Seventeen years ago today I gave birth to my second born, whose name is (really) Rebecca. It was my only homebirth, and it was smooth, and swift and golden in my memories. I had stayed up until midnight bleaching the kitchen and bathroom from top to bottom, and washing every single thing in the house that was washable. After I hung my last load of laundry "op zolder" I fell into bed at exactly midnight. At exactly 1 am I woke with a contraction and the contractions stayed regular and steady as I sat there on the edge of my bed watching the night sky until the sun came up, and then I woke Steadfast who called the doctor (doctors make house calls in the Netherlands) and his parents to come get our firstborn and whisk her away until the excitement was over.
Dr Siersema arrived with her gentle ways and quiet voice and said yes, it was time to call a nurse to assist, and to have a baby. The nurse arrived and made tea and Steadfast and the two women sat and drank tea in front of me and made small talk, which I found greatly annoying because I had reached transition by this time and just wanted to concentrate alone in my bubble... facing backwards on my knees in a rocking chair rocking in a beam of sunlight through each wave of pain... I asked them if they could please be quiet and Steadfast said I was being too serious, and I said "because I have to push" - and at this tea cups were set hastily aside and the work began.
She was a girl. And I was shocked. She had been so active and felt so much longer in utero than her older sister. I was sure she was the wrong baby and Dr Siersema said "I can't put her back, she's yours to keep"... and obviously, born at home, she could not have been switched. I don't remember really meeting her. I don't know where she was while I got the 14 inner and 9 outer stitches where I had torn from ship to shore. The "kraamtijd" was not restful, as the nurse was new and inexperienced and I had a 1 yo to take care of. The nurse was there for a week and when she left, I found a dirty coffee cup she had left and I just laid on the ground and cried for an hour.. how was I going to take care of two babies and wash a coffee cup?
Little did I know that was the beginning of a long bout with post-partum depression. My life became a joyless monotany of changing diapers and feeding babies and making dinner and doing dishes. I wanted to sleep forever.
I had no friends in that strange land. I had a father-in-law who believed real Christians don't get depressed and so Steadfast was ashamed of me. It was a long dark tunnel of hopelessness. And I was isolated and alone.
My first memory of Rebecca is of when she was about nine months old and she was sitting on my bedroom floor crying and I was staring emotionless at her thinking "why doesn't her mother care for her"... I probably watched her cry for a good five minutes and then I realized, I was her mother. I picked her up and comforted her, but I still did not *feel* I was her mother...
When she was around 15 months old the sun broke through the darkness and I looked at her cute chubbiness and adored her... love was born that illuminated the darkness of that despair and chased it away into the far corners of my heart.
For years after that, she was one who often needed hugs and cuddles. I try to remember if I did cuddle her in that foggy time. I hope I did. I can't remember.... in those months I operated out of habit and routine... I functioned as a robot. Was it in my habit and routine to hold her a while after I had nursed her? Did I ever smile at her? Did I ever smother her with kisses as I have done her sisters?
Writing this causes a waterfall of tears to stream down my face. I so miss those lost months. Here is my tall beautiful girl whose babyhood I barely remember. A couple of weeks ago I could look at my first born on her 18th birthday and say "here's my grown girl, I remember when she was born and her hair curled from the damp and she looked up at me with those great eyes and I was smitten". I grieve that I don't remember meeting Becca.
I hope over the years we have made up for those lost first moments. She is a gem of a girl. Quick to help, level-headed... probably the most level-headed of all the womenfolk in this household. While I have been her teacher, and the teacher of her sisters, she has often been the one to teach me... she has taught me everything from being honest with myself ("I can't say that" "you can, Mama, you just don't want to") - to how to crop a photo in Paint... I treasure the moments she allows me to see the world through her eyes, because they often bring an "a ha!" moment with them that illuminates something that was once hidden... but should not be.
Just as Christ illuminates our souls and reveals what is there, that should not be. Where was Christ in Becca's baby years? I felt much abandoned by God in my first years of marriage. But I know He was there. I think without Him, I would have fallen much further from hope than I did. Without Him, I don't think Hope would have ever returned. Since Becca I've had a couple more brushes with post-partum depression, but none as deep and dark or as long as that bout was.
Dear Becca. I love you more than a mother's heart can contain. I am so immensely proud of you. I love the pretty pictures you take. I love your wry sense of humor. I love having another Jane Austen fan in our home. I do cherish the memories I do have of your childhood, and I admire the woman you are becoming. You were an adorable baby... your smiles broke through my gloom, and they still light up my life... even though now it is filled with joys overflowing... the joy of being your mother is one of the greatest gifts God could have ever given me.