When Joanie came into the world
In the hours before Joanie was born I was thinking about the stretch of dirt track between the chain link fence and the end of the bleachers at Cupertino High. I always sprinted that distance at the conclusion of a timed run, using my last burst of speed to bring myself across the finish line. In my hospital bed I was revisiting those hot, determined sprints to the end, recreating in my mind the feeling of an unreserved last effort, where all my strength was mustered for a final rally.
During the 34th hour of labor our doctor had told us that if the baby didn't emerge soon she would have to intervene with an emergency C-section. I cried, then gripped David's hand, and collected myself. This was when I started recalling those laps around my high school track. For the next two hours, I replayed that burst across the finish line again and again, and with each push, summoned what felt like the last of all I had to give.
When the baby was close to crowning, I had run my imaginary race many times over and it was losing its power to coax me on. I had labored for nearly 36 hours. I had vomited and struggled to keep down fluids for its entirety. My throat was hoarse from crying out, my eyes were welling from the emotional and physical strain, and as my body seemed to pull itself apart to make way for my child, I was afraid I could sense my flesh tearing.
This was the moment I had dreaded. At birthing class, other women had wiped away tears as we watched footage of mothers delivering their children. I had sat dry eyed and somber, unsettled by the images of contorted faces and bodies, and for weeks after, struggled to reconcile this vision of physical agony with my understanding of a Christ who is redeeming all things. If I couldn't situate the act of giving birth within a narrative of God's loving intention in my life, I didn't think I would be able to endure labor once I exhausted the limits of my mind and body. I had reached that limit, and was now grasping for a sign, a word to signify that Christ was the redeemer he claimed to be, present and able to renew my strength.
Here I remembered Jesus on his cross, persevering for the joy set before him. As our doctor instructed me to bear down again, I closed my eyes and imagined David and me with our daughter. The thought of her was so sweet and vivid it made my eyes sting. Though I didn't know her, I was ready to love her, and this is when I sensed the Lord very near, inviting me to follow him by expressing my love through sacrifice.
I pushed with everything I had. I threw off my weariness and my fear of injury, and as I bore down, I prayed for her. In Jesus' name, I thought, I bless you, my daughter. May every good gift I have ever received, every victory I have ever fought for be yours from birth. With all that is in me, I bless your life. And with my amen, she came into the world.
I met God in the ordeal of childbirth, and though his goodness and affection were palpable when Joanie arrived, he did not remove my pain.
In the Gospels, Jesus arrives in a fallen world and instead of obliterating its people, embraces them. He encounters tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, soldiers of the empire, and where their stories seem to be at an impasse, he reopens and reorganizes the narrative, bringing the same histories that previously pointed to despair to end in hope and renewal. He knows who Zaccheus is; he knows who the Samaritan woman is; never once does he pretend away their brokenness even as he makes a way for them to enter the Kingdom of God. With Jesus, redemption is not erasure.
The Lord reminded me that Jesus held both agony and joy on the cross, that both gave meaning to his sacrifice, and showed that through the act of giving birth, I could, in my small way, participate in Christ's victory over sin and death by bringing forth life in my moment of suffering. He reconciled the images I had recoiled from weeks before giving birth. Instead of being images of women in defeat, they were his charge to me to overcome pain and fear, and his assurance that through love, both could be refashioned into gifts.