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On Birth & Death

On Birth & Death

Learning to Hold Both

I became a mother this year.

This in itself is un-unique; there are an estimated 2 billion mothers worldwide. It’s a rite of passage, a new and enduring chapter of life, an irrevocable and fundamental shift in who we are and how we move through the world. Like so many mothers before me, motherhood doesn’t look the way I initially thought it would. And, like many mothers before me, this is because my daughter died on the day she was born. It’s a horrific and relatively common occurrence; I am not unique in this experience. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage; of those that continue, 1 in 160 babies are stillborn. Statistics feel cold and detached from the devastating reality that is baby loss, but they do help in putting its prevalence into perspective. It’s less than 1%… but I assure you it feels like a staggering number once you’re on the other side of that line. Stillbirth. I’d heard the term in passing before Nora was born, grasped the basic concept of what it was. Before Nora, the word was flat, one-dimensional. I understood its meaning, but not what it meant to live inside of its brutal reality, to survive it and learn to live with its presence throughout the rest of my life. I miss that innocence. Honestly, I thought it was something that didn’t happen anymore, something we’d left behind in the Victorian era. A rare occurrence, a freak accident, something that happened to people who had complicated pregnancies or underlying illness or substance use issues. I don’t know, just other people. People who at least had signs and symptoms. Not me, a healthy 27-year-old who had a textbook pregnancy and whose body and baby passed every test with flying colours. No one told me this could happen. With time, I’ve grown comfortable with this word. Initially it looked cursed to me, caused me to instinctively flinch a little like I do when I see “cunt” spelled out plainly. Now, I find an odd sort of coincidental power in the term. It’s an affirmation: still birth as in, it’s still birth. My daughter was stillborn, and she was still born. Her birth and her death matter, they still count. I carried her for 39 weeks and 4 days. I brought her all the way to the day she told me she was ready. She made me a mamma, my partner a dad, my parents grandparents, my siblings and best friends aunties and uncles. She brought so much joy and love along with her in those precious months that she was in my womb…that didn’t just go away when her life ended. We are all changed. I am a mother whose child is not here, but I am still a mother and Nora is still my child. Our connection looks wildly different from what I had expected and dreamed of, as does my journey in learning how to parent her. It’s been a little over three months since she died. I’m finding my way through…I will be for the rest of my life. Grief is a funny thing. It comes in waves, and sometimes the waves are long, slow and stretched out, and give me space to breathe in between them. Other times they are one on top of the other, holding me down and making me feel like I am drowning in all my waking hours. If you are still reading…thank you. I know this is heavy and I thank you for sitting in it with me (when you feel it is too much, please remember that I live here, and that I’m not the only one). I’m not wholly sure of what the purpose of my writing is just yet, I know only that I feel compelled to speak on what this experience feels like. Hopefully I can help you understand some fraction of what it is like to survive the loss of a baby. Perhaps you are supporting someone through baby loss, or you’re just curious what this thread of the human experience is like. Thank you for being here. And if you have lost a baby, I am so sorry. I wish you peace and I hope you find solace in the fact that you are not alone. I wish you weren’t here, but I’m glad that you are. All of my love, Kaitlin, Nora’s mum

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