Birth and Death are opposites, right? A new life enters. Another exits. I've birthed two babies in the last three years. I lost my little brother in April 2016. I was shocked by how similar my "recovery" experiences were in each situation. Maybe because I'm so involved with birth every day as a doula and birth worker, but I couldn't stop noticing similarities to the way I experienced the two life events.
In March of 2016, I finished my bereavement doula training. I learned a lot about loss, grief, what the experience of losing a loved one might feel or look like, and how to support others who are in that space (specifically pregnancy loss). I was surprised, though, that I didn't grieve the loss of my brother in the ways that I thought I would. Each loss is different, of course. But one thing has been clear: bringing in new life and saying goodbye to another are monumental moments that shape your mind, your soul, and your relationships.
Birth and Death...
- ...ARE ALL CONSUMING. I couldn't think about anything else. I replayed every detail over and over in my head. For the first few weeks after the births of my daughters, I thought day and night about their births, my labor, how they were handling life, when they needed to eat, how much they were sleeping and peeing and pooping, and if I was doing everything right. My brain literally could not focus on one other thing. For the first few weeks after the death of my brother, all I could think about was his life, his death circumstances, the "what-if" questions, how my life would be different, how his children and my family were coping, and my memories with him. Other than attempting to care for my children, absolutely nothing else got priority.
- ...REQUIRE CONVERSATIONAL PROCESSING. At least for me. As a doula, I recognize the importance of creating a safe space for the new mother to share her birth story and how she felt during that process. I understood after my own births how it was ingrained in my soul to share my story and talk about it to reflect and process the events. After the death of my brother, it seemed that the only thing worth talking about was him. In the same way that I needed to process the monumental event of birth and new life, I needed to process the monumental event of the death.
- ...ARE A HORMONAL ROLLER COASTER. With both, I cry one minute, experience happiness the next, and then guilt about what I could have done differently. Granted, the overlying feelings of sadness with death and happiness with the birth of your child are inevitable and normal. But both situations elicited a wide range of emotions that seemed to come and go without explanation.
- ...CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER. The path of your future is carved the moment your baby is born or the moment your loved one leaves. You know immediately that your life is changed. Things will be different. You'll never be the same person and your life will never feel or look the same.
- ...REQUIRE A RECOVERY PERIOD AND TRANSITION. Thank God for maternity leave, right? Our bodies and our hearts need time to readjust. We need to experience life with a new human and transition from life without this new baby to life with this new baby. And that takes time, patience, and sometimes the road is rocky. We require and deserve some time to figure it out. The death of a loved one requires a recovery and transition, as well. Life is not the same and won't ever be the same again. Your family dynamic, your relationships, your energy and motivation all need to transition from life with this family member to life without.
Of course, my experience with the loss of my brother may or may not be similar to yours. If you've lost a pregnancy/child, parent, sibling, close friend, or spouse, your emotional, mental, and physical responses to loss may have felt completely different. Bereavement is a multi-layered subject, but I think it's safe to say that everyone who is grieving deserves to feel heard, validated, supported, and know their options for moving forward.
Have you experienced the death of a loved one? How was your experience similar or different?