Notes from the Delivery Room: Pain Is Not the Enemy

Today, I start a series of (one-handed) posts. 

Yesterday marked one week since Liam was born.  As I glanced at the clock throughout the day, it was hard not to draw the parallels: Last week at this time, I was at this point, etc.  It offered me a chance to step back and think through the process a bit.  While I feel a bit funny posting a full birth story, this series is born from the process.  These posts are essentially thoughts on how we deal with pain and difficulty from the lens of labour. Having just walked through it, my perspective may differ from most.  Forgive me if I am too much in my little newborn world and the connections are trite or contrived. 

In my first two labours, both long and drawn out, it was easy to see pain as the enemy.  As things progressed and intensified, my response to the beginning of a contraction became, “Oh no, here’s another one.”  I began to dread them.

The more time passed, the more I wanted the pain to end.  It was wearing me down with its relentlessness.

I wanted the baby here and I wanted the pain to stop.  Obviously the pain needed to continue for the baby to arrive but I wanted to separate the two.  Baby, yes.  Pain, no.

Many good things in our lives are born of pain.  Yet, we despise the pain.  We dread and reject it.  We tense against it, medicate ourselves in a million ways to numb its sting.

This time, I thought it through carefully before.  Pain is not the enemy.  Pain is precisely the vehicle that gets me to where I want to be.  This time, I needed to welcome pain as an integral part of the process.  I needed to cooperate and let the pain accomplish its work.

Curtis was such an encourager.  Having done this twice before, we both knew what I needed to hear.  One step closer.  That one is done.  Instead of viewing it as an obstacle we renamed each contraction progress, another step on the journey.  I didn’t reach a breaking point where I thought that I couldn’t do it without medication.  My mind was made up.  I wanted to be present.  I wanted to be clear-minded.  I wanted to feel the process.  I only needed to do it one contraction at a time.

This is easier with labour than with life.  Labour is finite pain.  Labour will end even though there are moments when it feels like it never will.  The trouble with the rest of life is that there are no guarantees.  There are no promises of emergency C-sections if things get too stuck or stalled or scary.

So pain becomes the obstacle, keeping us from a comfortable life.  Hurt discourages us because it stands in the way of what we desire.  We see pain as an interruption.  Its agony wears us down.  So we stop counting steps.  We stop marking progress.  Neither are easy to measure.  We find something that numbs us, distracts us.  The pain around us keeps on going but we don’t feel it so much.  But what if God is working in our pain? What if He can use it, redeem it, rework it so that it isn’t wasted?  Would that change anything?

I am not saying we should like pain or even desire it, but when it comes, and it will come, what would happen if we welcomed it as a step on our journey?  What if we worked with the difficulties instead of bracing against them so they form us and shape us?  Just maybe, they’ll birth something new.

Welcome Little One

As you may have guessed, the sudden silence in the month of near-daily posts has been a result of the most welcome type of interruption.  Late Monday night, October 21, we welcomed our third son into the world.  Liam Daniel was born at 10:47 weighing 7lbs 11.5 oz.

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After the fiasco with the spinal and my knee surgery, I didn’t even want to entertain the idea of an epidural.  Morphine makes me loopy even thinking about it.  So I told the nurses not to offer me anything, even if I begged and pleaded.  There was no begging or pleading and with the consistent encouragement of my wonderful husband, I had the natural delivery I wanted.  Though it was long (22 hours!) and obviously intense (they don’t call it labour for nothing), I was very thankful for God’s peace in the midst of it.

Liam is feeding and sleeping well.  He loves to be snuggled and swaddled and is a very calm, peaceful baby so far.  We are more than thrilled with our new little blessing.

My older sons, Lucas and Micah are thrilled with their new baby brother and love to hold him.  We can’t believe how they have adapted so well.

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We came home from the hospital on Wednesday to a turkey dinner my dear mom cooked.  The table was full as my sister and brother in law had come to visit.  It felt like a Thanksgiving celebration.  And it was.  One week late.  Every day, in fact, finds our hearts full of thanksgiving for this new and precious gift.  Welcome to the world little Liam.  We love you.

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To My Little One

Tonight we set up your bed.  It is a portable, cozy bassinet that folds small enough to be tucked into a carry-on suitcase.  I think you’ll be snug there, beside us.  Now, though the walls around you will change, at least your little bed will stay the same.  Your life may be like that bed though, portable, but always close to us.

Daddy kindly emptied two of his three dresser drawers for you.  He scrounged up more hangers and piled things on shelves in the closets so I could place little stacks of your clothes within easy reach.   Such tiny little socks you have.  We want you to know we will make room for you.  We will rearrange our plans and ideas so that your little feet can march through our hearts comfortably.  We will juggle and shift so that you fit just right.

I erased about 400 pictures off of the camera so we’ll have enough space on the memory card for the first few days of your life.  People say parents stop taking pictures after the first child or two, but I plan otherwise.  We will still celebrate  and document your smiles, your grimaces, your little teeth poking through, your first steps.  That is until you run faster than my shutter can keep up.

IMG_7904Your brothers are excited to meet you.  They ask me often when you are coming.  We made you birthday breakfast yesterday and toasted to your coming, celebrating that you’d soon be with us.  You, unfortunately didn’t grace us with your presence yet but since we found out about you we decided to make a party out of it.

Micah is rather concerned that you don’t have socks on your feet.  He doesn’t want your toes to be cold.  You know his voice, the one that sings you “Shinkle, Shinkle Little Stawr” to make you feel “SOOO happy”.  And he’s waiting to pounce on you with nuggles and tisses.  He will have to get used to not being the baby but he will love you tenderly and care for you deeply.

Lucas assumes your coming is imminent.  “Maybe he’ll come RIGHT NOW!”  All the Grade 1s cannot believe you aren’t here yet.  He is older now and wants to hold you all on his own and read you stories.  He wanted you to be a girl at first so he could protect you but now is quite happy that you, as a boy, can join his rescue squad and Lego Building team.  He will, nevertheless, be a fierce protector for you and a relentless teacher.

I know now, on the inside, it must sound like a lot of commotion out here, and you get elbowed a lot during story time.  That may not change actually but I hope you’ll grow to love it.  I hope the commotion grows just a little bit louder with your little voice in the mix, laughing and jabbering and collaborating.  My dream is that you three boys will be best of friends.  No one will understand your third culture life the way your brothers will.  You can have secret languages wherever you go and built in friends and protectors.  It is my prayer that you three will band together, a cord of three strands.

We didn’t know if we’d have you.  Were three kids in the same room too many, three car seats in the back of a rental car too hard, three little people too hard to juggle in airplanes and customs and other countries?  It is easy to make you fit in Canada, easy to spread out but overseas it isn’t the same.  But God knew.  He knew you’d fit perfectly, like a missing puzzle piece in the picture of our family.  And we are so very glad.

You are taking your time coming.  We thought you’d be here early and now the days keep ticking by.  But for now, my body is your home and you are welcome to stay as long as you are comfortable and safe.  That’s the way it will stay.  You are always welcome to find safety in my arms, Little One.  Day or night.  Little or big.  That’s my job and my delight as your Mommy.

Our departure date will have to shift now.  We can’t get our paperwork and your vaccines in the time we have left.  But we’ll continue to wait–for you to be born, for you to tie your shoes at the door, for you to choose which flavour ice cream you’d like.  I know many times we’ll rush you when we shouldn’t, but we’ll try to be patient and let you take your time.

Little One, many are praying for you and loving you already.  You are blessed to be anxiously waited for.  We can’t wait to meet you and kiss you and find out just what a treasure you really are.

Love Mommy

XOXO

What To Say to the Woman Who is Overdue

People say a lot of things when you are pregnant.  I have heard mostly kind, well-intentioned comments.  Occasionally people will say silly things, like the time when the middle aged man told me I was too early for Halloween in my orange shirt.  Luckily, he picked me (picked on me?) on a patient day and I merely replied, “Pumpkin smuggling” and kept on going.  On the wrong day, he might have got a burst of tears or a blaze of sarcasm about how many of his shirts still fit over his belly.  People will tell you that you’ll have your hands full with three and that you won’t sleep but they are just reliving their lives, when they were young and herded a pack of beautiful, rambunctious children through the grocery store.

There reaches a certain inevitable point in pregnancy where people you know no longer greet you by name; they greet you by exclamations with phrases such as “You are still here?!” (where was I supposed to be going?) and “No baby yet?!” (Well, there’s certainly a baby, isn’t there?).  When you call anyone, you must say, fast, “Hello.  Nowehaven’thadthebabyyet.  How are you doing?”

At this point, strangers everywhere start asking you, “When is your due date?  It must be soon!”

And a dramatic shift occurs in the cosmos when your due date comes and goes.  And the days keep on going.  And going.  People’s eyes get wide.  Their mouths drop open a little bit.  And compassion hits you from every side.  You poor thing.  This week I have been blessed by the kindness of people who have decided it is in my best interests to say only nice things, perhaps stretching the truth at times.

So, based on my recent experience, here’s a short list of niceties to say to a very pregnant woman if you don’t know what to say.  Save your own overdue story and murderous induction tales for another day…

1.    You are beautiful. 

I cannot walk properly, though I try.  This had me giggling the other day as in my brain I went to go power walking down the mall for a quick errand and realized my body couldn’t keep up.  So I cannot walk.  I have exactly 2 shirts that still fit me.  The scale keeps going up and up and up….well, you get the idea.

I posted a picture of my orange shirt pumpkin belly on my due date, half for laughs, and my friends and family kindly told me I looked great.  Yesterday both a middle aged man and all the teachers at my son’s school told me I am beautiful pregnant.  It didn’t matter that my hair was frizzy and that I was desperately tugging on my long shirt that doesn’t seem so long anymore and that I had circles under my eyes.  You can’t go wrong telling the woman who is thinking that perhaps she will be pregnant forever that at least she doesn’t look like a whale.  Even if she does.

2.    You are all baby.

Now this isn’t one little bit true.  The majority of pregnant women pack on weight in places that aren’t just belly. I am all baby if you count one baby on my belly and one on each thigh.  And I can tell you right now which two are going to take more work to get rid of.

Maybe the belly distracts you now from the extra padding everywhere else.  And the belly is distracting.  It is large.  When you reach full term and beyond, your belly is no longer cute and round.  It is lopsided, leaning to the side where the baby is.  It develops corners and bumps where little knees and bums and elbows are. But for now, distractions or not, your words make me think that you look at me with kinder eyes than I do myself.

3.    Don’t you have a good attitude!

Well, I have an okay attitude at this moment.  In this particular moment, I am trying to be patient and unselfish in letting this baby grow as long as he wants on the inside.  But sometimes I am cranky.  Sometimes I want to be done.  Sometimes I think I am going to be pregnant and sore for the rest of my life and never have a baby at all.  So overlooking my meltdowns and congratulating me on my sketchy attitude is mighty kind of you.

4.    Good for you to be out and about!  Usually this is not something that we are congratulated for, going to the grocery store, going to the library, going to church.  But we’ll take it.  Productivity and energy is at an all time low so for you to say we’ve accomplished something by walking out the door makes us feel much better about our lives.

5.    Fat babies sleep better.

This is the winner, hands down. You can tell me I’m all baby and have a good attitude and I know the real truth.  But when you remind me that with more fat stores comes a greater probability that this child will sleep better sooner, I buy it.  I don’t care if it is substantiated or not.  It sounds plausible.  It sounds hopeful.  It sounds like just the right thing to say.

Wide Open

This post belongs to a series called the Chai Conversations, a challenge to post every day (or almost every day!) in October.  You can start here.

Smallness chafes.  It does that often.  I find the abrasive surface papers the walls of this heart I call home.  Minutiae.  The inconsequential.  The unimportant.  They are pebbles, gravel in my shoes.  When I was sick chronically my sickness filled my perspective.  Healing and mercy were the language of my prayers.  Healing and mercy for me.  This did not move me to a transcendent compassion for others who suffered infinitely more.  I curled in around my hurt, prayed for it to end.

When we moved overseas and I unpacked a bag full of questions and found no answers, when I left everything to follow and couldn’t find the one who led me there, my small self curled up tighter.  It didn’t make me bloom with compassion for my neighbours who didn’t know what questions to speak, who to seek.  No, my pain made me smaller, harder; I focused everything inward.

Pain does that.  We burn our finger and what do we do?  We grasp the injured finger with our other hand and pull it into our chest.  We hunch over as if everything in us pulls our hurt to the centre of ourselves.  It is contrary to our nature and against our instincts to accept hurt arms spread wide, stretched out, to be forgiving and giving in the very same moment.

And yet, my desire today and every day is that I will not be small and consumed by the immediate, whatever that happens to be on any given day.  My desire is that any disappointment, any pain be a corrective lens for my myopia enabling me to look great distances and take the blur off the edges of the lives of others.  I want hurt to sharpen my acuity, to focus my ability to care.

May our hurts grant us the ability to say, “I’ve been hurt, albeit it just a little, but it is enough to imagine that you must feel overwhelmed.  How can I help?”  May our hurt teach us the language of mercy and our pain grant us a vision of compassion.

I was listening to a song this morning that a friend recommended by Misty Edwards.  She says,

This is how I know what love is… 

Arms wide open, heart exposed,

arms wide open, sometimes bleeding…

And in Christ we find the ultimate example of how to look beyond our hurt, how to expose our hearts and love others.  In our pain, may we find him and may we reflect him.

Say Something

After yesterday’s post on Pregnancy and Infant Loss, a few people graciously shared, stating I had found the words they struggle to find.  It is a gift to try to be a voice of love for those who care about you who have suffered.

bittersweetbyshaunaniequistBut today I’m left with the words of a favourite author of mine ringing in my ears.  Shauna Niequist, who herself has suffered multiple miscarriages and shares about them (among other things) in her book Bittersweet, pens an essay entitled, “Say Something”.

In it she says, “When something bad happens, people say the wrong thing so often.  They say weird, hurtful things when they’re trying to be nice…But there’s something worse than the things people say.  It’s much worse, I think, when people say nothing.”

It is an interesting concept, this.  Silence being worse than fumbling and stumbling and putting our foot in our mouth.  At least, when we stumble, we are trying to close the distance between your pain and our understanding of it.

Even if we don’t know what to say, simply acknowledging that and saying we care means a whole lot more than saying nothing.  For people who are grieving or struggling, whether that struggle be with death or sickness or finances or family, the problem is forefront.  The struggle is the lens through which they see the world.  The struggle is like an interface, placed squarely between them and the rest of society.  If you ignore it, you may as well ignore them.

Questions can be a good place to start if you are willing to sit and listen.  People don’t need our answers; they need to know we care.  Ask, “How are you really doing?” or “What is hurting you most these days?” or “Do you want to talk about it?”

Sometimes the question we ask instead is, “How can I help?”  Most often, the response is, “I am fine.”  People who are hurting have enough trouble remembering what end is up, let alone telling you how you can help them.  And while offers to help are meaningful and show care, sometimes we just need to do something.  Have you ever had anyone turn down a meal when you show up with it prepared on their doorstep?  Have you ever turned down anyone who showed up with something for you?  Exactly.

Shauna says, “when there’s bad news or scary news or when something falls apart, say something.  Send a note.  Send a text.  Send flowers.  And if you don’t know what to say, try this: ‘I heard what happened, and I don’t know what to say.”

I know it is basic but it is easy to forget and easy to be scared.  Let’s be people who say and do something about the hurt we see in others.

Remembering With You

We have seen it.  We have watched our friends and our sisters, our neighbours and our co-workers, our cousins and acquaintances walk through it.  Maybe we haven’t lost our own babies but we have carried your pain.  We know that a baby lost is a baby lost whether it is a pregnancy at 5 weeks, a baby at full term or a full grown child.  We know too that, for some, never being pregnant is an intense loss in its own right and every month its own grieving cycle.

Today we hold our babies tighter, those of us blessed to have them.  We hold them tighter not because we deserve them and because you don’t.  We wish somehow by squeezing them we could multiply them and share, that we could fill your empty arms.  But since we can’t, we try to honor you and them by loving them well and praying with compassion for you that one day, your arms too will be full.

Today is a day set aside to remember infant and pregnancy loss.  So we remember with you.

We don’t always know what to say.  We don’t fully understand your pain, although we try.  But we haven’t forgotten.  Today we carry your loss with you.