In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day today, October 15th, I want to acknowledge all of those who have lost babies too soon – my prayer on this day is that we can collectively shift our culture so that all of us are supported and nurtured on every level through our process in the ways that we need. I hope that your body, your baby and your experience is honored, that you and your family are fed, that you are not rushed through your grief, and that those around you continue their support far into the future. It is a shame that we need a day of “awareness” when 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 women will experience the loss of a baby or infant. Each of us should really have the tools to support ourselves, our sisters, friends and family (many more posts about these tools in the future). Before experiencing my own losses, I count myself among the guilty who were unaware and uncertain about how to support someone who had lost a baby, so I’m very interested in finding more ways to help others in that place. Feeling more confident in supporting a woman’s physical and emotional process of loss is one of the (very) few gifts that came from going through my own losses, and for that I am thankful.
I also want to acknowledge everyone that supports pregnant mamas during and after pregnancy and infant losses. I am early in my journey of supporting others through loss, but I already know that doing so is an incredibly important part of us being there for other women as birthkeepers. Birthing a baby who has died brings up some of the deepest mysteries regarding birth, life, death, fate, and our own soul purposes. It is some seriously heavy stuff, and most women (unless they have experienced a loss before and even then…) have not and could not have fully prepared themselves for it. Many do not know what to expect physically either, and so they appreciate having someone who can “midwife” them through the physical experience, as well as follow up with them postpartum about their emotional/mental/spiritual experience. There is so much misinformation and fear around the process of miscarriage and stillbirth (just like with full term birth really), and I think it is so crucial that we counter this with information, wisdom, and love, so that even these experiences can be empowering and mother–centered, even as shitty as they may be. I think this is the best way to mitigate any unnecessary emotional and physical trauma in the process. Some women, after self-directed pregnancy losses, feel even more confident going into their next pregnancy since they have witnessed unequivocally that their body is wise and knows what to do (or at the very least that they are wise, and can be at the center of decision making).
As birth workers and friends of childbearing women, we can all help to restore some sanity to the way our culture thinks about fertility, birth, life and death. Most people in the US have never seen either end of the life cycle, birth OR death, as it as been hidden away in special institutions, when both used to happen at home. We can arm ourselves with knowledge and experience. We can set aside our fear of saying something wrong, or hurtful, and instead offer ourselves humbly in service to those who are hurting, keeping an open mind and heart. Pregnancy and infant loss will unfortunately continue to be a part of the human experience, but I hope that we can restore reverence, respect and community support for those who are walking this path.
“Mother of life,
Mother of death,
here is a spirit so new
that the gates of life and death
are just an archway in her dancing ground.
She has danced her way back to you.
Her passage is easy
but mine is hard.
I wanted to hold her living flesh
and feel her soft breath and her heartbeat.
(I nurtured her in my body;
I would have fed her from my breasts.)
I would have cared for her
and watched her first steps
and listened for her voice.
No other child that may come to me
will ever be what she would have been.
Nothing, nobody, will ever replace her.
Whatever healing I may find,
this loss will always be a part of me.
(Bless my womb, which has the power
to create life and death.)
Bless my arms
that would have embraced her.
Bless my hands that would have lifted her.
Bless my heart that grieves.”
– Starhawk & M Macha NightMare