Living on Prayer (of all shapes and sizes and not just Bon Jovi)

8 Feb

Prayers made to the Virgin of Juquila remind me a bit of a third grader negotiating with Mom, trying to barter action figure cards for more time playing the video game. Does Mom really want your action figure cards? Does she just want you to sacrifice something? It doesn’t make much sense to me, but who am I to judge? 

I’m honestly not even trying to be snarky about the situation. The thing is, people go to the Virgin when they need a miracle. It’s a shameful sign of how bad the socio-economic situation is in Oaxaca and our neighboring states when most people’s miracles are things like buying a car, building a house, graduating from school, good health for their child- things that I fervently wish did not need miracle status to be acquired by people.

What I might think is a little weird, though, is the kind of deal that people make for their miracles. They make a promise to the Virgin in exchange for Her help in whatever it is they’re asking for. For instance, that three-day, giant, public, Christmas celebration I mentioned a few weeks ago. My friend’s family hosted that because of her mom’s promise in exchange for her health. One of Conan’s cousins promised to visit the Virgin every year in exchange for his truck that he uses to work. There are long braids at the shrine from women who obviously promised their hair away. There are folks who have promised to go walking on their knees from the entrance to town all the way to the church. Whole families make trips with a hired band, and dance in front of the church. All in exchange for something.

I guess, though, I just don’t get what it is the Virgin wants with someone’s braid. I don’t really understand why it would please Her to see someone get bloody knees. I can’t really imagine how it benefits anyone except the folks of Juquila selling stuff to the pilgrims if people come every year, or hire a band, or make a big fireworks display, or whatever. Wouldn’t it be better if they, I don’t know, promised to do some kind of good deed for someone else every year? Or even promised to improve themselves in some way- give up some vice or do regular exercise or something. I don’t know. I’m digressing from my point horrendously now.

My point is, there are all kinds of prayers, and I suspect they all work equally well as long as you put your energy into it and believe enough. I was raised Catholic, although the only remnants of that aspect of my life are my frequent prayers to my two favorite saints. One of them has been disclaimed from the Church, though- go figure- but that’s not stopping my loyalty. St. Christopher is (and always will be, for me) not only the patron saint of travelers, but also of Barga, the small town my grandmother is from. I’m convinced St. Chris is the only reason I’m still alive, after all the outrageous risks I’ve taken time and time again on all kinds of trips. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure I can attribute some of my smashing success as a traveler to his help (beyond not dying, also acquiring good stories, meeting amazing people, seeing cool stuff, everything flowing just like it should with little effort on my part). That said, do I think there’s a guy up there in heaven or outer space or I don’t know where just waiting to hear my prayer and throwing out a helping hand? Not exactly. I picture the situation a bit more like the Mayans and their corn god- something/someone specific to focus your energy on when you’re want to invoke forces from beyond yourself.

My other saint/minor god is Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost things (not to be confused with Saint Jude, who’s got it covered on lost causes). In Mexico, somehow, partly due to an old pop song, he’s become associated with helping girls find a boyfriend. Personally I’ve never asked him for this, but do regularly need help finding keys, notebooks, misfiled important documents, and much more. He pretty much always comes through for me, so who am I to doubt? 

I am a believer in the power of prayer. I think that when you focus your energy, send your energy up and out to whomever or whatever you call this energy beyond you- God, Allah, the Universe, a saint, whatever- then powerful things can happen. It’s no guarantee. But it doesn’t hurt, either.

As a teenager, I discovered paganism, with all it’s lovely rituals to help you focus your energy. I’ve long since stopped practicing any kind of religion, but I have kept on with my beliefs about the spiritual universe. So I pray, in my way. I don’t fall to my knees, I don’t cast a circle, but I do concentrate, focus my thoughts, try to be very clear about my intentions and my desires, try to get beyond the daily banality for just a moment.

Back in December, just two months shy of the estimated arrival time of this new baby, we still had no idea where we were going to give birth. I was getting some prenatal care with my insurance company, but I was adamant that I’d rather give birth in the middle of the street than leave responsibility for my body and my baby in their hands. That said, I knew no other doctor, had investigated zero other options. I was getting nervous.

I was also bummed out because we really wanted to have a doula like we did with Lucia’s birth. A doula is a non-medical birth assistant- basically someone who is there to support mama and (if present) papa. Our doula in Lucia’s birth had been fabulous times a thousand, surely one of the reasons that I did not end up with a C-section, and definitely a big help in keeping Conan and I on-track and relatively sane. Down here I’d only heard a vague rumor of one existing doula, and couldn’t find her contact information. I didn’t want any of our friends or family down here to accompany us in the birth, either, because we couldn’t think of anyone who could remain calm and collected, be emotionally helpful and get super intimate with us in that space.

Before I even tried any silent prayers to the universe, I did a little social prayer; I started talking to everyone and their mother about birth options, putting my energy out there, letting my intentions and hopes be known by all. This is the only real way to acquire information down here; Google ain’t got nothing on word of mouth. 

Sure enough, I started reeling in bits and pieces of useful information. I got the name of the doula. I made an appointment with a gynecologist at a clinic with a reputation for quality care. I got contact info for a German expat who had three home births here. The lovely German lady (who I’m still waiting to meet in person- it’s hard to coordinate busy mom schedules!)gave me even more information about possible doctors, and I made more appointments.

At the very end of December we found our ideal doctor. He’s a gynecologist, but he’s also the grandson of a midwife. He was the only doctor we met who wasn’t pretentious, who didn’t act like whatever procedures he routinely does for birth are definitely the best thing for us and if I want anything different it’s “at my own risk.” He really listened to us and didn’t think our ideas were unreasonable. He expressed his ideas about C-sections in exactly the way that I think of them- as a wonderful option that can save the lives of mothers and babies when they’re necessary, but that aren’t necessary very often and are risky when they’re not called for. (And in a country that now has the highest C-section rate in the world- yes, more than the U.S.!- having a doctor who’s not anxious to cut me open was of great importance.) The clinic where we’ll be for labor and delivery is comfortable and relaxing, much more like a birthing center than a clinic or a hospital. I’m thrilled that we’ve found what seems like an ideal set up to welcome this new creature into the world.

But then there was still the doula issue. Conan is an excellent birth partner, and I’d never have made it through Lucia’s birth without him. But it’s an awful lot of pressure on him if he’s the only one supporting me. So I enlisted my mama, an ex-Catholic who is an expert in prayer She’s had a whole lifetime of practicing prayer and trying out different communication styles with God and/or the Universe. “Don’t pray for a doula, though,” I told her. “It’s really unlikely I’ll find an official doula down here. Just ask for somebody who can accompany us in the way that we need.” 

I kept up my social prayer and I’m sure my mom did her part. I found an email for the doula, who was pregnant with her third and had almost the same due date as I do. She had just moved back to Canada after six years here. But she gave me some suggestions for places to look for accompaniment. And she said there was another lady who should be in town who’s done this sort of thing before. The doula said she’d contact the other woman and see if she could talk to me. 

She did agree to talk to us. When we met her, she was a bit hesitant in the matter. “I had no intention of working as a doula down here,” she explained. She and her husband spend the winter down here every year with their daughter and grandkids. “For one, my Spanish isn’t good enough,” she said. And yet somehow two other women had been put in her path just before me- a woman from Mexico City who speaks excellent English, and a French-Canadian woman who does linguistic services in French, Spanish, and English. They were looking for information and help, and so she agreed to teach a birth class, even though she said she’d never even attended a birth class before. She does have training and experience from the U.S. as a doula, plus some experience attending births here in Puerto. We had a nice chat and it seemed like she could potentially provide exactly the kind of support we were looking for. She did not really want to commit, though. Perhaps she was feeling a bit overwhelmed at this sudden surge of need for her help when it wasn’t something she’d been looking for. “I’ll pray about it,” she told us. “And you guys pray about it, and we’ll see.”

Forces aligned correctly in the universe, prayers were prayed, and a week later she was giving us paperwork to fill out so she could be our doula. So here we are, in February, me 38 weeks pregnant and now with an ideal birth team lined up to help bring this new life out of me.

Of course there are no guarantees on anything. Our doula could get called to the U.S. for her very elderly mother-in-law. Or the woman from Mexico City with almost the same due date could go into labor at the same time as me (which would be really bad because we have the same doctor as well!). All kinds of things could go wrong with the baby. But at the end of the day, part of the strength and wonder of prayer, in whatever form it takes, is the power of letting it go. When you believe in a power or a force beyond yourself, you can bundle your worries and doubts into a prayer, and ship it right out so you’re not hanging on to your fear, so you’re not taking responsibility for things which you don’t have much (if any) control over. So I guess even if you have to walk a long way on your knees or cut off your hair or make some other deal, if it can help you travel down your path and give you a little piece of mind as well, then it’s probably all worth it, and about as much as any of us can hope for.

2 Responses to “Living on Prayer (of all shapes and sizes and not just Bon Jovi)”

  1. Donna Fisk February 8, 2015 at 6:55 pm #

    Amen, Sister! And please know that you and you family are in my prayers.

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