For my 36th birthday, my husband took me out to dinner and a show in San Francisco, an hour north of where we live with our three kids. This was exciting mostly because we were an hour north of our three kids, and also, because we were celebrating not only my birthday, but also that morning’s pink line on my home pregnancy test. We felt both giddy and overwhelmed by the news, and were happy to be out, distracted.
We saw “The Book of Mormon,” and, as observant Jews, it hit close to home. We laughed and laughed. We were laughing at the show, and, by extension, at the Mormons, just as we were also laughing at ourselves, modern people of an ancient faith living a life of contradictions, trying hard to make sense of the traditions and stories that shape so much of our lives, so many of our decisions. Our laughter was uncomfortable, for we saw ourselves on that stage, and were afraid of the possibility that we too were living in an absurd world of illusions, dreaming of Orlando.
In the beginning of my eighth month of pregnancy, I went alone on a business trip to Snowbird, Utah. It was my last hoorah, my last big trip before the baby, and going was partly my way of proving to my husband and the world that I was tough and strong, and could handle being a successful professional, and a woman in her last trimester. On the final day of the conference my water broke. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said to myself, my baby, my body, and the universe. Somebody called 911, and a few minutes later, two burly Utah firemen had strapped me to a gurney and wheeled me into an ambulance. They put on the lights and rushed me down the mountain, to a hospital in Salt Lake City.
I was far away from home, from my husband and children, from my plan, and from my due date. I was furious and embarrassed, lying there, suddenly a medical emergency, an IV pumping antibiotics into my arm, fetal monitoring telling me the baby’s heart rate was dropping with each contraction, my husband scrambling to get coverage for the kids so that he could get to me. He ended up making it, staying with me for the week before the induction, and then going back and forth during the three weeks our daughter was in the NICU. But being furious wasn’t helping me. Neither was second-guessing myself, my OB, and the decision to travel and work.
During that seemingly endless time when we were not sure how things would turn out, when our focus narrowed completely onto this new little life and the hope that she would make it, all that gave us strength was our faith, our stories, and our community, and the kindness of the strangers around us. Many of whom were Mormon. And many who, like us, embraced ancient stories, not necessarily for their historical truth or lack thereof, but for the truth beneath—the truth of hope, the truth of accepting that life is largely outside of our control. When I offered to pay the doula—who volunteered her time and expertise to help me, coming from one birth to my delivery room in the late evening, and then leaving, mid-morning the next day to rush to another birth—she refused payment. “You were in God’s hands,” she said. “I was lucky enough to be the messenger.”
Faith was no longer so funny. We stopped laughing so harshly at Mormons and at ourselves. Sitting day after day in that NICU, I had no choice but to accept how little was in my control. The only thing, in fact, that I could control, was the way I framed what was happening, the story I made of it. The story was much more hopeful, much more comforting, when I embraced the concept that this was all part of the plan. And that the plan was good. That’s when I started to laugh again, and the laughter was sweeter, more humble, and full of joyous disbelief.