Saturday , December 4 2021

Giving birth has taught me how to die

Last month I gave birth to my third child. It was the painful withdrawal of the comforts of the twenty-first century that work is always. Agonizing and undignified: my life suddenly interrupted by invasive procedures, my mind spinning from the shock of natural processes – writhing and trembling – to the mental disconnection of medical interventions.

Work in the West today is a strange match. Our oldest and most primitive processes have been clumsily sewn together with cutting-edge technology. I was not having a "natural birth", yet much of what happened was inevitably natural.

As I lay on the hospital bed, waiting to meet my son, two windows opened in my mind.

The suffering of the beginning of life

The first was a window on birth: the true birth, experienced by billions of women before me. The delivery of a child was difficult for me, despite all help and convenience, every nurse and doctor who assisted me, every soothing substance that crept into my veins to numb the pain. My body has been devastated. But I had help in every form and a faithful husband by my side – that day and for the many days to come. How would it be without all this?

My mind was leafing through the scenes of other women giving birth: scenes that I had access only through words on a page or images on a screen. Women who give birth alone. Women who do not have medical help and face the hardness of birth without relief. Women who know that their child could die – or that they themselves could die – in the process. We Westerners have distanced ourselves from these realities, but lying in a labor and delivery ward, the specter of what birth meant for billions hovered around me and I could not shake it.

Then came the questions: how could God allow this much pain to this? The hard suffering written in the script of human beginnings. The solitary lament of women who give birth at the margins, hiding in the shadows or exposed by circumstances. Yet God is – as the slave mother Hagar named him – the God who sees (Genesis 16:13).

It is the God who tenderly bears witness to this suffering, which meets us in this if we turn to him. And it is the God who alone can really help, whether we lie down on a beaten earth floor or on a hospital bed. In fact, he is the God who concerns us as a woman giving birth. He is the Rock that bores us, the God who gave us birth (Deuteronomy 32:18). Although a mother can forget the baby at her breast, she will not forget us (Isaiah 49:15). There are no answers ordered by this God. But there is the broken body of his Son, naked and humiliated, who dies in order to live.

The suffering of the end of life

And then my mind wandered forward. I will never bear the harshness of an untied birth. But one day, I will face the harshness of death. One day, my visit to a hospital will not end with a new life in my arms, but with my cold dead body covered by a hot-pressed sheet. Doctors will try to help. They will bring their machines and interventions. But they will run for a train that is gaining speed. Eventually, my hands will slip between my fingers. It could be a good-bye goodbye. Death time called. The best I can hope for is that my children are there. My husband, if we follow the statistical rules, will have already paved the way. What will my hope then be, while flickers and monitors are flashing?

The story of Lazarus resurrected from the dead has surrounded me for many years. Not for the narrative epilogue, when Jesus cries out: "Lazarus, come out!" And the dead man comes out (John 11: 43-44), even if the scene is marvelous. But because of the silent conversation that Jesus has first with Martha. Jesus forced this crisis.

Martha called him when her brother was ill, and Jesus did not come. He deliberately let Lazarus die, waiting for him to be dead for four days. And then he came. "I am the resurrection and the life," he said to this woman through her tears. "Whoever believes in me, though he dies, will nevertheless live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." Do you believe it? "(John 11: 25-26).

When I come to that last hospital bed, I have to believe not only in a man who is my ticket to eternity, but in the man who is the same eternity. Jesus does not give us only the resurrection. he is resurrection and life. Without him, there is only death. With him, there is a life that no lonely death can take away. The birth was, for me, a test path, a window on the panorama of death. Modern blinds have been pulled back for a moment. He is the resurrection and the life. I believe it?

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