The beautiful young woman, this dear friend I’ve mentored for several years tells me she wants my comfort, love, encouragement and touch.
I am honored and afraid and pray I’ll be fit for the task of first-time doula, abiding with my friend throughout the mystery of her delivery, whatever shape it might take.
I arrive at the hospital as soon as I can after receiving Rebecca’s call that their baby is on his way.
In the morning mist of the hospital courtyard, we walk with arms locked and examine rows of purple flowers, the curves of Dr. Seuss apple trees and a September sky marked by puffy clouds. We shuffle step together until Rebecca stops, looks at her feet and breathes deliberately, lips parted wide on the exhale.
We walk hallways through the afternoon, sunlight streaming across linoleum. We talk while Rebecca soaks in the hot tub, pausing in conversation when another contraction rises from the water. I steady the exercise ball as she presses against it and hard into my hands to relieve the growing pain in her back.
As night falls Rebecca’s contractions progress, and I watch helpless as her strain, sweat and cries intensify.
I ask Jesus to be her strength and hope. I tell her she is equipped for this life-bringing work. I speak that which brought peace and strength to me as I birthed my three daughters. I say: Your roots go down deep. You are not abandoned. You are not forsaken.
I speak words she’s asked me to whisper as holy reminders and see in her eyes no spark of resonance. In the throes of her pain, she looks far away, and my words float away like so much air.
Hours pass and loneliness settles hard across Rebecca’s brow, wraps around her swollen body. Her husband and mother brush loving hands across her hair and forehead. We offer ice chips and washcloths, and she turns nearly everything away.
Rebecca weeps as one lost and broken.
In the room’s dim light, I try to simply stand in that place of pain and loneliness with my friend, but I struggle to know what this means. I want to do something to take away her suffering, and I feel I’m failing her when she needs me most.
It is a familiar return to long-held feelings of inadequacy and the fear-filled belief that if I could only discover the right thing to say, do or pray that I’d be able to rescue this one I love.
Hours later, after Rebecca decides to receive pain medication and rests briefly in her bed, I sit in a chair to her side wrapped in a blanket. I attempt to recall Love that enfolds and to put new trust in the One who brings light from darkness.
As my breathing slows, I gradually begin to feel assurance that God has not abandoned or forsaken my friend. Things are not always what they seem, and the dark is not as dark to him. The unknown is not his unknown – only mine.
Though I cannot yet see, and though this delivery still seems hours off, God is bringing life from the hidden place, God is working his good from the belly of dark. God has allowed me to labor with my friend and to bear holy witness. Indeed, I am not the source of light, but a reflection of it.
When I was in elementary school, a gemologist spoke at an assembly in our cafeteria. I remember nothing else but the portion when he pulled from his canvas bag a rough, gray thunder egg, placed what seemed an ordinary rock on the table before him and took a sharp hammer swing to its top.
The thunder egg broke wide into two nearly even parts, revealing a hole at its core. But the dark cavern was not empty. Instead, it shimmered with crystalline life, facets shining like diamonds, the rock tomb sparkling with evidence of another world entirely.
At 3:40 a.m., I stand with my friend as sister-companion when she pushes her last, and God brings forth otherworldly shimmering glory from her womb.
And he is glory that wears dark hair, blue wrinkled hands and a grown-up nose. And he is beauty that cries from a small, still-forming throat into earthly air.
My friend and her husband hold their treasure – this fruit of mystery and struggle through rock and bone, this life unfurled like leaf and petal from seed planted in the protection of dark.
He is light, and they name him Elias, which proclaims, “My God is the Lord.”
Yes, he is, and we bear witness.
Ashley Larkin is a story collector, wife to Michael and mother of three shining daughters. She longs to be a place of welcome and seeks hard after the hope and beauty found in broken things. Ashley and her family live in an old house in Portland, Oregon with a grove of horse chestnut trees that has clearly taken over. You can find her blogging about living fully awake to the glory and mess of everyday moments here and on Twitter here.
Image credit: Deidre Wollard