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An Envelope Containing the World.

By: Jen Shoop

My water broke 3 a.m. the morning I was scheduled to go in for a c-section to deliver my breech baby. I had hardly slept from nerves, and I was half-grateful for the unanticipated expedition of the procedure. My mother had flown in from D.C. the night prior and was sleeping down the hall, and I woke her in a faltering whisper: “Mom…? My water broke –”

“Be right down!” she chirped, as though she’d been awake, waiting for the news.

I stood in the half-lit kitchen, a silhouette of anxiety and excitement. I wore a thick pink knit sweater that itched, or maybe it was my stretched belly that itched, or maybe I was just wholly uncomfortable as I waited on pins and needles for the unknown. I remember winding my fingers through the wrought iron design of the stools at our island, aware but unwilling to correct the juvenile nervousness of my idle hands.

My mother stood with me, and we waited, listening to Mr. Magpie moving around upstairs. She offered small chatter that I summarily rejected, but she persisted in her soliloquy. I knew this was for my own comfort and distraction, and I appreciated it. Eventually, though, even she pointed her face up the stairwell —

“Landon? We’re ready –“

A bit more movement upstairs —

“Coming in a minute –“

A minute felt like an hour; what was he doing? I felt the inward cinch of a contraction and steadied myself.

I heard him move around again, then rush into the office overhead. Another contraction rose and collapsed. I began to imagine I might deliver this baby in the car, then quickly reminded myself I’d only barely started to feel the contractions and the hospital was ten minutes by car. Still — where was he?

He appeared, then, on the stairs, sprinting. His face was drawn. “What were you doing?” I wanted to ask, frustrated. Didn’t he know I was in agony? But something about his speed descending the stairs and the long look on his face let me know he knew, and had been tending to something, and so I instead followed him through the silent iciness of a Chicago March midnight, climbed into our car, and then wordlessly felt tears fill my eyes and stream down my cheeks.

In the hospital, there were forms, and gurneys, and monitors, and huddles of nurses, and a gown to put on, and the repetition of known allergies and birth dates, and I moved through each checkpoint in silent terror. My mother continued to converse happily, volubly, and it was only when she stroked my hand with her thumb in the midst of a sprightly chat with the nurse that I knew she knew how panicked I was. Mr. Magpie was at my side and I could barely make eye contact with him. When I did, it was as though the entirety of our lives passed, wordlessly, between us. Intense would be an understatement. It felt as though the sum of my every experience and aspiration and inheritance had come to a head at Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, and I was at the very crux, with Mr. Magpie standing just beside me.

I have written elsewhere about my daughter’s birth, about how scared and alone I felt, about how I rested in the cool breakers of relief afterwards, yet found myself straining to feel something else, some other version of motherliness I’d read about or dreamed about or otherwise absorbed. It would take years — in fact, the birth of a second child, also delivered via c-section — to come to terms with it all, but one element in this narrative has remained the exact same as I have revisited it —

I was not alone. I was never alone. On each remembrance of the day my daughter was born, I think about how full that room, in fact, was — and not only from the nimble nurses, anesthesiologists, and doctors moving around me in rehearsed know-how. There was God in that room, and there was my husband, too. And my mother, just outside the door, her fingers moving with purpose over her rosary beads.

A few hours after I’d delivered my daughter, and I’d been moved to my own hospital room, Mr. Magpie handed me a slim envelope. I could barely muscle my way through the first few words of the letter it contained. I was awash with hormones, and nerves, and narcotics (!), and I could only clutch his hand and feel, inwardly, the tug of regret over the fact that when I had been stamping my foot waiting for him to descend that morning, he had been hastily finishing a love letter to me.

“I had to say it -” I nodded.

My daughter’s birth was anointed in the kind of love that selflessly waits. Love that does not expect a response or a return. It sits with you in the half-lit kitchen, unflustered by your silence, and carries on conversation with the nurses because you cannot speak for yourself. It wakes at 3 a.m. and writes you a love letter you may never read. It holds you in the palm of Its hand in moments of divine grace. It sprints down the stairs and strokes your arm in the O.R. and hands you an envelope containing the world.

Writing this post has brought me to tears and back. I sit here thinking that maybe it is a good thing to re-write the stories that hurt, not so much to erase the jagged contours but to re-contextualize them with the benefit of time and the various therapies life affords as we age. Here, then, a renewal, or reclamation: the story of my daughter’s birth, lustrated by the always-there love-that-waits.

Post-Scripts.

+Aren’t we lucky to be children?

+Things I have learned from my mother.

+Mothers and daughters.

+I remain hopelessly in love with my husband.

+To him:

“There is something about growing old with you

That continues to return me to my teenage years,

As if every trip around the sun is also a reclamation of things past,

Every rotation a winnowing inward,

Closer to you and me as we were at eighteen.

The older we get, the less we care

About anything but each other.”

Shopping Break.

+I just bought myself this $30 ice blue sweater.

+LOVE these affordable scalloped jute rugs!

+These are the absolute best kitchen towels. Highly absorbent! We go through a few a day and keep them in a wire bin under the sink to be cleaned every few days!

+These hi-rise wool trousers are fabulous, especially in ivory! Shiv Roy vibes. And under $150.

+OO these woven chairs!

+Every gal should have a little notebook like this at her bedside for midnight inspirations.

+I have volumes of these notebooks containing doodles, notes, daydreams.

+Sweet little heart cardi for a little one. (More heart finds for children here.)

+Born on Fifth just launched a fun collection at Dillard’s! I love this dress, these platforms, and this swimsuit for a little.

+Fresh sneakers for spring. Also love these!

+I lived in button downs like this while nursing!

+This pretty tablecloth reminds me of D. Porthault, but about 1/3 the price!

+Beach caftans worth a look: this striped TB and this bold SZ Blockprints.

+This $128 dress reminds me of something by Cara Cara or Alemais.

+You know I love a stripe and I love a shirtdress, too.

+More great stripes here.

+I wear this raglan fleece all the time — now available in some fun new colors!

+Fitness shorts for little ladies.

+Your little birthday girl deserves a crown!

+OK, these platforms are super fun.

+A great everyday dress for a little love (under $30).

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10 thoughts on “An Envelope Containing the World.

  1. You had me crying too! I really appreciate the concept of rewriting the narrative through a different lens – and making peace.

  2. Jen, how beautiful–This year I have committed to an intense re-dedication to faith, and while on this path I’ve been working to develop a practice of noticing grace around me each day. Part of what makes this journey so meaningful is hearing of others’ encounters with God’s selfless and boundless love. Thank you for sharing–this made my day.

    1. Thank you so much, Hayden, both for the compliment and also for sharing this part of your life with us! What a wonderful intention for the year.

      xx

  3. This is my favorite piece you’ve written. It is just beautiful. Thank you for sharing the value of re-writing a story from a point of new understanding – I will carry that thought with me.

    1. I’m with Lisa — this is one of my favorite essays of yours, Jen! The love and devotion of your mother and husband are just so palpable in your words.

      And ditto on re-writing a story from a new perspective — it made me think of how I can reframe my labor and delivery experience (which to this day I feel somewhat traumatized by).

      Meanwhile I’ll keep nagging you about publishing a book of your essays 😉 Please, pretty please…?

      1. Thank you so, so much. I am so flattered by the nudge. I would love to publish something. Any publishers interested?! 🙂

        xx

  4. “the kind of love that selflessly waits” – oh how I love that. I could feel the love from your mother and Mr. Magpie for you absolutely jumping from the page.

    Usually, I find the Corinthian verses on love to be trite – hearing them so many times can have that effect – but I could not help but think how perfectly they fit here: [love] is not quick-tempered; it endures all things.

    1. I so agree with you on the applicability of that quote (and also the sense that that particular verse is so ubiquitous as to be trite/dull). It does endure all things!

      Thanks for the lovely note.

      xx

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