Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Focal Point

Breathe, Tamera.

In through your nose, out through your mouth.

Deep cleansing breath.

I heard these phrases many times during my twenties. I have four daughters. And these words became a mantra that colored the second decade of my life. Each birth event was different and had its own unique story. And the details of the births foreshadowed the distinct personalities of each Daughter today.

During my first pregnancy, we attended Lamaze classes. We absorbed all the instructions and practiced all the techniques, but we had no grasp of what the reality would actually entail. I heard the horror stories and simply tried to shut my mind to them. I listened to the barrage of complaints and grumblings and fear-induced panics from both mothers and fathers. I knew the circumstances of my own birth and had been near during the birth of my much younger sibling. I knew what I did NOT want.

I was determined my children’s births would be different

Sifting through all the stories and all the information, I quietly prayed. I skimmed and perused some of the pamphlets given by the Lamaze coaches. I read recommended books and even suffered through the required childbirth video.

I was told I would need to have a focal point. Something in the room to fix my eyes and mind on during contractions. This something could be brought from home—a photo, a piece of art, an object. Later, after our second daughter was born, I realized that the purpose of this object was to encourage the laboring mother to keep her eyes OPEN.

When you close your eyes, pain intensifies. Inclination and instinct shuts our eyes tightly against pain. If we detect pain’s possible presence we wince and squint our eyes against the inevitable.

When you close your eyes during childbirth all the pain surges to the center of you and takes a fierce hold—squeezing and contracting you in a pain you have never encountered before (But you will again. The pain switches to your heart as they grow. The contractions seem quite familiar, and these are the ones the dad experiences also.)

During labor you are in the midst of a swirling and mounting darkness that only increases in intensity. What is merely two minutes to your partner (as they watch the monitor or the clock) seems to be two hours to you, and you lose the ability to distinguish the length or breadth of time.

With my oldest daughter, the nurses allowed my Pitocin drip to go too high. Instead of rising and falling contractions, with actual peaks and valleys, my monitor tape read one continuous contraction. I was given little reprieve. Very little time to catch my breath. The pain was relentless. I think the girls’ father thought my head was going to spin. I remember crying quietly—inside myself. Or so I thought.

With all my daughters’ births my focal point was not a visual object. The coaches and nurses fussed about this. My focal point was a voice. One particular voice in the swirling darkness. I only listened to that voice. My doctors knew this. They didn’t bother to speak to me during labor and delivery. They gave instructions to my partner—my daughters’ daddy. His voice managed to break through the darkness. I listened because I knew the tones and levels of intensity in his voice. I listened. The volume never, ever changed. Always right at my ear. I never once remembered seeing his face, but his voice never wavered.

Laboring in childbirth is a thin-slice of life.

For years I kept my eyes tightly closed. In my early to mid-thirties the contractions were spaced and tolerable. During the latter half my thirties and the beginning of my forties the contractions rolled relentlessly over me. Little reprieve and little breathing room. My head did spin. And I did cry.

I was living with my eyes closed—in the dark with the pain.

But this caused me to turn inward. Instead of encountering and confronting and exploring the pain, I was often overcome by it.

The writer of the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 3:1; 12:2) tells me to fix my eyes on Jesus.

My focal point.

Often I can’t see his face, but I am fixed on his voice. In the midst of swirling, mounting darkness, his voice has always been the undercurrent in my ear. Always whispering at my shoulder (Isaiah 30:21). Recently I have attempted to turn down the volume or mute every other voice in my life. I want to hear with greater clarity.

It has taken me a while to open my eyes, but they are open.

I have returned to the lessons I learned during hard, transitional labor.

Breathe, Tamera.
In through your nose, out through your mouth.
Deep cleansing breath.
Open your eyes.
Find your focal point.

I found him.

I hear him.

I will see him.

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