Birth and Death: Coming Full Circle

newborn baby on tumblr

“Like all of us in this storm between birth and death, I can wreak no great changes on the world, only small changes for the better, I hope, in the lives of those I love.” ~ Dean Koontz

Over twenty years ago, I witnessed a friend giving birth to her son.

She was pregnant and alone, and probably not ever going to be a candidate for mother of the year. I was the only person she could think to call. I went over to the hospital and sat with her while her labor progressed. Drizzle ran down the windows of her room that gray February day, signaling the storm about to hit her life.

She’d packed a bag with clothes and make-up and magazines to read, but nothing to dress the baby in to take him home. She wasn’t ready — but who on earth is ever ready for life’s big, theatrical, show-stopping moments?

We slog through, making up the steps as we go.

We passed several slow hours waiting for things to progress. Eventually, the doctors realized the baby was in distress. He’d defecated in the amniotic fluid. They decided to induce her labor as a result. I remember a nurse handing me a hospital gown, booties and a mask, as I ran down the hall headed to the delivery room.  My friend was strapped to a gurney just ahead of me, in agony.

“Time for this baby to arrive,” a nurse said in passing. I slipped into the gown and mask, and entered the cool, stainless steel delivery room.  I saw T’s legs raised in stirrups, as they pulled her backside to the end of the table.  Her upper body was covered with a sheet.

The moments ticked by precipitously in a blur of color and sound. Nurses prepared to measure and check the baby’s vitals once he arrived. Before he would be allowed to take a breath, his airway needed to be suctioned to make sure he had not ingested anything on the way out.

The doctor and the anesthesiologist talked about football: the scores, the latest games, the coaches.

A child’s birth was imminent, and they talked about football!

I’d imagined a sort of hushed reverence for this boy’s first moment on earth. Instead, the doctors traded banal sound bites.

“They should have traded him while they could,” the obstetrician said.

“Nah. Never gonna happen. They couldn’t have gotten much for his sorry ass.”

In between these sports related missives, my friend pushed and breathed, pushed and panted. The capillaries on her face burst with the effort and she looked as though she’d been misted with blood.

Finally, one last push, one last burst of effort brought her boy into the world.

There was a quick succession of movements as the doctor aspirated his nose and mouth, clearing it of any residual fluid.

Then, a cry.

The door to life opens.

Nurses wiped blood from his face and torso. They weighed him and gave him an apgar score.  Then, they swaddled him in a blanket under a bright heat lamp to warm him up.

T delivered the placenta and started to go into shock. For several minutes the whole team of doctors and nurses worked to stabilize her as she trembled uncontrollably. The doctor sewed up T’s episiotomy, the one she’d needed to allow the baby’s head to pass out of her body without tearing her vaginal area.

In the meantime, a nurse handed this brand new baby to me. He was less than five minutes old.

My eyes filled with tears as I looked into his bleary little-old-man-face, still sort of rumpled by his trip through the birth canal.  I sang “Happy Birthday” to him as the whole room blurred around me. It was just him and me. I was there for his first entrance, something that I will never forget, no matter how long I live.

I held him, like a warm bun, until his mother could take him.

Not long after, I lost touch with her. I sometimes wonder if those moments in St. Vincent’s hospital in New York City, actually occurred.

I often wonder what’s become of that beautiful little boy.

He was born in 1989, which makes him 24 now. Has he become a good man?


“Birth and death are not two different states, but they are different aspects of the same state.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

A friend of mine, a woman who is not only a tenured professor, but does side work as an EMT, got me thinking about all this.

She’d gone on a call a couple of days back and picked up a woman in labor. They got her to the hospital just in time.

In my friend’s post on Facebook, her joy was palpable: “Just got to see baby being born!”

At the same time, another friend posted that her father, who is 87, has reached the end of his adventure. She and her sister were gathering the family to help their stepmother navigate the waters of an imminent death.

All over the world, these scenes play out. Babies are born, while others pass out of consciousness into death.


Birth and death are two of the four sufferings that Buddhism lists as common to all life. We all experience birth, aging, sickness, and death. Some may not experience aging, if they die young, but most all of us travel this familiar, well-worn path. It is part of the gig. Once you are born, death is also on the menu.

For some, this is terrifying news.

However, to me, there’s a lot to celebrate in that knowledge.

We are ephemeral.

This particular version of our energy will not be here forever. This offers us the chance to squeeze the juice out of every moment. To stick our straw into life and drink up all that we can. Death is not a defeat. Death is not an ending. It is a new beginning. It means that the fire that was us — the aspect of us that came forth from the stars, that rose up from the sea — that part of us, returns to the place it came from. Although we may not be visible in this realm any longer, our essence is still here.

Energy that has been created cannot be destroyed.  Ever.

So, as the world folds in on itself, I see the possibility of new life. With each birth and each death, we turn the page. One adventure ends, and another one begins. Again and again and again.

Will we live the life we were born to live? It’s up to us.

© 2013  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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