The clock read 6:04 am. I laid on my left side with most of my body uncovered by blankets. It was September 17th, and our temporary rental home was hot. Maybe it wasn’t that hot in the house, but I was always hot at 39 weeks pregnant with my fourth child. My eyes squeezed tightly closed, and I knew that I had no chance of sleeping any longer. I was uncomfortable, my belly was enormous, I wasn’t having contractions, but my abdomen felt constantly tight. “I won’t make it an entire week. I can’t be pregnant another week”, I lamented in my mind.
I got out of bed with tremendous effort and began slowly getting ready for the day. A couple of hours later, while readjusting the position of my stance and rubbing my back, I started pouring bowls full of cheerios for my older children. Robert had graciously already made me a cup of coffee, and our usual Sunday was beginning without event. We left for church, and I prayed I wouldn’t have to do much in the preschool class that we taught. It was an uneventful morning. I don’t recall the sermon, the songs, or the many faces we passed. I thanked the good Lord that a small toddler fell asleep in my lap, allowing me to sit for the entire Sunday School hour.
At home, we sat for lunch. Well, my family sat for lunch. I kept standing up and sitting back down. Occasionally, I would pace and rub my stomach. Robert’s gaze followed me studiously. “Are you ok?” he asked gently.
“I’m fine. I’m just uncomfortable.” I sat back down, proving a point. I grimaced slightly.
“It’s possible I’m having some contractions, but they are really irregular. I’m fine.”
We began clearing the table and helping wipe sticky hands. Emma, at age five, was happily chattering away about everything she had done at church. I smiled and nodded, but I wasn’t really hearing her. Leah, age three, and George, not quite two, played as we ushered them towards their rooms for nap time. Robert’s glance lingered on me occasionally as he would ask, “are you sure you’re ok?”
The kids were tucked into bed and resting quietly for their nap time when Robert met me in the hall. “Casey, we need to call a babysitter. I think you’re in labor.”
“I’m totally” there was a long pause as I closed my eyes, held one hand to my belly, and grabbed a nearby door frame with the other. “fine!” A single bead of sweat rolled down my face.
“Casey. You haven’t been finishing your sentences. You’re squatting in the hallway right now! Sweetheart, you have had three other children; I think you know you are in labor. Call the babysitter.”
Three phone calls later, a grandmother on the way, a neighbor coming through the door, and a husband insisting he “was not delivering this baby!” I reluctantly grabbed my hospital bag and followed my husband to the car. I turned to tell my neighbor something about the kids’ snack when Robert shouted, “I’m going to the hospital with or without you. Please get in the car.”
Just a couple of hours later, with barely enough time for an epidural and just two pushes, I held one of the most beautiful baby girls in my arms. Out of five children, Jane Frances Martin still has one of my favorite birth stories. There is much more to the story. More moments that are comical now but were anxiety-inducing then. More memories of how she entered this world, bringing joy and ease. So much more that could be said and has been said. It’s a sweet story, and it’s mine.
This morning, I woke up, and the clock said 6:54am. I was on my left side with blankets covering me. I wasn’t too hot. We built a beautiful home and moved into it almost four years ago with a six-week-old baby girl. My belly isn’t enormous, but it does bear scars of holding the life of five precious babies. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, not wanting to go back to sleep but instead wanting to wake to a different reality. I knew that too was impossible. “I can make it the entire day; I’ve made it this far.” I recited to myself.
Today, I sat with my big kids, Emma, now 9, Leah, now 7, and George, almost 6. We talked about how today is the anniversary of Jane’s birth. That’s really what all birthdays are, but the difference is that we aren’t marking growth; we are only looking back. It’s a day worth celebrating. What a joy and privilege it is to have been Jane’s family. To know her was to love her; it is still to love her. The kids picked balloons, we’ve eaten our fill of sweet treats all day long, and we’re watching Jane’s favorite movie tonight. It’s a celebration of sorts. But it’s just an anniversary now, and we have to make room for the grief permanently invited to our table.
Is she four today? I’m not sure. Has she grown-up or stayed the same? It’s a thought that doesn’t matter to someone until it matters.
“Jane loved Minnie Mouse, but she might not have liked Minnie anymore. Right, Momma?” The voice of the child gets smaller as reality dawns. “I wonder what Jane would have liked now.” says another child. I wonder that too. I see the little sister playing with balloons; she never met the one whose birthday we celebrate.
I almost didn’t make it to the hospital four years ago because I can’t stand being thought dramatic. If you have read anything I’ve written in the last year and a half, that probably surprises you. My apologies. I don’t want to be dramatic; I want to be honest. I won’t wallow in self-pity; I will talk plainly about grief.
On this day, we hold joy and grief. It’s an exercise we have repeated numerous times throughout the last year and a half. We are better for it. Our heart has grown, our compassion has increased, our knowledge has expanded, and our gratefulness is immense. Our grief has not gotten smaller; our lives have grown larger around it. Our joy is not dependent on circumstances; it is supplied by the Giver of all good gifts. It seems complicated and simple all at the same time.
Today I grieve, and I wait. I celebrate, and I mourn. I remember sweet times, and I remember horrific moments. I acknowledge a gracious God who gives and takes away. Today is the anniversary of one of my favorite birth stories. Today is Jane’s birthday. And on this day, I am thankful the story and little girl belonged to me.