Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Little Minds, Big Questions

My kids have curious minds. They think deeply.  The ponder life, watch, evaluate, question, and come to conclusions.... or they come to more questions.  They talk openly with me easily about any subject whether it be a typical "red-faced" health issue or anything else.  They talk over behaviors of other kids and stories they hear about in school.  They thrill in their science lessons and come bounding to tell me endless facts and the possibilities of exploring or creating things in the world.  They absorb their history lessons and question me on other events happening in the world at the time.  Their world view is larger than one country, so they are interested in what was occurring in the rest of the world and why one country reacted as it did.  They also discuss their teacher's viewpoint and biases and wonder how that affects they way they teach a particular historical incident.  They discuss plots and feelings in the books they read.  Math excites them (all but the youngest who is quite capable but laboring under the impression that she hates math) and they loudly chatter about different ways to solve problems and get to the same conclusions.  Geography thoroughly interests them as they talk happily about the "oh, I've been there!" or "oh, I'd love to go there!" of each place they study.  If there is one thing my kids can not be accused of, it is of being uninterested or uncurious!

They question.  They ponder.  They wonder.  They ask. 

They feel free to do this also as they struggle to cope with their father.  Sometimes, he is a great dad.  Sometimes, he's angry and silent.  Other times, he explodes for no reason.  Often he is just hyper-critical.  Other times, he makes up explanations for things he doesn't know and tells the kids as if it were true.  Their faces wrinkle up in a confused questioning, but they are silent.  They have learned not to question their dad - to watch for the signs of anger about to erupt.

Over the years as they've struggled to cope with his anger and unpredictability, they go about it in their typical way - they come to me with questions, with ideas, with their thoughts.  Tonight from my two older boys, "What's wrong with Dad tonight?"  I don't know exactly.  I think he is more tense than usual.  They nod and look around to make sure they weren't overheard.  They duck their heads and work on their homework more studiously.  When I call them to help with chores, they work well, and away from his immediate presence, they become children again - those half children, half adults that teens are.  They work hard and well and laugh as they work, but they also goof off with each other, teasing and talking non-stop.

My daughter went shopping with me.  "Mom, why is daddy always so angry?"  I take a breath and pause, thinking.  How much will she be able to grasp?  I've always believed in talking honestly, but simply to my kids.  "Well, I really don't think it has much to do with you or me or the brothers at all.  I think he has a lot of anger he hasn't dealt with, and because it isn't dealt with, it erupts a lot like a volcano when anything makes him annoyed.  Maybe something little like might make another person just annoyed or a little upset, but because he has this anger in him, he explodes."

She thought and then asked, "What is he angry about mommy?"  I told her the truth, that I do not know.  I said I don't believe it is anything we do.  I think it has been there a long time.  I said that perhaps it is not because of anger, but it is because of hurt.  I explained some things that had happened in her daddy's life when he was a boy with some wars and tragedies and changes he had to go through.  I told her that people tend to respond to hurt in two ways - either they cry and feel weak and unable to go on or they get angry.  The anger is only to push away the hurt so they don't feel it as much.

She nodded and said, "Like G_____ at recess.  If people are hurt his feelings, he gets angry.  Then he gets in trouble.  But A_____ cries if people hurt her."  I agreed and told her that typically, but not always, boys tend to get angry as a response to hurt more than girls do.  Part of it is because "big boys don't cry".  I told her that perhaps it is not even that daddy is such an angry man, but it is perhaps that he is angry because he has wounds that he hasn't allowed to be healed yet. 

She pondered that one for awhile.  "But remember when you went away for a course, and it was to help to learn how to deal with people and conflict.  Why didn't that help?  It seemed like it helped for a little while, but it didn't stick."

I explained that the course taught people skills on how to deal with people and conflicts better, but in order to use those skills, you had to be in control of yourself.  Those skills won't work if the anger controls you.  I told her that the problem with choosing anger for a long time is that anything that you allow to control you will begin to control you.  That you actually allow the anger to be in control.

She interrupted me with a child's simple wisdom.  "But, mommy, it would be silly to say anger controls you.  It is more real to say that Satan controls you."

The wisdom and simplicity of children!  I had never discussed this with her before.

I told her that she was right and explained that that is why it is such a problem and why we need to be sure that we do not give sins control of ourselves.  I asked her if she remembered what the gospels said about Satan - that he came to steal, kill, and destroy.  I told her that I doubt her daddy would really want to hurt us with what he says if he was in control of himself, because I believe that he really loves us, but when he is not in control, but allows Satan control.... well, Satan wants to destroy.  So he doesn't care about what destruction he creates in the relationships or what wounds he makes in us.

She nodded and was silent thinking.  Then she asked, "Mommy, how long do you think he will stay angry like this?"  Ah, child.... if only you did not have to carry this weight!  I told her that I hope not long.  I told her that I think God will let him get to a place that he really sees that he needs help, and I think that he is getting closer and closer to that point.  That is why we see things getting worse and worse.  But that we can hope and pray for daddy that he will be willing to take God's help soon.

Then we walked in the store, and her attention went to choosing which fruit she wanted for the next week.  Little mind, big thoughts, and the capacity to understand more than I ever wanted her to ever have to understand.  She's only nine, but she easily grasps and grapples with what she sees.

But they come to me with their questions and their pain.  I've told them that we will get through this together.  We will stick together - them and me, and we will be honest with each other.

At the table this evening, when their dad stopped a child praying to yell at him as to how he was praying, they all were silent.  No one reacted.  No one cried.  We have decided that we will not cower.  If someone begins to, the others will step in to defend.  But the best policy for now is to go on living.  To live and to chose joy where we can.  To stick together.  And in that moment, eyes quickly went from one to the other to me and back to each other.  Quiet, still, bodies quiet, eyes seeking other eyes, supporting, willing strength not to answer back and cause more anger, willing strength not to crumble. 

And then in the busy-ness of cleaning up the meal, each one comes to me, "Why is Dad angry?"  "What is going on?"  I don't know.  It came with no warning.  Slight warning yesterday that he seemed grouchy, but no warning.  They draw a breath, and go on.  We will stick together and we will live our lives.  They search my eyes to see if I need support, and I meet theirs reassuring them that I am fine - sad, but fine, and we go on.  We clean up the kitchen and empty the fridge and the garbage, working together with the practiced ease of five who often do tasks together, and as we work, we begin again to talk and laugh.  Life goes on.  Life of the five of us who chose joy in the midst of the pain we live in.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Singing My Song

I have a hard time with singing.  My parents I guess wanted us to learn to sing, but they only contributed to a deep shame and fear of singing that I carry to some degree to this day.  They would liberally criticize our singing and if we were off tune, would have us sing solo at family devotions "so we would learn it".

Now I've never really noticed that having to sing solo helped.  We learn by singing along with.

Anyway, I was most often ridiculed and even disciplined for my lack of singing ability.  One time sticks in my head.  My husband was in our house - now he was a just a teen that I was really, really interested in at that time - and we were singing.  I had messed up (again), so they told me to stand up and sing it solo so I would learn to do it right.

Ok, there only is one thing more embarrassing than having to sing a solo when you can't sing, and that is to have to sing it in front of your boyfriend while people either glared or laughed at you.  By this time I was thirteen, and I had had enough!  Really enough.

I decided that I was going to stop this here and now.  I gambled that they would not spank me here - not in front of this teen they were discipling.... and if they did, it wouldn't be that bad of a spanking.... so I was going to say no.  I simply said no.  I was threatened, but I said no again.  Quietly.  I didn't want to defy authority really, but I was simply done being belittled that I couldn't sing.  I said no.

I was right - they didn't spank me in front of guests for that, and I had won my freedom.  Never again was I publicly asked to sing solo because I couldn't sing.  I was still ridiculed but only in comments.  "You can't carry a tune in a bucket."  "If you sang, people would pay you to stop."

At some point, I decided to stop singing.  If I was so bad that people would run screaming, I just was not going to sing.  I began to only mouth words in church and never sing.  I went through three years of Bible school like that.  I got asked to leave a mandatory choir when I simply would not open my mouth to sing for the choir director.  (I babysat for the choir instead.  I am good at babysitting.)  My friends told me I can't go through life without singing, but I was determined.  I would not be ridiculed again.

Years later, God asked me when I was going to sing to Him, and I told Him when I have my first child, I will begin to sing.  Later, after my first daughter died and I had more boys and never another girl, I told God that if I had a daughter, I would even sing when I taught kids Sunday school.  I would even sing in public.

My first son was born.... he was perfect.  And I opened my mouth and began to sing to him.  I even opened my mouth and began to sing in church because God reminded me of my promise.  I still couldn't sing and tried to maneuver in church to sit in front of a strong singer so I could follow along and behind an empty space so no one would have to suffer for hearing me. But I sang.

The years went by and I grew more confident, but never relaxed about singing.  Only in the car with only my kids would I sing loudly and fearlessly.  I figured I was off key, but I gave birth to them - they have to endure me.  They sang loudly and cheerfully alongside of me.  In fact, they thought I sounded great!  But what would they know.

Then my son, the one like me, joined choir in high school.  Choir?!  As in sing in public?  I wanted to tell him that he can't sing - we're no good at that, don't you know?  But I was silent.  I told him to go ahead. He did.  He sings ok.  Even decent.

Today, in church, I stood there happily singing.  Next to me was my son with his deep strong voice singing with all his heart.  And I sang along.  As I sang, I thought something.

He's easy to sing with.  His voice is like mine.

You see, my mom sings with a warbling soprano.  My voice is a low alto.  All these years, she had been trying to get me to sing like her.  I will never sing soprano, let alone a warbling one!  I am the deep voice, the shadow, the quiet pool, not the bubbling brook.  It was a friend who let me understand that.  I told her I don't sing because I sing horribly.  She teaches music, and she said, "you don't sing badly - you just sing a low alto.  You just have to learn to sing your own song."

I can't say that I believed her.  Not totally.  But I thought about it.  I stopped trying to sing the high part.  I don't sing the ladies section of songs anymore.  I can't. But it wasn't until I heard my son's voice that I understood.  He's got a beautiful voice.  But it is deep.  He can sing his section - deep and strong.  When he giggles and tries to sing the other parts, he sounds horrible.

I just needed to learn to sing my song, not someone else's.

And you know what - I actually can sing.  I sing ok.  My son and I sing together, and I smile.  This is what I was created to do - sing low and deep, and I like singing now.  Once in a blue moon, you'll even catch me singing all alone, quietly, in public while I work.

I promised God that I would sing when my son was born.  I didn't know that it was my son who would give me my voice back.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Re-Telling Our Stories

I've had an interesting path recovering from a trauma a few years ago.  It's been a fairly solitary path - not by choice at all, but by neglect of others.  It wasn't at all what I expected to happen after a trauma like that, and the very neglect itself became a sort of secondary trauma that I had to (and still at times have to) sort through.  Added to that, just to make things more interesting, was an event that was almost an attack on us in the middle of the immediate recovery.  From a distance, I can see that it was the result of putting too many freshly hurt people in a room together with no competent guidance or leadership.  But it deeply hurt.

I think one of the difficulties about working in some areas of the world is that everyone is so closely connected to everyone - wanted or not.  One person's mistakes can cost another person's visa, career, or life's work.  Or life.  So tensions tend to run high when things go wrong.  And working in an area of the world that sees as many deaths of workers as this area of the world means that many workers are working with wounds.  Many of us have lost friends.  Some died, some were killed, and some simply disappeared and that awful unknown haunts us.  People like that should never, ever attempt any type of team debrief of any situation without competent guidance and leadership that is NOT involved in the situation.  What happens then is that the wounded attack the weakest - not perhaps because they want to, but because they are wounded and can't even cope with their own wounds.

But we did not know that then.

Others neglected us simply because they were ignorant.  They thought that narrowly averting a tragedy was good news.  That's great, praise God, all is well.  But they put no thought into the effect of the days of trauma.  They were just ignorant, focused on the end result and not on the journey.  Perhaps even thinking that because we coped well in a trauma that "they must be strong".  We are.  But even the strong need to bandage their wounds or they will not any longer be strong.  Often those who stay strong during a crisis need the most care afterwards.  They save all the emotions for dealing with when it is safe.  We've been able to communicate this to our leadership now.

But they did not know that then.

Today I was at work in the old folks home, my part-time side job.  We had some new health information posters put up, and I read one today.  It said that people who have experienced a traumatic event need to tell their story about eight or nine times to listening ears before they are able to begin to come to grips with it.

Eight or nine times.

  Hear that.

I stared at that poster and my eyes filled up until I blinked and turned away.  Eight or nine times.  All I wanted that first week was to talk, to tell my story, and I was told to be quiet, not to talk.  Then I was told to listen to other's stories, but not talk.  "It was their trauma, not yours."  I understand that. They went through what we didn't.  But I needed them to understand that we went through what they didn't.  Don't leave the family out.

The first time I told my story was all alone in a room.  Out of desperation, I grabbed a cup of tea and spoke into empty space, asking God to sit and listen to a story He already knew simply to let me tell it.  The second time was to someone I've never met.  Out of desperation, I wrote my story out to a blogger friend who volunteered her strong shoulders and listening ear.  For the first time, except for the empty room, I felt like someone listened.  What a relief!

Eventually, as best as I could without specifics, I blogged about it, and many of you listened.  That helped.

Later I wanted to talk, and finally, weeks later, someone listened.  But it was the weirdest experience I had ever had in talking to this person.  It was as if he was listening because he had to do a duty, to check it off his list, and wasn't listening with his heart.  It was hard for me.  Really hard.  Perhaps he couldn't.  Perhaps he was too close.  But it just intensified the loneliness.

But I still needed to talk.  And I felt bad about it.  I had talked.  Why still need to?  Even a few times, someone suggested that maybe I was just "stuck" and needed to put it down.  So I felt guilty about it.

When we went home, I was blessed by two groups that heard my story.  Not in all the detail - there was no time, but they HEARD, and that was what I needed.  Then I was really blessed by a friend and a coffee date.... and her poor sister who ended up babysitting for four hours!  I got to tell it again - for the first time face to face with a friend who listened and heard my feelings.

Shortly after that, I was able to spend a week at my Bible school.  I got suddenly dumped with a missions class to teach when there was a family emergency in a teacher's life.  I talked to them simply about what I wished someone had told me when I was sitting behind those desks.  Perhaps they had told me, but I hadn't listened.  I talked to them about the realities of life in missions, and simply listed the events we had been having to deal with as a community over the last year.

I was sitting eating lunch when the dean of woman came and grabbed me.  She stole my food and dumped it and took me out.  We ordered Chinese at a quiet place and when the appetizers came, she said, "now.  Talk!"  So I did.  This time was to an older woman who I respect, but who has also known me since I was 16 years old.

I slowly began to feel more normal, but this year a suggestion by leadership sent me back into a tailspin.  I was on my way to a friend's house - a retired worker who knew our field well.  She also listens well, and she listened as I shared the story.  By this time, I was moving on from the trauma of the actual trauma and starting to process the trauma of the neglected recovery.

But before this, we had a group here for a training session, and one of them who should know better said to me again that maybe I just need to move on and get over it.  I felt bad - both angry and hurt.  Why would people who did such a bad job caring for me in the first place get upset that the wound hadn't healed well?  I started to doubt myself - am I just a mess, not dealing with this well?  Am I just weak, not cut out for this type of work?

Today, I stood there reading our "mental health" poster of the month. My eyes filled up with tears.  They were both tears of pain and tears of relief.  Validation that I am not crazy or weak to still have needed to tell my story.  Relief that I now begin to feel whole.  Whole enough to be able to examine the reasons behind the failures and neglect at the beginning.  The best way to prevent it happening to someone else is to understand why it happened here.  Then to fix it.

I've told my story eight times.  I don't count the time telling it to the person who really only listened out of duty - that actually ached more than silence.... which ached enough on its own!   Eight times now, and I'm feeling better.  But, it's nice to have that ninth time in my back pocket in case I need it! ;-)

I may need to tell my story again.  And if I do, I will not cringe and think I am weak for needing to.  I will stand strong and realize that I AM healing.  I can tell.  I am re-telling when I need to.  Those are the steps to recovery, not the signs of weakness.

I could have just been silent because people told me to be at first or because people didn't care when they should have.  Then I would have been still wounded, and I wouldn't have understood what was needed to heal.  I wouldn't have felt the anger that I feel over a system that let down its workers so badly, and I wouldn't have fought to understand the reasons well enough to stop it from happening again.

Next time someone tells you the same story again, LISTEN AGAIN!  But as you listen, pay attention to listen carefully.  Hear.  Let it touch your heart.  And as you listen again, ask yourself, what are they telling this time?  Are they this time able to identify feelings along with actions?  Which feelings?  From what events?  And respond to those. It takes awhile to work your way through all that a trauma sends your way, and people need each other to hear those feelings.  This week it might be the fear.  Next month, it might be the confusion.  Please, please, don't say, "you told me that already, why are you telling it again?" The why may be different this time, so listen again.  Respond with questions.  Don't be afraid to let your heart show.  How does the story affect you?  How do you feel about the actions and feelings expressed?  It isn't all about you, but some of your reaction helps me feel heard.

Don't worry - we won't tell the story forever.  But we will keep telling it until we've sorted it out enough.  Or until we've been heard.  Please keep listening.

And if you haven't been heard yet from your trauma, please keep talking.  Some will not listen to you, but keep talking.  There are ears out there, keep looking.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Take a Hike

Sometimes its the best thing you can do.  Today we took a long hike.  Not all that long, but long enough to be a good way to wear out a day.  We hiked 14.4 km on a trail up through a ravine.  Being a mountain girl living in a flat land, I am always disappointed when people say "go see the cliffs".  It was a pretty ravine, and the trees were gorgeous, but it was not mountains.  Still there were a few feet where our path led through a stand of pines, and for those moments, we could close our eyes, breathe deeply, and smell home.

We came back tired and happy.  Feeling better after being in the sun again.  The adrenaline of the last weeks of insane busy-ness under a load of relational stress worn off.  We love hiking - well, all but my daughter who doesn't really love activity.... but we ignore that and bring her anyway.  The boys and I were dreaming of training for a big hike.  There is a hike near us that could take about a week to complete.  We'd love to do it.  Really love to.  We hiked the Grand Canyon on our last home leave - all the way down to the bottom and spent two nights there.  It only whet our appetite to do more big overnight hikes.  So now we dream.  We'll spend a few more weekends doing some small hikes before the weather turns, and then perhaps, perhaps we'll be ready.

Questions with No Answers

My husband is gone now traveling.  He's got visits to do and some work in another country he's overseeing.  To be honest, we enjoy him gone.  It's a breath of fresh air, a chance to recover, a time that laughter seeps back into our home and no one looks over their shoulder anymore.  We plan tomorrow to go explore a ravine hike nearby and spend time outside.  We'll stop by and visit some friends on the way home.  We'll smile, we'll laugh, and we'll take photos of us goofing off outside.

It's telling how relaxed the kids are, how peaceful.  Even my daughter who is so tense usually is calm.  She had a meltdown the day before he left, partly because he chose to get angry and not come home that last evening until very late.

(It was also my 40th birthday which he ruined by getting mad at me.  He also ruined it the day before by asking "So what do you want me to do for your birthday?  Do you want to go out?"  When I said no because we had visitors and we had meals planned already, he said, "good, so then I don't need to feel guilty for doing nothing for your birthday" and walked away.  No. He doesn't need to feel guilty.  In one sentence he made me feel as unloved as one could on that day.)

But my daughter had a meltdown that night, and I spent about an hour with a sobbing child on my lap in the hallway.  Sometimes you just sit down where the meltdown occurs.  She cried and talked for a long time, and then she said, "Mommy, will you all get old, you and brothers, and die before I do, and I will be alone?"  How to answer?  Very likely she will be the last living one of our immediate family, yes, but she shouldn't be alone.  I told her that we may die before her, but she'll be praying she gets a few minutes alone since she'll have a husband and somewhere around eight kids and 17 grandchildren and maybe a few great grandchildren not to mention dozens of nieces and nephews.... so alone will not exactly describe what she'll be.  She settled some and giggled and told me she might not have exactly eight children.  I told her that I also expect her to take care of me when I'm old and drooling on her table, so she'll probably be relieved when I am gone anyway.  She giggled again.  We had a long talk sitting in the hall.  She's been peaceful ever since.

I did take her with me when I went to the birth.  I pulled her out of school for three days and took her with me.  Some people are horrified that I would take my daughter out of school, but I just told the school that I gave birth to her, not them, so I will make the decisions.  I figure she learned more in three days with a woman in labor and a newborn than she would have in three days learning spelling and math.  (I did find a friend to keep her for the 8 hours of the active labor and delivery.)

We have a week of peace left before he returns.  He's writing some now.  He's tired and not sleeping.  I'm not saying anything, but I think "guilty conscience".  I'm really not sure what God is doing or will be doing or anything.  All I know is that I am done "catching" him and "fixing things".  Sometimes I think you have to fall hard before you get any sense knocked into you.  Perhaps this means he will crash and not be able to work as he is.  Perhaps not.  I don't know.  He is not my responsibility. 

My older two are disappointed that there is only a week left.  They had plans to do some things.  With me gone for three days with the birth, we didn't get the chance to do all they wanted.  I told them there is another trip planned in about a month, and they were happier.  "Maybe we can do it then."

It's telling that the kids plan for and look forward to when their father is gone.  That says a lot.  It makes me sad.  I worry about them.  My biggest worry is that my kids will have their view of God the Father clouded by what their father is like.  My next worry - that they will grow up to be like him.  If anything keeps me up at night, it is these worries.

If anything makes me sad, it is that I wanted to love and be loved.  I really wanted to have a good relationship with my husband, to be friends, to talk, laugh, and love.  There are brief moments when we laugh, but those are interspersed between the anger, the angry silences, and the simple too busy-ness of his life.  I am not loved, yet I am married.... so I am here.  I will not be loved in a relationship like I wanted.  And that is at times hard.  This is no little girl's dream.  No one says, "When I grow up, I want to marry a man who is angry at me or doesn't talk to me at least half of the time."  No one says that.  No one even imagines it.

And yet, he's such a wonderful person in public.  So much so that people say, "I can't imagine him angry."  "He's such a people person.  So sensitive to people's needs."

The struggle for me is that my husband is a extremely valuable person.  He has giftings and skills that few have. Missions leaders literally drool over him.  He has potential, and even I, with all my doubts about why God uses such a messed up creature, can see that he is doing stuff that few others could do.  To be honest, I really struggle with this concept.  It is one of the things I look up at God in hurt confusion the most about.  Do I matter?  Or is he so valuable that my pain is not worth hearing in the situation?  Am I the more expendable one?

They are tough questions.  Tough with no good answers.  The problem is that I am deeply committed to the people and country we work with. It is a place with little happening.  A place generations have worked and prayed for with little result.  And my husband, as awful as a husband as he is at home, seems to be a good missionary.

He's not the first, you know.  Good missionary, bad husband and father.  There have been many others.  Even some of the "heroes of the faith".  Even Abraham was a bit of a selfish, mean husband in twice letting someone take his wife before he would risk his own skin.

I discuss this with God often.  Wondering how He can build straight on a crooked foundation.  Wondering when He will step in for me, for my kids, and right our wrongs.  But the truth is that I will sacrifice for this country.  That is why we all left our countries and went out.  I just didn't expect the sacrifice to be here - in the home.  In another situation, I may have walked away from this marriage.  Not divorced perhaps, but walked away.  Not needing to live under anger.  But if I walk away, much of this work comes falling down, and people get hurt.  So I survive.  I ask God to act.  And I wait.  I ask God why He allows this to go on, and why He seems to continue to bless the fruit of one who is not a blessing in any stretch of the word to his family.

God is silent still.  If He answers, I'll let you know.  Now, He is silent.  Except to tell me that we are valuable to Him.  But sometimes, that is hard to hear when I am in meetings and everyone tells me how wonderful my husband is and how great a work he does.... I know all that... but I want God to step in and say, "enough.  You can't treat my daughter like that."

I wait.  I wait and I watch God, waiting for an answer, for strength, for the ability to continue to love.  I don't have a clue what He's up to, but He's the only thing that is stable, so I wait.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Promise I'm Sure to Keep

I worked tonight in the old folks home.  One lady was exceptionally agitated.  She didn't want her shower because she had to put her jacket on and walk down the street to her parents.  She wanted to visit her dad in bed 325. We convinced her to shower first so she'd look nice.  As the other aide wheeled her away, she told me, "Promise you won't talk to my dad, ok?  I don't want him to know that I'm here yet."

I promised.  I had no problems with that one.  It's a promise I'm sure to keep!

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Stranger in a Strange Land

This birth I was just at was a friends.  They are immigrants here, but settled and with papers.  The worry behind them.

They have two other children.  As we worked through the preparations for this baby, I asked her to tell me about those births.  I thought I would have little teaching to do - after all, this is a third baby.

The first was in her first country she fled to out of her own country.  She grew up there, knew the language, and was comfortable.  But am immigrant still.  Her labor started and she was alone, the family gone to a wedding.  Girls are never given teaching, so she was hours into the labor and had no clue what was wrong.  Not until bleeding began did she wake her husband and ask to go to the doctor thinking she was dying.  First they had to go to neighbors and beg for a loan of money so they could be seen.  When they arrived at the hospital, the doctor yelled at her for waiting so long and told her the baby probably had died and it was all her fault.  Her husband was left outside and she went in alone.  Then they tied her down to the bed and pushed pitocin into her to rush the labor and two nurses pushed on her belly to "help" the contractions.  (I've seen it done, believe me.)  Her belly was bruised black and blue for two weeks after the birth.  The child was born, and taken straight out of the room.  She only saw it hours later.

( I also saw this happen once , and actually stopped the doctor and told her to show the baby to the mom.  I remember her look of confusion as she asked me, "Why?" and then took the baby to the relatives.  I followed, took the baby away from the aunts and uncles, and walked it right back in the room and showed the mom and let her kiss it before it was taken away again.  The baby belongs to the family in that culture, not the mom.)

 For hours, my friend didn't know if her baby was alive or dead.  After they returned the baby to her, no one helped her. She was sore after 23 hours of labor and asked a nurse to help her with a diaper change.  The nurse looked at her and said, "What?  Do you expect me to go home with you, too, and do this?  Get up and do it yourself, no one is going to do your work for you!"

The second birth was in a transient country.  But they were refugees with no papers.  Her labor started and they rushed to the hospital after dropping their child with a friend.  Again the husband was not allowed in the door.  She was put in a ward with twenty other women in labor, no curtains or anything between them.  A room full of yelling women all alone in pain.  She delivered there, and again they took the baby away.  After an hour, they brought the baby back, handed him to her and told her the baby was fine and she needed to leave.  She had no money, no papers; and she needed to get out.  She phoned her husband, but he was not home, so they handed her her bag and told her to go downstairs and call a taxi.  The elevator was broken, so one hour after she gave birth, she struggled down two flights of stairs carrying her baby and her bag.  Halfway down, she started to pass out and fall, so she grabbed the rail and yelled.  A helpful security guard came and half carried her down the rest of the way and called a taxi.

When she got home, the door was locked and her husband gone and she had no key.  She sat on the step and phoned him.  Now, forgive him - the man had never seen labor or delivery before nor been taught about it.  He was happy she was back and told her he'd been home in an hour or so, so why didn't she go get their daughter.  So carrying her bag and baby, she walked over to the friends and picked up her daughter and walked back.  Then she sat on the step and waiting for another hour before her husband got home.  Mind you, this was after a delivery that took 25 stitches to repair a tear.  It was a big baby.

I sat stunned.  Then I opened my books and began teaching at the beginning - this is what is happening in labor.  These are the stages.  This is what we will do in each one to help you out.  I reassured her about the hospital and the nurses.  Told her I would be with her every step of the way.

When we went in, I told her nurses about her other deliveries.  Their eyes went wide.  I told them that this birth, we were going to spoil her rotten.  Everything she wanted, she got.  She kept asking, "what do you want me to do?" and "Am I allowed to go to the toilet?" and "Am I allowed to walk?"  We just repeated, "don't ask permission.  You are the boss right now.  You can do anything you want."

When the baby was born, they put her immediately on her belly.  She looked down at her baby and began to cry.  Her husband was there, and he cried too - hugging his wife and crying.

Later she talked on and on about the baby's first minutes.  "She looked so funny."  "She looked at me"  "I never saw my babies when they were like that"  "I never knew they were even alive or not at first."

I stayed for two days.  I changed diapers.  I rocked the baby.  I helped her nurse.  I supported her to the toilet and taught her how to care for herself.  I helped her take a shower, wash her back, and dry her hair.  I stayed with the two other kids so the husband could have the first night alone with them.  The baby slept that first night.  The next night, the dad wanted to go home and sleep.  The baby cried all that second night.  She and I walked and walked so the mom could get a little sleep.

In the morning, we sat and ate breakfast and talked over the birth.  We laughed and laughed at what people had said.  She said she wanted to hit me if I told her to breathe one more time.  I laughed and said that is why I stayed behind her!  She wanted to hold her breath through the pain because making noise is not ok in her culture.  We held our sides and howled at my "translation" of what she was saying during transition.  She reverted to her mother tongue and was yelling.  The nurse looked at me several times and said, "What is she saying?"  I said, "um, nothing really... her back is sore."  I thought she hadn't heard me, but she did, and we giggled through our morning tea and bread.

It was special to see the love and care of her husband towards her.  All of a sudden, he had an understanding of what birthing takes, and with that a strong desire to do everything for his wife.  No more, "why don't you go pick up the kid?" but a "sit, and let me do that for you".

It was so good to be there.  To leave her with one birth where her memories are not of being alone in pain and treated with contempt.  To not be a "refugee" and given no care.  Her stories really made me think....  God chose to send His Son to be born of a refugee in a much less than ideal setting.  At least there was room in the hospital for my friend at least for the birth, even if she was kicked out one hour later...  Mary had no room at all.  Really made me think.

But it was good to be there.  To be able to love in the way I do best - by serving.  They were in tears when I left, so thankful to have had someone there.  To not be frightened, to not be alone.

Tonight, I soak my sore muscles in the tub and sleep.  But I'm happy.

I delivered my second baby, my daughter who had died, alone in a strange land.  You can't change the past, but you can change the future, and being able to change it for this special family was worth every aching muscle I own.

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

It's a phrase people use for hard work.  For settling a land.  For cutting a trail.  For starting a new work.

When I see that phrase, I think of birthing.  Blood, sweat, and tears.  Physical.  Bodies in close spaces.  Normal set aside.  Indecency a thing of yesterday.  Personal space something we left at the door.

I've been through five of my own births.  Each one its own story.  Every mom has her stories of her births - remembered, treasured, stored, told and re-told. 

I've been privileged to attend the births of about 20 others.  A few were just as an onlooker and occasional support in nursing school.  A few were friends.  I'm training officially as a doula now.  Getting a certification for what I have been doing for years - helping with birthing, helping with breast-feeding, infant care, sharing and supporting mothers.

(I work with old people and they dying too.  At times I joke that I can bring them in and take them out!  Birth and death are similar.... both intensely personal, intimate, and emotional.)

This last week, I labored with a woman.  A friend.  In a culture where men do not attend births, I convinced her husband to come.  He was nervous, as others have been.  But he agreed.  I knew what he would do - he loves his wife dearly, and he would step in.  He did.  How sweet to see this big man kneeling on the bathroom floor, arms around his wife holding her and telling her she was doing well.  She did not see his eyes behind her back flitting to mine nervous and seeking affirmation that all was well.  She only felt his arms.  The mom, the dad, and I working together, bodies tangled and sweaty, holding her weight when she collapsed on us, murmuring assurances, breathing in each other's faces, breaking every cultural norm there was.  We believe that as believers we are creating a new culture.  In this culture, men care for their wives.... and what a joy it has been to see it worked out in practical ways like this - a man with his arm around his wife supporting her through a contraction.

And then to see and step back when this new life came into the world, and for the first time be put on the mom's chest.  To see their faces as a couple as they welcomed their child.  The tears of joy, the tears of being together.  It is a privilege to be there, but every good doula knows when to step back and let it be a new threesome - mom, dad, and baby.  I'll be called in after a time - to help with latching on, to console and comfort for the stitching, to listen and tell her she did well.  To laugh at the apologies for the yelling during transition, to tell her that she was no where as loud as I was!  But this is their time, a couple welcoming their baby.

Blood, sweat, and tears - it's the stuff life is made of.

Oh, and sore muscles.  My whole side is sore today.  Four hours of contractions meant four hours of holding her up, letting my arm be squeezed, of bending around into odd shapes to push on her back to relieve pain.  As I helped her shower yesterday, she looked over my arms for bruises.  There are a few, but no one cares.

The baby is adorable.  Snuffly and sweet, puckering up her face to eat or loudly protest my attempts to dress her in pink.  No hospital whites for this baby!