The Bath

12:14:00 PM

Some years ago, we lived in a run-down old cottage in the middle of 100 acres of nothing: a few stunted trees, some low growing bush, hard-packed dry earth, a mob of kangaroos, and a concrete almost empty water tank.

The tank should have been full of fresh rainwater, but none ever fell over our farm. We’d peer at the sky, hoping and praying, but it never rained. Of course, it was impossible for a family with five children to survive without water so every now and then, we’d arrange for a water tanker to come and bring us supplies. The carrier bumped up our dirt road. Hoses were unfurled and attached, and soon our tank was overflowing with precious water. But that tankful had to last us a very long time. So of course, we never ever could afford the luxury of lying in a deep hot bath.

My friend Sarah lived only half an hour’s drive away, but she lived in another world. Her house was in town, and so she had town water. She could turn on her tap and fill her bath as deep and as often as she wanted. She had an unending supply of water, regardless of whether it rained or not.

I often dropped in to see Sarah. She was always a very gracious hostess, welcoming me, and going out of her way to make sure I felt at home. She’d offer me a comfortable chair, an excellent cup of coffee, a delicious home-made treat fresh from her oven, and a bath.

“Sue, you are a noble woman!” Sarah would declare as she poured coffee into mugs. “What a sacrifice you’re making! Every pregnant woman needs to lie in a hot bath at the end of the day. Let me fill my bath for you and then you can soak for as long as you want.”

The deep relaxing bath always sounded so attractive, but I never took Sarah up on her kind offer. I couldn't tear myself away from her company and delightful conversation long enough to take advantage of all that water.

One day our water problem came to an end in an unexpected way. We found out that our unborn baby had a life-threatening problem. Our world turned upside down as the doctor uttered those unforgettable words, “Your baby will probably die after birth.”

I no longer wanted to be a pioneer woman living with her brood of children in the middle of nowhere. The peace and quiet of that isolated spot, the kangaroos hopping around our house, the kookaburras chuckling from their perch on our drooping washing line, and the acres of land where we could roam free no longer seemed attractive. I wanted to move back to town, close to my doctor and a hospital with good facilities. I wanted to live in a house with neighbours close by. And I suddenly yearned to live in a place where I could turn the tap and not have to worry about water. 

So we moved to a house in town, a house with plenty of water. 

The doctor and the hospital with good facilities didn’t improve our baby’s chances of living. His diaphragmatic hernia was as life threatening in town as it had been on the farm. But I was glad we had moved because of the water.

At that time, all I could think about was our unborn child. Would he survive? And if he didn’t live, how was I to survive? I had no energy left over for dealing with such mundane matters as water.

The night we moved into our new home in town, I turned on the taps, and filled the bath right to the top. Then I climbed in and lay back, and I thought, and I prayed. The bath became my refuge away from the difficult world, a place where I could be alone and where I could cry.

Whenever I felt I could no longer cope, I’d fill the bath and climb in. I’d rest my forehead on the cool tiles and let the tears flow. They’d run down my cheeks and drip into the water. I cried all those tears I tried to keep within me whenever I was in public. Locked in the bathroom, I didn’t have to be brave. No one could see me. I could let myself be little and admit I was scared.

We moved to our present home a little more than seven years ago. In our family bathroom is the biggest, deepest bath we have ever had. We also have town water. I could fill that bath full every night and climb in and enjoy. But I never do.

I have an older friend who lost a baby many years ago. After Thomas died and my heart was starting to heal, I asked her: “Will God send me more suffering?”

“Oh yes!” she answered very matter-of-factly. “But not before you are ready.”

In the years since Thomas' death, I have indeed suffered, but no suffering has ever been as big as that of losing my child. I haven’t yet needed a place of retreat where I can give in to my fears, where I can let my tears flow, where I can sit unobserved, and where I can stop pretending it doesn’t hurt.

I haven’t again needed my deep bath, surrounded by its rows of cool tiles, behind the locked private door. But it is there, just in case.

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