Frankincense and Mercy {A Birth Story and a Thank You Note}

merciMerci. It means “thank you” and it means the things I’m thankful for, all the ways you, my doula, acted out the full meaning of the word in “providing relief from suffering,” and showing “compassionate treatment of those in distress.” That was me when the water broke on Good Friday, life flowing out in the restless dark of Golgotha, like the spear to Jesus’ side.

I timed the contractions over Saturday morning brunch, watched the kids and cousins hunt for eggs and crack them open to way too much candy. When I laid down to rest and the labor stalled, you came right over with jasmine oil and hands ready for finding pressure points.

There was a calm word here, a comforting touch there and you put it on repeat. In my doubled-over, breathe-it-out pain, you gave so cheerfully to me.

You lent me your intuition, deciphered the signs of emotion and told me to stop vacuuming the crumbs off the kitchen floor if I didn’t want to have that baby in the car.

“I don’t want to hurt,” I told my husband on the way. I had made it through two unmedicated births years before, but those had lingered past their due dates while this one broke the water and came all of a sudden, early. And the endorphins hadn’t gotten the memo.

Elliot prayed for me, “God, please help Mommy. I know it’s hard to get a baby out.” The kids hopped around happy in the lobby. When I got ready to go through the maternity ward doors, I knelt down to hug those two and pray out my gratitude for them, the ones I’d already birthed and watched grow into walking, talking creatures. But the words cracked in my throat and all I could do was scrunch my face and cry speechless. The transitional hormones were rushing. You knew that.

naturalbirthYou rallied my team around me and prayed that Dr. K would make it back to town to “special in” and beat the on-call doc for my delivery. Once, when I leaned over the side of the bed to get through a contraction, I felt a soft hand slip into mine. She had made it.

I was 7 cm already and after a few rounds of strong contractions, smile and laughter and conversation disappeared into painful moans and my body sunk like lead in the bed.

You poured out the frankincense for me, the smell of old books and antique stores, the smell of long-ago things, even of Jesus’ babyhood.

I called Craig away from counter-pressure duty to sit at my side. You winked at him and kept it going. He held my hand as the contractions started to roll over one another and I groaned louder and longer. Later, he said I sounded like I was dying, that this Easter weekend birth seemed more excruciating than the first two. Pain is too short of a word for it, really. It’s more like long-suffering.

I need words, I thought. I remembered another natural mom friend saying that exact phrase in her most recent birth. “‘For the joy set before Him, He endured…’,” I eeked out from memory, “Can you read it to me?”

My mom opened the leather Bible small as my hand, the one she’d sent over when I was studying abroad. I breathed through paralyzing contractions, strengthened by the ancient words and His joy through suffering.

We moved from Hebrews to Romans and then my mom added her own favorite, Psalm 139. At first I felt forgotten in my pain, the focus being on the miracle of the baby formed in the womb. I’d be ready to celebrate that in a few minutes, but right now I felt greedy for all of the attention in the room. I needed it for the seismic waves shaking and breaking me. But then I remembered what a friend had written weeks earlier, how those words are for me, too.

katykelleydoulaI felt your hands and my husband’s hands and my mom’s hands. But in that moment, I felt His hand, too. He knows when I rise up, when I lay down, when I go through darkness. All of these stages of labor that held me in their clutch, they couldn’t pluck me out of His hand. His attention was on me as well as the baby.

I could barely roll to my back for Dr. K to feel for progress, but when I finally did, I was on the verge of ten. Soon, the baby bulldozed down, pinning me on my side, my body bearing down whether I was allowed or not. Nails-on-chalkboard groans revved to the rhythm of the movement. “She’s coming,” I squeezed the words through tightened lips one at a time. You uncurled my hands and rubbed over the fingernail indentions in my palms.

“Breathe in long and slow,” you reminded. I filled the lungs like birthday balloons, then whistled out for release. A cool cloth on the forehead. Ice chips and little sips of water to cool the tongue. An extra dose of oxygen to gird up the lungs.

You watched over me, tending to every need. Maybe the endorphins didn’t show up, but you all did.

Next thing I knew, long-suffering had done its perfect work. Nine minutes and a ring of fire later, she was official. 8:59 and wailing. We all cheered. You clicked the camera.

Craig cut the umbilical cord and it bled. My heplock came out and it bled. But between the dark of Good Friday and the sunrise of Easter morning, even in the gore, suffering changed to joy.

Blood and water and vernix. And all through it, mercy.

Merci.

stitchingAs you’re reflecting back on the year, who do you have to be thankful for? Whether it’s a hard-working teacher, your dependable brother or the friendly post office worker, take a few moments to honor that special person by writing a thank you note on your blog or on a public Facebook note. Put a link to this page (http://messageinamasonjar.com/2013/12/19/frankincense-and-mercy/) at the bottom of your post, then come back to share your link and take part in our little festival of gratitude here at Message in a Mason Jar.

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