Happy 1st Birthday, Elijah!

My Bubba,

One year old today! I can’t believe it has been a whole year since you decided to it was time to meet us while we were on holidays at a farmhouse in Victoria! What an adventure that was. And what an adventure this year has been.

I never understood the sheer volume of love a heart could hold before you made our family complete.

I know I love you because even though you are (let’s be honest) a pretty terrible sleeper and wake me frequently through the night, my heart still skips a beat when you smile at me each morning.

I know I love you because I actually kind of like changing your nappies (believe me, this is love!) because it allows me to be close to your face, to talk and sing and play with you.

I love the way you point to the freckle below my collarbone and exclaim, “dis!” as if you are announcing this remarkable freckle to the world.

I love it when you march stiff-legged, giggly and achingly cute to the bath holding your daddy’s hands, your golden head like an over-sized bauble atop your little nudie body. And then I love the way you kick up a joyful frenzy in the bath, even though it drives your sister nuts.

I love it that you laugh every single time your daddy walks in the room. And that laugh. Oh. My. Goodness.

I love the way that you go all coy and bury your face in my neck when someone smiles at you.

I love that you love your big sister so much. It delights my heart to see you playing together, even though the peaceful moments only last as long as it takes you to mess up her Little People game.

I love the way you rub your eyes with your fists when you’re tired.

I love how content you are to just sit and potter and watch everything that’s going on around you. You are such a happy baby, and believe me, I don’t take that for granted.

 I wish that nothing difficult or troublesome ever had to happen to you. I wish that I could promise you calm and happy days always. But all I can do is promise to be there, listening, praying and holding you. (Right now I can’t imagine a time coming when you won’t let me hold you. Yesterday, I heard my cousin tell her 8-year-old son, “You have to let me kiss you because you came out of my stomach!” That sounds entirely fair-enough to me!)

Happy First Birthday, Elijah! I can’t wait to see what adventures the second year of your life will bring!

Love from,

Your Mum x

 

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Ten Random Things I Love About Babies (Even when they disrupt my sleep and spit out my food).

Please don’t ask if my eleven-month old is sleeping through the night. I can’t really imagine what people do with eight hours in a row. Or six.

The introduction of solids has also had its frustrations. From age six to eight months, my little boy trialled a range of methods to avoid eating my carefully prepared purees, from the more subtle approaches such as ducking his head away or poking out food with his tongue, through to the desperately pitiful what-are-you-doing-to-me-Mummy-tears and the rather terrifying gagging, retching and vomiting up the (99% milk) contents of his belly. In fact, our normally cheerful little soul got so cluey about keeping his mouth sealed against substances other than milk, that he actually avoided smiling during mealtimes – quite a feat with his cheeky big sister making ridiculous faces inches away. 

Crawling hasn’t come easily, either. At eleven months, my baby is finally on the move, but in an incredibly ungainly style of dragging his left leg curled under him in a manner that has doctors shrieking about ultrasounds, blood tests and specialist appointments.

And yet. And yet I love this kid. And not just in that I love you ‘cause I’m your mum but I don’t really like you much right now kind of way. Nope, this is love, like and the whole bang lot. I understand the biological element: it’s the natural order of things for a mother to love, protect, nurture the child she has brought into the world. Certainly that helps to account for the fierce, sometimes almost overwhelming need to keep this boy safe from all harm. But to be honest, the depth of delight I have had in this baby from the start has taken me by surprise.

I recently watched Thomas Balmès beautiful documentary Babies, which follows four babies from four different countries during the first year of their lives. The film emphasises the universal qualities of babies – and whether from the Namibian desert or the Tokyo apartment – they all play, explore, laugh, express excitement, become frustrated, throw tantrums.

The film got me thinking about some of the things I’ve loved about my two babies during the first year of their lives. That utterly demanding, all-encompassing, nipple-cracking, ear assaulting, back-aching first year that wrings every last nurturing tendency from your bone-tired body and then beams a glaring-bright light on all your selfish inclinations. For there really is nothing like parenting a baby for illuminating your true, unadorned, warts-and-all self.

Tired, frazzled mums of babies say to each other ruefully, “It’s a good thing they’re cute!” It’s said at least partially in jest, but – like any adage – there’s more than a little truth in the statement. It was very clever of God to ensure that people in their most dependent and demanding phase of life are at their cutest. I mean, call me shallow, but I wonder how I would go dragging myself out of bed for the fifth time to kiss my infant’s shrivelled, whiskery, old-man face. It didn’t end so well for Benjamin Button. Yes, I love my son purely because he’s my son. But, let’s be honest, there are adorable things about babies that make it easier. My list is not particularly deep and meaningful and it’s certainly not exhaustive –it’s merely a few random thoughts about the sweet things babies do. The little things that enable you to laugh rather than cry when they wee all over face, clothes and mummy during a 2am nappy change.

1.       They see the world with fresh eyes.

We went for a walk one evening when my boy was a few weeks old, and Jeremy said, “I love it when a baby has not been long in this world, and walking under a tree is magical.” Living with a baby can feel relentless and repetitive for the grown-ups, but for the baby every patch of carpet is surprising and each glimpse in the mirror an exhilarating surprise.

My sure-fire trick to cheer up a grumpy baby is to lay him on the bed and gently drift a sheer scarf over his body and face. Utterly thrilled, my boy waves his arms and legs and squeals with excitement as the glistening, spangled substance floats and falls and softly skims his skin.

When I take the time to pause in my busy, rushed state of being a grown-up – when I stop and lie on the floor with my baby and see what he sees – it’s a pretty surprising and awesome world looking back at us.

2.       They are excited about life and not ashamed to show it.

An adult may show her excitement with a single smile, gasp or exclamation. Many a teenage boy has managed to distil his excitement down to a barely discernible widening of the pupils. In extreme and unusual circumstances such as watching a favourite sporting team at the Grand Final, two or even three simultaneous gestures may be employed: a fist pump, a foot stomp and a raucous yell, for example.

Babies display excitement with their entire compact little bodies: eyes wide, mouths agape, arms flapping and (my favourite bit, mainly because it’s just something grown-ups don’t ever do) legs kicking up a frenzy. And the most beautiful thing of all is that a baby can slip into this leg-kicking flurry of exhilaration because you’re about to put him in the bath, or because the light switch is just so amazing, or because his big sister started dancing.

3.       They laugh.

I bring my baby home from hospital and I’m in awe. I feel optimistic that I’ll be able to cope with anything. But there’s a lot of crying and not a lot of sleeping. And then there’s reflux and screaming at every feed. It’s a tough job, and quite frankly I don’t feel like I’m getting a whole lot in return.

And then my baby laughs.

For some reason today that loud raspberry I’ve been blowing on his belly since day one just spoke to him on a whole new level. Yesterday he gazed back at me blankly, but today I am hilarious.  And that’s the real reason why that first awkward, unpractised, squawky laugh is the sweetest music to my ears: it is evidence of connection. No longer am I just boobs and a comforting smell, suddenly I’m interesting and entertaining. There’s something incredibly affirming about making my baby laugh. And before long, my baby is relishing the joyous physical experience of a hearty belly laugh.

4.       They seek out your face.

When my baby is being held by an enthusiastic but unfamiliar family friend, cuddled by a rambunctious big sister or poked and prodded by a doctor, his eyes scan the room searching me out. There’s caution in his eyes, the question of am I ok, Mum? Then his eyes rest on mine, reassured. As he grows up, my hope is that I may always be a place of rest for my child.

5.       Sometimes they fall asleep in your arms.

There’s a school of thought that insists you should never let a baby fall asleep in your arms, much less take him or her into bed with you. I understand that babies need to learn to settle themselves and I was very strict about this with my daughter. But second time round and a bit more relaxed, I’ve discovered what bliss it is to snuggle my boy as he falls asleep once in a while. To feel the resistance slip away from his little body, to see his eyes grow heavy, to watch sleep gather him up and smooth his chubby face.

6.       They dance to music.

A few months ago I put on some music, and – from his sitting position on the mat – my baby started bopping up and down to the beat. How do babies know to dance? From where do they get the knowledge that moving their bodies to music will bring them joy?

Every now and then, we feel the need to have a ten minute family dance party before bath-time. My little boy is always an enthusiastic participant: bopping away in his highchair, flashing wide baby-teeth grins as the rest of the family display for-our-kitchen-only dance moves.

7.       They can pull off bunny hats and tiger costumes without irony.

What is cuter than a little chubby baby, than a little chubby furry baby with bunny ears? And surely I’m not the only mum who dresses her baby in his cutest outfit after a particularly rough night?

8.       Sometimes only you can comfort them, and that’s pretty amazing.

It can be the most frustrating and lovely thing at once: that there are times when only his mama’s arms will do. He’s overtired or anxious or something is hurting, and he’s inconsolable. Call it a mother’s intuition, or call it trial and error – I sit him on my lap and pat his back until a bubble of gas bursts out his mouth, or I take him to the window and we look across the dark backyard to the bright streak of lights on the horizon, or I just lie with him against my chest until he quietens. There may no longer be a physical cord connecting my baby to me, but a thousand invisible threads still bind us together.

Sometimes it feels draining being The One – especially still breastfeeding my 11-month-old-don’t-ever-try-to-trick-me-with-that-plastic-teat-business-again baby. Sometimes I crave time to myself. Jeremy and I went on our first date in seven months a few weeks ago. It lasted all of an hour (but what a quality hour it was!) before we got a phonecall from my mum with our baby screaming in the background. Mum had been walking around the house with him howling for 40 minutes before she called us. Needless to say, we came home.

Mothering a baby is such an intense physical experience: the weight of responsibility for this tangle of grabbing fists and sucking lips, soft round belly and tiny sharp teeth, kicking legs and milky spews and duckling-down hair. But I try to remember that it is just a time. My baby will never need me as much as he does today. Yes there are days when I crave a future place of unbroken sleep, non-maternity bras and mush-free dinners. But then he buries his face in my neck or goes cross-eyed and giggly as we press our foreheads together, and I want to halt the march of time, bottle his baby-essence, hold him and hold him.

9.       They join in family discussions in their own special language.

When he’s in a chatty mood my baby sounds something like this, “Dada dada dada da! Ah dadada?” When he’s really excited it’s more like, “Da! Da!” When he’s upset, it’s “Mama mama muuum!” I try not to take it personally. I just like that my baby has things to say.

10.   They don’t hold grudges.

 I love my baby more than life but the little knack he has of illuminating my faults can be very uncomfortable. Becoming a mother is far and away the most amazing, fulfilling thing I have done. But it is without a doubt also the most frustrating, and I marvel at the way in which something so small has the ability to push me to the edge of my capacity.

 Becoming a mum has brought out the best and the worst versions of myself. I had no idea what it would feel like to be on call every day and every night. I had no grasp of how challenging – and even frightening – the loss of control would be. I am ashamed at the things that have burst out of me in moments of extreme frustration.

 There have been countless exasperating, broken nights where I have growled all kinds of threats at a baby that won’t settle, and then been wracked with guilt that I’ve damaged him irrevocably. But morning comes and the moment he sees me, my baby boy is kicking his legs, cooing and giggling in delight.

 And I realise a wonderful, miraculous truth: through the grace of God, my little boy holds no grudges. He only ever sees my best version.

 

Catalogue Mother’s Day

It struck me today that there is Catalogue Mother’s Day and there is Real Mother’s Day. The mums in Catalogue Mother’s Day have slept eight-plus hours and woken with flawless makeup, softly curled hair and pyjamas that manage to speak maternal care and feminine desirability all at once. They smile with quiet serenity as angelic, doe-eyed children press brightly wrapped parcels into their hands, and hunky husbands whisper words of gratitude and promises of waffles and bubble baths.

Catalogue Mother’s Day is not to be confused with Real Mother’s Day. The Real Mother’s Day mum has been woken three-hourly throughout the previous night, and the dryness of her throat suggests those few hours of sleep may have been spent eating sand. She stumbles groggily from the bedroom: damp circles on the front of her shabby T-shirt, dark circles under her eyes and a head that feels like it is full of wool. Or maybe thick soup.

The Real Mother’s Day mum may well have a husband who is a pastor (and required to attend three church services, plus finish writing a sermon to preach in the evening) or perhaps in hospitality or another occupation that requires him to be elsewhere than at her beck and call for the day. Or she may be a single mum with no one on hand to remind the kids to put a raincheck on all tantrums, whining and explosive poos for the day.

Even for those with a loving partner on hand, Mother’s Day is not without its challenges. Dividing the day equitably between mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers and step-mothers can leave little opportunity for the Real Mother’s Day mum to enjoy an uninterrupted cup of tea, let alone breakfast in bed or a leisurely bath.

Mother’s Day is about celebrating what it means to be a mum. Today I was reminded that being a mum on 12th May – as on any other day – is about living out a long string of moments: bright, gorgeous moments that fill your heart, mundane moments that are quickly forgotten, challenging moments that seriously test your self-control.

Here are a few of my Real Mother’s Day moments for 2013:

  • A Sleep-in

Elijah had a cold, so I felt unprepared to deny him extra breastfeeds through the night. However when he woke squawking for attention at 6am, a mere two hours since the last feed, I decided in desperation to try cuddles in bed rather than another feed. I watched his little body relax as I laid him in the warm nest between us. His eyes latched onto my face and his mouth gaped with the purest joy. He tossed his head back and forth for a few minutes, settling in, babbling happily about his new situation. And every time he turned to me, I was offered that big gummy grin that miraculously smoothed away the frustration of hours of broken sleep.

  • Breakfast in Bed

“Here’s your breakfast in bed, Mummy!” Lily announced, setting a pink slipper on the coffee table with a flourish. Inside were two plastic sausages, a plastic tomato and something that came from the inside of a tap (“your candle”). Ok, so strictly speaking it was the afternoon, and I was reclining on the couch rather than the bed. But who’s going to split hairs? Besides, I really hate crumbs in bed, and there were definitely none this time.

  • A Shower of Gifts

Even when you’re pretty sure daddy and daughter were making the card while you were making your coffee, a homemade card is impossible for any mummy to resist. Mine was replete with sparkly stickers, coloured texta and a message that read, Dear Mummy, I love mummies! I think you’re lovely beautiful. Happy Mother’s Day! Love from Lily and Elijah! I was also presented with a whole box of baklava – my favourite sweet – from a Mediterranean patisserie that’s recently opened just around the corner. We’re talking eight flaky, honeyed morsels of goodness. Mmmm!

  • Time to Yourself

After an hour spent fighting sleep at church, and despite my earnest efforts of noise and distraction, Elijah fell asleep in the five-minute car ride home. But then, as a special Mother’s Day gift, he actually allowed himself to be successfully transferred to his cot where he slept soundly for a further hour and a half. And while Lily busied herself feeding Bunny and Pink Bear a soup made from toast crusts, water and stickers, I ignored the piles of laundry waiting to be folded and sat in semi-peace with the newspaper, a second coffee and said sweet treat (As Lily declared recently, “I wish I was the Mummy of you, cause then I could have lots of food as I wanted”. Can’t argue with that).

  • Family Lunch

This year, Jeremy’s sister and her family are over from Papua New Guinea, and we have been enjoying regular family Sunday lunches. Of course, all the planning, shopping, cooking and washing up inevitably falls on the shoulders of the women in the family. However, for Mother’s Day, my sister-in-law had the inspired idea that the dads should organise lunch. So we ended up with chicken, hot chips and salad served on paper plates and eaten on picnic rugs on the lounge-room floor. This was followed up with homemade cookies and Mexican hot chocolate in the backyard. Then while the boys cleaned up, Elijah slept in the pram and Lily hunted dinosaur-ants with her girl cousins, I sat and chatted with Jeremy’s sister. Lovely. For once, Sunday lunch was actually a relaxed experience for the women of the family.

  • A Special Concert

I know I’m biased, but I love Lily’s songs. I love it when she stands tall and straight against the wall and proudly busts out a tune she’s just made up. I’ll admit that today’s song, about five of her soft toys that were jammed on the couch, was not the most inspired: “There’s no more space, there’s no more space, there’s no more space!” But when I worked in a line about “kissing your face,” Lily rewarded me with a gleeful laugh and an encouraging, “I love your songs, Mum!” It was a nice mummy/ daughter duet.

  • Dinner and a Movie

Sundays are my I don’t care night when it comes to dinner. They are always busy, Jeremy is at church for the evening and often (as was the case on Mother’s Day) the afternoon too. Our Mother’s Day dinner was “Easy Mac” from a box watching Brambly Hedge. Not great, but I was exhausted, Elijah overtired and fussy, and we all needed the comfort of quick carbs and cute mice.

  • A Bubble Bath Before Bed

On this, my third Mother’s Day, it was good to ponder how much I cherish my two children: my funny, imaginative, sometimes exasperating little girl and my chubby-cheeked, sunny baby boy. There are moments when I look at them and am caught off guard with a flood of wonder and amazement that I get to be their mum. They are a blessing and I thank God for the gift of them in my life.

 

Nevertheless, when bath-time comes, I am always grateful that they are well on the way to being tucked up in bed! This evening seemed to be a particularly fraught battle to get them into the bath, with Elijah wanting to be held and Lily wanting to do everything in “three-year-old-time”. Then, once in the bath, Lily started having an emotional melt-down because the bubbles were popping too fast (ever heard of First World problems, kiddo?), and I could feel myself gearing up to deliver a sharp reprimand. But just as I was about to speak, I looked down and saw that Elijah still had his socks on in the bath! The next moment, Lily and I were both hooting uncontrollably with laughter, while Elijah looked on, bemused. It was a good way to end the day.

So there you have it: my Real Mother’s Day in a nutshell. It’s pretty far from the glossy catalogue version, but given the choice, I know which one I’d pick every time.

What were your Real Mother’s Day moments?

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Phases of the Baby

Since becoming a parent, I’ve found myself talking a lot about phases. He’s in a phase where he’s hungry all the time. She’s in a really clingy phase. He’s in a grizzly, unsettled phase. I‘ve noticed that other parents do it too. I think that part of the reason they use this term is to convince themselves that the challenging behaviour their baby or child is currently displaying (and every age features some kind of challenging behaviour, right?) will soon cease. It’s not a rigid habit and it’s not a personality trait, it’s just a phase. This too shall pass.

I wonder if on a subconscious level, voicing the nonchalant statement, it’s just a phase helps parents reassure themselves that they haven’t completely lost control. They’re saying, things might look and sound chaotic right now, but I know what I’m doing. As the parent of any young child will attest, daily reality has a way of changing rapidly. Maintaining even the mere illusion of serenity can be a challenge. In truth, the parent could be flailing desperately to keep her head above water and at a loss to explain why what worked perfectly yesterday doesn’t work at all today – like the poor tadpole who spent weeks merrily flitting around underwater, only to grow lungs overnight and suddenly find itself frantic for a ledge to sit on.

I spent the first four or so months of Elijah’s life quietly congratulating myself for having such a placid baby. Once a night he would gently alert me to his desire for a feed with soft little grunts and snuffles. Then, milk-drunk he would contentedly settle back to sleep. Now my little boy has hit six months and entered a phase where he’s waking a lot at night, anxious for a cuddle and a feed. This has coincided with a noisy phase, in which he’s keen to explore his vocal capabilities at all hours of the night. This month he’s learnt to say, “dada”, and he’s also learnt to shriek like a banshee.

Of course, the logical conclusion is that he’s hungry. He is however, decidedly nonplussed about the idea of solids: whatever thoughtfully prepared puree I poke in with a spoon, he immediately pokes back out with his tongue and a ribbon of bubbly spit. I’m going through the motions because it’s what I’m meant to do, but so far it seems like rather a pointless and baffling endeavour to us both.

Another topic parents like to talk about is how tired they are – which is really quite boring. So all I’ll say is that in truth I’m feeling worn out and a little defeated by this phase. Will it come to an end on its own, or do I need to take drastic action to help my baby transition to a new phase? I’m floundering about, looking for some respite from the relentlessness of broken sleep and a demanding baby.

Then last night, in the middle of a particularly long and frustrating week: a moment as sweet as it was ordinary. I’m singing to Elijah as I undress him for his bath (my own variation of “The National Association of ‘W’ Lovers” from Sesame Street). As I chorus, “Uh, uh, uh, uh,” he erupts into riotous fits of giggles. Mouth a wide, gummy “O”, chubby arms windmilling excitedly in the air. I scoop him up and cradle him in my arms: my nude, squishy, divine little baby boy. “Uh, uh, uh, uh,” I sing again, and he actually throws his head back, squealing with mirth. His bright eyes hold mine, utterly delighted with what I am doing.

And all at once, I’m the frog that’s found its ledge. My heart is full and gosh I feel SO good about myself. We’re looking and laughing at each other with pure joy and adoration. And I’m thinking, let this never pass.Image

The Essential Baby Checklist (Or: How I went away on holidays and accidently had a baby)

In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to the six-year-olds. On my final day of work before Maternity Leave, two Reception students highlighted the imminence of my baby’s entrance to the world.  During my last yard duty, a little girl handed me a pamphlet entitled Baby Checklist Booklet: An essential checklist to help you prepare for your baby’s arrival. Her mum had recently had a baby, and now it was my turn to employ the booklet’s wisdom. Then later, a Reception boy closed the day with a prayer asking God to, “make Mrs Wright’s baby come out quickly”. Perhaps if I had paid a little more heed to the prayer and given a little more weight to the document, I would not have found myself nursing a newborn without a bunny rug or breast pad in sight.

A group of my friends had organised a family holiday to Leonie’s parents’ farm – about five hours drive from Adelaide. Picking a date when five families are involved is always going to be complicated, especially factoring in one husband who works overseas in the mines two out of every three weeks. I was 37 weeks pregnant on the selected weekend, which I always knew was going to be a risk. However, I really didn’t imagine that the baby would be three weeks early, especially considering that Lily had arrived five days late. Besides, I had too much to get done, and I was counting on using every one of those weeks!

Perhaps I should also have interpreted the onset of Extreme Nesting as a sign. For months my attempts to prepare for a newborn had been foiled by a needy toddler, until I had gradually drifted into a state of inertia. And then the week before our trip to the farm, I was completely overcome by a need to set everything right. The nesting frenzy that possessed me proved a potent force: within days, eighty precent of longstanding items on our “To Do” list had been accomplished – tax finalised with our accountant, new glasses selected, Lily’s new “big girl room” organised, a few meals in the freezer, the station-wagon’s air-conditioner booked in to be re-gassed.

That week I was told by a paediatrician that the baby was lying in a good position low in my pelvis: “no guarantee, but a good indicator of an early labour”. Yet for me the word early conjured days not weeks, and even that I didn’t truly believe. I am not by nature a person of high drama and unpredictable behaviour, and I think I vaguely anticipated my baby’s arrival to reflect this. Sure, I entertained flippant discussions with my friends and husband about delivering on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Yet at the same time, I considered how frustrated I would be to bail on this trip only to end up having the baby a week late.

I felt bold enough to tempt fate, because fate for me seemed to favour the mundane. Chances were that I would go on this trip and then the baby would be born within days of my due date in the Women’s and Children’s Hospital. All things considered, was I a little foolish not to stay home? Absolutely! To be perfectly honest, I just really didn’t want to miss out on this holiday, in a rather teenage-ish don’t-go-have-adventures-and-make-stories-to-talk-about-later-without-me kind of way. We had been promised the “cottage” – the prime accommodation site on the property. The girls insisted they would help with Lily so I could have sleep-ins. There would be lambs and bonfires and girlie chats and BBQs and a pizza oven. It would be a sort of Baby Moon. In my (rather flimsy) defence, I did call a midwife at the hospital the day before our trip to ask for advice. She suggested that we go ahead with the holiday, but made sure we knew where the nearest hospital was, just in case.

Friday 28th September. Our plan was to take advantage of Jeremy being on holidays and leave late morning, after packing and getting the car’s air-conditioner re-gassed. We would settle into the cottage early evening, and the rest of the party would arrive after dark. However, both these tasks took far longer than anticipated, and it was almost 3pm by the time the three of us set off from home.

It was not ideal driving weather: heavy rain and strong winds that had me nervously gripping the steering wheel when it was my turn to drive. We stopped at Tailem Bend for a toilet stop, stretch and BBQ pretzels, and then travelled for a time beneath one of the most dazzling double rainbows I’ve seen. Later, Jeremy was to blame the pretzels (once you stop, you just might pop… out a baby?) I wondered if I should have read that freakishly brilliant rainbow as another sign…

Just before Keith, about three quarters of the way though our journey, I started to experience some cramps in my belly. They were like mild period pains – uncomfortable enough to notice, but not enough to talk about. My primary anxiety at this time was frustration that we still hadn’t picked a middle name for our baby. Lily received her middle name Marie in memory of Jeremy’s late mother. We liked the idea of meaningful middle names, yet nothing either of us suggested seemed quite right. I told Jeremy, “By the end of this holiday, I want us to have a middle name for the baby!” That car ride, I really couldn’t seem to let it go.

We stopped for dinner at the Keith pub, before hitting the road again. As darkness fell, the girls sent group texts from their respective cars, updating the status of their children:

“Your kids crashed yet? Mine are finally gone!”

“Charlie from Hi5 has a really annoying voice.”

“Mine are watching Postman Pat then lights out!”

“iPads? I told mine to watch the moon. I’m mean ha ha”.

It was a full moon: big and bright, milky white in the country-dark. Lily watched DVDs for a while, but became increasingly tired and crabby. We played some children’s CDs, hoping she would fall asleep, but she had reached that obstinate point where nothing could please her and she was determined to fight sleep.

Meanwhile, my “cramps” had gradually intensified since dinner. Though still easily bearable, they were longer and stronger. In between kid-wrangling and sorting out directions, I was silently timing the cramps, and a little alarmed to note their regularity. Determined to remain safely in my little bubble of denial for as long as possible, it was quite some time before I said anything to Jeremy. I didn’t want to speak my fears and make them true. I didn’t want to be going into labour four-plus hours from the hospital of my choice. I may not actually have written a birth plan yet, but I was dead certain Moree-Culla Road had no place on it.

When I did eventually tell him that my cramps (I still avoided the word contractions) were six minutes apart, Jeremy was characteristically calm – at least on the outside. Lily was finally asleep, and to be prudent we took a brief detour to the Naracoorte Hospital (an hour from the farm) so we knew where it was, “just in case”. A few nights before Lily’s birth I had experienced some fairly full-on Braxton Hicks which ended up petering out. I clung to a dwindling hope that the same thing might happen on this occasion.

We reached the farm at about 10.30pm amid torrential rain and rumbling thunder. The cottage was lovely. Lily was thrilled with her room and thankfully settled back to sleep quickly in her “porta-tent”. Jeremy and I went to bed, and he was snoring within minutes. Meanwhile, I tossed and turned for an hour, praying that sleep might overcome and subdue the cramps. Instead, they continued in relentless waves, stretching my belly tight and hard every few minutes.

By midnight, I had given up all hope of rest. There was no hiding from reality any longer. I went into the toilet and started sobbing. I felt like such an incredible fool for coming on this holiday. What in the world was I doing here in a little cottage on a remote farm at the end of a dirt road in a different state than my own, in the middle of a storm no less, about to have a baby? Oh, and with big fat clichéd full moon tearing holes through the clouds.

With every fibre of my being, I longed to be safely at home, pacing my own backyard, deciding when to call my parents to babysit, and when to start the 15 minute drive to the hospital. Instead there were so many considerations, it made my head spin. Who was going to look after Lily? She was a cautious child – how would she feel when she woke in unfamiliar surroundings, to find us gone? How could we get a different hospital up to speed with the complications surrounding Lily’s birth? What would the new baby wear? How could we even get him home without a car-seat?

It was cold in the toilet, so I went into the lounge-room and paced back in forth in front of the fire, timing my contractions. They were 3 minutes apart, and 24 seconds long. Since the contractions had begun to intensify, I had started praying, God, please make everything be would be ok, whatever happens. And as I paced and prayed and counted I stared to feel an acceptance and peace about where I was and what was to come. My body knew what it was doing, and there was no fighting it. I was going to meet my baby – soon!

I forced myself to focus on what needed to be organised: firstly, a hospital bag! I stuffed a few clothes and toiletries into a green Woolworths bag. It wasn’t exactly an Oi Oi Tote, and the energising rosewater spritzer was decidedly absent, but it would do. Jeremy woke, and also sprang into action, repacking all of our other belongings into the suitcases. Against my protests (a part of me still imagined that perhaps the hospital would check me over and send me home) he said gently, “Clare, we’re not coming back.” Ridiculous as it might sound, I had a moment of sadness – despite all my efforts, we were still not going to get that farm holiday. Next, he set off across the property to rustle up a babysitter for Lily and to call ahead and prepare the hospital for our arrival. He also planned to ask one of the girls to accompany us to the hospital, a little perturbed at the possibility of delivering our baby all alone by the side of a dirt road.

Soon after, Sam, Amy and Leonie bounded in, dismissing my apologies for waking them. They were buzzing with bright-eyed excitement, proclaiming it to be the best night of their lives, and giggling about how dark Steph (arriving the following morning) would be to miss it. It was actually a lovely thing to be labouring among a cluster of precious girlfriends, who had been though six labours between them. The girls were genuinely thrilled to be present at this time, and their encouraging words and hilarious banter offered a welcome distraction.

Jeremy returned with the news that that he had been unable to make contact with the Naracoorte Hospital. At the advice of Leonie’s parents (and without consulting me, because he knew I would think it needlessly dramatic) he had called an ambulance. Amy accompanied us back to the main house to wait while Leonie and Sam stayed at the cottage to look after Lily.

Meeting Leonie’s parents for the first time under such circumstances was a surreal experience. I tried hard to display an appropriate mix of friendliness at making their acquaintance and regret and gratitude for their troubles – but the gut-straining contractions kept twisting my smile into a grimace. Thankfully Geoff and Cherryl exuded kindness and hospitality. It was a comforting to be in the lounge-room of a calm, practical, pyjama-clad mum and dad, pacing among family photographs. A local “bush midwife” materialised, having been paged when the call went through to the ambulance. She felt my abdomen and confirmed that, yes, the baby was very much on its way.

I could feel myself slipping into the zone, walking the room, leaning and breathing through the contractions. Vaguely aware of Amy’s gentle encouragement in the background, “You’re doing great, babe!” The Triple Zero operator wanted to keep us on the line until the ambulance arrived. Jeremy, Amy and I took it in turns answering questions about my status, and making awkward small-talk in between (because there are only so many ways you can say that contractions are two minutes apart and that I’m doing ok!). Although she was pleasant and no doubt just following a script, in truth the exchanges became rather tiresome.

Operator to Amy: “I’m going to have to ask her to lie down on a couch or bed.”

Amy: “You want her to lie down?”

Me to Amy: While pacing the room relentlessly, “There is no WAY I’m lying down!”

Amy: “Yes, she’s lying down on the couch.”

Operator: “And now I’m going to need to ask her to remove her clothes from the waist down.”

Amy: “You want her to remove her clothes from the waist down?”

Me to Amy: While pacing the room relentlessly, “I’m NOT taking my clothes off! That’s just ridiculous!”

Operator: “Has she removed her clothes from the waist down? You can cover her with a blanket.”

Amy: “Yes, she’s removed her clothes.”

With a swoop of headlights and crunch of gravel, the ambulance finally arrived. The ambulance officers looked young and I couldn’t help wondering if they had ever delivered a baby before. The farm was located in between Naracoorte (in South Australia) and Hamilton (in Victoria) – about an hour from each. At the midwife’s recommendation, it was decided that we would drive to Hamilton Hospital, as it had the superior Paediatric Department. The midwife generously opted to follow the ambulance by car, in case she was needed.

My heart pounded as I was strapped to the gurney and wheeled into the ambulance. Moving through contractions had been such an important coping mechanism during Lily’s labour. I had walked and walked and walked around that birthing suite. Now here I was strapped down and unable to do more than paddle my feet back and forth across the sheet. I was aware of claustrophobia hovering like a dark spectre at the edge of my mind, threatening to swamp me. I resolutely pushed it away, refusing to let panic take hold.

It was an hour, it was a year. The gurney was my bed of nails which forced me to remain still and calm. I pinned my eyes to the moon, my steady anchor as the ambulance pitched and rolled along the dirt road, and as the contractions clenched my belly. In the serene spaces between contractions, I heard snatches of Jeremy’s conversation with the young ambulance officer:

“I was dreaming about hanging out with Keith Richards when I got the call. He just goes on and on, doesn’t he?”

“I think he’s been pickled by all the drugs. He’s going to live forever.”

“I’ve developed a new appreciation of the Stones lately…”

In the last 20 minutes of our journey, the contractions intensified from just bearable to excruciating. They were coming hard and fast and I was writhing and groaning, breathless with pain and almost frantic to be able to walk around. Please God, get me through this. Please God, please God. I finally accepted the “Green whistle” that the ambulance officer had offered earlier to take the edge of the pain. It was something to cling to and focus on for the remainder of the labour, but the pain was so huge by now that I can’t say it had a huge effect other than the sensation of sucking on one of my daughter’s textas.

It was with a great sense of relief that we finally reached the hospital, the baby yet unborn. We thanked and farewelled the midwife, before she turned around and drove an hour back home through the rain. I was wheeled into the birthing suite. (Such a gentle name for a place that bears witness to some of the greatest pain known to humankind. It’s a macabre thought, but there seems to be something almost execution chamber-esque about the space. The medical instruments laid out like torture devices. The finality of the bassinette in the corner reminding us that nobody leaves until it is filled. Of course, if anything, it’s really a sort of execution in reverse.)

A young American doctor and an older no-nonsense midwife assisted with the delivery, and both turned out to be brilliant. I was so excited to be told upon arrival that I was already seven centimetres dilated – all my “work” thus far had not been in vain! The next few hours were a blur of pacing (ah, blessed pacing!), shaking, vomiting, the gush of waters breaking, and wave upon wave of contractions. As each one crested I told myself, it will end. And then, when I reached the point of one rolling onto another, it will be over soon.

Finally, as dawn’s first pale light washed the room, I pushed into the most tremendous roar of pain. Pushing and screaming as bone pressed bone and flesh cleaved flesh, and then a baby sliding and surging forward to be born. And there he was: slick as a fish, dark eyes wide, mouth gulping first lung-fulls of air. Hair damp, face scrunched like a walnut, skin mottled with the waxy cling of vernix, and lovely.

There is holiness in birth: when the barrage of pain and the clamour of voices and the hours of exertion all finally cease in an instant. Before the weighing and bathing and heel pricks and visitors. The world receded and it was just us looking at the face of our son. Trying to wrap our minds around the profound mystery of this new life we had created. And the rush of joy and love and protectiveness so immense I ached from the weight of feeling.

The midwife recorded the baby’s vital statistics. Born: 6.10am, 29th September 2012. Weight: 2.9kg (6lb 5oz). Length: 49cm. Her pen hovered above the space for name and she looked at us expectantly. Jeremy’s eyes questioned mine, and we both smiled, even giggled a little as we told her, “Elijah Hamilton Wright”.

 

So here we were, stranded six hours from home, in a town where we knew no-one, without so much as a suit for our baby or a place for Jeremy and Lily to stay. I am usually the kind of person who likes to be in control of a situation, who feels more comfortable offering than receiving help. Yet, just as back in the farmhouse I had come to realise that I could not control where the night was heading, I was now conscious that my family’s welfare rested very much on the mercy of others.

 I was surprised to note that there was release in yielding control of the situation; the feeling of breathing out, letting go, unfurling inside. Trusting God to take care of us and being willing to accept with gratitude the help of others. I’m sure part of it was that I had just given birth: I was dizzy with a sense of elation and invincibility, and my head had little space for worrying about such matters. Over the next couple of hours, we watched on in amazement as those practical considerations seemed almost to resolve themselves.

I was reminded of a recent conversation I had had with my sister-in-law.  She had given birth in one big city and two small towns, and maintained that the country hospitals were always better. That rang true for me here. Not only did I have my own lovely and spacious private room with bathroom, but I actually had the entire maternity ward to myself. The nurses were caring and attentive (perhaps more so when they learnt that we had named our son after their town!). By the first afternoon, the staff knew how I liked my cup of tea.

Our first visitors were a young Hamilton family we had never met who brought flowers, congratulations, and the generous offer of accommodation for Jeremy and Lily. To our astonishment, it emerged that Aaron was the brother of a member of our church in Adelaide. His family had been asked to visit us on behalf of the church.

Aaron and Jess proved incredibly gracious hosts to my husband and daughter for the next two nights.  They provided food and beds, enabling Jeremy and Lily to rest and recharge between hospital visits. But beyond that, it was the little details of their family and home that felt like the sweetest blessing. Like Jeremy, Aaron was a youth pastor finding his way in a new job, so they had the opportunity to exchange ideas and encourage one other. Jess worked at the hospital, so she was able to check up on me a few times during our stay. Lily had a ball playing with the couple’s three young daughters. The family even lived on an agricultural college, so Lily didn’t completely miss out on seeing piglets and chickens after all.

Our next visitors were the four girls, bringing our car and our daughter, plus a car-seat to borrow, baby wraps and blankets, tiny suits and giant black knickers. I need not have worried about Lily; the girls had cared for her so lovingly that not a tear had been shed. Apparently, she had spent the long drive to the hospital singing and eating marshmallows.

Growing up in churches, I have heard the word “thankfulness” used a lot. Sometimes it can be a sweet-sounding, fill-a-space, empty husk of a word. I’m sure I’ve used it that way myself. At the time of Elijah’s birth I discovered that true thankfulness is transformative. I had made a flippant, perhaps foolish decision to go on this trip. Yet I was blown away and humbled by the kindness and care shown by friends and strangers alike in my time of crisis. With their help, I came away from a potentially chaotic and terrifying situation feeling blessed and nurtured and deeply thankful. I had a sense that God had held my little family in his hands, that he had made it ok, and then some.

Most of all, I was thankful for this baby. Thankful that he had been brought safely into the world. Thankful that he was ours: this helpless little still-curled scrap of a boy. From the moment he first fixed me in his wide, unblinking gaze, I was utterly and hopelessly bewitched. On the third day after his birth, giddy with a mix of exhaustion, euphoria and the last remnants of adrenalin, we bundled our little girl and tiny boy into the car and started the long journey home.   

Image.   Elijah Hamilton Wright, 6 days old. Photo credit: Photography by Sam