Dear Maria Grace,
630 days ago, your life began, deep inside Mama, where it was dark and wet and warm and safe. You see, you started out so tiny, if you had started in the open air, you would’ve been squished! Daddy and Mama prayed for you every day, sometimes many times a day. You grew very, very fast, even faster than you do now. Mama’s body grew and changed with you. First, her bones loosened up and kept sliding out of place – that would come in handy in eight months or so. Next, she was sick a lot. You know how when you cry for a long time in the car because Mama’s driving and you want a feed, and your tummy feels yucky and some of your food comes out of your mouth? That’s what happened to Mama a lot. And she didn’t like to eat. Can you imagine, Mama not liking to eat? It was pretty crazy. But she ate as much as she could to help you grow. Her body changed the food so it would be fit for you, and it travelled through a cord from Mama’s body to your body (that was still inside Mama’s body!) After several weeks, though, she started to like food again, and other things happened instead. She felt you move, then you started moving enough that Daddy could feel you from the outside! Then Mama’s body decided to start making the kind of food you’d have after you came out, a sort of golden syrupy milk called colostrum. You wouldn’t need it for over twenty more weeks, but Mama’s body wanted to be good and ready for you. It wasn’t long before Mama’s belly was a little hill, just like she makes it when you’re climbing on her, but she couldn’t make it smaller again like she can now. When you twisted and turned inside Mama to exercise or to get into a comfortable spot, everybody could see the lump that was you moving and changing shape. You know those cardboard toilet paper rolls you love so much? Daddy could hold one to Mama’s belly and listen to your heartbeat. Thump-thump-thump-thump, your heart pumped your blood through your veins, just like it does now. As Mama stretched and stretched for you to have room as you grew bigger and bigger, her skin got tired. Little pink lines like grass grew along the bottom of her belly until they reached up to and over the top of her belly button, which was now open like a salad plate, instead of like a water glass. It was time to get ready for you to be born. Daddy and Mama chose fabrics, and Mama hemmed them into blankets to wrap you in when you came out. They walked quite a ways every day to help keep Mama’s body strong and ready to push you down and out. Grandpa and Grandma H made sure everything about the house was just so, ready for a little person. Grandma T made plans to come visit. Every night, Daddy sang your song, the Salve Regina, for you, and soon Mama learned it, too.
366 nights ago, the night before you were born, Daddy was at work. He didn’t work at the church back then, he worked in a store. It got chilly at night, and sometimes Daddy was cold when he got home very late, so Mama climbed into bed on his side to warm it up. She prayed and talked to you a little bit more than usual. “Whenever you’re ready, Baby,” she said. “We can do this, you and I.” And she fell asleep. But a while later, right after midnight, she woke up, because she was getting the bed wet. This wasn’t because she didn’t get to the toilet on time, it was your swimming waters! She couldn’t hold them back, and they seemed like a lot. They smelled sweet, like you. She cleaned them up, made the bed, and knocked on Grandpa and Grandma H’s door. She told them what had happened, and asked to borrow a phone. She called Daddy, and told him you were coming, but not soon, so he could finish working before he came home. He finished and went to church to pray for a while before he came back to Grandpa and Grandma H’s house. Mama tried to relax, but she was too excited that she would get to see you in a few hours. Daddy and Grandpa H set up a pool in the kitchen, and Grandpa and Grandma went back to bed to try to get some rest. Pretty soon, Mama’s uterus, the great big muscle you’d been living inside for so long, started squeezing. It needed to get you down the birth canal so that you could come out of Mama. At first, it squeezed slowly and not often, and Mama told Daddy he could go take a nap, because he was falling asleep on the couch. Mama knelt over the hassock and decided to watch a movie. She turned on Despicable Me 2, but she didn’t really watch it, she was messaging with her mama and sisters and counting the squeezes. They got harder and closer, and Mama started moaning because it was such hard work. The noise woke Daddy up, and he came out to help. Every time a squeeze came, Mama would lean on the piano or the couch or the counter, and Daddy would push his hands on her lower back and talk to her. Right before the sun came up, they decided it was time to call the midwife. She was a nice lady that had been helping babies come out of their mamas even before Daddy was alive! Grandpa and Grandma H went away for the day so that Mama could labor comfortably without too many people watching. The squeezes were getting much harder and closer together, so everyone thought maybe you would come by lunch. Mama was very hungry, but food sounded yucky, so the midwife got her some lemon yoghurt. She ate it and drank lots of water. Daddy and the midwife filled the pool with warm water, and Mama worked in there for a while. She was getting pretty tired, and was having weird thoughts like dreams between the squeezes. The midwife checked the opening you would come out of, called the cervix, and it was still pretty tightly closed. She said Mama needed to do something to hurry up or slow down, so Mama decided to take a nap. She climbed into bed next to Daddy and lay on her side so that she could rest against Daddy and the midwife could press a hot water bottle against her back during the squeezes. She dozed between squeezes, and they slowed down a little. When she woke up, she threw up the yoghurt. The midwife made her some chicken broth and after a while, helped her back into the pool. But now, something crazy started happening! The squeezes were so hard and long and close together that it seemed like it was just one squeeze that was lasting forever. Daddy said it was a little scary. Mama said it was such hard work and she just wanted a break, but when she got tiny little breaks, she was too exhausted to talk. Soon, the midwife said it was time to go back to bed. She and Daddy dried Mama off, and helped her back to the bedroom. After Mama settled in on her back, the midwife showed her how to hold her legs apart to give you room to come out, and told her to push. Mama pushed. It was a little tricky at first, and the midwife told her she was using her shoulders too much (she was! They were so sore for days!), but gradually she got the hang of it, and started groaning deep, which the midwife liked. Daddy and the midwife held Mama’s ankles, which made it a little easier. It wasn’t long before Daddy and the midwife told Mama they could see a little bit of your hairy head, and held a mirror so Mama could see, and guided her hand so she could touch you for the first time. You were squishy and so, so soft. When Mama pushed really hard, a little more of your head would show, but then when she stopped, it would slide back. That was a bit discouraging, but of course it would have been very difficult for you to just come out all at once! It was hard for Mama to keep going, but she saw Daddy’s face lit up with the joy of finally seeing his baby, and that gave her encouragement to keep on. The midwife said she needed more light, and Mama said, “Please don’t leave!” The midwife opened the curtains, and the golden evening light came in. It was Mama’s favorite time of day. After she had pushed for a long time, your head stopped sliding back inside Mama. She pushed very hard, and your head was born! Your face was square and pale purple. After a moment, the midwife encouraged Mama that the next push wouldn’t be as hard, but you had wide shoulders! Mama pushed, and your body twisted around and around as more of it showed, and the midwife said, “Now Hannah, I want you to reach down and catch your baby.” “I can’t!” wailed Mama. “Yes, you can!” said Daddy and the midwife, and they pulled Mama’s hands down to you as you slipped out of Mama, and all together they placed you on top of the belly you had just been inside of. You were slippery and warm. Mama ran her hands down your body and the cord that was still sustaining you from within her. You had some fluid in your nose and mouth, so we talked to you and rubbed you and Daddy sang your song until you coughed it out and breathed properly. Then Daddy looked and said you were a girl, our Maria Grace. Soon you found a feed and started suckling. Your placenta, a great red cake that held the other end of your cord, was born and when it was time, Daddy cut the cord, because you didn’t need it any more. In a few short minutes, you had learned how to get your own air and food. The midwife weighed and measured you. You were 9 pounds, 6 ounces, 21 inches long, and your head, which wasn’t squishy anymore, was 14 inches around. That was just the right size for you. She swaddled you in a blanket Mama had hemmed for you. Mama still wraps you in it sometimes. Everyone was so excited you had been born. You and Daddy and Mama were very tired and very hungry.