One of the dearest people in my life had a baby girl. Jennifer Herther gave birth to Leona Louise Herther, affectionately dubbed Lulu, last week Tuesday. I met Lulu on Thursday, immediately fell in love with the kid, and sat wide-eyed at Jen for the valiant feat she accomplished.
I suppose that things like this happen every day. People have babies all the time. But this one was somehow more real to me than all the others.
You see, I knew Jen as a Dennison. Jennifer Dennison. I knew her as my kindred spirit roommate in Pilsen, the older sister I never had. My running buddy, my fellow social-justice-activist, my wardrobe sharer, and my froyo sidekick. When we lived together I would pick Jen's brain in all sorts of things, from theology to dating advice to health care to please-can-you-help-me-understand-what-an-HMO-is-and-call-up-your-doctor-friends-for-advice-thanks. I still like to pick her brain on her latest nutritional advice and home-buying perspectives and maybe one day she'll be dishing on all the ways to raise kids organically. She's the one that knocked a few ounces of sense into me when I was dating the wrong guy(s) and yet never judged me or looked down on me in the process.
Jen represents a big part of my life: those two all-important years spent in Chicago. Living in the city shaped who I am in so many ways. They were my first years paying the rent. My Teach for America years. My oops-I've-gone-on-seven-first-dates-and-they-all-flopped-years. Jen was there for it all: the good, the bad, and the hilarious (because when you come home from a long day of teaching in CPS all you can do is laugh). Jen is the friend who met me and showed me that I was good enough, flaws and all. What more can you ask for, than someone who finds out about your real, messy self, and then happily accepts you anyway?
So all of that, and much more, is who Jen is to me. I see myself in her. I look up to her. And for the first time, someone who was so present in the life of adulthood Anna has taken this step into motherhood. It was an overwhelming feeling to meet Jen's kid for the first time. (I cried immediately. Obvi.)
It's a weird thing, to be a girl in your twenties. First they ask you who you're dating or why you're not dating. Then they ask you when you'll be married. Either it's not moving fast enough, or (in my case) you're getting engaged too soon. Then they ask you if baby fever has set in and when that deadline is pending. To be honest, I have never felt "baby fever." I have felt immediate love for my niece and nephew, total heartbreak at stories of loss, and pure joy for all of the other babies in the lives of my friends and family. I don't know if so-called baby fever will ever hit me (I don't think you have to be ill to choose to have a family one day!) and that's okay. I'm thankful for the timeline God's set before me, and for now I am enjoying it so much that I don't mind seeing other people at different points on theirs.
So no, seeing Lulu for the first time wasn't a pang in my heart for my own. I felt something different instead. As Jen detailed for me the story of Lulu's birthday (with hilarious interjections from her husband Andrew, as per usual) I just sat there in awe. She approached her delivery day with such grace, so much composure, and incredible poise. The best thing about the story was that it wasn't by any means a perfect or easy experience for her. As I sat and listened to her graciously explain all the medical mumbo jumbo to my ignorant self ("Wait, what does five centimeters mean? Is that bad? Oh wait, that's good! Okay, keep going!"), I felt a new respect for this friend of mine. She laughed her way through explaining the chaos and out-of-body experience of bringing a baby into this world. I sat in total and complete awe at what she's been through, at how she fiercely loves her family, and at how God so perfectly chose her to be Leona Louise's mom. Like so many other times, her experiences reminded me that if she can do hard things, so can I. She inspires me to be brave, to embrace everything meant for me in this scary and beautiful world.
My kindred free spirit is a mom. And I couldn't imagine anything better.