Monday, April 20, 2015

when you're having a baby and you're scared


When I was ten, my family and I went to Six Flags in St. Louis, and we decided to ride the Screamin’ Eagle, a.k.a. Satan’s roller coaster. It was at the top of the first hill that I first realized (too late) – I am terrified of heights. TERRIFIED beyond reason. I was so afraid, I couldn’t speak. I just sat there in my hot pink denim shorts, wide eyed, petrified, in full knowledge that there was nothing I could do to escape it. My brother sensed my fear immediately, and he spent the rest of the ride screaming at my mom, “Caroline’s upset! Caroline’s upset!” But Mom couldn’t do anything. No one could do anything. I had to ride it out.

At the end of the ride, I got up slowly, shakily, unable to speak for a few minutes. “Are you okay?” they all asked. “Did you cry?”

“I couldn’t,” I stuttered. My fear had quite literally left me without a voice. I needed therapy and a funnel cake. I also needed someone to tell me that the clay parrot necklace I had on was a huge mistake.

Interestingly enough, the devil roller coaster scenario was the one that popped into my head when labor started to get difficult. I was scared, and though there were people around me, there was nothing they could do to help except get me a funnel cake when it was over. (Really, I highly recommend post-labor pancakes.) But until then, I had to ride it out. I wanted to labor at home as long as possible so that I would have the best possible chance to have the natural delivery I sensed was best. My contractions lasted for days, and they were strong and irregular. It was confusing – when should I go to the hospital? What did these contractions mean? Why wasn’t my body going by the book? Was my baby okay?

I sought wisdom from people I trusted, did a lot of emotional eating, and endured it day by day – about three days of uncomfortable contractions and then two days of nearly unbearable ones. I couldn’t get relief between them, I couldn’t sleep, and it took all my energy to keep panic attacks at bay. I was afraid.

Five days of contractions behind me, we finally went to the hospital, where labor continued for another 18 hours. I had my incredible doula Jamie and my awesome husband Luke there, and from what I can remember, though I soaked up their counsel, I barely spoke to them. The fear was palpable, and it had taken my voice. The pain was overwhelming, and there was no way to stop the ride.

Having a baby is scary business. Sometimes it doesn’t go according to plan or by the book. Sometimes you are faced with scenarios that hadn’t even occurred to you. Sometimes the sudden clarity of the value and significance of that new life is terrifying.

Some have found themselves unexpectedly pregnant, and the thought of the ride ahead is crushing.

Some have found themselves faced with a complicated pregnancy or an emergency delivery, and the whirlwind threatens to consume. 

Some have found themselves face to face with unspeakable loss.

All of us have found ourselves completely without control. We may have carefully planned and registered, meticulously written thank you notes and bought diapers, but at the end of the day, the reins are not in our hands.

A thousand times to be afraid.

What do you do when fear is winning, when hope feels grim, when the thunder crashes and the darkness is oppressive?

“When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Silence! Be still!’ Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm” Mark 4:39.

“He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed” Psalm 107:29.

The one who holds the reins is bigger than the circumstances, more powerful than the contractions, capable of quieting any storm. Unspeakably great yet speaks in a whisper.

Yes, He can quiet the storm, but often He does not. I still felt it. He let it continue to swirl around me, and I clung to him with all I had, repeating in my mind a precious promise: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” Isaiah 26:3.

“A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” 1 Kings 19:11-12.

Sometimes the great calm is not around us but within us. Sometimes His promises do not come in fierce winds but in gentle whispers.

I’m 24 weeks pregnant now. Sometimes I’ll have labor flashbacks, remembering what it was like to weather the storm alone, to endure the intensity when all my reserves were depleted. I’ll get panicky and teary and wonder if I can do this. But God in his goodness reminds me of the smell of a newborn baby, the first time my daughter looked at me, the love that was so intense it might have well slapped me in the face. He reminds me that He was there in the night even when it was too dark to see, that "even the darkness is not dark" to Him (Psalm 139:2), that He is there in gentle whispers, that He promises the dawn. That even when the night stretches on immeasurably, there is always dawn.

“A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy…your joy will be complete” John 16:21-24.

The spiritual parallels are unavoidable. Hellish agony finally conquered by the redemption, the restoration, the glory of heaven. Dawn slicing through a black sky. The internal stillness that sustains us while we wait for morning. All of it so worth it because of the beauty of the daylight.

Oh that daylight! I dream about meeting my baby boy all the time. The way it’ll feel to see his face for the first time, to see Light cut through the darkness again, to hold in my arms the whispered promise. 

Because no matter what I will hold in my arms the whispered promise, even if it is not on this side of heaven. This I need to remember as pregnancy fears assault. I have heard enough stories to know that even though I am 24 weeks pregnant, that is no guarantee. I am not holding the reins, but I choose to trust the one who is. I pray I always choose to trust the one who is. Someday, whenever that may be, sweet baby, that I get to hold you in my arms, it will make the darkness worth it. I do not know your face, but I love you more than I can say, and you are worth enduring the darkness.

Dear friend, do not be afraid. He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. May you keep your mind stayed on Him, the quieter of storms, the promise whisperer. May he keep you in perfect peace.

2 comments:

  1. "...the quieter of storms, the promise whisperer." My heart loves this description, Caroline, so beautiful and eloquent!
    "...the clay parrot necklace was a huge mistake" ...such fun to laugh hysterically one minute and be reduced to heart wrenching tears the next!
    -It really is as though I feel every word you write, and God reminds me to feel the emotions that I most want to fight against because those are the ones that keep our hearts soft. mary sims

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    1. Oh my gosh, Mary, you said it perfectly - "...feel the emotions that I most want to fight against because those are the ones that keep our hearts soft." May we always have soft hearts!

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