Man Gives Birth, Bp Visits, Mama Prays

This week, St George – Houston hosts Metropolitan Philip, the Antiochian Synod of Bishops, and the Archdiocese Board of Trustees. Thus, it stands to reason, I am reminded of the first time I gave birth. 🙂

Actually, among other things, I am reminded of our first episcopal visit in a store front mission in North Carolina … just after I gave birth. *

Picture (L-R): Deacon Thomas Moore, me, Bishop Basil, Fr Peter Smith, Subdeacon Michael Bock. (Thomas Moore & Michael Bock are now priests. It’s uncanny who all else participated in this 1995 episcopal visit to a storefront mission; for a more complete list, see the end of this post.)

Pressing my nose against the pane, watching as my wife walked away to shoulder the role of CBW (chief bread winner), leaving me home with our new baby girl; I was scared. At the time, we thought it a temporary fix to a permanent situation. Remarkably, it ended up being a nine year stint. What. A. Job!

On that first day, I consoled myself, “You can do it. You can do anything you set your mind to.” Looking into the eyes of the baby on the changing table (often, repeat: often), I was reminded that I was so out of my league. Don’t get me wrong, with a brother seven years my junior; I knew how to change a diaper. Yet, I shall forever have respect for the mothers (and others) that make the sacrifices necessary to be there – day in, day out – doing the same thing over and over … working out their salvation with mundane tasks.

As a young boy, I remember telling my mom that when I grew up and got married I wanted to help out around the house. Back then my chores included washing, drying, folding, and putting up the clothes; doing the dishes, making beds, etc. Psst! Come closer so that my wife can’t hear. Back then, I enjoyed those things.

The vocation of Stay-At-Homes (SAHs) is awesome; one that a CBW may never fully appreciate. Yet, to be honest, I was still only a man. In other words, I didn’t rise to the job my wife would have done – especially concerning washing, drying, folding, and putting up the clothes; doing dishes, making beds, etc. For example, do you know what happens when you use regular ol’ dish washing soap in the dishwasher? Mmmm… I do! (Don’t try this at home.)

But like other SAHs – mostly females – I did my share of meal prep, meal clean up, meal shopping and, on the other end, diapers. Much of the SAH’s day is spent with meal prep, meal time, meal clean up, and — when the child naps — struggling to get all the other stuff done.

Did I mention the meals?

Tomorrow? Repeat. Next week? Repeat. Day in, day out. Wait. Is that the baby crying? Repeat.

If you’re a male SAH, you get to sit around doctors’ and dentists’ Waiting Rooms with lots of women and children. It’s a temptation to judge how well behaved your children are compared to their little monsters (or vice versa). Many of the Moms might look like they just rolled out of bed. That’s because they did, so to speak. It was all they could do to get everything done to the point of getting to the Doc for their children. Mirrors be damned!

By the time the second and third child arrived, I was sporting a long beard, pony tail, and a Russian style riassa (flowing black robe); kinda scary looking in North Carolina. No matter, when you’re carrying around a cute baby girl or little toddler man, everyone’s all smiles. Well, almost everyone …

I remember a guy who’d apparently lost all respect for me as his priest because, he said: “I liked it better when you had a real job.” By that he meant something other than being a priest and SAH. (After renouncing my Orders as an Episcopal priest, I’d worked a couple secular jobs before the birth of our first.) Knowing that he had a few grown kids of his own, I asked: “Have you ever spent a whole day, morning to night – alone – with toddlers?” He answered honestly: “No.” I smiled. It was easy to forgive him. There’s a certain measure of peaceful wisdom acquired from slinging hash, flinging dishes, changing diapers with one hand, and making sure the house looks presentable (at least not like a war zone) by the time the CBW gets home.

What, you may ask, did my wife do all day?

She, who has a degree in early childhood education, worked at a county operated Child Care Center. Thus, she worked with young’uns all day … and, as it turned out, I worked with young’uns all day. Only she seemed happier when she got home than I was when she came home …

Folks … honestly, unless you’ve ever filled those shoes, it’s hard to understand. The job of SAH’s begins when they open their eyes in the morning … and it ends when they close their eyes at night. I often joke, “there’s no rest for the wicked” – well, if that’s the case, being a SAH is the wickedest job around.

All of this came back to me when I received an email from one of the podcast faithful saying:

Dear Fr Joseph,

I’m going to be a mother, and am facing my third trimester and birth. By all accounts this will be “the most painful experience anyone can ever go through.” I also know that the hormones that will kick off labor and delivery are the same ones that have bonded me with my husband and will bond me to my infant. Furthermore, I know that Cortisol, the hormone of stress and fear, counteracts Oxytocin, the hormone of labor. If I’m afraid, the Cortisol will prolong labor, make it more painful, and increase my need for chemical and surgical intervention.

How does one approach an unknown amount of serious pain without fear? How does one turn fear into something else? I’m trying to pull all my resources together. I’m keeping communication open with my husband (who will be my coach and champion), I’m drawing closer to Christ (who suffered far worse for our salvation), and I’m trying to distance myself from those who would tell horror stories of birth.

Can you discuss human experiences where this kind of paradox exists? What are the other choices besides fear? What’s the fancy Greek word for it? It would be smashing if you even quoted John Paul the Great saying “be not afraid.” Just a thought.

Oh, and, by the way, lately, I’ve been plagued by an earworm of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Any connection?

Signed … Oh, let’s just call her Charlotte.

Dear Charlotte,

I, too, have given birth … so I know what you’re going through. Drink plenty of water. Let me explain …

Back in 1995 our little Orthodox Mission was expecting our first hierarchical visit from His Grace, Bishop BASIL …

Our little mission was only a couple years old and we were, at the time, meeting in a store front.

That’s when I discovered I was expecting.

It happened in the middle of the night – suddenly! … a terrible pain in the lower right corner of my back.

At first I thought it was something else (and, no, I am not here speaking of PALE GAS – just the plain kind) … yet, this [too] never passed.

The pain was beyond uncomfortable – which was evidenced by my actually calling the doctor … emergency line … in the wee hours.

In the end, having heard of all my symptoms, he made the diagnosis over the telephone: Basically, I was expecting.

Now I know there are many out there, thinking: Wha-?

But for those of us, particularly men, who have, uh, delivered … a kid(ney stone) … which, even the doctors agree, is the closest thing to having a baby in terms of pain …

Well, if you’ve never had one (or especially if you have): Fall in love with water, my friends! Water. Water. Water, I say!

Well, enough of that …

But, before I leave the subject, let me just say that I tried to give birth to the kid(ney stone) the natural way … for a couple weeks! To no avail.

Then, just 4 days away from our first bishop’s visit, I mentioned to the doctor that the biggest weekend in our young parish’s history was coming up that weekend and he said, “Well, you might not be present for it … you might be in the hospital.”

He had a point there; I had to admit … so, after listening to my options, I chose to induce.

Yep … Bishop BASIL was coming into town on Thursday … and on Wednesday I was giving birth … so to speak.

Everything, ahem, came out okay … and, just as an embarrassing footnote I should mention the Percocet incident.

When the doctor found out that I was going to be on my feet for 3-4 hours on Sunday morning, he said I might want to take 2 of the pain pills on that day. Being a big baby and all — and no great bearer of pain … I took his advice. Unbeknownst to me, I was a bit loopy during part of the service – but the only incident I remember was during Communion.

Bishop BASIL communed me and later handed me the sponge … this is a common practice wherein the communicating priest cleans any crumbs from the holy gifts from his fingers …

Yet, being obviously way too happy for piety, when His Grace offered me the sponge … I looked at him (no doubt, with a dumb grin) and leaned down and kissed the sponge!

He said, “Fr Joseph, see that chair over there?”

As I looked in the direction toward which he was pointing, he said: “Go sit down!”

Heh heh …

So, dear Charlotte, I know you said you didn’t want birthing war stories … yet, obviously, I took the drugs.

My wife, on the other hand, did not. She’s a lot tougher than I am.

When our first was about to be born – she’d planned, all along, to get that epidural … but was 8 cm dilated when we arrived at the delivery room and the nurse said, “Too late, sweetheart.”

Natural child birth … there’s nothing like it. I can still remember my wife screaming the same word, over and over again. She said: Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!

[Heh, heh … that’s not really what she said, but I can’t tell you the truth; I mean, I could … but then she’d have to kill me.]

Wait. Oops. My bad, dear Charlotte. You said you didn’t want war stories.

Well, get used to it!

Alas, they’re inevitable; just like once that child is born you’re going to get plentyan overabundance – of parenting advice.

When you hear those birthing war stories … and, soon, when you get all that parenting advice … Just nod your head and smile … ‘cause some day that might be you … on the other end of it all.

For now, take it from me – a Dad who once worked as a SAH – and a man who has delivered a kid(ney stone)

This, too, shall pass.

The days that seem endless with that baby, that crawler, that toddler, that little brat … in the end, they fly by in the wink of an eye.

But that pain in childbearing is, at least so I hear, TOTALLY forgotten once the baby is born …

When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. (John 16:21)

And, from that point on, you, your husband, and your growing family will share many joys, struggles, falls, and blessings – never again looking back on the pain of the Day of Delivery.

But you know what, Charlotte: I have no idea why I’m talking to you …

At this crucial time of pregnant expectation in your life, I should, instead, be talking to your husband … for, to him I would say:

Bwwaaa-hhoo-hhoo-hhoo-hhoo!

But, trust me, he’ll understand that soon enough.

Since all and sundry, Charlotte, are going to be giving you advice about child-rearing, let me get a head start here:

1) As my mother-in-law told my wife and me: The child is coming to live at your house. Live your life, the child will adjust accordingly.

2) Do whatever works for you and your family – even if that means Dad stays home — in my opinion, one of you should!

3) If you jump up every time that baby cries, the baby will be most happy to oblige. Let the baby cry a little while … trust me, the child will adjust accordingly.

Finally: The first time I introduced my first baby to Bishop BASIL, I said: “Sayidna, here’s the Abbess of that new monastery you’ve been wanting.”

He said, “She’s the Abbess? She can be anything she wants to be … you make your own plans, God’s got plans for her.”

And, well, there it is. Don’t make plans for the pain when awaiting labor. In fact, make no plans … except to trust the same God who saves women through child-bearing; that same God who called Mary “Mama” … that one?

Through your prayers and the prayers of his holy Mother, He’s gonna be right there with you.

* – Originally aired as an episode of the Orthodixie Podcast on Ancient Faith Radio.

* * – Also present that weekend were Fr Chad Hatfield, Fr Cassian Dunlap, Subdeacon Mark Mancuso, Reader Athanasius (Archimandrite Maximos), Fr John Kress, Ron Moore, Rev’d Robert Douglas (later, Subdeacon Andrew).

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