I had a baby the other day. This is such an odd thing for a man to say, and yet I am able to say it in all sincerity. I think the fact that such a strange phrase rolls so easily off the tongue and conscience is because I've discovered the process of labor and delivery is an intensely personal one, and one of the most honest events in human experience. A strange union happens in the act, because in a very real sense, whatever happens to my wife and baby happens to me. My emotional life is caught up with them in those undiscovered hours, where the future is uncertain and all that matters is getting through the next contraction. And each successive and increasingly difficult contraction climaxing with the birth of our daughter was as if our little room at the birthing center became a stage upon which the fleshiness of life could have it's word in a world sometimes terrified of flesh. In that room, flesh cried out to flesh, only to reveal to a world of pretense that life at least begins with being naked and without shame.
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For this reason I can say "I had a baby" in all truth and such a statement, coming from my wombless gender, is not considered the height of hypocrisy, nor the depths of a sad insanity. You know exactly what I mean. No body will accuse me of lying. I dare them to try. Of course, no body will call me a liar, because we understand the spirit in which the words are spoken. They are spoken in the spirit of unity and honesty. But it wasn't until it was made focal for me on that day that I could fully understand the implications of such a truth. It was only being privy first-hand to this wondrous reality that illuminated my soul the day my daughter was born.
My wife had already given birth, my daughter already part of our world in a brand new way, when I was asked by the midwife to make a grocery run for a bottle of wine. This was not to celebrate, but to help empty my wife's bladder. "It's an old midwifery trick" said she, explaining quickly why it would work, then waving me out the door. So I left my brand new family, grudgingly and delirious for being awake 36 hours, to buy the cheapest bottle of wine I could find. I stepped across the threshold of our happy little delivery room at the birth center, where we we're naked and without shame, and into the layered world of thread and pretense.
Being away from my wife and new daughter in those moments felt like entering a dry land out of a fruitful valley. Everything was too desolate to be desirable, too barren to exult the senses. There we're too many layers, and not enough skin; too many airs, and not enough air. The once simple world seemed to have made itself purposefully unintelligible, like a willful chaos: too proud to be understood, too stubborn to want change. It was all so complex and superlative. I didn't want to try and understand it any longer, nor did I believe it worth my time. My energies had a better purpose than to continue humoring that which stole my humor. Hurry and get the wine, I thought, get back to that happy little room.
So I returned in haste, but with a dawning illumination continuing even to this day. Like an epiphanic intrusion into the mundane, one which serves to reorient our hearts, in order that we not callously sweep aside the mundane as merely ordinary, or crassly dismiss it as run-of-the-mill. The veil had been lifted for me, displaying the miracle of the mundane: that it was in fact extraordinary in it's ordinariness and this is it's paradox. This fleshy, daily reality was the reality of something extraordinary not because it didn't happen enough, but precisely because it happened all the time.
In the birth of my daughter, I was witness to something real. When so much of life expends inconceivable amounts of energy in concealing the real, our happy little room exploded through all fraud and hypocrisy. More than that, I partook myself in something real. But even more than this, my wife and daughter, and the nurse and midwife and even me in my role in assisting my wife emotionally and physically through her labor all of us worked together not only to a real end, but to bring the real into the room. And when we brought it, I discovered the real was joyful, full of grace and truth.
I suppose I had stopped believing that there could be such honesty, such reality, in the world. Though I confess it with my mouth in my practice of faith, the experience sometimes is like a friend long lost, with whom I can remember some hazy memory of smiles and laughter, but who now exists only in an ever increasing fog. I suppose I had relied on my memory for too long. Like a swell that grows weaker and weaker in shallow waters, my emotions had run thin, pitiably lapping upon the shore. There was a maverick somewhere in the world whose water ran deep, but such things weren't my reality. I would run in ever shallowing waters, and my wave would meet such an end, fizzling out before ever reaching that ever land, of which my people tell.
Besides my increasingly desperate need for the Eucharist for precisely this reason, I was renewed in my hope by the intrusion of the real, which my daughter brought. Not merely because she is my daughter, but because by following out this apocalypse where it would lead me to the realization that if such grace and truth is found in my little room, it has been found in countless little rooms prior to ours. It is, in fact, an ancient practice. And if it is truly ancient, then it is something that has been happening since the beginning. It echoes a choral fugue of crying infants and parents full of joy, where we begin life in full sincerity before our caretakers, before the world deceives us into selling our birthright at a loss. In this tiny beginning, I am witness to hope's eternal refrain, made of flesh and blood.
This makes me think that perhaps I do live in a sacramental world after all. Were it not the case, I could easily ignore the great cloud of witnesses, whose delivery suites, or stables, through time have, in their best moments, witnessed the ushering in of new life and of joy after joy, witnessing against despair. I could deny my delight at the discovery of such reality of honesty as simply the biology of an evolutionary process, necessary for me to love my daughter. But not everyone does love their newborn children, and it seems to me that even the notion of children these days is more associated with inconvenience than joy of life ending, instead of new life. Rather than be desirous of the real, some want to run from it. Before my daughter was born, I'm sure I was running in my own way but only because my experience had not yet caught up to me. Truly, my countenance sunk, to my shame, when my wife discovered she was pregnant. I had a prolonged sense of panic at the implications for my life. Rather than it be taken for granted that birth is full of sincerity, that it brings the real, and that the real is good, it seems that some instinctively believe the opposite. If I am going to wonder about the reason why something expected to be disastrous can actually be wondrous, I think I'd rather see behind it an intention. Call it arbitrary, call it evolution, call it sentimentalism, but this is a matter of choice, and possibly an arbitrary one at that. I choose to see behind it a willfulness working against even our most ardently held expectations, and so I will call it sacramental.
All of this reassures me of my sanity when I say "I had a baby the other day." It reassures me that such language is not arbitrary, but ancient and rooted in perspicuous mystery. I am not losing my mind, nor has my hope departed from me. The real is staring at me in the face, she is crying out to feed, to be held, to be cleaned. She is growing into her own, bearing the name of her tribe. She cries from the womb, like lady wisdom crying in the streets. She comes in flesh and blood, and in peace and joy. She is a witness among countless whose births adumbrate that greater reality, one in which sincerity, peace, and joy is not only annunciated to the parents in their happy little room, but to the world, through time and space; to peasants in the field, and to strangers in lands unknown. In her awestruck stares, she transports her parents, unknowingly to her infant heart, into the loving gaze of the Divine, reminding us that there is something personal behind it all, and that honesty is eternally resilient.
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Posted in Recreation Post Date 02/15/2023