a story about skin to skin

I got to share some words over at Lisa-Jo Baker’s space yesterday– words about mothering, words about what I had expected from my first pregnancy and how everything and nothing changed when Jack made his grand entrance into the world. It’s a day late to be posting but of course, the real work of mothering involves convincing a 14-month-old that it really is raining outside (getting into coats and boots and going outside, then crying, then coming inside…).

It’s a story about the wondrous hard work of mothering. It’s a story that you have all helped me write, as you ponder with me this walk into being someone’s mom. It’s a story you’ve taught me to see, in all your comments and prayers and well wishes. I know it’s been quiet around these parts, but the semester is ending and there is new space carved into my week to write and reflect.

I can’t wait to walk through it with you.

I spent a year and 20 days grieving an empty five minutes. They were the first minutes of my son’s life, minutes of quick, quiet NICU intervention hidden from me where I lay, bleeding profusely onto the delivery room floor, the doctor remembering three stitches in that she hadn’t in fact given me an anesthetic before starting to sew me back together. They were the five minutes I had once imagined as the moments of transformation, the moments I thought I would become a mother, the moments when I would begin, if there is such a thing as beginning after nine months of pregnancy…

Keep reading over at Lisa-Jo’s?

love,
hilary

dear jack: one

Dear Jack,

Today you are one. You said “mama” to me yesterday, looking straight at me, babbling it over and over and over as you pivoted in your trademark style, tried to turn over the trash can, unplug a light and topple a bookcase. This morning we went outside – the air is finally cool and light against our skin – and you stood up on your own on the sidewalk and looked at me defiantly. You’ll take the step when you want to, and you want me to understand that clearly.

Before you were born, there was a lot we didn’t know. We didn’t know what it meant to have only one eye and ear. We didn’t know what cleft surgeries were like, the stiff smell of sanitizer in the room where we waited for you to come out of surgery. We didn’t know the particular beeps of oxygen saturation monitors, when they dip a little low, or too low.

But I talk about that a lot, don’t I? And today, on your birthday, I want you to hear what we did know. What we have always known.

 You belong.

We always knew that. We knew that in the first search for your heartbeat at 9 weeks, the first ultrasound at 12 and the second that become the next seven. We knew that when I was sweating through the fetal MRI, and when we drove back and forth to the hospital. We knew that through timid genetic counselors and surgeons and phone calls. We named you and we knew you. You belonged from the beginning, and we belong with you.

You know what else we knew, buddy? We knew that a different body doesn’t make it a broken one. We told you – did you hear us back then? – that you are the very fullness of the image of God and Jesus rises with his hands and feet and side split and opened and these are what the world calls broken but we call glorious. You have always been the fullness of that image.

We knew it then and we learn it from you every day. And we learn to keep electrical cords and breakable cups out of sight, that the trash can in the bathroom makes the best drum, that it’s better to ride in the big laundry basket and that our laughter is funny enough to laugh at.

All this ordinary glory.  One year doesn’t seem like enough time to contain it all. Time itself seems to have stretched to make room for all that you’ve given us.

One year ago, you took your first few breaths. John the respiratory therapist helped you, but you pulled your breathing tube out on your own when the nurses weren’t looking. And every day since, you’ve lived fully and unapologetically and determinedly, and you’ve pulled out trach and gtube and laughed at me while doing it, you’ve learned to sit up and stand and crawl and almost walk even though they said you were “disenfranchised” and you never look back unless to check that we’re keeping up. You pull us into the gift of your life. There won’t be enough words for it, maybe ever.

When you were born, you took all my old life away with all its old thoughts and fears, all its questions, and those first few breaths, you gave me back a life that’s bigger.

I’ve always loved you with my whole heart. One year in, Jack, I love you with the whole heart that you’ve made wider.

Love,
mom

when this is fifteen months of gratitude

I hear him sing to Jackson over the hum of the suction machine. He gives me the gift of a long shower – take the time, Hil – and he scoops up our growing wonder of a son and they are off, dancing into the nursery, one or two quick passes with the suction catheter and back out to the living room, to the record player, to the lights on the Christmas tree and the windows that look out on the world he insists is more beautiful than I reckon it.

I am thinking these days about my husband.

I am thinking about how they tell you marriage is teamwork and then you learn it walking hallways mid-disagreement, mid-misunderstanding, and you knock on the door to your son’s NICU area and you transform. You pause the conversation, pause the disagreement, and you walk the space of knowing your son. You walk the space of trach changes and whether or not to up his amount of milk per feed. You walk the space of who will hold him, who will suction him, who will prep and clean up after the small extra things we do to love on this growing wonder. You walk the work of language, how we will talk about Jack, how we will ask others to talk about him. You walk the silent wonder at how many more people understand than you ever thought would.

I am thinking about how they tell you marriage is a great unfolding, a mystery, how you don’t know who it is you married until you are already past the aisle, the vows, and into the world.

The first time I Skyped with my husband I fell in love with him. He was sitting in a bistro, headphone cord dangling, and drinking coffee. I was drinking iced tea from our grocery store terrified that I wouldn’t seem casual enough. I was wearing running shorts and an old T-shirt; he’ll think I’m very athletic, that’ll be good. I talked too fast and not fast enough. One hour became five, the bistro closed, he called me on his cell phone from his driveway.

I couldn’t have told you then we’d have a son named Jackson who would bring us to the NICU in Temple for forty days. I couldn’t have told you then that we would learn how to care for a tracheostomy, that we would number hours and weeks like stars. I couldn’t have told you, staring at my computer screen one hot July night, that I would sit in the kitchen the first Sunday of Advent crying because I’ve never known someone to love so unapologetically.

You don’t know who you married until you do. And even when you do know, looking at a senior boy from Baylor in your computer screen late on a July night, you learn it for the first time every time.

This is a post about gratitude.

He remembers what day the trash collection is. He remembers what is in the fridge and in what order the leftovers can be eaten and recreated. He knows how to make Jack smile as they dance to the record player, to the Christmas tree, to the windows. He knows that this world is more beautiful than I reckon it most days. He knows to tell me that.

It is the first Sunday of Advent. I’m sitting in the kitchen while it rains outside and Jack sleeps nearby.

You don’t know who you married until you do. And you learn them again and again. And they will take your breath away.

Love,
hilary

I sing him to sleep

This is the irrational season, where love blooms bright and wild.

That’s Madeleine L’Engle, about Christmas. We’re in November now. I’ve lived a lifetime in a hospital, a lifetime where the seasons changed, we bought jeans at Target because we hadn’t come prepared for fall. A lifetime where we learned to lean hard on each other – I’ll prep the suction, you hold his trach – a lifetime of doing this while kissing Jack’s head and telling him funny stories, making faces, laughing the dark away. A lifetime of backpacks and diaperbags we can’t quite tell apart, of writing philosophy in the dark, reading Til We Have Faces and For the Life of the World while our son sleeps, swaddled tight, a smile flickering across his face as he dreams.

This is the irrational season.

When my nephew was born two years ago, I went out to visit him around two months. While my sister took a shower and did some things around the house, I held him. He fussed, as babies do; I did the only thing I could think. I put on Norah Jones and I sang him while I swayed around their kitchen.

When I was a senior in college I swayed a baby around the hotel room singing “Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson on repeat for 182 times, according to my computer. Her mom was speaking at the conference, and I was babysitting; she fell asleep after play 68, but I listened on. It was the first time I imagined my own someday dance – the living room, the late night, the baby that would belong to me, I to him or her.

And the Sundays after college when I was searching for myself, I returned to be with the littlest ones, scooping them up as I sang the old hymns, stepping between toys, between other children. I sang the words that were my ropes, my anchors on the water. I swayed and sang a year of Sundays.

When I was pregnant with Jack, there were days that I thought the world had left me behind. I used to say that something in me died, that my expectations died, those long 20 weeks after his diagnosis. What could be the same? I remembered singing Sara and Ingrid and I remembered singing Norah and I remembered the old hymns and I once walked a mile along the river weeping because it seemed I would never be the mother I imagined myself to be.

I was wrong. A fallow field has not died. It is only being emptied for the fullness that is coming. It is being made ready. And my heart is a field God laid fallow – for there was not enough room in me for my expectations and my son. There would not be enough room for the kind of love I prayed to give him.

In the irrational season, God makes the fields fallow. God widens the spaces where love must enter. I never stopped believing that God was good. But only now do I see my way to believing that God’s goodness extends to this work – to widen my heart for the wonder that is my son.

Jack loves when I sing Norah Jones. He looks up at me, grabs at my hair, falls asleep and nestles deep in my arms. I sing him the old hymns, “This is my Father’s World,” and “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus,” I sing him the stories, the songs of meeting his dad and driving through early mornings along route 97. I sing Sara and Ingrid. I sing, my voice catching in my throat. The joy sears along my vocal chords, stitching into me the words, the look on my son’s face, the singing.

I tell God that there is so much I wanted to give Jack that I can’t.

God smiles. Nothing was lost that Jack was always meant to have.

I tell God that there is so much I thought would be different than it is.

God smiles. Your heart is wide enough now.

I tell God this is the irrational season.

God smiles. Love is blooming, deep and wild.

If you are looking for me, I am singing my son to sleep.

Love,
hilary

dear jackson: the gift of breath

Dear Jackson,

We came in early this morning. You had a bit of a rough time falling asleep, your nurse told us, but you found your peaceful spot eventually, and when we came to your crib, there you were, your face tucked up in your hands (you never stay swaddled for long, Jacks). We kissed your head and prayed a few more prayers. There is always time for more prayers, because, you see, breathing is its own prayer.

And I want to tell you a little about today, about breathing, about your dad and me and some of the friends Jesus has sent us to be here along the way.

Breathing, sweet boy, is a gift from God. God breathed life into Adam in the very beginning – as your Storybook Bible says, God looked at Adam and Eve and said, “You look like me.” And you do look like God, Jack. You are the image of God. You are His workmanship. Breathing is a gift that God is giving you.

For you, that gift is going to come through a tracheostomy. That’s a breathing tube, but there is something cool about the word “tracheostomy” so I’m going to use it for you and around you, and Dad and I will teach others to use it too. God is going to help you breathe through this tube for a while, until you are even bigger and stronger than you are now, until, as your friends help to bring together your lip and your palate, as one of your friends (a favorite of your Dad’s and mine) has built up your jawbone, you won’t need the trach anymore.

Knowing you as we do, we’re guessing you’ll have already determined not to need it long before your last surgeries.

So, Jacks. This is a big decision. Your dad and I sat in a room without windows, my big cup of water in front of me, the vague smell of hospital coffee and hand sanitizer in the air, and we listened. We listened to the medical diagnoses – you’ve got some challenges with your airway both in your nasal cavity and your mouth, and something of a challenge in the area of your voicebox – but we also listened to some of the doctors talk about you. About the challenges you’ve had finding just the right place to put your head to breathe easy, how frustrated you get when you can’t figure that out, about how, as your friend the trach nurse said, you don’t know yet how easy breathing is. And you deserve to know that, Jacks. You deserve to know the freedom of this gift from God.

We listened. Some of these doctors talk more about your diagnoses than they talk about you, and that’s understandable. But some of them – the ones that we look to most for counsel and wisdom – they talk about you. They talk about your thriving, they talk about your development, they talk about giving you the chance to explore movement and learn to crawl and walk and be in different positions. They talk about making sure you get to run around in a couple of years and cause us so much trouble. As they talk, I see you. I see you and Dad in the kitchen. I see you outside our house with the dog I do promise to buy you. I see you coming to church with us and the grocery store and all the while, you’re free. You’re free because, with the trach, breathing will be as easy for you as it is for some people who don’t have one.

So your dad and I decided today that we’ll consent to this surgery for you (there is a surgery, too, for a G-tube to help you grow this first little bit but I bet you anything that you are like your dad and you will love food so much that soon you’ll be able to eat and eat and eat and you won’t need the tube). It’s not easy to make these decisions, but today we felt peace. Today we were reminded that you ought to know how easy breathing is.

People will want to say you’re a kid with “special” needs. They might try to tell you or tell us that you’re so brave and we’re so brave, because we’re carrying all this extra stuff with us. But it’s not true. You are Jackson. Your needs are just your needs. And we love to make sure you have what you need.

Today God reminded us that He gives breath to us. And for you, He is giving that gift through this trach for a while. But it is the same big, bold, wildly beautiful gift of life. And He is giving it to you no less miraculously or wondrously because He is giving it a different way.

So we will go hold you in a few minutes and tell you more about it. For now, I’m writing this down so that you know that from the first moments we decided, we knew that we were only making the path straight so that God could come give you what He longs to give you: lungs full of His breath of life, and a heart full of His marvelous love.

Love,
mom

i number the minutes

I number minutes like stars. The minutes Jack is in my arms. The minutes he sleeps, oxygen levels resting in the high 90s, that even 100. The minutes between where we sleep and where he is, the minutes of hallway, elevator, distance.

And the minutes of prayer.

Last night we stood over the giraffe warmer, which my baby doesn’t need, feisty and strong as he is, keeping his own temperature, and my eyes fell on the icon Preston brought from our living room – the good shepherd, the lamb on his shoulders. It sits and looks over the edge of where Jack sleeps, and out past him, to the hum and beep of the other beds, the other little ones.

Months ago, at the first phone call, at the very beginning, when we didn’t know anything but the need for a follow-up ultrasound, the need for a consultation, the need to see a more specialized doctor… I stood at that icon weeping and cradling my belly and asking Jesus again and again where He was. I wept and asked and I told Jesus, again and again, that He could do something, that where there was skin or muscle missing He could build it. Wasn’t it His voice at the beginning, singing the world into being? Wasn’t it His voice the wind and waves obeyed?

Wasn’t Jesus the one who spat on tongues and spread mud on eyes and put his fingers in ears and declared, by the words of his mouth, be opened?

And wasn’t it Jesus, reaching down into death, calling back Lazarus, the widow’s son, Jairus’s daughter?

Last night I looked again – my son has a mark from his IV in his hand that looks just like the mark in Jesus’ hands in the icon. The hands that are holding the lamb on his shoulders. The hands that, even in these long minutes, I believe – I must believe – are holding my son.

I cannot number all the stars or all the minutes.. But then I remember:

To whom then will you compare me,
    that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
    calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
    and because he is strong in power
    not one is missing.

And I remember, again:

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
    he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
 He heals the brokenhearted,
    and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
    he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
    his understanding is beyond measure.

The Lord can count the stars.  He can name them all. Who am I, then, to think that Jesus has not been mindful of these minutes? Who am I, then, to think Jesus has not counted each one with me, His knowledge of them far more perfect than anything I could fathom?

Jesus has seen each minute of prayer, of worry, of resting, of oxygen and of desperate joy when Jack is in my arms and I feel the weight of him, his hand grabbing my shirt, and Jesus is numbering the minutes with us.

Isaiah 40, Psalm 147 – God numbering the stars is hidden among the promise that God comforts His people, that God should be praised for His care of His people. Hidden among the bigger promise is the piece I can cling to: Jesus knows each star, each minute. Jesus holds us, counting each breath.

Last night, I held Jack and swayed my first sway of motherhood, singing his father’s favorite:

This is my Father’s world
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees of skies and seas
His hand the wonders wrought. 

Number the stars, Lord Jesus, number the minutes. I believe I have only begun to see Your nearness and Your love. I believe I have only begun to see the wonders Your hands have wrought, and can, and will.

Come, Lord Jesus, number the minutes with me.

Love,
jack’s mom, and your hilary

a life of septembers (a letter to my husband)

Dear P,

It’s been a long time since I tried to write you something. Today we finished J’s nursery, and I was standing in the doorway while you positioned the icons above his bed, staring at the ordinary miracle of it – how we built this space, this child, this ark of marriage. How much has changed in the long bend of years. 3 Septembers ago, beloved, we were arguing on Skype about long distance.

And 2 Septembers ago I sat in your parent’s dining room, a bit overwhelmed and overjoyed, my first birthday gift to you tucked upstairs. I had put trash bags over it for the plane ride, but I am so terrible at wrapping gifts, I didn’t even think to tie a ribbon on them. They’re hanging behind me now.

And last year we fought and loved and laughed through the first few weeks of grad school, my anxiety unraveling between us, all those things I’d planned to keep safely tucked away from you discovered so soon. Isn’t that just the way marriage is?

I believe we will measure our lives in Septembers.

This year, this September, our first child will be born. We named him and loved him together far before he was the wildly kicking baby he is now. I wanted to write you something, for this September, this moment in our ever-turning world.

How you astonish me, P. You’re out on the back porch grilling for the family who’s coming for dinner. I see you march in and out of the kitchen with that joy of purpose. And you always, always, always have time for a kiss as you pass me on the couch. You always have time to answer some other question from this little corner where I sit, where Jacks kicks me. You astonish me, you know? I’ve never lacked words except for the words for you.

This September we meet Jackson. And we’re out here in the water with Jesus, P, hoping wild and trusting big. I wish I could tell you what it’s like to drive back from Austin with you in the late afternoon, singing that one praise song, my voice catching again and again and again because I realize that I believe these words – and I look over and there you are, crying too, smiling. Your faith is an anchor in my soul. Your hope in Jesus, as you move through the kitchen, through the rhythm of our Septembers, is a reminder to put my hope in Jesus.

I’m more in love with you now than I was any of our last Septembers. I’m in love with your kindness, how you get me water when I don’t want to leave the couch, how you champion others, how you remember things so many other people would forget. How you love. You remind me of St. Francis. I think you both understand that if we dared to hope it, if we dared to ask, God would show us that God is far more deeply in the midst of our lives than we imagine. I think you both know how we need only ask and the grace of Christ will move in us, will open us to receive Christ Himself. I think you both pray to the God who loves birds and peonies and a green plum in season. How this creation it is good, very good, and we should pray like we actually mean to see and speak out that goodness. I sometimes praise God for the peonies, for the greenness of the backyard, for the Brazos river where we go sometimes to just be together, hands linked like they have been since that first walk that June. That’s you, teaching me.

This September, I am in more in love with you than I could have been, because the gift of being married to you is that I have grown, my heart is bigger, my heart has more room for loving. Thank you, for the gift of you, for the daily, gracious rhythm of life together. For how you teach me to sing praise to God. For how you praise next to me when my voice is faltering.

Let’s measure the turn of the years together, September by September, grace by grace. I believe there will be so many more wonders for us to see. I believe you will teach me to see so many that I would miss on my own.

Love,
h