Last June, Lon and I had been with our new friend Alicia and a few other neighbors on a river rafting trip. It was the most exhilarating and playful time I’d had in years. Piling giddily into the van to head for home, Alicia checked her messages. There was one from a doctor, supposedly the “best fertility specialist on the Westside,” who told her in a monotone voice message that for a variety of reasons her body, at the age of 41, was simply incompatible with pregnancy. She should stop wasting her time and money, pursue adoption or make her peace with not having children. It was a very long six hours home.
But Alicia is a woman of hope and persistence. She would not take no for an answer. She sought out a Chinese herbalist, drank vile concoctions religiously. Even asked me to pray. Now, prayer is not her primary language but she has dedicated her life to the good works of a Higher Power, celebrating 13 years of sobriety on our rafting trip, and making a vocation out of helping others reach that same goal. Somewhere deep inside she believed that there was a baby in her. And then, there was. She and her boyfriend Jamis entered 2011 as expectant parents. Alicia was sick every single day of her pregnancy but never complained. She was glowing, beautiful, a living example of the scripture passage from Acts 2:26 “my flesh lives in hope.”
Jackson was born on August 16th, just moments before Lon and my 26th wedding anniversary. It was a hellacious labor followed by a c-section followed by every sort of nursing challenge a mother can face. It seems this is increasingly common, women not being able to generate enough milk, women worrying themselves sick about it, feeling guilty that they are failing at parenting right out of the gate. A whole industry has been spawned to “support” them in their commitment to nursing: prenatal nursing classes, nursing coaches, pumping stations, online breast milk purchased from virtual wet nurses. I’m grateful that I never had to go through all that; both of my children latched on instantly and gulped for a good nine months. But I hate that we’ve created this culture of judgment in parenting styles. Whether it’s nursing or cloth diapers or the family bed or organic baby food— the list of choices and decisions that a mother and father will have to make as they endeavor to raise a child will go on for a lifetime— the fact that parents seem to have a Greek chorus of wagging fingers and Gotta Shouldas in their ears helps no one, and makes it painfully hard for new parents to feel the confidence in their own good judgment they need to be effective.
Today was the first day that Alicia had Jackson with her all day long without any help. Her mother had just returned to New Mexico. Jamis was back at work. Alicia’s best friend— my next door neighbor Rachel—who works for Alicia at a sober living home for women, put the All Hands On Deck out on Facebook. Every mom on the cul-de-sac responded, stood at the ready to take a shift. Fifteen minutes is the gift of eternity to a new mother. I got the text to come over as I was working on a research exercise for my new theology program, essentially an academic treasure hunt intended to familiarize me with all the databases and resources at my disposal. I had just finished defining Diatessaron and was moving onto a question about the typical diet in Israel around the time of Christ when the text came. Come over. I need to pump. .
It’s been a very long time since I’d held a fussing infant. They can’t be reasoned with. They can only occasionally be soothed. And without fail, they’ll demand with their jagged cries—their one and only resource—that you continue to pace and jiggle so as to simulate the feeling of being back in the womb. Jackson will grow up surrounded by a community of strangers who have committed to the idea of being a family. It was only this week when I realized that I was the “grandmother” of the group, standing by, offering a bit of wisdom where I can. Free from having to defend my own day-to-day parenting choices (my own children are now 17 and 21) I can now say with utter sincerity, “There are a lot of ways to raise a child well.” I wish we could all bear this in mind as we come alongside other parents in our lives. God has given them this child— them, and no one else— and it is up to them— them, and no one else— to listen to the still, small voice of their hearts, that same voice that told Alicia— and Sarah, and Elizabeth, and Mary— that she would have a child. That will continue to guide her and Jamis as to what their child needs and how they can best deliver it. Breast or bottle, schedule or free flow, work or stay-at-home, God will be with them through all of it. And in the end, “only three things remain: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13).