The cold, sterile environment of the “special care” nursery I knew had to be foreign compared to the warm, comforting womb she just exited. The nursery was always dark, and while I knew it was to help her adjust to this bright new world, I wanted to flip on the light switch and make everything brighter and better. I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the smoothness of her skin, because we could only lay our hands upon her—no kisses, no rubs, no snuggles. My heart ached to soothe her anxiety as I watched her tiny belly tuck under her ribs every time she struggled for a breath. For hours we would listen to her heave air in through her tiny mouth surrounded by big beautiful lips. I wanted to hold her body close, smelling the sweet newborn scent, but a plastic wall smelling of antiseptic kept me from her.
When I think back, I really have so few clear memories of that week after giving birth. While it was one of the greatest milestones of my life—welcoming my first child into the world—it was also one of the hardest. It was spiritually, physically, and emotionally draining. Most of all, it was not what I had expected or what I had planned.
Last night, I printed off the birth plan questionnaire my OB doctor sent me for my current pregnancy, and I checked off most of the same preferences I had two and a half years ago. I began to wonder though, to hope, that this time everything would be “normal.” I felt the desire growing for everything to happen according to my checklist this time.
Every mother has had her share of unmet expectations in the delivery room, some with considerably more grief than mine. As my doctor asks that I make this list of expectations again, I’m trying to hold them more loosely. I know controlling the circumstances (if even possible) won’t determine a certain outcome, but that doesn’t change my desire to have that sweet snapshot of my husband and me peacefully cradling our newborn baby boy in our hospital room.
In my ideal snapshot, I’m showered (because of my complications last time, I was unable to shower at the hospital) and serenely nursing our baby (which wasn’t so easy the first time around). Family is able to visit and hold him (it was days before my daughter was placed into her grandparents’ arms), and we walk out of the hospital together (we were heartbroken to be discharged before our daughter was last time).
Yet while my first week postpartum was agonizing, here I hold my sweet, healthy two-year-old daughter in my lap. There have been more difficult moments throughout her life, but there has been so much more joy. Many of the plans I made as a naïve pregnant mother have been thrown out the window as I learn to parent this treasure. Even the recent global pandemic has challenged my expectations of the perfect two-year-old summer. But even when my plans have failed, I rejoice because she’s still here in my arms.
In Scripture, God constantly reminds us that we only have so much control over our plans. “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:14-15). I wanted to ignore these passages, because I didn’t truly trust God with my plans; I thought that I knew better. But as I’ve gotten older—and more of my plans have fallen apart—I’ve realized that God’s plans truly are better than anything I could have asked or imagined. Even in the hard parts, God was weaving together a beautiful picture of our family’s story.
My plans might have looked like an ideally framed family photo at the golden hour taken by a professional photographer. But God’s plans looked like a candid, blurry iPhone photo with no make-up but lots of smiles. While my plans might appear “perfect,” his plans are always more joyful and true.
While the pictures I have of my daughter’s first days are not what I expected, they are even more beautiful than I could have imagined. While it’s not the story that I would have written, it was the story God used to bring good to our family and glory to his name. I have hundreds of photos and videos on my phone of each new face, wiggle, and sound she made as a newborn. And no matter what photo opportunities this second pregnancy brings, I know that in the end, I’ll be smiling as I scroll through photos on my phone at that 2:00am nursing session.
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Snapshot”.