With almost a week elapsed since my due date, my thoughts keep returning to Baby Maureen's birth and the first time I gazed upon that sleepy, rosy face. I could not decide at the time if our new little one looked more like Margaret or Marie, but I knew one thing for certain--she was beautiful, and my elation in having her safe in my arms was almost overwhelming. Twenty-four hours earlier, circumstances seemed fraught with anxiety, but now the clouds of dread had lifted, and with them, a brilliant new life had dawned.
Maureen, like our other five children, had entered the world well past her expected date. My tried and true, old-school obstetrician had just retired from active practice in poor health, and the doctor covering for him found cause for alarm around every corner. Weeks before my due date, he called me into his office, his features grave.
"So when are we going to have this baby?" he asked, eyeing his desk calendar.
"Whenever he or she comes, I guess," I replied. "My others have all been overdue."
"How overdue?" he wanted to know, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh, one or two weeks, usually."
"Well, I would never allow you to go that long. You realize there are many serious risks involved in going past your due date?"
Fearing an increased risk of a C-section, I wanted to avoid an induction at all costs. I had no doubt in my mind that, if left alone, our baby would come in its own time and that everything would be fine. The doctor clearly thought otherwise. From the moment I reached my dreaded "due date," each day became more and more difficult, with the doctor pressing me to choose a delivery date, reminding me of the danger the baby could be in, and noting that each passing day could lead to all sorts of complications. He was unimpressed with the sonogram and non-stress test confirming the baby's good health and scoffed when the radiologist revised my due date to directly coincide with the date I expected our new little one to greet the world.
After a few days of awkward stonewalling, I left for a doctor's appointment with my usual trepidation, wondering how I could continue to fend off his call for induction. Throughout that twilight drive to his office, I planned my response, vowing to hold my ground until at least the end of the week.
The doctor's assistant joined me in the examining room, her face bright and friendly, chatting about her three children as she slathered cold jelly on my stomach to prepare for the baby monitor. Suddenly, her expression clouded. She looked alarmed and manipulated the monitor back and forth, reporting that she could not find a heart beat. "There must be a heartbeat," I gulped nervously, because I just felt the baby kicking in the car on the way here."
The assistant ran out to alert the doctor, and he came in looking apprehensive. He shifted the monitor, but no heartbeat sounded, just the hollow sound of static and faint swish of the jelly. "There must be a heartbeat," I insisted, "because the baby is kicking right now." I pointed to the lurching bump meandering down the side of my stomach. Surely a beating heart had to be attached to it.
The doctor swathed more jelly on another spot and found a good, strong, healthy heartbeat. I beamed, sighing with relief, expecting the doctor's countenance to brighten. Graver than ever, he announced, "I was afraid something like this would happen. The baby's position has completely changed. He's no longer head down--the head is up, and he is in breach position."
"But the baby was head down during my sonogram yesterday," I protested. "How could a baby that size completely change position without me noticing?"
"It can happen at any time. I was afraid of something like this," the doctor lamented. "This complicates things."
"Well, what do we do now?" I faltered, still having trouble grasping the import of this unwelcome development.
"You really ought to go directly to the hospital to be monitored overnight, but at this point, as long as your water does not break, you can spend the night at home. Then you will need to go in first thing in the morning for a procedure to turn the baby to the proper position. After that, you will need to be induced. If the baby cannot be turned, you will need a C-section."
My head was spinning as I left the office. All my concerns about a C-section crowded my thoughts. I feared the mysterious "procedure" to turn the baby almost as much as the C-section itself. It was impossible not to feel that I had brought all this on myself by ignoring the doctor's persistent warnings. Calling my husband from a cell phone in the moonlit parking lot, I gushed the news through tears. It was all I could do to keep them from dimming my vision during that lonesome drive home.
Dejectedly lumbering out of my van in our driveway, my eye caught sight of something that banished all other thoughts from my mind. The night was cold and clear, and the sky was studded with stars, but the unusual sight was the moon. It was just a sliver of a crescent, turned on its side like the bottom of a rocking chair, low in the western sky, so low that it seemed to command the whole world, its two points spanning the heavens like arms stretched out in an embrace. I gazed at it in wonder, never having seen a moon so impossibly large and imposing. It was brighter and more breath-taking than anything I had ever witnessed. How long I stood staring at it, I cannot say, but it felt like a long time.
All at once, I thought of Our Lady of Guadalupe, expectant mother and patroness of the unborn, standing on a crescent moon supported by an angel--the woman with "the moon under her feet." It became clear to me that the moon I saw was the very same one to hold up Our Lady. "Dear Blessed Mother," I prayed right out loud, my breath rising like incense in the cold night air, "I know that you are taking care of me and that this is your way of letting me know. Thank you, Blessed Mother." These were the only words I had time to utter, because my husband had come outside to meet me, with an encouraging smile and the assurance, "Everything is going to be O.K."
I packed a bag and slept fitfully, rising before dawn to check my email. There were the heartening messages from the few friends I had contacted--Lissa, Elizabeth, Mary Bell, MacBeth--experienced, sensitive mothers offering words of wisdom and understanding. I felt a rush of gratitude, but it was not enough to crowd out the surge of dread, rising in a lump just as surely as the sun glimmering past the outline of our backyard trees.
It was strange checking into the hospital without already being in labor. My husband and I were able to walk in together without the usual mad dash to get me inside before parking the car. In a short while, we were through registration, and I was hooked up to an IV in the labor and delivery room. A doctor came in to check on the baby and speculated, based on the sound of the heart beat, that she was still in breach position, not ideal for a non-surgical delivery. With that, I was whisked off to the room in which the "procedure" to turn the baby was to be done. I waited quite some time with my husband, not knowing exactly what to expect, but fearing the worst, when the team of practitioners entered the room. It was a tight and dismal room, and the eight or nine of them filled it up to the walls. I wondered what they would be doing to require such a large team, but before I could ask any questions, they explained that they would begin with a sonogram to determine the exact location of the baby and get started from there. I held my breath as I watched the radiologist's earnest face scanning the screen. Within seconds, she sang out the beautiful words, "This baby's not breach. He's in perfect head down position!"
Now, this was a secular hospital, but I suppose my miraculous medal made my faith obvious, because, just before I left the room, the same radiologist beamed, and added, "I'd been saying Hail Marys for you since you first came in." Waiting outside the room was the nurse's aide who had wheeled me in. When we told her the good news, she smiled broadly and added, "I'd been praying for you to St. Theresa, my name saint. I knew you were going to be all right." For the first time, I noticed the name, "Therese," etched on her plastic name plate.
At this point, I would have liked to go home, but we were already registered in the hospital, and I was hooked up to the IV, so I grudgingly agreed to the induction.
Little Maureen was born just a few hours later. She entered the world as serenely as she has trodden it ever since, in a painless delivery that could no more be compared to the others than an ascent up Mount Everest could be likened to a stroll in the garden. Everything had turned out beautifully in the end. If only I could have remembered Our good Lord's words sooner, "Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself." Mt. 6: 34. Tomorrow had indeed taken care of itself.
After delivery, I was wheeled to my room in a mood of euphoria, eager to make phone calls, see my other children, and hold my new little darling. To my delight, in that secular hospital, I noticed a picture of an angel on the wall opposite my bed. She looked like a real little girl who had put on a silk dress and wings to strike a pose. With her jaunty blonde bob, she resembled all my daughters at about age four, and I mused that little Maureen would look just like her someday.
The hospital stay zipped past in a flurry of visits and flowers and phone calls, blood pressures measured at all hours, temperatures taken, and blood drawn. At last, it was time to head for home. My husband left for the office to handle paperwork, and I sat dressed and ready to leave, cradling Maureen in the purple and white blanket her sisters had chosen for her. I scanned the room to be sure everything was packed, when my eye fell on that lovely angel picture again. It was far enough from my bed that I realized I had never really seen it up close.
Lifting my light-as-a-feather bundle, I stepped cheerfully across the room, eager to take a careful look. A few paces away from it, the hair on the back of my neck prickled. For the first time I could see that the little girl angel I had been admiring from my bed for two days was standing on a gleaming sliver of moon--the very same moon I had recognized as a sign from Our Lady. I knew at once that our good Blessed Mother was smiling down her message of gladness: "Alice, I saw you through from the beginning, and now I am giving you one last joyful embrace at the end." The tender expectant maiden who once dropped everything to take care of Elizabeth had been doing the same for me all that time. I felt like Juan Diego hearing the question, "Am I not your mother?"
[I took this photo directly off the wall at the hospital. You can see not only the flash, but the reflection of the top of the hospital room curtains in the glass.]
The rest, as they say, is history. We brought Maureen home to her adoring sisters and brother, and she has been a joy to us every day of her life. Would you believe me if I told you that six-year-old Margaret greeted me at the door that day with a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, saying she found it in her room and thought I would like it? Well she did.
If this experience has taught me anything, it is to trust in our Mother's goodness and care. So, as I get ready to meet this seventh gift from God, my thoughts return to that cold March night and an impromptu prayer in the driveway:
"Dear Blessed Mother, I know that you are taking care of me and that this is your way of letting me know. Thank you, Blessed Mother."
Her feeble cries for help upon realizing she was stuck at the fourth rung were lost on her three young "babysitters."
I was not the only one snapping photos today. Please take a look at eight-year-old Margaret's efforts in The Cottage Garden.
As all of you know, Maureen at Trinity Prep School is hosting an ongoing project called, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Homeschool Bloggers." Here is the Cottage Blessings list of seven blogging habits:
1. Explore the positive.
Since January 1st, I have hoped that Cottage Blessings would be about gratitude for the simple blessings of our family life. Having an upbeat overriding theme has made the blog a pleasure to write.
2. Try using your blog to make you a better mother.
This may sound ridiculous, but this second point is related to number one, and it is an enormous unexpected benefit of blogging. A focus on gratitude and appreciation for my individual children has helped me to be a better, more upbeat mother in my everday life. Little things happen throughout the day, and I recognize them as gifts--often worth posting about--rather than something to be taken for granted. This happened from the very first week of maintaining a blog (My Budding Optimist, High Tea, An Epiphany), and it continues whether or not I find the time to write about each small positive experience. Somehow, having my ideals and most optimistic thoughts presented in print has helped me to live up to them more often.
3. Share your Faith.
This is another of the incalculable, unexpected benefits of blogging. When this blog began on a whim back in January, I thought it would be mostly about Family Life and Home Education. Somehow, on its own, it instantly became above all else a Catholic blog, and this has helped me to explore and appreciate my Faith as never before.
4. Involve the children.
Cottage Blessings and especially Cottage Garden are truly a family effort, and anything that helps me share an interest with my children is worthwhile!
5. Keep it simple.
Providing a lengthy explanation to go along with that point would be wrong, wouldn't it? : )
6. Do not let it take up too much of your time.
This one speaks for itself as well!
7. Do not feel pressured.
No one is busier than a homeschooling mother, and maintaining a blog should not become an added burden. Give yourself permission to leave off posting whenever the spirit moves you. (When Maureen told me about this project, I thought there would not be time to post before the new baby's arrival. Now here I am happily typing away because the mood struck me. No pressure!)
Well, thank you for reading these thoughts on blogging, and a big round of applause to Maureen for hosting such a worthwhile project. I am looking forward to reading all the pointers presented by seasoned bloggers at Trinity Prep School.