motherhood

A Winter Prayer

Madelyn snuggles up in her blankets, the glow of the nightlight illuminating the curve of her cheek and her small fist rubbing her eye. 

“Do you want to say anything to God?” I ask as I tuck the blankets around her. 

“Yeah,” she says. I stop in surprise. For weeks I’ve been asking if she wants to pray at night. She’s always told me, “You can do it.” 

“Go ahead,” I say, not wanting to make a big deal of it. Inside, my mommy heart is beating a little faster and my throat is a little tight. 

“God, please, I want you to send snow, because I love snow and I want it to snow and I want to play in the snow.” Her words tumble out, then stop abruptly. She looks at me, uncertain what to say next.  

“Amen,” I say and kiss her forehead as I calculate in my head the odds of her prayer being answered. 

I remember another young girl with dark hair and a voracious capacity for wonder who prayed a similar prayer. I was a little older than my daughter is now and prayed for snow too despite living in the desert, surrounded by prickly cactus, dry, cracked ground and colorless rocks. I called the weedy, anemic patch of green in my backyard “grass” and hoped every year that we would get a snow day. Year after year, my prayers went unanswered. 

But I believe that God has heard my little girl’s prayer. I leave her room that night with a plan to check the weather app. 

The odds don’t look good. It is our first winter living in the Pacific Northwest, a land where green is deep and the water plentiful. A land with seasons and a beauty that leaves this desert girl stunned. But even here, snow in December is uncommon. The weather projections say we will get rain – lots of it – and then the temperature is going to heat up to a balmy forty degrees. Snow isn’t anywhere on the forecast for the next two weeks. 

A week later, the rain is falling late in the afternoon, as it often does, but this time it’s mixed with ice. As I wash the dishes, I notice the small round pebbles of frozen rain accumulating on our porch. 

Scrub, wipe, rinse. I glance out the window – still dreary gray drops. Scrub, wipe, rinse. I watch the soapy bubbles slide off the pan and swirl down the drain. Where is the little girl who could see grass in a patch of weeds? The little girl who offered prayers for snow in the desert? Not here, that’s for sure.  

No matter how hard I try, I can’t see the rainbows in the soap bubbles. 

But I am desperate that day for just a little bit of wonder. So, I close my eyes and I whisper: “God, please let it snow.”  

I feel childish as soon as I utter it. If it snows, it won’t be because one tiny little human asked for it, will it? Surely, it will be because the air temperature dropped a few degrees, or maybe because God has other grand plans for the weather, not because a tired mom prayed while scrubbing dishes. 

I look out the window again as I dry my hands on the dish towel. Perhaps it is a trick of the light, but the icy raindrops did look a little more flaky now. I walk over to the sliding glass door and stick my hand out trying to catch them. One lands in my palm. It looks sort of round and crunchy – not like snow but definitely not rain. 

There is a great deal about winter that I have yet to understand. Before this, I thought there was simply snow and rain. But apparently there is also freezing rain as well sleet that stubbornly refuses to be snow. 

I go to the door one last time, drawn by a weird hope that maybe if I stare hard enough I will see a miracle occur right before my eyes. Pulling the door open, I catch my breath. There, floating in the air, is a very small snowflake.  

I rush for the stairwell where I can hear Madelyn playing with my sister. 

“Sister! You guys need to see this. Get up here!” I can’t help smiling, as I grab pink socks and boots for Madelyn. “It’s snowing – really snowing,” I call. “Hurry!” 

We shimmy into boots and rush out into the cold, forgetting our jackets in our hurry to get out into the snow. 

The porch is getting whiter by the second and off in the distance, I can see the rain slowing and turning into white specks that hang in the air, falling in slow motion, like gravity is momentarily suspended. 

I turn my face up toward the sky and watch large, fat flakes drift lazily toward me. I catch one on my tongue and taste the icy cold of winter. “Needs sugar,” I chortle. 

My daughter giggles and spins in circles. “It’s snow, it’s snow, it’s snow!” she crows, her hands in the air while she twirls. 

My sister and I vacillate between awestruck silence and childish giggling. “It’s snowing!” we say over and over, looking at each other in surprise. Was this really happening? My daughter shows no surprise, only unadulterated delight. 

The white gathers in corners of the yard, and the silent street pulls the snow over itself like a white quilt. I take a deep breath. So, this was real winter. I bask in it like sunshine and drink up every icy drop. 

Madelyn throws a snowball at her unsuspecting aunt, eyes alight with mischief. My sister scoops up a mound of snow herself and launches it in return. Madelyn’s shrieks echo in the snowy silence. Inside our neighbors’ houses, lights glow in windows and the sky darkens as snow continues to fall steadily. It transforms our porch, the trees, the rooftops, and – perhaps the most transformed of all – me. 

I turn my face up toward the sky to watch the flakes falling. At first, I only see the blur of white dots, streaks across the sky. But then I focus on one, just one, a single snowflake formed like a thumbprint, individual like my daughter’s prayer, my prayer, and this miraculous answer. I spin in wonder. 

I catch the flake in my palm. This one is for me, I am certain. 

 

Words by Ashly Hilst.

 

Another Wedding Ring

“Just a minute!” I holler toward the tiny fists that are pounding on my bedroom door. This is the standard morning scene: I’ve been awake for nearly two hours and, after getting my kids fed and ready for the day, I’ve finally barricaded myself in my bedroom long enough to put on a bra and host an inner debate about how many days it’s been since I washed my hair.  

I sift through a pile of bobby pins and loose change in my jewelry tray until my fingers close around my wedding rings. I start with the wedding band, a plain white gold ring with thirteen small diamonds dotting the band in a half circle; then I stack the princess cut engagement ring above it. They stop without making it past my knuckle, as they have been all week.  

I’m twenty-five weeks pregnant with my third child, and this is my least favorite pregnancy side effect. I’ll spend the next four months with swollen fingers that leave no room for my wedding rings. I know I get off easy—no morning sickness to contend with or serious pregnancy complications to face—but I still feel a little mournful about the rings. They’re easily the most beautiful thing I own, and wearing them on a daily basis pulls to the forefront memories that might otherwise slip away. 

When I put them each morning, I’m twenty-one again, being proposed to on a dorm room futon in the living room of my college apartment. We were surrounded by plain, grayish beige walls I wasn’t allowed to mar with so much as a 3M hook, and my feet rested on the edge of a blueberry pie stain set into the gritty carpet. There wasn’t a hint of elaborate romantic planning, not a single candle or rose petal, but I couldn’t care less because there in front of me was my future husband, holding up my ring. 

After dinner each night, when I slip both sets of diamonds off my finger and set them on the window ledge before plunging my hands into the dishwater, I think of everything that’s happened in this kitchen. We’ve swayed in front of the window with dinner simmering behind us; we’ve screamed at each other in front of the fridge and apologized by the stove; we’ve put silverware in its place while debating major life decisions; we’ve sat on the steps near the pantry with our heads on each others’ shoulders, sighing after a long day at work. 

Now, the same week as our sixth anniversary, I have to admit to myself that it’s time to put my rings back in their box until spring, when we’ll have another baby to hold and my fingers will, hopefully, shrink back to their original size. I set the rings back in the tray with a clink and make a mental note to find their box later.  

The pounding on the door has gotten louder and is now accompanied by occasional screams, but I ignore the chaos for a few seconds longer, scanning the jewelry tray until I find another ring.  

This one has a thin silver band, topped by an oval sapphire that’s surrounded by a halo of diamonds. The gems in this piece aren’t real. We bought it for less than 100 euros in a tiny town on Lake Como in Italy. It was one of the most expensive souvenirs we could afford on the European vacation we’d scrimped to go on before we had kids.   

We had raced through the shop, past antique end tables and hand-carved chess pieces, trying to see everything before we missed the last boat of the evening that would take us back to our hotel on the other side of the lake. The deep blue sapphire of the ring caught my eye, and I bought it without ever trying it on.  

The sapphire ring never fit quite right: too big for my fourth finger, just small enough to be uncomfortable on my third. It sat on my dresser, a fond but useless memory of our travels, until two months later when I got pregnant with our oldest daughter. Soon enough, my fingers swelled, and the Italy ring fit perfectly. Now with this pregnancy, I’ll wear it again and be visited by a different set of memories. 

I’ll fiddle with the lightweight band, twirling it around and around in my jacket pocket while I tell the kids, “Don’t climb too high!” and “Let’s give someone else a turn on the swings.” I’m absentminded, no longer at the park down the street but at a swing set we stumbled across in the Swiss Alps, where my husband and I laughed like schoolkids as we took a break from hiking.  

I’ll catch a glint of light off the faux sapphire in a stream of sink water while I wash vegetables, and suddenly I’m a new mom again, remembering what it was like to cook dinner while bouncing the screaming baby strapped to my chest. Did she need to eat? Was it a dirty diaper? When was the last time either of us slept?  

It will all flood back to me at once, opposing memories of awe at seeing the world as barely more than newlyweds, and awe at meeting our firstborn baby and realizing we didn’t know what we were doing at all.    

I open the bedroom door to the preschooler and toddler who come barreling in. We still don’t know what we’re doing, of course, not about any of it. But we do know some things, I think, as I watch the two tiny girls now jumping on our bed. We know that we walk side by side with a hand to hold through every moment of doubt or uncertainty, and we know every second will be worth it. 

 

Words by Ashley Brooks.

Breathe In, Breathe Out

When I was fifteen years old, I attempted to read Of Mice and Men while sitting in the hallway of a hospital, but I was too nervous to absorb the words. My mom was in labor, and my sister and I were waiting to be called into the delivery room. Prior to that day, my only exposure to childbirth was what I had seen on TV or in the movies. Those cinematic depictions always involved a lot of yelling, frenetic energy, and intense pain followed by the arrival of a cleanly washed and freshly swaddled newborn. I thought I knew what I was in for. 

As my mom’s labor progressed, my dad came out to get us and when we entered her hospital room, I was immediately struck by how quiet and peaceful that room felt. My mom wasn’t screaming or writhing around in pain. Instead, she was breathing and getting through the current wave of contractions. As that wave subsided, she turned and smiled at my sister and me. The contractions became more frequent and painful, but my mom continued to remain calm and incredibly focused.  

At one point, I remember feeling scared because she was clearly struggling. Through gritted teeth, she announced that she didn’t think she could do this anymore. I didn’t know what this meant. Would they have to operate? Was there a problem? But before I could ask questions or even reach over to encourage her, she had shifted her position and refocused her gaze into one of determined ferocity, which resulted in the crowning of the baby’s head. And within minutes, I watched in awe as my beautiful baby sister entered the world coated in blood and vernix.  

It opened my eyes to the beauty and strength of childbirth. I have my mother to thank for that. 

*** 

It took us awhile to get pregnant with my son, and when it finally happened I quickly shifted from the agonizing rollercoaster ride of infertility to actively preparing for a natural childbirth experience. I read every childbirth book I could find. My husband and I attended Bradley Method classes, and I diligently practiced breathing and stretching exercises. I ate well. I modified my yoga practice. I did all the “right things.”   

But sudden pre-term labor led to bed rest, and round ligament pain turned out to be a life-threatening blood clot. On a chilly December morning, I woke up to discover that my left leg was purple, cold, and swollen like a misshapen eggplant. I could barely squeeze into a stretchy pair of maternity pants. My sister drove me to the hospital where my husband was a young resident in training. Within a few hours, I was medevacked to a larger hospital where the doctor brusquely declared I was in active labor. “You will be having this baby tonight,” he said, “but we will probably not be able to save both of you. You need to make some decisions.” He then turned and left the room. 

Breathe in, breathe out.  

Despite the glaring fluorescent hospital lights, the beeping machines, and the tiny room crowded with nurses; despite my frightened husband tightly gripping my hand, I was plunged into a dark and lonely place. Wanting this baby. Wanting to live. Wanting to be anywhere but here.  

In between gut-wrenching sobs, I was experiencing contractions. I was shaking and petrified to move for fear of dislodging the clot or making labor progress further towards delivery. I couldn’t trust my body. I had been doing all the right things, and yet this still was happening. And now I was being slammed into the grisly grey wall of mortality. The nurses kept telling me to breathe – Breathe in, breathe out – but I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. Everything was moving too quickly. 

As day turned into night, my anxiety sky rocketed. I had a flashback to my junior year of college when I awoke to discover that a girl in my dorm had died unexpectedly in the middle of the night from a blood clot. Could that happen to me? I couldn’t erase the doctor’s words from my head: “You will be having this baby tonight.”  

I was exhausted, and yet I was too scared to sleep. Adrenaline, contractions, desperate prayers, and pleading with my husband to save our baby twisted themselves into a tornado that tore me apart over and over again.  

Breathe in, breathe out. 

When morning came, I was finally able to breathe a bit easier. My labor hadn’t progressed, which was an enormous relief. Someone turned on the TV and I was eventually able to nod off to sleep.  

The next two weeks in the hospital were punctuated by blood draws and injections of blood thinners. My arms, legs, and belly were covered with bruises, but I was slowly able to get up and walk more each day. Throughout all the trauma and stress, our baby continued to grow and move. He was weathering the big and little storms of this pregnancy. Early on, we decided to name him Noah, and now that name seemed to be even more fitting. 

My pregnancy was now officially labeled a high risk. I was allowed to go home, but the remaining months were shaped by daily visits to the local hospital for blood draws and monitoring. In addition to returning to my Bradley Method breathing exercises, I started meeting with a therapist. I was struggling with anxiety and working hard to trust my body and myself again. I wrapped myself up in the cheery yellow robe my sister had sewn for me and watched Christmas movies because they always had happy endings. I spent a lot of time rubbing my belly and talking to Noah, reassuring him and myself that everything would be ok. 

Breathe in, Breathe out.  

A day before my scheduled induction date, I suddenly went into labor. On the drive to the hospital, I was battling my anxiety, imagining all the possible worst-case scenarios: dislodging the clot that was still there, having a complication with the baby, bleeding out because of the high dose of blood thinners still in my body, and needing pain medications but not being able to take them because of my current medications.  

I dreaded the thought of returning to the hospital where I had felt scared and overwhelmed during my previous stay. I tried to combat these thoughts with the visualization exercises I had been practicing with my therapist. I tried to remember the breathing techniques from my Bradley classes. Nothing seemed to work, and the rising panic grew more intense with each contraction. 

Breathe in, Breathe out.  

When we entered our assigned birthing room, I requested that they keep the lights dim and asked them to fill up the large tub with water. The fears were still clinging to me, but my focus shifted to the intense contractions that were starting to make me gasp. I entered the warm water, and transitioned to a deeper place within myself. It was similar to my previous hospital experience, but instead of being dark and scary, this was a space of surprising strength and focused calm.  

There was something powerful about being fully immersed in warm water and darkness. I was finally able to breathe – deep, focused, calming breaths that came from a place I didn’t know I had within me. Anchored to my breath in a way I had never experienced before, my body was doing exactly what it needed to do. My mind was fully engaged on laboring. My worries had no space here. Diving down into the surreal peace like I had I seen my own mother do during her labor, I was able to go deeper with each inhalation.  

Breathe in, breathe out. 

A few hours later, Noah was born healthy and without complications. Our doctor started to sing “Happy Birthday,” and with tears streaming down his face, he handed Noah to me for the first time. Holding his tiny body tight to mine, I was overcome with crazy, heart-piercing joy and love. All the years of wanting a baby of our own, all the months of scary ups and downs, melted into the background and were replaced with pure elation. He was here. He was really here. And I was, too. 

 

Words and image by Lucia Saperstein.