At one point, I remember looking at Sherice right in the eye and saying, "You're a warrior." I've never meant anything like I meant that statement. She had been contracting for a few hours with minimal fuss. Saying, "Oh, this is a big one," occasionally and sometimes looking at me and saying, "I'm so sorry you had to get up so early." I laughed at her. But when the contractions picked up and her tiny little body started really showing the signs of pain, I couldn't believe how strong she was.
I saw and photographed my first birth a week ago today. And the only thing I could think about was how this impossibly difficult thing—this painful, heart-wrenching thing—was the only available avenue for one of the greatest moments I've ever seen. And even after having done it twice before, Sherice was willing and ready to go into labor, to do the impossibly difficult thing.
She knew what was coming and simply put her game face on and grabbed someone's hand. She had nine months to think about this day, about this pain. She had nine months of anticipation, or some might call it dread. But in the days, weeks, and months leading up to it, she never talked about being scared. She talked about her baby and their life as a family of five. After seeing what it takes to get the baby here, I must believe that mothers willing to do that multiple times have reached a level of zen I haven't quite yet achieved.
I am what some might call an anticipation junkie. I enjoy the excitement leading up to the event significantly more than the event itself. Vacations, movies, weddings, photo shoots ... they are all great. But the preparation? That's where the gold lies. It keeps me awake at night: thinking about the possibilities of how good whatever the "thing" is.
The anticipation of Sherice's birth actually did keep me up at night. I found myself smiling at random moments the week before she was due, eager to document the event and to experience it.
I will say this: watching Sherice give birth was one of the only experiences of my life where the actual moment was better than the anticipation. I sat there with her for four hours. Andy (husband), and Andrea (sister-in-law) watched her contract and laugh and smile and cry. They held her hand and rubbed her feet and sang her strong praises.
We walked around the hospital to speed the process along. She ate Butterfingers and drank ginger ale. Every breath in the room was pregnant (every pun intended!) with anticipation. Four hours is way less than some people labor, I know. But it's so emotional and charged when there is life about to happen. We were all wondering, "Is this it? Is she coming?" And then the contraction would end, Sherice would regulate her breathing and we knew we would wait a little longer.
I can't imagine what Sherice was thinking in those moments. She said a few times that she was scared. It was as if the memories of the first two births came to the forefront when she was in the midst of the third. Her eyes would well up, and then a contraction would hit and she would wipe away the tears to focus. It was unbelievable.
And then the baby was born. She entered the world and Andy cheered like it was a football game and then cried like it was the best day of his life. Sherice looked instantly relieved and in love all at once. I wept into my viewfinder and kept snapping, trying not to step on a nurse or be in the way. It was a cacophony of emotion ... I couldn't pinpoint which one was strongest: awe, love, joy, exhaustion, amazement. I just instantly knew the moment was being filed away as one of my favorites.
It was the most physical representation I've ever experienced of one of my strongest beliefs: suffering produces endurance, character, and hope. Sherice would have walked through any difficulty to have her baby girl. She would have given limbs if it was necessary. It makes me think that children just might be capable of changing the world if a mother loves her baby that fiercely from the start. If mothers are willing to fight from the very beginning, I think it starts them off on the right foot to fight for them through their whole life.
I could write for days about the miracle of life, the strength of women, or the unique connection between husband and wife that is singular to having children. But most of you have seen or experienced a birth, so I won't do that ...
Eden Grace, I know you didn't have a choice, but thank you for letting me be part of your birthday. It's only been a week and you've already taught me so much. I hope these photos will demonstrate to you the incredible amount of love that surrounded your first moments in the world. You have some of the best people as your people. I pray that you would love them as fiercely as they love you (and that you'll skip the angsty teenager phase where you hate your mother) and that the strength that brought you here would be instilled in you daily. I love you already!