I've mentioned a few times in the past couple of months that my best friend and her husband were having a baby. Well, this morning, at 4:30am, their beautiful baby girl entered the world and I was privileged to be there to help.
It was a long, sleepless, emotional and exhausting night and I'm struggling to find the words to explain both what an amazing experience it was and how raw and shaky I feel right now.
My friend was incredible last night, I'm just in awe of her right now. Her husband and I worked together in coaching her through her contractions, soothing her and reassuring her. I feel like we've just run a marathon together and they were both so appreciative and full of love towards me, the entire experience I felt included, valued and part of their family.
I was at her hip, bracing her left leg when she actually gave birth and had a bird's eye view of the baby's head emerging, then her face at the next contraction, then the actual birth. I also cut the cord. It was all very exciting and surreal, and I couldn't contain my emotion, crying as I held my friends hand and described what I was seeing as her daughter entered out world.
However as the buzz down and the birthing suite started to empty of midwives and doctors, I took a step back and let my friend and her husband soak in the wonder of what had just happened. As I watched on, I could feel the wall that I'd built around my grief start to crumble and crack. I knew there was going to be a flood any minutes, so gathered my things and prepared to leave, about an hour after she was born (and as the sun was starting to rise outside the hospital).
My friend kept hugging me and holding my hand, telling me she loved me and couldn't have done it without me, asking if I was ok... how could I possible tell her that seeing her become a mother was both the most beautiful and most difficult thing I could ever imagine.
Of course, I didn't... I quietly said goodbye and slipped out, howling my heart out all the way to the car. I called my own mum on the drive home, sobbing as I told her about my night. Then continued to cry as I pulled in my drive way and dragging myself into my bed.
One of the hardest parts of this experience was not only putting on a brave face for my friend but also tolerating the people who keep telling me what an honour it was to be 'allowed' to be there and be part of it. Of course, I know it's incredibly special to see a human life come in to the world and undoubtedly I feel blessed to have been a part of my friend's experience. However when someone tells me that I'm lucky be allowed in the room they disregard how hard I had to work to be there for my friend. It took more strength that I knew I had, to participate in the birth.
In the early hours of the morning, as I was fighting my own fatigue to stand by her bedside, comforting her, encouraging her, gently telling her to lock her eyes with mine and waving my arm slowly up and down to guide her breathing, I'd had to dig deep.
Over the past weeks and months I had to fight many moments of feeling like it was too much to ask and I couldn't do it - because it would just be too confronting and painful. Yes it was an honour but I was there because my friend and her husband had asked me to be there and I'd fought my deepest fears to oblige them.
I'm glad I did, I don't regret it. My friend had fought her own fears to stand by my side in my own hour of need and I'm glad I could be there for her. But still, it was tough and I'll feel the after effects for a number of days, I'm sure.
Tonight I feel so proud of my friend and smitten with my new niece who has totally stolen my heart. But I also feel a huge void inside me that is yearning to hold a child of my own. This is the burden I carry as a widow. But I'm strong, and I'll be ok.