Laura’s note: I’ve admired the blog Food Loves Writing from afar for the last year, with its gorgeous aesthetic, thoughtful writing, and simple but elegant–and healthy, to boot–recipes. Husband and wife Tim and Shanna Mallon teamed up to create this cozy Internet corner. Oh, and they write books! When I reached out to Shanna in the site’s comments section, I was astounded by her quick and warm response. She’s invested. Lanier and I are thrilled to feature Shanna’s guest post on Golden Hours. Here Shanna writes a beautiful summary of the meaning of a year–and of Christmas. (All photos used with permission by Food Loves Writing.)
At the beginning of 2015, I was three months pregnant, about to get the first major head cold I’d had in years. (We made this green healing soup, should you find that handy.) We were about to go up to Chicago again since my mom was in the hospital. Over the following months, Mom stayed out of the hospital, my belly swelled larger, we did more work on the house, our families threw us a baby shower and then it was June. June was due-date month.
When Rocco came into the world on June 27, it was after two full, hard days of labor, with two full, slow days of labor before that. My water had broken, my cervix had fully dilated and I’d been pushing for close to two hours when Rocco’s heart rate started dropping and the room’s tone changed from expectancy (“any minute!”) to fear (“Baby’s in trouble!”). This day that Tim and I had been anticipating and longing for for nine months—longer than nine months, really—was finally here. We were supposed to be meeting our baby. My midwife could feel his head. Then, in what seemed like an instant, the slow years of praying and slow months of waiting and slow days of laboring reached a new, fast climax that I could barely understand, four days without sleep.
All my efforts—the food, the vitamins, the teas, the exercise—did not guarantee the reward I had sought. In split seconds I went from wanting an unmedicated delivery to wanting a delivery, any delivery, just so long as it brought my baby out and to me. And a long list of interventions, drama and damage to my swollen body later, that’s what I got: shaking in an operating room with my arms strapped down at my sides, I heard our Rocco’s first cry.
“He’s so cute! He’s so cute!” Tim said to me with tears in his eyes. Then he held an iPhone photo up next to my head, so I could get my first glimpse of my son.
I’ve been slow to talk about Rocco’s birth here again, partly because I know there’s nothing more ordinary than a birth story. Indeed, it is the story that begins all other stories. Human beings come into the world as babies, draw their first breaths, every day. This is how the world keeps being populated, keeps generating new stories year after year. Yet though it be commonplace, birth remains one of the most extraordinary parts of life. The anticipation that leads up to it, the pain of labor and delivery, the first cry, the new life, the death of one identity (not a parent) in exchange for another (Mom, Dad) is such a surreal, bewildering, amazing reality, hearing about it doesn’t get old.
Fresh from my own bewilderment, I look back on 2015 the way I always look back on 2015. It was the year I met Rocco, became a parent, learned in the most tangible way I can imagine that I am not in control.
Last Christmas season, we announced our pregnancy in holiday cards (and then here, on the blog). We’d ended the first trimester, that blessed 12-week mark where society says it’s safe to tell friends and family a baby’s on the way. We had told you earlier that year how we’d miscarried, only weeks into the pregnancy, wide-eyed and giddy at the prospect of life, so maybe it’s no surprise that this second pregnancy had hit us differently.
This time, we decided to tell close friends and family as soon as we found out, when we were barely six weeks along. By Christmas, as everyone else began getting the news and congratulating us on the life to come, we were happy, numb. We found ourselves holding this prospect lightly, this idea of a baby. Sure, we were expecting a child, but who can control whether or not that child comes?
In 2015, during the weeks leading up to Christmas known as Advent, while we remembered the expectation of the world for the Christ-child, the long-awaited Messiah, the One whose coming would begin to set all things right, it was alongside memories of our own smaller waiting, for our own little child, for a birth we hoped would happen but knew we couldn’t guarantee. While we remembered the fact that He came, even when it may have seemed He wouldn’t, when a young, engaged virgin found out she was with child, Tim and I remembered it as parents to our own bouncing six-month-old child with long eyelashes and easy laughs who bears our name and blends our looks, who’s here, can you believe it?
We are, this year, veterans of the newborn stage, the long and sleepless nights, the woes of nursing and the confusion of car seats. We bore and bear the marks of that night in June when Rocco entered the world even as we moved forward through fall and winter and now into 2016. All our new days will be colored by that one unforgettable one, just as all the world’s days are colored by that one single night in Bethlehem. All the waiting and anticipating, all the working and laboring, they all resulted in something—someone—that would change our lives for good.
A month or two after Rocco was born, I ran into a friend whose daughter had just had her own first child. The daughter had been to visit, awake often in the night with a crying baby, and when the two of them together tried to comfort the infant, the daughter told her mom through tears, “It’s just so hard!”
She’s right, of course. It’s hard. All of it’s hard. the months of swelling, the days of labor, the months or even years of sleepless nights. It’s, at times, agony; at other times, sheer joy. But my friend’s response summed it all well:
“It’s a death,” she said, describing that conversation with her daughter, describing what becoming a parent is like. Her own eyes welled up with tears as she said it. There’s a death involved in bringing new life. This year we’re stepping into a new year with part of us dead and part of us reborn. We’re not the same as we were, who is? We are, all of us, always moving one way or another. No matter what looks unchanged around us, trying to tell us we’re still the person we were, we are different. We will be different. 2016, like the years before us, will usher us to new places, new people, new experiences, new griefs, new joys, most of them we can’t predict.
It was good the me of January didn’t know all that would come in the year ahead. I doubt if I would have been brave enough to face it. And yet the New Testament book of Philippians says that’s exactly what Jesus Christ did when he stepped into birth and later death on this earth for us. In this recent Christmas season as we’ve remembered the baby and his birth, as I’ve remembered my own baby and his birth, I’ve kept thinking how the story starts but doesn’t end there—because that baby we remember and celebrate at Christmas was the Christ come to earth, humbled as an infant, who saw the death set before Him, every hard and painful bit of it, and still willingly, joyfully, took it on for me.