A Mother’s Musings On Life and Death

Okay, I don’t want to get too deep with the title of this post, but they are the best possible words for the job. As you know, I recently had a baby. I also am a doula and have been interested and excited by pregnancy and birth since I was a child. In the birthing community I have heard/said many times that birth and death are never far from each other. This is expressed in many sayings. For instance, “When one door closes, another one opens.” I’m sure you’ve heard similar expressions too.

I believe that these sayings are true, but in the multitude of times that I’ve heard and spoken of the birth/death relationship, I have always felt it as a very literal experience. This is no doubt because I’ve been witness to live babies being born. In my own birthing experience I can recall the very moment when I thought to myself, “no one actually dies from contractions.” And I meant it. I was talking myself down from a precipice. We are lucky to live in a day and age when death during birth is much more rare than it once was, and hopefully I don’t lesson the experience of those who have lost a loved one during their own birthing experience by writing about it.

I have never witnessed the death of a human, however. The closest I’ve ever really come is through conversations with my mother when she was with her friend, as she passed away after a long battle with cancer. I remember my mom talking about holding her hand and being with her in the same way that I am with birthing women as a doula. My mom was her friend’s doula, helping her say goodbye to this life in a loving and  positive way. The very same values that I hope to help birthing families and babies appreciate when they say hello to a new life. For some reason though, I have only witnessed death in this life one step removed.

I was struck by a realization the other day while looking through a friends photos online. Through her simple family photo I saw death for the first time, and my relationship to it. I can only really express it by telling the experience. Growing up I had a friend who was much older than I. She was married with children and I often babysat for them. I vacationed with their family, had parties at their home and we became good friends despite our age difference.

I then went to college and we have remained friends from a distance, as life has taken me far away. We stay in contact through various visits and online communication. A little more than a year ago her husband lost his own battle with cancer. He was a funny, dedicated, loving father and husband and he passed before his kids graduated from high school, albeit far too soon. It was strange when I saw him once, in person, to know that he was dying. He looked good, maybe a little skinny, but the knowledge of his illness made me uncomfortable. And that’s hard for me to admit, because I want to be the kind of person who can see past issues like that and show genuine love for my friends and humans in general. For someone who has spoken of death in such a casual way during my doula-ing, I wasn’t nearly as comfortable with it as I was with the birth aspect. I digress. In my friends photos she posted one of her husband with their son from many years ago. Seeing this photo, of a person who is very real to me, made him alive again. Having a son of my own and seeing this image of him with his son immediately touched me in a way that can’t be expressed in words. All I know is that it unlocked something inside of my soul that I can’t pinpoint just yet.

So why am I having this somewhat melancholy discussion on my blog about all things tender, you may ask. Well, there was a poem that I came across in the last few days, too, that I believe sums up how I feel about the whole birth and death conversation, and here it is:

“You are one of the
miracles of creation.
Address yourself
with respect
and wonder.”
-We’Moon 2011 
In the same way that I believe that birth and babies are miracles, my own baby is a miracle. Of course I believe that, he’s mine. But what about my parent’s creation? Well, that’s me. What about all my friends babies, they’re miracles. And so my friends are miracles in their own rights, so on and so forth. We are all miracles. It’s another way of seeing the circle of life, hokey as that may sound, and that’s pretty freakin’ tender. 
What makes a miracle so special, is the impermanence of the act. The real miracle of birth to me is the very moment that a baby takes their first breath. An extraordinary number of things need to occur for this one breath to happen, and if it doesn’t happen then extraordinary measures are taken to help make it happen. This moment is fleeting, and miraculous. As is the last breath that a person takes, it is just as fleeting as the first and it only happens once.

Supervising mom and dad’s yard working skills.

Why play in the water when you can suck it off your fingers?

He’s working hard to sit on his own, hence the tongue. It must be genetic because Luke and I both do that when we’re focusing hard.

He’s doing it! Look how excited he is with himself. Yeah, I’m a proud mama.

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