J.A.R.

There is an adjustment period to mothering babies, which perhaps lasts until they are grown. But in any case, I find myself a couple times a week a bit dazed with the course of my new life. The person I thought I was is a memory now. I am not able to care for old people and listen to their stories and write them down. I am not able to write much at all. I am not able to farm, or garden much, or make all the old fashioned things I loved to make, like candles and soap and fresh bread. I do not wear an apron. I do not read many adult books. I seldom travel anywhere. Some weeks I do not even get in my car at all. I do not write in my journal. I do not have amazing and deep friendships. The friendships I have are the sticking kind that are just there regardless of my attention. 

I am a woman who listens to podcasts for company and finds it difficult to have the bed made by the end of the day. I am the wife of a man who sometimes can’t find a clean uniform. I am a mother who given a blessed one hour window of time alone, will lay down, unable to even have the victory of sleep, with a mind so full of things to do. I am a homemaker who spends the first part of the day trying to think of a dinner plan, the second making it happen and the third trying to make it look like it didn’t. I am extremely average, and not what I thought I would be when I imagined my dreams coming true.

When I look back on this pregnancy with Jacob, I wonder if I will remember the book proposal that didn’t work out. Probably not. It was an incredible opportunity, a chance to use my gifts, a chance to be more than just a mom. To be a writer, a real writer. To get a little check, however little: a dream. A dream I could have strong-armed into existence. But instead I let it go. Perhaps I let it go for another day. Perhaps not. There is always the chance when you let something pass, that it may never come your way again. 

Jacob is coming my way, and I will hold onto him. The preacher said last night that, although it might be incredibly difficult, you know something is a calling on your life when you would be miserable doing anything else. 

I didn’t want to go on living without my husband, and when they laid our baby on my chest and said it’s a girl! and I said it’s Helen, I knew my life, my happiness, was now inseparable with hers. It isn’t right to outlive your children. It happens, but the wound does not heal. This is because motherhood is a calling. I love writing and reading and being an interesting productive person, but I am not miserable as I am today, rather worthless comparatively.  As much as I wish I were a better mother, wife, homemaker, I still bless the Lord I am those things, however average. 

When I meet Jacob, I will understand why God made me. I will still look back somedays and wish I was a little more like the woman I used to be before I was stretched out and sucked on, before I was cleaner of a thousand messes and chief changer of diapers, dish-washer, sock-searcher, tantrum-overcomer, nap-enforcer. But when I look back from a greater distance, I know these children will be God’s heritage to me, his best and greatest gift: what he gave me, what he received from me, what he asked me to do, what he did for me. 

Jacob: Usurper, Supplanter. You have outmaneuvered and overreached all your mama’s former ambitions. You have grabbed hold of the heel of my ideals, and wrestled in me a holier dream. We’ve been reading through the Psalms at night, where your God is spoken of again and again. The Lord of Hosts is with Us, the God of Jacob is our refuge. In you he has given us more of Himself, a God who breaks in and busts through, and lays himself down in the arms of a young woman whose world has been remade. 

To the Pain

I wrote this several months ago but remembered and reread it this morning, as childbirth is fast approaching for me again. I hope it will be a blessing to one of you in pain. I have unwittingly memorized a great many board books recently, and as one of our favorites goes, We can’t go under it. We can’t go around it. We’ve got to go through it.


After many hours of contractions and pain and surrender for Rebekah, the nurse came in and said, “Moment of truth.” She checked for dilation and found her still at 2 centimeters. “No progress.”

When the nurse left I took the mother’s hands in mine. “We keep going,” I said, and we did.

I’ve been preparing to help this friend through natural childbirth for months. Even though I’ve done this many times now, and experienced it myself only recently, it is still something I must turn to deliberately and focus on. Maybe there was a time when women generationally taught and served each other enough that birth came naturally to them, but that’s just not the case for us today. Obstetrics, being part of the medical system, operates as a surgical machine, having just a little slot for the human soul. Please don’t misunderstand, I love and appreciate so many medical workers. I am in fact married to one, but as he is humble and honest, he will be the first to tell you how discouraging his work can be and how often the system fails the patients.

Rebekah loaned me a book called The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, and in it Henci Goer says,

…many anesthesiologists, doctors, nurses, and even some midwives tend to live in a black and white world. They believe that labor pain has no value, mastering labor pain has no value, epidurals have no defects. These beliefs color perception in ways that are obvious to those who don’t share them but invisible to those who do.

I haven’t really come to speak to you about childbirth. I realize many readers would find it hard to relate to that subject. But pain is something we’ve all experienced, some of us every day, and this line above carries into all kinds of suffering: They believe that labor pain has no value, mastering labor pain has no value…

These are lies. Pain has value. Experiencing pain has value. The things we do to comfort one another, they matter. The company we keep in suffering, it matters. The life-giving words we speak make a difference. We are so much more than our chemicals. What we believe can change the world. Dilation isn’t the only indicator of progress in labor, not any more than income is the only indicator of value or productivity of worth or followers of talent or weight of health or beauty of loveliness.

Childbirth is a deeply emotional and psychological event, because of the level of pain involved and because of the significant work being done, and I have seen first hand the radical difference in approaches to care and the results that follow, both in the tangible moment and in the mother’s mind and memory. I imagine other kinds of trauma would be quite similar.

An old friend, Mrs. Ruby, has been in my thoughts lately. When she was a little girl, she got ringworm in her scalp, and the doctor’s prescription was to shave her head and apply tar pitch. This didn’t work and was reapplied until eventually another method was used and she recovered. But this kept her isolated for a couple years and put her behind in school. When I imagine my five-year old niece Adah, who loves looking pretty, having her head shaved, it breaks my heart. It would crush her.

This was a story Mrs. Ruby told me many times. It’s funny how we grow and experience all kinds of overwhelming pain— in marriage, in the death and sorrow of our children, in broken friendships, in shame, betrayal, loss, let alone in physical suffering— and yet every time I’ve sat down with an elderly person, all bent over from the weight of years, to hear their story, they tell me not about the greatest pain, but about the first.

I’ve written about Mrs. Ruby many times because she was the most radiantly happy and yet mentally present woman I’ve ever known. She was a true Christian, having faith until the very last breath, and she did this uniquely. 

Mrs. Ruby refused her pain medication. I’m not advocating this, I’m just telling you what happened. She looked toward the ray of light from the window, clenched her little mouth and would not be fooled or coerced. I don’t know her reasoning, but I do know that she preached in those days with a clarity and energy that wouldn’t have been possible under morphine, and also that it seemed like those around wanted her to shut up just as much as they wanted her to be comfortable, but she didn’t care. She preached on love. She said love is what brought us here. I wasn’t sure if she meant herself or me or us all, or if she meant to the hospital bed or to her sick-room or to the world itself. But when I think about the pain she was in as her body was wasted away, and yet all she still wanted to say about Christ’s love, it is astounding.

 Love brought us here.

It makes me think of the line in “How Deep the Fathers Love for Us”: It was his love that held him there until it was accomplished. When we consider the cross of Christ— what value his suffering had!— and a profit so glorious it radiated down the past and into the future a new and worthwhile significance to our own. Can you imagine someone approaching the Son of God on the cross and checking his pulse? “No progress,” they might have said, but every minute of his pain was a profound and infinite storehouse of treasure to those he loved, and those who love him. The world was blind.

It’s hard to describe labor contractions, for they are unlike any other kind of pain. When I was newly married and newly pregnant, I had a urinary tract infection that was so bad my urine was bloody. That was the worst pain I’ve ever had, but it was steady. I just laid in bed and groaned. My husband came home from work and I wanted badly to look pretty and have dinner ready for him, but I was utterly broken. I remember thinking, maybe I won’t die right now, but this pain will come again some day and this is how I will die. It was like a long beating from my own personal enemy. I survived, but at some point he will come again and kill me.

But contractions are like all-consuming waves of mounting pain, rising to a peak of dizzying fear. The little breaks between are just long enough to look around desperately for an escape, just long enough to anticipate the coming of another mountain. Just long enough to ask yourself what the hell you were thinking. But this is not what I tell my friends as a doula. I tell them another true thing: This pain has value. Mastering this pain has value. The only path to the second is to believe the first.

And something else, a miracle: in a moment, you will forget with joy. You can’t believe it now, but it’s true. You will even perhaps, in a year or two, be willing to do this again. 

Henci Goer was right to say belief colors perception. It is faith alone that can bring both the laboring young and the dying old through the pain to remember the greatest truths: We owe our lives in every sense to the pain of others– from the labor of our mothers, to the sacrifice of those who provide and protect and stay with us, preach to us, through all kinds of suffering, and ultimately to the great sacrifice of Christ–


And it is love— always love—that brings us here. Here to the pain, here through it, and beyond.

the Stories of His People

I was at a dinner party the other evening, feeling a bit lost and unknown, when the host, an older man, started telling me about his hometown in Iowa and how it used to be a community of small working family farms. He had traveled all around the world since then, but his eyes shone as he told me of the old ways of living and I could tell this topic was especially precious to him.

“There’s an author who writes about this,” he said, “I love his books. His name is Wendell Berry.”

Of course, my whole face lit up and we had one of those surprising moments of kinship. How could it be that the combination of words and sentiments that pass by so many, but make your heart leap up, do the same to this person, seemingly different from you in every other way? Suddenly you see a family likeness—the thumbprints of the same Maker—there all along but only revealed in the light of a story.

It is so rare for me to find another Berry fan in the wild, that it made my evening and still amazes me. It reminded me of something that happened the day my grandfather died…

He had a niece his age and her name was Bessie. She was his last surviving relative, and they had grown up together like brother and sister. He would talk with her often on the phone. I had never spoken to her, but somehow I ended up calling her the day he died to tell her the news of his passing. 

I sat down on a little concrete bench that had been there since I was a child. We used to crush the Post Oak acorns on it. I felt crushed myself: face hard, eyes dry. Questions rose up inside me: What did it mean? What was the point? He had been so precious to me, such a good friend. He suffered so long. He was alive and full of stories, and now he was dead and gone. And who am I without him?

Bessie answered the phone and I told her the news. I can still hear her old, broken, hillbilly voice.

“No, no, no, no,” she said, over and over again. These simple, perfect words broke open a new spring of tears in me, more healing than I had known. “I’ve been trying to call him. I knew he was sick. No, no, no… He was my friend.” We just cried awhile and finally she started talking. For thirty minutes she told me his stories. Stories I had been aching to hear again. 

She told me about the day they picked huge burlap sacks of walnuts and tried to ride into town with them on a borrowed old mule, but how they— she, Pop, and all the nuts— fell off many times before they finally got to the general store. She told me about his pigeons and his brothers, and how poor they were, and how Pop had to run away to keep out of trouble. She told me that he loved me and spoke of me often, and was proud of me. She asked if she would call again.

But that was the last time we spoke. I have not been able to reach her since. It was just a momentary gift, and that’s alright. 

My grandfather often talked about leaving this old world, and that’s exactly what he did. I’m not here to offer some warm sentiment about his spirit being with me still. His spirit is gone. If it were here, life would be easier. Death is real and it is a severe sort of parting. Although it’s terrible sad and not right, it is alright. At least it will be. Moments and stories are what we are given and what we have to give each other in this life, and those moments and stories change us. 

My grandfather—with the time he gave me and the words he spoke— he changed me. He formed my voice and my character. When I heard his stories again from Bessie, in that brief moment now memory, it blessed me deeply and forever. All that was crushed in me felt alive again, reborn in her simple words. She gave me my grandfather. She reminded me that true stories matter because they were moments spoken in time by God himself, and eternal. She reminded me that his stories were given to me as a gift, and can never be taken from me, never hauled away and buried. She reminded me of his love.

Stories do this. They bring people together, shy at a dinner party, weeping on a bench. They remind us that although we cannot see our own way, there is a good purpose, for in the very best stories the way is dark at times and we cannot imagine a happy ending. They give us hope and make us brave.

I need this, for I have grown into a season of life where I am no longer surrounded by people similar to myself. This can be intimidating. At another gathering recently, I looked through the bookshelves of the hostess and I realized that she was from a different literary world and the terrible thought came to me that there a thousand such worlds, spinning off famously, ignorant of my own. Who would I be in this new world? What would be different in my life if I had been formed by these stories instead of my own? Is all this just random chance? Do I matter? Do my stories matter?

And then, dear reader, stooping down at a stack of little books on the coffee table, I saw the gingham cover of My Last Name, by Eric Schumacher, a beautiful short story by a man I crossed paths with in a writing mentorship program years ago. There in that far off galaxy, keeping company with books on subjects that had never even occurred to me, was this relic from my own world, and I was comforted. I was still small, but obviously there on purpose, and suddenly I felt myself like the man in a beloved novel, who went to Malacandra.

Who am I? I am a writer, small but brave, and you are here of all places, reading my words. Sometimes they may make you feel known, and sometimes lost. This is what it means to be a reader, dear Reader; it is dangerous business and I feel for you. But what I have learned in this old world is that stories are meant, not to give us an inner circle of safety, but to form our characters as we traverse this wild wide world, yes, often sad and lonely, and yet I believe with all my heart, we are always meant to bump into God’s love, in the revelation of His good story, told so kindly through the stories of His people.

Hello old friends
There’s really nothing new to say
But the old old story bears repeating
And the plain old truth grows dearer every day
When you find something worth believing
Well that’s a joy that nothin’ could take away

The Country of Marriage

We love when Andrew comes home from a long day at the hospital. He doesn’t want to touch us until he gets clean, and so we just smile at each other in a goofy way, and Helen hides her face in me. She is shy and confused at feeling so happy.

I always longed for a voice crying from the wilderness: Marriage is good!

Perhaps these words were my own, coming at me from the future.

My husband and I didn’t meet each other until our late twenties. Many might see this as young, but really a lot of our lives had gone by and I grieve those years sometimes.

There is a beauty and a strength in your early twenties, a confidence and carefreeness, and you’ve got time to make yourself more beautiful and strong if you want to.

We had both been through a lot by the time we met. I’m ready to settle down, he said and what he meant was that he was ready to love and be loved, to enter into the wildness and take on the weight of one woman, and he was. 

It is good for someone to meet you growing old, used to disappointment, full of difficult stories, and say you are loved and lovable. It is better still for that someone to imagine and understand who you were and love you as you were, even as you were without them and even as you were in your mistakes.

But it is good to be together now. Not exactly old, but apprehending it’s approach. Living the fly-by days. Pinching pennies in the land of lullabies. A thousand dreams and many thousand cups of coffee. Settled down. Come home. A little confused at feeling so darn happy.

It is a wonderful thing to be giving each other confidence and carefreeness in a time when it has ceased to make sense, to make each other feel beautiful and strong when it is no longer exactly true. It is a strange thing to realize that all your beauty and his strength were meant for each other not in their rise but in their fall, but as we catch each other there and are held so gently, it doesn’t even matter. Perhaps we are even more strong and beautiful this way, falling towards one another.

“Most like an arch— two weaknesses that lean into a strength.” 

I wonder— If you have someone to be loving, could there be any better thing for you to do? Today or tomorrow? With your lips and with your eyes and with your thoughts? With your strength and with your presence, all the rest of your days?

In a shaky world, ever unfaithful and forsaking, marriage supports and holds ever open the door into a promised land, a long land … where a voice cries out:

Marriage is good! There are green fields and high mountains and clear creeks in this country. It is sweeter than you hoped. There is hope it will grow sweeter. It is yours. Welcome home.

All the Poets

The first two poems I learned as a child were about motherhood. This was before I learned to read and the poems were on the walls of my mother’s kitchen. Someone read them to me and I memorized them. I would recite them to myself and pretend that I could read, just like I would pretend I was a mother.

Both poems were about being grateful for your children despite the mess and sorrow they bring into life. I remembered them last night as I laid on the couch and cried, my poor husband doing his best to comfort me, just kissing my wet face, not knowing what to say. I’m sure he was thinking, well they told me women could be like this…

The other day the old bag-man at the grocery store reached out and touched me and blessed me in Jesus name. He and his wife had had two babies 16 months apart. I’m not the sort of person who minds being touched or minds, in general, people touching my children, especially to bless them. I am familiar enough with the Lord to know that his blessing often makes us uncomfortable. Last night I was wondering, even, if my tears were the result of this man’s prayers.

For I was so uncomfortable. There was a foot or an elbow or something jabbed into a tender organ. I was suddenly afraid of labor. I was afraid of the newborn days, so exhausting, so raw and fragile. But mostly I was crying because that evening Helen, who usually plays in the shower, just held onto my bare legs and pressed her face into my thighs, hugging me tight. I was crying for the momentariness of that moment—how soon it will be just a vague memory in an old woman’s mind! And she all grown-up. Then I was crying because perhaps I was assuming too much. Perhaps I, even we, would die tomorrow. Perhaps these precious toddler days with my daughter are the end of what He plans to give me in this life.

She had spent the morning smelling the last of the fall roses in the garden. Soon they will be spent and gone, even in memory, and so will we— even Helen, so young and fresh and beautiful. Her life, too, is a vapor.

I went to sleep, at peace with feeling unresolved, just exhausted, and woke up early to see my husband off. My grandfather sometimes would sit in his recliner and listen to his favorite songs and cry. This made him feel better.

In the dark quiet of the house, I found the poems my friend, Rachel Joy Welcher, sent me and read through them again. I cried fresh morning tears into my coffee, and was deeply comforted. Her words gave place to my feelings, and made me feel more than I was willing to all by myself. I know I will turn to these poems again and again, will write them on the walls of my house.

My husband told me to make a list before he left, and he meant of things he needed to do.

I made a list…

Things that make me uncomfortable:

The strong baby boy of thirty-three weeks

The brevity of life

The blessing of strangers

Things that bring me joy:

Chubby cheeks pressed into my wet thighs

Scratchy face pressed into my wet face

All the poets I have known

P.S. You can order Rachel’s new poetry book here: Sometimes Women Lie About Being Okay

And you should!

Good Enough

When I call, she seems to know my voice. If I say it’s Sarah, she’ll say I know that! or and who else would it be?

She’ll ask about my baby and for a minute, she must remember me. Then one of us (we can’t help ourselves) will grasp at a time when our life together made sense, when I was young. Then her memory will do its artwork, emptying all the paints out onto a palette at once and swirling them together.  Everything she’s ever known runs over and off the page and onto the linoleum floor. 

If men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti, the mind with dementia is like a slow-cooked kettle of hash in the low-country, impossible to explain boiled over stirred up things that used to be.

In an instant, my baby becomes me and I become my mother. She is taking care of two girls, she says (me and my sister), and then she has two boys too (my uncles), and then she has a little baby of her own and her sister is helping her, and then before I can help her (if I could), she knows she doesn’t know who I am anymore, and maybe she doesn’t even know who she is. My baby has become every baby in the world, and she, every old woman. 

We don’t know what to say. We sure need rain don’t we? How’s your back? Did you have dinner? She answers briefly, uncertainly. She hurries to get off the phone.

I love you, Nanny. Her voice turns warm again. I love you too. And sometimes she’ll add Baby Sally and I smile because that’s me. 

Will she remember I called? Not for five minutes. So why do it? It is hard and sad. It is uncomfortable. What good does it do? 

The answer is this: For a moment she remembers and knows she is remembered. 

For a moment she knows she is loved. That is reason good enough. 

Cry the Name

It is cliche to say that children teach us about the Father’s love and sometimes offensive, in a world that’s ever ready to take it up. What I never mean by this is that parents have an in-road on Christ and grace and all that. That is obviously, looking around in Walmart, very much not the case. But rather, when children are spoken of, we ought to all feel included. We were all children, and we can all become like them again.

There are all sorts of cries and I’m only just learning them. My sister, a mother of four, once heard my baby crying over the phone and asked me if she needed to be changed. I hadn’t even thought of that, and she did. There is the sleepy cry, and the hurt cry. There is the angry cry. But then there is the name cry.

I find it impossible to resist when she cries my name. Rich Mullins, single, childless, knew this well when he wrote the beautiful lines, “I cry the name of the one who loves me, the name of the one on whom I call, ‘til it rolls like thunder rolling down these canyon walls.”

As hard as it is, at three in the morning— when your child’s voice is like thunder rolling— when she calls your name, you go. Your heart is moved by her remembrance and her faith in you. Helen does not question my existence or my near presence or my love, and in her confidence I stop questioning those things too. How much more so does our Father in heaven respond to his own, for he has no weakness and selfishness, as I do.

An old friend of my mother’s, Mrs. Dot, was Catholic turned Pentecostal and very into the unseen realm, and her stories had a big impact on my spiritual imagination as a child. Once as a young mother, she was home alone at night with her little boys. They were sleeping, but she woke up afraid. She went all through the house and just knew that something was wrong. She prayed for protection over her babies. I remembered this story the other night, when I had a similar feeling and prayed the same way.

I don’t have a little window in my door, but Mrs. Dot did. She opened it. Outside, she said, she saw legs, just legs. Giant golden angel legs. She said he was as tall as her house. She went back to bed and was comforted. 

This story wasn’t exactly comforting to me as a child. I didn’t want giant angel legs, I just wanted my parents. But now I understand. This is the beauty of stories: Sometimes they wait in the wings. In this world we will have trouble. I have little people in my care. I have real enemies, and so do they. They need me and I need something behind me, the bigger the better.

The good news is that I can cry the name of the one who loves me— and if I forget this, the first of my earthly lessons, that’s alright— he is faithful to remind me.

Not Your Own, and Never Alone

It’s true that often husbands seem oblivious, but any woman who is with another woman in labor can pick up on contractions. You don’t have to be trained to know that one is coming, or is on her, or is almost done. It’s a common sense, intuitive, basic bit of womanhood, to be mindful of these things and sensitive toward them. The woman delivering the lunch tray knows it, as soon as she enters the room, and waits patiently, before she speaks.

And yet they have these things called contraction monitors. I get it. The nurses have too many patients. They can’t possibly watch and chart and bear the liability of them all without machines. This way the nurse can sit at the computer and monitor what is happening in Room 204. Except, of course, if the woman in 204 is moving around and the monitor keeps losing its hold. This can be very frustrating, because the nurse is not chiefly responsible for the patient, but for paperwork.

Why is the mother moving around? She is doing what she must to deliver the child, which is, in fact, the whole point of the contractions. She is working beside them, with them. They are part of the grand design. It is worth watching. These contractions— it’s true that they can be monitored on a screen, we’ve figured that out— but to separate them from the rocking moaning body of the woman, to preside over her “progress” as if she was a mouse in a laboratory… is this progress? 

It has come to this: If a mother wants to be truly helped and cared for, dignified and respected in labor, she must bring those things with her to the hospital. You may be blessed to find them in the heart of the busy, harried nurse, but they aren’t prescribed or written in the chart, or remotely understood by those making policy. 

I have seen a nurse, bless her, move the monitor around to better record the contractions while the mother was fully dilated and pushing.  Finally, the obstetrician, realizing it, said, “Yeah, I don’t think we need that anymore.” 

Everyone laughed, and the nurse said, “Oh I forgot; it’s such a habit!”

How did it become a habit to annoy a woman fully absorbed in the most difficult task of her life?

The policy makers believe that by using machines in place of personal care, they can hire less nurses and make more money. The nurses become exhausted and emotionally diminished. The good desire they had to help people is overridden by overwork, a fear of liability and lawsuits and the frustrated rhythm of just clocking in and out for a paycheck. They feel used.  As greed enters the equation, like sin into the world, truth and goodness take a hit, and quality of care and medical knowledge with them. I could harp for hours on the many ways our birthing system dehumanizes the mother and child and promotes fear and stupidity, but I don’t need to convince anyone, for this kind of thing is found everywhere.

In this wonderful piece by Alan Noble, about simply grocery shopping, he says:

…We’ve freed ourselves from the tyranny of talking with a checker and all it cost us was the presumption of innocence and all human warmth.

This whole experience is predicated on the idea that we are each our own, that we are ultimately only responsible for ourselves and to ourselves. And that means that we don’t owe anyone anything unless it’s contractually or legally defined. The store’s only obligations to you are legal. Their only responsibilities are to profit. When treating customers, employees, or producers as human beings leads to greater efficiency, then they will do so, but only then.

As a young American woman in her birthing years, soon expecting her second child, every word of this article makes me sick with its startling application to our hospital system, where medication is what it’s all about. He goes on to say,

Instead of asking whether our environment is inhuman, our default is to self-medicate, to find a coping mechanism. And even while we self-medicate, we’re also making jokes about self-medicating because it’s obvious to everyone that this is not healthy. It’s not how we are meant to live. 

At the same birth I mentioned earlier, there was a new L&D nurse, around my age. She had been on the floor a couple months and was there to observe, as she had never seen an unmedicated birth before. She wasn’t ready to experience pregnancy and childbirth, she said, but she told us about her “child” waiting at home, a golden-doodle. Everyone started swapping dog stories, but soon stopped. This wasn’t a room for small talk. The mother had been laboring all night and day, and now the time was close. We had been praying for the birth to come before 7:00 p.m. when I had to leave. Although I had been supporting her constantly and she greatly desired me to stay, I was considered a visitor and non-essential.

She was now on her elbows and knees, a very good position to prevent tearing, though unconventional. I was thankful her doctor “let her” do this. Like many women, when I was delivering just a year earlier, I had been told that I “had to” get on my back, though there is no benefit to this position, for the mother or baby. The time had come. I stood at the mother’s head and she held my hands. She knew she could squeeze them as hard as she needed to, and she did. Her husband kissed her and then stood beside the doctor to wait for the sight of the head. 

And that’s what we did— we waited. We all did. She rested a moment. With a cool cloth, I wiped the sweat from her brow. She was not alone. Then the pressure built up once more, one last time…

The doctor said, “That’s perfect! We can see him. He’s coming! You’ve got it. He’s coming! Just a couple more. Just one more…”

And then that doctor, forever bless her soul, just laid that human child right underneath the mother so she could hang her exhausted head and look into his beautiful perfect face. She wept over him. We all did. They were separated now, for the first time, yet still held together with the chord that had pulsed her life into his for forty weeks.

I looked up at the new nurse, hand over her masked mouth, back against the wall. Her face was wet too. We’ve seen this happen so many times, but never before this child, and never again. He will live on this earth, and die and be buried with his fathers, but his birth was a just a moment and now a memory, a good one. 

Good memories about childbirth are not always possible, but they are possible much more often than they are experienced.

The young nurse and her “child” at home— she loves that dog and he has filled a spot in her lonely heart, as we are all greatly comforted by our animals— but we do not carry them inside us. We do not travail over them, and deliver them. They do not stand in the lineage of the human race, a lineage so important to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As much as we care for them, they are not our children. We are not their parents. We are made in God’s holy image, with his fingerprints on our souls, forged in the fires of human passion, choking on the fumes of selfish rage, distinct from Great Danes and Golden-doodles, laboratory mice, robots and the electronic firing of input, storage, processing and output.

The woman sat back on her shaky legs and took up her son, as the mother of Christ did long ago. “He’s here. I can’t believe he’s here.”

I stayed until he was nursing but returned the next day. “How are you feeling?” I asked her. 

“There were many moments yesterday when I felt like I couldn’t possibly do it. When I just wanted a way out, any way out. But now I feel…” she laughed, “Well, I feel like a bad-ass. I feel like I could totally do it again.”

She didn’t feel self-sufficient. She has many times thanked me for my part. She is grateful for her obstetrician. She wouldn’t have wanted to be without her husband. What’s more, she knows she was created to birth, and she was, after all, at the hospital in case something went wrong. What she was describing as “bad-ass” was actually just human. She experienced a beautiful part of womanhood many can not and do not, often, sadly, because they are not helped and supported, and because they simply do not believe in this good aspect of their humanity: that if they are given the gift of motherhood, they are well capable of and created to accomplish the task, in all its many facets, and that they will never be alone.

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This is an opinion piece of sorts and different from what I usually write. Forgive me if it seems a soap-box. I have found no other way to continue writing, other than to write about what I see as I see it, and so it is impossible for me not to write about childbirth these days, although I know it is not a present part of life for many.

My friend, Rachel, writes powerfully out of motherhood, and you can find two of her recent pieces with these links: The Contradiction of Healing Prayer and An Unjust Cheap Justice. I have learned much from her.

And my friend, Sarah, had a beautiful poem published in Fathom, but it was this one that gave me chill-bumps

Let Me Be

I am deep in the world of babies now, where the subject of childcare comes up frequently. When it comes to the questions of who is watching your children and where they are kept, something people will often say is children are resilient, to which I always want to reply children are extremely vulnerable

Being made in the image of the eternal immutable God, all humans have a strength of soul and a remarkable ability to heal and cast wrongs into a sea of forgetfulness, but this isn’t anything we ought to take for granted. We should always bear in mind the fragility of the people in our care, not their resilience. I hold to the doctrine of original sin and yet what I noticed about my daughter in the first year of her life was not her sin, but her fear. As sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, broken in fellowship, babies need most to be loved.

What you aren’t prepared for when you first become a mother is how much you will love your child. I’ve known many moms who have a good and careful plan for childcare, and still grieve and regret dropping their babies off and returning to their lives before.

“I wasn’t prepared for how much I would want to be the one with her every day. It ought to be me,” a friend said recently. I totally understood. 

We thought childcare was easy mundane work (don’t the uneducated do it for minimum wage?) but we see now that it is the most important thing we could possibly do, that all our longing is for our children, that no amount of study could have prepared us for how difficult it is to train and nurture them and yet how we alone, their parents, are uniquely fit for the task. As my children were knit together in secret, perfect poems, I was remade and rewritten for them, and I won’t ever be the same. 

And so when it is not possible for us to be the ones with them, we want those people to be the best of our world, the most virtuous, the most careful of their weakness: the grandmothers, for instance, soft and slow and patient and not too self-important to be gentle with their raw noses or read the same book three times or rock them to sleep, the older women who perhaps regret not being the mothers we are beginning to regret we are not ourselves, who see, not their superiority to the task, but their insufficiency to do it justice. That’s who we need, and who we find ourselves becoming. 

“It’s like your feelings don’t matter,” the same mother said. Yes, that’s what the feminist don’t understand. It is not liberating to be freed from our children. It is a denial of our emotions, which are perhaps the most beautiful part of ourselves, and most true to who we were meant to be. For, after all, we are women, and my plea is Let me be a woman…”

Let me be the shield and the shelter for these children. Let me be why they can’t seem to stop believing they are seen and known and treasured. Let me be why they are innocent of evil, alive to all kinds of good, wise to know the difference. Let me be why they look up to God in happiness and run to him in sorrow. Let me be why Helen is glad to be a woman, and Jacob is glad to be a man. Let me be why they trust and obey. 

Let me be a mother, and I will care less for other things. 

Thirty

This morning I woke up at five o’clock to work on a project. The house was still and dark. When the morning light came in, I could see Helen’s work all over the place. Andrew was late getting home last night from the hospital, and so I let her go into each room and play with her things to stay awake, which means she takes everything out of the basket or cabinet and scatters it all around.

My mother-in-law loaned me a rainbow vacuum cleaner and yesterday I cleaned the floors in every room. But last night when I went to bed, there were toys and socks (she loves to throw socks) everywhere. I remembered all the dirt I emptied from the water tank of the vacuum, and reminded myself that it was in truth cleaner than it had been, despite how it looked.

Today is my thirtieth birthday. When I look back at the last couple of years, my spiritual progress looks as unproven as my housekeeping. My journal is sparser than ever, my reading is minimal, my thoughts are scattered and confused, my reflections are basic, my prayers are simple and brief. It is really hard to say if I’ve grown in the fruits of the Spirit or not. But I do know for certain that I have been on the receiving end of the Spirit. I have had so much love from Him these years, patience and faithfulness. I have had these things mostly in the love of my husband and our baby girl.

Something my husband says to me is “we’ll figure it out”. I guess this is a pretty common thing for a man to say, and perhaps in a critical sense, it could be arrogant self-reliance, but I think when a man says it to his worrying wife, it’s different. Maybe Andrew is just trying to tell me to be quiet and go to sleep, but what I hear from him is “there is time”.  I’m reminded of the promise he’s made to me. I’m reminded that God has mercifully given us time, and will give us more time. As long as we live, he’ll be giving us time. 

The preacher said last Sunday that grace was one-way love. I remembered that last night when Helen screamed from her room, just once. That’s not normal. We looked at the monitor and saw her laying still and it seemed like she was asleep. My heart was racing from waking up to her scream, but my body felt so heavy. Andrew had been working in the ER for 12 hours but he got up and in a minute I could see him on the monitor, leaning over her. Her eyes opened and closed again. She knew he was there. He smoothed her hair and felt all over her arms and legs to make sure she wasn’t hurt. He checked her crib for bugs (we have a lot of bugs). He rubbed her cheek with the back of his hand, and smoothed her hair again and again, until he was sure she was asleep.

That image rose with me this morning. Helen doesn’t give her Daddy much love these days. She often ignores his request for kisses and she loves to run away from him. What’s more, she makes big messes and blow wet raspberries and she makes the whole house stinky with her diapers. But if you spoke to him for two minutes he would tell you about her progress and all the things she is learning. He would tell you how pretty she is. 

It is wonderful to know that there are good fathers in the world, and good husbands. It is wonderful to wake up to a man like this. He has been the Father’s love begotten for me and our children. I know life is always uncertain and we are not promised a long marriage, but I know as long as I have time I’ll be giving it to him, and he’ll be giving his to me.

These are simple reflections, but as I said, that’s all I have these days. And yet it’s always good to remember that the best things in life are in our hands and before our faces.