On the birth of my daughter

It’s Labor Day, and my wife is in the throes of delivery. At first glance, this is not a place for a man to be. There is pain, but I can not bear it, there is work to be done, but I can not do it. My love is lying in a bed and she is aching and I am reduced to holding her hand and watching the contractions come one after another. On the monitor beside the bed, the readout show each contraction’s intensity. They have been steady at 50 and 60 for several hours now, but numbers are often misleading. The scale goes up to 100, so 50 can only be so bad, I think to myself, knowing the foolishness of the thought even as I think it. For my wife, 50 means that she leans forward in the bed, her toes curling, her breathing rapid. When it’s over, she smiles faintly. “Thirty hours since the first contraction”, she says, “I hope it’s not much longer.”

It isn’t. It’s only ten minutes later that I hear a sound from Susan that I’ve rarely heard in the eight years I’ve known her. She is slumped sideways in the bed, and she is weeping. On the monitor thick black lines – two mountains – tower over the previous hills. They leave the scale at 100, heading off the chart for who knows where. I hug Susan. She is trembling, her lips parted, but no sound emerging and in that moment I am forcibly reminded of Genesis 3:16, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children”. This is sin, I think, a down payment on death. A man and woman sinned, a piece of fruit was eaten and this exists to remind us. It exists for no other reason than that. It is the reason that there are thorns and weeds, it is the reason that men must work and sweat, it is the reason that my sister’s baby died. It is the reason that I and my wife and our children will die one day as well.

It is only a few minutes later that the midwife tells us that Susan can begin pushing and it is only an hour later when we first see our daughter. She is beautiful, with her mother’s dark almond eyes and my thick brown hair. The room is not quiet by any stretch of the imagination, it is bustling with people and activity, nurses cleaning and talking and clearing away the soiled detritus of delivery, but to me, the room seems silent. To me, it has become a sanctuary. I stand there, wearing what I am sure is a foolish smile on my face and I hold my daughter in my arms. Behind me, the contraction monitor is still, the thick black lines long gone from the screen, the thoughts of sin and death pushed aside by this glorious reminder of life. I stand in the room and hold my daughter and then I hand her to my wife. She is smiling.

On the stillbirth of my nephew

The broken child upon the bed,
The stains from where his mother bled,
The crown of tears wreathed round his head,
The ache and fear of faith misled;
On bended knee with arms outspread
With wordless cries my heart has said,
And wept the prayers this night has bred:
“O Lamb of God,” my son is dead.
“My God, that I had died instead.”

Night and day, grief and peace,
between each there is a moment that is neither one nor the other,
where both fit neatly on the same horizon,
or in the same heart.

The broken child lies on the bed,
The morning sky grows soft and red,
Bathed in the glow it’s softly shed,
I hold my son and stroke his head,
And think on words that David said.
This precious child – not broke, nor dead,
I’m promised that he sleeps instead,
Thus grief and joy are ever wed,
My grief and joy are ever wed.