I remember that I was lying right here in my spot on the bed looking out my huge picture window into the branches of the fir tree right outside, but instead of Winter sun, low and filtered by slowly rolling, thick clouds, the golden light of a Summer sun, shining into my window since about 5am, was starting to warm the room. Wearing an unbuttoned nightgown for easy nursing and skin-to-skin contact, I did my best to soak in the moments. I felt incredible, almost euphoric. The co-sleeper was to my left, extending my nest and forming a hedge to hold in my pillows. I used 5, I think: 2 behind me, one on either side of me, and one beneath my knees. It was the time for luxury. My favorite sheets were on my bed (like they are now.) Out the window, the peace and beauty of the trees provided calm while the excitement of siblings buzzed outside and through my bedroom door on the opposite side of the room.
Except for the co-sleeper, the biggest clue that something had changed was the baby himself. We didn't need a ton of baby stuff. Except for some diapers and wipes; I was all he needed. I don't think I even clothed him for a week or so. It is amazing how so small a thing can become a new gravitational center in the home and for my heart. My heart and thoughts revolved around him. Our schedule and meals were different because of him. My other children were in awe and overwhelmed with love for him in their own ways. The feeling of him being in our house and lives felt so exactly right. It still does. For me, the beauty of this fourth child lies in his wanted-ness, and like a little mirror, even from his earliest days, he reflected back all the peace and joy I felt at his being here. Anxiety appeared here and there. “Is that considered a retraction? Does his umbilicus look OK? Is that a little bit of tongue-tie?” But every question was quickly resolved. He certainly showed no signs of worry or insecurity. I only 3 times in the last 6 months have heard even a hint of stress in his cry, and those came only in the last few weeks, never in the first few. Never.
My little Bran; my buttery, new, ruddy pink baby, all wrinkles and tiny bones, fuzzy head, kissable cheeks. There is simply nothing else like feeling that velvety body against your chest or in the crook of your arm. The floppiness is a bit unsettling on the first child you cradle; the fragility reminds you of the weight of responsibility now resting upon you. But with Bran, the ginger movements I used with him simply felt like reminders to pay attention to every soakable moment, to go slowly on purpose because his life was already moving rocket-fast enough. Nursing is best done while seated, comfortable, and adoring, not on-the-go. I understood for the first time the use of the term “mother-baby.” We were like one thing. It would have felt so disruptive and even painful to me if I had had to share him and show him off very much. No, we stayed in our nest, and that felt exactly right. It was difficult to protect our time, but, having successfully done it, I will be a mother-baby protection evangelist forever.
My other children were permitted to join us regularly and get to know their new brother, and I had a few moments of feeling like one thing with all of them and with my husband. Bran's arrival made our invisible bonds palpable again. I have often heard people say, “I cannot imagine having any more children because I don't know that I have the capacity for giving that many kids what they need.” I cannot imagine it either if I didn't know from experience that growing throughout pregnancy, like the placenta and baby, is a new store of love. My mother heart has stretched along with my uterus every time I have born a child to this family. I picture the Grinch heart bursting the bounds of the x-ray frame.
I wish that these scenes were a part of every baby's experience, of every mother's. But I know they are not because of injustice, illness, death, and even pure selfishness and evil. Watching Bran being loved by our family, loving him myself every moment, I have often cried for babies and families not having this experience. There are so, so many. I do think that more families could have this experience if they felt the permission to slow down and if they were not pressured by families to “hand over that baby.” I really hate that phrase. While there are many aspects of my life with Bran so far that have been lovely simply because 1) he is our fourth child, and 2) I advocated for us as mother-baby (things that can be enjoyed and utilized by many other pairs), there are some very precious, Jessica-Bran specific rays of goodness and beauty that I have to record.
I was sick when we decided to try to get pregnant, and there is much evidence that now I am well. We anticipated, with fear and trembling but also with faith and hope, that life with a fourth baby may be the hardest thing we ever had done. We knew we might be asking for a bedridden mother, but we did it anyway. I took a lot of convincing even though I was also the one arguing vigorously for us to do it! The beginning stages of weaning from some medications and wading into the pregnancy were terrible. I was afraid, and one of the worst nights of my life was New Year's Eve 2014 when I was suddenly terrified that we had made an awful mistake. I never, ever want to feel again that a child, a real, human, heart-beating baby, could be a mistake. I woke up on New Year's Day feeling like I had purged a virus. That fear needed to be expressed so that it could begin to dissipate, but like any flu, fighting it was painful and left me weak and humbled. One thing I felt very strongly, like I had when I took my pregnancy test, was that THIS baby was intended to be on the planet. THIS person already had his or her days appointed by God.
By the time we learned that this person was a boy and soon decided was Bran, I was already feeling much better emotionally and physically. Selecting his name was a great joy. He is a man named for women as well as his father. I gave him a “B” name to remind me of some dear women filled with qualities I hope all my children will display, mainly bravery, godly boldness, compassion, kindness, and belief in Jesus. His middle name is Raphael which means “God has healed me.” I liked it because it is Italian like my husband and me and goes well with the first name which is Irish (also like my husband and me.) I hesitated a bit, though, to give him this name that declares God HAS healed me. It's so emphatic. The word “heal” was important to me, meaningful. Brendan and I now knew what it meant to long for healing in THIS life. I did not want to demand something from God by naming my child such a thing. As I mulled it over, though, I kept thinking of my greatest comfort in all my days dealing with POTS, “I am already safe and healed in Christ. My life is already hidden in Heaven with him.” The fact was: I was already healed; already, but not yet. So, we named him Bran Raphael. And all my little Ninja Turtles were thrilled.
At counseling one day in Summer of 2014, I shared with my therapist that I was harboring hope that perhaps a pregnancy would somehow reset me, that the POTS would go as mysteriously as it had come. “That sounds like magical thinking,” she responded. We had no real reason to think the POTS would disappear. I had been told by my neurologist that I'd probably have it forever. “But,” she said after a moment. “Maybe it isn't so magical because we don't know why it came, so maybe we don't know what might make it go.” I carried these two thoughts around. I didn't get too excited or hold hope that pregnancy would definitely cure me, but I allowed myself to be excited to see what might happen.
As of late in my third trimester, around June of 2015, I was no longer having POTS symptoms. Doctors attribute this to the increased blood volume, and that makes sense. Bran is now 6 months old, and with the exception of occasions during illness or related to gallbladder attacks when anyone might have heart rate problems, I have still not experienced symptoms. Some women with POTS report that breastfeeding seemed to keep their POTS at bay, but this is by no means universally true. I will soon be speaking with my doctors to discuss a trial of medication weaning. I never imagined feeling this good. The other day I had to run up the stairs two extra times because I kept forgetting things I wanted to bring down. I realized during my second trip that every step was a huge blessing, and I took two stairs at a time- gulping the opportunity like a kid offered a sip of soda.
The threat of my POTS returning does hang over me like Wile E. Coyote's anvil. I have cried pretty hard about it a few times, and I ask regularly for prayer regarding that worry. I try, though, to not get sucked into that hole. Why go down it when I can be enjoying the days that it is not here? God HAS healed me.
I never pictured my postpartum year with Bran being the healthy, busy year that it has turned out to be. Bran's joyful, generous smiles reflect the great gifts our family has been given, a sweet, sweet baby and a healthy mommy. I am humbled to my core. He will smile at you and then somehow smile deeper; he crinkles up his little nose and shakes his little head as if to say, “I know! I can't believe it either!” He loves to hear music and listens intently when I sing to him of God who gives generously. I made up a little song that I used to sing to Hazel for naptime when I was newly pregnant with Bran based on Psalm 103:
He forgives all your sins and then
heals your diseases too.
He satisfies you with good things
so that your strength is renewed.
He redeems your life straight from the pit
and puts upon your head
a crown of love and compassion.
Oh, my soul! Don't ever forget.
My sweet Bran and all my dear children, I pray that you will learn these truths and then, please, don't ever forget. God does great, kind things. Life is full of difficulties and shocking, terrible troubles, but our God even has use for those. Not a one of you would mean all that you do mean to me, and I would not be able to love you as deeply as I do without having lived through days of darkness and sorrow. Seek his kingdom! Look for him always, and you will see amazing things everywhere.
My littlest Bran Raphael, sweet, smiling declaration of God's healing love, I am so glad for all you represent to me, but you will live your own life. Moving forward your story will be your own, and I will only be a fraction of what you have to tell about. But, this needed to be set down for you and for me. We cannot be mother-baby forever, but I have enjoyed this time immensely. Please don't grow too quickly. I cannot bear it.