From the first whisper of her presence, Nora was our surprise baby. She was nothing like her siblings, whose conceptions were meticulously charted and scientifically controlled in various sterile and lonely offices. Our journey to parenthood was long and lonely, measured in days, months, breaths, tears, years, and finally two miracles. First came Lucy, all sunshine and kindness wrapped in one incredibly beautiful, artistic soul. Then Jack, adventure and energy, emotion and movement. We had one of each, and as everyone told us, we were so, so lucky! Growing a family is a heart-rending business; how do you start and how do you stop, and how do you grow when the growing process is so heart-breaking. So, I told everyone two is perfect and stored away the secret longings for more. I wanted more baby, more sleepless nights, more perfect milky smells and snuggling on my chest, a baby's warmth and weight, but I kept those dreams quiet in my heart.
One lazy Saturday morning I woke up and it was different. I was different and I knew--no tests, no drugs, no interventions. But I knew. Three pregnancy tests later, our breath held, our hearts stilled, we both knew that life holds unexpected magic. Nora quietly made her presence known, and I felt it. It’s been hard for me to understand my body. After so many years and false hopes, I had lost faith in it, but I shouldn’t have. Lucy’s miracle announced itself in a half dream. I knew IVF was successful, and it was a girl before any pregnancy test and ultrasound confirmed. Nora was the same, in my sleepy dream state, I felt her, and I’m learning to trust--to let go of my mind and embrace what my heart and soul already knows.
Nora continued to be a surprise. Her pregnancy was different. I have hazy memories of this bittersweet time, filled with illness after illness, morning sickness, and a dark cloud, much like the inversion that winter, hung over me. I mourned the final moments alone with my 3-year-old as he held my hand and whispered, "I love you Mama." Somewhere in the midst of this, I decided I wanted to try a natural birth. It was our last. It was always a question and desire, and for this final baby, I wanted to try. The decision was made in the final weeks of pregnancy, weak with a relentless case of bronchitis, my breath shallow and labored. I felt like a shadow and I yearned to feel strong, to breath deep, and reclaim myself. We prepped as best we could, read stories and books, and detailed a birth plan. And then we waited.
Nora did not come early, like the other two. She didn’t come a week ahead of schedule, on St. Patrick’s Day, although I dreamed my Irish Grandpa was going to send her from heaven, and I had an Irish name chosen just for the occasion. She didn’t come on her due date although it snowed on that day, and all my babies arrived on snowstorms. She didn’t come during dance parties or speed walking. She didn’t come when a stranger offered her reflexiology services, massaging my feet and instructing me to Lamaze breathe. She didn’t come after days of stop and go contractions, and my Dr.’s advice to be induced. I suddenly felt empathy for every past due pregnant Mama. Those days are measured in years, not minutes.
She didn’t come two days later either when my contractions started up in the middle of dyeing Easter Eggs, and we managed to flood the bathroom and lose a wedding ring in the rush to get out of the house. She didn’t come when I woke up at 6 am the following morning to Google false labor.
But, she made her intentions clear moments later, a mere movement in bed, and my body was suddenly on a collision course.
It’s hard to describe what it feels like waking up and knowing a baby is coming minutes later. This final birth I had decided to go all in. Cookies for nurses and staff made, candles purchased, two pages of a birth plan filled out. I had read in one of my birthing books that you should make a very detailed list of your perfect birth plan. Then you should burn it in a ceremony because it is most definitely not going to happen the way you plan on it happening. In hindsight, that’s the best advice I have ever read.
Later, at one of Nora's check-ups, I walked the distance we drove that morning at 6:30 am. It’s .9 miles to the hospital from our house. It felt like en eternity, that early morning drive, but never have I been more grateful that we live so close to care and help. When we bought our house, they were still building the hospital, and we weren’t even sure what the building was. The bright lights shining past our house, through the park, looking down on us. Little did I know that our babies would all be born there--that my pregnancy and Dr.’s visits, and baby and childcare visits would all happen within those walls. I get sentimental about a lot of things.
But on the morning of March 25th, I was confused. "Intense" is what my Doula liked to say in our consults, and sure, I’ll go with that. But also, a military invasion, a revolt. A haphazard battle that was supposed to be controlled, but I was losing the war. Wasn’t there supposed to be time? Maybe my body was an ocean? But there was no break in the waves, as they crashed over and over each other, as I stood alone in our hallway. Prioritizing what needed to happen, a shower? But there was only one priority, get to the hospital, get to the hospital right now. All those days of starts and stops, and questions if this was it?! There were no questions now. This was happening and it was happening immediately.
We waited at the two stoplights it took to get there. Waited with the sky dark, the roads empty, seat belts off, and I remember the beep, beep, beeping, and not understanding what that meant. Scott dropped me off. Neither one of us knows why that happened, as he parked, and I desperately tried to walk alone to where I needed to be. One look on my face, and I was directed to a room, no insurance taken, just my name.
It was shift change, obviously. So I remember swarms of people, and no Dr. I remember asking desperately for a bath, my doula, my Dr., my husband. The husband made it, but no one else did. The birth plan didn’t make it out of the suitcase, which was still in the car, and the oils, clothes, music, pictures of the kids, to keep up motivated! All stayed safely packed away, to be pulled out once we made it home two days later. Although we did break out those cookies for the kind nurses that we barely got to know, who put their hands on my shoulders and instructed me to breathe.
I remember asking for an epidural now please. And saying I think I made a mistake. I don’t want to do this anymore. And I would still really like that bath?
The details are hazy a year later. I remember feeling all the pain, but also confusion. I had envisioned massages and words of confirmations. Ebbs and flows that I could control. Pain management techniques, and a deeply spiritual experience that I was fully connected with. Instead, My brain and body were at war, and I was alone in confusion, my soul floating above, watching it all. I had been in the hospital for 5 minutes.
Scott remembers walking in just as the nurse called out, “She’s an eight!” He remembers rubbing my head and telling me he loves me. He remembers the nurses telling me to lie down as I tried to get up. He remembers holding my hand and legs, and without a single push, Nora flew into the surprised nurse’s hands.
I remember a sense of clarity, a realization that this baby is coming. THIS BABY IS COMING RIGHT NOW. A feeling of complete abandonment as my body took over, and I was both observer and active participator. I remember my entire world and purpose condensing to this one moment, and everything in my body screaming this baby into existence. Then she was here.
It was a scene from a movie, and not one bit as we imagined it would be, as Nora raced into this world at 6:52 am. She came like a sudden storm that rolls over the mountains, fierce and intense and just as suddenly, the calm after.
“Oh, a baby!” I had forgotten that part. And I kept repeating that. "A baby. A baby."
Nora was laid in my arms, I looked down, and she was perfect. All that rush to get here, and now she calmly looked at me, peaceful and observant. She stared into my eyes, and I hers. She had the beautiful dark hair of her siblings, and a pure, sweet loveliness all her own.
I held Nora in my arms, Scott leaning over us, and we marveled at her newness--tiny hands, such a little nose and sweet lips, her bright eyes looking up at me with an infinity of love. She was all ours. There’s this moment, this rush, as your baby leaves you and enters the world, that she is suspended between time, the private world of the two of you, and the public world where happiness and sadness await her. You feel all the responsibility and joy in that instance. It’s always been such a gift to me be aware of that sacred moment, right before your heart bursts with more love than you ever thought possible. As I stared and stared, my brain finally caught up to what just happened, and the tears burst out.
From our earliest dreams of a baby mapped out in the summer of a Roman vacation, to our years of infertility, to Nora’s grand entrance into this world, nothing went according to plan. Nora joined our family at a time when I had given up hope of ever conceiving a baby on our own. She reaffirmed that life is unscripted. That it's not fair, but so much more beautiful then fair and more precious than anything you could ever dream yourself. I spent years wishing to know the future. If I just knew, I cried, I could relax into the waiting. I could live life now. I would find joy now, instead of waiting for the tomorrow of tousled hair, arms heavy, and legs climbing my body like a personal jungle gym. I didn’t know. I didn’t know then that we had to walk that path. That path gave us an impenetrable marriage. That path gave us empathy and strength. It gave us trials. It gave us time. It narrowed our priorities and refined our desires. That path gave us our children: Lucy, Jack and Nora. That path gave us Heaven on Earth.
Photos by the talented and beautiful Ciara Richardson Photography.