"For how long, Doug?" Rachel's husband had phoned me just as Jonathan and I were finishing kitchen chores that first week in September.
"Just tomorrow," he said. "I'm sure she'll be fine after that." It sounded simple, so why was I uneasy?
Praise God homeschooling is flexible. We packed the books and early next morning Jonathan, Pam, and Peter came along to work at Andersen's. Doug rushed past as we entered, anxious to leave for work. "Did she sleep well?" I asked.
"Not really, she's in too much pain." His face tensed with worry: "I'll check back later."
Danny and Derek were sleeping, so I beelined for Rachel's room. She was rocking on the bed, bowed prostrate over her knees. "Thanks for coming, Grace. The baby's fine, but the doctor doesn't know about me."
I rubbed her back to soothe her while she regained composure. At only four months pregnant, Rachel moved as if she were nine. "Tomorrow I'll be better," she said. "Just get me through today."
And I did. I supervised my children and her children, cleaned house and took phone calls, washed clothes and cooked, for weeks of todays. It was our private joke each evening, "Tomorrow I'll be better, " she'd insist. Tomorrow. . . not until years later did we understand.
Life for Rachel narrowed to small events. The highlight of her day was checking the baby's development on a daily calendar Debbie had given her. Each morning, she'd turn one page to see what had occurred, always careful not to peek ahead--Rachel was living one painful day at a time.
As the baby grew, she grew worse. At first she could walk to the kitchen, then only to the bathroom. In mid-October she needed help to roll in bed. "The baby's able to hear us now," Rachel reminded as we struggled to elevate her for lunch.
Please, Lord, help her retain this food, I silently prayed.
"My doctor's glad it's a girl--they have a better chance of survival."
What about the mother? Rachel was noticeably paler than last Thursday when I'd seen her. Other people were sharing the burden now, volunteers from our church who took over when the daily schedule became too much for my family.
At times she was too weak to read or even talk. Television was out--it depressed her. She had a radio tuned in to Christian preaching, strong on Gospel. It was her lifeline, that and the calendar. "I've been worried," she told me November first.
"What's wrong?" The question sounded foolish, under the circumstances.
"I've been having contractions. Oh Grace, I thought I was losing the baby!" Tears rolled down her cheeks as she shoved the calendar at me. There it was, warning of Braxton Hicks. "I forgot--it's only normal." I held her hand until Danny arrived, dragging two-year-old Derek. Danny was not yet four, and it was hard for him to understand why Mommy didn't get up now. I took them outside to play, and checked my students.
Throughout November the baby's activity increased. For Rachel, it was a full day if she could tolerate someone brushing her long, dark hair and working it into braids. "Read to me, Grace," she said when I'd finished.
"Wherever it opens," she sighed.
I pointed and groaned, then read aloud ". . .we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." (Rom. 5:3-5 NIV)
"Hope," she said. "Is that what I'm producing?" I squeezed her hand, noticing a new gleam in her sunken eyes. Hope.
Doug was off work for Thanksgiving, so I came on Wednesday. When I entered her room, Rachel was weeping. I moved to her in alarm as she thrust the calendar under my nose. I read the entry at the twenty-sixth week: "Your baby can now exhale and inhale--even cry! With taste buds developed and eyes completely formed there is better than fifty percent chance of survival outside the womb under intensive medical care."
There it was--the day we had secretly been living for, even though delivery should still be fourteen weeks away. "Thank God!" I exclaimed, enveloping Rachel in my arms. We wept together, rejoicing through tears. Thank God! Hope would survive: to walk, to talk, to sing of the mercies of the Lord, even if tomorrow never came.