When my daughters had their birthdays just four short days apart last May, I remembered like I do once a year every year, vividly, the day they were born.
I remember the feelings, the pain, the dark room, my husband’s presence, the mystery, the profound knowledge that very soon our lives would never be the same. I remember the blood, the dizzy, the terrifying pain, and a warm little person on my bare chest. I remember the exhaustion, selfishness that was being shredded from my skin as if my skin itself was being torn off, that moment the labor pains began in a process that might not end until that sticky selfishness is all gone or until I die, and I suspect the latter will come first.
I remember the sunshine, our family, our slightly larger family, the spring irises and peonies in bloom, old house smells and the new cribs bought with love by my in-laws. Waiting for sunrise, rocking to the warmth of a life in my arms, packing lunch for a weary husband before the sun showed itself, pulling covers over my head with her cry and crying just as hard as she was because all that pushing and carrying and stripping off of self is hard on a body.
Two birthdays out of the year I remember all of that and I smile. My girls are tall, beautiful, happy, smart, and they both want to take communion at church now because they believe that Jesus is real and that His shed blood gives them new life.
And then there’s November 22nd. I remember that birth just as well as the other two, but differently. I don’t think of blood or pain, no dizzy, no black vortex of labor and babies coming out with joy and the hardest physical work of my life. I just remember the black smartphone, ringing early and me waking to my husband’s voice. Walking into the bathroom from our bed and not able to even see the light because I knew that we had been given a son.
I remember waiting, half hope, half terror, and waiting and waiting and waiting some more. Waiting as my husband talked on the phone to the person unexpectedly brokering this gift, waiting on the longest mile car-ride in the world, waiting in the elevator, waiting behind the nurses station. I twisted back and forth in my spinning chair and tried to hold on to at least one of the million thoughts swirling around in my head like glitter in a water globe. My husband sat still with his jaw set but his eyes just barely shined with hope.
And I will never, ever forget walking into a barely-lit hospital room to meet her. I sat by her bed, close to her face, with my back turned to the door. She was beautiful like all women are after they’ve given birth. She was a fellow mother, and she wanted to do right by her son. There was a look of certainty, pure beauty, and pain on her face all at the same time.
And so she signed some papers, and I spent the next day with our new baby boy. We named him Jonathan after the courageous, God-loving man in the Bible, and Haven, after his daddy and his daddy’s daddy and his daddy’s daddy’s daddy’s uncle.
Three years later, I think of her every so often, but especially on the day she gave birth to my son. I pray that one day we can meet, just one more time, so I can thank her and tell her how much we love her.
She gave my family the greatest gift one human can give to another- the gift of a life. And every November 22nd I get to remember, and the thought of him, and of her, makes me bow my head a little, and smile.