I couldn’t have known when I said yes to a speaking commitment 8 months ago, that it would allow for a Divine Appointment that would make one of my dreams come true—a dream I had been waiting for since 2006. On April 28, 2018, twelve years after writing my dream list in which number 37 was “be present at a birth,” I was the unexpected support person for my friend’s out-of-town—and emergency—caesarean section. As a quote attributed to Paul Carvel says, “To witness the birth of a child is our best opportunity to experience the meaning of the word miracle.”
Last August, I agreed to speak in Michigan this past April 24. Being so close to Windsor, after the event I drove across the border to visit some of my Ontario friends. As it should happen, my friend’s cousin, also a friend of mine, planned to join us for my last weekend there. Angie came with her 4 born daughters and her 37-week baby girl in-utero. She brought her family’s only vehicle, leaving behind in her small town her husband and 4 sons. The plan was to go to a banquet dinner Friday night and have a girls shopping day Saturday. But when Angie started having contractions soon after arriving, it seemed like the weekend was not going to go exactly as planned.
First there was the hospital visit to be checked out. Then there was the hospital admission. Then there was the 4am assessment from the doctor that that baby needed to come out, that morning, and by C-section.
“This is my body given for you” -Luke 22:19
Journeying with Angie through the process reminded me of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani. Hers was a real suffering: She was in pain; her husband was not there; she wasn’t where she lived; her own doctor was not present; she didn’t want to be cut open; she wanted to try a VBAC. It wasn’t supposed to happen at this time, in this way. The prayer of Jesus became her lived experience: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). So surgery would happen. After Angie was prepped, I was brought into the operating room to sit next to her, and for those unaware of how a C-section works, the mother’s arms are stretched out like she’s on a cross. As she lay there, riddled with anxiety about being aware while being cut open, her experience was once again like Christ’s: “This is my body given for you.” Angie would do what motherhood has continually called her to do—to be other-focused, to lay down her life. In short, to love. But with the impending arrival of her baby, soon a resurrection would follow this type of crucifixion.
I don’t know what was going through the mind of the Ob/Gyn and his resident as they performed surgery, but if I could have selected a “soundtrack” for them as they cut into the person of Angie to retrieve the person of Mackenzie, it would be these words of Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty:
“The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral—a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby's body. The Angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God's Creative miracle to bring new Saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation. What on God's good earth is more glorious than this: To be a mother?”
“It’s like watching fire.”
After I got to cut the cord, I held 6 pounds and 3 ounces of pure goodness up to Angie so she could see her little one. While the doctors were still working on Angie’s abdomen, she did what she could from her awkward angle to plant tender kisses on Mackenzie and we both just stared in awe. Then Angie said, “It’s like watching fire.” Having just come out of a long winter where I had sat in the presence of more fires than usual, I thought about how fire draws one in. Fire captivates. It hushes people to silence. It comforts. It leaves you in wonder. On a cold winter evening, in the presence of a fireplace, you’re drawn into the present moment, into what is in front of you, and everything else fades away. That’s what this silent, tiny, vulnerable little baby did for us.
As the doctors were finishing sewing Angie up, a nurse asked me to bring baby Mackenzie and follow her to the recovery room. After she helped me get the surgical gown off, she walked away, leaving sweet one and me alone for about 15 minutes. Blown away with incredulity of all that had just happened, I was tempted to immediately text my 3 best friends from childhood, all of whom are doctors and have regularly experienced what was a first time for me. But then I thought, “No, the time for communicating with others is for later. Now is the time to just be with Mackenzie and revel in the gift of her life, in the gift of her presence.” And so together we simply were. Me cradling innocence and beauty. Someone who was unrepeatable and irreplaceable. Never was before. Never would be again. Perfectly unique.
Robert Cardinal Sarah once wrote, “Through silence, we return to our heavenly origin, where there is nothing but calm, peace, repose, silent contemplation, and adoration of the radiant face of God.”
Was this what it was like for Mary cradling baby Jesus?
Mackenzie breathed gently. Her one eye opened while the other was sealed shut by the vernix yet to be cleaned off. At one point she rooted (“Sorry, baby girl, on that front I can’t help you! Momma’s coming soon!”).
As we waited, I prayed. Tracing the sign of the cross on her forehead, praying over her future… that she would always love the Lord… that she would resist temptation to sin… that she would run to the mercy of Christ when she failed…that her earthly journey would ultimately take her to her Heavenly home.
And then music came to my heart, and so I sang: “Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the works Thy hands have made…Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee, how great Thou art, how great Thou art.”
Love Doesn’t Divide. It Multiplies.
My flight to Vancouver was scheduled for that afternoon, and so a few hours later I found myself on a plane home. Mackenzie’s birth was to finish my two week work trip which began with debating an abortionist at the University of California, Berkeley, in front of 200 of his students. As I thought about how my trip began—and how it ended—I wished that those students could experience what I just had, that they could know intimately, personally, the pure gift of life, that they could experience the awe and wonder that comes with pregnancy and birth—if we allow ourselves to see it. That they could understand that new life isn’t to be feared but instead to be revered. That they could believe that when a woman becomes a mother she isn’t reduced to the status of slave but is instead lifted to new heights of love.
My wish for the students is that they could come to know what Angie texted me today: “Being open to life and being gifted all these babies, I believe is a testament to how God’s love multiplies. When you have one kid, you can’t fathom having enough love for another one—but you do. And so it is with each subsequent child. It makes it easy to understand how much God loves me!!! (And you) :).”