My nephew Andrew Luke was born a little over a week ago. Although he is less than seven pounds and nearly five hours away, this miracle baby already occupies such a huge piece of our hearts. With each new photo, we are astonished at his mere existence. Izzi, who has always possessed an incredible fondness for babies, is especially enamored by Baby Andrew. She studies each photo that pops up in our shared iPhoto album, marveling at the sheer brevity of this little human.
Sometimes Izzi deliberates if dads should “baby wrap,” if the pets are dangerously close, if this expression is Andrew’s “poop face.” She peers at the photos multiple times throughout each day as they automatically fill her iPad, connecting our families in a way that nulifies miles, age or size.
As we cuddle in my bed on this Saturday morning, examining each photo once again, I mentally thank Anna for being the kind of mom who teaches me to be present, truly present, in these moments. Her story is one of tremendous loss, yet exponentially more hope. I thank God for giving her the gift of writing, sharing her journey in a way that is real and raw and relatable.
Izzi pauses longer than usual at the three photos of Anna and Andrew just after his birth. I marvel at the complete joy on my sister-in-law’s face and, of course, at her ability to look stunning seconds after pushing out a baby.
I just looked stunned after childbirth, not stunning.
Izzi interrupts my flashback with a question. Why does Baby Andrew look so wet in these pictures?
I remind her that hours before the photo, he had been blissfully “swimming” in Aunt Anna’s belly. Just like when we swim too long at Nana’s pool, babies’ skin tends to be a bit “pruney” when they’re born. Of course, Izzi requires details, never content with the simple answer.
She asks, “How does the baby not hurt the momma’s “guts and stuff” while he’s swimming?” Such a great question from a five-year-old. After all, I’ve given birth four times and still find it all extraordinary. I try to explain the concept of the amniotic sac, and remembering a rare photo I’d seen not long ago of a baby delivered fully within its amniotic sac, decided to Google it.
We inspect that photo. (If you’ve never seen it, click here. Breathtaking.) Next, we pull up the traditional diagram of a baby in the womb –the What to Expect When Your Expecting kind of drawing with the momma’s spine curving to meet the demands of full-term baby. This is also the diagram that makes a five-year-old puzzle lover trace her finger along to the “end” of the maze and ask, “So where is this? Where does the baby come out?”
I am not a sugar-coater, though I do confess to taking a detour from the high road when my four-year-old threw a tantrum for a box of fireworks, otherwise known as condoms, in the pharmacy aisle. Aside from that low moment, I believe in honesty, especially if directly asked. In our family, we also believe in using the proper terminology for body parts, which sometimes shocks people. A year or so ago, my sister was a tad traumatized when Izzi informed her that boys have “kenises” and girls have “ginas.” Sometimes a bit is lost pronunciation.
So I calmly tell my five-year-old interrogator where babies come from.
She looks at the diagram for a second, then scrolls back to the photo of Andrew and Anna.
So he came out of Aunt Anna’s vagina?
So she pooped out a baby?
It feels a lot like that, but it’s not exactly the same.
Ten-year-old Gracie chimes in, “There is a reason for every hole God put in your body, Izzi.”
Oh my, was that line part of her Catholic education? I’m pretty sure I never explained it that way to her.
Izzi ponders this new material for a second, then continues.
Did Aunt Anna know he was going to come out of her vagina?
Yes, mommas know that before it happens.
And they do it anyway? Wait a minute. So when I was a baby I came out of your…??!!!
Yes, you did. And so did your sister and your brothers.
Wow. I am never having a baby.
That’s okay, but you may change your mind someday. See how happy Aunt Anna is in these pictures?
Izzi stares at the photo with a newfound mix of admiration and repulsion. Then her brown eyes widen and panic sets in.
Mom! We have to Facetime Casey!
Casey is nearly seven months pregnant with Izzi’s niece, and no one in the history of mankind has ever been more excited to become an aunt than Izzi.
Sure, we can call her later.
We have to FaceTime her right now. I don’t think she knows where her baby is going to come out, and when she finds out, she might change her mind!!
From the coziness of my bed, we make the call. Izzi asks Casey if she knows where babies come from, which to an outsider sounds like the beginning of a corny joke. Casey, a little afraid to divulge too much information, confirms that she does, in fact, understand the concept and assures Izzi there’s no turning back now.
Izzi is visibly relieved to hear that her aunthood is not in jeopardy.
I tell them both nearly every woman has wanted to “turn back” at some point during labor. Just when we think we can’t possibly do this, we do. A slippery little human is placed on our chest, and we wonder how we ever breathed before this moment.
This ends the inquisition and we return to our Saturday morning routine. The girls and I look at more pictures, read a couple books, and enjoy breakfast in bed. When Izzi nestles into me, her little body barely distinguishable from mine, I marvel at how she’s grown. Six years ago today, I had an ultrasound, delivering the news that my little miracle would be a girl.
Six years already. It seems impossible that now that little blob on a computer screen is this little girl who lights up my world and keeps us all on our toes.
It also seems impossible that my oldest son is going to have a baby girl of his own, but this ultrasound speaks when I cannot. It is a pinch on the arm, reality whispering this is really happening.
Phillip will be a daddy. Izzi will be an aunt. I will be a grandmother.
Everything is happening so quickly. I blink and the world shifts.
I think of how my world has changed in six years. Divorce, remarriage, moving, births, so many deaths, Lyme disease, disability, pain. This is not the life I had pictured when that ultrasound technician announced the life inside me was a girl.
Many aspects are more rich, more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. There is so much love; my heart overflows with the fullness of my life. Some parts have been more painful, more dark than I would’ve thought I could have survived.
I am no longer the person I was when Izzi swam in my belly, avoiding my “guts and stuff” while pruning up her skin.
I am broken yet stronger.
I think of Baby Andrew and Anna, of profound sorrow and unfathomable joy, of hope and heaven.
Life didn’t go as we’d planned, but we trust God knows what He’s doing, even when we don’t understand.
After all, Anna and I may share an affection for writing, but it is God who is the best storyteller in our family.
Only He knows what the next chapter in our lives will bring.
We’re just praying for happy endings.