There is a part of me that feels very guilty telling portions of the next season of our story. We have so many dear friends that have tried for years and conception was all but impossible. With the humility of learning from their struggle, I have to confess that we didn’t plan the whole parenthood thing very well. Sure, we were tinkering with the idea, but the timing was less than ideal. We found out we were pregnant on Father’s Day weekend 2001. All I could think about was the summer of youth ministry ahead and a bridesmaid’s dress that would need to be worn in December. Oh, and yeah, I was going to be a MOM!
There is not one thing that will ever prepare you for the moment that you confirm that you are pregnant. You cannot learn or study or brace yourself hard enough for the feeling of overwhelming weight when you realize that you are now responsible for the life of another human. I knew it was heavy from the very beginning. And by heavy, I include the 60 pounds that I added to my body as I enjoyed unlimited chicken fingers and pies. All of them.
I did not struggle with infertility. I did not struggle with morning sickness. But my body was never really fond of housing another human. Neither of my pregnancies were smooth. Anna Jane wanted out. At 32 weeks, she began her march towards independence. She was due on February 20th. I spent the month of January on the couch on my left side. She stayed in until January 31st. I should have known then that her spirit was one that I could not contain.
A similarly passionate entrance was made by my second daughter. In 2004, we found out we were expecting again. I will tell you the story of that journey when we get there, but for the sake of the motherhood discussion, you must know that this gig is tough. Initially we were pregnant with twins. Just weeks into my second pregnancy I thought that I was miscarrying and we discovered that I lost one of the twins. At 17 weeks pregnant, my gallbladder went kaput. Filled with stones and sludge, anytime that I ate fat, it would freak out. Eventually, this led to early labor, AGAIN. This time, I was hospitalized at 33 1/2 weeks and my second girl made her arrival at 36 weeks in all her Ally-gator glory.
I say all of this to remind myself that from the very beginning, I was not in control of one thing. Motherhood is the ultimate joke on control freaks like me. The Urban dictionary defines MOTHER as:
The only woman in the world who will still cradle you in her arms even if you’ve stabbed her loving heart each time you’ve hung up her calls, thrown away her delicious food just because your friends thought Subway was cool; got a red-ink stained progress report; told her to go away in the presence of your apparently ‘cool’ friends, ignored her for telling you to do your school work before play; taking juvenile revenge on her for only protecting you from the seemingly harmless evils in the world around you.
That’s it. And it starts in infancy. They could scream at me all night and I still came back for more. I wanted to do all the things well. I wanted them to have all they needed. I wanted to place the world within their reach, and that was all in the first 20 minutes of their life.
Unfortunately, I had a crash course in my inadequacy in the first moments of motherhood. After being in pre-term labor for weeks, I went to the hospital with contractions 5 minutes apart on January 30th at 5pm. At 6:30pm on January 31st, after too many hours of misery, Anna Jane came screaming into the world. Lucas didn’t pass out and when I told her I was DONE before the arrival, my sister politely (whatever!) reminded me to keep my head in the game. We made a great birthing team and I had a daughter.
She did all the things that the movies tell you babies are supposed to do. She cried. Dad cut the cord. Aunt Liz videoed the moment. And then as they began to clean her up, the mood changed. I was still in need of medical attention, so I had to rely on the reports from the other side of the room. It quickly seemed that movement was taking place and in the next moment, AJ was taken to the NICU.
Not understanding the details and unable to think about anything other that the past 26 hours of food-less war, I devoured a Jason’s Deli sandwich and was transported to the postpartum floor. I can remember these moments like they were yesterday. Our room was filled with parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles. The doctor from the NICU came to my room and told all of us that they suspected AJ’s lung was collapsed. They were doing some further testing and the mood was tense.
Almost immediately, our pastor appeared in the doorway and she asked everyone but Lucas to leave the room. We gave her the update and she looked at us with genuine concern and said these words. “You are parents. This is your little girl and she needs you. You will need each other to get though whatever happens. Lean on each other and the strength of your new little family.”
It was like the universe shifted. In that moment, I went from being dependent to being depended upon. And I was not alone. We prayed around my hospital bed that night and I knew that the unit that we had together would be the cornerstone. I didn’t know how it was going to work. I didn’t feel equipped and ready, but on January 31, 2002, Team Hilbrich grew by 7 pounds 1 oz and everything changed.