When it feels like it will never get better

I am writing to you today to tell you of a story of a girl who believed it would get better. It goes something like this:

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful maiden. Me, of course. And one day this beautiful maiden gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. She wore pink slippers to the hospital. She didn’t even have time to pick a playlist. Her son wanted to be born. And he was even more precious and loved than the maiden had imagined. Her husband was so proud, her heart welled with love like the tide of every ocean was within her. But the baby cried. He tried to nurse but it didn’t seem to come naturally to him. The beautiful maiden cried. How could this not work? Hadn’t God made it to work? She tried and tried and prayed and cried, but feeding her baby was so difficult and painful.

She did not despair, however. She let hope fill her like a light. She trusted God, she trusted her body, she trusted that some day, she would feel the serene bliss of nursing her baby, pain-free. She enjoyed every moment. She grinned ear to ear. In four short months, nursing became a magical, joyful, precious bonding time with her son. It was as if hardly any time had passed at all. She had suffered with incredible grace. The end.

I sometimes tell myself this story. I sometimes ache in my heart knowing that more often than not, trusting God looked more like crying and yelling and begging and wondering if I could trust him. I wish I had grinned ear to ear more. I wish I had spent less time dreading my baby waking up. I wish, I wish, I wish.

But that story didn’t sound real, did it? The truth is gritty, the truth is painful. In the days after my baby was born, until he was four months old, I could not nurse my baby without pain. I went to lactation consultants, I went to my midwife, I watched so many youtube videos that my algorithm is forever altered. We even took our son to baby therapy. Nothing helped. Deep down, I knew that the only thing that would help was practice. Painful practice, and time. I asked God why I couldn’t have “just this one thing.” I asked him why it had to be hard. Then I saw a video online of a calf slamming its head into his mother’s udder. I laughed. Even animals had painful nursing. God wasn’t singling me out.

Still, I felt angry. I felt disappointed. I felt like I was being robbed of something I’d never even realized could be stolen. And the prevailing feeling was despair. I believed, on some level, that it would never get better. Which sounds very dramatic, but there was a lot going on emotionally in this, my first postpartum season.

Looking back on the trial when I first overcame it, I felt ashamed. Why hadn’t I been more like the graceful maiden who suffered so well? Why had I ugly cried, doubted, let frustration get the best of me? But the truth is, no story can avoid those messy moments. I am not a cartoon princess who cries with dainty sniffles before regaining my composure. My eyes drench my face with tears. I get all red and splotchy. My hands grasp for hope but sometimes they slip. Sometimes the only thing keeping me tethered to the hope of “it getting better” is the hand of a loved one who can see more clearly than I can.

I realize now that this suffering was a greater gift than I would have believed possible. Now, when I imagine a future difficulty, a future suffering, I can tell that my heart will hold tighter to hope. Not because I really have any more actual faith in God’s goodness, but because I am learning that my imperfect, messy, tearful self is not a failure. I am not giving up hope just because I have moments where I can’t see the end of the trial. I am not suffering poorly because I need someone to help me see God’s goodness clearly in the midst of pain.

You see, God didn’t mind my sobbing prayers in the dark nursery. He remains faithful. His mercy and love all remain true whether or not I believe it will get better. So when it feels like it never will, I can cry out to Him and hope that it will. And that in the meantime, that “suffering well” means suffering with God, in all the messiness of uncertainty.


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