In the spring of last year, my friend told me that she was expecting her third child. Her due date was March 25 2014. Samuel was born on March 21. Watching Sara on her pregnancy journey was like revisiting my own pregnancy with Samuel week by week. In the two months preceding Samuel’s birthday and Sara’s due date, I was barely able to see her. The anticipation of her birth and the site of her belly were triggering my own experience of loss something fierce. It was almost too much to bear.
Up until Samuel’s year anniversary I had been missing his physical presence so much that the pain of that missing seemed to get in the way of allowing his spirit to lift me and help me to feel joy and embrace life. It had been painful for me to hear babies crying at the grocery store. I could not be around pregnant women without feeling uncomfortable. Listening to other mothers’ conversations about the woes of nursing or the challenges of juggling newborns and toddlers was almost nauseating.
I have hated this experience. I have always related to woman wearing these similar shoes of motherhood and relished in our similarities. Simply witnessing conversations surrounding pregnancy, childbirth or rearing of these little beings has always made me feel connected to my own experience of motherhood even more. Being alienated in those same circumstances was completely traumatic. I have felt ashamed of myself, yet unable to do anything about it. There was no shoving it aside. Allowing space for the discomfort and moving through it was the only way to get it to fade to the background a little. I wondered how long I would have to endure these triggers. How long before I would connect instead of withdraw in the same circumstances?
The anniversary of Samuel’s death and birth passed. I made room for the sadness and relived each moment. I made space for celebrating his life too and our love for him. My friend Sara was there every step of the way, and stood by me in my grief, even when I couldn’t share in her imminent joy. I navigated this milestone well. I did it! Somehow now, I feel lighter and more peaceful. I feel steadier on my feet, and dare I say it, more optimistic. I am more comfortable with the way it is, and less focused on the way it was supposed to be. I feel my little guy’s essence in everything I do, and am embracing it as a gift.
As we talked one day, I realized that discussing the birth of Sara’s baby wasn’t as hard as it once was. I commented on how exciting it would be to give birth to her precious baby girl and how I love the labour and delivery. (Yes I am weird like that.) She laughed, and then invited me to witness her baby’s delivery. She said that she and her husband had discussed it and wanted to share the experience with me. They thought it could be very healing for me to be there, if I was ready.
I was lost for words in that moment. The selflessness and generosity of this offer was overwhelming. But I didn’t know how to answer. I really didn’t know if I was ready. How would I know?
Sunday evening, only a few weeks ago, Sara text messaged me that she was in active labour and would let me know when she got into a delivery room. I felt nervous. I still wasn’t sure I would be able to be there. I continued to prepare for Monday morning, and decided to see how I felt when she texted next. My heart was beating fast and I couldn’t relax. The moment her husband messaged me that she was 6 cm dilated, I sprang into action. I knew right then that I was ready to witness her daughter’s birth.
I stumbled out of the door into the most peaceful night. Snow was falling lightly as I drove to the hospital. I spoke to Samuel as I travelled and asked him to be there with me and help me to be able to feel the joy of this experience, and to not let my own fear and pain get in the way of being present to my friend. I stepped into the elevator and arrived on the 5th floor. I moved through the doors to the labour delivery unit. Although I paused and remembered entering them that awful day just one year ago, that memory didn’t hold me back. I could recall going through those same doors, not just the time I had Samuel, but for the delivery of all of my other babies too. I felt Samuel’s spirit willing me to remember the beauty there.
I found Sara’s room. She was working hard in labour, lying on her side, grasping her husband’s hand with each contraction. I stood on the other side of the bed and encouraged her as the pain became more frequent and intense. The wonderful nursing team attended to her, and I watched in amazement at my friend’s strength and endurance. She was gracious as always, even in that pivotal moment when pain of labour threatens to take sanity and will. Sara’s husband whispered to her that yes she could do it, and yes it really was too late for an epidural as the baby was going to come any moment. I merely nodded my head in agreement as she looked at me pleadingly.
Moments later, she was 10 cm dilated, and I watched as Sara bore down against the pressure with all her might. Her wonderful husband was shouting joyfully for her to push and my exhausted friend did just that. A full head of curly hair began to emerge. Samuel had the same dark curls. But not for one moment was this his curly hair, in my mind. This was the first glimpse of baby Mishl, the beautiful daughter of my beautiful friend.
She entered the world blue, then pink, and her cries made me laugh out with utter happiness. She had arrived! She was safe. I breathed a prayer of thanks. The nurses placed the baby on Sara’s tummy but exhaustion had overcome her and she struggled against shock in the aftermath of her experience. “Let Shannon hold her'” she whispered to her husband. “Let her hold her.”
I was awestruck. Mine would be the first arms to hold this child. I picked up this perfect baby, sniffed her wet head and kissed her little face. I held her against me and whispered in her ear. “Welcome sweet girl. Welcome to the world. You have no idea how much love is waiting for you here.”
She is the first baby I have held to me since I held Samuel in my arms. There was no sadness in my heart in that moment, just simple joy.
As I left to return home, I tentatively walked past the room where I had delivered Samuel. It was empty. I stood in the doorway and looked in. I saw the window through which the sunrise found me as I delivered him. I saw the bed I lay in and the chair his Daddy sat in and cried. But it was just a room. Samuel was not there. The memories were not held by those walls. I turned to leave, and remembered the heaviness of my steps on the floor of the hallway as I left my son there in that room, cold and alone. Everything in me had yearned to break from the arms which were holding me up and run back to take him with me.
Leaving that night, I put new foot steps down, lighter ones this time. I walked down that corridor, my heart healed.
Sharing this intimate event had helped me come full circle on my journey through grief. This was my friends’ most generous gift to me.
Witnessing the birth of their daughter helped me remember the joy of giving birth to all of my children, not only our loss of Samuel.
Holding their baby helped me feel peace instead of pain.
This experience had allowed me to rediscover aspects of motherhood I had disconnected from; the part of me that could embrace the delight of brand new life.
Thank you baby Mishl for helping me find the light again. You are my beacon through the storm, a torch lighting the way on a dim path.
To you Sara, I am so deeply grateful.
Meaning of the name Mishl – beacon, light, torch