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Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...

 

The Coming of Lilian

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'Twas a dark and stormy night (oh but really, it was) when Lilian Joy made her sweet way into the world.

The 'beast from the East', a rare springtime snowstorm, had howled its arrival through the Oxford streets early that morning and had not subsided in the least by the time a full moon lit the fitful, storm-scudded skies. Having announced her coming by sending me into 44 hours of building early labor (an arduous process I coped with by embarking upon a long-awaited marathon of watching the Harry Potter films), Lilian upped the ante in the wee smas of the 2nd of March. My water broke, the pains tripled, and I suddenly found I only thought I'd been brave until then. The real work began, the drama of which sent Thomas, my mom, and me scurrying for the hospital. Our little lovely was on her way and coming fast.

A saint of a neighbor and very dear friend was willingly dragged from his bed to drive us through the gusty streets. Thomas had to clear the road at least once (the rest is a bit hazy to me), but we made it to the hospital through blowing snow. We quickly found though that the cozy, midwife-led maternity unit we'd planned to use for the birth was closed. My only, desperate prayer was for a room with a birthing pool. By God's sweet grace, the only room on that floor with a pool had just come free and I stumbled in as a midwife arrived and began to prepare for the birth. The maternity wing was in an uproar due to absent staff and rearranged teams struggling to cope with the complications of the storm. Our poor midwife was on her third 12-hour shift, but by the time we arrived, there wasn't much time to talk or wait and we all buckled in for the birth.

In my mind, the labour from that point was swift, though I think it was at least another two hours. They gave me gas and air (it's just like on Call the Midwife!) which helped me to gain the upper hand I needed over the pain. The warm water made a world in which I could work as I entered the 'zone' I'd been told I'd find. The pushing seemed to take forever and a blink of the eye at the same time. I remember Thomas' quiet, unshakeable presence, holding me, willing me to the strength I needed. I remember my mom's unceasing encouragement as her own baby gave birth and she cheered me on through every pain, squeezed my hand when I thought I couldn't push any more. I remember my own concentration, the total giving of my body to the work of bringing my daughter into the world with a might I had never mustered before. I remember wondering if it would ever end, and... out she came, suddenly, sweetly, a little fish the midwife told me to catch. 

 
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I caught that silky-skinned little baby and held her close and saw two things at once. Her eyes, like midnight skies in their navy, newborn light. And her hands; expressive and delicate, already dancing around her face in a grace that still startles and amuses me. And I felt this quiet, exhausted thanks as this new little heart beat next to mine. 

It still beats next to mine as I write here, a warm bundle of sleeping baby propped between my arms as I write. My lovely Lilian is now six weeks old. She's tiny, but growing quickly, my delicate little baby with her contemplative gaze, her expressive hands, her sensitive spirit, and solemn eyes. 

Several people have asked me in recent days, 'what's it like to be a parent?'

I think it's the most world-altering thing I've yet known, and at the same time the most normal thing I've ever experienced. Love makes itself at home, and I think that's what is at work here as the fact of Lilian shapes us to itself. We are, in a way, reborn in the grace of her presence, our own lives reshaped to receive her. I find I can barely leave her for a few minutes without wanting to see her again, watch her, check that she flourishes (and breathes!), bask in the sheer wild wonder of her little person. Of course, I get a lot less sleep. I feel that I never have more than a few minutes to do anything. Autonomy is a thing of the past (as is carefree coffee shop runs). Sometimes she cries for whole hours at a time and I wish one of us was in another world altogether! 

But I did not know what a pervasive, quiet devotion would suffuse the whole of my being for my daughter. I'm surprised at the gentle, unadorned tenacity of it. It's not the adoration of puppy dog cuteness (though that is certainly present). It's not a frilly or sentimental emotion. Rather it's almost like pain in its inexorable presence, a current of knowledge that throbs beneath everything else I do, tinging the whole of my life, except that its love. And so it's joy, a strange exultation in what I feel as this calm, radiant assent to the strength of love that has been born in me with the coming of my daughter. To be her mother expands and defines my identity forever. 

That's what I know on this rainy Oxford afternoon as I write again for the first time after the coming of Lilian Joy. The story of her coming, the birth of this love in my own heart and in the form of my baby is the first story I have to tell, my thanks to the God who is, himself, love.

And now, I'd better leave you because those tiny eyelids are fluttering. Little Lily's about to awake...

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