Repetitions Count

Jacob Anthony

We know that in physical training, or in learning to read, or in perfecting the skills of a new job, that repeating the same work over and over helps us become more adept, helps us move our skills toward muscle memory, helps us master our craft.

Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule, my high school track coach made us run 200 meter dashes 20 times in an afternoon, experiencing the same disagreement with my husband over and over has started to teach us how to communicate with one another better.

I’m finding the same is true with babies, and maybe with the things I read and filled my mind with during pregnancy, too.

This is the third newborn I’ve cared for, the third trial-by-fire-first-two-weeks-of-life. I keep hoping for a birth story that doesn’t include medical hurdles, but I haven’t been granted one yet. They haven’t turned out to be major or scary (no heart defects or babies stopping breathing), but each one has helped me to be more equipped for the next.

My first was put in the NICU about 12 hours after birth for rapid breathing. He spent almost a week there, and it was heartbreaking to leave the hospital without my baby when I was discharged. But no cause or problem was ever found. He came home, and by the time he did, I didn’t feel anxious about having a newborn alone at home, I felt so eager to finally bring my baby to our family.

My second spent an extra day in hospital, with me, and then, 12 hours after being discharged, spiked a fever and we ran back to the ER in the middle of the night. His fever raged for another two days, and then he was fine. He came home, too.

My third, this one born two weeks ago, was exposed to COVID in the first 12 hours of life, and I ended up catching it. He’s had a cough and congestion, though he hasn’t tested positive. I’ve been so grateful for the experience of keeping a little one’s airways open, the “reps” I’ve gotten in with long nights and monitoring baby breathing, the practice I’ve logged with nursing. I can come to this maybe-COVID journey with what feel like tools, like confidence, like trust, to walk with this baby through his illness (and mine).

This reflection made me wonder, too, about the reps I’ve been getting in with Julian of Norwich this year. I’ve spent most of 2022 reading and wondering and writing with Julian and her own themes (maybe they’re repetitions — training — too). She repeats over and over that our perspectives are skewed and veiled, we cannot ever see the whole picture that our God has before him, and our work is to trust the hand that created and sustains us. She tells her readers again and again that our trials and suffering are real and present but that they are not the whole story, she urges her disciples to regard them as lightly and as little as possible. Julian reminds us continually that we are glorious creations of the living God, dwelling places for the Divine, made to be light-filled particles of the image of God.

Often when I was writing and recording my podcast episodes, my mind would visualize the hospital where I’d give birth. I’d never been in it, but, if you’ve see one hospital room, you’ve seen them all, right? I’m not sure why my mind kept bringing that image up as I sat with our teacher Julian, but I wonder if it was a way that Julian, as one of the communion of saints, through the power of the Holy Spirit, was able to pray with me over the birth and infancy of this little boy, whatever trials may arise.

The episodes from my podcast from the first weeks of this month (May) speak especially to Julian’s views on prayer; I encourage you to take a listen if you’re curious about what prayer might be, and if you have questions, leave a comment here, and I’d love to talk more.

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