Childbirth As Baptism and the Family of Things


This old neighborhood seems to shudder and groan under the weight of winter, our geriatric houses holding up generations of stories under beams that ache like knees when it snows. My own home has seen a hundred such winters, and I can't bring myself to trade the richness of its heritage for a shelter less drafty and with more than one toilet. I long to find my place in the family of things, as Mary Oliver wrote, and there's something about homes with creaking floors that make me feel one step closer.

Downstairs, a child belts his ABCs from the couch he's been restricted to. From the bedroom next to me hums the sound machine that has lulled a toddler down for another day's nap. I type from my bed as a two-week-old infant squeaks in his sleep, and I wonder how many babies this house has rocked. Where are they now? What are their stories? Who were those mothers who sat in this room leaking milk and tears in the middle of the long night?

I labored in this room for two hours a few weeks and a lifetime ago. We didn't turn on the lights as the sun went down at 5pm, flickering off the snow outside our windows. Eric lit candles and put music on while I lay in bed, reveling in the fact that the time had finally come to meet this son. He touched my arm when my stomach burned and I told him it comforted me. He did it again every time my body quaked for the next five hours, and I loved him more than I ever had.

The labor was longer than I would have liked and more intense than the one before it. By the end I was gasping for an epidural but there was no time for that; my uterus had done its work and a few breaths later I was pushing him out while the midwife came flying into the room, shoving gloves on late hands. My sister beheld her first childbirth experience and when nurses put him on my chest I looked over their heads to see her choking back tears.

He was perfect. (Aren't they all?)

Oscar Abraham. I'm glad he wasn't planned. It's better to feel this kind of surprised, in the end.

But we brought him home to a house that can be surprised by nothing. Surely she's seen it all. Maybe there were babies born within these walls. God forbid any died within them, but Midwest winters are hard and I can't help but wonder. So many stories that I will never know, yet mine is now entwined with theirs. And who will come after us? What groaning mothers and husbands who touch tenderness to their laboring limbs? What babies with stories of their own to unravel?

Childbirth is the closest I've come to touching death, and mine have all been healthy and without complication. The very nature of the process is a mirror of the life cycle: there can be no new life without suffering to bring it forth. Every mother must dip down under the waters before emerging, heaving, with a new child at her breast.

Every childbirth is a death, every childbirth is a baptism. Every childbirth "calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting- over and over announcing your place in the family of things."

(if birth stories are your thing you can find Moses' here and Taavi's here, as well as Alyosha's adoption story here.)

Weary and Waiting to Rejoice


Sometimes I can feel his fingers stretching against my insides, down by my left hip. At least I like to imagine them to be little fingers; It’s hard to be exactly sure what’s what and details have never been my strong suit. Knees and elbows jut out once in awhile like little drawer knobs. Push them and they’re gone. Poof.

But I always know where his back is.  Long and hard, its position doesn’t change much this late in the game. Head down, spine strong: almost ready. Any day now he will break me open. He will be red and wailing; I will be white from exhaustion. Any day now the world will change in a way most ordinary and yet most catastrophic. Any day now we will both know new life.

Everything groans within me: my back, my esophagus, my uterus, my bladder. I feel small contractions and resist the urge to time them; I know instinctively it’s not the real thing. They don’t hurt badly enough yet. For now, I wait. It is Advent, after all. 

Said Mary.


It wouldn't be right to have no wait during Advent. Part of me is relieved that this baby boy hasn't entered the world, even as part of me bemoans it. There have been years in the past when I have felt Advent. When I was pregnant with Moses those four weeks before Christmas I have blissful memories of lit fireplaces and quiet, meditative living room nights after Alyosha went to bed. It was dark and still, the air thick with meaning. We would fumble our way through mass, the rhythm of the ritual still not quite familiar to our bodies, and I would marvel at the good fortune of being in a position to meditate on the scandal that the son of God had a mother.

Theotokos. Mother of God. The abrasiveness of it is almost meant to alarm you, but I delighted in the shock of it. No naysayer can call the name inaccurate without calling into question Christian teaching. He was fully God. He was fully human. She was the mother of God. It was delightfully terrifying, and I lapped it up.

But this year, this Advent, this pregnancy, is different. I have three other children at home to tend to now. The post-bedtime nights are too short and not often contemplative. I don't glory in the wait the way I did four years ago. I just want the season to pass; I just want the baby to come. I just want Christmas without having to watch how slowly the purple and pink wax drips down the living room wreath. I just want to sing of how the weary world rejoices.

Instead, I must feel the weariness just a moment more.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

(excerpt from the Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55)



My white parents were raised in Mississippi in the fifties and sixties. My siblings and I grew up hearing about how the Civil Rights Movement affected the young lives of our mom and dad; how Brenda Travis, a girl in my dad’s hometown not much older than he, had dared to participate in segregation protests and was subsequently taken from her family and banned from the state; how the Ku Klux Klan had threatened my parents in their early years of ministry; how my maternal grandfather was a champion for his black constituents as a local politician, even as a product of a deeply segregated system himself.

However, I grew up in central Texas in the nineties, when Americans were too sophisticated for that kind of drama. I grew up in a nation that hailed itself colorblind and would hear of nothing else. I grew up certain that racial injustice was a horrific part of history that no longer held any systematic or economic weight.

The first time I was confronted with the truth was when I drove through a sea of small towns with my college roommate, who was black. Her family lived further away than mine so her coming home for occasional weekends with me became part of our norm. But the first time we took the route, lazily rolling to a stop at an empty red light in a nondescript town, she shrank low in her passenger seat, eyes darting furtively around.


Read the rest at Sick Pilgrim!

A Miracle All the Same


A miracle is that we could do the will of God, the priest said.

He was quoting a story by Father Anthony De Mello that addresses the heart of where our spirituality goes wrong. "In your land, it is regarded as a miracle if God does someone’s will," the native tells the inquiring traveler. "In our country, it is regarded as a miracle if someone does the will of God."


I couldn't see her face during the funeral mass to say whether she cried. I was in the very back pew wrangling the embarrassing circus that is my three wolfish boys. Although I suspect my most wiggly one would do better if seated closer, my autism spectrum one feels safer in the back. The toddler will be loud either way, but no one minds about toddlers.

So I saw her back only; her starched dress and careful hairstyle. When I hugged her before the ceremony, she'd had no tears in her eyes, and it struck me that maybe her ducts had run out. Four and a half months, seven surgeries, never once taking her firstborn child home. Maybe there wasn't a single tear left in her. Her eyes were bare, almost vacant. I don't think I'd understood until that moment how the death of a child takes part of a mother's soul; but there it was, missing when I looked in her eyes.

I use words like embarrassing to describe my own children, and I don't move the cursor to delete them when I think maybe I should. My stretched abdomen tells of a date on the calendar that I simultaneously long for and fear. But my fears are silly ones: being overwhelmed and impatient, not getting enough sleep, not having time to work on my own projects. The post-childbirth fears I entertain do not involve poorly developed internal organs or months in the NICU. I have that luxury. My friend never will. Any subsequent pregnancy from now on will wreck her with anxiety, and no well-meaning platitudes could ever lighten her burden.


We had all prayed for a miracle. We prayed she would live. Why would God let a baby die? I will never have an answer.

But a miracle is not that God could do our will, but that we could do the will of God. Hundreds of people crossed the Catholic-Protestant divide and became "of one mind as Christ our Lord" in financial provision, prayer, food delivery, and emotional support. Hundreds of people crossed culture and nationality to believe with one another for the life of a little girl and the well-being of her parents. The Church acted like the Church. We did the will of God, and it was a miracle. Not the miracle we were hoping for, but a miracle all the same.

Mass is always a trial for my son with autism. When I explained that being calm and quiet during the funeral mass was a way to show our love and care for our friends' deep sadness, he looked me in the eye and said: "I want to do that." This, too, is a miracle. Not the miracle we were hoping for, but a miracle all the same.


We got home from the reception and the toddler came down with a stomach virus. Twelve hours of throwing up and forty-eight hours of laundry ahead of me. But every time I held him tight as the regurgitated liquid ran down my t-shirt, all I could think was how she would give anything, anything, to be cleaning up vomit. How they went home together to an empty apartment.

The night before, I had sat at my own dining room table and wiped tears from my eyes as I explained to listening ears how heavy a weight motherhood has felt to me lately. I know it doesn't diminish someone else's enormous cross to confess that I have a small one of my own and that it's damned hard to carry sometimes, but I can't help but be assaulted by the perspective nonetheless. At least I have tears left to cry. I have never known that kind of drying.

How do I honor the life of this little saint in heaven and her empty-handed parents left behind? I clean up vomit. I diffuse sensory meltdowns. I endure Legos thrown at my head. And I do it with gratitude. Because to do the will of God is a miracle. Not the miracle we were hoping for, but a miracle all the same.

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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)