Just before the autumn equinox of 2010, I woke up in the middle of the night, sat straight up in bed, and knew I was pregnant. We've all heard stories like this before and they always sound a little hard to believe. But there I was, sitting next to my sweet, sleeping husband, feeling absolutely certain that a little soul had joined our family. A few days later, a home pregnancy test confirmed my intuition.
I had spent the weeks prior to Julien's conception hosting a meditation retreat via my blog, Om School, and was feeling grounded, healthy, and honored to become a mother again. Our daughter's first reaction to our good news was to kiss my belly and say, "I love you, baby!" to her brother for the first time. I sat myself down in front of my altar and sent loving-kindness to my baby. I've continued that practice almost every day since.
My entire pregnancy was beautiful. I ate all of the right foods, meditated nearly every day, practiced yoga, walked, drank plenty of water and red raspberry tea, enjoyed the holistic care of a midwife, and made sure to cherish every single moment with that baby in my belly. I even kept a journal for Julien -- writing letters to him every few days and sharing my thoughts on life and the little things that make it so precious.
By the end of my second trimester, on a day when the sky was exceptionally spacious, I was taken back by a quote from the Buddha. “O Nobly Born, remember the pure open sky of your own true nature. Return to it. Trust it. It is home.” In that instant I realized that I could feel my boy not just within me but all around me. From then on, while sitting on the meditation pillow, I would say to my baby, "hold on boy, let's go for a ride," and feel us soar across the big, spacious sky.
We painted the nursery sky blue and decided to name our baby Julien. The root syllable "Ju" derives from the proto-Indo-European root diu, referring to the light of the daytime sky. His middle name, Honor, was his big sister's idea. Together his name, Julien Honor, means to remember that our true nature is limitless like the sky.
My contractions began about 3:00 pm on Monday, June 5th, 2011. It had been raining for an entire week and this was casting a bit of a gloom on things about our house. I was a few days past my due date, moody, and ready to pop. Still, I'd woken up that morning determined to be in good spirits and make the most of the day. The nursery was ready. All of the baby's clothes were washed, folded and put away. Every cloth diaper, every bamboo wipe, every organic blanket was in place. The freezer was full of carefully-planned postpartum meals. The co-sleeper was by our bed. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth had been read. There was nothing left to do but breathe and enjoy the gift of childbearing.
By 9:00 pm my contractions were getting pretty strong. I lit candles, cut the blessingway yarn from around my wrist, and called my midwife. I walked in between contractions, sat on my birthing ball, and repeated the mantra, "supported, present, and trusting." Months before I'd written the following intentions for my birth:
To know I am supported in every breath by my family and by an amazing network of beautiful and strong mamas, to be fully present, aware, and connected with the magic of each moment, to release, let go, and trust my body's ability to open and give safe passage to this baby.
Now I sat in the center of so much beauty feeling humbled and honored by it all. The moon looked as if someone had painted it on my bedroom window -- a perfect crescent, white and glowing. When my midwife arrived and checked me, we discovered that Julien was breech. The most recent literature tells us that vaginal birth is a safe option for breech babies. That wasn't the case for us.
Julien was born June 6, 2011 at 5:24 am. He was 7 pounds 10 ounces, 20 1/2 inches. He never opened his eyes. He never took his first breath. His arms were raised above his head and crossed behind his neck preventing him from fitting through my pelvis. The coroner's report said that he died intrapartum.
I remember the moments after he was born being very still. Despite the commotion in the room and the efforts to save him, I remember feeling quiet and calm and gazing at my beautiful, perfect little boy for the first time. His skin was so soft and he looked so peaceful just sleeping there. I'm sure I must have been in shock by then but I had this feeling that he never quite made it into his body. I think maybe that when we take our first breath, we incarnate -- that our soul enters and leaves our body with our breath. This certainly seemed like the case when my grandmother passed away several years ago. Now here was my boy, next to me for this fleeting moment, and then he was gone. His coming, his going, two simple happenings that got entangled.
When we got in the car to go to the hospital, I noticed the sun was peeking out from a cloud-filled sky. This was the first time we'd seen the sun in days. I couldn't help but feel like the sky had opened up a little bit for our boy. I held him for the first time at the hospital where they'd pronounced him dead an hour after he was born. My courageous husband had gone with him to the hospital while I had to stay behind to deliver his placenta. The emergency room doctor consoled us with a story about another breech baby who had died in delivery at the hospital and reminded us not to blame ourselves, look for reasons why, or second guess our decision to have him at home. I suppose this is a far cry better than if the emergency room doctor had made us feel we were somehow to blame; still, there wasn't much comfort there. How can we not consider all of these things?
The next few days felt like holding on to the eye of a hurricane and watching life spin by around me. Time stopped. My body ached. My belly felt like a hollow cave, empty and longing for my little boy. When my milk came in and began to drip from my breasts, my whole body seemed like an oozing wound -- bleeding, leaking, crying... wet and swollen and empty. Our daughter had so many questions and cried hour after hour throughout the first night -- waking up sobbing and thinking of some special thing that we had planned that now would never be or some song that we would no longer be able to sing to Julien. Recalling watching her grieve and holding her in her pain brings tears to my eyes as I write this.
We had a private funeral service and buried our sweet boy next to my grandparents. Seeing our boy there in a tiny white coffin, dressed in the little gown we'd picked out for him together, felt like a dream -- like a horrible nightmare that couldn't really be happening. But it was happening. We sat there together - the four of us - as a family for just a few minutes before my husband had to walk away. No parent should have to bury their child.
It's been two months now and some days the entire thing seems like it never happened. Was it all a dream? The beautiful blessingway and shower? The handmade birth mala... the beautiful note-cards with sentiments from all of my woman-friends? Every little kick and flutter in my belly... was it all a dream? When I get close to it like this, when I think of what might have been or question my choice to deliver him vaginally, the pain of losing him is unbearable. But when I step back and breathe, when I feel the wind on my cheek, hear the soft roar of the ocean, or see the vast, open sky, I know he is here... I know that he never left.
One of the things I said to Julien before his body was returned to Mother Earth was that I promised to always look for the joy in the world -- to always lean into the light and find the beauty in the sunbeams. I'm deep in the shadows right now but I think that this pain has cracked my heart wide open and opened me to a larger perspective. I'm discovering that there is an offering in my heart -- an offering that my family's suffering might help someone else, another family, another mother or father or sister who has lost a child... or perhaps just anyone who has ever known loss or suffering.
I promised my boy I would find the beauty in the sunbeams but it seems that I'm finding it in the darkness too. It's in this capacity for feeling. This is what gives life beauty. Joy isn't just in the sunbeams. It's in the shadows too -- because here, in the depth of our suffering, we can awaken the compassion that is inherent in all of us.