My pregnancy and first few postpartum months were completely uneventful- both Jack and I both came out of it healthy and thriving. I realize now that this fact was something that I most certainly took for granted. Pregnancy can be treacherous. We live in a country where we have access to the finest doctors and medicine in the world. But things can and do go very wrong for many women and babies. They did for my friend Liz.
Liz is a vibrant, creative redhead. She is one of the dozen or so people who knew both Trevor and me long before we knew each other. We were all theatre majors together at WMU. Liz and her husband were giddy with anticipation over the arrival of their baby girl. On November 2nd, Liz suffered a stroke after an emergency c-section. Although she was not expected to survive, she did, and her baby is a beautiful reflection of the love that her parents have for each other and the determination of her mom. She is perfect and healthy with long soft strawberry blonde hair. She is strong and alert, her mother's child.
Liz is paralyzed on her left side and is undergoing aggressive physical therapy. Her husband brings their baby to her bedside every day and she has been able to breastfeed with the assistance of a nurse- a beautiful, sacred moment between a baby and mother that I thank God she is able to experience.
Speaking of God...
Last year I heard an NPR interview with Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People". That is the question Kushner faced when he lost his first born child to a rare genetic disease. When events like these happen, it shatters an otherwise faithful person's perception of a loving God. He said that he had to face the fact that God was either all-powerful but not kind, or thoroughly kind and loving, but not totally powerful. In the end, he would rather compromise God's power and affirm his love.
"The ... theological conclusion I came to is that God could have been all-powerful at the beginning, but he chose to designate two areas of life off-limits to his power. He would not arbitrarily interfere with laws of nature. And secondly, God would not take away our freedom to choose between good and evil. [When bad things happen] I think God's role is to give us the strength and the vision to come through it - and come through it with our faith intact. God is there to send us people to hug us and hold our hands and dry our tears so we don't feel abandoned, not by God and not by friends. And then in our response to the tragedy, then we have something good that comes out of it."
I visited Liz today. She bears a large scar on her head from the brain surgery. She is a survivor and despite giving so much of herself already for her daughter, I couldn't help but notice a breast pump in the corner to assist her in giving her more; milk from her own bruised body. Shall I sit here and talk of God's great plan and design in all of this? I can't. I know he weeps for Liz as I wept for Liz today. Shall I attempt to persuade you that there's a meaning behind all of this that we just don't know yet. I can't and I won't because there's not. I have to believe in the God of Rabbi Kushner, the God who gave us mortality and a natural order to life but who gave up the power to intervene. God doesn't favor me more than he favors Liz or favors you.
Pregnancy is transformative. You are never ever the same, you can't be. In this design, there is no way to create a new life without altering or sacrificing part of yours. For six months now, I have suffered from a type of arthritic pain that renders me stiff from the waist down every morning when I wake up for about an hour. There are times in the day when my joints ache so much that I walk with a limp and I can barely carry Jack up the stairs. I am meeting with several specialists over the course of the next 2 months to hopefully pinpoint the cause of this pain. I don't say this to compare this pain with that of Liz, there is clearly no comparison. Pregnancy changes us. These little souls pass right through us and when our bodies respond to all of it well, we may count ourselves among the luckiest people on earth. In this time of thanksgiving, I marvel at how much I have to be grateful for. When I got home from the hospital today, I came downstairs and picked up my baby for a hug and a kiss. We can never take these small gifts for granted.
Today at the hospital, I didn't know quite what to say, I held her baby, I passed the time with her family. Sometimes there are no words. What I want her to know is that with each passing day she is writing the first chapter in her incredible new family's history. Her daughter will someday hear the story of those first few weeks of her life. She won't remember them, but she will have photos of her pregnant mom taking sideways pictures of her growing belly. She'll be warmed by the beautiful crocheted blankets her mom worked so hard on. Liz will tell her stories of physical therapy and recovery, of healing. Somewhere under that beautiful red hair will be a scar that tells the story of how she survived.
Some babies come into the world quietly and some come with fireworks, all of them are miracles. To the little one in that small corner room at the hospital who arrived in a storm, your mother is a hero. You are a little hero too and I count your lives among the gifts for which I am most grateful. With all of my heart, grateful.