Percival Robert

Percival Robert Dunphey
“One who pierces the valley; Bright fame”
10/23/20, 11:53pm
8lbs 10oz, 21″

What a difference a day makes! I’m always amazed by how true that sentiment is when it comes to new babies. One day, going about my day as usual; the next, our family and lives forever changed by the arrival of a brand new person.


Already we’ve passed two weeks together, he and I. Rarely apart, I watch his little face change almost before my eyes. His eyes are the eyes of an old soul, and I gaze into them, wondering who he is, who he will be. I swaddle his little body and let the sweet weight of him rest on my chest, sink into my soul. At night, he is the perfectly sized bundle to nestle in my arms, and I drift to sleep taking in the scent of his newborn head.


And before the rush of life sweeps us up in its current, and Percival is folded into the rhythms of our lively routine, I want to record the happening of his birth.


There was the hunch that maybe this baby was a boy. In fact, Ryan was very sure. Part of me wondered if maybe that would mean a more punctual arrival, since my first two babies were born on time. But 40 weeks came and went, and there was no sign of imminent arrival. Instead, I began the now-familiar routine of waiting but not waiting, resting but staying busy, and maintaining readiness while somehow not worrying about it too much. My times are in His hands, and so are the days of this baby’s life. Worry, anxiety, and impatience don’t need to be part of our lives, and perfect peace is offered to those whose minds are fixed on our Good Father.

Somewhere along the way I began sleeping very poorly, often interrupted by random contractions, but nothing that seemed “real”. Thursday afternoon and evening, October 22nd, I felt more antsy than usual, as well as achy and uncomfortable — all signs that a baby was getting ready to arrive, but, well, we already knew that! Ryan was out at a meeting that night, and when he came home, I let him know I’d been having regular contractions that felt more legitimate. After a couple hours, I drifted to sleep, only to be woken throughout the night by more but unchanging contractions. I woke up without any progress to report, but feeling like a caged animal. Ryan got the older kids to their Friday program, and the little girls and I went into town with him for bagels and a walk. It was a 75*, sunny, perfect October day, and I was so thankful to not be cooped up on a rainy day! I walked and climbed stairs and Ryan took bumpy back roads home, but still I had nothing too much to report beyond, “I just feel like this is it.” Kids came home, Ryan went to work, we rested, they went out to play… still nothing beyond the same random contractions and a lot of angst. By late afternoon, I texted Ryan to simply say, I don’t know how to process this nothing-ness that feels like something, and don’t know what to do. He had my midwife call me, and she encouraged me to just “erase my mental blackboard,” get dinner and rest and stop even thinking about what to do or not do — because babies will come when they’re ready. No rocket science, but at that point in the day, I needed to be reminded of simple truths.

So, I went to the couch, got an afghan, and turned on a brainless house flipping show. I told Ryan there were no dinner plans, so he brought Thai home and fed the kids while I continued to just rest. Food was the last thing of interest to me! I eventually started to take note of the regularity of the contractions, which were settling into a pattern. Ryan and I went outside to walk around the yard while the kids cleaned up. The dusk was settling in, geese were flying overhead in their graceful ribbons, Enid and Cecily played around us, and we walked and talked and just stood through continuing contractions. It was peaceful and beautiful, and grateful calm sank into my soul.

There was the obvious progress of intensity, and Ryan stayed in touch with Sunday and “The Birth Crew,” and eventually he felt confident about telling them this was really it. When I said, “I don’t want you to call them all because I just really don’t want to do this right now,” he decided it was real.

And so, slowly, the house became focused around the coming event. Sheets changed, candles lit, little girls pj’d, people gathering, tea brewed, and me just floating through it all, half-aware, mostly just zoning into labor. There was laughter and conversation, and between contractions, I remember offering water to people, giving some direction, and joining in the laughter. I walked and walked, not feeling any desire to be still. Eventually it became intense enough that I had to stand by the bed, leaning into the mattress for support, and then the pressure became so much that I needed people pushing on each hip through the contractions. Sunday brought a birthing stool, and I hesitantly decided to try it — and loved it! There I sat for… who knows how long! I remember being in the dining room eating a buttered bagel around 6:30, and next thing I knew I heard my mother saying it was 9:30. How can three hours just disappear? Only in labor!

Being on the birthing stool had a rather curious effect on my contractions. Of course, I knew they were very effective in that position, but they also felt less sharp and undoing than what I am accustomed to. With counter-pressure on my hips, I was (please read this next word in context! Ha!) easily able to relax through each one as I focused deeply on what was happening. And I also had the most interesting experience a few times: as the pressure increased and I knew the baby was progressing, I had the deepest waves of gratefulness at being a part of such a miracle, and rather than just yielding to the process of birth, I felt such meaningful moments of surrender to the Lord. “Be glorified in me,” my heart cried out, and suddenly, it wasn’t just birth, but worship. And thankfulness for His incredible nearness to me. We were doing this together, He and I. What a privilege.

Eventually, I decided I needed to get on the bed. (Funny how in hindsight the progression of labor is obvious, but in the moment, it’s all just instincts!) On my knees, with a pile of pillows to lean on, and oh my, this was it. That baby was moving down and the feeling was so intense. The quiet encouragement of sisters and friends grew amplified as it was obvious that I needed to stay engaged and somehow relaxed. And then suddenly I couldn’t kneel like that anymore — I needed to be on my side to rest. (Or to push out a baby. Same thing?!) Without any mental initiation, my body was suddenly bearing down, and the scramble to prepare was on. My water broke, and there suddenly were the long pauses between urges. I remember just thinking, I can’t believe we’re already here. Okay. Let’s do this. A few pushes, and suddenly he was crowning. Another long pause, and I was ready to push — and suddenly, a baby! Oh, best feeling in the world!!! To collapse on a pillow, the marathon of labor over, a baby born! Boy, girl, in that moment I don’t even care. Baby on my chest, being rubbed to a nice pink, their cry greeted by celebrations and exclamations over their health, and me just crying in relief and thankfulness. And then someone called out, “It’s a boy!,” and the room erupted in cheers. I opened my eyes to see my two oldest daughters, weeping with emotion over the arrival of a new life. Two older brothers beamed, thrilled to welcome another boy into our clan. The flurry of movement all around me was a happy blur as I just savored the thoughts: It’s over. I’m done. He’s here.

By 1:30am, friends and sisters were gone, and my parents slipped away, too, after sharing in a prayer of thanksgiving for this miracle we all witnessed and partook of. Ryan tucked little girls into bed — because, yes, the whole family was awake and waiting for Percival’s arrival! Who could really sleep with so much excitement in the air? Two happy sons finally tore themselves away at 2am, and all was quiet. Just me and this new wonder, a son, a person to learn and treasure and love.

In the two weeks that have passed, my older children have blessed me beyond what I can say with their cheerful willingness to keep things running, caring for one another and for me. Countless loads of laundry, hours of managing a spitfire of a toddler, school and chores, meals, refilling my water endlessly, and all without a trace of complaint. I spent several days in bed, the longest respite I’ve ever taken after a baby’s birth, and all because they are so wonderful. Many times I was visited by a sibling, eager to check on me and hoping to sneak in a snuggle with the new baby they’re all so in love with. Sitting on the bed together, gazing at Percival’s sweet sleeping face, talking quietly — these are all memories I’m tucking away. So many treasured moments, so much grace, so much peace — and I have done this enough times to know those things are gifts to be noted and enjoyed!

And of course, two weeks of Percival. Two weeks of timeless days, waking with him, hoping to sleep with him whenever I can, bundling him tight in swaddles, taking too many pictures, letting the kids hold him and the whole time just wanting to take him back. The first time I let him sleep alone for two hours, and I busied myself with dinner prep and tidying and such, I told Ryan I deserved a prize: I didn’t even cry. Because yes, I cry every time I’m separated from a new baby.

These newborn days find us mamas to be soft, sensitive, tender, raw in so many ways. There are mountain tops and valleys — and both of those places can be prompted by the most ridiculous and small things. Toe-curling pain of a babe learning a good latch, heavenly bliss of soft cheek and delicate fingers to kiss. The wrong pants going through the dryer and the toddler testing every command, the soul-satisfaction of all of our babes gathered for a family movie night. Seven times later, a decade and a half of perspective under my belt, I take it all a bit slower and lean hard into grace.

These are but a few of my thoughts from the past two weeks. Mostly, my thoughts have been of how thankful I am for a strong and God-fearing husband, for children who have chosen honor and servanthood, for a healthy beautiful baby, and for the faithful nearness of God.

Enid Catherine is born

It’s Wednesday, May 30. The sun is pouring, gloriously golden and warm. Dew glistens on the fresh green of nearly-June that is lush, verdant, nearly overwhelming in its vibrancy. Birdsong fills the morning air, air heavy with the fragrance of flowers and cut lawns.

Just like the dawning of last Wednesday, I think, as I wake next to the smallest and sweetest little bundle for the 7th morning in a row.

A week ago, I had woken before 1am to a strong contraction, followed by waves of nausea, followed by feelings of just weird. And in my middle of the night stupor, I realized my water had broken. “Is this it?” Ryan called from the bedroom as I wandered back and forth to bathroom. It wasn’t what I’ve come to expect from the onset of labor, but it was certainly something. Contractions began to come with a bit of rhythm. Ryan called the midwife. Not knowing what to expect, and knowing the only other labor that began with water breaking had gone very swiftly, I quickly switched into laboring gear. Up and about and laundry and tea and yup, here they come in earnest: time to move this baby.

I was 13 days overdue. I had been doing my exercises to get the baby in position, walking daily, and Ryan and I had even gone for a dirt road drive that evening. We knew the baby had to come sometime, and my midwife, Sunday, was expressing absolutely no concern about timing — and so I did my best to follow her lead and just patiently persevere through the increasing tiredness and uncomfortable nature of late pregnancy.

And now, in the middle of the night (I’ve come to expect no less!), it was time.

Around 4am, I decided to lay down for a bit. Steady contractions hadn’t intensified too much and I needed rest.

Two hours alter, I woke to the most perfect morning one could ask for. A day for a baby. With my water breaking, I knew this would happen soon, one way or another. I was feeling amazingly rested and ready to give myself completely to this process.

Friends and sisters quickly swooped in to take the girls and created so much space for me to focus and relax into what ended up being a truly peaceful and beautiful day. Ryan and the boys kept me company on several walks, the boys especially surprising me with their attentiveness and gentle support — a pause in conversation when they heard my breathing change, a hand slipped into mine, a soft touch on my back. Who knew little boys could do such a good job helping a mama in labor?

And so I walked and rested and walked some more. As long as I was moving, contractions came steady and strong, but every time I rested, they would pause to almost nothing. I was a bit confused about how I could get things really and truly moving along, but also was confident that progress was happening. And even as I settled into what I suspected would be a long haul, I felt both energized and calmed by the incredibly beautiful day all around me. On one walk, as breeze whispered through tall maple leaves and lilac scent enveloped us, Ryan said, “I’ve never been more of a fan of home birth than I am right now.” A country road to walk versus a long corridor — much more relaxing!

The midwife had left for her scheduled appointments at 7am, and I’d been checking in with her throughout the day, though I never had anything new to report. She recommended an exercise ball so I could keep moving without actually walking ALL DAY LONG. So around 3pm I set my laptop on my bed, played an episode of Blue Bloods, and sat on that ball.

Sometime before 4pm, as I was nearing the end of the episode of Blue Bloods, the contractions changed in intensity. Probably you know what I mean: there are contractions you have to breathe and relax through, and then there are the ones that move deep into your pelvis and lower back and make you start to feel a little frantic. There’s suddenly the thought: I’ve gotta get out of here. Make this stop. And that’s what happened. Two of those waves, with me suddenly having to use complete focus to relax and not run away (I’m not sure what that would look like, but that’s the overwhelming desire I had!), and I texted Ryan, who was in the living room. “Can you come be with me?”

He said he instantly knew.

I’d talked with Sunday 15 minutes before and told her there was no change; she had plenty of time for dinner with her family, etc. Ryan texted her back and said scratch that; “I know the sounds of intense labor and this is it.”

I told Ryan I was going to take one more nap. I got on the bed and almost panicked as another solid contraction rolled through me. Never mind the nap. I went to use the bathroom and (no surprise) ended up there for awhile, waiting for the next contraction to end only to have them keep coming. And coming, and coming. My mom arrived. I vaguely remember Ryan saying, “Do you two have the same color nail polish on your toes?” and my mom laughing because somehow we always end up matching. Somehow I made it back to my bed. Ryan asked me if he should tell everyone else to come. Or maybe that was earlier? Time and events began to swim. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t want to ask people to come and have them be here for hours. (Ignore the logic of a woman in transition, by the way.) Sunday and Erica, her assistant, were suddenly here. I barely opened my eyes long enough to see them. Erica apologized for getting in my space to check the baby’s heartbeat and I remember saying, “I don’t care. I just don’t care.” I tried to sit up for her but had to lay down but suddenly couldn’t get my legs to move without cramping and I buried my face in the pillow and needed someone to push on my lower back lest I totally lose it.

Then Liz was here, too, pushing on my back, and my mom’s voice that I locked onto, and Ryan rubbing my shoulders and I don’t even know who else. The contractions wouldn’t stop, and I was having an ongoing conversation in my mind: I’m freaking out. This has to stop. Everyone go away and make this stop. –no, this is it. Just relax. Let it do it’s work. That awful pressure is a baby.

And so it went. Me overcome with the pressing sensations on my spine and within, purposing to interpret those things not as pain, but as the progress and position of a baby. Wave after wave, and I just needed a break…

And suddenly a contraction that felt like bearing down. I ignored it and charged myself to just chill out and relax. Then another. Maybe even another? before I finally couldn’t talk myself out of it. “I need to push!” I’m sure I bellowed it. I’m sure I sounded as primal and earthy as ever a woman does. A mad scramble. Ryan said the women all looked at each other with their own waves of panic, suddenly in my shoes, knowing exactly what was happening in my body.

And then — nothing. Peace. That break I had been so needing.

How long? It seemed forever. Long enough for this totally rational thought: Was this not it? Am I really not actually that far into labor?

Then without warning, another incredible wave of energy rolled through my body, and another urge to push. “I don’t remember how to do this!” It’s the feeling of panic that always comes over me at this point, and my mom answered, yes you do. Relax. Let it just happen.

I say urge, but really, more like another force took over. I moved out of the way and let this powerful instinct take over. I could feel the pressure, the pushing, knew things were happening — but oh my, the total surprise when suddenly I felt a head crowning. The exclamations in the room, the encouragement to breathe, go slow, oh my! My mind kicked into gear. This was really happening. Okay. Small breaths. It felt like one long, slow motion event, and then — a baby! MY BABY! Somewhere in the laughter and exultation someone said, it’s a girl, yes? Yes, a girl! And Ryan was leaning over and laughing and I was trying to just catch up with what in the world just happened. Somehow the slow and relatively uneventful day had ended in a whirlwind of labor that had my head spinning. So fast. So uncomplicated. A healthy, crying baby and me, feeling tired but good.

Sisters and friends and all of my children but Cecily were there, laughing and talking all at once, celebrating with me and marveling at the miracle. I just held that little bundle, another sweet daughter, and smiled at the hubbub and joy and remember thinking how thankful and blessed I was to be in an environment where I simply trusted everyone there to be taking good, thoughtful care of my baby and me while I sank into that amazing post-delivery haze. Another whirlwind hour or so, and things were tidied up, the midwife packed up and gone to the next baby, and quiet beginning to reign. Dinner served to me in bed, children pj’d and tucked into bed after many kisses and hugs and turns with the new sister, and the sound of crickets through open windows.

Does a day get more perfect? I’m not sure it does.


Enid Catherine
“life, spirit*; pure”

Her name was chosen from a very short list. It seems to work like this: I make a list. It gets whittled down and edited as we approach 40 weeks. Finally we’re left with just a few names, all of which I’m in favor of. The baby appears, and Ryan decides without much discussion which of those names is “it”, and somehow that’s just so fun to me. I am always curious to know which one has quietly been winning him over.

So, Enid she is. Just because I love how antique and Welsh and fair-maiden it sounds. Interestingly, when Ryan looked up the meaning of Enid, he found a different translation than what I’d seen: “pure.” Fiona also means pure. We just keep coming back to those names, I guess. Not such a bad thing to declare prophetically over our strong and courageous daughters.

Catherine because my paternal grandmother, Nana, was Catherine Elizabeth, and I’ve always wanted to name someone for her. She was one of the dearest people in my life, and although she’s been gone more than 20 years, my heart is chock full of memories of her kind brown eyes and laughter and shuffling slippers and notepad next to sweating glass wrapped in paper napkin and Jay Leno with a nebulizer and hands on both sides of my face, firmly pulling me to her generous kisses.

And so Enid Catherine arrived into a destiny, from a heritage, uniquely formed for her place in history. This blows me away.


And a week has passed with many more peaceful, beautiful days. I can’t begin to express my thankfulness at how good I have felt, and what a gentle delivery it was. Even so, these days have found me sitting in my bed for many hours, resting, sleeping, recovering. If not there, an armchair in the kitchen. Up and about here and there a bit more each day, but lots of rest — and this all in an orderly, peaceful environment as Ryan and our children (especially the boys) care for everything. Recovering from baby #6, with older kids pulling weight so graciously, is very very very different from baby #3 or #4! What blessing all around.


We adore her. We marvel at her little ears and fingers and feet that still want to collapse upward toward her legs. Her tiny face with pointed chin. Scrawny newborn legs. Tiny toes. Perfect. Beatrice said that evening, as we all sat on my bed together, “I really wanted it to be a boy, and then I saw her and she is adorable!” Fiona said, “I just love her size! God made her be born at just the right time to be a newborn.” And we all agreed that it’s a little mind-boggling that one day there wasn’t a baby, and then suddenly there was. We were instantly made larger — not just our number, but our hearts. A space instantly carved for a new daughter and sister.

God makes beautiful things. He really does.

settling in, waiting, soaking up sunshine.

That sums up the last few weeks of life, I suppose.

What started to certainly feel like a long 11 (or so) weeks without our usual rhythms has resulted in a beautiful, open kitchen that feels so grown up and real and like me. How amazing it was to see the elements of cabinetry and collected antiques get put into place, exactly resembling the drawings and ideas I’ve been concocting for so long.

I feel above and beyond blessed. I just keep smiling.

The cupboards are arranged (at least, for now!) and I have almost broken the habit of going to the garage for refrigerated items (where the fridge was kept since February!) The wide expanses of windows that we missed so very much are freshly appreciated as we gather around the kitchen table for meals, and enjoy the family room’s views.

And just in time to watch the world magically and suddenly turn to vibrant green right before our eyes!

Such a long winter we had, with no real hints at spring. April cold and gray, windows shut tight and not even a thought for summer clothing switches. But then, suddenly, it all changed. Better late than never, and certainly received with extra thankfulness and enjoyment, spring has arrived. Trees that were only in bud a week ago are unfurling leaves. Lawn is emerald and lush and scattered with the sunniest dandelions. Daffodils went from tentative little shoots to full blown flowers in only a few days. Bird song fills the morning. Cheeks and shoulders are pink at the first suggestion of sunshine, after months and months of sweaters and snowsuits.

We soak it in and pinch ourselves and try to find the sunscreen.

And we also are waiting. 40 weeks and 5 days, waiting. Keeping up the balance of walks and exercise and crossing off to-dos while guarding rest time each day, collapsing into bed each night. I’m feeling so good this pregnancy. I feel pregnant, but good, and I’m so thankful for that. The kids are so excited, and how fun to be living in an atmosphere heavy with expectation.

I’m feeling less prepared for the actual delivery than I have in the past, but learning even there to lean and trust. What ifs can creep in, and certainly life is uncertain in so many ways. But this is true: Strength for today, a favorite lyric from a favorite hymn. He knows the way I take, and He has promised to never leave or forsake.

Courage is the word on my heart this time around — at first, a reminder to myself to take heart and have courage, but as I mulled that over and prayed for a fresh dose, the deep assurance that God will not just give me courage; He will be my courage. I don’t need to keep it together and hold on; I can fall on Him and lean on Him completely, and He won’t let me down.

This morning, a spring rain that began so gently I don’t even know when it came, and now strengthening into a thoroughly soaking downpour. Even this is lovely and calming, as gray settles in around spring greens. We will take this day slowly, quietly. We will know that His name is near, and how that changes everything.

birthday reminiscing

Today we celebrate a whole year of Cecily Anne’s life.

Our celebration may look small — in fact, the small celebration we will have has been scheduled for Thursday, because birthdays are flexible, right? But this morning, sitting quietly watching the morning dawn, this mama’s heart is flooded with waves of memory, melancholy and joyous mingled together. How can it have been a whole year? And can I go back for just a moment to that newborn babe? And how thankful I am for this year, for the chubby, happy girl who has grown right before our eyes. Marveling that the little bundle of pink skin and soft fuzz has become a laughing, singing, peek-a-booing person, an irreplaceable member of our little clan.

Her siblings are ecstatic about her birthday. They love her so, you know. The boys keep saying, A whole year? How can that be? They are already learning how swiftly time flows, how quickly people grow, and how precious life is.

I’m remembering this morning the exhilarating feeling of those newborn moments (the ones after I collapse onto the bed in exhaustion!) Who can describe the joy that floods the room, shared by every person? The tears, the laughter, the cradling, the sense of communion as we share all of those feelings?

And I’m remembering that before that celebration begins, there is this:

Hours and hours. Counted in minutes. Sometimes seconds. Sometimes you can only manage one second at a time.

But you handle the seconds because you’re looking ahead to the end. You stay in that painful moment, doing your job the best you can, because there is a promise to be fulfilled, and your heart is set on it. You are given to bringing it to pass by playing your part.

Today I remember this beautiful moment God gave to me, this birth of Cecily Anne and the part I was chosen to play. And I also remember the call He’s continuing to put on me in the lives of my children. There is a promise to see fulfilled, and there are hours, moments, and sometimes painful seconds to be faithfully endured. Lord grant me grace to stay the course, to play my part, to labor in the painful moments, because there is a promise and an end:

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…”

Cecily Anne


Named almost the moment she was born, a first for Ryan and Danica. “It’s a girl!”, her daddy exclaimed, and almost with the next breath, “Cecily! I knew it was Cecily!”

Little knowings. I just love those God whispers that become resonating shouts when our eyes fully see. That’s who this little girl was to her daddy, and what a special thing for her to know, for him to remember.


She was born in her own time, like both sisters before her. Nine days past her due date — dates which I always laughed and shrugged off, but after Fiona waited until the 11th hour for her arrival, those pesky little due dates suddenly seemed to bear much more weight in my mind. As soon as that due date passed, the clock began to tick. I tried hard not to notice or hear it or give it any mind, but I did. Please don’t be too late, please please! One week overdue, and suddenly I entered that end game — you know, when walking feels awkward and getting out of bed demands an actual strategy and I just couldn’t bear the thought of real clothes. All activity happened in the morning, because afternoon naps were guarded. I seem to only ever birth babies at night, you know, so naps aren’t an option. Last batches of cookies. Last grocery runs. On the 16th, I even put on make up and a dress and did my last stocking purchases, realizing my stash for Ryan was lacking. It was warm, even balmy, that week, so we would walk down to my parent’s, to the library, slowly and awkwardly, but we did it.

“Any contractions?,” my midwife asked every week, and yes. Yes, plenty of those. But nothing real. A few nights, laying in bed, I would be woken by a couple in a row — and there is nothing quite so disappointing as realizing 6 hours later that you’ve been sound asleep and those false alarms completely fizzled out.

I didn’t really want to go into labor. I felt so much less prepared than ever. What if this time it got the better of me? What if I just lost it halfway through and couldn’t do it? I actually don’t like the feeling of a small human exiting my body.

But I was reaching that spot between a rock and a hard place: you know you can’t go on like this, but the alternative isn’t looking so great — but then again, let’s just do this, because you can’t go on like this.

And the whole time trying not to notice that my window of time was slipping away, day after day, with no sign of labor.

I forget that it truly does suddenly overtake you. There is no warning. It happens when it happens. I really forget. Kind of silly!

Friday the 18th: I woke up exhausted, thanks to the worst heartburn of my pregnancy the night before. Fortunately I was able to fight that exhaustion with the breakfast of champions: Christmas cookies and Dutch pastry, still on a tray from the night before when the kids slept under the tree. We’d finished our Christmas read-aloud and nibbled cookies and washed it down with milk. We’d sung Christmas carols with four excited kiddos, then put the girls to bed while the boys relished this special evening by the tree with Mama sitting nearby. That was the night before, and now I had to put a plan together for another day. Plan A was always Have A Baby, but since that didn’t seem to work out, I was left to scramble for a Plan B. Along with usual chores, the plan for Friday included cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning and a game of Sorry altogether after my very short nap. We were all hoping to spend the evening shopping for each other’s Christmas Eve gifts (the kids swap names and buy each other something.) Around 5, we put away the game and I started to get dinner ready, just in case Daddy ended up being available. I wrapped my risen cinnamon rolls for the freezer, and felt the first contraction. It wanted my attention, but I stubbornly paid it no mind. I pulled out bread for pb&j, and the boys groaned. “We ate that for lunch!” I wanted to snap at them in response, and that got my attention. My, aren’t we edgy tonight, I chided myself, and bit my tongue. Something about “an easy dinner so we can meet Dad in town,” and they quickly changed their attitudes. 6:30, we met Ryan and he joined us in the van. “This might need to be an efficient trip, babe. I could be in labor.”

I waddled into the store and managed to keep up with two excited boys. The contractions sure felt legit. By the time we got back in the van, I was already tuning out the world. Ryan asked if this was really it. Ugh. I hate having to make that call! We called Regina, my midwife, and told her we’d be in touch again at 9:30, after I’d gotten home and settled, to let her know if things were continuing to move forward.

And they were. Every six minutes, for about 6 hours! I have never had early labor last so long. After Regina and several friends had arrived, and my vitals were all checked, I laid down on the couch and fell asleep. For nearly two hours! A few times I was slightly roused by a contraction, but when I woke up at 2:30am, I had a sinking feeling.

It was a false alarm.

I felt groggy and grumpy. So I pulled out the mountain of clean laundry and started folding. I’m not sure I contributed much to that chore, because sure enough, as soon as I was up and moving, everything kicked back into action. Oh me of little faith. It wasn’t a false alarm; it was the pause I needed to get the rest and stamina for the rest of the night.

Slow and steady: that’s how it started, and that’s how it progressed. Up until the end, I felt like I was laboring in slow motion. (I even remember making a joke about not ruining my slippers right before I started pushing. I’ve never been able to think or talk much during other labors!) A contraction, then that suspended time in between when you lay your head on the kitchen counter and sleep. Squat. Stretch your lower back. Sit on the couch. Hate the couch. Try the chair. Have to move. Get a glass of water, but pause halfway through the filling to breathe. Resume. Take a sip and then breathe through another. It’s amazing how many hours can slip by when you are living in those seconds and moments. My mom slept in an armchair. Friends checked instagram and laughingly complained that no one was updating at 4am. Ryan slept with the girls for a couple hours. The house was a bubble of calm and timelessness.

I think it was around 5am when I finally was feeling too tired and too uncomfortable to stay in the kitchen or family room. I wanted my bed.

I perched on the edge of the mattress. It was getting real. No one could push too hard on my lower back. I was vaguely aware of the time and knew this was lasting awhile (for me), but I also could tell that it was moving along just fine. There were no hours of stalling, as there had seemed to be with Fiona. There was the steady, aching awareness that this baby was moving. Pressing on bones, pushing them aside. Come on, body, get this baby down!

I was exhausted. I would sit or stand for a few contractions, and then lay down for a couple. My legs just couldn’t hold up. But they needed to, because I wanted this done. Kids woke up and asked to play wii; it was morning. I was waiting for the pressure that would cue pushing, but knew this time, I needed to help. Get up one more time. I sat on the edge of the bed — as far as I could get before the next wave hit (those crazy piggyback contractions with barely a breather that are oh so hard but they get things done.) My water broke. Soon. I stood, or, rather, Ryan held me up. Time to push, at last — and fighting inner waves of panic that this time I wouldn’t know what to do. There was the sudden quiet, intense hustle of assistants manning their positions, birth team in place, eyes on Regina. Except then there’s that grand lull. It seemed to last too long. Is my body going to push this baby out or not??! When the next contraction came, and with it the involuntary first real push, I was flooded with relief. It was going to happen. My body still worked! And efficiently. Only a few of those powerful pushing contractions.

It seemed an eternity of panting before that head was delivered, but Regina talked me through it, flawlessly, again. And seconds later, at 8:01am, born.

“It’s a girl!”

I was so surprised. They laid her on my chest, damp and purple and screaming, her face looking like maybe this had been a long night for her, too! A precious new life, healthy and kept through the wild ride of childbirth. And me, too — exhausted and ravenous, but strong. Stronger than ever. An answer to my prayers, and to Ryan’s, too.

She was 9lb, 8.5oz (beating Beatrice by 1/2 an ounce!), and 21.75″ long, with a nice round head that filled out her Hannas hat from day one. And we thought this baby would be a tiny one!

Her Nana dressed her and swaddled her and laid her in my arms — another sweet-smelling gift from a good heavenly Father. Another wave of love filling my heart. Another chance to take in the scent of brand new baby, laugh at the bubbling joy of older siblings, count tiny toes so perfectly formed, kiss fingers curled around my pinky, sleep all night with a bundle just meant for a mama’s arms. A chance to know a whole new person. Sacred. Miraculous.

Cecily Anne Dunphey: Cecily, a long-loved name, Anne, a family name on both sides. It means “Blind, Full of Grace,” a combination that immediately reminded me of the hymn Ryan sings to the kids whenever he puts them to bed.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
‘Twas blind, but now I see.”

chubby babies, labor pains, and joy: gal 4.19

My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you… Galatians 4.19

Some verses get lodged in your heart, always in the background, being mulled and processed and slowly shaping how you live and see life. This is one of those for me. Mike Tomford read it on a Sunday several years ago, and it’s been lodged ever since.

Today it comes to the forefront.

This makes sense, because May 28th is always a day that makes me think of labor, babies, and life. Twenty-four years ago, I was a 9 year old girl, scrambling downstairs at dawn with my siblings, excitedly tiptoeing into our dining room, peering through doorway past a cluster of my mother’s friends, hoping for a glimpse of the miracle taking place: a baby being born! She came, chubby and sweet, and Mrs. Colbert swaddled her and named her Butterball until a more suitable moniker could be chosen.

She’s the cute brunette, still a little butterball-y!

And so May 28th, labor, and Galatians 4:19 all converge this morning in my heart.


I’ve learned things about childbirth and labor in the last few years. I learned that it’s not easy, watching my strong and courageous mother, a woman I knew could take on the world, meet her match in labor. I learned that it can last for days as I waited for news of my first nephews’ arrival (and cried to Mrs. Kinnen, wanting so badly to take my sister’s place so she could just rest.) I learned that it can go much faster and more intensely than anticipated, when Jameson was born 4 hours and 15 minutes after my water broke, with barely 3 hours of contractions. I learned that it can include complications requiring life-saving measures, as my littlest brother was delivered by emergency c-section, and a niece followed suit several years later. I learned that it requires determination, that it exacts all reserves of courage, that it crashes like brutal waves and leaves you depleted only to find a new depth of strength. I learned that your last labor is not your next labor, and no two are exactly alike.

I learned that no one can promise you or tell you much about how it will go. The only true comfort is this: “There, that contraction is over. You’ll never ever have to do that one again.”

And the greatest joy is that there is a baby.


I learned how to meet childbirth with Holy-Spirit inspired strength from my mother.

And I’m learning what it means to be “again in labor” as I watch my mother (and my father) persevere in seeing Christ formed in me and in my siblings.

All of those things about courage and perseverance and trusting for grace for this moment and not dwelling on how long that last labor was — all of those things, I see them doing still.

I’m learning that the ecstatic moment when you hear, “It’s a girl/boy!” is only the start of a life of laboring.

I’m learning that “I can’t do this anymore!” needs to be swiftly met with those scripture cards I wrote out for labor. He makes me able.

I’m learning to labor alongside. I’m learning that just as I am strengthened by my sisters and friends in a circle around my bed, wetting my sweaty forehead, rubbing my feet, whispering and cheering — so we strengthen one another as we each labor to see others come to maturity in Christ.

I’m learning that personal expectation and desires and any selfish grasping must be done away with. Just as I surrender my body to bring forth a baby, so we lay down our lives — our time, our energy, our money, our everything — to see people find Jesus and His purposes.

I’m learning what incredible joy it is to labor and pray and persevere alongside and then see someone dear be set free, fall in love with Jesus even more, set their hearts completely on Him.

Because this: “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”


“It’s a girl/boy!” isn’t the end.

Neither is their 18th birthday, or high school graduation.

It’s not over until Christ is formed in them. (Yes, that’s a life-long labor we’re talking about.)

This is parenting that all believers are called to — married, single, childless — all.


When the contractions keep coming, and you wonder how much longer, and no one can tell you?

There’s this:

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” –Galatians 6.7-9