The nurse approached my bed impatiently, extended her hand, and snapped, “Hand me your birth plan.”
I could only shake my head, as another contraction gripped me. “No,” I sighed as the moment eased, “I didn’t get to writing that down.”
My nurse broke into a smile. She took my hand — the one without the IV — offered me ice chips, and chimed, “Oh, that’s fine, honey. It’s much better without one. They don’t work anyway.” I had a new best friend.
It was only later, when I was staring at my pudgy, red-haired newborn in neo-natal intensive care, that I recalled her initial aggression. The fact was that I had no birth plan by design; our detention in intensive care proved its likely futility, I reflected smugly. Who writes, “Spinal anesthesia; turn over before its effect; have baby with a holler” — and then, as the final birthing joy preference, “Proceed with great alarm to neo-natal intensive care”?
In the NICU — which proved an unnecessary precaution for my fat, healthy boy – stretched a panting, purple child the size of a mayonnaise jar. His maze of tubes shrunk him even further, I noted, as post-birth hormones took over and tears spurted.
I felt defensive, ridiculous even, sitting among birth plans gone dreadfully awry. In our case, my husband failed to show up for the first birthing class, where a chipper control freak introduced the class to the concept: “I will take you through the design of a birth plan over the next several classes and then you will have a chance for Mom to express her feelings and you can write your own birth plan together.”
I knew I had a problem. If my business-minded Bill got wind of the birth plan, I would be drafting, editing, rewriting, and revising the thing until my water broke. He would insist on short-term, long-term, and contingency versions. I’d be held accountable, evaluated. My bonus would depend on performance to plan. There would be a post-birth debriefing, maybe an audit. Departure from plan might have to go to the Board.
And so I hatched a distraction. “The classes,” I told Bill, “are aimed more at mothers. The fathers are just sort of observing.” While I had his attention, I reported, “I think I can handle this for us, dear.”
“Oh, break my arm,” he crowed, making quick deletions in his Palm Pilot. “You can tell me what happens.”
Relieved, I duly proceeded to the hospital for each birth-plan class — but I went instead to the cafeteria and ate grilled cheese sandwiches with extra dill pickles and brown mustard. The subject of “birth plans” did not come up in the Campbell household, and I dodged the issue without a single sinful lie to confess to Father.
The recent crash of the stock market brought birth planning back to mind, as Bill and I pore over our best-laid financial projections to assess the damage. We seem to be down a breathtaking 40 percent in value due to a “once-in-a-century credit tsunami” that the most capable guy-in-charge, Mr. Alan Greenspan, failed to see washing in upon us Baby Boomers.
Now what — financial intensive care? Why does the human order so often defy our time-consuming exercises in ordering by well-paid smart people? Why can’t things just go along with us? Bill and I scratch our heads and wonder aloud, “Should we have anticipated a world-wide, historical economic meltdown?” That’s just not an economic preference we were likely to express in our financial plan.
Back in that NICU, sitting with a baby I knew would live — watching a baby I knew would not — it had occurred to me that every birth in that hospital wing had gone according to some order, just not the order we wanted. So too, I thought, our balance sheet today. There is an “order” here — but what is it? Will we live long enough to see it back into compliance with our plan?
In these failures of human ordering — when that thing we dreaded and planned against happens, when results disappoint expectations to the point of despair — we glimpse an order we do not want to see. There, in the gap between our ordered wants and the dynamite of reality, we get a blessed, fleeting glimpse of some order so far beyond us, so independent of our puny planning, that, often, we dismiss it like a buzzing fly.
Yet there is something there — in the buzzing fly and the unwanted trip to the NICU and the small, purple baby who can’t make it, no matter what his parents will, and the balance sheet shredded to nonsense by news no one ever dreamed. There — in the annoyance, despair, and wonder of human plans laid to waste — something whispers an order we cannot capture, don’t even want.
There is only one way to explore that unknown. “By faith we perceive that the systems of things were put in order by God’s word, so that what is beheld has come to be out of things that do not appear” (Heb 11:3). Sometimes it’s best to toss our plans and ponder the glimpse of something greater. There, maybe, by the grace of God, I will find the order to which I am called.