Usually there is not a lot of overlap in the two halves of my professional life.
Well, in a sense there always is: the skills I use as a chaplain are nearly identical to those I use as a doula. I support not just the person, but the whole family as they adjust to a major life transition. I help people navigate the complicated and overwhelming experience of being in a hospital. I listen, sometimes I cry, often I laugh. I carve out space in a hectic time and place for people to identify and express their feelings. I once described to a chaplain colleague what it looks like for me to support a family in birth, and she said, with comprehension and amazement dawning on her face, "Oh! So, it's like a 13 hour patient visit!" Yes. It is exactly like that.
The skills I use are the same whether it is a birth, or a death. Usually there is a clear line dividing the two events. But not always.
Last year I went to the funeral of a mom whom I had supported in giving birth. This woman had been a delightful combination of fierce warrior mama and tender-hearted girl. She brought her beloved teddy bear to the hospital to cuddle in labor, and then pushed her baby out without an epidural in front of a gaggle of nursing students who had never seen anything so beautiful and raw. Several months later, she died suddenly and unexpectedly. I sat in the pew and looked at her baby sitting in her uncle's lap and cried my heart out.
Last week one of our doula clients let us know that there was nothing more that could be done to save her baby's life, and they sang their baby to sleep later that day. Her baby had lived for just a month. The mother told me that day by day, week by week, she had held out hope that her baby could somehow thrive. She also said that her own physical recovery from birth has been very easy, with her body quickly returning to its pre-pregnancy state, and now she finds herself wondering, "Did I really have a baby?" Sometimes she goes into her baby's nursery to remind herself that her baby existed, that it all really happened.
I offered, and she gladly accepted, to facilitate the celebration of life they will host in their home for close family and friends on Sunday. That is how I have come to be here, pondering, wondering how to strike the balance between the deep joy the parents feel over having been gifted with their baby's life, however brief, and the deep sadness they feel, knowing that their baby is now gone from their arms. Because there was so little time and the parents wanted to soak in every precious moment of their baby's life, their extended family never met the baby. For them, this will be both hello and goodbye.
I am so honored to be able to cross over from supporting this family in birth to supporting them in death. But this is some of the heaviest work I have ever done.
For thus says the Lord:
As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
your bodies shall flourish like the grass;
and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants.
-Isaiah 66:12a, 13-14a
Rest in peace, Lisa and Chloe. You are loved and remembered. <3