As I sit down to write this, I feel as though I am unlocking a vault of emotions. One that I only let out from time to time, either in solitude- with my God because I know he can handle it, or with my beautiful sister in Christ, Lisa. So here we go- and here they come, those emotions that have no name and no definition. When the scriptures talk about the spirit groaning in prayer, I can totally resonate with that verse.
Romans 8:26 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning’s too deep for words.”
I met Lisa and Bret at an interview. They were choosing a doula to walk through their birth journey with them. I’m not sure how many more doulas they interviewed but there was a connection there from the beginning. Perhaps you don’t know what a doula is. The world doula means servant in Greek. My role in childbirth is to walk with the couple as they navigate the waters of their birth journey. I am to be a comforter, advocate, and unwavering support. The three of us that work together sat across from Bret and Lisa and we listened to their story- how they met and how eager and anxious they were about this birth. There was so much joy was in their eyes as they talked about their baby boy. We were hired. Bret deployed and we were able to watch Lisa’s belly grow each week as she sat in on our childbirth classes. I secretly hoped it would be me that would attend their birth.
Then one day we received the news. Everything stopped. We didn’t know what to do. We figured out I would be the doula to serve Lisa and Bret-that is, if they still wanted a doula. When Lisa called, I remember being filled with such uncertainty. I told them I had never served in this role before. If I’m being honest I think I told them that so that they could let me off the hook. I was selfishly hoping that maybe they wouldn’t want me. But at the same time, I knew in my heart that I was supposed to be there. I didn’t know how it would all play out. I had no expectations but I knew that I was supposed to love on them and to help them and to serve them in whatever way possible as their doula.
I have always had the gift of empathy. I feel as though I draw emotion out of most people I have ever locked eyes with and who choose to share a piece of themselves with me. This seems to happen even with strangers or people I have had the privilege of knowing for even a short time. When they hurt- I hurt. I mean physically ache with them in my soul-even when I have not personally experienced that exact pain myself. It is my favorite and at times-most hated-of gifts that the Lord gave me. Perhaps that is why He paired it with the gift of intersession (prayer). You see when I pray for someone whether I have known them for a lifetime or have just met them or seen them on the street- I feel a calling deep within my spirit that actively remembers to bring their needs and burdens to the foot of the One who made them and knows their most deep and intimate needs. It takes me to a place unfamiliar to the flesh and into a sacred and intimate and always present space that I walk boldly into every time I utter the words “Dear Lord,” on the behalf of another.
The day came and they called me to come. I arrived shortly after Lisa and Bret were “settled” into the hospital room. Even the use of that word seems to not fit. I thought to myself after walking down the hallway and into their room, how I hoped that there would be no babies crying within ear shot. My perspective had changed. Instead of smiles from the staff, we just exchanged glances that spoke more than words could even try. I began to pray for the staff that walks from one room to another, knowing and understanding that Lisa was one of many that have walked this journey on their watch.
The clock seemed to fly and yet stand still. That happens a lot in births so at least that seemed familiar. After hours of waiting – the labor began and I watched as Lisa held her belly with every contraction, wanting to feel everything she could. I tried to ease her discomfort by placing warmth where it hurt. But I knew I could not reach as deep as the hurt was within her soul. We cried and yes- we even laughed. I felt awkward to find any joy at all in such a cruel and surreal hardship. But there were new things happening around every corner to this experience unfolding in front of my eyes and deep within my own self. As the day unfolded I offered very little in the way of spoken encouragement. This was so very different. I prayed before every word that came out of my mouth. Careful not to say anything in my usual vocabulary. “Open your pelvis, release the tension, and connect with your baby.” Nothing seemed appropriate. There were simply no words. I focused a gaze on her hoping she would find comfort in my steady eyes. I prayed over the two of them- sometimes out loud- mostly silence. We listened to song after song and waited as her labor began to pick up. She wanted to experience every part of this process that she could. I watched as her labor progressed, she literally held her baby in with every muscle in her body. It was involuntary. Her brain and heart couldn’t accept the consequences of letting go. As she walked and swayed, she clenched her thighs together and I felt, who was I to tell her to let go? Bret literally held her up. He was her rock. I knew she would need an epidural to numb her body of this experience and at the same time I knew how important it was for/to her to feel this.
Lisa’s eyes and voice and body drew me into a place of the throne room that I admit not to visit often. A place that is – I believe carved out for the ones who ache beyond words and a place that the spirit itself speaks a language of its own as it shakes its fist and yet at the same time bows down to the God who sees all and is in all! How does one prepare-other than on their knees begging for Him to make me an instrument of His peace!
Soon it grew time to seek out medication that would ease her bodily discomfort and allow Lisa to release those muscles that were involuntarily holding her sweet baby boy in her womb against the force of the contractions. I knew nothing would take away her pain but hoped it would allow her body to rest a little. She did and then it was time. I watched the tears fall and allowed myself to cry as well. I read a prayer over Lisa written by a sweet friend of hers as well as a student of ours.
I searched for ways to help her. Then finally the Lord spoke through me and led her through a release I had never used. Dare I say it was beautiful? And then palms wide open and facing upward Lisa said, “It is time.” She was scared and yet so brave. Jake was delivered gently by the skillful hands of a loving midwife. He was so much more perfect that I could have imagined. He was handed to the nurse and I watched as Lisa’s aching arms reached for her child. I’m not the best at photography but I am good at timing that perfect moment when a mommy meets her baby for the first time. The lines are usually fuzzy when I take these pictures but I’m good at capturing the beauty in that moment.
I thought to myself, there was not going to be beauty as I watched this moment. I stood there watching and crying and praying, searching for something that didn’t hurt. And there it was- In the loss and in the despair in the udder brokenness of this moment- I saw beauty in the fact that everyone ached in that room-everyone felt this soul who was gone but here. Everyone was touched by a tiny little boy named Jake that seemed big enough to hold us all in that space. As Jake was passed to his mommy’s arms I watched as her body shook from head to toe having labored and now having to physically hold the reality of her worst fear. (Of every mom’s worst fear) I watched as Bret tried so hard to contain the anger and sadness and grief. And then watched him release and I thought to myself how brave he was. To name these emotions would be impossible. But it was clear that EVERYONE in that room felt for Lisa and Bret with such compassion.
There was no joy. There was grief. There was silence. There was hurt and confusion and there was pain. But there was warmth in the coldness of the despair. There was truth in the words of a song that will be forever be etched in my mind. There was a God, who I feel cried with us that day. He was not far off- He drew near and His presence was thick in the air and in the wailing and in the tears and it sustained and gave Lisa oxygen to her soul.
I watched as the verse rang loudly in my mind. “The Lord draws near to the broken-hearted”
Lisa had a few requests that she made known to me on that phone call several days before. Ideas to savor the memory of her sweet boy. She asked that I go with another member of the staff to help make sure we were able to get pictures in certain outfits and get finger prints while we were still able. We took Jake to a quiet room and began to unwrap the blanket and we were mesmerized at how perfect he was.
Jake-Your face… It was so beautiful. Your hands-so tiny. I prayed as we ever so delicately put just enough pressure on your little fingers to make an imprint for your parents keepsake. It turned out perfect and yet not enough. As I helped dress you I had to catch my breath at the emotions that would race through my body. I kept trying to medicalize and tap into my nurse brain and then my heart would take over again and I would weep. I found myself talking to you as we dressed you carefully and wrapped you in a blanket. We were dressing you to give you back to your mommy so she could hold you in the outfits she picked out for you. The ones she imagined rocking you in.
This was my hardest job I had ever had. It broke me to the point that I didn’t want to doula again. I didn’t want to listen to another woman complain or even greet her beautiful healthy child. I didn’t want to risk feeling the way I did again. I hurt and ached in places I didn’t know were possible.
And then as the days went by I began to praise a God who was big enough to handle my doubts and anger and resentment. I began to thank Him for the opportunity to give every piece of myself possible to this sweet couple and help them through this journey. I began to see how we were designed to walk this road together in life with others and hold them up when they are weak. I began to see the things that I took for granted every day because I wasn’t able to stop and see perspective. Jake’s birth taught me so much and frankly I am still learning. Mostly I am grateful to have been hired not to ease discomfort or to provide a calming touch but to walk alongside this sweet couple and FEEL with them. I am thankful for a bond that I will have with this family forever.
I have wrestled with the question why and I still have no answers. But I have gained perspective and a wider lens on life. For that I am thankful. I will forever be changed by a sweet and beautiful baby boy named Jake that I will hold in my heart for all time.