As I hold the week-old baby Liberty in my arms, I gaze into the precious baby face that still smells “newborn”. You know it – that special smell that only newborn skin has…that smell that I just don’t smell anywhere else but when I’m nestled up close to a newborn infant with my nose close to a tiny precious face.
I love that smell. deeply cherish that smell. I still even hold another already two-month-old baby up to my face and breathe in deeply. Just to breathe in that scent that brings memories of awe, miracles, wonder, and life.
But with Liberty, the thoughts are that much more intense. The scenes and memories flood my mind. The emotions, the feelings, and even the adrenaline that couldn’t be processed at the time, comes out now…weeks later.
She barely made a sound. Literally. I didn’t even know what to think. Was something wrong? Was she not going to make it?
“Is this how it’s supposed to be?!”, my mind shouted as my hands reached out to support the tiny head as I waited for the rest of the body. “This quiet? This seamless? This peace in the midst of utter chaos?”
She gritted down with all of her might and did exactly as I told her to. And all I had said was, “Push.” She did. And did well. There in the bench seat of my van, she pushed with all of her sixteen year old might. And produced a beautiful, slippery, tiny baby girl.
Only by His grace did the baby not slip out of my hands. Only by His grace was the umbilical cord not wrapped around the baby’s neck. Only by His grace was the mother not HIV positive, because in the chaotic moments leading up to this birth, I did not remember to put on gloves. Only by His grace did this sixteen year old not tear. Only by His grace did she not need a cesarean section…or perhaps it was because of His divine plan that we were in my van parked on the side of the road and she wasn’t required to undergo one.
The baby was slippery and wet and I don’t even think that I had time to realize that the umbilical cord was still attached…and that the placenta still had to be delivered. I had always been freaked out by the umbilical cord and placenta. What would I do with it? Is the cord long enough? It was almost as if instinct took over and all I did was react. Honestly, that’s how I remember everything, as well as describe it all. Instinct. Do what you have to do. I had prayed beforehand. I had prayed lots beforehand, and while driving to the Maternity Home, and while seeing Sauda lying on the floor in pain, and while jumping out of van and running into oncoming traffic trying to get to the mother and baby. I wish I could say that I was praying and calling out to Jesus during the birth, but the first time I spoke a prayer was when I whispered, “Thank you”. As the tears threatened to fall, I gritted my teeth and held it together as knew I did not have the luxury of tears then.
But I do now. I have the luxury sitting here rocking this precious newborn sleeping on my chest. My first delivery. In God’s van. Pulled off the side of the road. On a very busy highway.
Thinking back over the moments, I can only remember. And wish I could have been there to watch myself and honestly laugh, cry, rejoice, squeal, and worship in utter and shear delight as another precious child for whom Jesus died entered this world. This broken, ugly, beautiful, hard, needy, precious world that our God created for His glory and pleasure and the same world that He sent His one and only Son to save. I wish I could have just been one of those angels watching as Liberty inhaled her first breath. I could almost sense them. There with us. As I look back at that blessed moment, I can almost see them crowding around that van on the side of that Ugandan road. Pushing each other in fun trying to get a better look at that precious little newborn head. Or at the exhausted teenager lying on that van bench seat.
Liberty entered this world through her teenage mother. The same teenage mother that could have given birth in the same way as so many other teenage mothers have before her. On a dirt floor. In a mud hut somewhere deep in a village. Alone. No help. No medical care. And bleeding wouldn’t stop. The baby wasn’t breathing. and as many times as I have heard the stories, I can guess all too well the ending.
It’s the end.
But thankfully, for this teenage mother, this birth was not the end. For this newborn baby, this birth was not her end. But only the beginning. And the continuation of what I believe to be God’s divine plan for their special lives.
The scene of this new teenage mother lying in my van in her own blood is just beautiful to me. And I can only imagine the beauty that the Father was enjoying in those moments. Honestly, birth is just beautiful to me. Teenage mothers are beautiful to me. They touch a very deep place within my heart, as I want to imagine that they touch some special place in the heart of God as He remembers a very special teenage delivery some two thousand years ago, too.
Ugandan newborns are also just beautiful to me. Only moments old…they are breathtaking. Their skin is still very light, but dark enough not to look transparent. I have heard some say that newborn babies look so ugly during the moments after birth because they have funny shaped cone heads, look transparent, sickly pale, and are so scrawny…but I happen to think the opposite. And the more I have the privilege of watching this miracle called birth take place, the more I stand in awe of my God, my Creator, The Giver of Life. I have only had the privilege of seeing the birth of Ugandan babies – I have never had the privilege of another. So perhaps the beauty just shines through even more because of it all still being so “new” to me. The still newness of it, as I call it. I have only witnessed in person this miracle called birth three times so far. Or perhaps the beauty shines through even more because of the privilege of being an intimate part of these births.
Or perhaps it is because of the back story. The deep heart involvement, the emotions, the sentiment. The miracles. The beauty. The ugly. The difficult. The tears. The reason why this baby I hold in my arms today ended up breathing her first breath of life on earth from the bench seat of my van….
Sitting in my living room, I watched her limp through my front door. The pastor had graciously brought her to my home, but he hadn’t warned me on the phone that she was hurt. I watched as this four month pregnant sixteen year old tried to make herself comfortable on my couch. Her face looked so young, so wounded – from injury to her heart, not her body. Yet her body was also in pain and I watched that same face wince each time she moved her leg. My heart wanted to leap out of my chest and wrap itself around her tiny frame. Her skin was yellow-ish from malnutrition.; her hair matted on top of her head. I knew only very few bits and pieces of her back story…of the reason why she was sitting here in my home in the first place. But what I knew was enough to break my heart for hers.
I asked what had happened to her leg. She then proceeded to show me the massive burn that ran up the entire backside length of her thigh. Black skin tissue, complete with open sores and oozing water was what greeted me from this burn. I cringed as I turned away to go gather medical supplies to dress the wound.
The pastor stayed for a little while, but the weather outside was getting dark and threatening rain, so he hurried his departure and thanked me, for the hundredth time, for taking this needy, hurting teenager into my home. I, of course, for the hundredth time said, “You’re welcome”, as my insides told me that if any of this teenage girls’ past was true, this was the absolute least that I could do.
I remember now back to those moments putting medicine and bandages on the wound, and then watching her limp back to the bedroom. The tears threaten again, as I remember the day when the whole story finally came spilling forth out of her.
She was only four years old when her mother grabbed her in the middle of the night and ran away. From the beatings, from the abuse, from the drunkenness…from her husband. Sauda’s mother just couldn’t take it any longer. Her husband would come home in the middle of the night sometimes and beat her until she couldn’t walk and could hardly breathe. She couldn’t take the treatment any longer, so she grabbed Sauda and ran.
They ran to an uncle’s house to seek shelter and care, but the desperate poverty, lack of food, starvation, ruins of a house, and no future led Sauda’s mother into more desperation. One day, Sauda’s aunt showed up at the door and said that she was taking Sauda to send her to school and keep her safe. Since Saud’as mother had nothing better to offer, she sent her daughter with her aunt. Sauda ended up living as a servant girl, more or less a slave, for her aunt for many months. When Sauda would ask her aunt about school fees, the response would be that after the next harvest, when they had money, they would send her to school.
The harvest came and went without any sign of sending Sauda to school. Sauda continued doing all of the housework, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and fetching water for the aunt’s family. Sauda would cry day and night without any hope. She so badly wanted to go to school and not be stuck living as a slave for her aunt’s family, but she saw no way out.
I watched as the tears streamed down her face at just having to relive the memories and emotions. The thoughts and hopelessness. The tears began running down my cheek as well as tried in vain to imagine the young girl there all alone. Helpless. Fatherless. Motherless. Needing someone to love her. But the only reason that anyone seemed to want her was for servant work. A slave. A housemaid. That was what she believed and grew up knowing in her precious child’s mind: that she was worth nothing more than the chores she could do. My heart broke into even more pieces as I continued to listen.
One day, as Sauda was sitting behind her aunt’s house washing, her aunt walked up with an older man and introduced him as Sauda’s new husband. She didn’t know what to think or what to do. She was too terrified and shocked to comprehend marrying this man. She couldn’t possibly get married – she was too young, she told herself. So, that night, she stole some money from her aunt for transport to go back to her mother and see if she could help save her from this marriage.
Upon arriving at her mother’s house, Sauda found that her mother had remarried and was in very bad health. Her mother had apparently contracted HIV from her new husband and was barely making it herself. She didn’t see any way that she could help support Sauda and let her live with her. Sauda’s mother sent her away back to her father’s house to look for help.
When Sauda reached her father’s house, he took her in and said that he could pay for school for one term, but couldn’t promise any help beyond that. Finally, Sauda was able to go to school. She was so overjoyed when telling me about finally attending school, but it was twinged with so much sadness, that I could not even rejoice and celebrate. She is such a fun-loving girl; one who loves to play and joke and laugh and tease all day long, and having to watch this sixteen year old who usually cracks me up fighting tears the entire recounting of her recent past was almost taking too much of a toll on me.
She thought all was going to be ok. She was happy being in school, and so excited about having a future. After one term in school, though, he began drinking and quickly became an alcoholic. He could hardly think straight anymore and began mistreating her. One day he came home, called her names, said he never wanted to see her face again, and kicked her out of the house.
Once again, she had nowhere to go. Once again, she was fatherless. And motherless. So, she decided her only option was to look for money for transportation to travel and try to find help elsewhere. There was an 18 year old boy that Sauda knew, so she went to ask him for money. He explained that he didn’t have any at the moment, so Sauda knew her only other option was to find another neighbor village lady who would take care of her until she got transport to go elsewhere. The next week, Sauda went back to this boy asking yet again for money, and he said he had some. He told her to come with him to his house to get it. Upon arriving at his house, Sauda found many other guys there. They grabbed her, locked her in the house and raped her.
After the guys let her out of the house, Sauda ran bleeding with a torn skirt and tears streaming down her face back to the neighbor lady’s house. She was too ashamed to talk about the incident with anyone, so she didn’t for a couple months until she realized that she had missed her periods. The lady then took Sauda to a nearby clinic for a pregnancy test. When the test came back positive, Sauda was stunned. She didn’t know what to think, what to do and all that came into her mind was fear. She was terrified of what was going to happen to her and the baby. And when she returned home with the neighbor lady, the lady told her that she could no longer keep Sauda because she was pregnant and could not afford to help her.
Sauda went back to see if her mother could offer any help, but her mother was so angry and disappointed in the pregnancy that she juts told Sauda, “You are no longer my daughter. Go to your father; I do not want you anymore.” When Sauda went to the father’s, the same thing happened. She didn’t know what to do. Where to go, who would help, what to do.
I knew the story after that. She ran to the pastor, the pastor called me, brought her to my home…now she was sitting on my couch. But that didn't help stop the tears that i couldn't seem to get under control. Where would she have gone? What would she have done? How can her mother say that to her? How could her father treat her that way? But I had to lay aside the questions and thoughts and agonizing pain in my own heart and mind aside to deal with the immediate needs in front of me...a hurting, desperately needy teenage little girl.
So, back in this moment of rocking a sleeping newborn baby Liberty on my chest, again, all I seem capable of is crying out “Thank you”. “Thank you” to the Giver of Life. To the Savior who saves. To the Redeemer who redeems all that has been lost, stolen, broken, and seemingly ruined.