It was my third child in three years.
You’d figure I’d have a pretty good idea of what’s going on at this point, right? No more excuses of not knowing what a contraction feels like or not knowing when to go to the hospital. There’s a learning curve established. I should know what I’m doing by now.
Which is why it’s so surprising, looking back on the day of November 1, 2012, that I honestly didn’t know I was in labor all day. I really didn’t. I swear.
If you put the day in the context of the previous thirty-nine days, however, maybe it’s not that surprising after all.
On September 23, 2012, my dad was in a bizarre and tragic swimming accident on the first day of our family vacation. The following ten days were spent sitting around his bed in an ICU while he remained in a coma, until he passed away on October 3, 2012.
I traveled to Pittsburgh, 36 weeks pregnant, with the rest of my family for several days of viewings and a memorial service. When I returned to Philly, I found myself in a house full of unpacked boxes (we moved a week before my dad’s accident), two darling, but needy toddler girls (ages 3 and 1.5), and a wound in my heart that went deeper than any pain I had ever known.
So, maybe it wasn’t quite so strange that I really just didn’t realize that I was in labor. Or, perhaps it’s more appropriately said that I really just didn’t want to be in labor.
Could I really go through one more painful experience? Really? One that is literally compared to every other painful experience that someone can go through? And at the end of it, I was going to have a baby boy. Without my dad. I couldn’t imagine the joy of bringing a baby into the world without him knowing his grandfather.
When it came down to it, I just didn’t want to have that baby right then. Maybe I could just ignore those weird cramps that seem to come every ten minutes? Maybe I could bake a lasagna? Or cookies? Or several dozen cookies? Maybe if I can distract myself with enough busy things, I could avoid the reality of having to birth this child.
Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
By the time Brad got home, he watched me wince, breathe, and try and relax for all of ten minutes before insisting that we leave for the hospital. Despite my weak excuses, we were dropping the girls off at a neighbor’s house and on our way to the hospital in five minutes.
I finally lost it on the drive there.
“Brad, I just don’t want to do this. It’s too much. Too painful. Too bittersweet. There can’t be any joy in this season, not even from a baby. I can’t do it.”
We’ve all had those “drive to the hospital” moments, haven’t we?
The agony of months of piercing back pain finally breaks your will to even get out of bed in the morning. The grief of losing a spouse convinces you that you can’t be happy again. A year of unemployment crushes your confidence to contribute anything meaningful to life. Another New Year’s Eve spent alone, makes it impossible for you to ever hope again for your own happily ever after. You just can’t do it.
One of my favorite authors, Margaret Feinberg, vulnerably and candidly shares of her own struggles during one of her “drive to the hospital” moments in her latest book, Fight Back With Joy. She was diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of forty, and was forced to undergo 18 months of excruciating treatments to save her life. I love how she recognizes Truth in those moments:
“Everyone who wakes to confrontation and crisis—whether you picked the fight or the fight picked you—has an important choice: which weaponry will you choose? Cynicism and spite? Complaint and control? Or perhaps you are prone to deny and withdraw . . . From the day of the diagnosis, I felt compelled to choose a different type of weapon: joy . . . Joy would not deny the hardship, but would choose to acknowledge and face it no matter what the outcome” (Fight Back With Joy, 18).
Whether you’re facing chronic pain, life without a loved one, the loss of a career dream, or another year alone, as a child of God, you always have a choice: a choice for joy. As Margaret so beautifully captures, “More than whimsy, joy is a weapon we use to fight life’s battles” (7). And it was a choice I had to make in that car in the midst of the biggest crisis I had ever known.
God reached me in the middle of that, “I can’t do it” moment with comforting words of Truth, spoken through the voice of my husband.
“Leah, Caleb will not be bittersweet. Everything that we have been experiencing this last month has been bitter. Caleb is going to be nothing but sweet. You can do this.”
By the grace of God, that word rang true in my spirit. Nothing changed externally. The contractions were still there. The childbirth was still happening. My dad was still gone. By choosing to grasp on to the joy and Truth in that moment, however, everything changed. There was a peace and quiet confidence that was inexplicable. And about 90 minutes after we arrived, they handed me my first son: Caleb Bruce Leach (middle name after his grandfather).
Hospital regulations forced Brad to go home until the following morning, which gave me a rare opportunity to spend time alone with my four-hour old son. And there, at 2:30 AM, I gazed at my son’s beautiful face. It literally took my breath away. I stared in awe at the first tangible picture of redemption that I’d been given in five weeks of living hell.
I whispered words of love to my son, and told him of his Granddad that he would never meet this side of Heaven. I sat in silence and soaked in the healing that can only come from Someone who has also been impossibly separated from His Father. And I realized, maybe for the first time, while weeping may endure for a night, joy truly can come with the morning. (Ps. 30.5)
This post is part of Margaret Feinberg’s Partymob for her brand-new book and Bible study, Fight Back With Joy. To join the celebration (and learn more), click here. To grab a copy of this book, click here or here.