I wrote about the births of my two children immediately after they happened, but looking back I'm not really happy with either of the blog posts. They don't seem quite honest. Or at least, they're not honest to my memory of those events. I guess when you're sharing about the birth of a child there are so many different things you want to convey at the same time. You're excited about the baby, you're excited to tell everybody he's here. You want to tell the story of how he came into the world in a way that matches up with the love you feel for him. Or at the very least, the love you intend to feel for him some time later when you're not terribly ill and injured.
The truth is, my two births were each traumatic in their own special ways. The first one was a beautiful water birth at home on a Saturday evening, and I loved Harvey at first sight. But failures in my postpartum care made the first month an absolute nightmare. I couldn't walk for three weeks, I got yelled at by nurses at the ER, and the phone rang every three minutes with some member of my extended family giving me advice on how to not kill the baby. Meanwhile I felt completely unprepared for the task of caring for this tiny screaming creature. I couldn't even feed myself because I couldn't stand up to walk to the kitchen. I felt scared and abandoned and so very very hungry.
Zion's first month was a world of better, because of stitches mostly, but also because we turned off the phone and told everyone to leave us alone. But the actual delivery was a physical nightmare, a complete failure of my body to do its job in the proper order. I popped out a 9-pound baby in five minutes without the benefit of any natural pain-killing hormones, and then all the adrenaline flooded in afterwards while I was paralyzed in shock, trying desperately to keep hold of a red flat-faced baby despite being short of breath and shaking uncontrollably.
It took me a little while to get over that one.
As I prepare for my next experience of labor, possibly my last experience of labor, it's hard to feel something resembling excitement. Indeed, it's hard to face the thought of the impending ordeal with anything but grim determination. And then I say to myself, This is it? This is how you want to welcome your third child? With pessimistic resignation? With a stockpile of cold packs and the will to merely survive? Can't I do better? Aren't I older and wiser? Can't I have Harvey's nice water birth plus Zion's quick recovery plus a whole new level of humble self-awareness that allows me ask other people to bring me snacks while keeping their advice-giving mouthes shut?
Or what if I thought about it another way? What if I could believe that the birth doesn't matter, that a few bad weeks don't matter, that the when and where and how painful are inconsequential? What if I decided that what matters in the end is bringing another person into our family? What if I tried to do THAT well? What if I put all my energy into a family dynamic of as much faith and love and honesty as we can muster on weird meals and an altered sleep schedule?
For those of us in the church, there are two divergent ways to look at asking God for things. I adhere to both wholeheartedly. The first says that God will give us everything we want just because we ask. After all, he loves us. So we ask God for new jobs and for houses and apartments, and we ask for miraculous healing of all our diseases. If we don't get what we want we change the way we're asking.
The second way to look at faith is to say that whatever crap life throws at us, whatever goes terribly wrong, it'll be okay. God will show us that it wasn't as bad as we expected. God will be there in the terrible situation. He will make it not only palatable but somehow divine with his presence.
Both are fair approaches, I think. But without God's actual presence they're both crap. I actually have to connect with God (I, me, not in theory) either in the absence of suffering or despite it.
Which sounds like a boat load of work right now.
Last night I contracted some sort of sudden stomach flu. I went to be early with a headache and woke up two hours later with the undeniable knowledge that I'd soon be throwing up. Now, giving birth is hands down the worst pain I've ever experienced if we're talking about ACUTE pain. But I've always said that a stomach flu is WORSE than giving birth, because it lasts longer, and because it's not just painful one place, it's in your belly AND in your head, and there's the terrible nausea where you're just sitting there shaking and hoping you'll throw up soon so you can get ten minutes of rest before the horrible nausea starts again.
There's no one excitedly cooking meals downstairs. There's no eager expectation of a baby. There's no stomach flu doula.
There's nothing but you and your best friend the toilet, a pillow and a blanket sprawled on the bathroom floor because the bed is too far away. There are maybe screaming kids in the next room, screaming for God knows what at 2 in the morning, and a husband who's doing your normal job for the night and kinda pissed because your normal job sucks.
And because I was already working on this blog post before I got sick, I tried to think about how to invite God into this horrible situation. Should I pray for physical healing? Should I pray for some redemption within the stomach flu? I could not imagine either possibility. I did not succeed with any faithful exercise. I screamed in my heart of hearts, "Lord! I perish!" before passing out with my face on the toilet seat.
Birth, like illness, like all life, can be horrible and disgusting. It can also be imbued with beauty and wonder. But I don't think it's possible to manufacture beauty and wonder out of my own effort. It seems even impossible for me to manufacture faith. The best I can hope is that God will show up anyway. The best I can hope is that he will hear my faithless prayer, "Lord, I perish" and answer it with a reminder that he's in the same boat.