We had been in India for two months when we discovered we were going to be parents.
This was not an “oops.”
I don’t know why we chose that particular time to start a family. Maybe it’s because our new, Himalayan-ringed world seemed so full of possibility. Maybe it’s because we had recently read the story of Hannah, who sought a child with tears. Or maybe it’s because, by that point, we had only had giardia once.
Whatever the reason, by getting pregnant we added to a long list of changes that had taken place within the last five years: get married, enter the workforce, decide to be missionaries, get rid of most of our stuff, move to India.
Yes, we discussed the “Major Life Transitions Stress Test” during missionary training.
But we were young and didn’t listen.
Anyway, I worked hard to prepare. I binge-listened to podcasts with scary and beautiful birth stories. And I sang to my baby: “The Lord is my light, my joy, and my song. By day and by night, He leads me along.”
The Internet said I should make a “birth plan.” A birth plan is a tidy, bullet-point list of desired birth positions, preferred environment, and what kind of meds you are okay with and not okay with. A birth plan is where you say that you want to be surrounded by lavender-scented candles, or that you want to breathe, float, meditate, or walk through the pain. So, I made one of those things and searched for a hospital.
The first hospital was 30 minutes away by bus. (We had no car. I know, someone should go mentor those poor new people!)
At the hospital, a nurse in a white Punjabi suit led Joshua and me to Labor and Delivery. I stepped into the room. A pair of stirrups hung over a skeletal bed. Some kind of instrument, covered in goo, sat on the counter. The doctor said men were not allowed to accompany their laboring wives, a policy meant to protect the privacy of other laboring women.
“It’ll only be nurses here around your due date,” she told us. “Sometimes that can be a less than optimal situation. I recommend you find somewhere else.”
Somewhere else? The closest “somewhere else” was two hours south of us! I refolded my birth plan, and we left.
The second hospital we checked was beautiful. An electric bug zapper cast a blue glow in the foyer. A woman mopped with a rag on the end of a stick. But the waiting room for the OB/GYN was empty.
We walked into her office. She smiled, but I didn’t like her smile somehow.
“I would like to give birth naturally,” I told her, unfolding the well-worn birth plan. “What is your policy on medication during labor?”
“We will not give you any pain-saving drugs. You have to bear the pain.” Her voice sounded almost threatening, and I felt one of my eyebrows raise.
“Okay. Well, I want my husband with me. Can you accommodate?”
She leaned back in her chair and chuckled. “Why do you ask so many questions? You’ve never even had a baby. You don’t know. I’m the doctor, and I know. Just leave everything to me.”
We left her office and crossed town. I wanted to check the government hospital. Walking into the large building, I assured Joshua, “It can’t be that bad.”
We walked to L and D. I held my breath. Cots lined the hallway. Women lay on the cots. Some moaned. I felt frightened for them. Would they have their babies on the floor? When I asked, I was told they’d be transferred when ready to be delivered.
Cue hospital number three. We were shown to the delivery room. The walls were splattered with something. Could be water stains, I comforted myself.
Over the stains hung a poster of a white baby. One delivery bed, barely padded, sat next to an uneven metal table that held the doctor’s tools. I swallowed and followed the doctor upstairs. There was a nursery, a bilirubin light, an oxygen hood. The obstetrician seemed kind and capable, and everyone answered my questions politely. This will have to work!
We made arrangements and booked a taxi home. As I sat watching the waving Buddhist prayer flags and snow-dusted mountains out my window, I considered going back to the US for the birth. In fact, another missionary mama had strongly suggested I do so.
But every time I talked to God about it, He gave me a kind of a bittersweet peace. A strong conviction that this small sacrifice would make a difference.
Lord, are You sure?
Jesus praised the woman who gave only two coins. Did He notice how hard it was to give the little I had? And would it make any tangible difference for the Parvata people?
I didn’t know. All I knew was that God was calling me to place everything in His able hands.
Even my birth plan.
As I wrote later in my book, “I felt a sisterhood with Mary, who had changed all her plans for God even when she had no idea what God was doing. Mary, who had to travel to Bethlehem while great with child. Mary, who had her baby in a dirty stable without her mother there to tell her it would be okay. She may not have understood why, but she was willing. Willing to obey God, willing bear the Light of the World ‘to the people who walk in darkness.’”
I ended up giving birth to two beautiful children in those mountains. There were no candles, music, or mood lighting. There was no tub, exercise ball, or heating pad. But it didn’t matter. It was beautiful in its own way. There were miracles, big and small, which are more precious to my faith now than a perfect birth story.
Later, I accompanied an Indian friend when she gave birth. Her first two births, she’d said, had been at home. Largely ignored by her family, she gave birth behind the woodstove, “like a dog.” For her third child, I brought her to the hospital and held her hand while she pushed.
Just at the moment when my friend thought she couldn’t do it, she looked up at me with a strange, searching expression. Later, I asked her what she was thinking.
“I was remembering all the women I’d seen die in childbirth back in the village. But when I looked up at you, there was light all around your head, and you looked . . . well, you looked ‘local.’ And somehow I knew I wasn’t going to die.”
Having my children in India did something I couldn’t have predicted. It solidly bonded me with the women with whom I wanted so much to share Jesus. It helped me to understand them and helped them to understand me.
Are you pregnant and overseas? Chandler’s article about giving birth abroad has some great advice about important things to consider. Don’t feel guilty if you need to travel, invest, or even go home for your birth.
But also, don’t be afraid to ask God about His will for your birth. His ways are higher than ours, and so are His plans. As I sang for my daughter when I held her for the first time: “The Lord is my light, my joy, and my song. By day and by night, He leads me along.”