A storm of sorts taught me a gentle yet potent lesson about the power of hope.
About 2 weeks ago, one of my Muslim colleagues quietly let me in on a little secret in her heart: she was finally expecting her first baby after many years of marriage. While the news filled me with joy, there were frissons of worry too as my friend was experiencing intermittent bleeding. The government medical services in my town being what they are, I suggested that she seek a second opinion at a reputable hospital in the city, some hours away. I also recommended my gynaecologist at another medical facility in the same city, but I didn’t push it knowing fully well how deeply entrenched racial and religious biases are in this community here.
My friend listened carefully but then came the weekend and a work week filled to the brim with another round of distractions. Unsurprisingly, she got caught up in a swirl of office parties, non-essential tasks and inane hysterics. Concerns were dismissed.
This morning, I got a call from her, the quiver in her voice betraying her emotions as she told me that the doctor at the local hospital had told her the baby was gone. He had also administered an injection to ‘speed up the process’ and given her some pills as well. In pain and frightened, the woman had sought a second opinion at private clinic not known for much beyond an insensitive doctor. There, the doctor had performed an ultrasound and told my friend that something could still be seen in the womb.
Now, my friend is hardly the sharpest knife in the drawer, and she hadn’t equipped herself with sufficient knowledge about foetal development. Hence, she didn’t ask the questions she should have. The local doctor’s words instead gave her hope that the baby was still alive; they also filled her with agonizing regret and anger that she hadn’t sought the services of a good doctor earlier.
Thankfully, that second doctor knew she was out of her depth in this and wrote a referral letter to another private clinic, frequented by Muslims, in the city. It was on her way there that my colleague called me and told me about all that had happened.
When I heard where she was going, with a firmness even I didn’t know I was capable of, I told my friend to forget about the place she had been referred to and to instead go to my doctor. Rudderless and in tears, her wits all about her, she now clung to me. She agreed to see my doctor, and asked for directions.
This was where another little miracle took place. I am hopeless at reading maps and at giving directions. I can’t even correctly direct people to my own home. But on the phone at that moment, you wouldn’t have know that. The directions came out crisp and clear and more importantly, correct.
An hour later, my friend called to say she had safely arrived and that my doctor would see her.
I breathed a little easier. I knew that whatever happened, my friend would be safe. There were reputable Muslim gynaecologists in the city; I could have easily directed my friend to those of her own faith and she would have been in expert hands and everyone at work here would have clucked approvingly that she hadn’t besmirched herself or something at the hands of a non-Muslim. Yet, I sent her instead to not just a highly regarded non-Muslim specialist, but one who was also a devoted Christian – because I wanted her to be safe. Under this Christian doctor care, not only would she get the care and advice she needed, she would be made to understand the facts other doctors of her faith may prefer to gloss over.
And whichever way this swung, I was certain only this doctor could bring heaven to her frightened heart.
Through him, she would receive Jesus.
In the ensuing wait, despite the odds stacked against her, I prayed hard for a miracle. If it is Your will, I told the Divine Mercy, but He surely knew which outcome I was hoping for.
There was so much riding on this baby.
Some years back, this woman had caused a good deal of trouble to me. Angry and hurt, I had run to the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland, and laid bare my heart. Very quickly, the Lord had let me know that she was under some kind of spiritual attack. With my hurt no longer at the forefront, I was freed to pray for her to be released from whatever it was that was binding her.
Once I began praying for her, the Lord allowed me to overhear bits and pieces of office conversations, and I learned that hers was a marriage in deep trouble. Although she clearly had a fondness for children, she adamantly refused to start a family. As the years went by, I knew my friend and her husband were drifting further and further apart.
So, I began to pray for the gift of a child for her. When she told me the happy news weeks back, it was the sweetest news for more than one reason.
But just like that, here we were in a sudden squall risen out of nowhere.
A few hours later, I heard from my friend again. Her baby was indeed gone.
This is not a community that can keep a secret. She must have texted the others at work, for I saw people huddled together, furtively whispering. Before long, people were airing their own miscarriage stories and although she wasn’t there to know it (and gladly), my friend was left to bear her cross alone. The workplace being what it was, concern and empathy were quickly spent and this woman’s closest friends then moved on the next revelry.
Staring at her words, Could not be saved, grief came to life once more. Even if it was beyond others, I wanted to help my friend get through this.
More than that, I wanted this baby to live. Not to come back to life from a miscarriage – but to live on, hidden in her mother’s heart. That was so important because the Muslims in my country subscribe to the belief that a foetus is just a clump of cells until the third or fourth month. That is why they seldom trouble themselves to do all the right things in the first trimester. That is also why many here think nothing of aborting a baby at this time – or even later. Even for those who lose a child for whatever reason, due to religious edicts against mourning, combined with a cavalier attitude towards the preciousness of life, that loss and that child is soon cast out from memory. They see grieving as weakness, not love.
I didn’t want blatant lies to take root in my friend because lies devastate and kill the body and ultimately, the soul.
So, I shared with her a truth I had come to learn:
That her baby would always love her.
And that they would meet some day.
I didn’t tell her how I knew. That would have to be her journey. I just placed my words in the Spirit and released them from my heart. Still, I feared my words would seem strange to her, and that when the gaggle of so-called chums returned to feed on her sorrow, they would bury that wee baby and not allow it to live.
Nonetheless, it was vital that I do what I had to do. And so I did.
Surprisingly, so very surprisingly, my friend took my words to her heart once more.
And then, she told me about my Christian gynaecologist and how he had helped her and her husband, who was very emotional, to understand what had happened. He didn’t shove the painful details out of sight, he didn’t assume they weren’t bright enough to understand. Instead, he gently walked with them as they came to terms with their pain and regret.
Even at the end of such a harrowing day, this Muslim girl, raised in a climate of crippling suspicion and mistrust, could testify in love and joy, that a Christian doctor was the best. And then, she told me that despite the loss, the world suddenly seemed like a brighter place.
Jesus had truly touched her through the doctor!
In a whisper of a moment, I went from sadness to exquisite joy! A baby had gone and yet, here I was shot through with gentle arrows of sun~bright happiness. I couldn’t understand my own feelings but it was clear that all 3 of us – this lady, her husband and I – were filled with a sudden, inexplicable light.
In one moment, it came to me:
This is what the hope of heaven is like.
Christian hope is not always privy to what lies beyond the bend, it knows not today what the morrow will bring. Yet it blooms, even in death, when we choose life as God wills. My friend and her husband had made that terrible, anguished journey to the city to save a baby that their faith did not fully acknowledge but whom their hearts had loved from that first day of knowing. That selfless Christian doctor they saw had said the words they needed to hear to keep their grieving hearts open to God’s gift of life.
And even if her womb never loves another baby, I hope I helped my friend to understand that she is now a mother too, with one wee baby patiently waiting for her.