Saturday, May 06, 2006

Body and Soul

In 1963, when I was seven months pregnant with our second child, my three year old son and I had rabies vaccinations, 14 shots, one a day, in the muscle of the abdomen. The doctor explained that these were exceptionally painful shots. Bill and I felt terrible that our son had to undergo the ordeal. For me far worse than the pain was the worry about what these shots were doing to my unborn baby. The doctor said that he doubted whether anyone in my condition had ever had these shots, so although he could assure me that there would be no side effects for my son, he couldn’t give any such assurance about the baby.

A month and half later, the obstetrician told me that the baby was going to come earlier than the October 26 due date. Four weeks passed, the doctor seemed perplexed that the baby hadn’t come, and I was growing more worried by the hour.

On the night of November 17, when the baby was 23 days overdue, at one of the lowest points in my life, we heard a woman screaming. My husband went outside to see what was the matter. He came back to tell me that the police had arrived.

We went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. After awhile, a scene presented itself to me. Bill, our son and I were coming into my mother-in-law’s kitchen. I could smell the perking coffee, Mrs. Bauer was hugging us, my father-in-law was beaming. They were exclaiming how well we all looked and how big Ernie had grown. It was a scene that had been enacted several times, so I could have been recalling the memory, or could have been recreating it in my imagination, or could even have been asleep, dreaming. But that is not what was happening as I lay there in despair that November night in North Carolina. No, I was wide awake, I was actually there in the kitchen, and I could feel my mother-in-law’s joy at our arrival. I could really smell the coffee, I felt enveloped and comforted by Mrs. Bauer’s radiant love, a palpable presence. I relaxed and went to sleep, and several hours later woke up with the happy realization that I was having labour pains.

Grace was born at 9 that morning. Student nurses were present, and their professor was teaching them how to do the APGAR check list for newborns. I heard her describe to the students each part of the baby, and then I heard her say, "This is unusual. She has a perfect score — ten!"

The Holy Spirit, whatever it is, was present to me that night: present in my body and in my soul.

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