On October 21, 2019 our first child was born. It’s been a week since his birth and my wife and I have been so blessed. Even through the ups and downs of breastfeeding, weight loss, lack of sleep, hyperbilirubinemia, and phototherapy we have felt the strengthening of the bond of love for one another and a bigger picture of God’s heart for his children.
The work of breastfeeding is not easy and the majority of the weight is mostly carried by my wife. As a husband, a lot of what I do is support: I hold her hands to help position baby to feed, rearrange the breastfeeding pillow, at times, clean drops of milk off of mom and baby, wash and prepare the breast pump materials, syringe feed the baby while mom pumps, change diapers, and put baby back to sleep.
After I exhaust what can be done aside from the act of breastfeeding, all I can do is be there with my wife in the middle of the night— sitting besides her as she breastfeeds.
Being with someone through a hard time is often all we can do. I think back to some of my patients in clinic. A man I take care of recently had his young son commit suicide. Although I made recommendations (medications, therapy, exercise, diet) to address his depression at the end of the visit, he said to me, “There’s nothing you can do to help me go through this.” Medicine is inherently interventional and nothing frustrates a doctor more than being able to do nothing.
Since then, he has come back multiple times to address his depression in addition to his other chronic problems. In the end, I think he was right, there is nothing I can do to make this dark journey disappear. It’s difficult to accept the limits of medicine. But sometimes patients don’t want and don’t need a quick fix. Often times, being “with” someone during their suffering is all a person needs.
Being with someone during suffering is a biblical theme central to the gospel. Jesus Christ was God but suffered not so that we can live life without suffering, but so that he could comfort and empathize and be “with” us during our trials and tribulations. He can suffer with us in our life because he himself has gone through it.
“Behold, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”Matthew 28:20
God does not love suffering. He loves you. God cries for you, wails for you, shouts for you, fights for you, calls out for you. He does not stand afar and pities us, but walks with us just as he did with his disciples in person and with us now— within us, at this present time. And unlike human partners, he has the strength and the omnipotence to heal our souls.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”Isaiah 41:10
“First Lived” Photo Series
One of my favorite things about being a husband is taking second place. As I meditate on this, I recall John the Baptist. He was a teacher and followed by many who thought he was the Messiah. His reply to the crowds is remembered fondly, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (Luke 3: 16). Like John, I feel I am only “preparing” the way for my wife and my son to bond.
This second place witnessing occurred during breastfeeding but also in other unexpected ways. When my wife’s parents came to visit for a few days, I was blessed by the beauty of mother taking care of mother taking care of child. Like John, everyday moments reminded me of my role and place as a stagehand. I was thankful to see my mother-in-law help my wife with breastfeeding, washing baby, and putting our son to sleep.
In Family Medicine, we are keen on taking care of mom and baby as a unit— a special bio-social dyad. A pleasant surprise as I witnessed how my son was being taken care of in the first few days of his life was this overlaying maternal triad of grandmother-mother-child. This special bond on top of special bond pervaded throughout our small one-bedroom apartment. Truly, I was a witness to something greater in front of me. I could not help but think, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3: 30).
Below is a short series of photographs that I call “First lived,” which I base off of the following verse.
Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.2 Timothy 1: 4-5