Five Lies Caregivers Believe and How to Fight Them (Part 5 of 5)

Lie Number 5. Last but by no means least. It goes like this: “I can’t keep doing this.” It starts out quietly, whispering, when you’re exhausted, when just thinking about tomorrow is overwhelming. “I can’t keep DOING this”…it gets louder as the daily stress piles on, one task after another, one annoyance after another, one more thing going wrong. “I CAN’T keep doing this…” it insists, as you look at your loved one and watch him or her suffer, still, again, today, tomorrow, the next day and the next, seemingly into oblivion. “I CAN’T. KEEP. DOING. THIS!!!!” On the inside, you are screaming.

THIS. Worrying, stressing, doing all the work, all the caretaking tasks, carrying all the responsibility at home and at work, making sure the bills get paid and we don’t live in squalor, all while watching your loved one suffer…and pain or illness seems worse again today.

Lie number 5 is where you will always end up if you believe the first four lies. Believing Lie number 5 is what makes caregivers stop giving care and just plain give up. Believing Lie number 5 leads even good, loving people cut and run.  Once you believe that you cannot go on, cannot continue taking care of your loved one, cannot live this way for one more day–you are sunk.  Very probably you will cease caring for your loved one. Possibly you could stay but turn to drugs or alcohol to numb your misery. You might wake up, pack your belongs and leave, or even just start driving away and never go back. Or worse.

Lie number 5 is the breaking point. It is believing you are at the end of your rope and that you have nothing left inside you to give.

I strongly recommend that you avoid ever believing Lie number 5. Guard against it. Be wary of the thought, “I can’t keep doing this.”

(Sometimes you just need to put a bucket over your head and sit in a corner.)



Now, before we continue,  there ARE some situations where it is actually true and you absolutely cannot continue as you are.  Sometimes an ill person requires a level of medical care you cannot provide.  Sometimes we have to surrender to admitting our loved ones to skilled nursing facilities, or a mental health institution or hospice for our own physical safety and/or their quality of life.  Even very ill people can sometimes be surprisingly strong and do some major damage. There are situations when really, you MUST not continue as you are.

When you have the thought, “I can’t keep doing this,” and I think every long-term care giver will at some point, you need to pray for wisdom and discretion. It is a good time to seek wise counsel from health care providers, family members, and trusted friends.

What I am cautioning you against is when it only FEELS like you cannot go on. In that case, here are some strategies to resist Lie Number 5:

1. Take a moment to reconsider. Perhaps you don’t actually HAVE to keep doing this the way you are. Have you sought support for yourself? Have you asked for help? If not, now is a good time to humble yourself reach out to any and all available resources.

2. Focus on the truth. When you’re fighting against a lie the best thing you can do is meditate on what is true.  The Bible is a good place to pick up some powerful lie-breaking truths:

“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)(World English Bible)

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'” (Matthew 19:26)(NIV)

“For am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13)(NIV)
3. Take a break. I know, it sounds impossible.  Maybe for you it really is impossible right now–but there are ways of getting a break for many caretakers, especially if you think small. A couple of hours away can probably be arranged pretty easily. If you need a longer break (a few days) there is this thing called respite care. Some rehabilitation/skilled nursing facilities offer this service, and some of these places are NICE.

Whatever kind of break you can manage to get, the real trick here is when you do find yourself with some time away, that you don’t waste that time feeling guilty for being gone and you don’t beat yourself up for needing a break.  Sometimes people need to rest and replenish. Even Jesus took breaks. He also took the occasional nap. Be like Jesus.

4. Get real.  With yourself and with God. When I start to feel like I can’t go on, I can usually realise pretty quickly that it’s not true if I take a moment to be completely honest with myself and offer myself a little grace. Caregiving can be tough, physically, mentally and emotionally.  Don’t judge yourself too harshly for not doing it perfectly. Mistakes get made, accidents happen, and appointments get forgotten. Don’t waste too much energy beating yourself up over these things. If you are setting the bar for yourself at the Perfection Level you are just setting yourself up for failure and frustration. You are human, and you need to extend some grace to yourself. If you perceive your goal as reachable it is much less likely that you will lose hope as you pursue it.

Five Lies Caregivers Believe and How to Fight Them (Part 4 of 5)

Ah, Lie number 4. It is a doozy: Things will never get better. This is when you take the idea of “things could always be worse” a step beyond being grateful that they aren’t worse and start actively expecting them to get that way.  This is a poisonous path. It can break your heart.

Life is hard sometimes. When you are watching someone you love slowly or quickly deteriorating, it can be difficult to believe things can get better. When there is an obvious pattern of worsening, when you are tired and your loved one is tired and the pain keeps getting worse and there is nothing you can do….it is tempting to think things are never going to get better. It is almost a relief to let go of your hope. Because…why? It’s so exhausting to keep looking for help/cure/treatments, chronic illness is so relentless in its progress, and it takes so much energy to fight it and seems to do no good. And, after a while, it feels like you’ve tried everything already anyway. Why keep praying when the heavens are always silent? Why pay for another MRI when the last four have shown nothing abnormal?  Perhaps accepting the situation is for the best.

This kind of thinking is what I call the Voice of Job’s wife, or the “curse God and die” mentality. And it does us about as much good as she did for Job in his trials. If you know the story of Job and you live with/care give for someone with a chronic illness you are bound to draw a few parallels between Job’s suffering and your loved one’s.

Good old Job.  He was just going along living a righteous life, abounding in God’s favor and blessings and BOOM out of nowhere he loses everything: His livelihood, his children, his health, his peace of mind. He keeps his wife, but that’s not much of a comfort. He keeps his life, the purpose of which now seems only to suffer. He suffers in every way possible short of death. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, he is destroyed. His “friends” show up to preach to him and spout highfalutin sermons. And, repeatedly, his lovely wife looks at his sorry state encourages him to curse God and die already. It’s bad.

But throughout it all Job never completely  gives up. He acknowledges God’s sovereignty. He boldly questions his situation. He even feels sorry for himself. But he never does curse God. And, honestly, that may not sound like much but I have to give Job some kudos for that. That took some real faith.  It is certainty better than I can say for myself and I haven’t endured near what Job did. There is a reason why people say someone has “the patience of Job”.

Of course, eventually Job’s suffering ended.  His faithfulness pays off. Satan loses the cosmic bet and God even comes down and sets Job’s long-winded friends straight, and Job too while He’s there. Then God blesses Job even more richly than he was blessed before. It’s a happy ending for good old Job.  It’s a happy ending for us, believers, too. But right now we are still in the midst of the story.  We are in the mean time. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…”.  So, in a “pie in the sky by and by” kind of sense, things will get better. Believing that is part of being a Christian.

But what about in a more immediate sense? People get sick. People get sicker. They suffer. They die. Even though we do and say and and believe all the “right” things. Even though we stay faithful sometimes, more often than not, there is no miracle.  The answer to our prayers is, “No.”  How do you nurture hope and expect the best when you are going through the worst?

The short answer is you CHOOSE.  When Job’s wife’s voice starts to ring in your head and the belief that things will never get better beckons, you CHOOSE to believe God instead.  It is tempting to give up. You are tired, you are hurting, you are filled with grief for your loved one and yourself.  Every day, every moment, every breath you are choosing to believe what you see with your eyes or what God has said in His word.

Things may look bad. Really bad. To others you will look like a fool. But your soul will live. Your loved one’s soul will live, even as their body may fail. And things will get better. Your heart will heal and you will feel joy.  As Rich Mullins wrote in his song, “My Deliverer,”  “…I will never doubt His promise, Though I doubt my heart, Though I doubt my eyes.” The promise is real. The promise is eternal.

Here are few promises to hold on to, every one of them is a lie breaker:

  1.  “I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD.  They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 God’s Word Translation).
  2. “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:25-28 NIV)
  3. “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me.  Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.  But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 New Living Translation).
  4. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:17-18 NIV)
  5. “…teaching them [new disciples] to obey everything I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 ISV)

(The western sky from my kitchen window.)

Five Lies Caregivers Believe and How to Fight Them (Part 3 of 5)

“For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”(Matthew 7:7)(NIV)

You don’t have to be a caregiver to find yourself believing Lie Number 3, you just have to have limited financial resources and a personal preference not to ask for help.

Lie #3: IF I CAN’T DO IT MYSELF THEN IT WON’T EVER GET DONE

When just getting through everyday life is more than you can handle anything “extra” tends to get pushed to the side until it becomes an emergency.  I’ve wanted to repaint my kitchen for years and I doubt that it will ever become an emergency.  But at least someday, if I find the time, I can do it.  What I am talking about with Lie Number 3 is more like the overhead light in my living room that hangs by wires without a fixture. I can’t put up a fixture over it, I have tried. The wires just aren’t long enough to allow me to do it. It will have to be rewired.  I don’t have the knowledge to do that safely.

Or the items of furniture in my garage, there is a broken treadmill, an old rocker recliner, a few other things.  They need to go to the dump.  I cannot load them into a truck and take them. It is physically impossible for me.  They were put in the garage years ago as a temporary measure because they had to come out of the house and there they sit.

For a year or two, I tried to remind my helpers that all that stuff still needed to be hauled away.  There never seemed to be a convenient time. I finally quit asking and just learned to live with my redneck looking garage.  When the garbage service quit picking up boxes I embraced it.

(This is an actual picture of my garage.)

I can’t fix some things. I often refuse to ask for help. And so I find a way to live with the problem. It is my choice to do so, but in my moments of frustration, I tell myself it will always be this way. Because, after all, IF I CAN’T DO IT MYSELF IT WILL NEVER GET DONE.

So, I stew over the situation, feeling that I mustn’t ask for too much help or ask too often, feeling that I need to store up the good will of my helpers for when I have a real problem that can’t wait, like a broken water heater or a leaking roof.  My heart hardens and my jaw clenches.  About that time Lie 1 and Lie 2 chime in to remind me that I AM ALONE and NO ONE UNDERSTANDS MY REALITY.

By that point, I am angry and full of self-pity.  I have marched myself right into a pit. This kind of thinking is a waste of time, it accomplishes nothing in advancing me toward what I need (help), and it makes me feel miserable. I have done this a few times, maybe a few hundred.

I have found a way to save myself from repeating this useless little saga. You don’t have to look around you at all the things that need to be done feeling helpless and hopeless.  IF I CAN’T DO IT MYSELF THEN IT WON’T EVER GET DONE is a lie, and, like most lies, it can feel true. But it is not the truth and you shouldn’t believe it. Here are some ways to break free:

1. Swallow your pride and ask for help.

This may sound easy to some but to me it sounds hard. It means first I have to admit to myself that I need help and then it means exposing that need to others who may or may not respond the way I hope they do. It makes me vulnerable. I have this idea in my head that I have no right to impose my needs on others. I have another idea that the goodwill of the people who do care enough to help me is finite, so if I ask for too much or ask too often they will not be there to help me in a real emergency.

It is important to remember there is a difference between asking for help and demanding/guilt tripping/emotionally blackmailing someone to help you. A straightforward request for help is the best. If the person you ask is unwilling or unable to help you that’s okay.  Just move on to the next one.  Exposing your need to others provides them with an opportunity to minister to you. It provides people with a way to demonstrate their love for you. It provides people with a chance to perform some good works.

Think about someone you care about, what would you be willing to do help them or to make their life easier? Now imagine them feeling the same way about you.  If you don’t ask they may never even realize you need help.

2. Pray for help

This one is a bit easier for me. Asking God for favor with someone who can help me. Asking God to send me the right person to ask at the right time. But trusting that God is working on my behalf to provide for my needs while I wait is still hard.  I am not a good waiter.  (I am also a horrible waitress but that is a story for another time.)

3. Remember God Himself is your true Help

“Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is among them that uphold my soul.” (Psalm 54:4)(Darby Bible Translation)

All the help that finds its way to you is from the Lord.  He is our helper and our provider. See below:

Jehovah Ezer is one of His names. Helping us is who He IS. He wants us to come to Him for help. We can never ask too often. We can never ask for too much. He will never turn away from our cry.  His resources and His love for us are without limit. And sometimes I need to be reminded of the red-letter section of Matthew below:

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a snake? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts a to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:9-11)(NIV)

Now, we know in life that you don’t necessarily get everything you ask for, find everything you seek, or have every door you knock on opened. But please remember that if you never ask, seek or knock you can never receive, find or walk through the door. The result is better if you ask. And, if it is important to you, don’t stop asking!

“In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God or respected men. And there was a widow in that town who kept appealing to him, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but later he said to himself,  ‘Even though I do not fear God or respect men, yet because this widow keeps pestering me, I will give her justice. Then she will stop wearing me out with her perpetual requests.’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to the words of the unjust judge. Will not the God bring about justice for his elect who cry out to him day and night? Will he continue to defer their help?” (Luke 18:2-7)(Berean Study Bible)

God will not continue to defer your help forever.  Keep asking and keep expecting your help to come!

Sistering

And after she had said this, she [Martha] went back and called her sister aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this she got up quickly and went to him.” John 11:28-29 (NIV)



My sister is the best. You might have a sister as good as mine but I’d be willing to bet you won’t find a better one. She’s sweet, beautiful and smart. She’s a naturopathic doctor, a classically trained singer, and a massage therapist. She is also an outstanding cook and baker.  Her only flaw is she lives too far away. She definitely the best sister for ME. Every year on her birthday I thank my Mom for having her. 

There isn’t much emphasis on sisterhood in the Bible. You have Leah and Rachel, who were literally sister wives. (Probably not much love lost between those two.) And you have Mary and Martha, maybe they didn’t have the same definition of hospitality, but at least they were both agreed on Jesus being awesome, so they have some common ground. There’s Ruth, who had a sister-in-law, but Orpah bailed when things got tough.  There are definitely a few verse where it is indicated that a sister is a good thing, but if a girl is looking for positive examples to follow she will be hardpressed. 

My experience of having a sister goes like this: I remember the night/morning my sister was born. I wasn’t even four yet. I was staying the night with my Grandma while Mom and Dad were at the hospital. Sunce it was a Saturday night Grandma didn’t have to work the next day so the timing of her arrival  was pretty good.  There was a phone call, I don’t remember the time it was but it was still dark. I am sure it was my Dad calling to say that the baby was a girl and both she and my Mom were okay.  

( Me holding my baby sister at my Grandma’s house. )

The next day Grandma and I went to the hospital to meet her. I vaguely remember holding her. I don’t remember feeling any strong emotions. I also don’t remember much of her early days. What I do remember is when she got old enough to be annoying.  I really thought she was a brat. She broke my crayons and flattened the tips of my markers. She wanted whatever I had and wanted to go everywhere I went.

 She cried and screamed when she didn’t get her way. (Those screams were LEGENDARY. My ears are still ringing a little I think.) She was a bit of drama queen. I am talking full out throwing herself to the floor and screaming.  She was really amazing at it.  

( Me and my sister, about the time she would have been smashing the tips on my markers. ) 

We did play together sometimes. I remember pretending that the floor was lava or shark infested waters and jumping from furniture island to cushion island. I remember teaching her to roller skate. I remember styling her hair into a outrageous creation of a pony tail that stood about eight inches straight up from her head. I used every pony tail holder we owned.

I also remember times when I refused to play. I remember slapping her in anger and then begging and bribing her not to tell on me. (I don’t think she ever did tell.)  We had a reoccurring fight at my door whenever I wanted to be in my bedroom by myself. It usually ended with her fingers getting shut in the door when I won the pushing contest from my side. My mom finally informed me that if I shut my sister’s fingers in the door one more time, she would shut my fingers in the door. (Looking back, I am not sure how she would have accomplished that without my willing cooperation, but I believed her.) So I just took to shoving my sister as far down the hallway as I could before I slammed my door in her face. This method worked well. No more smashed fingers and I still got to be alone in my room. I thought I was pretty smart for coming up with it.

I certainly was not a very good big sister in the beginning. I was especially mean when it came to protecting my alone time or my markers. When I look back, I feel sorry for my sister as a kid. She wasn’t really a brat, she was just a toddler. I couldn’t understand what that meant.  For the first ten years of her life she was “just my sister”.

 I did love her. I would have hated the guts of anyone who hurt her. (Except me, of course.) I hung out with her when it suited me or when there was no one else to play with and we had fun. Or at least I did. I used my company as a trump card to make her play the way I wanted to play.  After all, I could easily go do any number of things rather than play with her. I am ashamed of my younger self now. Younger me needs to slapped. 

Almost magically, when she was in fifth grade and I was about fourteen, she became a person to me. She also become a person I liked. Of course, she was always a person, but I couldn’t see her that way. One day she made an observant and funny remark at the right moment. I don’t even remember what she said or what it was about. But I remember laughing and thinking, “Hey, she’s pretty cool.”  (By no means was this the end of all our conflicts but it was a big turning point for me.)

She was no longer “just my sister”.  She had become “MY sister”.  I liked her (most of the time) and I was always proud of her. She was popular, funny, talented and smart. I started noticing strengths she had that I didn’t and admiring her for them. For example: She seemed to fit in anywhere you put her and she made friends quickly; She had big dreams, like becoming a doctor; and she didn’t waste time on homesickness when we went to camp.

We grew up a little at a time.  I grew up first. I left her behind. First I left for college. A couple of years later I moved out, against my parents wishes and without their knowledge of my plan. I gathered my friends, a box of trash bags, and a truck. I let myself in my parent’s basement door (my room was down there) and started removing my possessions from the house as quickly as I could. I was expecting a confrontation and I wanted to get my stuff or as much of it as possible out before that happened.  It took longer than I expected for the confrontation to happen. I actually ended up going upstairs to tell them that I was leaving. They had no idea what was happening below them. I didn’t know at the time, but when we began moving me out they were not even at home. 

Sadly my sister was. I hadn’t told her anything about what I was going to do. She was 16. She watched through a window as my friends and I made trips back and forth to the truck with trash bags of my stuff.  I had no idea.  I was so eager to get away from my parents that I didn’t even stop to think how it would make my sister feel when I left.

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a really good example of how I, as an adult, was a crappy sister. But guess what? My sister didn’t repay me for the hurt I caused her. She loved me as hard as ever. She was kind to me even when my mother and I could barely have a conversation. She came to my place when I was still afraid to go home to visit. She talked to me. She brushed my hair. She didn’t tell me for years how I hurt her heart when I moved out. 

She was a good sister.  She was loyal, kind, and as supportive as she knew how to be. I loved her before, I liked her before; now she had my heart. I made up my mind I wanted to be closer to her and to spend more time with her. It would be easier now that I wasn’t out of town at college.

I succeeded for a while in my plan and it was good. We hung out more. We even jogged together for a while. I wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t always as kind as I could have been. But I loved her and I tried to be a good sister. I made her important in my life. I was enjoying her so much that I even started to look forward to my brothers getting old enough that I could be friends with them too. Then, only about a year and a half after I moved out, my family moved to another state, about a nine hours drive away. 

And just like that my sister was swept away from me. There would be no more casually hanging out and certainly no more chance of “Let’s get coffee,” or “I’ll meet you at the movie theater.” This time it was her turn to leave me behind. I was was sad. I missed her. Mercifully, I didn’t have the foresight to comprehend the actual magnitude of my loss and when I finally did I was used to her being far away. 

 So we talked on the phone sometimes and I saw her when my family came back to visit me a few times a year. I drove up to stay with them a few times. Life went on for both of us. My sister went to college and earned two bachelor’s degrees concurrently, while also participating in a sorority and working two (sometimes three) jobs while she did it. I admired her stamina. I never could have done it all. 

As the years passed, I tried to stay as close to her as I could. We both had our own lives.  I listened jealously to her mentions of her friends at school and then at work, those lucky people who could see her and be with her all the time. It took me a while to grow up enough to realize that I was not anymore replaceable for her than she was for me. Our visits became precious, precious times. I tried to squeeze as much sister love as I could into a day or two. 

Eventually I got married. (She she was a bridesmaid and she sang beautifully during the lighting of the unity candle.) A few years later my husband and I bought a house and my sister went back to school to study Naturopathic Medicine. We were both busy, she more than me. When she was at Med School she was geographically closer to me, but much less available to me, even just to talk on the phone. It was not her fault, my availability was small also, as I worked third shift and was asleep most of the day. I visited her maybe two or three times, and one of those times was for her graduation. It was definitely a sister drought for both of us. 

At her graduation I was about seven weeks pregnant and afterward my life became crazy busy with appointments. She jumped right back into classes to get her massage therapy license. We were far apart and out of touch much of the time. After my son was born, she came to stay with us for a while. It was nice. I just wanted to stare at her all the time, it was hard to believe she was really right there with me in my house.  I watched her knitting nearby while I nursed; I watched her cooking me food; I watched her holding my baby. It was more than nice. It was incredibly good. 

Most people know the story of Mary and Martha where Jesus came to their house and Martha ran around like a chicken trying to be a perfect hostess while Mary planted herself at Jesus’s feet. Then Martha complains to Jesus about her sister not helping and Jesus straightens out her priorities. Almost everyone has also heard the story of Jesus raising Lazurus from the dead. But you won’t often hear a sermon mention Mary’s and Martha’s relationship in that story. But I when I was looking for sisterhood in the scriptures, I noticed there is a little story about Mary and Martha in the Lazurus story. 

The story goes that Lazarus was seriously ill. The sisters sent for Jesus but He delayed His arrival. Lazarus dies four days before Jesus ever makes it to Bethany. When Martha hears Jesus has finally shown up, she heads out to see Him. When she reaches Him, she makes two statements:

  1. Lord,if you had been here,my brother would not have died.
  2. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask. John 11:21-22 (NIV).

Jesus tells her that her brother will be resurrected but she’s underwhelmed. Of course, Lazarus will rise again, “at the last day.” Then Jesus lays the gospel on Martha, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. He Who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) (NIV).  And then He asks her a question, perhaps the most important question ever, “Do you believe this?”.  She answers that she absolutely does. 

Now here’s the part I love to notice: After she talks to Jesus, Martha goes straight home and gets her sister, Mary. Martha goes to Mary, pulls her aside from the other mourners, and tells her that Jesus is asking for her. Mary who had decided she would rather not go to Jesus when He arrived. This is the same Mary who had devotedly planted herself at His feet and refused to get up. That same woman had decided she would rather stay home than go to see Jesus.

We don’t know a lot about this family outside of these two stories. I wonder why Mary, Martha and Lazurus live together as adults. I wonder where their parents are and why none of them seem to be married. I wonder also how old they were when they know Jesus. I have always imagined them a close to Jesus’s age, but they could easily have been younger or even much older.  Obviously both sisters loved their brother very much, they wouldn’t have been so upset over his death if they didn’t.  I wonder what kind of position it was leaving them in, as Jewish women in that time in history, losing their brother. Probably not a good one. 

Imagine being best friends with Jesus during his ministry, but when your brother gets sick, Jesus doesn’t show up to heal him. You know He knew about it and you know He easily could have come in time. Instead, He shows up four days after your brother is dead. Can you see why Mary felt like staying home?  

It seems like Martha spoke with Jesus and after that she knew that more than anything Mary needed to see Him too. Mary needed a little push. She needed to hear, “Hey, Sis, Jesus is here and He is asking for you.”  Just hearing that was enough to move Mary to go to Him. John said she went quickly.  She left so suddenly that the other mourners ran after her. They thought she must be heading for her brother’s tomb. 

When Mary got to Jesus, she fell weeping at His feet.  She cried out to Him, saying, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32) (NIV) Not a pretty scene perhaps, but now that Mary had come to Him, Jesus could help her.

Remember when Martha talked to Jesus before Lazarus died?  Jesus told her that she was worried about many things, but “only one thing is needed.” That one thing was simply being with Him. She must have been listening. You can bet that the worries she had in her mind were much worse having lost her brother than when she didn’t have help hosting company. This time when Jesus came to town, she left a house full of mourners and she made a bee line straight for Him.  She had learned what was needed. 

I think what we see Martha do here is the best example of how to be a good sister that we have in the Bible. First get yourself right with the Lord and then go back for your hurting sister and do what is needed to get her to Him. Give her a little push. Remind her that He is there and wants to see her. 

Nudging each other toward Jesus is certainly not just for blood sisters. It is something all women believers should do for each other as sisters in Christ. There are so many ways to serve each other and show our love: Speaking a kind word, giving a sincere complement, really listening, bringing food, giving a shoulder rub, babysitting for an afternoon–the possibilities are endless.

 But first we need to love each other enough that we are paying attention to our sisters so that we notice–when they are down, hurting, isolating themselves, or maybe even angry with God–when they need us.  This can be difficult, the paying of attention. You have to keep in touch because social media and Sunday mornings never tell the whole story. Certainly we must also be listening for that unexpected tug on your heart or the seemingly random turn of thought to a sister that comes from the Spirit of God. 

Sometimes a call is in order, sometimes a visit. Sometimes the right love applied at the right time and you can nudge a sister toward Christ without even mentioning His name. Sometimes you need to go to your sister and have a “come to Jesus” conversation. (But please note, Martha didn’t command Mary to go Jesus. She just told Mary the Master asked to see her.) Listen to the Spirit, then use your intuition, use your strength, and use your empathy; the work of sistering requires a woman’s touch. 

My sister and I have been able to see each other more often since the baby came. There has been more actual talking in person and lots of hugging. She cooks for us and stocks my freezer with delicious food when she comes to stay AND she even gives me massages. (Be jealous, she’s amazing). But most of our sistering is still done over the phone.  She doesn’t call me much unless she’s calling me back. But that makes sense since I’m the one juggling more balls at the moment. I need support more often and I’m less available to answer an incoming call. She’s still a good sister–definitely the best sister for me. She always shows up for me and reminds me what is needed. I try to do the same for her. 

Momming

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)

I started my planning young:  I was going to become a mommy, like my mommy, but better!   It was not that I thought of my life experience so far as bad– but I resolved that I would figure out how to do better for my kids. I honestly believed that it was my job to do that. 

I know I had this plan established by 1985, because that was the Christmas I received my first diary. 

Tangent Warning!

In my childhood that diary divides my childhood memories into before and after like the birth of Christ splits human history.  I remember that I resolved to write my diary for two reasons, for myself as a grown up so I would always remember how I felt as a kid and for my kids so they would know I understood how it is. Almost like they could know the kid me a little bit if they ever wanted to.  (The realization that I could write down all the thoughts and feelings I had that would get me in trouble if I said them out loud with no repercussions and the accompanying relief that I received from this practise came later.)

Me, circa age 7, planning for motherhood and playing with my baby cousin. (I was also already on the lookout for my future husband, but that’s a different post.)

I would write down my thoughts, feelings and things I wanted to always remember. A few times I would need to write the feelings down but then I ripped them out because I didn’t want to remember.

 My powers of expression were limited at first. Case in point, one entry I remember writing with a passionate sense of injustice: “She [makes] good dishuns and bad disthuns and I think this is the wrers distisun she has ever made,”. ( I thought this was a dangerous observation at the time. That my mom could be wrong. Dangerous enough that I thought I had better lock my little diary and hide the key. Looking back, my spelling would have probably been more upsetting to her than my sentiment.)

*End Tangent *

As I grew, in my mind I was keeping a tally sheet of what my mom was doing. What worked (15 minute clean ups), what didn’t (hiding chocolate chips), and what was awesome (family popcorn time) or what was really bad (cream of turkey on toast).

 When my mom got pregnant with my oldest younger brother, I was nine. I started learning about the realities pregnancy, childbirth and the rules of babies. A few of my observations:

Pregnancy– You need someone to tie your shoes for you and you should drink a ton of water.  You also need to get a midwife and learn the Bradley Method.

 Childbirth–Labor is hard and scary and painful and messy. The birth is amazing.  

Babies–Babies can’t have honey until they are a year old. A nursing baby is about the sweetest thing you will ever see.  A baby will eat more bites of yucky veggies if you swap bites with sweet fruit. Always keep the basement door closed at all times.

I soaked it all in. I got a quick review of it all because  my mother became pregnant again when little brother number one was about 15 or 16 months old. (Enter little brother number two.) I was upset about this. This was not the plan. I had been told that little brother number one would be two years old before another sibling would be in the works. Turns out sometimes things don’t go according to plan, even for grown ups!

I played second mommy to my two little brothers for about four years.  It worked out fairly well until I started high school. By then they weren’t babies anymore and I was starting to become consumed with my internalized drama. I didn’t have the emotional maturity to parent them. We became siblings, almost enemies sometimes, not unlike my sister and I had been. Around that same time my sister and I started becoming friends, but I stopped being anyone’s mother. 

In my teen years I lost my temper and screamed at my brothers so many times. I begged God in tears over and over that I would stop losing my temper but it never worked. I developed a fear that I would grow up to be abusive, that if I had kids I would scream at them and maybe even hit them. I decided maybe being a mom wasn’t a good idea for someone like me. From about age  17 to 23 I was convinced I would never want kids. 

Then, when I was about 23, my friends started having babies. I knew I wasn’t ready yet but I knew that I wanted my own kids someday. I started imagining them. Meeting them, getting to know them, teaching them stuff. And watching, like my mother did, for their gifts and aptitudes to emerge so I could make sure to provide the best opportunities for them to develop. 

I had my mind set on my child raising methods. I would not forbid sugar or make sweets a big deal. (Maybe my children could escape my compulsion to empty every candy dish they came accross.) I would train them to obey when they were super little so that I would never need to yell at them or spank them and they would never be brats. My kids would go to public school so they could have normal childhoods and learn how to interact with their peers. I would make sure they read all the good books and heard all the good music. I would take so, so many pictures! I would let them get good and dirty playing outside in the mud. I would make sure they had a dog! When they got to be teenagers I would make our house the best place to be so I knew they were safe. I had a million plans. I also had pretty high expectations that my experiments would turn out well. (Are you laughing yet?)

In my mid to late twenties I worried off and on if my boyfriend/fiancé and I would even be able to have children. Our circumstances certainty lent themselves to putting off first marriage and then children. I married at 30 and finally around my 36th birthday I said to my husband, “Hey, if we are going to attempt to have kids then we had better get started trying,”. He (finally) agreed and I started gearing up. I cut out artificial sweetners from my diet.  I started taking detox baths. I changed to a blood pressure medication that was safer for pregnancy. I went off the hormone based birth control I had been using since I was 20 to give my body a chance to return to ovulation. I figured that would take several months or maybe even a year. I started trying to lose some weight to boost our chances and to give me a better shot at a healthy pregnancy. 

Two months after stopping the birth control I was pregnant. That wasn’t exactly the plan but I was thrilled. And terrified. I was diabetic. My medications were contraindicated for pregnancy  but so is high blood sugar! I stopped my meds and stopped eating simple carbs until I could get an insulin script and some clue of what I should eat. I stopped my anti-depressants as quickly as safely possible.

 I may have been expecting to be a mother most of my life, but now that I was actually expecting my real child I was freaking out. I was worried that my baby would be hurt. I had wanted to be off the medications before I got pregnant and I wasn’t. My sugars weren’t as low as they should have been to start trying to get pregnant. And believe me, trying is not what was happening at that point. In my expectation of struggling to get pregnant I forgot the old wisdom of “it only takes once”.

Along side my terror there was wonder and hope. It felt like God must have just been waiting for the first chance I gave Him to send me this child. That made me feel much better, remembering God was in control. But I also felt strongly that now it was up to me not to mess it up. So I did my best. I am not saying that casually.  I walked the line between perfect and insane.

In my mind there was no other choice. I was going to do everything possible to ensure the health and safety of my baby. I knew that if me messing this up harmed my child I could not live with that. Period. Thus followed a period of compliance like I have never dreamed. 

The Dietician said to eat only X carbs per day, divided like so. I did it and I wrote all it down. Every gram of carbs at every meal. Every sugar reading I took.  Every unit of insulin. Every day. EVERY DAY. Until after I gave birth. 

The Endocrinologist said inject this much insulin four times a day and poke yourself to check your sugar seven times a day. Write the result down every time. I did that too. I would set alarms at work to check and at home to wake myself up to check my sugar.

If they asked me to do it, I did. 

I did have a few places that I disagreed with the experts. I never ate a low fat diet. I just made sure the fats I ate were fabulous. (Lots of organic butter and extra virgin olive oil.) I ate more meat and eggs than reccomended. I didn’t have many cravings during my pregnancy but I did have a strong drive to eat red meat. 

I walked on my treadmill but I monitored my heart rate to make sure it didn’t go too high. I avoided possible sources of listeria. I avoided herbal tea, caffiene (except small does of dark chocolate), and MSG. I even avoided stevia. I cut out the essential oils that could possibly put the pregnancy at risk. I cut out hot showers and baths. I took Acetaminofen only once. I drank nothing but filtered or bottled water and plenty of it. 

I showed up for every appointment. GYN, Endocrinologist, Dietician, Health Coach, Specialist GYN, Ultrasounds, labwork, and Case Management Nurse phone calls. It was like having two full time jobs. But I knew I was doing everything I was supposed to to the very best of my ability and that made me feel really good. My doctors marveled at my compliance and my success. I took what was considered a high risk pregnancy and sailed through. My blood sugar levels were nearly perfect throughout the pregnancy and my blood pressures stayed very well controlled. My weight gain stayed right on track. If all you had to look at was numbers you would have never thought my pregnancy was high risk.

I didn’t have morning sickness. I barely had heartburn. My depression faded down to nothing and, though I had some serious worries, my anxiety never overwhelmed and paralyzed me like it did pre-pregnancy. In many ways I had an easy pregnancy experience. 

After I brought my son home, for several reasons, I was a mess. I was a mess like I had never been in my life and I was trying to care for my newborn plus trying to nurse, failing, then pumping and bottle feeding, followed by cleaning all the pump parts by hand (no dishwasher in my house). I repeated this process every three hours around the clock. My baby had jaundice and this three hour cycle was necessary. About day three I caved and weepingly sent my son (with a bottle) to my in-laws to stay so I could sleep a few hours. I was so guilt-riddled for doing this that I actually wasted some of my sleep time that first day crying about it. I felt like I was abandoning him and burdening them.

I could not figure out when to feed myself or shower. During the short period of time time out of every three hour shift when I could have laid him down and done something else, I could not stop baby gazing. All I wanted in life was to sit still and hold and love my baby.  I felt like all the other activities were stealing that from me.

I had trouble both asking for and accepting help.  I felt like I had already asked for too much help. A few examples of the help I was receiving: I had to be driven everywhere I needed to go; my mother-in-law drove me. I couldn’t carry the baby in his carseat when we got there; my mother-in-law toted him. From late afternoon until evening many days she and my father-in-law cared for my baby so I could sleep for a few hours together.  (I was too afraid to sleep unless someone else was awake and watching him.)  I also couldn’t carry my trash out to the road myself so my in-laws did that for me too.

In addition to that issue, when someone kindly offered me their help and asked me what to do, I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t think clearly to tell them what to do to help me. I usually responded by staring into space while I tried to give them a task. On top of that I felt that I  could not ask for help with some of my tasks because they had to be done exactly as I did them and I could not trust anyone else to do it right. 

(Let me give you an example of my state of mind:  No one else could wash and dry the pump parts! They did it wrong. I let them try and the flanges and bottles were still greasy when I went to use them. I had to re-wash them and re-dry them before I could start pumping. They also didn’t know to remove the little vinyl flap pieces so I had to take those pieces apart to re-wash and dry those too. If I told them they needed to do it differently they wouldn’t understand. It is better to do it myself.) 

This type of thing, coupled by my inability to express exactly what I needed without sounding insane, effectively limited my sources of help in what they could do for me.  (I feel tired now just remembering my desparation.) Everything had to be done by me and quickly and NOW or I wouldn’t be ready for the next shift. 

So for a while I lived on bottled water and Kashi Granola bars. I was a pale, quavering, starving, germ-obsessed, crazy disaster. When my mom and dad came to meet the baby, they found me in that state. I think my mom might be traumatized for life from seeing me like that. (If you know anyone who just came home from the hospital after giving birth, please consider taking them food. I had plenty of meals stored up. But those first couple of weeks I couldn’t even manage to go to the freezer, get the food out, heat it up and eat it. I could barely manage to eat at all when I was alone with my baby and remembering to grab a granola bar on my way to nurse/pump  was a victory.)

I didn’t know anything about how to handle my situation. I couldn’t even think straight. All my preparation for Momming failed me. I didn’t lean on my parents, I fell on them like a piano dropped by the movers in an old cartoon. They caught me.  For a good while my mom held me up until I was strong enough to get through a whole day on my own again. 

Just as I was starting to feel like I could live, take care of my baby and care for myself half-way decently, it was time to return to work.

It was a brand new position for me and I was working with not a soul I knew. I was also leaving my first child for the first time for nine hours a day.  In addition to learning a new job I was navigating the trecherous waters of pumping at work for the first time. I was not ready for any of that, especially only six weeks after giving birth.

In all my planning I never took into account the physical reality of the post-partum period. Big mistake.  I didn’t account for having to work full time to support my family while also caring for my disabled spouse, my young infant, and myself while running a household. Sometimes you just can’t understand how hard things will really be until you get there. 

In spite of this we survived.  I may not have done it perfectly or even well,  but we all survived those crazy first five months. Since then, managing the tasks of daily life has become, well, more managable. 

Looking back I can see that I thought I was totally prepared to be a mother. Turned out I was wrong and the reality was not pretty. (I don’t think any woman gives birth for the first time and brings home her baby and finds that she was completely prepared.) 

Because God sent the help and love I needed just in time, I survived. I was able to heal and learn and grow strong again. In those post partum moments when things were so very difficult and my world looked so dark, I comforted myself by telling myself that I would never have another child. The only thing that made me feel better was to tell myself that I never would go through this again. 

But what I can also see looking back over my journey to motherhood is this: I had a plan but the Lord directed my steps to my goal. All the way He was faithful, even when finally getting what I dreamed of proved to be more than I could handle on my own. 

My original plan was kids. Plural. As in more than one. Right now the logistics of more than one seem really daunting. I am not sure what I will decide.

If I do ever choose to try to have another child, and if God blesses me with another one, I know a few things now that I didn’t last time. First, I know that the post partum period will not be as dark for me next time. Because now I know how it goes after childbirth. That period ends. It feels eternal but it gets better, a little bit every day. I know that I might lose sight of myself for a while but I will find myself again and be okay. Second, I know to arrange more help for the first four weeks. Much more help. Especially with having a newborn and a pre-existing child. Third, however things go, the Lord will be directing my steps. So I can relax a little bit. I would still do my absolute best, of course. Love for my new baby would demand nothing less. But I know I could relax my controlling, fear driven grip on things a bit and let God show me again that He is always good, loving, and faithful to me, His child.

Forgiving

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.(Matt. 6:12) (KJV)

 I like to be informed and prepared. It eases my anxiey. It makes me feel safe.  So you might be able to imagine what someone like me might do with internet access during a first pregnancy. As I began my info-glut, it seemed everywhere I turned I found information indicating the value of a doula. 

My mother and my sister live over eight hours drive time away from me. My husband is a wonderful, loving and supportive man but he is disabled. Attending the birth was going to be challenging enough for him without acting as a labor coach.  I didn’t feel right asking my mother-in-law to take on the role (she is sweet and amazing and most likely would have said yes.)  My sister-in-law (my husband’s sister) is an RN but she also works full time and I had no way of knowing  what day I would go into labor. One of my college roommates was a practicing doula at the time and I would have hired her instantly but she lives about a 5 hour drive away. 

So….hiring a doula sounded like a perfect solution. I wanted someone to help me concentrate on my Bradley Method relaxation exercises. I wanted someone to help me use my essential oils. I wanted someone to help me through labor using drug alternative methods to deal with the pain. I wanted someone who would advocate for me and my wishes when I might not be able to do so. I also wanted someone who would stay with me even if I did decide to have an epidural or worse, had to have a c-section. These are all typical duties a good doula fulfills.

I spoke to my mother about my thoughts and she generously offered to pay the doula’s fee. (Our finances were tight. With a third person soon joining our household, I feared I wouldn’t be able to convince my husband that the expense was money well spent. He didn’t think natural childbirth was a good plan for me anyway.) I started hunting online for a doula. (Mistake numer one.)  I found several that sounded good and picked one to interview. 

The online description of her skills and experience sounded perfect. Her webiste looked beautiful. Her fee was extremely reasonable. She lived close enough to get to my local  hospital within an hour. She was at least a good place to start.

Her name was Terry and we met at a Panera for our interview.  She interviewed perfectly. I liked her right away. She said all the things a good doula should say. She claimed to share my faith. She had no problem continuing to support me if I chose an epidural. She was not afraid of standing up, respectfully, to a physician on my behalf. The stories she told me of her background and experiences were remarkable. I was sold. I stopped my search.

We made plans to meet again so I could give her the signed contact and her fee and discuss my birth plan in detail. I wanted to build a stronger relationship so I would feel absolutely comfortable having her by my side in the delivery room.

We met again at the same Panera a few weeks later. It was almost an hour drive from my house but she was very busy and had a client who was due to go into labor anytime in that city. It was a good meeting.  She assured me that she was lining up a back-up doula who would come to me if she was unable to do so (which would only be if she was seriously injured or ill). She told me that it was a little harder to find a back-up doula willing to drive the extra hour that would be needed if I had to deliver at the women’s hospital. (My baby’s heart might have a defect requiring me to deliver there, we were unsure at the time.) She even surprised me by telling me that she was wanting to start buying essential oils to use in her practice and she would like to buy them from me! (Not something I was aiming for at all, but great news!) I gave her the signed contract and her full fee in cash. I left our meeting on cloud nine.

Next time Terry was going to come meet with me near my home. She only had one client left to take care of and then only me.  (She was moving to Florida in August and I was due in July. I was going to be her last client before the move.) She was also going to bring her back-up doula along so I could meet her. 

But things started to change. My calls and texts went unanswered first for a day, and then for several days. When she did return my calls she was very sweet and always had a great excuse. She kept pushing back the date of our next meeting. She still hadn’t secured a back-up doula but that was okay. She would find one. She insisted that she would most definitely come herself anyway. 

Less than a week before my due date she cancelled our meeting yet again. She told me that a wind storm had  blown a tree down across her driveway and she couldn’t get her car out. She had called guys to remove the tree but they were very busy since there was so much damage down in the area. They surely would have it removed in a couple of days. She would call me to let me know when she could get out.

She didn’t call me.

 I went into labor the next day– about four days before I was scheduled to be induced. On the way to the women’s hospital I called Terry and left a message. I sent her a text message. She replied the tree had not yet been removed but the men had been working on it all morning and surely it would be done soon. I was to keep her posted.

We arrived at the hospital. My labor was confirmed. I was dilated to 4 centimeters. I texted her this information. That was the last time I texted with her that day. 

I was busy breathing and concentrating on relaxing. My mom started texting my doula for me and sending me updates.  Eventually even that became too much for me as my pain increased. By the grace of God my sister-in-law was able to come to me. She applied counter-pressure to the unbearable pain in my lower back during my contractions. 

I was wearing down. The pain was too much. I started crying and screaming during the contractions. I asked for the epidural. They have two anesthesiologists at that hospital at all times. Each of them were in one of the  operating rooms with a C-section. They could not come to me.  I felt like I was losing my mind. 

The nurses tried four or five times to get an IV started on me. I told them after the first failed attempt to try the crook of my elbow.  They didn’t listen. They sent for a different  nurse to try.  It didn’t work. They explained my elbow crook was a bad location for an IV  because every time I bent my arm it would cut off the flow of fluid. Finally, with my arm a bruised mess, they gave in and were able to place the IV successfully in the crook of my elbow. I didn’t really care at that point about my arm or the pain from trying to start an IV and failing. I was too busy trying not to lose myself completely to the pain in the rest of me. I just wanted them to get it in right so I could have my epidural.

Finally the beautiful, glorious anesthesiologist came in with his magic shiny needles and drugs. The nurses sat me upright. I had a massive contraction and warned them I was going to throw up. I didn’t–but that was when my water broke.  The contraction leveled off and the anesthesiologist did his work. Almost instantly the pain evaporated. I felt amazing. I loved everybody. Except my M.I.A. doula. 

I let my mom know I had gotten an epidural. She told me she had offered to pay for a rental car and a cab to pick my doula up so she could come to the hospital. Terry had refused the offer. As far as we knew she had still not left her house.

After the epidural took effect a nurse checked my dilation. I was at nine centimeters! If I hadn’t been so tired and so relieved that the pain had stopped I would have been livid. I had been in transition and nobody told me. I had been sooo close to giving birth without the drugs!

Of course, as is often the case, my labor stalled as soon as they started the epidural. I stayed at nine for an hour and then hit ten centimeters. Time to push! Except I had never pushed before and I couldn’t feel anything. The nurse told me when to push and I did try. I curled up and told my body to push. I was just getting the hang of it when the On-Call GYN and his resident came to see me. 

He expressed his disappointment in my progress. He had expected the baby to be crowing by now, but the baby had not even dropped into the birth canal. He told me he would come back in an hour and he threatened a C-section if I didn’t make a lot of progress. He gave the order to cut my epidural in half and started me on a pitocian drip. 

I hate to think what it would have been like if he had removed the epidural completely. I also like to think it would have been better without the “help” of the pitocian.  I am pretty convinced that I would have been able to push effectively without it because I could feel the contactions perfectly well. Too well for my taste.

In fact that’s all I could feel. I pushed and pushed and pushed. The baby’s head started to crown. They told me to stop pushing while they moved me to the OR to deliver. I did not obey them. I kept right on pushing. In between contractions I begged them to increase my epidural again. I screamed. I begged. I cried. I pushed. 

So there I was in the very brightly lit OR with at least ten people standing around just watching me as I begged and screamed and pushed.  The GYN and his Resident stood at the foot of my bed with their arms crossed watching. I wanted to kick them in their masked faces, especially the GYN. (Can you imagine screaming for help while everyone just stands around staring at you? I wish I could forget.) Finally I knew I was running out of strength. “Can’t you do SOMETHING to HELP me?!” I demanded, addressing the GYN. Yes. They could do an episiotomy. “Is he going to come out without one?”

 “No.”

No. They were standing there watching me knowing that my baby’s head was not going to exit my body without my body tearing or them cutting me. AND they hadn’t seen fit to share this information with me. 

“Then do it,” I said.

I don’t know what I sounded like in that moment. I felt more rage and more desparation and more helplessness than I ever had before. They waited until the next contraction and then took a pair of mayo scissors to my perineum. I felt the cutting. I am sure I screamed. 

One more push they said. One more push I provided and then he was out. 
They cut the cord instantly. They rushed the baby to the warmer to be checked. My former audience scrambled. They now had work to do. I was no longer the center of attention. 

The nurse who had helped me count to ten for my pushes and who had been holding my right hand left my side. That felt horrible, her leaving me. It was a cold reminder that we were not friends, she was just doing her job.

The baby cried. They called my husband over to meet him. Meanwhile the GYN had delivered the after birth and was starting to giving step-by-step instructions to his Resident on how to sew me back together. I felt every drive of the needle. They insisted that they had injected  me with lidocaine and they couldn’t give me any more. I cried out in pain. My legs shook violently and they told me to hold still. I couldn’t stop the shaking. My body was exausted and my nervous system was shot. 

A nurse brought me my son to hold. He was a nice distraction to say the least. Everything around me faded to the background including the pain of the stitching. All I could see was his little face, he was wrapped up tight and wearing and a hat. It felt like the warm little bundle in my arms was making everything okay…

I wanted to hold him forever, but he had to go to the NICU to have an echocardiogram. Our time was short. For me the repair work continued a while longer. 

I was still being repaired when the neonatal cardiologist came in to tell my baby’s heart looked fine. (God bless that sweet man, he could have easily sent someone else but he came in himself.) I shead some tears of relief and thanked him. The stitching was finally finished and I was rolled back to my labor room.

My hand-holding nurse catheterized me. (I only mention this because I didn’t feel it. So at least the the lidocaine or the epidural was good for that much.)  She turned off the epidural and disconnected my IV. 

My husband had left me to introduce his parents to the baby with my blessing. They couldn’t enter the NICU without him. The nurse left me also after her tasks were complete.  It seems weird to me to leave a person alone after such an experience but no one else seemed to think so. Nothing felt real. I stared out the window at the black night outside for a few minutes. I looked at the clock and called my workplace and gave a quick update. (I was a third shifter and I knew my people would be working and waiting to hear from me.)

The nurse came back to wheel me down to the NICU. The baby’s blood sugar was low and they wanted me to nurse him. I happily complied (with help) and soon got to meet and hold my son properly.

Terry never did arrive. Supposedly she had been thirty minutes away and turned around when my mother informed her that I had received an epidural. (If this is true she did that with the full knowledge that I still wanted her with me. She knew that from day one. I watched her writing it down.) But I don’t think she ever left her house. I don’t think there ever was a tree across her driveway. I don’t think she ever intended to lay eyes on me again after I handed her that envelope of cash. 

Terry, the so-called doula, called to “check on” me a few days after I got home. I could not speak about my birth experience with out breaking down. I told her about the post-traumatic flashback I had the day after delivery. She told me to get counseling. I told her I wanted half of her fee refunded to me. Our contract stated that half of the fee I paid would be refunded if the doula did not attend the birth. She informed me that her  lawyer told her that she was not obligated to refund anything. She also said that despite not being obligated she felt like she should give me something. She was going to think about it and would call back to let me know what she decided to do. Weeks passed. 

You can probably guess how that turned out.

I was too naive. She had never offered me a reference to call and I didn’t even bother to Google her. I trusted her blindly. 

Guess what you find when you do Google her?  She was at convicted thief. This information comes  complete with local news footage of her being escorted before a judge! She stole thousands of dollars from a youth hockey league that she was in charge of and got caught. She pled guilty. She was fined and given probation. 

Can you imagine? I had been played for a fool and lost my mother’s gift. I didn’t know there were people out there running doula swindles. It seemed too evil to imagine, that kind of coldness and intentional betrayal of a woman at her most vulnerable, so I did not do my research. I trusted a stranger and got burned. 

I could not tell anyone my birth experience for a long time without weeping. It had been the exact opposite of what I wanted. The Doctor was a jerk who was annoyed that my labor took too long for him to go home for his kids’ birthday. There was no one to champion my wishes or to remind me that I didn’t have let them pump me full of pitocian. Because my “doula” betrayed me,  I ended up with a third degree episiotomy. My son didn’t get any cord blood. (When I asked the doctor why he didn’t wait to cut the cord as I had requested, he informed me that there was no benefit for a full term infant. Which is untrue). 

I was traumatized. I was furious. And most of all I felt that Terry, the woman who masqueraded as a doula, owed me a debt. She had coldly taken my money, emotionally manipulated me and betrayed my trust. It was because of her that things went the way they did.  I did nothing to deserve it, other than being foolish enough to trust her. 

At first I used my anger to survive my pain. I blasted her name far and wide on social media. My mom considered suing but the transaction had taken place over state lines and Terry had probably already left for Florida. It was hopeless. 

After a  time, maybe eight months, the Holy Spirit whispered to me that I had to forgive this woman. I was shaken. I didn’t know how to do that. Usually when someone hurts me I find a way to believe they didn’t intend the harm they caused or that they could not help it or something like that. But what Terry had done to me? Intentionally taking advantage of me and betraying me? I could not understand. I couldn’t justify it. How could I forgive her? She was not even sorry.

I remember a story my mother read to me when I was young about Corrie Ten Boom. If you don’t know who she is you should look her up. After getting caught helping the Underground smuggle Jews to safety during World War II,she survived imprisonment in a series of nazi prison/death camps. After the war, she was approached by a man who had been a nazi guard during her imprisonment. He had been in the congregation to which she had just finished speaking. He came toward her to shake her hand. He was rejoicing in wonder at God’s forgiveness of his sins! Corrie was not feeling forgiving. Can you imagine the trauma that seeing him again must have triggered in her?  She felt strongly convicted that she was to forgive him. But she could not make herself do it. So she prayed for God to help her forgive him. She still couldn’t do it.  So Corrie asked Jesus to give her HIS forgiveness for this man. And it worked! God filled her heart with His forgiveness and love. She was able to shake his hand sincerely.  

I knew when you get that nudging inside that you need to forgive someone, and you can’t, you ask for help. As children of God we are commanded to forgive. We are commanded to love our enemies.  If we refuse to forgive those who hurt us we cannot receive God’s forgiveness. Our hearts slowly fill with bitterness and hate, they harden. Our souls get sick. What was just a wound becomes infected and begins to turn our souls septic.

I know that you don’t forgive a person because they deserve it. I know that I have done things that I certainly did not deserve forgiveness for. But God loves and forgives me anyway and I depend on this utterly. Who am I to accept such mercy and not extend it?

So I made a conscious choice to forgive Terry. I asked God to help me do it. I did not feel it. I consciously quit dwelling on my hurt and anger. I slowly quit wishing for her to suffer. I willed it and I and asked God for help. It felt hollow. It felt fake. 

But the Spirit in me started to stir my spirit from the moment I made my choice. I was made able to forgive myself for foolishly not checking Terry’s  backgound and not demanding refrences.  I was able to forgive myself for losing my mother’s gift of a doula. I quit beating myself up. My shame disappated. 

When I think of her now, and about what happened, I am able to stay calm. She isn’t hurting me anymore. I do feel concern that she will do to others what she got away with doing to me. I don’t know what else I can do about that. I guess I should lay that in God’s hands as well. But honestly I haven’t forgiven her yet– not completely. 

I thought I had until I was about half-way through writing this. It’s not over for me at this point, to say it is would be lying. But I also I know that I choose to obey. Sometimes that means walking in that obedience for a while. Or in other words, I choose to forgive her over and over. Reading Corrie’s story again also encouraged me. It reminded me that I can ask for more than help. 

I can ask for Jesus to give me HIS forgiveness and His love for Terry. Even though the thought of this made my insides quaver,  I did do it a few days ago. I took a few deep breaths and then I asked. “Jesus, please give me Your forgiveness for Terry.” I even said it out loud. 

I don’t know what happened in the spiritual realms when I did that, but I felt only the slightest of  changes in mine. I wasn’t miraculously  flooded with instant agape love for Terry. 

Honestly, I was a little relieved when that didn’t happen. I am sure my faith isn’t as strong as Corrie’s was at that point in her life so maybe I just need to walk in my new prayer for a while. I am determined to forgive her. I will not let this one small loss sicken my soul forever. 

I am feeling led to start praying for her. Luke 6:28 may be my answer. I’ll let you know.

Anchoring 

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.(Heb. 6:19)(NLT)

I want to tell you a story. I call it The Story of Ethan’s Heart.

I was born with a heart defect. Statistically any children I have are considered to have a higher risk of having a heart defect also. That is why the doctors wanted to do a fetal echocardiogram during my pregnancy. It seemed reasonable to me. It was considered a high risk pregnancy to begin with due to my age, weight, and preexisting type two diabetes and preexisting high blood pressure. I was very nervous and I did every single thing the doctors asked me to (and more) trying to give my baby his very best chance at a normal, healthy life.

The first specialist who conducted the fetal echo was mildly concerned. The blood was flowing a bit fast through the aorta of my baby’s heart. This can indicate a narrowing of the aorta. It was difficult to tell for sure. She wanted to have another more experienced specialist look at it again in a few weeks. She gave me strict orders not to worry about it yet. I agreed, but I could not help feeling some agitation and anxiety anyway.

In the worst case senario my baby would undergo a short surgery to correct a narrowed aorta a few days after birth and then go on to have a perfectly normal life with no restrictions. But that most likely wouldn’t happen so I pushed what seemed unlikely aside. It seemed fairly easy just to keep pushing the worry down and shoving the unwanted thoughts to the back of my mind. 

A few weeks later the day came for the next fetal echocardiogram. I went in fully expecting the situation to be resolved. I was depending on answers that would allow me to make my plans one way or another. I reclined as the specialist patiently tried to get the views of my baby’s heart that he wanted to see. The baby wiggled, contrary to being pushed on from the outside world. I watched the screens intensely, trying to see what the pediatric cardiologist was seeing, but it was futile. I recognized the heart pumping, the blood moving through the chambers. Parts of the the picture flashed back and forth between black and white and red or blue for what felt like an hour. I stayed silent, not wanting to distract the man from his work. 

Finally he turned off the equipment and the screens. He was silent for a few moments. Then he spoke about agitation and the velocity of the blood in the aorta. It was significantly higher than it should be. He drew me a picture and explained how when a baby is in the womb the oxigenated blood enters the baby’s heart from the plecenta through a special blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus. After the baby is born the lungs oxigenate the baby’s blood and the vessel closes. When that happens, if the baby has a narrowing of the aorta, the baby will die unless the issue is not corrected promptly by surgery. 

Ultimately, he still could not tell with certainty if the aorta was actually narrowed. We would not know until after the baby was born and they could get a better image. After birth, the baby would need to have a series of ultrasounds. One immediately and then two or more as the vessel closed. (The closing of the ductus arteriosus is a process which can happen very quickly after birth or may take up to 5 days.)

He told me that if the baby’s aorta was narrowed then the child would have to be transported by ambulance to the children’s hospital for surgery before the vessel closed.  He also told me that I would be left behind when my baby was transported, possibly for two or even three days.

“Unacceptable!” my heart screamed.  I refused to risk a 70 mile separation from my newborn.  I declared on the spot that I would deliver at the women’s hospital next to the children’s hospital. I didn’t pray. I didn’t discuss it with my husband. I called my doula and confirmed that she would drive the extra distance. I called my mom. I called my mother-in-law. Soon almost everyone knew the new plan.

When I got home I informed my husband of my decision. He assured me of his certainty that the baby would be fine and that nothing was wrong with his tiny heart. I didn’t have his certainty.  Not at all. I started focusing on mentally preparing myself for every eventuality I could imagine. In the past having a plan in place for every contingency has effectively eased my anxiety. Nothing feels as frightening when I can convince myself that I am prepared. 

I created a best case senario in my mind and began to hope for that. The baby would be born, they would do an ultrasound and the aorta would be fine. The ductus arteriosus would close and the turbulence would disappear. 

This worked for me… until I went for my tour of the women’s hospital birthing center. The tour was unremarkable. Seeing the NICU was unsettling but no more so than I  expected. After the tour I had my meeting the the neonatologist, and it stopped working. 

She seemed youngish, perhaps my age or younger, but she had a manner that portrayed her expertise. For one so young, she had some serious gravitas. She gave me the run down of what would happen. I would check in, labor would be confirmed and I would be admitted to a labor room. I would remain there until it was time to  deliver and then I would be transported to the OR. I might be able to bring my doula in to the OR, it would at the discretion of the gynecologist and the neonatologist on call. After delivery my baby would be taken immediately from me to be checked. If the baby was doing well I might be allowed to hold him for a minute and then he would be taken to the NICU to have an echocardiogram. Meanwhile I would then be transported back to a patient room.  If the baby was doing extremely well I might be permitted to try to nurse him. She warned me that typically with these type of defects it was difficult for the infant to coordinate nursing and breathing so breastfeeding wasn’t possible. If it was determined that my baby needed surgery he would be transported after three or four days to the children’s hospital for the surgical procedure and then transported back to the NICU where he would be for seven to ten days and possibly even as long as two weeks . If he did really well he might be able to be transferred from the NICU to the transitional nursery for the tail end of his stay. 

What I immediately took away from all this was that this expert fully expected what I had only thought of as a worst case senario to happen. When I questioned her as to the possibility of my best case senario she gently told me that it was extremely unlikely. I was dumbfounded. I went through the motions of thanking her and saying goodbye. 

On the way home my mind was racing. My hormonal body and my emotions fed off each other until I worked myself into a state of full blown freak out. I had to deliver in an OR. I might not be allowed to hold my baby—possibly for hours after giving birth. My newborn baby was going to be pumped full of antibiotics and anesthesia and they were going to cut a hole in his little back to fix his aorta. We were not going to be able to bring him home for two maybe three weeks…

About that time I started praying. I prayed for my baby’s aorta to be the correct size and for his heart to work perfectly. I prayed that the vessel would close in exactly the way it was supposed to and at the right time. I prayed for the amazement of the doctors and that God would be glorified.  I prayed that they would be calling me to the NICU immediately to nurse my healthy and hungry baby. 

And then I  remembered  that as this baby’s mother I had spiritual authority over him. My prayers changed. I prayed in the name of YESHUA the MESSIAH, SON OF THE LIVING GOD, THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISSAC AND JACOB. I prayed by my authority as his mother and as a daughter of THE MOST HIGH and I started commanding that little heart to be perfect. I quit begging and started praying with boldness. I did this every day, usually on my way to work. And every day my faith grew a little stronger until I was praying with total confidence that what I was asking for and speaking over my baby was already done. I was taking my hope in God’s word and dropping it like an anchor into the chaos and fear inside me. 

It felt irresponsible to change my plan to deliver at the women’s hospital. It probably wasn’t necessary but I didn’t see any harm in it. So I gave birth in an sterile operating room, surrounded by medical staff  who were gowned, masked and gloved. They wisked my baby away from me instantly. He soon rewarded them with a hearty wail. They could find nothing wrong. His APGAR score was nine. Both times. They wrapped him in  blankets and pulled a little hat down over his head. Then they put a 9 lb 3 oz burrito into my exausted arms. I held him. It’s blurry looking back. It seemed short. It was maybe three or four minutes. They told me the neonatal cardiologist had arrived and they had to take my son to the NICU. I instructed my baby to go show them his perfect heart and they took him. 

A short while later the neonatal cardiologist came into the OR to talk to me. He smiled widely as he told me that my son’s heart looked fine. If he had not been told otherwise he would say nothing was wrong. He would repeat the test in 48 hours to see how the heart was doing as the ductus arteriosus closed. I rejoiced as I thanked him. 

They took me back to my room and the nurse did her medical stuff. My husband left so he could escort my in-laws to the NICU to see the baby. The nurse left me. I called my workplace and gave them the stats and good news. I tried to rest, for about twenty minutes. The nurse came back in and asked if  I would please get in the wheelchair? My baby’s bloodsugar was dropping and they wanted me to nurse him right away. I smiled. You betcha.

Less than 48 hours later the neonatal cardiologist stopped by to tell me that the ductus arteriosus was totally  closed and the baby’s heart was fuctioning just fine.  “Already?” I exclaimed, shocked. He laughed and assured me, “Yes, already.” He asked me to bring my son back for a follow-up echocardiogram at six months. He also told me that as soon as the neonatologist on duty could sign the papers my son would be released from the NICU and brought to my room to stay to stay with me. 

I was stunned. I never thought to ask for things to turn out this well! My Heavenly Father did it for me anyway, over and above my request! The next day we went home. Not two or three weeks later…three days.

This is an important story for me. I have build an Ebenezer monument in my heart so that I will never forget how God came through for me when I believed His word enough to ask for something while fully expecting Him to give it to me.

 It’s scary to do that.  You risk looking like a fool and you risk getting your heart smashed by disappointment. It can look like a big risk. I decided I would rather trust God and have peace even if I looked like a fool in the end. I traded my fear and pride for peace and hope.  I had an anchor for my soul when my  outward circumstances didn’t look good. 

The six month check-up confirmed that Ethan’s heart was perfectly fine. No abnormalities, no restrictions, no need for more follow ups. The neonatal cardiologist told me to treat my son as if there had never been anything wrong with his heart. I laughed. No problem for me there, as I had been doing that since they released him from the NICU.

(Ethan at about 7 months)