Riley Anne

by - 1:51 PM

That are times when I feel completely comfortable in my writing. Days when I think I am validated in my ability to take words and manipulate them into images. Moments when I think to myself, I might actually be okay at this writing thing.

Today is not one of those days.

There is no way to replicate with words the intensely magical, spiritual, inexpressable and totally emotional experience of a child coming into this world. The little girl who was born in the early hours of Thursday morning is only a day old, but I know that forever will go by and I will still not have the words to accurately express to her how very momentous her birth was and how changed our lives are because of it.

I've read amazing birth stories. I've read Kelle Hampton and accordingly, even before I witnessed a life beginning, I felt ill-equipped to describe it. But, I was there and I saw her take her first breath and I saw the way her parents looked at her and I got goosebumps when she hushed her crying immediately when she heard her Mama's voice -- and I know that even if I slaughter this thing horrifically, because it cannot compare to the magic that happened on August 8, 2013,  if I write this story, this majestic birth story, someday she will grow up and maybe she'll read this and she'll know how intensely loved she was from the moment she joined our family.

And so, this is Riley's birth story.


Deanna's pregnancy was storybook. She carries well and even through exhaustion and an expanding body shape, she was the kind of beautiful that makes normal, non-pregnant women want to punch her in the face. She looked just incredible as the weeks progressed and even though she was becoming uncomfortable as the summer rolled in, she was able to walk for four hours less than a week before delivery.
See? She carries well.

By July, we were counting on our fingers, the weeks left to wait. By mid-summer, we were taking guesses. By August, we were begging the Lord to step in. "Today's the day," I said, every morning when I'd call her on my into work. "I hope," was her routine response.
Day after day, it wasn't the day. Day after day, I'd turn the sound up loud on my phone before I fell asleep. Maybe tonight's the night.

On Wednesday evening - finally - the call came. I was in my kitchen and the phone ringing  reverberated off every wall in my house. The speed of sound even knew. Today's the day. 
She was calm, collected and relatively nonchalant. "My doctor wants me to come in," she said. And then, "I'm cleaning my house."

Lord Jesus, why did you give my sister all of the lack-of-drama genes and spare none for me?
It's genetic, my Oma is the same and my Opa spent forever calling her a "cool cat,"  but somehow, from someone, I got the DNA that requires me to add fireworks, glitter, and Drama (capital D) to everything from cooking a hot dog to the birth of a child. So, I drove about a hundred miles an hour and thought about how this was a drive I would never forget.

I arrived at the hospital at 11 p.m. loaded with magazines and Monster. My sister was parked in her bed, covers pulled up to her armpits, just as chill as you can imagine. No drama. "I've got a blanket warmer!" she bragged cheerfully. Her husband crouched in front of the machine and grinned. "isn't this cool?"

Speaking of her husband-- that Brad. I like him. He's a perfect complement to my sister. I heard a story that he flipped his shit when Deanna called him with the "it's time" phone call, but by the time I arrived, he was cool. Excited, but low key. It reminded me of the day they got married.

We hunkered down for a while. The nurses encouraged Deanna to get some rest. "You'll need it," they said. So we put on a movie. Which, naturally, we didn't watch. We were too excited, had too much to talk about and were too cognizant of the holy time we were experiencing. If we are very lucky, there will never again be a time in our lives that we will spend without Riley in our world. That will never happen again, and we knew it, so we savored those last moments before the world changed for good.

Deanna and I are very good at entertaining ourselves and that night was no different. We talked like we always do, and laughed like we always do, and we remembered like we always do -- but it was special. I kept thinking, today Deanna will give my first niece a sister. 30 years from now, they might be doing exactly what we're doing now -- enjoying each other's company in a time that could be identified as stressful and because of their relationship, it won't be.

We did that for hours, and maybe because we indulged in so much normalcy, it felt sudden when the nurse arrived and announced, "it's baby time!"
Reintroduce the drama. I secured my camera, maybe did a jumping jack, and started giggling madly. Brad was immediately at Deanna's side and looked at her with more love that you can imagine existing in the entire world, for all of time.

This is the very last photo of my sister before Riley was born. 

It was joyful. It was surprisingly peaceful. It was a God-filled moment.

I have to interject here, before I begin the actual pushing-birth portion. About a half hour before Riley was born, the movie we were watching ended. Dee handed me the remote and told me it was my turn. I flipped through the selection for a moment before stopping and sheepishly turning to my sister -- Do you mind if we watch Harry Potter? I'm reading this book just now. She didn't mind, so I clicked on it and swooned as the familiar music began.

Fast-forward a half hour. Deanna is actively giving birth when in the middle of pushing, she has a revelation, (can you believe this girl, having revelations mid-birth?) and she says to me, "You and Riley will always have this connection." I immediately think she must be referring to my attendance to Riley's arrival, but no -- Dee begins giggling, "your favorite movie/book/fictional character is on while she's being born."

The doctor then tells Dee she can relax, but actually, she can't. We're both laughing too hysterically now. And in that very moment, Riley is born. She was born into laughter and joy.

And there she was.
Happy Birthday, Riley Anne. 

There is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- like seeing a person, who came from nothing but the most intense love in the world, come into this life.

But there is also nothing like seeing a man watch his daughter take her first breath. There is nothing like seeing the way he looks at her, and how he looks at her mother, and seeing his face and knowing that there is no way to measure or comprehend the love he feels in this moment.

And then, when he holds her, you know that he is so complete. He didn't always know it, but there has always been a place in his heart for a little girl named Riley. Today, that spot was filled. You know it and he knows it. He was always meant for her and she was always meant for him.

And that's how love works. You don't know it until suddenly, you do.


I don't know when I realized the significance of a woman's ability to make and give life, but however comprehensive I was of that, my ability to appreciate how vast and incredible that is was blown out of the water with the arrival of the my niece and the only person I've ever watched being born.

And while Dee was having revelations about Harry Potter, I was having revelations about birth. Deanna very pointedly asked  if watching Riley enter the world made me afraid to give birth to my own children. Truthfully, it did the opposite. Excited though I was to be invited in this very private and intimate moment, for months I was nervous that I would be uncomfortable watching my sister in such a fragile state, even as I knew I would be witness to a miracle. But in the moment, I was very comfortable. Birth is very natural because women's bodies are made to give life. It was beyond incredible to see the mastery of God's perfect engineering. And for the record, she was far from being fragile -- this was her powerhouse moment.

You cannot prepare yourself for this kind of love.

Oh Riley, when you grow up, I hope you know how loved you are. Without a doubt, I know that you will understand that you are loved, but my wish for you is that you can always feel how deep that love goes. How anticipated you were, the joy that was felt when you were born and the way the world stood still for the briefest moment when you changed our lives for good.

The world stood still.

Riley Anne (Enhanced) from Jenn ten Haaf on Vimeo.


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