Ages ago, when Jonathan and I were not yet married and were drudging our way through a year of long-distance relationship, he sent me a Valentine’s Day gift in an opaque plastic box.
(Before I say more, I should explain: at this point in my life, gifts were not a strong suit for me. Oh, I chose good ones–or, at least, I think I did–and I received those given to me with delight. But I was impatient. If I found the perfect Christmas gift in November, waiting until December 25th to see him open it was nigh unto impossible. If I knew he’d bought something for me, I didn’t want to wait until some arbitrary date to open it. I wanted it now.)
Back to Valentine’s Day: Jonathan timed his gift to arrive at my door weeks before February 14th. Then–then!–he secured the outside of it with a combination lock, the code for which he steadfastly refused to tell me until the day arrived.
I’m not sure what this anecdote says about him or about us, but I do know this: that package drove me crazy, just like he knew it would.
For those who might be wondering: yes. Yes, we’ve been happily married–very happily married–for almost fifteen years now.
I’d like to think I’ve matured some since then, that Jonathan’s stunt wouldn’t faze me anymore. I’d like to think that various things like, oh, being an adult, experiencing life’s ups and downs, and raising small children have taught me to be patient.
And I have grown. Some.
As those small children would be quick to tell you, however, I have a long way yet to go.
For instance: those last few weeks of November and into December as we waited for sweet Emmeline’s birth?
I was anything but patient. I desperately wanted that baby to come, and that bled into the rest of my life. Most notably, into the decreased tolerance I had for normal childish behaviors.
Just ask my kids.
On second thought, don’t. I’m not sure I’m ready to hear what they would say.
During that long-ago February, I did not wait well.
I attempted to inch the top of the box open far enough to give me a peek inside. I shook it. I tried various number combinations: his birthday. Mine. The date we met.
It was all a waste of time. Valentine’s Day comes when it comes.
In those last few weeks of pregnancy, I did not wait well.
I googled “early labor signs” on more than one occasion. (You’d think by the fourth time around, such a thing wouldn’t be necessary, but I was hoping this time, that random odd thing that happened would mean contractions were right around the corner.)
My temper grew increasingly shorter.
A week before my due date, I cleaned the inside of our family car because of a half-serious superstition that baby was just waiting until the long-past-due task was complete. (Imagine me at 39 weeks crawling around the back of a midsize SUV with a vacuum cleaner and it will give you an idea of my desperation.)
But it was all a waste of time. Babies come when they come.
When I met with my midwives before Emmeline’s birth, I kept circling back to one of my biggest concerns: what if I couldn’t handle a home birth? What if I wasn’t tough enough to manage the pain without medication?
She just smiled.
“You can do it,” she told me. “When the time comes, focus on the moment. Don’t think about how much longer you’ll be in labor. Just take one contraction at a time.”
I found her response to be less than satisfying. I wanted some trick, some magic bullet, some midwife secret that would ease the pain and guarantee success. Tell me how to breathe. Give me an exercise or a skill I can practice. Show me how to sit or move, any action I can take to help me cope or, better yet, to speed things along.
I wanted some way to feel like I was in control, but what she offered sounded more like surrender.
At another appointment, she told me that, years ago, she would sometimes take her infant daughter with her to births.
“She gave the moms something to look forward to. A physical reminder of what was to come.” She paused. “I think there should be a baby at every birth.”
Valentine’s Day (finally) came. I opened my gift to find Audrey Hepburn’s My Fair Lady, a pair of earrings, and the only flowers that would survive two weeks of such treatment: delicate wooden roses which still have a home on my bathroom counter. I smile whenever I see them.
Labor (finally) began. I breathed my way through the contractions, trying (and often failing) to take just one at a time. But when I would tense up as I felt another one coming, when I would think of the time stretched before me and begin to lose hope, Jonathan would rub my back and our midwife would offer a quiet word of encouragement and together their words and their actions would remind me of the precious life that was coming.
It isn’t easy, waiting well. At times, it’s excruciating.
I become mired in impatience, impatience born of a hope half-realized, of a belief that there is good ahead–a thoughtful gift, a precious new life, a world made right–decoupled from a trust that the good will come when it comes and He will give me what I need until it does.
I fret and I stew, trying to take control. I want to speed things along. I grow impatient.
When all along, my part is to hold onto both the hope that is to come and the reality of the now. It is to remember the promised good while being faithfully focused on what is mine to do in this moment. And, when I forget, it is to listen to the voices of hope around me and to allow myself to be reminded of the truths I know.
As it turns out, waiting well–that is, waiting with perseverance and character–looks a lot like hope.