Thursday, June 14, 2018

Tully and the Risk of Birth

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Last evening we went to see the film Tully at the Empire Theatre with about eight other people. It was definitely much better than a ten-person audience would suggest, the latest screenplay by Diablo Cody who also wrote Juno. As with that film there is plenty of wry and insightful humour within a storyline which is serious stuff. Juno is about an unplanned pregnancy while Tully is unplanned pregnancy. In this film the mom is married to a hard-working but often-absent dad and has two other children, one of whom is "quirky." Charlize Theron plays Marlo with a gritty honesty and the bone-deep weariness of parenthood which can engulf and overwhelm personhood.

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After the birth of Mia, Marlo reluctantly accepts the gift of a night nanny, a doula, from her wealthy and somewhat overbearing brother. The nanny proves to be a godsend who helps Marlo swim to the surface of life's overwhelming demands. I won't say more about how the film unfolds because it is worth seeing. I will say that there have been both critics and supporters of the way the story addresses or doesn't address post-partum depression and psychosis. I read a review by a psychiatrist, a woman, who suggests that the film is pretty good, and opens discussion on a largely ignored subject.

While I was cutting the grass this morning it occurred to me that through the decades I ministered to those who experienced miscarriages and stillbirths and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I talked with women who were considering abortion and one who was wracked with guilt for having made that choice. Some mourned infertility and the frustration of unsuccessful IVF. Others awaited adoption or struggled with the adjustment when adoption was successful.

 I've kept vigil in neo-natal nurseries, visited parents after both straightforward and touch-and-go childbirth, joyfully baptized hundreds of young uns into the family of Christ, including our three. And yes, some of these mothers dealt with post-partum depression, even though having given birth was one of the happiest events in their lives.

I realize now that there was absolutely no specific preparation for this aspect of pastoral care in my seminary training. None. Even though Christianity is an incarnational religion and the birth of Jesus is a pretty big deal (I think they call it Christmas) the small-n nativities of our existence didn't warrant Birthin' Babies 101.

Our denomination is aging and getting into Sarah-and-the-birth-of-Isaac territory. Yet there are plenty of grandparents in our churches, and they too sought me out as families were grieving or adjusting to the unexpected.

I thank God for the privilege of this unique aspect of being a pastor. I'm glad for Tully, and any meaningful story-telling about the messy, unpredictable, devastating, joyous realities of birth. 

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