When people hear that I am a labor and delivery nurse usually the first thing out of their mouths is “Oh, such happy nursing!” or “You get all the fun!” Or a squeal accompanied by an imaginary infant rocking between their arms—implying that my job involves holding cooing infants all day long. Mostly I smile and nod.
The labor and delivery floor at University of Virginia’s hospital mainly caters to two populations: high risk obstetrics from Virginia, West Virginia, and northern Tennessee; and Charlottesville’s lower socioeconomic individuals (often young and unsupported). If this paints any kind of picture, then allow me to say that often my job feels far from “fun.”
While friends prepared for Easter weekend with handmade dyed eggs, pastel sleeveless dresses, Cadbury eggs and joyful anticipation of dinner tables surrounded by loved ones, I found myself headed to work five 12 hour shifts in a row. Saturday morning one of my patients was a severe pre-eclamptic 24-year old who was 28 weeks pregnant. The father of the baby was not involved. The girl’s mother, her primary support, left the hospital to attend her husband’s funeral. I pulled up a chair next to her bed because tracing a baby’s heart rate can take a few minutes. After 5 minutes of failing to find the baby’s heart rate I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. Aware that my patient’s high blood pressure did not respond to treatment the previous night, there was a strong likelihood the baby hadn’t survived. I called the doctor, asking her to verify with the ultrasound. When the doctor said, “the fetus no longer had any cardiac activity,” my patient looked at me with puzzled eyes as if I could somehow refashion the physician’s words. That somehow I could tell her child was not dead.
In the following moments I thought of an essay I recently read by Jurgen Moltmann, “The Prisoner of Hope.” He says:
Is there any answer to the question why God forsook him? Is there any answer to the agonizing questionings of disappointment and death: ‘My God, Why? Why…?’ A real answer to this question cannot be a theoretical answer beginning with the word ‘because’. It has to be a practical answer. An experience of this kind can only be answered by another experience, not by an explanation. A reality like this can be answered only by another reality. It is the answer of the resurrection: “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with a great compassion I will gather you.’…At the point where men and women lose hope, where they become powerless and can do nothing more, the lonely, assailed and forsaken Christ waits for them and gives them a share in his passion.
Passion takes it’s roots from the Latin word passio, meaning “to suffer.” Reading this I acknowledged that following Christ actually means sharing in his suffering. For the next two days I took care of this patient. Laboring with a woman who is preparing for a live child can be grueling. Laboring with a patient who is preparing to give birth to a dead child is suffering. As I helped her breath through her contractions and as I wiped her mouth after several vomiting episodes I found myself cursing God for her. On Easter she delivered a 3-pound baby girl. I was the one to first hold the baby. The image that kept coming to mind was of a sculpture I’d seen of a Jesus in Mary’s arms. The baby’s head was too big for her body and her arms and legs were heavy and floppy. A share in his passion. And so I bathed her. A share in his passion. And dressed her. A share in his passion. And put her in her weeping mother’s arms. A share in his passion.
Our disappointments, our loneliness and our defeats do not separate us from him; they draw us more deeply into communion with him. And with the final unanswered cry, “why, my God, why?” we join in his death cry and await with him the resurrection.
I left the hospital Easter night with a strong desire to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Like the need to eat and drink, I needed to be fed with this truth about the world. In order to take part in his resurrection, we must also take part in his suffering. If we cannot look forward to a final resurrection and redemption of the brokenness of the world, and if God is not somehow working his story into the lives of my patients, then all is for naught. The reason we must and do share in his passion, is because he has already risen from the dead. Alleluia!
Jessica Garber lives in the rolling blue hills of Charlottesville, VA. She loves to walk around and visit neighbors, eat local ice cream, travel around America and read in her hammock. In her free time she finds herself working as a nurse at UVA hospital.