Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, May 27, 2022

A Journey of Infertility and Faith, Part 1 of 4

As we look ahead to Father’s Day, I’m honored to introduce you to a couple who have courageously shared their powerful story with me so that I might pass it along to my readers. To protect their privacy, I’ve changed their names, but I know you’ll be blessed by their story. May you find hope and encouragement, whatever your unanswered prayers might be.

Like most young couples engaged to be married, Eli and Hannah Abrahams discussed the idea of having children. Neither felt a huge push to have kids right away, and there was some talk about whether becoming parents was something they truly wanted. They agreed they didn’t want to have kids simply because everyone else was. Though they loved children, they wanted to become parents at a time when they could be intentionally present in their lives, attend their events, and participate in their interests. Hannah wanted to build a career before having kids. As a child, Eli had parents in the restaurant industry with its crazy hours and constant hold on Mom and Dad’s time. Now he, too, found himself in the restaurant industry.

The timing of their decision to start trying for kids was triggered by Eli’s exit from the restaurant and his transition into ministry. When he was invited to join the staff at their church, Eli and Hannah sensed it was a call from God. They were in their early thirties and the timing felt right to start having children as well.

“When we hadn’t gotten pregnant after a few months,” Hannah says, “We started talking with our doctors. We did all the tests. Everything looked good. No reason for us not to become pregnant. Probably just the stress of changing careers. Keep trying. It’ll come.

“We tried hard to be chill about it. That worked sometimes but mostly it didn’t. We found that we needed to grieve the easy fertility that our family and friends had that we had assumed would be our story too. I remember breaking down in heartbroken sobs at our church’s Thanksgiving Banquet as I dealt with the fear, grief, and anger of this transition from not-a-mom-yet to possibly-never-a-mom. The grief was real.”

For both Eli and Hannah, the grief still is real. They are just less surprised when it comes around now. They’ve never received an answer for their infertility, only possible guesses. The closest any doctor has come to explaining was the one gynecologist who admitted that approximately thirty percent of people who seek help with infertility are a mystery with no apparent cause. For thirteen years, Eli and Hannah have sought help, found a little, and kept going, without children in their home. Although a fibroid appeared to block one of Hannah’s fallopian tubes, her doctor assured her it wouldn’t affect a pregnancy.

Finally, in July of 2020, they received a positive pregnancy test.

Five days after the positive test, their doctor told them they must abort the pregnancy. The fibroid had indeed affected things, by causing the embryo to implant outside Hannah’s uterus. She could either have the abortion or risk losing her entire reproductive system or even her life. Either way, the embryo would not survive.

We’ll continue the Abrahams’ story with Part 2 next week.

Friday, May 20, 2022

A Little Royal History

Another long weekend is here, thanks to the birth of Queen Victoria, great-great-grandmother to our current queen, over two hundred years ago. Did you know that the first time a reigning monarch stepped foot in Canada was in 1939? (Although as the 17-year-old Prince Albert, he’d visited Canada on a six-month naval training cruise in 1913.)

Fans of The Crown will remember that young Prince Albert, as the second son, was never supposed to be king. When his father died, his older brother became King Edward VIII, only to abdicate a year later to marry the divorced American socialite, Wallis Simpson. Prince Albert stepped up, assuming the name King George VI. He and Queen Elizabeth were the parents of two daughters, Elizabeth (our current queen) and her sister Margaret.

The princesses were 13 and nine when they stayed home as their parents sailed to North America on the eve of World War II. The original plan to travel on a warship was changed to a liner in case the warship was needed. The tour lasted from May 15 to June 17, 1939, only three months before Britain declared war on Germany.

Enormous and enthusiastic crowds greeted them in what the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation dubbed “a majestic mayhem.” The king and queen toured across Canada and back again, also spending four days in the United States. Canada’s Prime Minister at the time, William Lyon Mackenzie King, accompanied them at each stop—including Winnipeg.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Winnipeg, 1939
Here’s where the story gets funny.

Like sportscasters, radio announcers all along the route worked hard to describe for their listeners the crowds and the royal walkabouts with play-by-play coverage: “The queen has just exited the car…now the king is being greeted by…the king and queen are being presented with…” and so on. When they reached Winnipeg, the royals were accompanied by Prime Minister King as usual, and by the city’s mayor, John Queen.

You know where this is going.

Rumor has it the radio announcer grew so frustrated trying to keep up with the actions of the king and the queen and Prime Minister King and Mayor Queen that he swore on air. The additional complication of royal umbrellas in the pouring rain probably didn’t help.

The swearing of the announcer cannot be substantiated. What would nowadays be laughed off and turned into hilarious memes for weeks might have meant the loss of a job in 1939.

June 4th brought their Majesties to my town, Portage la Prairie. Their tour included a parade down Campbell Street (which afterward became known as “Royal Road”), and attendance at a Sunday service at what is now Trinity United Church. They donated the baptismal font and Bible case. The pew in which they sat displays a special plaque.

The tour was considered a huge success and helped establish Queen Elizabeth’s relationship with Canada. She would visit 14 more times as the Queen Mother and become honorary colonel-in-chief of Canadian military regiments, and a patron of numerous Canadian charities. At the age of 100, she was appointed the country’s highest honor, the Order of Canada.

King George VI died in 1952. In 2022, the Queen Mother died five months shy of her 102nd birthday. Her daughter, Elizabeth II, now holds the record for the longest-reigning British monarch. In her Accession Day message this past February 5, in celebration of her Platinum Jubilee, Elizabeth renewed her commitment to a lifetime of public service, which she originally made on her 21st birthday in 1947: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

I think her great-great-grandmother would be proud.


Friday, May 13, 2022

WANTED: Skilled Harbor Pilot

In preparation for a new novel, I’ve been immersing myself in books and documentaries about the Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917. Possibly not my smartest move, given how difficult it already is these days to maintain one’s mental equilibrium. Reading about the horrors of that event can drag you into dark places, but it offers lessons as well.

This prairie girl is learning so much I never knew, not only about that disaster but about Halifax itself, World War I, and the shipping industry. I’ve studied maps, listed names, and made pages of notes.

Before this, if you’d asked me what a “harbor pilot” does, I might have taken a stab at it. Like an air traffic controller for boats? Maybe from a helicopter?

Not quite.

Harbor piloting is a career that depends on where you were raised. Most pilots grew up on and around boats. They know their local harbor like they know their own mother’s face. They understand its tides, currents, and hazards. They know which ships are currently in the harbor, at which piers they’re docked, what they carry, and how fast they’re moving. They know the depth of the water and exactly what lies hidden beneath.

When a ship approaches the harbor, its captain requests one of these local pilots, who arrives alongside in a little pilot boat. He boards the ship by climbing the ladder tossed over the side for him. Once the pilot is safely aboard, the helmsman of the pilot boat tootles off to his next pick-up or drop-off. The pilot stands alongside the captain and guides the ship in, sometimes taking control if warranted. If the pilot does a good job, he’ll likely be called upon when it’s time to navigate out to sea again. With that complete, the pilot disembarks the same way he boarded.

In 1917, a full complement of pilots in Halifax harbor was 25, with eight apprentices. With so many men away fighting the Great War, Halifax was down to 14 pilots at a time when the harbor was busier than ever. Ship captains were not legally required to engage harbor pilots. They were, however, required to pay the fee for one. No captain would be foolish enough to forfeit this paid-for assistance, especially his first time in a port.

As I studied, a spiritual application arose. Have you ever wondered where that line between God’s sovereignty and your free will lies? This relationship between captain and pilot might provide a helpful picture. Although the captain remains responsible for his own ship, he knows his knowledge is limited. He needs someone wiser to guide him. To navigate. He can choose whether to allow the pilot on board. 

He can choose whether to accept the pilot’s advice. He is free to listen or not. Listening proves challenging among the thrumming engines, squawking gulls, crashing waves, and tooting of other watercraft. No matter how knowledgeable the pilot is, the captain always has the option of acting upon the pilot’s advice or going his own way.

Francis Mackey

In the case of Harbor Pilot Francis Mackey aboard the ill-fated SS Mont Blanc, language proved another barrier. His limited French and Captain Aimé Le Médec’s limited English proved an unfortunate combination in an already tumultuous situation. Both were prone to human error, as was the crew of the SS Imo with which they collided, setting off a chain of events that would result in the world’s largest man-made explosion prior to the atomic bomb.

Here my illustration weakens. God cannot make an error. Still, he gives me the choice to invite him onto my ship. He knows every detail of the harbor, but he still grants me the freedom to choose. Will I tune out distractions, listen, and follow? Or go my own way?

You’ll pay the fee either way. Why not throw the ladder over the side and welcome your Harbor Pilot aboard?

Friday, May 6, 2022

A Word to Expectant Parents

On the day my eldest child arrived, I already felt like a failure as a mother.

Like every expectant mom, I wanted to do everything right. Hubby and I had signed up for weekly childbirth classes with a reputable instructor. A fan of natural childbirth, this woman had recently birthed her fifth child at home, drug-free. She’d served as a midwife for others. Clearly, she’d walked the talk.

As classes progressed, confidence grew that we’d handle the birth without drugs or unnecessary intervention. With a little support from extended family, we may have opted for a home birth ourselves. Our instructor not only made home births sound better for everyone, but she also convinced us of the intrusiveness of hospital births—especially surgical delivery. 

Statistics for Caesarean deliveries were rapidly bypassing other births at the hospital we toured. The reason, she told us, was that C-sections were much more lucrative for doctors. They were also quicker and easier for staff—especially when scheduled. Meanwhile, recovery for the mother was slower and more problematic. Babies missed out on the needed stimulation and hormone infusions that occur with labor. Only rarely, she said, as a last resort, would any ethical doctor perform a Caesarean. She felt the same about any sort of drugs used in childbirth. Bad for baby. Unnecessary for mom.

So this was the mindset we both held when my water broke on Friday evening of the May long weekend in 1981. Determined to stay home as long as possible, we finally left for the hospital the next day around five pm, expecting to deliver that evening. First-time parents don’t know that if you can still play cards between contractions, you’ve got a long way to go. We were disappointed when we arrived to learn labor had not progressed very far, but we kept up our spirits. For a while.

Nurses ended their shifts and new ones came. The night dragged on. Other mothers came, delivered, and left. Staff injected Pitocin to speed things along. Daylight came. Nurses returned for another shift with disheartening words of surprise: “You’re still here!”

By noon, the dreaded C-word was being tossed around. Our doctor assumed we’d feel relief at the suggestion. We did not. Determined we could somehow make this baby come out, we fought to keep trying. Eventually, our doctor made the call and delivered our son by Caesarean section at three o’clock Sunday afternoon—about 40 hours after my water broke and contractions began. You could say we both missed the birth since I was under general anesthetic. You could also say it imparted a whole new meaning to the term “long weekend.”

Photo from Canva

In the months that followed, I mourned because I “hadn’t done it right.” I’m embarrassed now to admit I felt angry and cheated, though I knew I should feel nothing but gratitude. Had it occurred fifty years earlier, my son and I would probably have died. Knowing this only added to my guilt. It would take years—and two subsequent natural deliveries—to help me realize how ridiculous we’d been. We had a beautiful, healthy baby—a privilege denied to many through no fault of their own.

In hindsight, I suspect my tumbling emotions were common to most mothers. I simply chalked them all up to the delivery method. Sure, the childbirth instructor was partly to blame. But she was merely sharing her own experiences and beliefs.

I share this now, all these Mother’s Days later, because, if you are an expectant parent, others will bombard you with stories and opinions. The internet will flood you with articles about the danger or safety of certain practices or drugs. Hopefully, you’ll receive the clear message that there’s more than one right way to give birth. That bringing a new human into the world is always beautiful. That you’re allowed to make it less difficult. And that your tears are best reserved for expressions of joy and gratitude.

Happy Mother’s Day!