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The greatest gift – lessons I learned from Birth and Death

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I was never an athlete. In fact, I remember in third grade, on run day in P.E. class, I would deliberately talk to the P.E. coach to distract him until everyone had jogged halfway around the baseball field, and then I shrugged my shoulders, slyly smiled and casually said, “woops, well I guess I’m too late to run. I’ll just wait here for them to come back.” Talk about a lazy kid! I did that several times until he caught on and I got in trouble. Being pregnant and giving birth is the biggest athletic fete I have ever accomplished. This was my marathon, my Iron Man, my Mt. Everest.

Like preparing to climb Mt Everest or any other major athletic challenge, mothers are pregnant for almost 10 months, nurturing their baby and fueling their body, preparing for labor. For most moms, their birth story is their Mt. Everest. For me, this was the hardest and most empowering thing I have ever done. I never considered myself strong. I’m a wuss when it comes to pain. But I labored for 10 hours, (5 of those hours at home until I was almost 100% effaced and 7 cm dilated) and gave birth to our girl without any interventions, medicine or stitches. I pleasantly surprised myself that there may actually be an athletic powerful goddess warrior within me. We are much stronger than we think.

Through my pregnancy and birth story, I learned lessons about strength, surrender and love.

Birth is the purest and most primal form of completely surrendering to Life’s flow. It was imperative to detach from my ideal birth plan and let go of  my mind’s interference and instead trust the wisdom of my womb and allow my body and baby to do the work. Our bodies are amazingly wise and know exactly what to do.

The most important lesson I learned was about Love. Not the squishy heart throbbing kind of love per se, although this is how I do feel about our baby girl. I learned the most about love - what it truly means to love someone and feel their returned love, how deep this love penetrates into our bones, it’s truth and simplicity, not through Birth but through Death.

Birth and death are intertwined. We laid my father down for his final rest on a Friday. The next day, our baby girl, Hunter was born two weeks early, just missing each other by days. Both birth and death are emotional, raw and real. I believe that my dad and my baby girl are linked in love, and that he divinely intervened, putting my sorrow on pause to bring us joy.

Every birth story is unique and should be shared and celebrated. This is my serendipitous and magical story of death and birth. 

 

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DAD:

I received the text early in the morning from my mom that my dad had passed away. I woke up Jake and we got in the car. It was early and dark. The only light existed from the full moon shining through the tall pine trees. It was huge! I hugged Jake and cried. As we drove down the hill, the full moon seemed to follow us and now perched over the freeway – a bright orange ball lighting up the sky. I looked down at the clock. It was 5:55am, a symbol of angelic protection and transition. I squeezed Jake’s hand.

After picking up my mom, the three of us fought morning rush hour traffic on Hwy 405 back to Seattle, but google map kept re-routing us off the freeway down a country road, then rerouted us to a smaller country road. It was a beautiful two-lane road overlooking rolling farmland and vineyards. The sun was beginning to rise over the distant hills lighting up the sky in hues of soft rose and lavender. During this unsettling time, I felt a moment of peace. I had never been on this road before, and asked Jake, “Where are we?” My mom quietly chimed in from the back seat, “This is your dad’s favorite road to your house.”

My dad was watching over us and guiding us.

On our 90-minute ride home, I reflected on my close bond with my father. He was my best friend. We talked every day, twice a day. He listened to me (unconditionally and patiently…and often for hours), was my biggest fan and a big supporter of female empowerment. He was so excited to be a grandfather. When we found out we were having a girl, he said “Girls are the best! If you only get to have one child, then definitely have a girl.”

He loved the name Hunter and said it was a powerful badass name, that she would be a force to be reckoned with. That night, we saw the moon again over the lake. This time seeming bigger and brighter.

Coincidently, this annual orange moon was called the Hunter moon.

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HUNTER:

It was a Friday when we viewed my dad’s body at the funeral home. Everything in my body and spirit hurt from crying for the last week. Permanent tear marks were inked down my cheeks. I felt haggard and exhausted. I missed him.

The next day, Jake took photos of me on the dock with the Henna tattoo on my belly. The henna art was beautifully customized with the Hunter moon and dragonflies in remembrance of my dad. The word “allow” was tattooed on my forearm reminding me to go with Life’s flow. The henna only lasts 7-10 days and would not be visible by the time I gave birth in two weeks. I told Jake I loved being pregnant and hoped she would stay in there for a little longer.

My water broke that afternoon. Her birth was my dad’s gift to us to help us.

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I labored at home from 7PM – midnight, listening on repeat to my hypnobirthing recordings and reading my affirmations board. The contractions never let up. To think that I  considered recording my podcast instead of taking a nap after my water broke was so naïve. I breathed through these intense cramps while Jake rubbed my back and brought me hot compresses. At midnight, Jake, my mom and I piled into the car and drove to the hospital to meet my doula and midwife. It started to rain.

As soon as I stepped into the hospital tub to labor, the storm was getting bigger. Sheet of rain pounded against the windows. Trees wildly whipped side to side. As my contractions became stronger, the storm grew stronger too, like we were in sync. The wind howled and so did I.

I rode the waves of each contraction with each deep breath. My mantra tattooed on my arm reminded me to allow this process to unfold, that my body and baby were divinely working together. I could feel her spiraling her way out with each push and breath. Each contraction was bringing me one step closer to meeting my baby.

In Chinese medicine, water holds fear, and although the relentless contractions were 1-2 minutes apart, I somehow fell asleep during the tiny breaks allowing my fear to subside. Fear can delay the birth process. I was terrified of tearing to my butthole and pooping myself. The latter happened, and somehow, we laughed despite being in the middle of an intense contraction. After 2 hours of constant hard labor, where I would push the baby’s head out and then she would withdraw, a half dozen nurses entered the room to put a breathing assist on me. This made me nervous. The baby’s heart rate had dropped. My doula looked me squarely in the eyes knowing my fear of tearing and convincingly said, “there is nothing to worry about.” I turned to my midwife who firmly said “I need you to give me 5 good pushes,” then looked at Jake who had a huge encouraging smile on his face and sparkle in his eyes and said “I’m so proud of you, you’ve got this!” I have never worked so hard in my life. My mom held my leg as I crushed her hand, Jake pet my hair and everyone was breathing and grunting with me. I made low growling yells that I didn’t know were in me. It was primal, real and emotional.

My dad said he loved the name Hunter because it was a strong name – a force to be reckoned with. Digging deep within my own strength, I labored during a fierce storm where she stopped time (as it was daylight savings). Hunter was born at 3:54am at 7lbs 1 oz. with a Divine and feminine force. My dad was right. She was a powerful force…and so was I.

Because I pushed for 2 hours, the baby’s head “gently” stretched my perineum so that I didn’t need any stitches and had minimal tearing. What I was so fearful of never happened because I completely surrendered to the raw sensations and allowed the present moment to unfold. Hunter was born with no medications, interventions or stitches. She was completely healthy despite being born early at 38 weeks. I know my dad was with us again, guiding us during that stormy labor. It was an incredible natural birth that made me feel exhausted, exhilarated and empowered.

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BIRTH AND DEATH

I wish their paths could have crossed in this human world. My dad was excited to be a grandpa and would have loved to watch me mature into a mother. But in the spiritual world things are on its own Divine timing and reasons.

Having gone through the worst sorrow of my life and giving birth to one of the best joys of my life, I’ve learned that Life and Death are intertwined. You cannot have one without the other. They are both inevitable, unpredictable, raw and honest. Yet our society usually wants to look at one, not the other.

I used to avoid talking about death. It made me feel uncomfortable and scared. But how we deal with death is how we show up in life. It represents how we deal with our fears and challenges. Do you avoid feeling it, numb the pain or find a distraction or do you lean in to the uncomfortableness? Can you surrender to what is?

Even in birth there is death: The death of my identity and my freedom. From maiden to mother, a new life is born, not just the birth of my daughter but I also emerge a new self. There is a deeper, wiser respect for Life knowing it is all fragile and special.

I’m really sad my dad passed before getting to hold his granddaughter. He fell in love with my mom upon first sight in Economics class and they had me when he was just 22 years old. He has been devoted to us ever since. His heart was so big. He was loving and self-less. He was too young to leave this earth.

I hope someday I will be the kind of parent that he was to me, that I can give our daughter half of the love that I felt from him. He taught me about devotion, integrity and patience. I hope I can teach Hunter the same. He taught me to live today as if it were your last, to never have regrets, to never be stingy with your feelings or hoard your love. Express freely and kindly your gratitude and love for others and yourself. He always encouraged me to believe in myself, especially when I couldn’t do it for myself. He was my greatest teacher about life. . . and still is.

I have learned so many lessons this past year: Lessons about my own strength and power. Lessons about letting go of my plan and my limited thinking and surrendering to Life. Lessons about loss and joy. The most important lesson I learned this year, though, was about love.

Thank you for taking the time to read  this very long dedication to my father and my birth story about Hunter. I am very grateful for YOU for being in my life and supporting me with your love! I feel it. Life is good.

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Have you listened to my SOUL SCHOOL WITH AUDREY podcast episode: The positive lesson I learned from my Dad’s death?

Mamas, check out my POSTPARTUM ESSENTIALS LIST.

 

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