I walked into the hospital room, breathing in the palpable pain as we opened the door. I was there to offer SGM Perinatal Hospice Birth and Bereavement Services as their SGM/SBD Doula, to walk with them as they waited to meet their baby girl.
Entering softly into the sacred place, I opened my mouth, hoping to speak some word of tender gentleness and hope. No lofty goals here. I know full well, there are no words for this. No worthy words when a tiny life slips from this earth and a young mother faces a long silent labor, while her husband sits grief stricken beside her. I faced that silence, myself, many years ago, my young husband beside me, words failing us both while the snow fell just as silently. I introduce myself. And, we begin the sacred walk.
He held her hand, looking down at the bed, without words. She spoke of the choice we have to turn toward God, or away from Him when trials come calling, as she carried the sleeping baby in her womb, labor-inducing medication dripping through the IV pole beside her. He nodded quietly. She shared that they were trusting God to carry them, and I promised He would. Then, I felt compelled to say something else, something that didn’t make sense at the time.
I spoke softly, “Even if you do turn away from God for a moment, if you’re angry at Him, He still won’t leave you. He is big enough to handle your anger and sorrow. And, His love is so big. He will carry you anyway. Even if it hurts too much to ask.”
Before leaving for a time, I show them the contents of the bag…a Comfort Bear to hold and a Dreams of You Memory Book, specially designed for families who lose a baby or young child. We prayed with them. I leave my telephone number and other contact information. We hug them both, wanting to scoop them into our arms like the mamas we are. We know what lies ahead. We know this only the beginning.
We speak to the nurses and leave.
The young mom labors for days, and I check on her progress, calling the nurse each shift. Finally, as I hold my breath, the mother calls to talk to “someone who gets it” for a few minutes. She has labored for days, exhausted. And, the time is near. Soon, she will meet her baby girl. We gather the tiny pink satin wrap sewed by the hands of a beautiful widow, the delicate bracelets put together by a bereaved mother, the footprint ink, and the camera. We pray as we drive.
Arriving after the baby’s entrance into the world, despite our best efforts, we expect to see two exhausted parents, as we enter again to walk on the sacred ground in the hospital room. They both sit up when they see me, and begin to share the details of the last few days. Peace shines from their faces as their relieved words pour out. And, a miracle happens at 2am.
The father speaks much more this time. He says, “I didn’t believe you, when you said I would feel this peace. I was so angry, I thought I would be throwing things and whipping the IV pole against the wall by the time she was finally born. Over the course of watching my wife endure this pain for days, I turned my back on God, cursing Him for allowing this.” He spoke of the frustration and helplessness a father feels, when he can’t protect his baby or his wife. When nothing will mend this broken.
He says, ” Before we met you, when they first came in to tell us about Sufficient Grace Ministries, I said, “What the he__?! No! And, then later a nurse told us… perinatal hospice… and I said, ok. I understood what hospice was. They were there when my father died.”
I smiled, nodding, assuring him I might say the same about some stranger coming in to this sacred, private moment.
“But, then you spoke, and you were gentle, kind, and you understood. Most Christians aren’t like you,” he said.
I looked down, ashamed to know that we Christians often fail miserably, to offer the same grace we’ve been afforded in abundance. If he saw the grace in me, well, I knew that wasn’t because I got it right. It was by His grace alone.
“If our story will help anyone else, I want you to tell it,” he spoke confidently. Looking into my eyes, he said, “And, I will tell the hospital, they need to have your organization here for families. I want to make sure families know about this.”
I left, humbled by their encouragement at a time when I meant to come alongside them. And, his words have haunted me often, as a reminder I hope to carry with me.
Don’t be like the picture that father had been given of most Christians. Don’t be afraid to enter into the places others won’t notice or to walk where others do not dare to tread. Don’t ever judge someone’s performance in their grief, or attempt to measure the length and depth of their faith by what you see with your eyes. Don’t offer some trite answer in the face of this canyon of sorrow, no matter how desperate you feel to find the words.
Just be willing to enter in. And, walk with them awhile.