Monday, November 8, 2010

Birth and Death: "to mourn with those that mourn"

Today, Navelgazing Midwife wrote a beautiful post comparing the transition phase of childbirth to the transition of death. It related so much to so many other things I've been thinking about, studying, and experiencing, and inspired me to finally get those thoughts down in writing.

I have been reading my second book for the Childbirth International book review assignment (the first one inspired me to write posts on progesterone and celebrating fertility). My local library had a book that was on the list called, Sisters on a Journey: Portraits of American Midwives by Penfield Chester. Chester interviewed 27 midwives for the book, and each chapter tells one of their stories, each in that midwife's own words. I am really enjoying reading all the different perspectives. I find it inspiring, for any future midwifery aspirations I may have, but also for doula work, as it has taught me that doula-ing is actually a very large part of midwifery.

One of the common themes in the interviews is dealing with the responsibility of life-or-death situations and the possibility of death being so close. Honestly, this is something that terrifies me about the idea of becoming a midwife. I don't want the pressure to have to make such important decisions and have to act quickly and skillfully in a crisis. This book has taught me that my feelings are normal and has helped me learn how midwives may deal with that responsibility. I also learned that birth and death have a lot in common. Here is one example that stood out to me, from the interview with renowned midwife, Ina May Gaskin.
In our community, although we had never read anything about this, it was the midwives that naturally gravitated toward being with families who were dealing with death. Everyone noticed that death felt much like birth, that there was the same sort of energy--a very heightened awareness. Things and people looked dear to you; you had the sense of life being precious, of the need to be good to each other, of the need to be thankful for life, of the need to be attentive to what you had to say, of the need to mix sadness and laughter, to tell stories, to come together and be very human with each other. Not to think about money, not to think about what would anybody think.

My own baby was the first one in our community that died. I was in the first few months of my midwifery practice, exhausted and anemic, and he was born very premature and lived for twelve hours. I knew that he couldn't have been saved a the time, so we didn't go to the hospital. We did what we could, but I knew from losing him, I learned a lot. I think if it had happened to somebody else I wouldn't be a midwife now. But because I had the support of the community, I learned about grieving. I also knew that in some what that happened to teach me something important as a midwife and so I tell that story. I've learned about healing, and I learned about how you treat somebody when they've lost a baby.

(Chester, Sisters on A Journey, 1997, pg. 132-133)
That's all I am going to quote here, but Ina May also explained more about how midwives are like "gatekeepers" of birth and death, and also told the story of her daughter's death at a young age.

I recently saw the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and though I found the film very long and the ending, sad, I learned the lesson I think it was trying to teach--growing up and getting old are really the same, just in opposite order, and life is really more of a circle than a line. Based on this perspective, birth and death are basically the same.

October 15th
was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. As I lit my candle that evening, I thought of my friend who lost her baby in her second trimester recently. I was very affected by the loss, since we had discussed her preparations for the birth and I had offered to serve as her doula. I found I needed to cry alone about it, and I don't think I would have anticipated that happening.

Last week I learned that my high school U.S. History A.P. teacher, now retired, was killed in a car accident while traveling in Greece. She was my favorite teacher, an entertaining storyteller whose love of history really shined in her teaching. She was an inspiration, the kind of educator I aspire to be. Any time such a vibrant person leaves this world, it kind of brings you face-to-face with your own mortality.

Through all of these experiences and learning, the following passage from the Book of Mormon has been on my mind:
...and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places...(Mosiah 18: 8-9)
These verses represent the covenant one makes when joining our faith. Interestingly, the last part of it is quoted in the document I wrote about in my Guest Post at the Gift of Giving Life. It is the part before that which I have been thinking about, especially "to mourn with those that mourn." If we have charity and love others as God loves them, we will have the desire to support others through their journeys in life. This includes things like crying with someone who is in the middle of grief. I have been thinking that maybe working with pregnant and birthing women, in the fragile time of newly developing life, who will sometimes not keep that life as long as we all would want them to, will be my personal way to fulfill my promise "to mourn with those that mourn."

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