Just keep breathing, mama.
You’re doing great.
Deep, slow breaths.
Breathe with me. You can do this.
She shakes her head as “I can’t” looms loud and crippling.
I nod “You can.”
And, we breathe together, as generations fill the room with love, wiping her brow…stroking her hair…holding her hand. Breathing “You can” together.
The love is palpable. Bigger and stronger even than the mighty pain. All the mighty pain. The kind that tears your body. And, the kind that tears your soul.
I know that, although the end of the waves of physical pain wracking her frame will be upon us soon, the real labor is only just beginning.
Keep breathing. Slow breaths. One at a time.
I whisper that the love in the room is beautiful. That love will carry in the days ahead. I also whisper the truth…that not every mother has so much support. I think of them. The mothers. The women who have conjured such strength beyond their own human abilities…a reserve in the canyons of the human spirit, strength beyond the canyons…that can only described as sufficient grace for the moment.
We breathe together…
And, I blink back the flashes, remembering the ones who breathed with me.
My wise friend Dinah as we waited for the arrival of our son, Thomas, who had Potter’s Syndrome, as I wondered how…how would I birth another baby, only to be met with silence, only to stand beside another grave…
“I can see God’s grace on you. When you get to the end of this journey, His grace will be sufficient to carry you through it. We don’t get tomorrow’s grace today. We only get the grace sufficient to walk through this moment, this day. It will be there when you need it.”
I breathed again. It was. It always is. There when I need it. The grace. It will be here for her, too.
My own tiny-framed mother, standing beside the bed…quieted from barking orders at the nurses, holding the tiny bundles of my broken, beautiful twin daughters, Faith and Grace, in her arms while I sang Amazing Grace. Sang it as I was covered in it.
Breathe. You’re almost done.
Even as the words leave my lips…I know the labor is just beginning.
For the grief that is coming will rise in swells, like the contractions, overtaking a mother-heart, sweeping her under from time to time as the sea of grief rages. I know about crying an ocean of tears, feeling the numbness, the ache of the arms crying out as the body weeps with milk that will not nurse the child she longs to mother. I know about the labor that will not have an end this side of heaven…
And, as we breathe together, I look into the faces of those kissing her sweat-filled hair, hoping they will be her life raft as the storm rages. She will need them to keep breathing with her. Sometimes we forget…the labor isn’t over. Not when our children remain earthside. And, not when they are taken to heaven.
She will need the generations…breathing “You can” with her as she steps into a life where she doesn’t recognize the reflection staring back at her… a life where she doesn’t feel familiar in her own skin. A life where innocence is lost and she is no longer invincible. It isn’t the time to drop her hand…a couple weeks in when others grow weary from bearing the heavy of the labor pains of grief.
Keep breathing with her. When you can. Follow her rhythm. Be willing to enter into that space, thick with pain. Where nothing matters but the breathing. It is always easier to bear the pain when someone is bearing it with you…lifting you up…holding your hand. It’s always easier.
As the baby is birthed into this world, I think of her own birth. The birth of all that comes with a life. The birth that continues as we grow…the birth of her own new life…filled with pain, yes…but also, healing and depth and truth and freedom from the smallness that happens in human souls. For his birth brings with it, the gift of every petty thing losing significance.
In that moment, breathing together, there is no room for the bitterness or smallness that distracts us from the beauty this life holds. It all falls away. When a baby is birthed on earth…the same as when a soul is birthed into heaven. The same as when a new mother, a new and unfamiliar-for-a-time you… is birthed in the broken of grief.
So, keeping breathing, mama. And, know that you are not alone. We are breathing the grace of this day, together…birthed into a life none of us would’ve ever chosen, but breathing still. Embracing beauty still. Learning to live in this new skin together. And, the love is palpable, just like it was in the birthing room.
And, the grace…the grace is always enough for this moment. This breath.
You can read more about the Sufficient Grace Kelly speaks of in her book appropriately titled, Sufficient Grace.
Kelly Gerken is the president and founder of Sufficient Grace Ministries, an organization providing perinatal hospice services, bereavement support and Dreams of You memory-making materials to families facing the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death and the death of a young child. Kelly has walked through the loss of three of her five children, and now reaches out to walk with other grieving families as an SGM perinatal loss support doula and SGM Remembrance Photographer. She is a creator and facilitator of training for birth professionals on compassionate care for bereaved parents facing perinatal loss. Her memoir, Sufficient Grace, was published in 2014. You can read more about Kelly’s journey of grace, hope and healing and the outreaches of SGM, order resources or find her book here: www.sufficientgraceministries.org.