My friend Bonnie called shortly after returning from Haiti, following the January 2010 earthquake that hit just south of Port-au-Prince, leaving an estimated 230,000 dead.
“I have to go back,“ said this tenacious woman with a deep heart. She was the only mental health worker at a field hospital caring for the most acutely injured: “Will you come with me?”
She wanted me to go with her on Easter weekend. “My friends down there haven’t gotten a chance to tell their story of what happened to them on the day of the earthquake,” she explained.
Tears began to flow as I felt the honor of her invitation and my desire to bear witness to such sacred stories of suffering.
Moments later, I realized that the trip fell in the middle of my four-day fertile window, which meant missing a month of trying to conceive. My husband and I were a few years into our struggle with infertility, and my life was given over to injections of follicle-stimulating hormones and two-week cycles of hope and despair.
Every month seemed like an eternity, so loosening my firm grip felt as though it unearthed a deep fear, but also a budding freedom.
I decided to go.
Our rickety prop plane descended on Easter morning. Bumping along in our tap tap, a Haitian bus, I saw a scene that I will never forget… an exquisite sea of lemon, pale pink, sky blue and coral dresses and Sunday suits overflowing a small white chapel. The Caribbean sun shimmered on the stained glass windows as Easter jubilees were belted in Creole. The vibrant colors and praises juxtaposed the U.N. guards in military tanks patrolling the region.
One day at the hospital, I saw a woman dressed in a white eyelet shirt who took my breath away. Her face was warm and inviting, and her belly was full. Now in her second trimester, Roseline* asked if I would mind rubbing her shoulders. Sitting on a flimsy cot in an enclosed tent that trapped the humidity was taking a toll on her.
Her smooth, black, warm skin and her strong, muscular shoulders brought a sense of awe. I was moved that she would allow me to offer comfort to her aching body.
Roseline was a teacher whose school had been leveled in the disaster. A few hours into our meeting, I had the chance to ask the tender question of what happened to her on that day.
“A large piece of concrete struck my belly,” she told me. “I was terrified that I had lost my baby: it took us three very long years to get pregnant. When I arrived at this hospital, I had a chance to get an ultrasound. I found out that I am having a boy and he is thriving.
“I named him Samuel, because God has heard.”
I sat in worshipful silence as my eyes welled with tears savoring the sheer beauty of her story, the gift of Samuel’s conception and God’s hand of protection on his tiny developing body.
Then, in a careless moment, I blurted out, “I am struggling to get pregnant.”
Before I could stop the interpreter from repeating it, I was flooded with regret. I felt an avalanche of shame. How could I possibly find a way to draw the focus back to myself after such a miraculous story?
I felt panicked, wondering what to say next.
Roseline looked at me with one of the kindest faces I have ever seen, the mothering of Jesus fully embodied.
“Oh my dear Rachelle,” the interpreter relayed for her. “I will tell all of my friends here to pray for you.”
Then, with a huge chuckle, she exclaimed, “I have many, many friends!”
Her laughter was holy and disarming. The paradox that many of her loved ones had been killed was not lost on me: I had no category for the love and joy of this woman. She knew something I did not.
Death and life, despair and hope: here, under a tent in a shaken nation, the Easter story was being embodied.
I felt quieted by God’s love. I sensed that the deep longing Roseline and I shared to be a mother had risen and transcended language and culture. It was an Easter I will never forget.
I cannot wait to see Roseline again, in the new heavens and the new earth. My heart aches to meet Samuel, too. And I long to introduce them to my Hannah, whose namesake comes from the same book of Samuel where God heard the prayers of a barren woman.
I went to Haiti to offer comfort in the wake of death, and returned with the gift of life: I believe that Hannah and her two younger sisters were conceived out of generous prayers spoken in Creole.
*names have been changed and specific locations omitted to protect confidentiality
Rachel Blackston loves all things beautiful…rich conversations over a hot cup of lemon ginger tea, watching her two little girls twirl around in tutus, and Florida sunrises on her morning walks. She resides in Orlando with her lanky, marathon running husband and her precious daughters, priceless gifts after several years of infertility. Rachel and her husband Michael cofounded Redeemer Counseling. As a therapist, Rachel considers it an honor to walk with women in their stories of harm, beauty and redemption.