It soothed me right down to each nerve ending.
After having delivered four children, I did not know that it was possible to enter labor unprepared.
The previous birth had been difficult and the new baby was worrying us with her smallness – after four giant babies, having a belly that never measured more than 34 weeks kept us guessing. Stress from many quarters had been unyielding. My husband and I had not had time to connect in a long time – we weren’t fighting each other so much as fighting the space between us. It was a lonely time. We were like wanderers, our heads drooping to the beat of our walk, hoping the next rise would show relief on the horizon.
And suddenly, labor happened.
We held hands on the drive over, but didn’t stay much. We didn’t even have a middle name figured out for the baby — something I liked to know ahead of time – but we’d hashed that debate into mush and there was no more energy left for it. There was no more to say, but —
“Can we stop at the chapel first,” I asked my husband. “Of course, “ he said.
We pulled into the Adoration chapel. I had no idea what I was going to say to Jesus, but the mother part of me, seeing in myself a scared, directionless girl, sent her to Him.
We weren’t there long. We knelt, we kept holding hands, we stared, all-hollow, at God.
I … I don’t know what to do. I have to have this baby, somehow. I don’t know how. I don’t have it in me Lord, not like before. I’ve done this, and I don’t know why I can’t do it now, but I can’t. I’m so, so supremely empty. There’s nothing there, Jesus.
And then, Christ placed a word in my heart, fully formed and solid, warm to the touch and grafted to my chest from his Hand.
I didn’t know what it meant, but I felt something where there had been nothing. A heavy word, but gentle; shining and rumbling like a lion but it soothed me right down to each nerve ending.
That was it; I knew my prayer was over. I was able to smile a little at my husband. We walked out to the car.
This word did not make for an easy labor. The Lord did not deliver me from the unusually exquisite pain, even though I wanted that. I failed to progress. I had no sleep. The pitocin. The worry.
After 18 hours I was ready for heaven. Each contraction took me to the dark place where living is a choice, and I didn’t want it. The grinding force of the baby being pressed to exit my body shook me out of every constant I knew. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t think. I could only exist in this pain that just went on, and on. Another contraction took over and I sank, eyes closed, every muscle in my body flexed in resistance.
A hand in mine, a hand on my shoulder. “Kate,” my husband called.
No. I couldn’t come back.
He called to me; he didn’t give up.
Opening my eyes against my will, I looked up at him, and he seemed so far away, as though he were a dream. He was smiling at me.
And he said, “Receive.”
I had not told him of my prayer or of that word. I hadn’t been able to articulate a single thing about any of what I was going through. But in the middle of this, the Lord loved me again through the words of my husband, whispering this secret word to me.
“Receive, sweetheart. Just receive the contraction, and let it go.” I nodded, and took a deep breath.
I couldn’t give birth to that baby alone. I couldn’t have babies or tend to them, or love my husband, or know how to turn to the Lord in my distress. I could be empty and alone, and spent to the point of dissipation.
But the Lord could give, and I could receive.
I received that contraction, and many more. My baby was born, blooming. And the middle name that we couldn’t think of became clear, too: Grace. That which can only be received.