking into church.

The hospital room was shades of white and plastic framed with a curtain that swayed back and forth with interruptions from nurses that would look at their clipboard and say, “Hello, Mrs. Di-Fa… Dee… Die-Fa… Di-Fee….. Rebekah?”

The baby’s heartbeat was broadcast as a loud, pulsing drumbeat, making the needle go up and down on the printed page, documenting her life as a jagged mountain range.

Mike recorded a video moments before I was wheeled in for the C-section. I look puffy and nervous, but my voice is calm and low. Mike sounds a little excited, a little jumpy and caffeinated. The video scans the room while he says aloud the date and time, then he zooms in on my face and says “How are you feeling, babe?”

“Good” I say.

“Ready to meet this baby” I say.

It’s exactly one year later and I’m looking at the clock as I write these words, reliving the seconds, remembering.

What I remember most is being scared. I remember thinking I should be more excited. I should feel lighter, euphoric, and emphatically ready.

But I felt nervous. The nurses wheeled me into a surgical room that was the same temperature as Antarctica and the same dress code as outer space, and I started to panic.

How did I get here?
Have I really been pregnant 40 whole weeks?

Wait! Stop!
What if it’s not a baby in there? What if it’s a tumor?
What if the baby girl turns out to be a baby boy?

What if there are two of them?

What if I’m not ready?
What if I’m not ready?

What if I’m not ready?

The anesthesiologist talked slow and soft as I sat tall like tree on the edge of the bed and the epidural slid into my lower back. He started each sentence with, “Okay, Rebekah…. I’m about to put the needle in your back.” “Okay, Rebekah… you’re going to feel a little pinch.”

As the procedure began, the anesthesiologist stood on one side of my head and Mike stood on the other. I laid still on my back and stared at the blue curtain in front of my face and thought, “Have I been abducted?”

“Okay, Rebekah,” the anesthesiologist said, “They’re about to pull the baby out. It’s going to be pretty uncomfortable…”

Then pushing and pulling and a tiny, piercing, impossible cry.

And even when I was scared, even when I wasn’t ready, even when I was sure there was some sort of mistake in making a mother out of this irresponsible, reckless girl…

Molly was born at 11:42 am.

When I met her, it was surreal. Even when I held her, it wasn’t euphoria that I felt first, but a strange mixture of joy-shock-disbelief-uncertainty. I was overwhelmed.

Is this how I hold her?

Is this how I nurse her?

Am I doing this right?

You mean like this? Or like this?

The most important gift arrived and I expected my emotions to be tidy, to be summarized in a greeting card or a familiar cliché. But joy and fear were delivered in the same package that day. And everyday since, I’ve learned that parenthood is a promiscuous interplay between the two.

In the past year, I have experienced moments of such piercing delight that I would close my eyes and clench my fists and try to burn the moment glowing and hot into my memory.

Hearing her laugh. Watching her clap. Witnessing small curls develop at the nape of her neck. Leaning over a bathtub, night after night, thinking “This is the absolute best moment of my day.”

And at the same moment, there is a low grade uncertainty that also lurks beneath it all. Is that a diaper rash? Does she feel warm? Was that an adequate nap? Should I adjust her bedtime? Am I reading to her enough? Please, Lord, don’t let my parenting make her dumb.

Joy and fear.

Fear and joy.

Real life acts like a pendulum swinging hard and fast between the two.

There’s another relationship that gets transformed in the first year. I’ve never felt surer of my marriage than I have this past year, but it unfolds a lot like the decorative weather inside a snow globe: beautiful and turbulent at the same time.

One moment I’m looking at my husband as the most sacrificial, servant-hearted man on the planet, and the very next moment I’m pointing at him with accusation in my eyes and on my tongue “It must be nice to still have your independence in tact! Your body in tact! It must be nice to workout on a lunch break. ” And my selfishness rages war, not on itself, but on him.

Parenting within marriage is like learning a new language and realizing you’re both illiterate at the very same thing: bad at extending grace but equally in need of it.

We had to learn to share all over again, as if we found ourselves in a brand new sandbox with brand new rules and realized we had forgotten everything we once knew about being generous without keeping score.

We have trudged through the challenge of being united, but also very different; to be best friends but also parents, to work hard alongside each other without loosing track of each other. And somehow, even with poop on our elbows and spit up in our hair, we have fallen more in love. I don’t know how, but we tackled a really hard challenge together and it has made us better teammates. It has made us better in every way.

Molly is a year old today. I can see the back of her head on the other side of the couch right now, all curls that are red in the sunlight and arms that are deliciously chubby and dimpled at the elbows.

I love her so much.

My heart is overtaken with love. My mind is overtaken with responsibility.

This girl has only brought magnificent things.

She is a perfect gift that came packaged with real, messy life, which means the past year has been both wonderful and hard, exactly as it’s supposed to be.

I’m so thankful for a tiny little person that invited me into the complexity of grace, the intersection where fear and joy collide.

In the midst of being unprepared and ill-equipped and completely afraid, grace ministers to my heart, whispering, “All is well. There is joy here.”

And surely there is.

Joy comes like a surprise in moments I’m not looking for it and  in ways that I’m not expecting. It came a year ago and it keeps on coming.

Happy birthday, beautiful girl.

You are a good and perfect gift.

You are a joy and we love you.

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