Don’t pray for healing.

AKA: what happens when I don’t write for months, and then get to a place where I’m ready to say everything all at once.

You know how it’s common knowledge never to pray for patience? Because you don’t just magically get patience, you get the opportunity to learn patience?

Turns out, the same thing applies to healing.

Now, just like patience, healing is something we all need, so I won’t say don’t ever pray for it for real. Just know that if you do, you’re in for quite a ride. 

In June 2020, I prayed for a healing pregnancy. 

Our little family had miraculously found a gorgeous home in a wonderful area and we moved in – no joke – two days before the country shut down for Covid. We went from a teeny 750 square foot apartment to quarantining in a 3000 square foot single family home with a yard and patio to die for. It felt like God was coming through for us in a big way, and the timing just felt right to try for another baby. 

Our first two kiddos were NFP surprises born via scheduled C sections, and I experienced total spiritual darkness during my second pregnancy. Birth didn’t feel like something I did, but rather something that was done to me. The truth is I didn’t know I had options, and in a very real sense, both my C sections were performed without my fully informed consent. But I thought I had healed, and with the purchase of our home, all of our valid reasons for avoiding pregnancy were gone. 

By April 2021, I wasn’t pregnant and I started to get worried. Using fertility awareness, we were, shall we say, on top of my fertile window, and I knew enough to suspect something may be wrong though I wasn’t ready to admit it. I had been seeing an integrative medicine doctor who identified low functioning thyroid, and put me on a treatment plan that helped most of my symptoms, but the pregnancy remained elusive. When I mentioned that we were trying to conceive with no luck on my Instagram page one day, a nurse from a Napro surgeon’s office sent me a DM: Have you ever been evaluated for an isthmocele?

That question turned my world upside-down. I not only hadn’t heard of such a thing, turns out I was also pronouncing it wrong in my head (it sounds like isthmus and seal). When I saw that question and then learned what it meant, all I felt was rage. An isthmocele is a defect in the uterine scar of a previous C section that traps menstrual blood and can cause miscarriage, uterine rupture or infertility. All I could think was how much the decisions of my previous doctors, motivated by their own fears or lack of education, had deeply damaged me in mind, heart and body – and here was yet one more way I had to pay for their mistakes.

My reaction felt out of proportion, and I realized that despite my assumption, I had not in fact healed from my previous birth and pregnancy experiences. For years, I had thought about going to therapy, and this was the final straw for me to find someone I could talk to. 

In May 2021, I found myself in a therapist’s office, nervous and sweating. I ended up tearfully recounting some things I had carried with me for 4 years from my second pregnancy that I was deeply ashamed of. I was met with understanding and compassion. It was the start of something totally new, totally overwhelming and totally liberating – the experience of speaking the truth and being met without an ounce of judgment. Over the next year and a half, that experience would be repeated many times, and I began to sort through many things that had plagued me for years. It was a grueling process, and there were a few times I almost turned around on my way to my appointments. I stayed because I knew the changes happening in me were good.  

Through the process of brutal honesty and digging deep and getting curious about my experiences and emotional responses, I realized that I had processed both my birth experiences and second pregnancy as traumatic. It was exhausting and overwhelming to realize, and so freeing at the same time. Finally, things in my life, the way I reacted in certain situations and avoided others started to make sense. I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t bad. My brain and my body had learned to perceive things like doctors offices or situations where I would be minimized  as dangerous, so I avoided them or reacted in rage when I encountered them. Naming the truth allowed me to develop constructive ways to encounter those situations in new ways, all with the help of a wonderfully attuned listener. 

By Advent 2021, I had come to terms with being infertile. The irony of never seeing the result I wanted on a pregnancy test, positive or negative, wasn’t lost on me. When it came to my fertility, I had lost all faith that God would ever will my good.  I was pursuing evaluation and diagnosis for an isthmocele with a Napro surgeon and was waiting to get on her schedule. The thought of having my uterus invaded once again left me reeling, even when I knew the reasons were necessary and the surgeon was someone I trusted. 

Before anything could transpire, God had a word for me. One day in prayer, I heard him tell me in my heart, Emily, you’ve become a real cynic. You need to have hope. How fitting to be called to hope in the season of Advent. I leaned in with gusto. I was tired of cynicism. As much as it was a protective mechanism, it prevented me not just from being hurt by God again, but also from experiencing any joy in a relationship with him. When you decide to shut down, no matter the reason, you don’t get to cherry pick what you’re shut off from. It’s an all or nothing game. 

We spent two weeks in Wisconsin with Nick’s family for Christmas, and had a fair dose of lovely times and travel and holiday stress in equal measure. I got a stomach virus on my birthday, which spread the next day to both kids. I jokingly thought that considering everything that had transpired, there was no way I produced a viable egg that cycle. 

Now in January 2022, I awaited my inevitable period without a thought. However, it turned out to be late. Travel stress and illness, I figured. Totally to be expected. Maybe I didn’t catch ovulation right, or maybe it hadn’t even happened yet. A week past my expected visit from Aunt Flo, I finally took a test. It lit up positive before even two seconds had passed. 

Needless to say, a million emotions ran through me at once, and thanks to therapy, I was able to name them all without feeling totally overwhelmed. There was joy. I wanted this baby, and it was a reassurance that my body could still make new life. There was major fear and guilt. I hadn’t ruled out an isthmocele yet, and as it turned out, I couldn’t do so while pregnant. I would have to proceed with this pregnancy without knowing what had been the cause of not getting pregnant. I would also have the risk of uterine rupture or miscarriage hanging over me. Guilt came in further as I had been slowly opening up about infertility on my platforms, and here I was very much not.

But in the midst of it all was peace. There was something at the core of the emotional hurricane that let me know everything would be ok. It wasn’t a dismissive peace. It didn’t make all the other emotions magically disappear. It existed alongside them, waiting for me to sort them out as I was able. It was the Holy Spirit letting me be, and letting me know I wasn’t alone. 

At this point, healing began in earnest. All of the old wounds from my previous pregnancies began to come up one by one. The disgust for my limitations and weaknesses. The guilt that so many mothers carry for any number of reasons. The complete disconnection I feel with my body while it carries new life, as though it ceases to care about me except to keep the baby alive. I dealt with them one by one in therapy. It was a frustrating process. There were more tears than I could count. There was also so much beauty. 

Most of what I felt physically, mentally and emotionally had been present in every pregnancy. The difference was that this time I was addressing it, and not on my own. I had laid a lot of groundwork in therapy to meet everything I felt with curiosity, leading to constructive and healing exploration and resolutions. I began to talk more of the truth of my experiences with friends and family who had no idea what had happened in the past because I had hidden it in shame and guilt. 

My relationship with Mother Mary also transformed, and I must admit this has been my favorite part. If I’m being honest, I have never felt tenderness from our Heavenly Mother. That all changed when one day I found myself in front of the pieta statue at the back of our parish church. Mary’s eyes were so full of tenderness, broken for the pain of her Son. Out of nowhere, I began to scream at her in my head, demanding to know why I had never felt such motherly affection from her. After all, my faith taught me that she is the best mother. Where had she been for me?

To my astonishment, instead of receiving a bolt of lightning, I received her presence. She sat with me in my anger. She didn’t run, didn’t berate, didn’t show me all the reasons why I was undeserving of her love. And I sobbed. From that day on, I began to know her as my tender Mother. By meeting me in my anger, she showed me there was nothing I could feel that she couldn’t handle. I could trust her with the deepest parts of my heart and she would hold them with me.

I received anointing of the sick in early pregnancy, with Nick and the kids kneeling close by. The following Sunday, as I closed my eyes in mass, I saw Mary to my left and Jesus to my right. They didn’t speak, but they just pressed in close to me, offering the comfort of their physical presence. Mary took her left hand and Jesus took his right, both their hands were bathed in light, and they pressed them over my belly, right over my C section scar. I knew in that moment they were healing me physically. As beautiful as that was, it was hard to accept.  Help me receive this gift, I prayed.

Over the following months, Mary continued to show up for me in my most broken states. She’d sit with me at my kitchen table as I recovered from a triggering phone call with a doctor’s office, and as I poured out how I felt guilty or useless because I couldn’t make dinner. The kids are fine, she assured me. She held me once, crumpled and sobbing. Another time, she held my hand. She never made me feel like I shouldn’t feel or say what I felt, but she never let the lies I told about myself stand. My Son was strong when he looked weak, she told me. Often as I would calm or have some insight, she would smile at me. Her smile is both sweet and knowing.

I found myself at an OBGYN’s office that seemed like it would be promising for pursuing a VBAC, which I desperately wanted, but was loath to admit. Hope is not an easy thing to commit to when cynicism feels safer. I was treated as an individual, and with greater care than I had at my previous doctor’s offices. However, around 28 weeks, things seemed to shift, and I had a gut feeling that I was headed for a repeat C section. Worse, I felt that just like before, I would be coerced into one slowly, with promises along the way that I would be allowed to attempt a VBAC, only to have the rug pulled out from under me when it was too late. 

It wasn’t that I needed to have a vaginal birth. It was that I needed to know that whatever outcome happened was the result of my fully informed consent, that I was fully included in the decision making process, and that I was trusted as making the decision that would be best for my own body and my own baby. My hope wasn’t in a particular outcome but in having a totally different process of pregnancy and pursuing birth. But my hope was dwindling, and I felt God would once again disappoint me.

I talked with Nick about it one night at around 30 weeks. His manager’s wife is expecting around the same time as me and had hired a doula, which he mentioned. He said it seemed to be very helpful for them, and asked if I’d thought about it. I had thought about hiring doulas in the past, but put it from my mind. Too much emotional energy to find one, I figured. But things for me had changed. I had the emotional energy now. And more than that, Nick was supportive. 

I did a Facebook search the next day, found two doulas that I thought looked good, and booked them for consultations. By the next week, I had hired one of them. In the course of those consultations, I learned of a truly VBAC supportive practice in the area, and promptly called to make an appointment. If I had waited two more weeks, I would have been too late to transfer into the practice. It was the first big step that was evidence of how much I had healed and how far I had come from my past. The woman I was during my first and second pregnancy didn’t have the tools to do this.

Which brought up some other surprising aspects that needed healing. It was a belief that the parts of me that were traumatized were less, and that I was irreparably broken. I would think about the girl I was before these experiences and lament how she was gone. She was more fun, more free, more likeable.

At the time, I was reading books of dramatically different subject matter – and all notably unrelated to pregnancy – that directly or indirectly articulated the concepts of integration and embodiment, the reality that we cannot treat ourselves as disparate parts, but as completely inseparable parts of a whole. I am a whole person, composed of a mind, body and soul, and if I neglect the health of one, I undermine the health of them all. 

I had been healing my mind in therapy for a year and a half. As a result, my relationship to myself and to all those around me was changing for the better. That confidence enabled me to hire doulas and find a truly supportive doctor. With their guidance, I began incorporating diet, exercise and supplemental changes that gave me more energy and my relationship with my body was improving. The power of honesty I experienced in therapy translated easily to the confessional. I no longer stood in line to state the worst of myself sweating in fight or flight mode. Instead, I stood knowing I was about to speak the truth and be made free. There would be times where I would hit a wall in therapy, go to confession and have a breakthrough, as though a clog in the sink had been cleared.

Healing that is not holistic isn’t true healing. Therapy alone wasn’t enough. Confession and prayer alone wasn’t enough. Finding support alone wasn’t enough. Diet, exercise and so on wasn’t enough. It was everything together. Inevitably, making progress in one area fed into the progress of another. Struggling in one area would affect the others too. As I began to treat myself as a whole being, each aspect became easier and easier to treat with gentleness and curiosity which led slowly but surely to healthy, sustainable change. 

Two years. 

It has taken me two years and some months to get to a point that I wanted to get to from day one, and I know I’m not done. The truth is when I prayed for a healing pregnancy, I wanted God to wave his magic wand and make all of the pain I ever felt magically go away. But that wouldn’t be healing. For me, that actually may have been another kind of trauma, something that was done to me without my fully informed consent. 

Early in my pregnancy, God told me, I can work a miracle in you. And he has. He is. Healing is collaborative work. God, in his infinite love, hasn’t cornered the market, though he absolutely could. For so long, I felt betrayed and abandoned by him. It was hard, if not impossible for me, to open up to him as I needed in order for him to extend his healing hand over me. Out of respect for where I was, God came to me through those he created, most especially through my husband, my kids, my therapist, my friends, my doulas, and his very own Mother. He has healed many breaches of love in my life through the people that are now in it. Because Love is not limiting but multiplying. Love loves to love us through the creatures he created.  

At no point did God take anything away from me, though that is what I wanted. He never took a single emotion. He never took a single feeling. He never took a single painful memory. Rather, he led me to the very people who could show me that those emotions were information that he built into my being, those painful memories were to become part of what would make me a better instrument for him. Nothing was a waste. Nothing was a mistake. Nothing was irreparable. All could be transformed, healed, redeemed and made into something beautiful in time. 

The Japanese have a beautiful art called kintsugi, which means “golden joinery.” It is the means by which broken pottery is put back together with a lacquer mixed with gold. It is a powerful metaphor for healing, for it takes something once beautiful and whole and makes it even more beautiful for the very fact that it was broken. The most poignant part to me is that all of the scars are visible.

During one of my conversations with Momma Mary after a difficult and painful appointment, she asked me, Who told you your brokenness was bad? I was stunned by the question. But with a gentleness beyond description, she led me to see that brokenness is not an indictment of my character, nor is it the end. Her Son was broken beyond recognition, but the evidence of it became his glory. Scars from our wounds become our glory when they are healed. They make us more compassionate, and give us an ability to bear with the humanity of ourselves and others in a way that brings forth life abundant. Christ came to take on our sins, yes. But he also came to be able to share in our humanity, to be able to relate to us as we are – embodied spirits. He is the visible, tangible evidence that our suffering matters, no matter how small, and that it will not overwhelm or conquer, no matter how big. 

Even as I write this with a nice conclusion, I know this isn’t the end of my story. For all I know, the kintsugi bowl of my life is only one half or one quarter put back together or more or less. I’m not fully healed because healing is an ongoing process. It is lifelong. And that’s ok. The point is to start the process, to know it has ups and downs and all arounds, and the only time it’s too late to start is if you’re six feet under.

So once again, be warned. If you pray for healing, the chances are high that you may first feel more broken. But know that when you pray for it, the Master Artist will take every piece in his careful hand, and with golden seams, make you more beautiful than you could dream.