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In a Communist Hospital

My View From A Gurney

“To jest chlopak!” It is a boy! With that declaration our son, David Lawrence Thompson, Jr. entered the world, April 6, 1979, a hearty 9 pounds, 141/2 ounces. Today, I vividly remember the details from that exact day 37 years ago.

Lying on the cold, hard gurney, I took in my surroundings. I was in a birthing ward in a Communist hospital behind the Iron Curtain in Warsaw, Poland. The long windows revealed that it was an early cold spring morning outside. Around me women were in various stages of the birthing process, some behind curtains, some not. It all looked and felt like something out of a black and white World War II movie. Only the birth experience itself, and the nearness my husband seemed familiar. The language, the equipment, the smells, the sounds, even the dress of the attending medical staff was different. And the procedures were definitely different. I was thankful to have arranged for a colleague to transport dissolvable stitches from the International Pharmacy in Vienna, having been told that none would be available. Good call.

Larry needed to leave; he would return with food and toilet paper, since the hospital could not provide supplies for its patients. I was alone, so very alone. A Sister, a Polish nurse, came by my gurney and asked if I would like of cup of tea. Tea? That would be nice. I was keenly aware of how terribly much I missed my Mother. The tea would be soothing.

Feeling desperately alone on the gurney, having just given birth in a land so far from my own, my thoughts floated back over the previous few weeks. 

Larry and I had searched arduously for a Polish doctor who would allow a husband to be present in the delivery room. Since this was Baby #2, we felt adequately trained in the method of natural childbirth. However, this was an outlandish request in the Communist medical system, and we needed a Polish doctor to grant permission. Finally, and I say finally, 6 weeks before my due date, we located a Professor Doctor who gave the desperately needed approval. Though he was not even present and a midwife was just as involved as the attending physician, this Professor Doctor would later take full credit for the successful delivery.

Why would any woman want to add childbirth to her repertoire of cross-cultural experiences?

A very good question. My bedrock answer then and now: the will of God. Years earlier as a student at Mississippi State University I became involved with the organization of Campus Crusade for Christ. There I met a group of students who had a smile on their face, a spring in their step and a song in their heart. These students were marching to the beat of a different drum, and I wanted join their ranks. I yielded to God complete control of my life and my future. I selected Proverbs 3:5-6 as my life verse: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” 

Larry’s marriage proposal was, “Will you go with me in helping to reach the world for Christ?” My answer was “yes” - to the Lord, to him, and to a future of being a pioneer missionary.

The ramifications of these decisions found me alone on a gurney in a Communist hospital. I was not trying to be a heroine; I was not seeking to be a martyr. I just wanted to be in the center of God’s will. I was fully convinced His will was the safest place to be, and I also knew His will was "good, acceptable and perfect." (Romans: 12:2).

A host of factors had led to our prayer-saturated choice of giving birth in Warsaw. We had a little 3-year-old daughter to consider, and we had a home of our own. Any missionary will agree that no matter where home is, it is home, even when the address is Communist Poland. I did not want to have a baby while living transient out of a suitcase. Desperately, I longed to bring our baby home to our home and the modest nursery we had prepared for him. And we did.

Fast forward to 2007.

“What in the world were you thinking?!”

My son had just become a father, and the story of his own birth was the topic of our conversation. This is the son who was the first baby boy to be born in the Cold War to evangelical missionaries living covertly behind the Iron Curtain. David will never be able to be President of the United States; our Constitution prohibits anyone being born outside its borders from holding that office. But he will always have typed in his passport Place of Birth: Warsaw, Poland. This is a precious treasure. The Poles are remarkable people, and any identification with them is an honor.

But his question took me back to my view from the gurney where the cultural differences dominated, where the physical and emotional challenges were as real as my next breath.

There on that gurney, with tears streaming down my cheeks, a holy awareness enveloped me. I sensed the Presence of God is a real and tender way. He was there with me; no, I was not alone. In an ocean of the unfamiliar, He was The Familiar.

If I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your Hand will guide me.” He did. (Psalm 139:9-10)

My Presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” He did. (Exodus 33:14)

In Thy presence is fullness of joy.” Confirmed. (Psalm 16:11)

Even on a gurney.


Question: Where on your gurney of life have you discovered the Presence and faithfulness of God?