Thursday, July 30, 2009

You gave birth ineffably, O All-pure, to the Maker of all things who delivers mortals from the ancient curse and the corruption of death

This post should be dated August 7th, but I published it from a draft begun on July 30th, so it appears out of order. Oh well. I'll figure that out sometime.

While we waited hours for the Amish birth, I had to begin charting almost as soon as we arrived in the home of the twin birth. I had just enough time to look around to gauge what kind of family we were with. The history of the world timeline on the wall (beginning with The Creation of the World in 3,000 B.C.), the Bible memorization awards prominently featured on the wall, and the Homeschool Legal Defense Association magazines on the back of the toilet immediately assured me that I was surrounded by a textbook homeschooling, homebirthing, AWANA-clubbing family. I fought myself to keep from assuming that this family was populated by suburban versions of just the sort of children that I grew up with in the country. These were people whom I had never met and whom I had to deal with as individuals, dismissing my childhood associations.

Once again, the details of the births themselves have dissolved. Perhaps they would not be that interesting anyway, they are mostly numbers and none of them can communicate how extraordinarily strong the birthing mother was. She was five foot tall, and could not have weighed more than 110 pounds before her pregnancy. But she was surely fifty pounds heavier when I first saw her, absolutely bulging. Some pregnant women look like they have a beachball in their stomach. This woman looked as though she had swallowed two watermelons. Her skin was stretched so tensely that I almost feared it would give way before she gave birth. She was the picture of "about to pop." Although she was under overwhelming stress, she nodded at me politely when she walked from the bathroom to the birthing stool, belly in arms: "Thank you for coming. Glad you could make it."

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!
It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos!Ever blessed and most pure, and the mother of our God,
more honourable than the cherubim,
and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim,
without defilement thou gavest birth to God the Word!
True Theotokos, we magnify thee!


From my scribe's seat on the floor, this tiny naked woman towered on her birth stool like a queen. Her husband sat behind her to hold her erect. A doula friend massaged and whispered at her side. Elizabeth, her Amish helper, another midwife, a twelve year old daughter and I were arrayed beneath her. The room was thick with anticipation, full of ladies in waiting. The mother was at the helm of this atmosphere. An experienced birther five times over, she established the perfect relationship between self-control and abandon.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee!
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
for thou hast born the Saviour of our souls!


While another woman is laboring, it's impossible not to feel as though you are participating in it. I wonder if it is the same for men present at births. Although I was physically doing nothing to help her push out that baby, Elizabeth's firm voice seemed to be commanding me to breathe along with the mother. "Hold that breath. Fill yourself up. Push with your diaphragm." I could not feel the waves of pain washing over her, but I could see them and I wanted to channel them into their end. The rhythm of flexion and relaxation drew me in, and the only way that I knew to give myself to her effort was to pray secretly, mostly to the Theotokos (as the most perfect God-bearing child-bearer), but in times when I could not summon such long prayers I simply said:

Make haste, O Lord! O Lord, make haste!

I remember the births from inside this prayer-time, so that once again the events seem to be streaks of impression rather than the neat chart that I wrote down. I know that the twins were born almost exactly one hour apart. First a girl, then a boy. If birthing one 7 lb, 10 oz baby isn't enough a workout for you, try repeating the exact same process one hour later, with the emotional and physical exhaustion of the first still upon you. The first birth had drained her, and the baby girl was asking for attention which she couldn't afford to give. Giving herself into nursing and gazing at her daughter would take her mind off of the son still inside of her. Her contractions slowed and lost intensity until Elizabeth sternly reminded her to "Get that baby off of your breast and push this baby out!" The baby was given to me, and I felt the emotional interruption as well when I tried to get back into praying with the mother's rhythm while holding this perfect, firm, squirming baby which I knew I would not get to hold again.

The son was born in much the same way as the daughter, without any problems and of a hefty size, especially for twins. The mother allowed herself to collapse after the son, and because she had hemorrhaged after births before, the midwife team administered an IV to her and gave her Citotek, a drug which induces uterine contractions. In hospitals this drug is used to induce labor, but many midwives use it after birth to cause the uterus to become firm and prevent hemorrhaging. Of course this is a felony.

There was no need for me in the room any longer. The IV dripped into the mother, who nursed her son. The 12 year old daughter and I took the baby girl out into the kitchen and we made scrambled eggs for everyone. It was good for the mother to eat after her efforts, but it was perhaps even better for the 12 year old to have something to do. The strangest part of the day for me occured in this scrambling-time. The daughter ("Esther") asked me what church I went to. I replied that I was Orthodox, but my family went to a non-denominational Protestant church, and that I grew up in AWANAs memorizing the very same Bible verses that she did.

Apparently, this pedigree was not good enough for Esther. She asked me next,
What are you going to say to Jesus when you get to heaven and he asks you why he should let you in?

I was completely taken aback by her boldness, and confused by her question, so I fumbled and stuttered and finally said "I suppose I'll say 'Lord have mercy.'" I knew that this was not the answer that she wanted, and indeed she continued to question me:

Well, if you died right now, would you go to heaven or hell?

Do you know about what Jesus did? He died on the cross for you. And then do you know what he did? He rose from the dead. Do you know why? He did it for you, to pay for your sins.

I wasn't sure how to respond to all of this. I was brought up to think the way that she was thinking, along very simplistic, economic lines, imagining that I had incurred some kind of debt against God's bank, and before I was admitted into heaven (an everlasting church service), I would have to come up with some way to get back in the black. But of course, the debt was far too great for me to ever pay, so Christ gave his life in order that I might not forbear my loan.

I knew that unless I gave her this kind of account, she would not believe that I was a Christian, and would continue to attempt to alert me to my great debt. How was I to respond? She was only 12, and in her mind she was doing me a great service. My answers probably seemed vague and dangerous to her. I felt that I should not capitulate to her questions, because it seemed that to do so would be denying everything that God has granted me to learn. But it also was not my job to save her, in the way that she thought it was hers to save me. It was her house, and this was a special and precious day for her family. I was not on a mission trip.

So I answered carefully. What does it mean to be saved? It is not a one time deal that you make with God, but a lifetime of repentance and prayer and throwing yourself upon the mercy of God and the saints. (I tried to avoid mentioning the saints and Mary as little as possible, because I knew she would just think I was an idol-worshipper.) I even used the same Bible verses that she was itching to throw at me-- I was an AWANA kid, so I knew Ephesians 2:8-9. She was frustrated that I did not fit into her carefully delineated categories of "Unsaved" and "Saved," and that I denied her financial language of redemption, choosing instead to speak of healing and wholeness. I was struck with her audacity and persistence, and her steeled devotion to what her parents had taught her. I was saddened, too, because if I had been a little bolder and ruder at 12, I could have been offending strangers too. I had only moments ago been praying fervently for her mother, but if I had told Esther that I was praying to Mary, rather than Christ Himself, she would have probably run to tell her mom that an idol-worshipper was praying unclean things upon her.

We don't need an intercessor, we just talk straight to Jesus.

Do you make up your prayers yourself or do you read them from a book? That doesn't seem much like praying, to read from a book!

Sin is like making cookies! You can have all the ingredients just right and if you put in rotten butter, your cookies will taste yucky!

Lord have mercy.

The babies were beautiful, the mother was strong, the father was funny, the children were sweet and well-meaning. But I drove home shaking, upon the verge of weeping. Nothing bad had happened, I had not messed up anything, it was a perfect and remarkable birth. But something about Esther scared me, and taught me another difficult truth about Elizabeth's profession: everybody is out to save the midwife. Make sure your hands are clean before you touch my mother. You can put your whole soul into someone else's birth, but be careful because it will be under great scrutiny.

1 comment:

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