These Universal Labour Pains

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By Becca D | Twitter: @exilefertility

J_Becca-D-750There are moments in which I’ve felt naked against all the darkness possible in the world.

I have never felt this way so much as I did when I gave birth to my first child. I remember thinking that if I just left him laying on the bed, just walked away from him, he would die. I couldn’t believe how all-consuming his need was for me, how he searched for my milk, my comfort, my sustenance every hour or two around the clock, every single day. I had never experienced this kind of terrifying dependency. I’d been responsible for other people on many different levels and even in “dangerous” parts of the world, but this sense of responsibility, well, there was nothing like it. Exacerbated by a wild postpartum hormone cocktail, it could nearly crush my heart if I let my thoughts wander rabbit trails to all of the possibilities of us being separated.

After an emergency instrumental birth, substantial haemorrhage and a 30-hour separation from my son at different hospitals, I finally found myself at home five days later with a healthy baby, but also with the signs of a uterine infection. There is a smell that accompanies life-threatening infection. It’s the smell of death, very literally. My husband and I called our midwife (who would come in the morning) and stayed awake together in the night, neither of us wanting to speak out how terrified we were. It wasn’t just the infection, not just grief over the trauma of our son’s birth; we had slammed into this new world with no maps, carrying an overwhelming weight of responsibility wrapped up in this seven pounds of baby boy.

Postpartum infection is one of the leading causes of maternal death in the world and 99% of any kind of maternal death occurs in the developing world. My own infection could have becoming life-threatening, but I was minutes away from the right antibiotics and world class healthcare. Within a few days I was on the mend. The infection was gone, but the sense of vulnerability was not.

Last week I gave birth to my third baby; it was beautiful, uncomplicated, and yet that sense of vulnerability continues to ebb and flow. I am faced with two options: run from it to whatever comforts and distractions I can find, or stay in those fears, no matter how “irrational” they may be, allowing them to connect me to women around the world.

I’ve met Sudanese refugee mothers in Cairo who have lost multiple children to diarrhoea in the midst of a twenty-year conflict. In the same city, I drank tea with an Iraqi woman who longed to return to her beloved homeland where she had lost numerous family members to war. Most Syrian women are living under the threat of violence or trying to make a new home with minimal means in an unfamiliar place. I remember visiting a mama in South Sudan after attending the birth of her eighth child, and the very next day she was re-thatching the roof of her home. A high percentage of women in the world are pregnant or birthing babies and trying to raise their children in safety, just like I am, yet they do so in the valley of the shadow of death. It’s so easy to simply forget about these women and enjoy the luxury of irrelevance I have to most of the bad news on the BBC. Or I can remember, but use the stats and headlines to criticize myself, dismissing my own feelings of vulnerability as unrealistic.

I spent about three months in South Sudan and found an incredible woman named Miriam to mother me while I was there. She taught me to carry water on my head and scrub my clothes properly, but I learned the most from her capacity for empathy. I would often spend the late evenings sitting at her fire, shelling ground nuts and getting her perspective on the Canadian boy I was emailing, the one I was starting to love and eventually married. She would tell me stories from her 27 years as a refugee in Uganda, stories that terrified me there in the darkness and broke my heart. And while she shared these sobering words she would sit next to me, stroking my hair.

In her words and with her touch, in the space she created in her own life experience for an American girl, I learned something I desperately needed to know: God’s heart is big enough for us all. There’s no comparison, just Divine compassion and a desire for Her children to care deeply for one another. God doesn’t judge us according to our level of suffering or pain, but chooses in freedom to dwell with us there, present like an ancient midwife, hands covered in our blood–comforting, protecting and healing. As we experience that Maternal Presence in our own pain, our capacity to care for others in front of us and across the ocean will slowly grow.

As William C. Placher writes in Narratives of a Vulnerable God“If God will be with us in our suffering, and God’s love sustains us, however, then we can dare to love and live the risks entailed in the realm between heaven and hell where we dwell and to which God freely came.”

The intense emotions we occasionally (or frequently!) experience as women can be gifts that draw us closer to God and to the rest of the world.

 

Let’s light a candle and feel them connecting us to women around the world, our sisters, many of them who really do have reason to worry and pray in the night. Rather than hurriedly extinguishing those feelings and fears that create sparks in our hearts, we can let them burn awhile in intercession.

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8 that it’s not only creation groaning with labour pains, but because the Spirit of God lives in us, we groan as well. If we can stay in these universal labour pains as they ebb and flow through us (rather than self-medicate or shame ourselves), our hearts can be enlarged.

As personal and unique as those feelings are, they may not be just about us. Especially when we sense the naked darkness of it all, can we let them linger, present with the One who is both fully vulnerable and completely trustworthy? Let’s carry them running into God’s arms, where there is not a hint of darkness, only the promise of all things new.

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About Becca:

Becca Farm 5.jpg

Becca spent five years working in mother-child healthcare in beautiful places like South Sudan, India and Nigeria.  She has dreams in women’s health and education brewing but now spends her days with a newborn in arms and chasing two toddlers around the post-industrial Australian neighbourhood she calls home. She writes about non-violent parenting, grief, spirituality and justice at exilefertility.com while keeping a fairly messy, but welcoming, home with her Canadian husband.

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Image credit: ECHO

Please note: An Amazon Affiliate link was added to this post. If you purchase the book mentioned in this post through this link, it will benefit our site. 
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  • Bev Murrill

    How deeply you have expressed the heart of women, Becca, as we struggle to live our lives and do more than survive, and yet hold hard to the certainty that our caring for other women whom we may/will never know, will make a difference – for them – and also for us and our children and our friends.

    It’s as we care that we can become instruments of breakthrough, and yet as we learn the ways of caring at different times and with different calls, that we can survive at the same time.

    I love how you’ve written this; it’s beautiful, evocative, but strong and challenging also. Wow.

    BTW… where do you live in Australia?

    • Hi Bev! We live south of Sydney, along the coast. We are residents now but I’ll always hang on to my Pennsylvania accent. 🙂 Thanks for your comment … I feel like I’m slowly learning not to chastise myself when I feel overwhelmed/vulnerable, but am trying to let God meet me there in a way that grows my capacity to care for and relate to others. It’s hard though and easy to want to stay pretty insular, especially with our third baby in the world now and life feeling pretty crazy (in the best way!)

      • Bev Murrill

        I can understand that…

        I live north of Sydney on the coast. What region are you? I’m in NEwcastle.

        • We’re in the Gong! Just had a pastor from Newcastle at our church last week. Haven’t been there but heard it’s a great place.

          • Bev Murrill

            NO! We used to live in MIttagong… so close to Wollongong!!! Was the pastor Kevin Wilcox? It’s lovely.. you should come and visit us!

          • It was! Such a great guy! Would honestly love to visit someday!

          • Bev Murrill

            Newcastle is apparently a Bible belt, but I just knew it was him for some reason. He’s a blessing that guy. We’ve known him for years.

            Anyway, keep us in mind when you come.. you’d be so welcome to stay with us! x

          • Thanks so much!

  • I’m so thrilled to see your words here, my friend. And what words they are. I particularly love this: “God doesn’t judge us according to our level of suffering or pain, but chooses in freedom to dwell with us there, present like an ancient midwife, hands covered in our blood–comforting, protecting and healing.As we experience that Maternal Presence in our own pain, our capacity to care for others in front of us and across the ocean will slowly grow.”
    Amazing words, amazing insight. Love you b!

    • thanks for the hook-up, dear one! always love your words as well … miss sharing a room with you 😉 xx

  • Nicole A. Joshua

    I’ve just returned from time in Rwanda and DRC, and have been carrying grief for the trauma people have experienced in these countries. I’m going to need to sit with this quote for a while: “God doesn’t judge us according to our level of suffering or pain, but chooses in freedom to dwell with us there, present like an ancient midwife, hands covered in our blood–comforting, protecting and healing.”
    Thank you for this challenging, but beautiful, post.

    • It’s hard to comprehend how women who have suffered (and continue to suffer and face the threat of suffering) can be so resilient when I can feel so weak even when life is GOOD and pretty easy … there has to be some space between comparison/guilt and ignorance/escapism. I think that looks different for all of us. Praying God will lead you as you continue to engage.

  • pastordt

    Oh, Becca. So much welcome to this space. What a beautiful essay to read, to savor, to ponder, to vicariously experience. Thank you for sharing these lovely pieces of your story and for reminding us of God our Mother, the one who broods over these chicks, wherever we may be on this blue marble.

    • Thanks so much for your encouragement, I was excited for an opportunity to write here. I feel like I’m in the middle of these feelings all over again now, 3 weeks postpartum. That’s a good reminder for myself.

  • Colleen Connell Mitchell

    Becca..I am a mama providing health care access and maternal health education to indigenous mamas in Costa Rica who have a 5 times higher maternal and infant mortality rate than the rest of this country. Over and over again, their stories bring me back to my own vulnerability and the support I have found in other women. I have lost a son to SIDS and four babes to miscarriage. I know their fears and aches so well. So your post touched my heart in a deep, deep place. Thanks.

    • I’m so sorry for all that you have lost Colleen – I’m sure you have a deep capacity to welcome and embrace the women you are working with – it sounds amazing. Women’s education is probably one of the most important things we can give ourselves to. Bless you!

    • thanks so much for sharing part of your story here, Colleen. It’s such a blessing to hear that you are using your vulnerability to serve those mamas. Incredible.

  • LoisJean Kinney

    Once again Becca, you amaze me!

  • LoisJean Kinney

    You’re welcome – I never want to miss!

  • So beautiful it makes me ache.