It was January 10th, 2003: the birthday of my boy Ethan. The memories of that day are imprinted with great joy and delight but his birth was anything but normal and was extremely traumatic for both of us. The biggest blessing for me is that he was my first and I had no idea what a normal birth should be like. Sparing you the gory details, things went drastically wrong in the last half hour of labour and he ended up in intensive care for three days. I had so many things that went wrong with me at the time that some of this was a blur. There are so many miracles that come with this story but long story short is, as much as the difficulty of that birth affected me I had no idea how much it would take its toll on Ethan.
Our boy Ethan is a gentle spirit. Don’t get me wrong. He is every bit boy. At the age of eight his passions are all things sport, star wars, Lego and cars and Nerf Guns and maths!. But there has always been a sweet strength and confidence about him. He is easy going and uncomplicated and full of fun. He is the sort of kid who tries hard to be aggressive and brash and loud but it just doesn’t sit well with him and he just can’t keep it up. When Ethan was about 6, Steve and I started to notice some unusual behaviour that was not characteristic to what we had been used to. He would respond to certain situations in unusual ways. Instead of coming to us he would actually detach from us. If he was hurt or in pain he would get angry with himself instead of seeking comfort. If he did something wrong or made a mistake, he would respond with an unusual amount of emotion that was difficult to understand or parent. I have since learnt to take notice of these changes as God uses them to help me parent. We knew this was unusual behaviour for Ethan and also for such a young child and we were both wanting tools to help us parent well. Right there we had a choice. We could have simply left it alone hoping he would grow out of it; we could have fought about it; we could have disciplined him and nagged him; we could have ignored it. We decided to go and have a chat with one of the elders at church who is a deeply spiritual woman and also a qualified councillor with a huge amount of wisdom. As she was chatting about our own approach to parenting and our own experience and backgrounds and how it was influencing our parenting, she asked me to tell her the story of Ethan’s birth. Little did I know how much his responses to our parenting were related to that experience back in 2003.
As we talked to Margaret she talked about Ethan’s inability to rationalise his emotions and the trauma at the time. Imagine for a minute what it is like for a baby to enter the world. From the seclusion of the womb, the comfort of a mother’s voice, and all that is secure and safe to enter the world would be a little bit of a shock. Even for a child born well and healthy, and as God intended, it would still be a huge shock to enter a world of lights, noise, air, and physical touch. They enter this brand new world with their sight, smell, touch, hearing, and senses and all highly sensitised to this brand new world. They can also sense everything going on around them and for Ethan what he sensed would have been hugely traumatic. He would have heard the sounds of panic, of 20 hospital staff and the tones of voices and movement. He would have seen a blur of light and movement, smelt strange smells that were not familiar and he would have sensed the tension in the room and what was going on inside of us, he would have felt our dissapointment and concern and shock. He didn’t get the comfort of his mother’s arm, the sound of her voice and the smell of her skin. Instead he went from the panic and noise and lights of the labour ward to the comfort of the ICU crib where all he felt was tubes, lights, chords and the warmth and brightness of lights instead of an embrace, the noise of sick and crying babies and the movements of a busy and stressful ICU ward. For three days I could only touch him through the holes in the crib and hold him breifly when the nurse was present.
As difficult as it was for me, I do know that the whole time I felt an incredible sense of peace and that God was in control. Those three days were difficult but also three days of rest that my own body needed due to the trauma I had been through. I felt God’s grace on Ethan and knew he would be ok. I also knew so many families who had been through way worse and I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the joy of being a new mum that helped me walk through those couple of days with peace and a vague sense of sleepiness. That sense of God with me was now something I needed to let Ethan in on. All he had known was what he had felt. I now had an opportunity to explain those feelings and help him understand the truth of what happened and what we had walked through.
Margaret suggested that what we were dealing with at 6 was Ethan beginning to process his emotions rationally and he had no idea how to do that. From birth, Ethan had learnt how to survive not thrive, but his birth experience was never what God intended for him. We now had an opportunity to teach him a different path but first we needed to provide him with an opportunity to go back and feel those emotions and let his mind and heart understand what he had felt and why. Margaret asked me that day if I had talked to Ethan about the birth and although I had explained some facts she suggested I shared what we had felt and what had happened emotionally for us. She encouraged us to let him know what we had felt and to provide him with an opportunity to hear it from our perspective and to help him process his experience and explain why he was not meant to carry our dissappointments and stress. To be honest, I was sceptical. I am not one to dwell on the past nor am I wired to deal with my emotions well. My own experience has provided me with tools of survival. Survival has taught me to be emotionally intolerant. It had never served me well to dwell in my emotions or the trauma of my experience, so this was a bit foreign to me and I was hugely sceptical but I was also very sensitive to God doing something in Ethan and in me and not wanting to block what He wanted to do in Ethan because of my scepticism. I never want to be someone who is unteachable and too proud to experience God’s grace. I had no idea how this conversation was going to happen or if Ethan would even want to talk about it. I had little faith that it would make any difference but I did know this . I wanted to be obedient and I did trust the wisdom of this amazing lady who had given me advice that was very left field to what I would have done. Steve and I were in agreement that there was something in this conversation that God wanted to do. To walk by faith and not by sight is not necessarily to feel faith. It is to simply to walk in obedience. I couldn’t trust my own feelings…I felt sceptical. I couldn’t trust it would work, I had no experience and my experience has proved in the past not be the best foundation for faith. I simply had a piece of advice and a sense that God was about to do something. I also felt that the enemy was hoping we wouldn’t go there. He had every opportunity through my disobedience to lock Ethan up emotionally and as his mother I was not about to let that happen. I now had a strategy to fight..not with aggression but with truth and obedience, but what I needed to do was act in faith cos it just didn’t make sense or feel right…
Next week I will share about what happened and the outworking of that conversation.
Activate: How does being skeptical and cyncial have the potential to wreck your faith. Faith requires obedience. What is God asking you to do that you are skeptical or even cynical about? What has survival taught you to do that may be undermining you walk of faith? Faith is a not a tool for survival it is a tool to flourish. What is on the other side of your obedience…it could be someone else’s freedom, not just your own…who right now needs you to act in obedience regardless of how you feel?