We stopped at the bank on the drive into the city. I remember waiting in line while the armored car picked up its daily money collection. I remember barely being able to contain the impatience and excitement.
After we parked and walked through the cold, blustery winter afternoon, we rode the elevator to our floor and headed over to the registration desk. We were told that they were expecting us, had thought we’d be there earlier in the day, but that the room was ready. So we sat. And waited.
Little did I know that that night would change my life in unexpected ways.
I knew that our sweet girl was coming, though I didn’t know she was already on her way independently of all the induction drugs I got to enjoy.
I knew that she would be spunky and energetic – you don’t spend nine months with someone inside of you and not know these things.
I knew that I was so ready to meet her. Her big sister had no idea what was coming, but her daddy and I were over the moon excited.
I knew that her daddy would be way less stressed once everything was over and he would be handed a little bundle of pinkness, little ultra-hairy-headed bundle that she was.
I knew that she was already so very, very loved and would be even more so in a few hours, and more still every day afterward.
What I didn’t know was that the only room available in the hospital was on the High-Risk floor, a floor that is called High-Risk for multiple reasons, I learned. And although I didn’t see many of the mamas who were on this floor for what the hospital deems as needing “maternal fetal medicine,” consultations, care, or anything else heartbreaking or challenging that could occur before, during or after high-risk pregnancies, I did see other situations that were differently difficult.
That tugged on my heartstrings, even as I snuggled and loved on my own little hairy-headed bundle of pinkness.
When we were waiting to be sent to a delivery room, a female prisoner walked into the room, shackled and pregnant, accompanied by a police escort. To take off her prison jumpsuit in a delivery room. To give birth to her baby. To go back to jail and not home with her newborn. And my heart broke for both of them.
Now I do get the conflict here – maybe the baby is better off if her mother is in jail and can’t influence her negatively. Maybe something tragic could happen to that sweet baby if they went home together.
But maybe not.
And who are we to judge?
Not knowing the woman, her story, or even the redemptive power of Jesus’ saving grace in her life… leaves a lot of unknowns and questions just hanging out there.
Maybe her mama heart was sobbing, thinking of the baby she might never get to know. A baby who would grow up, at least for a time, in tragic mourning for the comfort of mama’s heartbeat, ceaselessly searching for the voice that sweet little angel knew better than any other on the planet, desperately longing for familiarity and love and belonging.
Maybe she dreaded the return trip to the cold, loveless cell block, alone.
Maybe she prayed for the family who would care for her baby, a family she may or may not have known.
Maybe she longed for the day when they could again be reunited.
Maybe she wished that the baby’s father wanted the baby as much as she did, or maybe it was better that his abuse wouldn’t rain down on both of them, or maybe she wanted him to be with her as she faced the next step.
Maybe she turned her troubles over to Jesus, vowing to start over and change her life choices so that she could watch her baby grow up with God-Love that she herself may never have known.
Maybe she suffered untold pain inside as she sat and watched me, with a husband and regular clothes and a car seat strapped into our safe family vehicle and a cozy bed waiting in our home and a big sister bouncing around grandma’s house with excitement. She didn’t know my story, or whatever baggage I carry, the stuff I don’t share openly with anyone.
It’s just that her dirty laundry was publicly exposed in her prison attire and policeman sidekick and Department of Corrections van waiting to return her to her imprisonment. And she bore the criticisms and dirty looks that are so quickly dished out on those whose bad choices lead to worse consequences.
It’s not that I don’t deserve those same cut-you-to-the-bone criticisms or soul-crushing looks. It’s just that my sins are different than hers. It’s not that one of us is better or worse than the other. A sin is a sin.
But God can do amazing and miraculous things. He can work in the hearts of even the most broken and banged up. And only He can truly heal the hurt that otherwise breeds more hurt. Only God’s Love, His saving grace, can reach deep into the most hardened places of our beings and transform us. He is the ultimate potter, and we are truly only His clay.
But the story doesn’t just end there…
I remember walking our sweet baby girl down to the nursery for some tests, the usual ones that newborns get in the hospital. And stopping before we let her go with the nurses.
Because the nursery was dark. Dark, like nightlights only dark.
I thought that maybe the nursery was closed, that the nurses had left or something, but I could see them moving around in the dim room. I couldn’t figure out what was happening.
And then I learned.
These were the babies who were going through drug withdrawal.
Whose mothers either couldn’t deal with the reality of what was happening, who couldn’t manage to go through withdrawal themselves to save their babies the suffering and potentially life-long effects, who blurred the lines between self-love and love of a life yet to be known.
And YET those mothers, whose choices to use and possibly abuse drugs while pregnant, still loved their babies enough to give them a chance, maybe a horribly painful chance, but more than too many other babies ever got from their mothers whose choices ended life before it began.
And even though those newborns in that dark, quiet nursery may always have incredibly uphill battles, they were already fighters and already Loved. Simply by being born.
Maybe there are those who would think that it was incredibly unfair that those children were given such a raw deal, a tragic beginning to life. I’m right there with you. But at least they were given life.
These sweet bundles of pinkness and blueness should have been asked before they had drugs of all types pumped into them from their own mothers. They should have been given the option of potentially facing a life-long struggle in too many ways. They will always have the questions of why and why not.
They will always live with the consequences of someone else’s choices.
And yet, many of them will live. And many will thrive. And will have new lives that reflect nothing of where they started.
Maybe they will need a lot of help, a village of love and care and understanding that knows too little of how far these little tiny fighters have come, but accepts them and their baggage nonetheless. For they will certainly need to know the Love of Jesus, who has always loved them, even though it may not always feel that way.
Those babies are Loved beyond measure, just like their mamas. Yes, even though we judge them and their choices, even those mamas are Loved.
Loved with a Love more ferocious and powerful than any drug could ever be.
Loved with a Love that can find the numbed places and bring them into New Life.
Loved with a Love that can save them from the life they’re so desperate to escape.
Loved with a Love that has been given to ALL of us, regardless of what baggage we carry, and we all have baggage.
So as we headed home from the hospital with our sweet baby girl, who did not have to go through life with an incarcerated mama and who did not have to deal with drug withdrawal effects, and who was blessed with love that too many others might never have in the same way our little girl has had… I knew these things to be true…
Life is unfair. But God is bigger. But God is at work in all things and in all souls.
And God loves us all anyway.
And so should we.