Through tests and ultrasounds, we found out that our daughter was actively dying in the womb. What a different journey than what happens for those expecting a healthy child, only to greet, after birth, a baby who does not survive. Having that awareness, that our pregnancy would end in death, brought up so many questions for me. But one was the most urgent of all.
What would I do?
It was not simply a logistical question—will I terminate or will I wait for her passing, will I birth her early or late, will I see her body or will her body not survive? It was much more immediate than all that. I had a baby in my womb, kicking and moving every day. I felt her kicks. We’d seen her multiple times on ultrasound. Until she was no longer with us, she was with us. But she was not with us in the way that I could hold her or share her with others or rock her or look at her face.
One day, when the news we received from the doctor was particularly grave, you would say hopeless, being on vacation, I went to the ocean. I stared at the water. I put my hands on my growing tummy. What can I do? I asked myself. I meditated on this question all day and all night until an answer came to me.
Love. You can love.
I was not in control of her health. Very truly it was out of my hands. To a large extent, I was not in control of her life. She could pass at any moment—no matter what I did or how well I ate or how many vitamins I took or how much classical music I played or how much I wanted her. I wanter her very much.
I could not rejoice with friends and share the news, or answer the questions of strangers: “What are you having?” “When are you due?” How unbearable to say, “I am not having. I am a pregnant woman who will never have a baby.” Or, “I am having a girl I will never meet or hold or see.”
When I had that realization that it was in my power to love, it struck me so powerfully, it rang like a truth around in my head for days. I could love her. That’s what I could do! I could love her! I could just love her and love her. That was in my power. That was in my ability. That was in my choosing. I could love her. I could not save her. I could not fix her. I could simply love her.
It was love, then, that guided all my other decisions, love that accompanied me to the hospital, love that fought with the hospital to get her body returned to me, and love that buried her in the earth. It was love that told my living children the news and love that wept and wept. Love that cried out at the injustice that I had not met her or nursed her or held her, and love that drew me close to women who had endured the same.
Then, amazingly, it was that driving force of love that led me to my next child.
What else do we have? We are mothers who have lost, in a sea of mothers who have lost. Our hearts ache for those whose children are gone too soon. I sat with a 92 year old mother of six who had a daughter still born, so long ago, she called it, “just a memory.” Then the next week with an 85 year old mother who’s only son died of cancer.
Do we control our children? How they come in or how they come out? Can we make them meet and exceed our expectations? Can we deliver them safely through every day?
Love, and its message, came to me as a liberation from the tyranny of my own suffering. I wanted more than anything to be able to control the outcome, but I could not. Birth itself is the perfect metaphor for this profound lesson. We are channels for life, but not truly life-givers, however much we want to be. We are stewards of our children, but not directors of them.
In the end, my love had to do something, because it could not hold or rock that baby. It had to, because that is the nature of love. Love never leaves anything the way it found it. My heart could either close in grief, or open in grief. It was grief either way. The decision to love my imperfect baby, my not-long-for-this-world baby, my dear girl I would never meet, opened me to the Great Mother herself. She gives flowers, whether we look on them or not. Sunsets that only some will see. Shooting stars blazing like a show without an audience—at least sometimes. It is the nature of that Great Mother to love, in abundance and beauty, creativity and diversity.
Oh, though it didn’t seem like it at the time, my grief drew me closer to the heart of that Mother Source from which all creation springs and where love is the thing that can save us, because in the midst of agony, it gives us something worthwhile to do, something that will serve us and our children gone-to-soon, something that will draw us up from the hopelessness and return us to our true and generative nature. Though we cannot hold love, nor rock it, nor nurse it or watch it grow, it is not nothing. And somedays, it is everything.
Sam Wilde’s podcast, Sermons from the Mat, https://open.spotify.com/episode/2vsZsH9CUNZ6xA6nxghMDO, is a place for stories and inspiration. She’s a minister (but the good kind), a 20+ year yoga teacher, a novelist, a spiritual mentor, and a mother. Find her https://thesamanthawilde.com. She is always available for spiritual counseling for mothers.