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  • Writer's pictureKatie Lane-Karnas

Laboring ourselves in and out of the world

I like to be around pregnant women nearing their due dates. These women and their babies are a relief to me. Their babies aren’t fully in this world yet. I know they can be spied on with monitors and such, but really, they are not breathing the air of this earth, they can’t be dry and diapered and in family pictures. And these un-born babies totally “count.” Everyone notices they are part of the family, makes comments about them, asks about them. It’s not weird to lay out outfits for them, or mention them in passing. I like that.

When my 20-day-old daughter Niko died, every small thing was a discovery. Most of those discoveries sucked. Going to the grocery store while in shock? You will run into people who will ask about baby—some will end the conversation asap and run, some will cry, some will mention they, too, had a difficult death...of their dog. Going to get a haircut? Your hairdresser has a special compassion for women’s loss that will be too kind to bear (yet). Out for a coffee with a sweet friend? You remember the last time you were there, when you had no idea your baby would be dead—and that was just a few days ago.

It surprised me that being around parents of babies and toddlers was unbearable. The complaining about small things drove me mad. That they had living babies to keep them up all night, to cry too often, to be annoying, to require chastising--how I wanted to throttle them, even as I knew they deserved their own experiences and obliviousness to death. I assumed it would be even worse with pregnant women.

But no—pregnant mamas, I felt a kinship toward. In my grief, I stayed grounded in the world and simultaneously floated around in a different dimension. Niko left this realm and a part of me ventured somewhere else as well. Pregnant women nearing their labors have an eye turned inward. They smile and carry on with business even as they notice all sorts of small, private inner sensations and messages between their own body and their baby. They have an open line of communication with the people they have sought out who know how to get shit done for them, be they midwives, doctors, friends or doulas. They are at work or taking care of things as usual, but have backup plans to switch to at a moment’s notice. This feels right and comfortable to me. In grief, I felt a process of labor for my child’s departure that also kept me with a foot in the world and a foot out the door. Yes, I was at the office but also keeping inner watch on an unfamiliar rising feeling, with a plan for who I’d call after work, a person who could hear what I was feeling and where to help me take it.

A mama nearing her labor knows that the door to this world can only be opened through a birth. She is in a process that has only one ending, a process that all of the child bearing people in her lineage have had to go through to create life. Although we tuck this away in hospitals and ever so brief maternity leaves, a mama still knows deep inside that this process can’t be made smaller than what it is; that she will have to open herself to pass this child through, and this passage involves risk and death. In my position with one child, 14 months old on one side of the veil, and another recently passed through to the other side, I felt a relief at the work of third trimester mothers. It’s unusual to meet another parent who has had a child die, and that’s a bit lonely. But the truth of a mother laboring a child in the passage of birth is really not that far from a mother laboring a child in the passage of death.

Can you access visceral memory of that laboring time from your child’s birth? Was it yours to own and do? I don’t know that my daughters’ births were that way for me. But my grief-labor was that portal of strength and vision. I can see it in other women’s labors and births as a result. Grief was the time that could not be made smaller or less risky or shorter than what it was, and I got to own it. That power, afterward, is not tidily tucked away or folded up easily. I LOVE you when I see you in this power. Can you feel it? I hear it in my friends’ voices when they know something about their children or themselves. It is music to my ears! It reveals that the spaces I have ventured in grief and spiritual awakening are not that far between us. Often, a friend will downplay her own fierce knowing that comes from her pain because it “doesn’t compare to losing a child.” But I am overjoyed even in times of deep pain to hear your place of knowing rising up! Mine can’t be put away ever again, or postponed until a more convenient time. Niko broke the shit out of me and I have learned a little bit of grace in holding this raw, unpolished owning of myself while I am out in the world. Do you bring this source to your parenting? Do you sense the self-ownership you have felt and therefore desire for your child right there at the surface? Do you see your child bringing forth generations of conditioned responses from you, and seek out your laboring wisdom that wells up unhindered by habituated patterns, to disrupt it?

Let’s meet there. A lot.

Because I need you in order to keep doing this work myself. And my children need you doing this, and our children need each other with mothers doing this work.

Wet hand holding an ocean green vegetable bladder in the shape of an inflated heart; sand in background

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