Last night was a busy night.
That’s right. I’m measuring time and output in a new metric these days. Biscuit consumption. A heavy night’s work equals nothing but crumbs left by morning.
Before I run the risk of sounding like a crazed comfort eater, let me explain. There’s a reason for all this fat and sugar intake other than the fact that it’s plain yummy!
A tiny new bundle of joy recently arrived in our lives. It takes a lot of energy to power him, but he’s worth every calorie.
His name is Joey (hereafter referred to as Baby J).
Just on two weeks ago our third child, our second boy, our ‘God gives even more’ blessing, Baby J, arrived into this world, into our arms, into our house, nestling his way into the tiniest crevices of our hearts.
And we are now a family of five! Five?!?
I can guarantee that had I hazarded a guess at the direction our lives would take even a year ago this would not be it. This is a monumental plot twist, the sort of surprise story turn that you never see coming. I often wonder, in my drastically under-slept state, if I’m in fact sleep walking through some sort of dreamscape.
Three children… where for a long time we thought we might not have any.* And yet even as I write this, I am aware time is already passing. Each minute, each hour, Baby J is a little bit older, a little bit more a part of our world. A little bit more normal. And with his growth, so too all this newness, this heightened awareness of life and its wonders and surprises, is passing too.
I am simultaneously scared this time will pass too quickly —that we will blink and he will be a curious crawler, a wild toddler, a chat-back preschooler — and that it will last forever, one long day-night of feeding-changing-settling, catching sleep in illusive fragments, waking to face lively older siblings, stumbling around half-blind in the sunlight. And praying we can make it through these heady, rocky times.
And then I look into his face. As he feeds chin pointed up at me like an offering. Or sleeps in his little bed, looking impossibly small (even though he was, by measurement standards, big), his little pursed lips making sucking motions in what I imagine to be his baby dreams. Those black-turned-blue eyes, in shape so like his sisters, wide and long, yet still so new to the world and light and us newborn-eyes, impossibly wise, and innocent all at once. I’m filled with indescribable …love. And I feel incredibly, impossibly, vulnerable.
And it’s clear I’m in another dimension. The newborn zone. A form of exile from everyday life, where every emotion, sensation, moment, feels heightened.
The newborn zone is one of those places, those spaces and moments in life, that are removed. Set apart. I can only compare it to travel to a foreign place.
Like the experience of the girl I met in the college laundry room just last week. She was fresh off the plane from a mission trip to the Northern Territory. And stories spun from her mouth, faster than the sud-spilling machines, of the community that had welcomed them, of their fellowship in the word. I haven’t even washed the red dirt off me, she confessed. And I wanted to say, Don’t! Not just yet. I couldn’t see the dirt, but I could feel the intensity of it all, radiating off of her.
Or I remember a trip to China to visit my cousins over a decade ago now. I thought as I walked the streets teeming with so much difference, so much in opposition to everything I knew as familiar, how will I ever be the same when I go home? And yet… Such moments are intense at the time —all consuming even—but they cannot be repeated. I’ve been here before of course, with E and W, but you forget. With birth pain this is a mysterious blessing. With these after-hours, I’m not so sure.
And so my task on returning to this space here is simple. To record a few insights and thoughts from the newborn zone. While particular in occasion, I believe they are universal in application. Because in times of extremity, we are often more able to single out what is really important, not through any virtue on our own. Through sheer, basic, necessity.
In no particular order then….
The newborn zone is a raw, exposed place. It is hard to hold up a veneer when one has just given birth. Especially in the hospital, there are no heroes. Even those hardened veterans who have been here many times before are rendered at least to some extent helpless by the processes of birth. Body functions take over. Reliance on others becomes paramount. The most straightforward birth, let alone those more complicated ones, requires recovery, and this state in turn reveals our humanness, our vulnerability, and for those of faith, naturally leads to something else….
A state of dependence, a posture of prayer. Lying on that bed in the delivery suite breathing and moving through early contractions, I repeated over and over again words to such effect, Lord, please make a way through this, for when I’m weak, you are strong. And in those barely-sleeping, early-feeding days that followed the birth-moment, the prayers flowed easy and simple. Outside of such periods of extremes my prayer life can at times waver, my pride and impatience rise in opposition to my greatest need. But when reduced to a state where such basics even of sleep become illusive, prayer is indispensable.
As is community. We were not made to do life alone. The newborn zone demands an excess of both time, and bodily sacrifice. At times this feels all consuming. And with two other young children to take care of as well, Dr M and I have quickly discovered we just don’t have enough hands to do all that needs to be done.
Dr M went back to work for half a day and within the hour I, and the house, were reduced to a state of heaving mess. Meals from college, family and church have kept us going. We are extremely grateful for those around us, who shower us with such practical signs of love. The provision of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in particular has been a real blessing to me at this time (I wonder if someone will discover a link between choc chip consumption and breastmilk…)
Further, such joy in such times is to be shared. In fact, both joy and sorrow alike are to be experienced communally. Romans 12:15 tells us, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.’ There is nothing like a baby to bring joy. Just observe the faces of old people as a baby passes by. They are literally transformed, for a moment, in wonderment.
But I’m aware, too, that as much blessing Joey has already brought many, he has also been a reminder of pain for others, often simultaneously. It is not so long ago that we were the couple standing childless above the beds of our fertile friends, laughing and crying, as we took in the light of their moment, and the shadows of our own. The newborn zone, as is the rest of life, is to be lived together. This does not mean we will all be on the same timeline, but it does require of us to be sensitive to one another. And to share one another’s stories, through both light and heavy seasons.
Thank you to everyone who has shared this defining part of our story over the last few weeks. We are so very grateful. And to Jehovah, of course, the great increaser!
*[To read more on this, you can follow my ‘Our Story’ posts, where I discuss our struggles and journey with infertility].