This past week was her birthday – this sweet, strong, fierce, and brave girl of mine. In the dark hours of morning one year ago, I birthed her into the world, the careful hands of the midwife there to receive her, my own mother and my husband at my side, cheering me on, marveling at the wonder of it all. This week I’ve taken pause to remember the events of her birth… the hot, sticky day, the walk around the block through contractions, the Powerade I couldn’t keep down, the 24-hour labor, the friends who lit candles for me across the country and prayed for me until they heard the news of her arrival, the baby who shocked us all when she weighed in at ten and a half pounds when they put her on the scale. I think back on the labor, on her birth, on the absurdity that a fully-formed human being could grow inside my body and make her way into the world. I marvel that each of us began this way. I marvel that it is a miracle. A miracle – and also, just life. Holy and mundane. Extraordinary and the most normal everyday thing that could be.
These days, in quiet moments I look at her. I sneak glances of her when she is in my husband’s arms, or asleep in her stroller on rare occasion, wiped out from a day in the hot sun. I go to her crib and gently make the sign of the cross on her forehead before I go to bed, and I notice her chubby baby legs, her little hands that have learned to clap and wave and sign “more” for food. In these tender moments her father and I look at each other and murmur, She’s so big. She’s not really a baby anymore. She’s growing so fast. She’s more than doubled in size this past year, and it seems a miracle that this could be—that we’ve kept her alive and thriving, at first on my own milk, then on bananas and blueberries, Cheerios and chicken and sippy cups of water and anything we’ll let her get her grabby baby hands on. She’s growing. She has grown. It seems like a miracle. It’s a miracle, and it’s also just life.
It’s just life, I say, but please know that I don’t use those words lightly. Perhaps what I mean to say is that this year has shown me in ways I could never have expected that life itself is the miracle. The fact that we all begin this way is a miracle. That we grow, that we thrive—some us despite so many challenges and against all the odds. The fact that we learn to hold up our heads, to roll over, sit up, crawl and walk and talk – that this is the way life was designed for us. We are designed to grow, made for it, and like a sunflower bending to the light, we’ll do it even in the darkest places, straining and grasping for that which nourishes us, even when it seems out of reach.
I rocked her for a few minutes longer than normal when I put her to bed this week, taking a moment to smell her freshly-bathed baby hair, to touch her soft skin, to really notice her. I remembered how God has been present this year through the marathon nursing sessions, the family members who came to visit, the friends who brought meals, coffee, offers to babysit, the ones who sent words of encouragement in their cards and emails and texts and prayers. God was there in the nights I was desperate for sleep, in the days I rejoiced in a new milestone, a first word, her first steps. God was there, delighting in me as I delighted in my daughter, this little girl who loves strawberries and swings, who says “hi” and “uh-oh”, “okay” and “dada” and, just this week, “mama.” God in resting and rising, behind and before, God in our every breath.
In her book My Grandfather’s Blessings, Rachel Naomi Remen relates the story of when her own grandfather, who was a scholar of the Kabbalah, the mystical teachings of Judaism, first came to see her at the hospital when she was born. Rachel was very premature and in an incubator, and according to her mother, her grandfather stood at the viewing window and looked at her in silence for a very long time. Rachel writes:
Concerned that he was anxious or even repelled that I was so small and frail, [my mother] was about to reassure him when he whispered something under his breath. She had not quite heard and she asked him to repeat it for her. He turned to her with a smile and said in Hebrew, “Blessed are Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive and sustained us, who has brought us whole to this moment.” It is a blessing of gratitude for the gift of life, and it was also the beginning of our relationship.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, who has kept us alive and sustained us. It is a blessing for a birth and my prayer of gratitude for this year. For the God who has been there, in all moments and in all things, for the God who has given us life and brought us whole to this moment. It is my prayer of “thanks” and “yes.”
As I write this tonight, my daughter sleeps soundly in her crib the next room over. Tonight, before I go to bed, I will enter her room as I always do. I will put my hand on her chest and feel it rise and fall with her slow, steady breathing. I will make the sign of the cross on her forehead, ever so lightly, with the gentlest of touch as to not disturb her slumber. And under my breath, I will offer this blessing – a blessing for a year. Blessed are you, O Lord our God, who has kept us alive and sustained us, who has brought us whole to this moment. Blessed are you. Thank you. Amen.