Two years ago this month Todd and I were recovering from having had a miscarriage. But this story is not about that. This story is about another family.
The same day in February that we had an ultrasound and did not get to see that tiny heartbeat, my friend Jen's husband came home from a doctors appointment where he was told he had stage four melanoma cancer. At the time they were parents of four children, with one on the way. Jen and I were due with babies three days apart from each other. By September (2009) Clint's illness was in full swing, wrecking havoc on his body. And Jen was about to deliver their fifth child. It was at this point that Jen called me to care for their family while postpartum.
I want to be clear that I don't believe that God makes bad things happen, but I do believe that he has an amazing knack for providentially bringing good out of pain and suffering, and yes, even for making the suffering meaningful. If I were tending to a newborn myself I would not have been in the situation to also care for this family. I had no idea what sort of a postpartum job this was going to be, but looking back I can say several things about it. First, caring for this family was very healing for me from my miscarriage, mainly because I could see how much God was using my situation to help someone else. Second, taking care of this family became one of the greatest privileges I have ever had.
The longer I work with families giving birth and seeing them fall in love with their newborn babies, the more I realize what a sacred time this is for humans. The experience of having a baby is much more than a cute baby being born; its something that feels like its coming from somewhere else. It is as though two different worlds finally have connected. It is a joining of the world where the baby came from and our world.
While we waited for Jen’s baby Thomas to arrive, we were also watching Clint get sicker and sicker, and closer and closer to what would seem like a third world. And at one point while I was cleaning the floors at Jen's house watching her beloved husband rest on the couch, I could sense the connection of these worlds again. As Clint got closer to leaving, and Thomas got closer to coming, it was as though the whole house was filled with all these experiences of the different worlds meeting each other. It was as though when you were in that house, time did not exist, but life and death did, and they had their own time line, completely unknown to us.
Thomas was born, and we all celebrated his birth. An abundance of meals arrived, friends dropped of bagels in the mornings, fresh fruit arrived in baskets, flowers showed up at the door. And Clint got to see it all. And then a few weeks later a miracle of sorts happened. Clint was approved for a trial medication and he began to get better. I actually gave him a ride to work and he was eating again, and walking around and playing with the kids. One day when I arrived to help out Jen said, "Holli I don't think we need you next week." This was the best news yet! Clint was getting so healthy that he was able to help Jen around the house, and meet with his students at the university.
Over the next few months, they celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, a few birthdays, their 13th anniversary, and New Years! I stopped in here and there to visit with Jen and things were going well. Back when Clint was sick I had a dream one night that while I was walking in their front door, he was walking out dressed for work and a brief case in hand. He said, "Have a good day Holli." And he drove himself off to work. Each of the times in those few months I stopped by to visit my dream was actually happening. We were all rejoicing for Jen and Clint and their beautiful children.
But this is not the end of the story, though we all wish it was. That damn cancer found a way around the medication, and once again the battle for Clint's life began. Last year at this time I was a little under three months away from giving birth to Owen, and once again I had been asked to return to help care for Jen's family. When Marin was not at preschool my good friend Rebecca took her so that I could be at Jen's house almost daily. Along with their babysitter (who was much more than a sitter for sure!) she and I picked up the roles of: rocking babies to sleep, cleaning dishes-floors-bedrooms, doing laundry, reading with children, listening to children explain their drawings, watching the oldest child build just about anything out of Legos, take out trash, heat meals that had been delivered. We tried to do everything we could so that Jen could focus on doing whatever Clint needed. She served him day and night, while nursing Thomas and still managing to kiss owies and cuddle each of her children, understanding that this was their story as well as hers.
Once again we felt the doors between our world and another open and on Passover morning Clint was forced to walk through them. He bravely fought for his life because he wanted to stay with his children and wife. Jen and the kids were all there holding him and supporting him through that difficult time. And we were all there for Jen and the kids for the times after that, and still a year later we are here thinking about them and knowing that this is a difficult journey.
I stayed with Jen and the kids so she could make all the arrangements. All of her friends gathered to make sure she was never alone. I stayed the night with her many times. Helping with kids in the night, or when the kids were with Grandma she and I and Thomas laid in her bed crying together. I would wake in the night and find myself holding on to Thomas or rubbing Jen's back while Owen kicked inside of me. We awoke on Easter morning hoping that, like Jesus, Clint would be knocking on the door, back from the grave where he had gone and said "F-you death!" Instead I gave Jen a hug and drove home to be with Todd and Marin. I arrived home and found them still asleep in bed and joined them, knowing that it was a gift to have them there together. I felt like it was a gift to be a part of Jen's story, to be there for the kids, and Clint.
This story is not about what a doula does, its not about what I did for that family. Its about the gift this family and every family gives me by allowing me to be a part of their journey through life - and when needed, death. Each time I walk into the doors of a family asking me to help them out, I truly believe that it is a privileged to be caring for them during such a vulnerable time in their lives