Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"The Present is the point at which time touches eternity"

Hi, everyone! Abby's friend Jen here again. Abby asked me to do a guest post summarizing her birth story. I wasn't able to take notes while we talked, so I hope I got this all right. I'll do my best!

When I talked to Abigail yesterday, she sounded like a different person than she did just a few days before. As you probably know from reading her posts about feeling like she's offending people by breathing or having her childcare arrangements for while she's in the hospital fall through, she was having a tough time leading up to the baby's birth.

But yesterday she sounded joyful. Actually, a better description might be to say that she sounded victorious. The day of her fourth c-section was when the spiritual and metal battle that she'd been fighting for nine months finally came to a head, and the way she handled it was a shining example of how to stay spiritually strong even when you're plunged into a situation that triggers all your anxieties and fears.

"I will bless the Lord either way"

My impression is that the turning point came at 4:00 AM yesterday, the day of her surgery. Abigail woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. She was harassed by those same thoughts that had been plaguing her for days:

The baby's not going to make it.

She's already gone.

You're not going to make it either.

Though she didn't spell this out, it seemed to me that it was at that moment, in the pre-dawn darkness, that she suddenly realized that these thoughts were simply temptations to give in to despair. Every time that she'd indulged them in the past, following the trail of "What-If Worst Case Scenarios", she drifted a little further away from God. But this time she fought back. Her simple response to each of these thoughts was:

I will bless the Lord either way.

Even if all those worries did come to pass, she would still cling to Jesus. She would still thank God for his goodness. That response had a neutralizing effect on those acerbic whispers that had troubled her for so long.

"Let's just try, and leave the outcome up to God"

She and Jon left the apartment a little later than expected, so Abigail figured that they already missed the bus to get to Mass before going to the hospital. Jon suggested that they at least try: maybe they wouldn't be able to make it, but if they didn't at least give it a shot, they weren't even giving God the opportunity to work something out. Sure enough, the bus they needed to take was late, and they arrived at the church just in time.

(Abigail did note that they got a lot of funny looks riding on the bus with her so pregnant and carrying an empty car seat.)

"This is my work"

They called a taxi to get from the church to the hospital, and the skilled driver navigated them around all the rush hour traffic. Abigail got checked in so early that she and Jon were able to say their full morning prayers together in a silent room.

While they waited to be taken into the surgery room, she says she felt waves of panic come over her, but, through prayer, they'd eventually subside. She thought of it like contractions in labor: you have to just push through the intense parts, and know that they'll be followed by rest.

When she faced those moments of anxiety, Jon pointed out that this was her work for today: She was to undergo the surgery to have her long-awaited baby, and unite her suffering with the suffering of Christ on the cross for the salvation of souls. She had a cheerfully resigned tone when she recounted the words she kept repeating to herself as the big moment neared: "This is my work for today!" This was the special task that God had picked out for her, and she'd do her best to embrace it.

"Stay in the now"

Then it was time for her and Jon to separate (he would only be able to return right before the baby was born), and she was led into the freezing, bright operating room, where the arms of the table were spread out Dead Man Walking style. It was tempting to panic. She had so much to fear: the physical pain, her doctors' warnings about the possibility of an emergency hysterectomy, the judgment of the medical staff (who'd already made some comments about this being her fourth c-section), the worry about the recovery, the baby, the money, the size of their apartment.

She clutched her rosary beads as an outward expression of her inner clinging to God. A surgeon's assistant walked in, and she expected that he'd tell her she couldn't keep them; instead, he pointed to them and said, "That's good. Hold on to those."

She defeated the temptation to panic by staying in the "now." The way Abigail described it, it reminded me of a post I recently read by Anna Mitchell where she quoted C.S. Lewis to point out that the future is least like eternity. It's made of unrealities. "For the Present," Lewis writes, "is the point at which time touches eternity."

If I had to choose one theme for the spiritual victory that Abigail wrought that day, it would be that: to stay in the now. Praise the Lord right here, right now. Turn to him with your joys and sorrows and concerns that come from whatever is happening to you at this moment -- not what you fear might happen to you later.

"Our 'extra' baby"

The surgery went great, and the doctor even commented that Abigail was easily in good enough shape to have future c-sections. The joy poured through the phone as she described the moment she and Jon first saw little Teresa. All throughout the pregnancy they'd heard plenty of critical comments about having a baby, especially since they already had three other children. "What's the point?" the society around them seemed to ask. When they looked at the world's newest human being with her little blond curls, they knew the answer.

Abigail will probably take a week or two off as she gets used to life with her new little one. I know she looks forward to updating you soon.