Sunday, February 21, 2016

Attending to Birthing with the Dying

The Platte River
Last Thanksgiving, I spent a long evening with mi mama showing her YouTube videos of childbirths.  Although she had given birth more than once (in the 1950s), Mami had never actually seen a birth.  Nurses had placed a linen sheet at her waist which prevented Mami from seeing what her body was doing.  An epidural also numbed any possible sensations she might have experienced.   This meant she never saw my sister or me slip out, never caught us.  She was not involved with our births except to hold us after someone cleaned us up, cut the cord, swaddled us and placed us in her arms.

So now-- in her 92nd year, she wanted me to show her childbirth videos. After I sat her down in front of the computer, we held hands and began to watch.  She was transfixed, riveted to the screen.  The first was a birth much like the way she described hers: a woman injected with an epidural, a sheet keeping her from viewing her body below her waist. She was calm, asking what was happening.  Her friends and family were there, describing each step along the way.  The camera showed everything.  Mami could see the crowning, the slow emergence of the head followed by a quick slip through of the baby's tiny body.  Mami gasped and held my hand tighter.  With her other hand, she pointed to the pulsing umbilical cord-- how it was so alive, she said. I didn't like seeing it cut so quickly.

Mami kept reminding me that when she was in labor with me, what kept distracting her through the curtains of her birthing room was repetitive lightning, the sound of thunder and hard rain hitting the windows.

The next videos I showed her were all natural home births, which were quite intense for her.  We observed women squatting or kneeling in shallow pools of water, their bodies heaving, the women moaning or even yelling.  A midwife or partner would assist the mother with breathing or massage.  And, when the baby emerged, the mother caught it, brought it to her chest, encouraged it to cry, massaged or cleaned its tiny body with a cloth. The umbilical cord remained intact until it no longer was pulsing.

We watched one natural birth after another until Mami said, "Ya.  Ya entiendo todo."

When I flew back home after this visit, the flight I took from Denver, Colorado to Omaha, Nebraska followed the same route as the Platte River.

It was mid-morning, clear and sunny.  I was crying, knowing my mother didn't have much time. The river below distracted me from my sorrow.  I began taking picture after picture of the Platte because it was soothing.

From the air, it looked like an umbilical cord, bumpy at times, pulsing, infinite, what was connecting me to her.  The Platte, after all, is a tributary that has connections to the Gulf of Mexico.

Two months later, Mami (like the women giving birth) was moaning, sometimes yelling, breathing hard, and later skipping breaths. Perhaps because of our evening watching all those birth videos, I now connect her dying with birthing.  This birthing is an emergence out of the body into another dimension, a slippage into non-being, into pure energy.  Like childbirth, it is hard work to complete the transformation, the separation.

The day she died,  my sister and I took turns holding her close, touching her cool, smooth skin, speaking soothing words to her, finally swaddling her, and kissing her goodbye.

Para vivir es demasiado el tiempo;
para saber no es nada.
¿A qué vinimos, noche, corazón de la noche?

No es posible sino soñar, morir,
soñar que no morimos
y, a veces, un instante, despertar.
--Rosario Castellanos

My mother and I--her joyous energy in movement
*The photos of The Platte River by Amelia M.L. Montes, December 1, 2015


Unknown said...

Beautiful, querida Roja, like you, like your mami.

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

A lovely tribute to your mamá, querida Amelia. Beautiful words, beautiful sentiment, beautiful births that keep spiraling in that final physical goodbye. Love and light to you.

Melinda Palacio said...

que amor dulce

Unknown said...

a beautiful tribute---touching upon the humanity of birthing and dying

Sally Charette said...

Thank you for this wonderful thinking, feeling, writing.

johnraible said...

Beautiful, Amelia. Thank you for sharing it with me.