Is God the kind of God who wants the best for us, personally, and therefore teaches us the lessons we need most, sometimes by painful methods?
Or is it our own survival instinct - this drive to thrive and live well - that compels us to find what we need in difficult situations?
These are not mutually exclusive ideas, but the point is to wonder: is there some explanation - other than that there is no explanation, and that life is largely arbitrary - for pain?
For the last three weeks, I have been waking up every hour with burning, shooting, throbbing pain in my fingers, hands and arms. By 4 am, the accumulated inflammation is so intense that I can’t really get to sleep again until the afternoon, when the swelling subsides enough to take an uncomfortable nap. Apparently, carpel tunnel syndrome is very common during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. The swelling that notoriously puffs up your ankles during the day, spreads out to your upper half when you get horizontal at night. The extra fluid compresses the nerves in your wrist, causing pain.
If you watched me get up at night, you would think I had multiple personalities. Some nights, I get angry at Bryce for sleeping. I rearrange my pillows with my elbows (hands are too weak), move from the bed to the recliner and back again, loudly fumbling and sighing, waiting for him to ask me if I am alright. When he does, I answer with a sullen “no.” Other nights, I go into the living room like a zombie and watch old episodes of Monk on Hulu. Recently, I discovered that there are four kittens living underneath our porch. They come up with Mama cat to nurse and play all night long. Some nights, I turn on the porch light and watch them, feeling good for being so mindful and grateful for the new life all around and inside me. Some nights, I just breathe as I lie there in bed. Others, I throw a full-on hiccuping temper tantrum. These past couple nights, I’ve been eating cold pre-cut watermelon slices from the fridge and walking around the house like a woman in a movie. Usually, each night is some combination of these.
So far, nothing has made the pain go away. In the light of the day, it’s funny to me that I’ve had the subconscious assumption that something would.
The lessons I choose to take from this experience are: 1) Motherhood does not guarantee a good night’s sleep. Get used to carrying around a hefty sleep debt. 2) When you wake in the middle of the night, whether from pain or to soothe a crying babe, it’s better to stay calm. 3) This is how to breathe through pain. Use this to prepare for labor, delivery...and motherhood. 4) I must believe there is a relational reason for pain, since I am willing to bring it on by writing this blog 5) Your ego will fight ugly when it is threatened.
How is my ego threatened by pregnancy related carpel tunnel syndrome? I like to feel strong. I want to be that woman for whom pregnancy is a breeze. The woman who always says with a genuine smile, “I feel like hell, but it’s worth it!” I want to be the farmer who harvests turnips in the fields until she goes into labor, and then straps the baby back on two days later to dig potatoes, already having bonded appropriately and developed a rhythmic nursing schedule. I DO NOT want to be the woman who constantly needs reassurance, sips of ice water, back rubs and inordinate amounts of compassion through the temper tantrums. I don’t want to be the woman for whom the necessary sacrifices of adult life - of marriage, career, and family - elicit resentment and self-pity. I don’t want to need to cry to my husband, friends and family, over and over again, for the same things that get us all.
But I am that woman. I do wake up in the middle of the night feeling very, very sorry for myself. Often, I want other people to feel sorry for me. I wish I were stronger or better than that, but I’m not.
So back to the original question. Is it God or is it me whose compelling me to look underneath my desire to be strong. What’s down there? What does the tender spot reveal about who I really am, that my friends and family already know? How can I use carpel tunnel syndrome to wake up - in the spiritual sense, not just the one where I wander around the house eating watermelon - to life? To motherhood?