By Ann Tepperman
It’s been 485 days since my mother died.
Four hundred eighty-five days ago I sat next to her on her bed, the only sound in the room the breathing machine and her heavy, thick, watery breaths. Her body was gently propped up with pillows so that she could face the setting sun through her bedroom windows. Her eyes were open and wild and she could no longer move or talk. The blood cancer had seeped into every cell of her. It had won.
I held onto one of her limp hands with one hand; the other rested on my swollen, nine-month pregnant belly. Inside me, swimming in quiet bliss was the daughter who would never meet my mother, her Nonna, except perhaps as spirit floating through the veil into the other world. I recall my mother having two final breaths: the second to last was from this world and the last seemed to be her breathing in the atmosphere from the other. Then she stopped. Then she was gone. And she is gone forever.
We were guarding my mother’s body, sitting next to her until the men in the truck came to pick her up. They wrapped her in a white sheet, preparing her to be taken away, and it was then that I turned my tearstained face to my husband and in agony asked him to help them carry my mother away.
“Will the circle be unbroken by and by Lord by and by, there‘s another home awaitin‘, in the sky Lord in the sky…”
I watched my husband carry her body away in the most reverent and loving way. Even though we had been together for nine years and had (almost) two children together, at that moment we created a deep, inexpressible bond that carried us through this horrible tragedy and everything that was to come.
Three weeks after the death of my mom, my water broke. It was the middle of the night, and I was awoken by a surge of warm liquid pouring onto the bed from between my legs. We called the midwives and my husband began filling the birthing pool with water. Then we waited. And we waited, and waited. But labor did not come. So with a quiet, desperate longing to meet our baby, we retreated back to bed.
A few days later the midwives called. “We are coming over,” they said. “Today you are having your baby.” I scoffed. I was already past due, walking around with a broken bag of waters. I had decided this baby would stay put indefinitely. How could I possibly give birth without my mother?
When the midwives arrived, they handed me an herbal cocktail to induce labor. We sat together on the floor of my living room and I placed the tinctures in front of me. I closed my eyes and imagined opening up the space between the two worlds, a doorway I had locked, unknowingly trapping my daughter. And although fearful and reluctant, I took the herbs, practiced my hypnosis and waited. Slowly, after several doses and a forced inward focus, I began to feel the first twinges of labor.
I had been laboring for a few hours but my labor was inconsistent. I decided that I needed to be alone. I went upstairs, removed my clothing and sat on my bedroom floor. I began to sing. Slowly and quietly at first, the words of one of the oldest prayers from the Torah moved past my lips: “El na refa na la. Please God heal her. (Numbers, 12:13).” This small and powerful prayer was said by Moses to God after his sister Miriam had fallen ill. Like Moses, I was now surrendering to the most powerful force I could imagine. I, too, was asking for help and healing, and the surges of labor increased dramatically with every word of my heartfelt prayer.
Naked, on my hands and knees, my giant, pregnant belly brushed the white, wool carpet. I was gliding in circles, riding the long, strong surges of labor that arose from deep inside my being. I sang out louder and louder into the Universe, my voice embodied with full power and force.
Then time became surreal. I remember the midwives looking down at me from above. I remember the warm tub water. I remember stumbling deep into my husband’s compassionate eyes as I pushed and pushed and pushed. And just when I thought I could go on no longer, I gave one final push.
And she was born.
I had now stood at the gates of the death and birth of two of the most important people in my life.
I looked down at the baby in my arms. I had no idea who my daughter was. Up until then I had only been able to feel her through the veil of my own perceptions. I didn’t understand that the grief and suffering I had felt from losing my mother had been holding her back from entering fully into this world and into her own being.
It’s now been fifteen months since her birth. She’s talking and running, fiercely independent and full of warmth and compassion. I still grieve the way her birth transpired and often wonder if the loss of my mother and the emotional turmoil I suffered has left a mark on her. But just when I am doubting her strength, she shows me her spirit, her individuality and perseverance, and I am amazed. Independent of my life’s story, of all my grief, sadness, joys and losses, she is her own person and I just need to get out of her way so she can be born into herself and thrive.
Ann Tepperman has dedicated her life to raising the consciousness of others through her holistic psychotherapy practice and personal essays. She lives, loves, parents and meditates in Columbus Ohio. Learn more at www.anntepperman.com.
Photo by Scott Boruchov