The day before, a Monday, we had been visiting my brother-in-law in New York City. We had spent Thanksgiving with my parents and had stopped to see him for a couple days on our way through.
We headed back to Richmond that cold evening in the dark and our future seemed just as dim. We had been trying to have a baby for more than five years and I was convinced it was never going to happen. We were hoping and praying to adopt, but our agency's waiting list was at a stand still. And with how terribly painful each day had become at that point - each day I wasn't living out my vocation as a mother - telling me that we'd maybe be picked to parent a baby in a year or two might as well have been forever.
Little did we know how drastically our lives would change course early that next morning.
Hours after we returned home (and had eaten take-out Chinese food in which my fortune read "It's always darkest before the dawn"), in the early morning hours of December 1, 2009, a little baby girl was delivered while we slept, many miles away at a hospital in Louisiana. She was a surprise at only 30 weeks into her birthmother's pregnancy and her arrival - which took, by the account in her hospital paperwork, just a few minutes - was as quick as she was small. She weighed in at just three pounds, two ounces.
She would spend the next four weeks, exactly, in the NICU, where, I can imagine, she must have surpassed all expectations. She was released six weeks before her due date (weighing more than her birth weight) and she was breathing and eating and nestling her way into the hearts of the nurses right from the start.
I know this because I have exchanged emails with an angel of a nurse. I won't give her name, but I will say it's a three-letter word that I hoped and prayed for, and what my daughter finally truly brought me. I love her name.
That nurse with the most perfect name - who was hoping and praying to be blessed with a baby herself - saw something in that tiny baby who didn't have anyone keeping vigil at her bedside, what I'm sure was in stark contrast to all other NICU babies that Christmas season. She looked forward to coming to work every day to nurse that sweet baby back to health, even singing to her and giving her a name that only she called her.
If I had to pick someone to take my place before I could be there, I'd want it to be someone who knew that longing that only we know. Someone who had so much love to give. I don't think it was a coincidence.
That December I begged God, like I always did, to grow our family. But this time I sat and prayed every single day in a rocking chair in our office - with its bright red walls defiantly saying "I am not a nursery" - precisely because it would be our nursery. I wanted to maintain some ounce of hope. I wanted to pray my baby into existence in the room that he or she would sleep in.
I had no idea she was already in existence. My prayers had already been answered, I was already a mother, and I believe my constant prayers that Advent were ushered right to her. I couldn't be at her bedside, but the spot where I rocked and prayed every day would eventually become her bedside. I don't believe that was a coincidence either.
We met her when she was five weeks old, weighing just under five pounds. She was a miracle, not only because she was completely and totally healthy despite being born ten weeks early, but because she had somehow, against all odds, found her way to us, a couple in Virginia who had lost almost all hope.
That Tuesday, two years ago today, seemed uneventful to us. As we went about our day, we had no idea that our daughter, the person who would change us forever, was breathing her first breaths.
It turns out that day was the farthest thing from uneventful. It was a life-altering, earth-shattering day, despite what we saw with our own eyes.
It was our sweet Clara Therese's birthday.
It was the day I became a mother, even though I had absolutely no idea. God was working a miracle as I sat and cried to Him. He was bringing into existence a special soul and Our Lady was nursing her to health, with the help of a dear NICU nurse who loved her in my place.
That Advent we watched and waited for Our Lord, and for a family, like we had done five Advents before. And despite the darkness that had set in, out Christmas was right around the corner.
Words can not express how much we love you, Clara, and how much joy you have brought to our lives. Happy two years, baby girl.