“Choose your battles.”
My parents used to say this to me a lot when I was younger & more headstrong (read: more). Take a moment to step back and think about what you’re getting worked up over. As I try to keep this in the front of my mind on a daily basis, I realize more & more that choosing your battles doesn’t just mean battles with other people, but the battles within yourself. This is perhaps my greatest struggle– the one I fight every day in my own mind.
How can I choose what I think about? I can’t. I can’t stop the inflow of thoughts that bring me down– whispers of discontentment, hints of “what if”, & the ever constant drip of depression. Our brains weren’t meant to fight off, only to open wide. Our mind, however, was made to fight. Armored by the Spirit, it was created to choose. I have the control to allow what I think about to continue down a path that leads to death; or I can transform my mind into a filter that turns self-focused darkness into thankfulness, depression into realization, & regret into joy.
My most recent struggle of intentionally choosing how I let my thoughts control me has been through the birth of my son & my subsequent (& ongoing) recovery.
This is going to be a long post.
I think I’ll just start at the beginning– in the early hours of August 24th– the day Harbor was born. We arrived at the hospital at around 2:00 AM, & I was immediately admitted “for observation.” I remember thinking that this had BETTER be the real thing because I sure as heck wasn’t going to sit around for nothing, & I was so ready to meet our baby. And it was the 24th! An even number. How perfect. Yes, really.
My contractions (at home) had been 5-7 minutes apart for almost two hours, & continued to progress while I was in the delivery room. The doctor would be in around 6:00, they said, so we took the time to rest & walk. Drew slept on the couch (yes, I find that necessary to record). Somewhere between 4:00 & 5:00 my water broke with a bang. Not really. I mean it really surprised me, I don’t know why, considering it happens in almost 100% of natural births. Anyway, the nurse called the doctor, & she came in to check my progress. Everything was progressing normally, but the baby was getting a little sluggish in his response to the contractions, so they encouraged me to allow them to give me IV fluids. To back up a little: prior to my delivery, I had written a full and detailed Birth Plan listing my preferences and desires for the delivery process and afterward. I’ll spare you the details, but I basically wanted (& very much expected) a birth that was as natural as possible. No unnecessary added “help” from modern medicine & technology, no drugs, no persuading me to change my mind. Please & thank you. I’m healthy, right? I’ve had a completely uneventful pregnancy, with zero complications. My doctor calls me “textbook” at every appointment. Surely this will all go as planned.
I wasn’t very happy with the fact that they were even asking me to take an IV. I think I even told the nurse no, & the doctor had to persuade me. Another hour, stronger labor, no change. They gave me an oxygen mask to try to deepen my breathing & supplement the baby’s airflow. Things were starting to quickly go downhill, & I was starting to give up on my strong convictions of an all natural birth. Up to this point, I had the fetal monitors strapped to my belly the entire time, & I had repeatedly asked to have them taken off. “Stay mobile!” women had told me, “Don’t let them keep you in bed with IV’s & monitors– it will slow you down!” Spoiler warning: every delivery is unique in its own way & cannot be boxed into a certain mold, no matter what your desires may be. Don’t let people form your expectations for you; but that’s a lesson for another day.
At this point, my doctor had not left my room for several hours, & had spent most of the time frowning at the fetal monitor screen. She was not happy. She began to suggest to me that something may be wrong, the baby’s heartbeat was very slow & he was responding less & less to my contractions & their added help, & that other means may be necessary. Other birthing means. Means that I never even allowed into my mind because it was so unthinkable that I would ever need it: delivery by Cesarian-section. “I’m going to let you try one more thing,” she said. They supplemented the baby’s fluids directly, a virtually painless but pretty uncomfortable procedure of which I will spare you the details. I had reached (and been stuck at) the very last stage of labor, & my body was no longer able to resist the urge to push, as they were directing me not to do. All I remember was the doctor leaning down right next to my face & saying that they had to get the baby out. Now.
Everything was a blur from then on. My last thoughts before my mind gave way to complete panic were thoughts of disbelief. It’s that feeling you get when you don’t prepare yourself for something, but it’s always in the back of your mind. The part of your mind that you don’t pay attention to because it’s just a waste of time because it’ll never actually happen. My bed was flying down the hall. We were in an elevator. Between contractions I was sobbing for Drew, who was changing into scrubs & wasn’t allowed in the OR until later. Everyone had tense looks on their faces, pretending not to rush, but still giving the operating room a sense of chaos. Drew was finally next to me. I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t hear anything. No crying for so long, just shuffling nurses; finally a tiny wail which elicited sobs from both Drew and me. Drew brought me the baby (I was pretty jealous), & we were amazed at his HAIR. Of course it’s a boy, we said! You 98% were correct with your gender guesses.
We couldn’t hold him for long, though, & soon I was in a recovery room & he was with his doctors. His umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck three times, which was why labor had stopped at the last stage, why his vital signs had plummeted, and why he was born with anemia due to all the blood/fluid loss during the 13 hour labor process. When I finally held him again, every mother’s nightmare became our reality. My sweet sleeping baby felt so light in my arms; I lifted him up & his whole body was completely limp, icy white, with purple lips. He wasn’t breathing. I was silent with fear as someone ran to get a nurse, & I rubbed his back as hard as I could. He let out a little gasp, & then nothing. The nurse came, & took him away, & he was revived. He stayed under constant monitoring in the nursery from then on, where he stopped breathing once more under their watch, & was decorated with IV’s & sticky monitors for days. But my son is a fighter, & my God is faithful.
We both stayed in the hospital for five days. It was the longest five days of my life, learning how to walk again, hallucinating from the narcotics, & watching Harbor’s daily recovery. It was when we finally came home that our new life seemed to start. Our bed became more than just a bed, & I moved from there to the couch, then later was able to sit at the table to eat, and now I’m sitting here writing this. Every day seems like I’m still the same as yesterday, but every week I see my progress from the week before. And God is still faithful.
But the bright new world with our new baby boy also has its dark corners, where my thoughts become shadows that cloud my mind. This is my battle that I have to fight; my challenge to remember what is true. You see, our God is not a Being in the sky who simply created us & our world & then stood back to let us live. He is a God of specificity, a God of details, & a God of absolute sovereignty. Yes, we have free will, & there are consequences for sin as well as unpleasant results of living in a fallen world, but CHRIST is our Hope: our great intervention Who reconciled us to God’s care, love, & protection. But we are not promised to be protected from everything, & we cannot expect to have our desires always granted. As sinful creatures by nature, we aren’t always capable of deciphering whether our desires are Spirit-given, or whether they are selfish (see James 4 for a better perspective on name-it-claim-it). A lot of people prayed that I wouldn’t have complications. That everything would go smoothly & naturally. That I wouldn’t have to have a C-section. I prayed for these things. But God’s ways are almost never our ways, & His thoughts are so much higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8). Our thoughts must mold themselves to His thoughts in order for us to accept His ways. And this is what I pray for now.
-I made it through almost an entire labor with no drugs or epidural, and it ended up as a waste because he wasn’t born naturally; but he was born, & if he came naturally it could’ve had critical results because of the strain of the cord around his neck.
-Our son was born with anemia because of this strain, & will take iron & vitamin supplement drops for up to 9 months– maybe it was my fault as well, for not eating well enough during my pregnancy; but he is healthy nonetheless, & we live in a country where these supplements are available for those who need them.
-I have been & will continue to be unable to do very much with my baby while my body heals, & must depend on the help of other people; but I have a baby to hold, & I have sweet family members all around me to do what I can’t.
-All my life I’ve wanted to have a big family, with several kids, & now my chances of that being a feasible goal have slimmed; but I have one beautiful son, & a determination to fight for what may be more challenging.
I think everyone can relate to this kind of mental battle. How do I know? Because bad things happen to everyone, & no one is above defeat. But what we are capable of doing is choosing the battles we fight– for we must fight– and filling our minds with what we know is true about ourselves and our Savior: our Victory. He promises for those of us who love Him & are called by Him, that all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28). Not for our plans, or desires, or even what we think is our good, but for what He in his omnipotence knows is the best for our growth. Sometimes it hurts, often we resist it, but always it is beautiful.
So are there going to be days when it won’t be easy to see the bright side, & when I will feel defeated by the darkness that whispers into my mind? Yeah, there will be. There will be a lot of those days. We all fall, but He lifts us up with His mighty hand & reminds us that His way is perfect. All we have to do is choose to listen.