Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Birthing and Dying

There are many things in life that just seem to go together well - peanut butter and jelly, beaches and sand, birthdays and cake. These just feel like natural companions. Then there are other things in life which share absolutely nothing in common - spicy and sweet, the Rocky Mountains and the Sahara Desert, religion and atheism. Finally, there are other things in life that at first glance appear to have absolutely nothing in common but upon closer inspection, you learn they actually share more similarities than differences. It's this kind of discovery, stories of seeing the parallel in the perpendicular, that I want to share.

It had been just one month plus one day since I had given birth to my fourth child. The experience had been a difficult one for many reasons. It began with me going into labour several weeks after my 'due date' had come and gone. Neighbours, certain I must have had my baby by now, were beginning to drop by to meet our new arrival, figuring they had somehow missed the birth announcement. One neighbour in particular came by not just once, but twice, looking to cuddle our elusive infant. After her second visit, I broke down crying as I rubbed my swollen belly, more anxious now than ever to meet our baby. Still, it was out of my hands and all I could do was practice patience.

I did, of course, finally go into labour, and early one sunny morning, I found myself pacing the house, unable to sleep through the early contractions. Labour progressed and soon I found myself working hard to find comfort from the pain. The midwives arrived at our home and quietly began setting up their equipment while I sought solace in the warm water of our tub. As each contraction grew more and more intense, my efforts doubled as I went about the work of birthing. Soon I had that unmistakeable feeling that this little one was very close to being born. My hard work was almost done and sweet release was close at hand. Though I was exhausted beyond anything I had ever felt, I also learned I possessed more strength than I thought I had. At just the right time, unrushed, I surrendered to the powers that were bigger than life, and I pushed out my fourth child, my first daughter, my precious baby. My body grew quiet as I took in her face. She was perfect and I felt peace.

All this was freshly behind me now, as sat at the edge of my own mother's bed, holding my one-month old baby in one arm, and my mother's hand with the other. The aggressive leukemia had so thoroughly worked it's poison into every inch of my mother, leaving her too exhausted to open her eyes, swallow, or even breathe deeply. With her whole family gathered around her bedside, we spoke tender words to her throughout the entire night, letting her know she was fiercely loved and that her passing away would leave a deep hole in our hearts, but that she had our love and permission to 'go' now. Her body fought on despite our encouragement, so we patiently supported her as she went about the work of dying. At just the right time, unrushed, she surrendered to the powers that were bigger than life, and her body grew quiet. I took in her face and she looked perfect. Though I felt devastated, I also felt peace.

As I looked down, in one hand lay new life and in the other hand lay life ended. These are the two greatest opposites of life - the coming and the going, with as much time distancing the two as possible. But when you take a closer look, both of these transitions, the entrances and exits, can look very much the same. Both require patience, happening at their own time and pace, not to be rushed. Both require hard work, clearing the way to allow the body to do the work it innately knows how to do. The work of birth is not easy, and from what I can see, neither is the work of dying. Both require blood, sweat and tears, and eventually, at just the right time, both require a surrendering to that unknown, mysterious force that is bigger than life itself.

1 comment:

melissa said...

Thank you. This is a beautiful touching story that has brought tears to my eyes!I am holding my first child in my arms, he is 10 weeks old and totally agree about patience being a key to letting go before allowing the baby to be born.