The elevator doors opened and they walked in - a young couple with brand new baby in tow. She looked haggard, he looked flustered, and the baby in blue with thick black hair was ruling their world from his carrier in that moment, tiny fists flailing, tiny lungs working, powerful infant screams filling the enclosed area.
The gray-haired lady and I shifted to make room, watching them as they desperately glanced to make sure that "P" for parking level had already been pressed, anxious to escape the stares of strangers who could not help but stare under the circumstances.
"Awww," I said to the mother. Because that is what you say when you're standing right next to someone with a baby in a carrier. "How old?"
"One week," she answered, as the father gripped the carrier in one hand and awkwardly tried to shush baby with the other, glasses precariously sliding to the tip of his nose.
"He's precious," I said, the standard compliment bestowed upon new mothers.
She thanked me quietly, staring straight ahead. Because that is what you do in elevators.
"Your first?" I asked. She nodded.
I decided to go a step further. "I have a 9-weeker at home," I said. "Number three."
There. Connection made. I know. I understand. I've been there.
With the establishment of the connection, she was then free to break elevator protocol and turn to face me. Pale with pleading, bloodshot eyes, hair a complete mess, she posed a question that spoke volumes.
“Does it get better?”
Here is what she really meant -
Please, stranger. Tell me that I'm going to survive. Tell me that sleep deprivation won't kill me. Tell me that this screaming little general will morph into something I can handle, something I can cope with. Tell me that I'll enjoy it. I don't know you and you don't know me, but you've been where I am, and you're still standing, and I need to hear it from you. Will he ever stop crying? Will I get to hold him without wondering, what is WRONG with you and why aren't you happy? Is there a way out of this tunnel? Aren't I supposed to be in maternal bliss right now? Tell me I will find it one day. In the 10 seconds we have left before these doors open, tell me. I beg of you.
Nine years ago I went through colic-land and lived to tell about it. I was right where you were, toting an infant in a carrier to a pediatrician after many sleepless nights in a row, demanding to know why the child wouldn't stop crying, needing a remedy and finding none. I remember the tiny fists, the furious eyes in little narrowed slits like diamonds, the toes that never unclenched. I remember the fits of baby rage and the bleak feeling of helplessness. I remember trying the reflux meds, trying white noise, trying rides in the car, trying swinging and bouncing and flying her around, trying 80 million different kinds of pacifiers. I remember the futility of my husband saying, "This has GOT to stop."
And then one day, it did. The sun came out from behind the clouds on her face. She became a gurgling, cooing, pleasant little Gerber baby. A Gerber baby who turned into a toddler who turned into a preschooler who turned into a kindergartener who turned into a pre-tween. Oh, she still had her moments. But it got better.
In the 10 remaining seconds, all I could say was, "Yes. It gets better. You'll make it. You're in baby boot camp right now, but you'll make it through."
She exhaled loudly as the doors opened. "Good," she said, allowing a bit of relief to show on her face. And then the rambling wreck of new parenthood made its way off the elevator.
It gets better.
Not long ago I was on the receiving end of those words. A fellow pastor's wife spoke them to me on the heels of our move to a new town. She had been in my position many times before, and somehow, those words were a consolation to me. She kindly let me know that I wasn't the first person in the world to have the oh-my-gosh-I-am-leaving-everything-behind experience. And that it would not always feel so foreign. In fact, one day it would become home. Actually, she was right.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
No life experiences are worthless. No matter how difficult, we hold them carefully in our portfolio of memory, knowing that if and when the moment is right, they can be taken out and shared for a purpose. God comforts us, we comfort others with the comfort we've gotten from Him. One day down the line, that frazzled new mother in the elevator is going to be telling another poor haggard soul that the crying will stop one day. And maybe by now, I'm equipped to talk to someone who has uprooted everything to start anew somewhere else.
Remember the power of It gets better – both the giving of it and the receiving. Those three words might just be the wind in the sails that we need.