Caleb and I drove down their street. House after house, virtually the same in story. Porch lights on, maybe a window or two bright, the yard dark - most of the house dark - cars in park out front. It was 8:30 pm and the end of a middling workday, in the middle of a fussy winter. The outside of the Metzger home was forgettably normal in the lines of homes. But inside. Inside the walls, where only a select few could see, there was a nativity scene.
Brian greeted me at the door - he was on his way to heat up a slice. "Everyone is upstairs! Go on ahead!" Shelby's laughter made me a little bummed. "Man, she must not be very far along if she's giggling like that." She waved and rocked on her bouncy ball. I "scolded" her ;) "You sound way too cheerful for a lady who is in labor!" "Oohhh, it's just because I'm not having a contraction right now! Hahah! You'll see!" She barely finished her sentence before she silently buried her head. Her two daughters eased from the floor onto the bed. They watched her strength. And gave pats of honor and love when Shelby's moans were heaviest. Shelby's mom told her what a wonderful job she was doing.
Aside from the occasional grunts and "ooooooooOOOOOOOO's!" and the midwives in matching t-shirts, the evening felt weirdly like a typical evening. There wasn't hub-bub or eerie silence or beeping. The tub was filling with water, Mumford & Sons was playing, leftovers were on the counter. Instead of feeling like normal life had been frozen in time with the labor progressing, it felt like normal life was indeed happening. And it was. Together. Eating pizza, making mom laugh, and having a baby. It was weirdly unweird.
By 9:00 Shelby was in her own bathtub, in her own clothes, with her own family tipping water onto her working body. If I could dream up an analogy, it reminded me of highschool soccer games in September: when I'd come off the field at halftime and open my water bottle - not to drink - to pour on my head. Spill it all over. Mom and Brian spilled and spilled. Her body was working harder than a soccer athlete. And her baby was ready to meet her life on the outside.
Shelby's midwives were so calm. They were very hands-off, yet gently "in charge." The first laugh I heard from Shelby when I walked up the stairs happened to also be the last laugh. It was almost like the baby knew "Alright, everyone is here now." The hour and a half in the bathtub proved to be terrible and yet efficient, and also genuinely beautiful. Labor is like war, this battle a mother (and father and "support team") wage for the prize of delivery itself; to win skin-to-skin and eye contact; to obtain a person in your arms and announce "Welcome! You are so loved!" I'm not sure who the enemy is, but the battle is real and vicious.
Shelby's "breaks" in-between contractions were short and honestly still exhausting. She would close her eyes and take a few deep breaths and then, a new wave of movement and pain would surround her. She fought hard. They all did.
In the final few minutes of the labor, Shelby fumbled out a weary "I can't. I can't do this. She's not coming and I can't do this." Brian held her hand tighter. "Yes you can. You are. This is incredible. You're doing it. She's coming, baby. You can do it. It's almost over."
With new resolve, Shelby decided she was done. She had been in consistent labor for over 24 hours, active labor for the last four, and transition for over an hour now. It was time. Little Girl, Mama said "Come!"
In as much time as it would take for me to walk to their mailbox and back, the family changed. Esme Rose was in their arms, with her pudgy, formed arms, dark soft hair, and immediately kissable cheeks.
Their joy was full. In the calming quiet of night, they celebrated like a town greeting the victorious soldiers! Tears, hugs, emotional feasting!
To quote the profound Ash Parsons:
"The moments of pain and the moments of joy are not as far apart as we may think."Honestly, pain and joy seem to be two hands that are best when held. One just isn't quite the same without the other. Pain and Joy tell a story, a story we all know chapters of. Some understand the story, and others have only heard the story. Pain is rescued by the promise of Joy, and Joy is sweetened by the demands of Pain. Pain and Joy tell the story of Esme Rose.
Happy First Day of Life, young lady. You'll always know it, but someday when you look at these images, try to let the love of your family hug you even closer. Your mama is a determined, smart lover. Your dad is kind and good. Your sisters are doting, bright and quick. Your grandmother is loyal and lovely. And together they worked for you, together they cried and piled onto a bed to fight over who you looked at first. They studied every little wrinkle and roll. All eyes and hearts were on you, amazed to just be in your presence. And I think you'll be pleased to realize this love and devotion isn't rare; it's weirdly typical of your entire life.