My baby was coming early. I tried to ignore it, wish the contractions away, but there was no denying it. It was happening. This was my fifth child, so I knew.
The school of life had already given us plenty of intense lessons: our third child surprised us with Down Syndrome and our fourth shocked us with a birth defect that required immediate surgery and a month-long hospitalization two hours from our home.
We thought we had graduated, but life had other lessons for us.
As I labored in the bathtub, the fear came in waves along with the contractions. The memory of the ultrasound five weeks earlier surfaced: the suddenly silent technician excusing herself to get the radiologist. The radiologist bluntly telling us of the many abnormalities. So many problems that her condition was deemed “incompatible with life.” Our baby girl would not survive.
Or would she? I felt I had to have hope for the little life inside of me. Ava. Sweet Ava. Couldn’t she defy the odds? For five weeks I oscillated between cheering my miracle baby on and knowing that she would die. The constant peaks and valleys of these emotions were relentless and exhausting.
My labor truly began at that ultrasound. All the questions, questions, questions, tormenting me every hour of every day and into the night. What would this mean for my family? How would we get through this? How would this affect my other young children? Why? Why us? So much uncertainty.
Until finally there was no more room for thought, with every sense focused on the now. Any birthing woman knows this intense time of transition — the time when you cannot go on, yet the only choice is to move forward, to move beyond everything you thought was possible, opening beyond what you thought your limits were.
You cannot bear for things to escalate, yet they must for this new life to be born, for the world to change.
And Ava would change us in the deepest, most profound ways and answer all of the questions. There was nothing that could be done for her, nothing for us to fix. Her body was just not made for this world. She would leave the world in the very same room she entered.
She would only know the touch of those who loved her, the sounds and smells of a busy, loving home. This tiny life would be with us for just ten days, yet she would be one of our greatest teachers.
New and fascinating questions emerged for all of us to ponder: What happens when we die? Where do we go? What is Heaven like? We were able to openly explore these questions and my older children would come up with even more: If death happens to everyone and every living thing, why are we so afraid of it?
Together we journeyed through life’s most awesome mysteries and for a small bubble of time, death would not be dark and scary, but graceful and peaceful and full of love.
And mixed with this grace would be life itself, the full spectrum of which would unfold before us in ten short days and then, abruptly, we would be marched forward. The fragile, beautiful bubble of that sacred time would burst and the urgency of life would take over once again: children to feed, dishes to do and balls to be kicked.
But Ava opened us all up to the glorious possibility of angels and that could never be taken away. Suddenly, there was a whole new dimension added to life. What a comfort it is to think someone is looking out for us, helping to guide our way. Maybe we are not alone in all of this. Maybe there is more.
I would never have asked for this gift. If the gods had sat me down and said, “Listen, we’re going to give you a baby. We know that you’ve been through a lot already and you’re not expecting another, but this one will teach you so much more! She will be born with a lot of problems and you and your family will have to face them head on. You are going to have to dive right in and explore the full spectrum of all that life has to offer, from birth to death. You ready for that?”
Hmm, gee…No, I think I’ll pass on that experience, thanks all the same.
There would be no way to understand how the depth of this experience would alter the very fabric of who I am. I would have no way of knowing that having and losing this child would leave me more appreciative, more spiritual, more compassionate. More. Just more.
This tiny soul would stretch me in ways I didn’t know I could survive. She would take me places I didn’t know I needed to go, change me and mold every part of who I am, never to be the same.
The experience would break me open and when I would heal, the pieces would not fit back together so seamlessly. There would now be cracks, and through these cracks slivers of light would touch places inside of me that had known only darkness, places that I didn’t know were there.
Ava taught me that there are some things I just cannot control, no matter how much I question or worry or work. She showed me that despite how hard I fought to be Captain, I would always remain the first mate and when I finally gave up the fight, the sweet relief of surrender would wash over me.
It was so much easier it was to ride the waves instead of swim against the tide. I realized how nice it truly was to give up the illusion of control. The experience moved through me and changed me and did not crush me. Things were okay, they were really okay.
These lessons are hidden in the scars that now make up the intricate tapestry of who I am. They are not unsightly and they are no longer painful. Their complexity and depth add a whole new dimension to this person that I call me.
Now all of life has to pass through the filter of these scars and the experience is more rich, more colorful and more delicious because of it. They are lessons that I would never ask for, yet they have been essential to my growth, my evolution.
They cracked me open to the idea that maybe this is exactly what life is about: healing and learning and growing and healing and learning and growing.
I wish I could say that the next time life comes a-calling, I will greet her with no resistance, but I cannot be sure of that. I know that the intensity of my time with Ava has left me wiser and stronger, but I am not totally fearless. Not yet. That will take more work and more lessons that I have no doubt life will supply.
With these lessons part of me will crack and, hopefully, I will welcome the light.