Examining my sizable bump, my husband remarked, tongue in cheek, that I was absolutely prohibited from giving birth within the next few weeks. We were living in England and he was working on a PhD in theology from Oxford University. He had a big deadline coming up and needed to focus on getting some writing done. With a smirk, I patted my belly and told the baby that she needed to obey her daddy. Smiling, he turned and gathered up a recently laundered comforter to be dried on the line in our minuscule backyard.
With my due date nearly four weeks away, I was confident there would be no sign of baby anytime soon. Micaiah was not born early. However, I was growing impatient to meet this sweet little girl. After two devastating pregnancy losses and a transatlantic move, I was worried that we might never have another child. Yet, on Christmas morning of 2003, we were both elated and terrified to discover that the hope we had tucked away in our hearts was growing in the silent darkness of my womb.
The discovery that I was carrying a baby girl was another gift that I did not expect. I pictured sweet dresses and hair bows, manicures and mother/daughter dates. I was so close to my own mom and couldn’t imagine not having a daughter of my own. It all felt like a dream…to good to be true. Naturally, after two losses, I worried. Would my baby girl be healthy? Would the delivery go well? I did everything within my power to ensure her health and safety but fear continued to grip me.
But as the pregnancy progressed I relaxed and allowed myself to embrace the thought that I would hold this baby girl in my arms.
As I sat on the couch that sunny morning, the queasiness increased by the minute and I decided that I might need to get up and get some fresh air. Rising, I felt something unexpectedly “pop” inside of me and became immediately aware of the sensation of water gushing down my legs. In a sea of questionable and confusing labor signs, this was the holy grail of certainty that a baby would be on the way imminently.
Carefully waddling out to the backyard, I attempted not to slip in the steady stream of water collecting at my feet. Turning the corner, I told the man, who only moments earlier had insisted that the baby stay put, that he was about to be the father of a little girl.
After relaying the news, a look of confused panic crossed his face. He accused me of joking around. But one glance at my soaked pajama bottoms were confirmation that I meant business. He sprang into dutiful action, questioning what we should do next. I explained that we needed to call the midwife and the friends who had agreed to keep Micaiah for us, and pack our bags.
The midwife instructed us to head to the hospital to have my status checked. We were ushered into a small triage room only to discover what we already knew; my water had indeed broken and we would be greeting the newest member of our family very shortly.
Unfortunately, my body hadn’t quite gotten the message yet that the baby’s cozy water bath had sprung a leak. I was sent to a room on the first floor of the hospital maternity ward to receive antibiotics as a preventative measure against infection and wait for contractions to begin.
If you’ve ever been victim to the British health care system, you know that when you are told to “wait” to be seen or helped, you might as well be a fly on the wall. As an American, I hadn’t quite come to this realization. I lingered for nearly seven hours until I finally had a contraction. Another hour passed and I began timing the contractions. They seemed to be coming steadily at 5 minutes apart. It appeared that I was indeed in labor. After badgering the nursing staff, I was finally sent to a proper labor and delivery room on the second floor, where the midwife on call was appalled to learn that after spending the entire day waiting in a hospital room downstairs, I still had not received antibiotics.
Settled in my new room with the necessary medication dripping into my veins, the contractions intensified. It was well after midnight…2:30 am to be exact. I felt the urge to push and asked the midwife to check my cervix. She confirmed that the baby was crowning and ready to be delivered. The lights were dimmed and after just two pushes, Evelyn entered our world. We waited, as all parents do, with bated breath in that second before she uttered her first cry. And then we heard that glorious sound as the air filled her lungs and a slippery, squirmy bundle was placed on my chest. It goes without saying that we were in love with her instantly. She wrapped her tiny hand around our fingers as we kissed the top of her head and stroked her newborn cheeks, tears of joy trickling down both of ours. I had dreamt of this moment for so long. In the wee hours of August 7, 2004, as I held my beautiful, healthy baby girl in my arms, It seemed that life couldn’t be more perfect.
Just over eleven years later, I would look back at this moment and realize more than ever just how perfect life was. In a twist of fate, I would find myself explaining to her daddy that she was leaving us as unexpectedly as she came. I would wait in a hospital, not for signs of labor, but for signs of life. And this time, when the air did not fill her lungs, I would wrap my hand around those once tiny fingers and kiss her forehead as tears streamed down my cheeks. Instead of hello, I would say goodbye for the rest of my earthly life.
Today she would be fourteen. Today, on her birthday, my arms are empty. They ache to hold her again, to tell her how much I love her and how proud I am of who she has become.
The anticipation of this day begins well before it arrives and I often find myself on edge and extremely emotional. I feel angry that everyone in the world seems to be celebrating their living child’s birthday and posting pictures on social media while I am trying to formulate a plan that will both honor my deceased child’s life and respect the different ways that each of my family members grieve. I wonder why she can’t be here. Why was her life cut short? As a parent, you expect that there will be a lifetime of birthdays to celebrate.
But we aren’t promised a lifetime of birthdays. We aren’t promised tomorrow. Sin brought death into this world and until Jesus comes again to redeem it, our physical bodies will fail us. Evelyn was an unexpected gift to me. While she lived on this earth, I did my best to nurture her, to love her, and to prepare her for her eternal home. She resides there now, with the angels and saints. God has completed the work in her and my job as her mother is finished. And even though the pain of being physically separated from her is indescribable, our love for one another can never be untethered because it comes from the Eternal One who is Love Incarnate. We love because He first loved us.
Happy Birthday my darling little girl. You brought me so much joy in this life. You radiated God’s love and goodness. Your life was an offering to Him. I will never stop loving you or celebrating the day that you were born into this world. May you find rest in your Savior whom you loved so deeply. And may God sustain those of us who miss you with an inexplicable longing until we hold you in our arms again.