“Why did I do this?”
She sounded so tired, so exasperated, a hint of fear in her voice as she worked her way through the contraction. I was there supporting her as her doula as she worked to birth her second child. It was clear she was now remembering that there was no way out but through and she knew from her last birth what through meant. She was scared and she was doubting herself.
I hear those words or words like it at almost every birth. “I can’t do this.” You see that spark of fear in their eyes as they near transition and they realize what is being asked of them. A complete gift of her body, her self, the surrendering of her hopes, her fears, her very body to the work of life. There are no guarantees, no easy way out. They’re words I’ve said myself not only during the labor of childbirth and in the pangs of the grief of losing a child, but in the smaller much less intense contractions of every day life. Raising children, teaching grammar lessons, changing diapers, making dinner, managing tantrums, those moments we are squeezed to the point of self-doubt and fear.
Lord, WHY am I doing this? Lord, I was not cut out for this. I can’t do this anymore. Please. Help.
In those moments of labor and birth it is clear to the outsider why they are doing it, of course. Babies are worth it. Life is worth it. We know she can do it and we also can see much clearer than she in the moment of the glory that is to come. We see the point of the suffering from the outside. But in the moment of the pain, the suffering, when we are the ones feeling the cross within our very body and soul, we often cannot see it ourselves and need to cling to the hope that others or God’s word gives us.
We know that Christ came to bring life and to bring it in abundance. But how is it done? Just how did God choose to bring that eternal life in our souls, that opportunity for heaven, into the world? It was done through handing over his body and allowing himself to suffer and die for his beloved. What looks like the most tragic and horrific of deaths, something that most of us couldn’t even bear to look at, a crucified bloody corpse, is the avenue through which He ushers that eternal life into the world. That is how life enters the world. When I see the face of a woman in transition, nearing the end of her birth, I see the face of our Lord on the cross. I remember that the only way to new life is through a sort of death. I get a tiny glimpse of that moment and how we as women participate in our very bodies in the paschal mystery. We as women get to replicate in our very bodies the pouring out of that life into the world.
This is just as true for those of us who have experienced loss as it is for those of us who have had the gift of a normal and healthy birth. I’m reminded of this especially during October, the month dedicated to respecting life and to the awareness of those babies who were lost too soon. Those babies that died, those precious little ones who passed too early are just as alive if not more so than those we were able to hold in our arms, the ones who were welcomed with tears of joy and not grief. Those mothers who grieve still gave their children life. Life, however brief or long, is life and we trust in the mercy of God that they are now enjoying eternal life, life in abundance. Whether our child passed into eternal life before birth or whether we receive a glimpse of the glory of life right now, the Lord still uses our bodies, our sufferings and our gift of self to bring life. God needs us. He needs women to bring life. He allows us to participate in His plan of bringing life into existence, through our very bodies and through the day to day caring for the ones we love. The suffering of infertility and loss is a testament to how GOOD life is, because the absence of it is felt so deeply.
I wonder if God is up there sometimes doula-ing us along in our pains and sufferings. Knowing we can do this. Knowing it is all worth it. Seeing so clearly what the purpose of it all is. Ready at our side to lean on and support us in the darkest moments of fear and desperation. Urging us forward when it seems that we are blinded to everything but the pain.
Why did I do this?
Because life is good. Be it messy, painful, joyful, tragic, or when it bleeds us dry, we do it because we know in the deepest parts of our bodies and souls that life is good. Whether it’s during the throes of labor, the pangs of loss, or simply when dealing with the daily and sometimes excruciating gift of self that is motherhood, we know the answer. When we get to the end, the very end, and all things are made clear we will be able to look back at the ways that our sufferings brought life and we’ll understand the pain and say just as that beautiful mother I worked with said as she pulled that slippery wet newborn baby girl to her chest, “I did it. Thank you, Jesus, I did it.”
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18