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Why is it that when we experience the fragility of life, we tend to regain new eyes and appreciate the everydayness with growing gratitude? I have been living in the midst of so much birth and death that I can not ignore their accompanying lessons.
Today I finished my second belly cast, completed for a niece nearing week 32 of her pregnancy. Just about a month ago, I did my first. Placing my Vaseline-coated hands directly on the mother's belly and gently spreading the layer, then, carefully affixing warm, moist plaster strips on top has such a meditative and loving quality for me. The models didn't seem to mind, gifting me with the process of documenting life. This creative act stands in stark contrast to the recent deaths of two men in my small Quaker congregation and my role in arranging one of the burials.
Just before I finished this cast, I took a call from a longtime friend whose wife delivered her own baby eight weeks early at home and on their bed. She'd done everything right and even been to the doctor that very day. She's home now and the infant will spend a number of weeks in the hospital. In the same breath I congratulated my friend and also said I was sorry. Apparently that also captured his feelings. I told him he had one heck of a strong wife and he said she's been beating herself up for not knowing this was coming. How could she, not even the doctor did? But I understand mother's guilt.
I've had a ringside seat watching my baby sister deal with 18-plus years of mothering an extremely premature baby. I know it's taken a toll on her, yet she is exactly the right mother for this child, who will graduate from high school on time next month. That in itself amazes me as does the wonderful young man this baby has grown into. At one point, he was not expected to live. There is nothing my sister has not done for her son in terms of finding the best doctors, surgeons, therapists, tutors and anything else that would assist his development. He has more than survived, he has thrived due to the loving concern and care of his parents. They don't coddle him. Through the haze of this grueling kind of parenting, my sister managed to earn a Ph.D in special education and now teaches teachers about special-needs kids! Hers has been a journey of hardship, perseverance, growth, patience, trust and love. I am certain it hasn't always looked that way to her.
This death of a dream, not delivering a healthy baby, is a cause for grief. I hope my friend's wife gets through that. It's not her fault and yet as mothers, we take everything that happens to our children so personally. I recently told my shamanic counselor that I wondered if spending a brief time in a fume-infested painting facility caused a miscarriage. It was part of my job, I was only newly pregnant and had not sprung the news publicly. It just sort of slipped out during a discussion of my unmet needs, though my mind had looped it, like a bad movie, a thousand times. My counselor responded that a pregnancy should be able to withstand that.
If that triggered my guilt, what about these mothers who have so much more to deal with? How does one overcome losing the hope of delivering a healthy baby?
My sister has had 18 years to work through it and she's still chipping away at that bundle of guilt and grief. My prayer is that she gets relief and a reaches a sense of peace. I am also praying that my friend's wife finds loving compassion for herself, though, I suspect, she'll be busy mothering the beautiful, but small, son she now has.
How can you take life for granted when you're surrounded by stories like these?
• What's my experience of mothering, whether there's a child involved?
• What dreams have I birthed?
• What guilt or grief have I experienced when these dreams died young?
• How do I share my sorrow with God?
• What's God's response been when I have?
my hands have laid
on bursting bellies,
massaging and knowing
the life beneath
my ears and heart
have taken on the
grief of other mothers,
forced out too soon
my lips continue
for the health and
in her infinite and loving
ways, claims each of us
as her children