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Prepare the way for the Lord.

– Isaiah 40:3

“Call your husband and tell him you’re having the baby today,” said hospital person in charge of me.

It was April 16 and six weeks too early, but apparently I was about to have a stroke. At least it wasn’t the day before. I don’t want my baby born on Tax Day, I thought deliriously, as if that would relegate him to a lifetime of loving math and becoming an accountant.

Now, I’ve offended accountants and people born on April 15. I’m sorry. I’m sure you’re all lovely, and anyway my other child hates reading and wants me to do math problems with her for fun, so God had the last laugh there.

It’s truly impossible to fully prepare for our children, from when and how they’re born to whether or not they think practicing math facts is an enjoyable way to spend a Friday night. We try to prepare – we make birth plans and open college funds – but we can only do so much before our kids blow our birth plans out our birth canals. (Or in my case C-section because I couldn’t plan that either.)

I remember when I was preparing the way for my son to come into the world. I filled his room with cloth diapers and spent way too much time in our new glider rocker lovingly squeezing the little fuzzy bundles that smelled of Dreft and hopefulness. Once my son made his appearance, those diapers never smelled that good again.

I read books and talked to friends and worked through my perfect birth plan. I toured the hospital and saw the squat bar where I pictured myself bearing down as I pushed my baby out. I was going to be a warrior mama, and my husband would tell tales of my unmedicated bravery and perseverance.

In reality, I had an emergency C-section at 34 weeks when my preeclampsia threatened to kill me and my son. I bravely laid there with my hands tied down on either side not feeling my legs. All the preparation in the world couldn’t have readied me for the feeling of utter helplessness as they rescued my baby from my jacked up body.

Around this time of the year, where baby Jesus lays his glowing plastic baby head in countless mangers decorating neighbors’ yards, I think about birth and that most expected baby – Savior. And I think about his mom. How did Mary prepare the way for the Lord? Did her neighbors throw her a baby shower with all the best swaddling clothes? Did she do prenatal yoga and work on her Lamaze breathing?

I bet of all the people in all the history of time preparing the way for the Lord, Mary had it the weirdest. I wonder if she felt a little off kilter as she encountered things she had not prepared for. Traveling on the back of a donkey in her third trimester, no room at the inn, delivering her firstborn surrounded by livestock. This was not the plan.

How about you? Did having a baby go exactly as planned? Did you prepare for a natural birth only to find yourself screaming, EPIDURAL! after 10 hours of contractions, and why won’t you dilate, why (oh why) won’t your cervix cooperate with your grand plan? Did you plan to deliver with an epidural only to find out you’d missed the window and you’d have to push this bugger out unaided by modern medicine? Were you planning for a home birth but had to rush to the hospital? Were you planning on a hospital but that child popped out before you could get there? My friend almost had her fourth in the car on the way. Another barely made it to the ER before baby came crashing through onto her borrowed white skirt.

The way children enter our lives is only the beginning, and actually raising them is one surprise after another. When we adopted our youngest, I thought for sure she’d be a boy, but when the social worker called us to give us the news we’d been matched with a girl, A girl? I was not prepared. Six years later she became a math-loving cheerleader and I still don’t know what to do.

Like Mary, there’s so much about mothering that we can’t prepare for. So this holiday season, I’m trying to let some of the expectations go and enjoy my kids in the midst of the unknown. I guess this Christmas, I’m preparing to be surprised.

Melanie Dale HeadshotMelanie Dale is a minivan mama who stinks at small talk. She’s the author of Women Are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends and It’s Not Fair: Learning to Love the Life You Didn’t Choose, and a monthly contributor for Coffee + Crumbs. Her essays are featured in The Magic of Motherhood. Living in the Atlanta area, she enjoys recording her podcast, Lighten Up With Melanie Dale, blogging at, and raising her three kids from three different continents.