It’s your first birthday, and I have so many things to tell you.

I did not fall in love with you the way I thought I would. Or was supposed to.

I wanted to be pregnant—I suppose—but at the same time, I did not want to be pregnant.  Pregnancy was extremely disruptive to my health. I coughed for 12 weeks straight, so hard I burst a blood vessel in each eye. My body forming your body didn’t have enough in it to take good care of itself. I suffered.

But there is more to our story.

High-Risk Pregnancy

At your twenty-week sonogram, we thought everything was okay, but then they told us it was not. A complete placenta previa meant there was no way for you to get out. The only way out would be the cutting way—the way I least wanted. I’d hoped for a drug-free birth, but they were telling me the only way we both would live was the opposite.

And there was a risk of bleeding. My life further altered; no more running. I would gaze at runners’ graceful bodies and imagine a day when I could again do the same.

But the worst part of it was my mind. I had barely come to terms with the fact that a real human being was joining my world—had already joined my body. I always thought being a mother meant love. But for me it had felt like inconvenience, fear I had made a mistake. At times, I wished you would just go away, and my life could get back to normal.

And then, there we were, staring down your mortality. The fact that you, a created being, have a beginning and end. And I knew I did not want you to end.

Did that mean I loved you?

It felt like the beginnings of love, but a reluctant love.

Reluctant Love?

The weeks trudged on, and the limitations grew. At 32 weeks, my world stopped. Bed rest. I knew it was coming, but I didn’t want it. And I did not know—nor did I care to learn—how to be still. It would be at least five weeks until they took you from my belly at the latest possible date, 37 weeks, one day. We would be lucky to make it there.

I felt like a ticking time bomb, as though at any minute my body could betray me—and you. That we could be rushing to the hospital. What if you came early? I had hardly grasped the idea of your coming full term and healthy, let alone early and in even more need.

We made it to 37 weeks and one day. I was completely terrified. I tried to be excited, too, but there are few times in my life when I have ever felt so out of control.

That’s because I genuinely was out of control—I couldn’t control anything about this whole thing.

I may have never wanted anything less than a scheduled c-section. As we walked to the operating room, I genuinely considered walking away, but to what? The only way out was through. The only other option was the possibility of us both dying.

Clearly, I chose the one that led to life. You came. I held you. I touched your little face. I did, in fact, love you.

I wish I could say that was my happily-ever-after: You came into this world, I loved you, and we’ve been gleefully happy ever since. But this has not been my experience. Having a third human, first in my body, then in my home, has been one of the most fundamentally life-altering experiences of my life.

My sleep? Not mine.

My time to think, read, write—all of the ways I recharge? Gone.

My naps—the ones when I can’t hold my eyes open? Always coinciding with your 30-minute ones; the second I get settled and safe enough to sleep, you are wailing.

Everything about me is being altered, torn apart. Nothing has been gentle about this process.

Un-Instant Joy

The joy of parenthood is not instant; I pictured blissful love. I got painful love, the kind of love that does the loving thing when it feels unloving. I got grit-your-teeth, pray-to-God-I-can-make-it-through-the-next-hour kind of love.

When you turned eight weeks old, I told your dad I wanted to go to Hawaii. He thought I meant with the both of you. I didn’t. I wanted escape—back to the old way, the way that felt free, the way that let me take care of myself. How was I to care for you when I could not care for me? I’m pretty sure I didn’t put on an actual outfit for close to six weeks. I hid and survived and wished I had not.

On the hard nights, I would picture you at two or three, walking into our bedroom after we’d already put you to bed, holding a blankie, and asking us for water or to sit with us for a while. That helped. I thought about your personality and what you would be like and how I would get to discover you—John.

The months wore on, and you started to come alive. I began realizing you were not just a blob but a real, tiny human being. I have never been so needed. As in, your life literally, physically, depended on my life. It started in pregnancy, but it didn’t end there. You needed me. More than any person has ever needed me. You needed me more than your dad, more than your grandparents. When others couldn’t calm you, I could.

One night, you would not stop wailing, and I tried everything I knew—burping and changing and singing and patting and rocking and walking—but nothing. So, I just held you close while you wailed. And in that moment, I told you, “John, this is what I promise you. I promise that there will be times I cannot help you, I cannot fix your problem, but I promise I will be with you there. I will hold you while you cry. I with be with you in your pain.”

It was a step into motherhood—my motherhood. It was not the ooey-gooey motherhood of stories and movies, but we were forging our own version—together.

John, on your first birthday, I can say my love for you is deep and real. It is gritty; I still wake up before I want to. I panic when I can’t stop your tears. But I delight in discovering you. I hope to hold you close but with open hands. I hope that I seek your good more than I seek my own. I hope I am honest about my fears and struggles and pains and do not push them off onto you.

I hope loving you makes me more myself and you more yourself. That’s the kind of love I want. A love that sets you free to be all you were created to be and a love in me that learns, however slowly, to trust that the Good Father is doing the same for me.

Baby boy, I love you. And happy birthday.