fingers around a wild, frayed hope
The journey through labour and birth teaches a woman to let go of the body she once controlled and open herself to the force of pain. For nine months a pregnant mama anticipates her labour pangs. Will the process be fast, long, beautiful, scary? In preparation for my recent birth, I wrote affirmations on my big chalkboard: My body was made to do this. I trust the process of birth. I am strong and capable. I am not afraid. Isaiah 66:9: God will not allow pain without allowing something new to be born as well.
There are few events in our lives where we know when to anticipate pain, childbirth being one of them. Most of the time, we live these tightly bound lives, full of to do lists and appointments and after-school practices. We have mouths to feed and dreams to follow. Pain has no place.
More often than not, pain blindsides us. We don’t have sage advice from midwives or the whispered words from a doula in our ear.
We have a diagnosis for our loved one, a pea shaped lump in our breast, an affair, infertility, abuse and loss. The pain cuts us deeply, and quite suddenly life feels hard and lonely and clumsy.
Unlike labour, the pain lingers and seems to serve no real purpose. Each day we have to face our mountain and attempt to tackle the ache, whether it’s in our own heart or the world.
Two years ago I suffered an unexpected blow. My baby daughter was given a diagnosis of Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a deadly neuromuscular disease with no cure. From that moment on, my life fell outside of the boundaries of “normalcy”. I felt I couldn’t cope with a diagnosis that would continually allow suffering and degeneration in the body of my tiny child. My life and hers was out of my control. As a mother, it was and is terribly trying at times. I did not want to be vulnerable and raw or have to fully trust Someone (read: God) other than myself with the unknown. I did not want to deal with pain, or have others feel sorry for me and my family.
I began to process things different. Everything good and bad and in-between made me weep. I was afraid of the tender, joyful moments because they made me feel. I was afraid of trauma because it broke me. As Dr. Brené Brown so brilliantly puts it,“When we lose our tolerance to be vulnerable, joy becomes foreboding. I’m not going to soften into this moment of joy, because I’m scared it’s going to be taken away. We’re trying to dress rehearse tragedy so we can beat vulnerability to the punch.”
If I could go back and walk through the first year after my daughter’s diagnosis, I would do it differently. Each day after receiving that horrible phone call, I woke up with more and more pain. I would often sit with my grief, gently pounding my heart with a curled fist, feeling the sharp pangs in my chest. I felt like I was doing something wrong. I have Jesus, shouldn’t this be easier? Shouldn’t hope magically dissolve my fear? Shouldn’t this pain be dissipating? Two years later, I still ask some of the same questions…