On the Birth of my Daughter, and the Death of my Self

Peacey is the deepest prayer my heart has ever prayed, my cry to the universe, longing for a child after experiencing loss. The weeks leading up to her birth were some of the longest of my life. No one ever speaks of pregnancy following miscarriage. The awareness of death. The memory of blood. The inability to connect with the life within. If I couldn’t feel her moving, or hear her heart beating, my heart felt hollow and numb. My dreams painted pictures of my deepest fears. I longed for the bravery to live into the mystery of birth. To trust my body and hers. To feel empowered by the freefall of letting go.

But the power of her birth was not at all what I imagined. She came three weeks early, induced after weeks of seizures and pain. She came with a decision to trust my awareness of my own limitations, with a deep listening to my body’s cry for relief. Her birth was charged with energizing power, with the peace of being completely present, time suspended in trust.

I birthed my daughter into the world two weeks ago. I’ve never been more aware and alive than in the unforgettable ecstasy of pain and power, seeing her emerge, holding her in my shaking arms, my body trembling and open, ripe with power, feeling her warmth, her skin, her breath, watching her eyes opening to light, her body breathing, moving. She, connected to me with her pulsing cord. My body, still sustaining hers, yet knowing her, with all of me. Separate yet one.

With the birth of my daughter came the death of my self.

I’ve lived two weeks with my daughter. She lives on my breast. She sleeps in my arms. She rests in my voice. I ache when she cries. I wake when she stirs. My life and energy so deeply connected with hers that her needs are mine.

Looking now at my baby girl, I wonder who she is. Who I am. I see her body, a separate being, but I breathe in her sweet breath and know we are still connected. What are my children of me? What am I of my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother? In the mystery of life creating life, I am shattered. Here, I experience the woven fabric of energy, particles and time of which I am. She is. We are.

We named her Genevieve Peace after my maternal grandmother. A woman of great mystery, whose life, cut short by cancer when I was still young, continues to speak. I will never forget the day my grandmother died. The day following my birthday, I received a card from her. The phone rang as I read the words in her shaky script, “When you close your eyes and think of me, I will be here with you.” I answered the phone to the news of her passing. But when I closed my eyes, I felt her presence.

She had told us that if she could be present with us in her next life, she would come as a cardinal. The presence of cardinals in my life in times of joy, in times of grief, in times of isolation and despair has been undeniable.

What I remember of my grandmother from childhood isn’t much. She wore black clothing and smelled of cigarette smoke and incense. When she babysat, she blasted Mick Jagger on the radio while preaching the importance of piano lessons and grammar. Whenever I would sit at the piano to play, she would ask that I someday learn Clair de Lune and play it for her. She said there was magic in the ability to express your self through the music of a keyboard. She loved books and advocated for the legalization of marijuana. She was a blend of sophistication and rebellious progressivism.

She had a dark side. When I was a child, I understood her life in simple black and white; I was too young to understand the weight of depression and the power of drugs. The stories she told were terrifying and with my powerful imagination, left me paralyzed with nightmares and fear.

It was only when I found that I was having a daughter that my heart began to ache with a deep longing to feel connected to the mothers before me, to learn their stories, and to live into the life they had passed on to me. There is something deep and moving within the maternal line that is all too often forgotten in our culture. I am Sarah. Daughter of Patty. Daughter of Peacey. The seed that made me was alive in my mother, inside my grandmother.

One day while visiting my parents, I found our old family Bible. When I opened it, an envelope fell out. It had my name on it, along with my siblings, and was written in my grandmother’s script. It felt like magic. A tangible voice, written with me in mind. She explained that someday, when she was gone and could no longer tell us her truth, she wanted us to know the ideas that had shaped her beliefs, and she shared a list of books for us to read.

The first on her list was Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. I had never read it, but when I returned home, I found the book on our bookshelf. I picked it up and read it cover to cover, weeping for the beauty of the words and the connection I felt with the spirit of my Grandmother Peace.

In the hospital room as I labored, I set my heart and mind in what I was doing. I read the words of Rumi while music played softly on the radio.

We came from a majesty and we go back there . . .
Like ocean birds, human beings come out of the ocean . . .
We hear a surging in our chests, an agreement we made in eternity . . . 
Another wave will smash us.
Then the meeting we have wanted will occur.”

The song that played on the radio, Clair de Lune.

Birth is raw, untouched, unimaginable beauty. Inconceivable sensation, an inward journey to an untouched place within our being. Life and death, blood and being all together, in one raw space. Here there is no self. Here I am one with another. Here I am aware of my deepest essence.

In the mystery of life creating life, I am shattered. Like a wave in the ocean, I have no separateness. I have no self. The essence of life is me and is not me, it comes from me and lives beyond me.

photo: matt hartley