“[Motherhood is] the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary—it’s an act of infinite optimism.” – Gilda Radner
Oh, Gilda, you were as wise as you were funny. It’s true, you know. It is huge and scary to hold someone as small and vulnerable as your newborn child. I had held babies before but never with the heart bursting love that I held my own last September. I’ve never felt the same overwhelming emotion that I felt as they wheeled me out of the hospital, her car seat clutched in my lap, as I prayed frantically that I would know what to do when we hit the road and headed home, a place where a mere 72 hours before only had two human residents. Now it had three. We were three. Finally.
Everyone’s path is different. Ours was rocky. We met in our late 20s, got married quickly, but waited to start the baby train. And then waiting was involuntary. We had talked and decided against extreme measures to get pregnant when we found out that we were already. The joy was instant but the fear of what could happen loomed. We lost our first baby at 10 weeks when the sonogram showed no heartbeat. I told myself, “At least you can get pregnant!” but the sentiment rings hollow when your heart is breaking.
We kept trying. A year later we found out we were once again pregnant. Surely, this would be the one! I took all the precautions, ate the right foods, didn’t push myself. But at 7 weeks, three days before my first appointment with the OB/GYN, I started bleeding. I called my mother and told her, “I can’t do this again.” But I could. I did. We lost our second baby. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t make it make sense for me. My friends held me up, checked on me, tried to soothe my wounded heart. Those pink lines had promised heartbeats but I had yet to hear one pulse.
My husband and I stayed optimistic but guarded. I cried at night sometimes, wondering if I would ever have the chance to experience that elusive joy that everyone describes. At a dinner party, while all the women chattered about babies, I sat with the guys, drinking bourbon and beer, wondering where I fit in. I couldn’t bring myself to go talk about baby clothes and parenting techniques; it stabbed too deeply in my still raw heart.
We went on. We vacationed. I played happy aunt (which I was) to my nieces and my friends’ kids. We went to Hawaii and scuba dived, listening to humpback whales sing to each other under the waves. Returning home, I found out that I was pregnant again. They took me in for a sonogram immediately and there it was–the heartbeat. I’ve never heard anything so beautiful in my life, not until I heard her first cries. The rhythmic jumps on the screen were the first time that I connected with my daughter when I knew that my optimism wasn’t in vain. It was the first sonogram that I had had that didn’t end in racking sobs of another life lost. This one was the promise of life to come.
My pregnancy went smoothly, no morning sickness, little pain, even the summer’s heat didn’t seem so bad. The birth process was fairly painless (thanks, modern medicine!), and although it was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, it seemed effortless in the face of what I now have to do–bring up this child in the way she should go so that in the future she should not depart from it.
I’ve known joy in my life, I’ve known pain. I didn’t know that I could crave a sound until I heard my daughter laugh for the first time. Now every day is a game to see how much I can illicit. She’s generous with it. She loves our dogs and the feel of kisses on her cheek, or when I nibble her fingers. She’s alert and bright and sweet. And although I will always mourn the two babies that I lost, my darling Iris, which means ‘rainbow’ in Greek, will always be my messenger from God. That He did not forsake me; He only gave me what was perfect in His timing. Amen.