Sometime in the winter of 21 years ago, I sat in Lamaze classes and watched a movie about labor and delivery. I read books and articles. I listened to a teacher. I heard over and over the dreaded word "Transition." And indeed I remember it as the hardest part of childbirth, uniquely awe-full with each of my three children.
The first time I was so shocked by the pain I relied on The Father of My Children to read the monitor and tell me as each of those unbelievable contractions began to fade.
The second time, laboring with a window view, I felt each smashed through the glass and then reeled in again.
The third time, the little daughter still hidden from my view came down the birth canal on her shoulders, the way a little child will bump down a flight of stairs. I was older, and more tired, and eagerly accepted the offered Nubain, designed to smooth the edges of the pain. Even so, it was breathtaking, sucking the life force out of me with each contraction. In those odd and drug-addled moments, I felt as close to my death as I did to her new life.
I’ve heard other women talk about how much they hated the last phase of labor, that pushing felt awful or frightening. For me it was all downhill after transition. Even the first time, the rest came easily.
In the transition lies the anxiety. How will it feel? How will I bear it? When will it be over?
Life transitions are the same, I find. I feel the tension in the run-up, in the next-to-last moments, in the coming to climax. Every week, and this is particularly true as I work in a new setting, the preparation of a sermon is a labor awaiting delivery. Saturday, all the ideas in my head like a fully-formed but invisible child in the womb, I labored. For an hour, I wondered if it would ever happen, worried that I would arrive at church the next day with nothing, feared I would not do it well enough to please God or myself.
I charted the time remaining until morning. I threw myself against the glass, over and over again. I comforted myself with a Frango.
Then the Final Stage arrived, and the words flowed through my fingers onto the screen, and I felt tired and happy and ready to celebrate and desperately in need of sleep.
In labor we hold that tension for an hour, perhaps a little more, and in writing it may be an afternoon or fifteen minutes or a month. In the life of a church making changes, the tension extends over a year or more. Will I be the partner helping them chart their progress, or will I be the glass against which they crash, or will I be the comforting analgesic making the work possible even when it is painful?