This is the piece I wrote for the Lent series at our church. They asked me to write a testimony based around the ideas of wilderness and coming home.
For my English degree, I had to read a book called Descent into Hell. I almost couldn’t do it. The sentences dragged on for over a page apiece, there were several complex storylines, and it was bristling with theological allegory. I didn’t know it at the time, but the book that has made the strongest impression on me is one that I can’t bear to re-read.
The part that burned itself into my life was the theology of sharing burdens versus the soul-destroying power of isolation. One character is able to bear an impossible amount of suffering because another character has physically shouldered most of it, and for her, the weight is easy because it doesn’t belong to her. Meanwhile, a third character falls into a hell of his own making because he gradually cuts off all his relationships until he is completely alone.
When I was in the hospital for Lucy’s birth, I spent a whole night waiting for the induction to start working, but I couldn’t get much sleep. Instead I sat with my doula and listened to the other women on the high-risk ward having their babies. One in particular had come in at the same time as me; she was a diabetic single mother who had received no prenatal care. I never saw her face. I listened to her yell that she didn’t want to do this while the nurse tried to calm her down and prepare for her crowning baby. I was strapped to monitors and my IV but my heart was breaking for her. I wanted so badly to cross the hall and hold her hand.
Later, in the recovery ward, I saw a mother all alone staring at her baby crying in its bassinet. I don’t know if it was her, but I still wonder.
My experience of pregnancy and parenting has been far from amazing. In addition to the brilliant, shining moments and the everyday managing, I’ve never felt so isolated, anxious, and frustrated in my life. But I have a supportive husband, family, friend base, and church community. I may be too proud to ask for help, but at least there are people I can ask, and I know that I take this gift far too lightly.
Where is that mother now? Is she still alone? How much darker are her dark days than mine? I did my doula training because of her. I walk through pregnancy and birth and early infancy with other women because of her. I picked up a burden of emotional investment and sleeplessness because of a passion that was born just before my daughter.
Our culture does not celebrate weakness, or asking for help. We value pride and self-sufficiency to the point of condemning ourselves to crushing isolation. We refuse to acknowledge that by asking someone to share our burden, we are turning our back on hell. Even though I gladly stay up all night in a hospital room with mothers and fathers as I support them through childbirth, I don’t want to confess that my day-to-day life drags me down until I feel like shouting that I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to be stuck in an ordinary life anymore.
It stings to think that the theology that fuels my passion for doula work doesn’t extend to the rest of my life. It compounds my sense of inadequacy and guilt that I just don’t measure up, I’m not good enough, I’m not strong enough to live without help. I can pick up others’ burdens but it’s too scary to share mine, so I’m stuck between heaven and hell. The thing is, when I have let them out, the relief is mutual. My struggles aren’t unique.The weight of them is a lie.
I wish I could tell that labouring woman that she isn’t alone. I wish I could tell her how she changed me. I can’t. I can only move forward, awkward and clumsy, picking up the burdens around me while I try to learn how to share my own.