Word of the Week

Friends, it’s National Infertility Awareness week. Welcome to several new readers of Preacher on the Plaza! And I’m happy to use this blog over the next couple of days to give others a platform to share their stories of grief, loss and deferred longing. Even if “infertility” is not your thing and you read my blog for other reasons, I ask you stick with me for the next couple days. Hear these stories. Chances are you know someone going through infertility or who has infertility in their story just as I wrote about in Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility. 

Today I'm glad to welcome my friend and former seminary classmate, Ronda to the blog. She's a new mom (congrats, Ronda and Stacy!) but has a powerful story to tell about how "having a baby" is really not the end to infertility (Sigh).

This past Sunday I brought my two-week old son to church for the first time. I wanted him to feel the love of this community that has prayed for him since before he was conceived. As the chords of the familiar opening hymn, “Worthy of Worship” began I found myself once again singing this hymn with tears streaming down my face, something that had become all too familiar over the past three and a half years. The words of this hymn have affected me deeply. On this morning I sang with gratitude for the journey and with a realization that I had not reached the end as I’d expected.

Worthy of worship, worthy of praise,

Worthy of honour and glory;

Worthy of all the glad songs we sing,

Worthy of all the offerings we bring.

You are worthy, Father, Creator.

You are worthy, Saviour, Sustainer.

You are worthy, worthy and wonderful;

Worthy of worship and praise.

When I first learned I was pregnant I was ecstatic.

My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for ten months and we were elated to see a positive pregnancy test. Immediately we began dreaming of what this life growing inside of me would be. However, two weeks later the bleeding began, signifying that the tiny life that we wanted so much was no more. Unfortunately this was a scenario we would experience twice more over the next couple of years. It would take months or a year to get pregnant only for that pregnancy to quickly come to an end. It came to the point where we would pray for a positive pregnancy test and dread it at the same time.

Throughout these painful losses I would go to church and sing “Worthy of Worship” with tears streaming down my face, barely able to make out the words, wondering where God was.

Eventually we began to see a fertility specialist. Maybe we would finally learn why it took so long for me to get pregnant and why I lost each pregnancy. What followed were months of invasive tests, oral medicines, injected medicines, and intrauterine inseminations. Each month brought new emotions, a mix of hope and dread. All of this was taxing on my body and spirit, and it was hard on my marriage. Last summer I wrote to a friend “I’m sitting here in my dining room about to inject myself with another round of fertility drugs, which affect me body and spirit, and I wonder if it’s worth it, if I should just give up.” And yet I would sit in church, singing “Worthy of Worship” with tears streaming down my face feeling lonely and forgotten.

A little over two weeks later, I once again saw two pink lines. Yet, I couldn’t be excited; I wouldn’t let myself be excited.

At the first appointment, where we saw the tiniest speck on the ultrasound, the doctor said that we needed to continue to wait before being optimistic. Then, a few weeks later we heard a heartbeat for the first time. As each week progressed I finally allowed myself to relax a little, to begin to plan. Although I was still waiting for bad news, for the doctor to tell me that things weren’t going well and that I would once again lose the life growing inside of me. I held my breath throughout the entire pregnancy only exhaling fully when my son was placed in my arms for the first time. Two Sundays later I sang “Worthy of Worship” with tears streaming down my face overwhelmed with feelings.

I thought that holding my child would bring the journey of infertility and pregnancy loss to an end. But I’m beginning to realize that this isn’t the end of the journey, or at least it’s not the end I envisioned.

I find that I still mourn the three lives I never got to meet. At the same time I am reminded not to take the life I hold in my arms today for granted. Somehow the journey has given me a different perspective, one which makes me profoundly grateful for every moment (even the sleepless ones), and one which is so deep that I still don’t have words. What I know is that I have been forever changed by my journey of infertility and pregnancy loss. I discovered a community which deeply understood what I was, and am going through. It is this community which is now helping me to see that while the journey hasn’t ended in the way I thought, there is something new coming forth. So I’ll keep singing “Worthy of Worship” with tears streaming down my face in recognition of the journey that isn’t over yet.

[You can listen to this song if you are unfamiliar with it here]

Ronda Gentry is ordained in the Baptist tradition and currently serves as the Director of the Center for Civic Advancement at Tusculum College in Tennessee. She and her husband Stacy welcomed son Owen to the world  a few weeks ago. When Ronda isn’t dreaming of sleep, she enjoys exploring her world through travel and reading.

*SHARE this blog on Facebook or Twitter this week and be entered to win a free copy of Birthed! Tag me on Facebook or Twitter when you post.

 “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Psalm 8:10

As a midwife, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing love at it’s most primal, it’s most raw.  Midwives talk of a woman wandering off to “labor land,” where her neocortex is quiet and her animal body is in charge.  So often we relegate love to the realm of emotions and ideas: feelings, thoughts, a list of qualities we like or don’t like in a person.  But there is deep power in the non-verbal, embodied-ness of love: the way your lover smells, the comfort of his touch, your breathing synchronized in sleep.  It’s this embodied, animal love that we see in birth.  Yes, there are thoughts of meeting baby, this new person swimming into the world.  There are words of affection and mantras of courage, but mostly, it’s a body sort of love.  It’s an excruciating, exhilarating, wide-open labor of love.

The sounds and smells of labor are unique, earthy, grounded, and guttural.  There is sweat, blood, vomit, humid warmth from the tub, and the scent of lavender wafts in the air.  There is also timelessness: the sun rises and falls, we cover the clock, and the moments are marked by waves of intensity, surges of overwhelming body-love.

Transition, the final stretch of cervical dilatation before pushing, is one of the most powerful bits of labor.  It’s the moment when a woman, out loud or deep in her secret thoughts, will declare, once and for all, that she cannot, will not, do this any longer.  She will throw in the towel or die, because she has reached the brink of impossible and beyond, and it seems the magnitude of her own body’s power will crush her.  To this I whisper, “Yes, good, now you are close.”  While the laboring woman fears drowning in her own intensity, I see the final signpost preceding the finish line.  This all-spent, everything-you’ve-got labor of love not only asks her for all she has, but also reveals her unbelievable capacity for courage, power, and strength.  She dives deep into reserves she never knew she had, and resurfaces as a mother, ready for the daily diving deep into self-sacrificial, redemptive, instinctual love.

I see that God, too, labors and births in and through this world, redeeming and re-creating it bit by bit, moment by moment, day by day.  This is not the kind of creating that snaps the finger, waves the wand, and “Voila!”  This is a slow and steady love, a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, then back-to-the-starting-block sort of love.  The sun rising each morning, the flower opening each day, the child forgiving her sibling, the husband loving his wife, these are the moments of new life, birth and redemption in this world.  These are the wafts of lavender and the warmth of water soothing our groaning souls as we labor through the darkness and pain of this world.   God, the mother, moans through our failures, pushes toward our freedom, labors in love to birth us anew each day.  If we open ourselves wide to this gift of aching love, we are invited in as co-creators with the creator of all.  We stretch, open, dive deep, and find our place in the excruciating and exhilarating labor of redemption.

Let us pray:

God, please give me the courage to open wide and willing, ready to labor with you toward redemption and re-creation, ready to become, by your grace, who you have made me to be. Amen.

SusanSmarttCookSusan currently lives with her dear husband and black lab in Edmond, OK where they attend St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. On any given day you will find Susan nurturing her small midwifery practice, her kitchen, and next year’s garden. Her hope for this advent is to be quiet, to reach deep into the soil of her soul with the tangled roots of her faith, and to find there the living water that nourishes new hope, love, joy, and peace into bloom.