Grace (noun): unmerited favor [of God]. I have a certain preoccupation with this word, and the way that it has worked its way into my life, through my faith, the beauty of humanity, and once I became a mother, through my children. I remember with fondness feeling the full weight of this unmerited favor being placed on my chest the day my first daughter, Anika (meaning ‘gracious’) was born in the dim light shining into my bedroom from the hallway of our house. Every mother breathes in the same sacred breath in that moment: looking down at the round head, the face, those searching eyes blinking up towards the one who gave them life. It’s a heady, dizzying place to be, in that moment, and equally a privilege to have that space preserved by those surrounding you to be able to take it all in. Unmerited, it feels. So when I found out I was embarking on this journey yet again, I knew I had much to look forward to.
We had just moved to Columbus the month prior from northwest Ohio, in the span of about two weeks from the moment the job offer was issued to the last box placed inside our two bedroom townhome. Life was….busy. The two year old was so very two. A lifetime of life experiences had taken place between when I was pregnant with my first, and now: death of my father, a miscarriage, clawing my way out of the pit that I fell into as a result. The emotional struggle of being pregnant after a miscarriage and so much grief soon showed itself, as the anxiety that was nowhere to be found the first time around cropped up at the most inconvenient times. I had taken care of myself well physically the first time, and continued to do so this time, but self care took on a much more introspective tone. I was so grateful to have two midwives who sat with me, and talked with me, and held the space in stillness and calm in the moments I broke down. Pregnancy certainly affects the whole person, and they took good care of all of me.
For about two weeks prior to giving birth, I had the distinct pleasure of experiencing what was basically prodromal labor. I had somewhat regular contractions that were painful enough to tear my attention away from my nearly three year old that came mostly in the afternoon and evening and were gone by morning. I also learned, first hand, that strong storms can bring on ‘false labor’. I had to just take my midwives at their word, when they brushed off my sheepish texts with a “we get this all the time, don’t worry.” The first time I gave birth, I had mentally prepared myself to go to forty weeks and beyond. It was a pleasant surprise, then, to have given birth at 38 weeks and one day instead, before the dogged weariness of the end days of pregnancy took effect. I tried to keep the same outlook, but by the end of that first week of ‘false starts’, about three weeks before my due date, I was shaking my fist at the heavens, patience wearing embarassingly thin. The day I actually went into labor, both times, I was in complete denial that I was actually in labor, about to have a baby within a day or less. The denial was particularly emotionally charged, when, that Monday, around 11 am, I called them with the most intense contractions I had had to date and I was supremely disappointed to see them all but fizzle within moments when they arrived to check on me. Bryan made a run to Chipotle to nurse my sorrows, and my midwives left to attend to a home visit appointment for another woman approaching the end of her pregnancy. They assured me that they were only a phone call away, and tried to convince me, once more, that I was most likely going to be holding a baby within a day. Bryan and I had decided early on in my pregnancy to have Anika present with us during the birth, if at all possible. She got to work helping Daddy slowly fill up the birth pool, while I hung somewhere in the balance between giddy excitement and resigned denial and intermittent pain. At some point I decided to turn on my labor playlist I had crafted and listened to obsessively for the past two weeks, and I had a vague sense that maybe I would actually have a baby by the end of the day. This is where the details start to fall by the wayside a bit. I called my midwives back and they were back to my house by, oh let’s say 4ish. By this time, leaning on my birthing ball wasn’t cutting it anymore, and the birthing pool was starting to look really inviting. I did not have a birth pool the first time around, one of the only regrets of my first home birth, as the warm water of my small bathroom tub, while offering an amazing pain relief, also lent itself to a distinct sense of claustrophobia as I had entered the pushing phase.
I sat in the pool for what felt like was an endless amount of time, when in reality, at least according to my paperwork, active labor, all told, was about 4 hours and some change. I wrestled with self-doubt as the waves of pain came and went; I welcomed the breaks that felt simultaneously entirely too short, and expansive all at the same time. The music I had selected for my playlist seemed to fit together perfectly at the right moments, and a deep, ancient sense of sacredness filled the room. I felt a surge of anxiety as the waves of contractions carried me through transition, remembering how pushing was the most difficult part for me the first time. I was told that pushing would feel like a relief after all the hard work of the contractions preparing my body. It was not. My midwife the first time had to coach me through the pushing, because I just felt like I was fighting my body too much. This time around, I was relieved when my mind and body seemed much more in tune, and my body truly seemed to take over. Words of affirmation from my midwives washed over me with each push. And then, in the span of a single breath, I swiftly shifted my body from squatting to hands and knees with a gracefulness only unique to childbirth, and in the next push, out she came, first into the hands of one of my midwives, and then, in a flurry of coordinated movement, my own hands, as I sat back once again, against the wall of the birth pool. She emerged up out of the water, statuesque, in a moment of stillness, and in the next moment, after vigorious rubbing and coaxing, took her first breath against my chest. I looked down and whispered, “You did it! I’m so proud of you!” And drank it in, that unmerited favor. My little Isla Grace, my ‘island of grace’, made me a mother all over again.