I’m sitting down to write this letter just before I start mixing and baking and frosting birthday cake. I remember so well that a year ago you had the thought, “Next year at this time I’ll be baking a cake.” And here I am. You are just about to start the swiftest year of your life. Really. You’ll take a breath and blink your eyes and you’ll be standing in the kitchen baking birthday cake.
But before you do, get ready. I know the bags have been packed and your kids have been asking every morning for a few weeks if this is ‘the day’. Tonight you feel the disbelief of a woman ten days overdue and it’s hard to imagine that tomorrow really and truly is the day you will meet this baby you’ve been waiting for. But it is. And you are going to feel the most pain you have ever felt. You are going to look at your husband and say, “This doesn’t feel right. It’s taking too long.” You are going to look at your sweet midwife and, with panicky eyes, for the first time in seven labors, you are going to tell her you want drugs. Like now. And she’s going to say you are almost there. And you are going to push and feel like you are breaking and dying and weak even though you’re stronger than you’ve ever been and then he’ll be on the outside. He’ll be the only baby you can only hold for a just moment because you are trembling and weak and your husband will be handed his son. Hands will help you from the birthing stool to your bed and you will sink in and they will give him back to you and place him on your chest, skin to new skin. You’ll do what so few women these days are blessed to experience. You’ll look in the eyes of your seventh child and you will feel more love than you thought possible and you’ll know that your heart has grown with your family. And your baby will be perfect. Like unbelievably perfect. Perfect little toes and a head full of hair and eyes that study your face like yours do his. They will weigh him and you’ll all be amazed, and suddenly, knowing he’s over ten pounds makes your tough labor make sense. You’ll feel like super woman for a minute and also decide you can never do that again. Ever.
I know you don’t have a name picked out. It would be nice if you did because you are going to spend his first twenty four hours trying to decide. You will want something unique and meaningful but not so strange that it will be burdensome for the little guy. You will decide on his first name after that first night of holding him and getting to know him but the middle name takes longer. Finally, around the time he’s a day old you’ll choose ‘Trust’ for a middle name. You and your husband will remember the third Psalm. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your path straight.” You’ll remember the prayers you prayed and how you wondered if you should have another baby. You’ll remember thinking about how you already felt stretched and limited and how crazy people would think you were. But the trusting path led to this little life asleep in your arms and you will feel thankful and call him, ‘Trust’.
When his brothers and sisters come to the hospital they will be quiet at first with wonder. They will look at him shyly and then as they snuggle him and touch his feet and nose he’ll be one of them. He’ll seem to like their noises and be calm and peaceful hearing up close all those voices that were muffled for months. Your mother will hold him and talk about how handsome he is and take pictures of your new, finally-all-together family and those moments captured will be treasures to you even just a year later.
You’ll stay an extra night in the hospital because they are so nice about leaving you alone and say that since he’s your seventh child they trust you know what you’re doing. And you do. You’ll sleep and nurse and nurse and sleep.
When you get home you will be greeted by cards strung across the house and excited little kids showing you the cake they made. You won’t believe how loud your house is. You’ll wonder ‘Is it always this way?’ Your husband will recognize you’re overwhelmed and he’ll take the children for a long walk in the woods and you’ll sit in your chair with your baby and look at him and whisper, “Welcome home.” And you’ll be thankful for a few minutes of quiet and you’ll take a deep breath and when they come back you’ll be ready with a smile and hugs before you go take a nap in your own bed and it will have never felt so good.
He’s going to grow so fast. The first couple of months are going to be a fog of sleeping and lots of not sleeping and somehow what was new is going to be normal and every day and just the way it is supposed to be.
You will be so glad that he got to meet Ginger the dog, even though he won’t remember her, because it just wouldn’t feel right to have someone in the family not have known her. She will follow you everywhere and finally she will just be too uncomfortable and you’ll know its time. But, you’ll ask your husband to make the phone call because you can’t bring yourself to do it. When it’s time to take her, he’ll offer to go but at the last minute you’ll think about how she follows you everywhere and you’ll remember bringing her home a decade ago and you’ll realize you owe her. So, you’ll leave your baby for the first time ever and you’ll know it’s his fussy time of the day but you’ll pray and somehow he’ll sleep the whole time you’re gone even though he never sleeps during that time of the day. When you get home with red eyes and an empty collar in your hand, you’ll find him just starting to stir and you’ll pick him up and hold him and feel life in your arms when your heart is aching over death.
He’ll start smiling early. As he grows you’ll realize more and more that he’s less a part of you. It will be a sweet delight to your soul to watch his relationships grow with his daddy and his three brothers and three sisters. None of those relationships will be the same. They will each be sweetly unique and special and have their own jokes and favorite games. You will be so proud of how loving your older children are and amused at how they can make this new little person giggle harder than even you can.
His first solid food will be a goldfish cracker fed to him by a little girl that thinks he looks hungry. It won’t be the last time a sibling thinks he’s ready for something you aren’t sure about and sometimes they will be right. He’ll take his first steps into the arms of his proud ten year old brother; the same brother that tells him stories of what they’ll do when he gets bigger and how he can’t wait to take him hunting. The nine year old will tell him to hurry and grow up so he can take him out to the workshop and build things. The seven year old boy will pretend to wrestle with him and will look proud when you show him how the baby tries to be just like him. The two littlest girls will both want to take care of him and somehow he’ll make it through his first year without injury from being ‘mothered’. They’ll want to carry him and feed him and even though you’ll keep reminding them to give him a little space, as soon as he can walk he’ll be chasing them around and joining in of his own freewill. And, he’ll hold a special place in the heart of his oldest sister; he’ll be the snuggles and the smiles that melt her heart on days when being twelve isn’t easy.
During his first year, you will say goodbye to both your husband’s grandmother and your own. He’ll only be three weeks old when you drive sixteen hours round-trip to go to the first funeral which was your husband’s grandmother. You’ll be thankful for the family he has and the heritage he’s been blessed with as you hear stories of his great-grandmother’s kindness and courage. You will always regret that during that whirlwind of a trip you didn’t take an hour detour to go visit your own grandmother. You’ll think that you’ll be coming back soon but life will get busy and time will fly by and she will go downhill so quickly. You won’t get to her bedside until her eyes are closed and she is slipping away. You’ll feel so sad that she never really got to see your baby. But, you will be thankful for his weight in your arms as you kiss her cheek goodbye.
She would have loved to see how he runs around with the new puppy, both of them chasing after the same mischief. You’ll find them in all sorts of trouble together. He’ll be unrolling the toilet paper in the bathroom and the puppy will be jumping in it and spreading it around the house. He’ll try to steal dog food from her dish and she’ll try to steal Cheerios from his high chair. And sometimes, you’ll find them both snuggled on her dog bed, his little head on her belly.
You’ll be so thankful.
It’s hard to imagine that as I write this to Me-One-Year-Ago that you don’t yet know the little man that has filled your house with so much personality and joy. You have so much to look forward to as you’ll soon have a heart filled and overflowing from a million toothless and then ever-increasing-teeth smiles.
You won’t be able to believe that you ever, for one moment, let what other people might think cause you to doubt if you should have another baby. You’ll come to see that while you worried about having enough to give to him, he has given to you and the rest of the family more than you could have ever imagined. You’ll look at him, be in wonder of all that you know about him and you’ll realize that you didn’t make him. He isn’t even yours. You were gifted with being the vessel that was his first home on this earth and with letting him grow in and out of your arms. And, he’s growing out of them so fast.
Tonight, on the eve of his first birthday, he’s still nestled in his little bed next to yours. I know that will probably shock you as you have plans to move him into his crib in the other room much sooner than that. But, you’ll use the excuse of our house being small and not wanting to bother the older kids in the night. Really, you just won’t be in a hurry to move him out because you will treasure every moment of his babyhood. You’ll listen to him breathe at night and it will still fill you with wonder.
So, sleep well tonight if you can. Tomorrow is a day you will always remember. And when you hold that precious, newborn son in your arms, breathe deeply and hold him close.
In just a moment, I’ll be saying ‘Happy First Birthday’ to your little, big guy.
The me he calls ‘Mama’