Part of Being Human

My second grandbaby was born just after midnight on summer solstice – the day with the most sunlight. Something in me knew he would be a solstice baby, though it was down to the wire!

In the weeks leading to his birth, extended family life felt chaotic and heavy. I thought to myself how nice it would be to have a summer solstice baby – maximum light!

There was one day when I became like a mama bear wanting to protect my daughter in an absurd situation in which her and the baby’s needs were not being considered by the powers-that-be. It was a time meant for resting and nesting, not stressing and scrambling.

I was greatly concerned about this and became a roaring mama bear because I understood how maternal stress can affect labor and neonatal outcomes. However, voicing my concerns only added to her stress and wouldn’t change anything, so I learned to keep them to myself and generated a list of equanimity mantras (culled from sources including Sharon Salzberg and Hazrat Inayat Khan) – acknowledgments that I am not in control here, including:

  • I wish you happiness and peace but cannot make your choices for you.
  • Your happiness and suffering depend on your actions and thoughts, and not my wishes for you.
  • I do not know another person’s path or purpose, or what they need to experience. 
  • This, too, belongs.
  • May I stand through life as firm as a rock in the sea, undisturbed and unmoved by its ever-rising waves.
  • This is part of being human.
  • May I find balance, equanimity, and peace amidst it all.

Byron Katie teaches that there are three kinds of business: mine, yours, and God’s. I realized “my business” was how to relate to the reality of the situation in a way that deepens presence and peace rather than suffering.

It began to look like my daughter was trending toward pre-eclampsia, so an induction was scheduled. Given the situation, pre-eclampsia wasn’t a surprising development.

* * * * * *

It had been decided from the start that I would assist my daughter during labor (along with her fiancé), just as I did when her first child was born. A proponent of midwifery and “natural childbirth” (which I experienced twice – once right at home), I was aware of the chain of interventions that medically induced labor could lead to. But when she was being monitored for pre-eclampsia, I surrendered to the process. This was unfamiliar territory.

I drive around with one of zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s calligraphies in my car. It reads: Breathe, my dear. At the last moment before locking my car in the hospital parking lot to join my daughter in the labor and delivery room, I noticed the calligraphy and put it in my bag. It ended up being the three words that would define the birth experience.

I probably should give a trigger warning before going on, for anyone who has had a traumatic birthing experience – for my grandson’s birth falls into that category.

As much as I relished the idea of a summer solstice grandchild, of course what you hope for most of all is a healthy baby. His birth was very scary because he wasn’t breathing when he came out. In all my years of living, the saddest sight I’ve ever seen was the look on my daughter’s face when we weren’t sure if he would survive. It was impressive how quickly a neonatal resuscitation team of about ten appeared in the room and surrounded him and went to work like a well-oiled machine.

The birdsong was beautiful and soothing when I got back home to the river shortly before sunrise. But the most beautiful and welcoming sound of all that day was my grandson’s first utterance and then a soft, newborn cry. 

In those tense moments before hearing those longed-for sounds, my heart walked through a new door of compassion for all parents who’ve gone through this scenario and worse. My daughter’s face was a portal into that collective pain. Every hard thing we go through can serve to grow our compassion, insight, and resilience. It connects us.

It took seven minutes before my grandson was breathing on his own, and the lack of oxygen made his blood acidic, which created poisonous gas in his brain. So about two hours after coming into this world with a bang, he was transferred to NICU at a different hospital, to undergo cooling therapy and minimize the damage. I’d never heard of “cooling” before. It sounded serious and scary.

Leaving the hospital in the wee morning hours, I wished there was someone I could reach out to. I wanted to share what was going on – it felt too big to carry on my own. But my time zone was asleep. So I took refuge in my breath and a mantra:

This is how life is right now.
It is part of being human.

When I got back home, I went right to the riverside and lit a candle for my grandson’s good health and sent lots of prayers down the river (in the direction of the hospital) and into the sky. I sat there watching the dawn sky develop until the sun peeked over the trees across the river.

* * * * *

Our summer solstice sunshine baby had a traumatic birth. Birth is painful, uncomfortable, traumatic, unfamiliar even in better circumstances – and so the human conditioning begins. But what we don’t realize when we’re being born is how deeply we are loved, at the same time. May we arrive at that realization at some point in our lives and let go of the stories we created to make sense of this crazy world. We’re never alone, even when everything feels scary and strange.

Another thing I know is that when we are going through something scary, there are people praying for us and sending wishes for our well-being. Because when I felt the pain of parents who’ve gone through this nightmare and worse, that’s what I did as I sat there holding my daughter’s hand. There are people in this world who send out prayers and healing energy like that, and we can know that and receive it – dip our cup into the stream and drink – and not feel alone.

I also reminded myself that I don’t know what any soul comes here to experience and learn. I don’t know their path or purpose. We often learn and grow the most from what hurts, if we allow it to open us – like labor contractions open the cervix. At first, I didn’t even know exactly what to pray for. What do I have a right to ask for on behalf of another? So I started with, “Help!” And then it flowed from there.

May he be safe from inner and outer danger.
May he be protected.
May everyone taking care of him be guided to make the best decisions.
May he be well.
May his brain and body be healthy.
May he be surrounded by love and light.
May his parents be surrounded by love and light.
May their suffering be eased.

I had stayed up all night and didn’t have the energy to do Reiki. So I turned it over to a higher power – symbolized by the candle on the river. Again, the situation and its outcome was out of my hands. There wasn’t much I was able to do beyond finding the right prayers and taking the widest view I could.

* * * * *

I only managed to sleep for two hours on the longest day of the year. When I woke up, I noticed my mind searching for someone or something to blame. I realized this is why I was so mama-bear upset – because I knew my daughter’s stress level mattered. Also, had I not been so focused on pre-recording classes for the week so I wouldn’t lose out on income while assisting with the birth, might it have occurred to me to do some research on labor induction? Could I have uncovered information that could’ve better prepared us and made a difference?

But the truth was that there were so many different factors at play – and very often, we don’t have as much control as we’d like to believe we do. There are so many causes and conditions influencing this moment and what we do with it. So many factors coming to bear on the choices we believe we are solely responsible for.

In Byron Katie language, that’s “God’s business”. What if this is exactly how it had to be, for karmic reasons beyond our understanding?

It would be days before we’d have any answers, and I had a choice: My mind could keep flowing down those tributaries of blame, or I could allow myself to stay here in the present with the reality of what it’s like in this moment and that it’s part of being human. And acknowledge that many other families around the world are in the same situation right now, waiting to learn more about their newborn’s brains and bodies.

I realized that the love we already feel towards our solstice baby is what will see us through whatever we face. Love is strong! It’s the unseen force that helps people get through situations that look overwhelming from the outside.

The next morning, I woke up feeling rested. I had the energy to send Reiki and practice surrendering to “what is”. I could celebrate my granddaughter’s last day of school and look for tiny moments of awe that Shauna Shapiro calls “glimmers”. I could put faith in the strength and resilience of each of us.

Whoever my grandson is, and whatever his capabilities will be, I was certain that this summer solstice sunshine baby would help us to grow our love and generate more light.

When I visited him in NICU, I did Reiki and whispered to him: You are enough exactly as you are, and you are loved beyond measure.

And, as if in response to those words, I landed in a moment of pure awe and tears. It was as if my words were caught like a ball and then thrown back to me so I could receive them, as well.

Has my heart ever radiated and received such love?

* * * * *

I joked with my daughter before she went into labor that some moms have a mini-me, but I have an anti-me. As much as I wanted to experience every contraction that led to birthing my children, she wasn’t keen at all on pain. Back when I was preparing to give birth for the first time, I remember my mother’s and grandmother’s horror upon hearing I intended to have a “natural”, unmedicated birth. They insisted that I had no idea how much it would hurt, and that there’s no need to suffer so much.

Yes, it did hurt and there were moments when I wished I could be anyone else in the room. But I am grateful for the experience working with the intense contractions. It prepared me for being a parent. Perhaps the hardest part of parenting is watching your children suffer. You can love them, but you can’t make their choices for them or control how the world treats them. And would we really wish for our children an easy life without suffering? How would they learn, grow, and evolve? How would they grow their compassion and wisdom?

And so we learn to breathe our way through whatever comes up.

* * * * * *

When crises arise, they make visible the invisible webs of connection and caring that we might otherwise be unaware of. Although our sunshine baby was sedated on top of a cooling blanket with lots of wires attached to him, unable to be picked up and held or breastfed, he had so much love and care around him. Could some part of him sense that? I prayed that he could.

Although it looked like he was a NICU baby hooked up to wires in a room full of sophisticated medical equipment, I saw him in a different way: surrounded by a bubble of light like Glinda and connected to innumerable lines of caring, including everyone who helped him to be born, to start breathing, and to undergo healing therapy; his parents and sisters and extended family; and many generous souls who are praying for him and making food or sending money to buy food, which none of us have time to make right now.

There is so much love and caring in this world, even when we feel all alone and believe that being human downright sucks. Yes, it’s painful at times, and there’s so much we’re not in control of. But there are so many who care and want to help.

Our webs of caring became visible, like those misty mornings when you can see the spiderwebs glistening with dewdrops, whereas normally you wouldn’t see them at all, because that’s just how it is.

Crises often reveal how much love we are surrounded by, and how good it feels to help and to be part of a caring network that is larger than ourselves. We need these lessons from time to time. Because we forget.

Times like this take us out of our usual routine of being so focused on work or what’s happening in the world, and things that are petty in the grand scheme – so we can remember what’s most important in these messy, human lives.

We need to wake up from the dreams we’re living on autopilot, and remember.

* * * * *

While visiting him in NICU, my granddaughter stood next to her brand new, tiny brother and sang, “You Are My Sunshine” while gazing down upon him.

Listening to her sing, I was certain that I’ve never felt so much love in my heart.

The next day, it occurred to me that the song is perfect for him because he’s a summer solstice sunshine baby. He is our sunshine!

* * * * *

Yesterday, he went through the process of being warmed up to a normal body temperature. It went well – no seizures or other incidents, thank goodness. His skin color blossomed. Best of all, his parents finally were able to hold him. When the sedation wore off, he opened his eyes and looked around his environment. He was able to experience warm and loving, skin-to-skin connection – one of the great joys of being human that releases the love hormone, oxytocin, which benefits breastfeeding. My daughter sent me a photo of the two of them gazing into each others’ eyes while he was nursing, and once again, I wondered if I’d ever felt such love and joy.

His MRI results today weren’t perfect, but they also weren’t bad, allaying our worst fears. It appears that any brain or neurological damage is likely to be mild at most. Time will tell.

There’s so much we don’t know, even when we like to convince ourselves that we do, to feel more in-control. We feel grateful and relieved and tired and so many other feelings, all at the same time at the end of this momentous week.

All I know for sure is that this moment is like this right now, and it’s part of being human. And that we’ve all learned something about love and fragility and hearts and brains and strength and community and interconnectedness. And that each of us – and that includes you, dear reader – is enough as we are and loved beyond measure. Even – and perhaps especially – when we feel most scared and alone.

* * * * *

Update: A week after entering this world with a bang, my grandson was cleared to go home. Test results were good. Only the MRI revealed some minor damage to the left side of his brain. Although we hoped for a perfect scan, this is as good as it could be otherwise. Once he gets a little older, he may experience some mild cognitive/motor skill issues, but as the neurologist said, nothing that would prevent him from being a major league pitcher if he wanted to be. There’s also a good chance that he will never experience any of those issues. It’s just a waiting game until he develops more.

For years, I’ve been saying that neuroplasticity is one of my very favorite words – such a hopeful word. This is more true now than ever!

© 2023 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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