by Matt Markell
As I'm writing this, I'm grabbing a brief moment of respite in an otherwise lucid frame of mind. Exhausted as I am, I can't begin to describe what it's like to hear the sounds of my own child's cries and coos echoing throughout my home for the first time. We chose her name well. Annika means "grace" and Margarette means "pearl." I like to think of Annika as a pearl of grace. I think that's how I'm likely to treat her throughout her life. From day one, we've decided that Annika is now our greatest teacher in life, even as it is our job to mold and guide her through hers.
It's been interesting to absorb people's reactions to different events as my wife Kara has progressed throughout her pregnancy. The most visceral reaction both of us got from many people was in response to the news that she had decided to approach childbirth naturally and without pain medications. Some responses I got were surprisingly hostile, as though those who had chosen a different route were all of a sudden feeling indicted. The most common response I got was, "She says that now, but wait till she's gets in the throes of it..." Even though this is our first child, I began growing indignant to this response. I didn't want to write off what the message from experience might be, but I was beginning to realize that it was causing me to second guess my feelings about my wife approaching birth this way. It was my job to believe in my wife and stand by her decision. It was my job to KNOW that she could do this.
I began to realize that a lot of us (myself included) feel obliged to share our most interesting "horror stories" about experiences we've been through in the past in the name of wisdom. All of a sudden we feel as though we have license to share these experiences with the "unexpecting" first-timer. I think we believe that we're actually helping out. What I began to grow irritated with was not the fact that people who had been through this before wanted to offer advice, but that the "advice" was more of a disguise for one-upmanship. "I grew up with 15 siblings in a brown paper sack" "Oh yeah? Well I grew with 20 siblings at the bottom of a lake!"
It's interesting to me how we latch on to this technique as a way to "share wisdom". The deeper wisdom I've learned after watching my wife successfully endure the most painful experience of her life, is that I need to listen and support others expectations about what their role is going to be in the choices they make, even if it's not the way I would do it. I'm not talking about sugar-coating reality for others. My wife went into birth with a lot of help. We had a midwife and a doula to help her work through the pain, and we had prepared well in advance to help my wife know what she wanted to focus on during contractions. It's not like either of us had a romantic view of what was about to take place.
I think we often disguise lowered expectations for what we can and cannot do as "reality." After watching my wife go through what she went through, and to feel Annika's wrinkly head in my hands, I'm convinced that she is a "pearl of great price." My wife endured some intense pain which resulted in one of the most beautiful things we have received in life or are ever likely to receive. My wife needed to believe that she could pull off what some would suggest is the impossible.
This is the first lesson that the advent of Annika's arriving into the world has taught me. I hope to be less skeptical of other's dreams and decisions for their lives. Not at the expense of the tough realities that surround our choices, but at the heart and passion of those who choose to pursue such seemingly impossible tasks. I want my daughter to feel as though she is free to pursue her own dreams. It's my job to make sure she believes in herself enough to find the tools to do so. Annika has begun to teach me to honor my unspoken realities as well. I hope that more of us are apt to share stories of hope and wisdom with each other, rather than trying to best each other with the most horrible disaster stories we can think of.
I'm feeling so many things today, but most of all gratefulness to my wife for knowing and choosing her path, despite the warnings of those who decided that it was their job to share with us the "not likely's." Anyone who reads this has my permission to point out to me when I choose to respond to them this way as well. We should all be bells of mindfulness to each other. We should all be gifts of wisdom to each other.
We also had many wonderful people who were supportive of both of us. Their energy, and prayers were with us in the birthing room. We felt their presence with us. There is no more powerful experience!
Matt Markell is a candidate for confirmation at St. Paul's. He was baptized on January 13, 2008. His daughter, Annika Margarette, was born on January 20th, 2008.