For the first time in 9 years of doula'ing, I had to step out and let someone else take over my roll of doula for one of my clients.
It was not due to my inability. Nor my lack of desire. In fact, I grieved over having to leave my laboring mother. But I knew that I left her in good hands, and I felt some peace with that.
In late April, as my client frantically nested, setting everything up in the nursery just so, cleaning bathtubs and refrigerators, and feeling the first little twinges and changes of impending labor, a dear friend of ours was on a drastically different journey. On a rescue mission to fly wounded soldiers to medical help, his helicopter was brought down, and his life with it.
While I cleared my schedule to focus on being available for my client, we heard about a helicopter crash and pilots who were KIA, and we prayed it wasn't one of our pilots. One of the ones we had travelled with through aviation school.
And after my last prenatal meeting, having talked through all of the mama's fears, her desires, sifted belly and baby to coordinate in mama's womb, we got the news. Our fears were brought to reality. It was Nick. And he was being laid to rest in five days.
The first day was spent in shock and utter disbelief. The second day in sobs of grief. We purchased plane tickets, booked hotels, and arranged for my mother to come and watch our kids. And then I remembered my client. A woman on the verge of welcoming life. Surely new life could wait while I honored a life already spent. Surely birth could hold out while we experienced death.
In the last days before our departure, I quickly coordinated a back-up plan, naively believing that my client would hold out for my return.
And on that night before we were to leave, we had our alarm clocks set to awaken us at 3 a.m., our funeral clothes pressed and hanging in travel bags, my client informed me that life could not wait. So, I went.
As this mama worked and walked and struggled and sipped, I imagined my friend, Julie, and how she labored that same evening in preparation for her husband's funeral. I rubbed and sifted and gentled and supported, and this mama praised Jesus for the new life about to unfold. And I wondered, is there someone with Julie to rub and sort and gentle and support her tonight? To praise Jesus for the life that was well spent? Is there a doula for death as there are doulas for birth?
And baby Jacob took his time. Like his name implies, he struggled to make his way out. My back up came in the wee hours of the night to take over as welcoming committee, and my husband and I flew off to make up the farewell one for our friend.
Jacob took his time coming. He struggled his way through his mother's pelvis, slowly moving toward his exit, and his mother struggled her way with his movements. It was not an easy birth, but at last he emerged, vigorous, healthy, crying. And I, so far away now, also struggled. I was torn between two worlds. I had left a mother transitioning into a new role, and was now present to witness my friend relinquishing a role she so loved. We also struggled our way through this ceremony of exit. It was not easy. We struggled with the right movements. We cried. And as my client said, "Hello little one! How I love you!" We said, "Good bye, dear friend. We love you."
Life and death, they go hand in hand. They are events in our lives that change us forever. They help us to learn and to grow and sometimes take a lot of time to understand. Both events need to be covered in love and support, to be surrounded by strong and gentle arms, and tears that express what cannot be said through words.
And we need to remember, just as the new mother doesn't stop her journey at the birth, the bereaved do not stop their journey at the death.