The risk of a hug?

Her newborn son is beautiful. Just over a week old. His eyes open but un-recognizing of this still new world around him. His tiny hands fisted and jerking as he continues to acclimate to his environment outside the womb. His head covered in a downy soft layer of dark hair. He is laying in a nest made of blanket on the bed. He is beautiful.

His mother, sitting across from him at the head at the bed, starts weeping softly. “Are you okay?” the other girl with me asks. The mother shakes her head no. I stand next to her awkwardly; I briefly rub her shoulders in an attempt to offer comfort.

The birth of a baby, the culmination of the 9-month process of bringing new life into the world — it’s a joyous thing, from what I’m told. But for a single mother with a 4-year old, with no other family or support network waiting to welcome her newborn son, and with no home to settle into to start caring for this new addition to her family — the birth of a baby is also a complicated thing.

I’m at Bridges Safehouse for my weekly evening of dessert-making with the women who stay there. And tonight I’m feeling especially clueless and inadequate. Standing there, admiring the tiny boy but wishing I could do something for his tired, saddened mother. I feel crippled by the questions and confusion: Why is she sad? Do I have the right to ask? What do I know about birth and motherhood? What can I do? What if she’s been abused, is it right to hug her? Would it be better to leave her and the other girl in private?

The awkwardness gets the best of me. I fetch her some tissues, linger a few minutes, tell her I’m glad she and her son are doing okay, and then I leave to check on the cookies in the oven.

I replay those minutes in my mind during the drive home and the rest of the night. Why didn’t I hug her? Why didn’t I pray with her? Why couldn’t I find anything better to say?

And why didn’t I hug her? I remember the times when I have cried and been unable to express what’s wrong or ask for a hug. Yet the arms of someone who cares around me always helped somehow. Why couldn’t I get over my awkwardness and do that for her?

People talk about “love languages.” Physical touch is definitely not mine. But somehow, I don’t think the love language idea is meant to become an excuse for not showing someone love, in the way needed, in that moment. What would I have risked by giving the young mother a hug?

So I pray for her, asking our heavenly Father to put His arms around her and make up for my inadequacies, my fear, my ignorance. And I promise myself that next time it happens, I won’t hesitate to risk giving a hug. And then it occurs to me that feeling inadequate and turning to divine intervention for this young mother is probably the point.

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