There is something about a new baby that draws out the truth in us. It’s the frailty of infancy that is disarming, I think. All walls and barriers break down in the presence of a pure and vulnerable newborn. Not more than 24 hours old, Eliza slumbering in her plexiglass cradle, her presence evoking an unexpected tumble of words from a stranger. “My daughter really wants me to have another baby,” the young nurse says. “I wish we could give her one.” More words. More story. Her brown eyes search carefully over my baby as she moves the stethoscope around the tiny chest, listening to the chambers of the heart opening and closing. The vulnerability demands reciprocity, and so the nurse opens her heart to the tiny heart between us. She got pregnant with her daughter when she was 19. She wasn’t married, then, to the father. She is now, but sometimes she thinks she is being punished for her mistakes – her current heartache the reaping of past sins.
I know that doubt. Not that our situations are similar, but I remember the emotions after miscarrying four babies. For the first time in my life, I thought maybe God was angry at me. I thought I was being punished for something. My entire life prior had been lived blissfully within God’s protection and provision. But during those miscarriages I tasted a bitter portion of a punishment handed down ages ago. When Eve’s lips pressed into the forbidden fruit, what appeared so irresistible turned into a bitter pill we daughters of Eve have swallowed over… and over… and over. And over again. Sometimes the dose is enough to almost kill us. Because, when God proclaimed to the disobedient Eve, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children,” I think the punishment had little do with an actual physical pain. The curse was everything in child birth that ISN’T the glorious moment of hearing the squalls from a newborn’s lungs. The curse is the infertility and the miscarriage and the infant loss and the worry and the heartache. For a woman, nothing hurts as deeply as the pain borne of the womb.
Blessedly, that curse of death born of Eve’s belly was redeemed by the One born of Mary’s. (Romans 5:12-15) Jesus came so that everything that had been undone in the garden between God and humanity would be restored and repaired. Because of His life and death, the grave has no permanence and our pain has purpose. But sometimes that shadow of that original curse casts a painful pall over our lives, even in light of the new covenant. We walk through valleys of death and we experience unimaginable hurt. But if the pain is all we allow ourselves to feel, not one of us would ever try again. We would never risk another negative pregnancy test; never dare to peek at the ultrasound, breathless to see a beating heart; never put our wounded hearts on the line again. It’s for the possibility of new joy that we try just one more time. We women have a unique opportunity to experience God in a way men can’t. What makes us most vulnerable to hurt contrarily makes us most privileged to feel His power. And I have witnessed that power. Face down on my bed after being told that baby on the ultrasound screen showed an abnormality. Not again. Please Lord, not again. I can’t lose another. Tears were hot and desperate. I crept in to pray for my toddlers after they were asleep. I didn’t want them to see me such a mess. Caleb sat straight up out of his sleep. “Mom,” he whispered. “Are you worried about the baby?” Yes. His little arm stretched out in the darkness. He laid his hand on me. “Let’s pray.” I knew in that moment, that God was going to answer that prayer just as my son prayed. A peace washed over me and a whisper in my soul ministered to my fears. On the next ultrasound, there was no more abnormality. Just a healthy baby boy that would bounce into our lives and fill my aching arms.
I think many women consider the pain, the insecurity, the responsibility of childbearing and fertility and view it as an unfair burden. We see the freedom men have and we crave it. Men don’t have to track their cycles, worry about birth control or toil through nine months of misery like we do. I sense a lot of bitterness in the current talk about women’s rights and women’s choice. Sometimes we want OUT. And we go about demanding that right. We mistake the avoidance of pain and sacrifice as an ultimate freedom. But what if the freedom is IN the burden? Perhaps God intends all of the woes of womanhood to draw us into a relationship with Him where we will experience a love that we never even thought possible – a captivating love that is bigger than the circumstances surrounding an unexpected pregnancy or a baby born with disabilities. We can doubt God’s wisdom in all of this. Or we can even suspect He is some big misogynist in the sky. But none of that will stand up to the truth of the Bible.
Elizabeth and Mary stood together, embracing as cousins. The gray-haired one maybe stooped a little with a child in her stomach weighing down her aged shoulders. The dark-haired one maybe trembled a little at meeting this relative, knowing scandal had followed her from her father’s house. The old woman – the one they called barren – had given up on ever being a mother. The young one – the one who was remaining pure – had never intended to be pregnant out of wedlock. But here they were, the very fulfillment of prophecies spoken hundreds of years before. The one, John, who would be born to bear witness to the Christ… The virgin who would be with child, conceived of the Holy Spirit. It. Was. Happening. “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’” (Luke 1:41-45)
Miracles on the inside. Oh what it must have felt like to have John the Baptist greet Jesus from within the walls of the womb. A spiritual, metaphysical experience bestowed on these daughters of Eve. Can we doubt that God grants favor to women? These women were the vessels of victory. And the victory had a peculiar plot. John would be beheaded for preaching that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus would be nailed to a cross. But the purpose for all that pain was salvation for you and me.
Oh women. Oh friends. Let’s not remain stuck in Eve’s desolation when we can experience Mary’s epiphany. We are not powerful because our “rights” or our “choice” or our “vote”. The truth is, sometimes we are weak from hardship, demolished by pain, belittled by insecurity, and scared of the unknown. But God is our real source of strength and power. He let us in on this exchange between Mary and Elizabeth so we might know what it is to trust Him with the big picture. Despite her fear and confusion, Mary was able to declare, “He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”
Sin had us thrown out of Eden, but salvation welcomes us to heaven. The babies who died before we met them…they are waiting there for us. The cancer that is upon your child… Jesus heals. Whether here or in heaven. Always, he heals. The baby born with the extra chromosome…she will champion great causes. All of this will bring glory to God if we follow Him. Before the nurse left my room I quickly told her my story of loss and grief and then pointed to my new baby – my gift, my treasure, my answered prayer. I will pray for you, I told her. God has done great things.