Mother of One, Mother of All

preeclampsia birth

Eyes wide, her whole body abruptly leaned toward the computer screen. With shock on her face, she turned to me. “You are in a very serious condition. You could have a seizure anytime,” the nurse told me.

“Oh, ok…Will I still be able to go home?”

“You are not going anywhere until this baby comes out.”

“Oh, ok.” Looking at my spouse Andrew sitting at the end of the hospital bed, I responded with a light smile.

I closed my eyes. Sinking into the bed, a tremendous peace washed over me, one I had never felt before. All weight lifted off of me, and with absolute freedom and joy from the most interior depth of my soul, I pronounced my fiat: “Let it be done to me according to your will” (Luke 1:38).

Nothing troubled me and nothing frightened me—not the possibility of death, not the needles, the wires, the catheter. Not even the heavy dosage of magnesium sulfate, even when I was covered in my own vomit. Not the operation table, the nakedness, the paralyzation, the initial lack of Andrew’s presence, nor the violent yanking. 

There was nothing but joy, pure joy, when I felt the warm breath of my baby on my face, so weak yet so real. As I opened my tired eyes, my lips were irresistibly drawn to him. Though I could not clearly perceive his face, lightly kissing him on the forehead seemed to be the most natural and graceful way to greet his arrival.

Yet that joy was quickly disguised by a deep sorrow, in the absence of a cry. Though belated, it did come, sounding more like a frail squeak, just before they rushed him to the NICU. 

I lost memory of almost all subsequent events, how they stitched me up, how they moved me off the operation table, or whether Andrew was by my side. What stayed with me was the brief visit to my child, on the way to postpartum. Gazing upon his peaceful countenance stretched by a feeding tube, my heart swelled with sorrow. In an instant, the heart of Our Lady was revealed to me and felt in my own flesh. 

The next three days were hell to me; I was tormented by an oscillation between reality and a dream state. Life or death mattered little. I lost a sense of self, with no memory of who I was or why I was there. As the nurses urged me to stay strong for my child, I felt that I had returned to my childhood, becoming that helpless girl who always seemed to fall short of my own mother’s expectations. The world collapsed into nothing other than that small hospital room, where the door to outside seemed forever closed to me. I greeted everyone with a light smile on my face, one that would be disfigured by pain at nightfall. All the motions, desires, glories, and worries of the world seemed like oddities. Deeply troubled yet utterly paralyzed, I no longer knew anything. Forsaken by God, I had also forgotten God.

With its perpetual impact, what happened in the hospital forever transformed me. Though the day did come when I could be discharged, the experience of eternity did not pass and only intensified with time. The same nurse who had been there on the day I arrived was wheeling me out. As we were waiting, she said to me, “I am very glad that everything worked out the way it did and that you came in when you did. It is quite amazing, you know, the faith that you have. How are you feeling?” 

“I don’t know. Quite strange.” 

“How so?” 

“Everything seems different…”

It has been over three years since I had the emergency cesarean section due to severe preeclampsia. Over time, I did regain a sense of what happened—some of it slowly came back to me, and some memories were reconstructed from Andrew’s accounts and pictures. Yet the facts of what happened matter less than the reality that, for the rest of my life, I shall live in its aftermath.

The fact that our child and I survived preeclampsia was quite incredible, given that this condition is one of the leading causes of maternal morbidity and is responsible for over 70,000 maternal deaths and 500,000 fetal deaths worldwide annually. Yet even though I survived, my survival has become a source of great suffering, for I can no longer live my days without the knowledge of our finitude where death is imminent. Deep down, I know that the sorrow originates in what was already captured by St. John of the Cross’s stanzas in the Spiritual Canticle,

“How do you endure
O life, not living where you live,
and being brought near death
by the arrows you receive
from that which you conceive of your Beloved?

Why, since you wounded
this heart, don’t you heal it?
And why, since you stole it from me,
do you leave it so,
and fail to carry off what you have stolen?”  

While traumatic indeed, what I suffered did not necessarily lead to a disorder, but the implication of a hidden, yet higher, order—the order of divine love. I did not only give birth. I was also born, into a foreign and strange world, where I am destined to be continuously transformed. 

Indeed, I returned home—not only to the apartment we left before we rushed to the hospital, but to the very world I was first born into and in which I will remain, the new and original home I now co-inhabit with my child and with all children of the world. I become at once a child and a mother, where the spiritual and the corporeal are no longer distinguishable. Entirely passive and entirely active, I live the vocation of all as the bearer of life, attesting to the fecundity and creativity of the logos of the aesthetic world.

At once delivering and delivered by the power of life, I came to know, beyond all doubt, the absolute sovereignty of God, the author of life. Having acquired the understanding that transcends all knowledge, I no longer fear anything, not least the arrival of my final days, when my consciousness shall once again be weakened and my will forgotten.

My absolute freedom resulted from the absolute surrender—my fiat—as an inheritance only from Mary, the Mother of God, who is also Our Lady of Sorrows. Emerging from her immaculate heart, creation issued a conscious response to its Creator. Through her expanding flesh, the logos became the flesh of the world. Such fiat is not a surrender in the conventional sense, denoting blind obedience to tyranny. Rather, it is fiat manifested in Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) and the original surrender to supreme justice and eternal life itself. Although I had been brought to the far end of desolation, the gate of hell did not prevail against me. The darkest night was only the prelude to the dawning of new life, a living life now sailing towards its eternal shore, which is God.

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Simeiqi He is a Catholic laywoman from mainland China. She graduated with a Ph.D. degree from Drew University, two Master’s degrees from Brite Divinity School and Texas Christian University, and a B.S. degree from Sichuan University. She lives with her spouse, Andrew, and their child, who teaches them about life on a daily basis. For Simeiqi, writing is almost always an ordinary and spiritual practice.

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