When I was a student midwife, I went where the main midwife took me to assist her at births. So when we had to drive over an hour east of San Diego, a chaparral ecoregion covered in small shrubs and lots of desert sand inbetween, I sat back and enjoyed the view, talking about babies, breastfeeding and all things birthy. Another assistant was with us, too, so the three of us chattered during the drive.
When we got to the house, it was… not quite a mobile home, but more like a home built out of scrap materials. Well-made, but small and quite worn, probably by the wind and sand.
The mom wanted to birth outside, so we set up the Fishy Pool for her.
If I recall correctly, we put more cold water in than hot because it was blazing outside. Flies and bees were everywhere, dive bombing us while we worked.
With Fishy Pools, unless someone had a washer and dryer hook-up, we had to carry pots, pans, coffee pots, etc. of hot water from the stove to add to the cold water going in from the brand new hose.
We set up the pool in the searing sun even though there was a Pepper Tree near. The tree housed a beehive, so a bit of a distance was good.
The labor was lovely; the birth, magical.
The mom would have contractions that had her howling like a desert wolf, then inbetween, complete silence from all of us around her. If she moved, we would hear tiny splashes, but none of us spoke above a whisper, and even then only when necessary.
But from the Pepper Tree, the bees were not silent. In fact, they seemed to be amplified as our sounds faded. Buzz Buzz Buzzzzzzzing from the Pepper Tree. It was mesmerizing.
In the short space between the end of labor and the beginning of pushing the baby into the world, some sort of surreal experience hit all of us at once. The Pepper Tree emitted a scent, intoxicating… the bees swirled around and buzzed… the flies vanished. I felt dizzy and wondered if my blood glucose was falling, but I saw the others were feeling something as well, our eyes gaping at each other, waggling eyebrows a bit to say a silent, “Yes! Me, too!”
It was as if time had paused for the mom to gather her strength and we were giving her ours as well.
Then the sensation vanished as quickly as it had begun, the world moving once again, moving with the baby who was born in the water soon after, sweetly and easily.
Once the placenta had been born, mom wanted to still sit outside for a bit and wanted under the buzzing Pepper Tree, so we laid out a couple of blankets with towels on them for her. She sat while we cleaned up quietly around her, not speaking unless in a whisper.
I took note the bees and flies kept their distance and respected the new life under their wings.
These moments, from right before the birth until we rose from under the tree were… I really have no other word for it… Holy.
(That says a lot coming from an atheist.)
Mom nursed the brand new baby as dad held her in his arms in front of him.
Eventually, the heat was oppressive and the baby was getting warm and needed a fan as much as the rest of us. (Babies are rarely fanned! Keeping them warm is much more the usual routine.)
Before we could move into the house, the housemates, who’d been out in the garden on the other side of the property during the birth, brought over some watermelons picked mere moments earlier.
Sitting on the small porch, we caught more of a breeze, so, comparatively, we cooled off.
The gardeners proudly held out the odd-looking watermelons (“they are organic!” I was scolded). I frowned that they were not cold, but was hungry so held out my hand for a big slice. The new family was settled on a cushioned (and covered) bench, already taking bites out of the red watermelon.
As I brought the watermelon to my mouth, I caught the scent and it was so powerful, I pulled it back and looked at it quizzically. When did watermelons smell like this? Never before in my lifetime. I then opened my mouth and bit into a hot chunk of melon. I am sure I swooned, newly in love with a food I thought I knew, but really was just meeting for the first time.
“Oh my GOD, this is GOOD!”
Someone smiled and said, “This is organic watermelon.”
I have tears in my eyes remembering the taste, the hot squishiness on my tongue, the juice oozing down my chin, hands, arms and elbows. I looked at the others, equally covered in red natural syrup and dreamily taking huge bites, consuming 2 watermelons in a half-hours’ time.
When we’d all finished, someone turned on the hose and we took turns splashing off the drippy stickiness with too-warm water.
Resting After Birth
I was given the hot and sweaty job of getting mom and baby into her bedroom, a small 8×8 room with a fan strung up high, blowing downward, the electric cord snaking from outside the room, through and back outside the window with holes in the screen. She and her partner, and now baby, had a mattress on the floor.
I got things laid out to protect the mattress, helped her to pee before getting down onto the mattress with the baby. I got her a big glass of water (no ice in the house) and plopped down with her.
But There Were Flies
I swear there were over 100 in that tiny room. Zizzing around, up, down, into the corner of the baby’s eyes, landing on anything they could find… our mouths, noses, heads, hands, arms, legs, feet… it was mercilessly hot and the flies were taking up space and air we needed.
I asked the new mom where the flyswatter was and she looked at me horrified.
“We do not kill things at this house! You can use a piece of newspaper to brush them out of the room and then outside.”
I looked to see if she was kidding.
She was not.
I went to find some newspaper, folded it in half and began shooshing the hordes of flies away from the new mother and baby and out of the room as best as I could.
It was a losing battle. (You knew that already, I know.)
Eventually, I just sat down, newspaper in hand, waving it gently around the nursing pair.
“This would be the most difficult part of my living out here… the flies.”
This newly postpartum woman began talking very softly and asked me to close the door.
“Are you sure?! It’s going to stop all the air flow!”
“Just for a minute.”
I crawled the couple of feet, leaned over and closed the door. The temperature climbed 15 degrees within seconds.
She called me to come closer. I could smell her musky sweaty newly postpartum scents. She crooked her finger to come closer, so I leaned my ear nearer her mouth.
Barely above a whisper, she confessed:
“When I am alone in the house, I use the vacuum cleaner hose to suck up the flies. I figure I am not directly killing them, right?”
Wanting to laugh really loud and hard, I swallowed my extreme amusement and wholeheartedly agreed that it was not directly killing them. I did not want her to feel one more second of guilt about getting rid of the nasty flies in her bedroom.
All These Years Later….
It’s been 20 years since this happened and I can still feel the heat, hear the bees, remember the Holy experience… and taste that amazing watermelon.
“Be kind to the children, for they are close to the other side.” – unknown
When my father was given 3 months to live when he had the intestinal cancer, everyone had an idea of what he should do. Take this herb! Try chiropractic! I was in the “Call Hospice” camp. But my father had a different plan. Instead, he wanted to do chemotherapy. Those of us in the medical arena of his life, holding the labs in our hands, shook our heads at the futility of that… and it might/probably will make him feel much worse. We did what he wanted anyway.
My dad did 2 sessions of chemo and then said, “Call Hospice.”
His death 2.5 months later was peaceful and gentle. And he was so so loved.
When We Need to Listen
In my life right now are a couple of people who have family or friends with terminal diagnoses. Those around them are rushing to help with all sorts of remedies, diets and even insisting on the “power of positive thinking.”
Instead, perhaps this is a time to ask the dying person what they want, not foist on them what we want.
Being near those that are dying is an amazing honor and privilege. For one thing, it isn’t a sudden, unexpected moment where there are always regrets about things not said or done. When you are at the side of a dying person, you have the opportunity for completion and the giving of your heart in a way you might never have before.
It is not a time for airing grievances that will never be resolved. Not a time for your confessions of guilt (find a Priest for that). It isn’t even a time to just sit keening and crying your eyes out, the dying person trying to comfort you in their time of need.
Holding the Space is a concept I learned in midwifery, but had been doing a long time already with men dying of AIDS decades ago. Holding the Space is sitting quietly, perhaps praying silently, seeing golden light of love surrounding them or just Be-ing with the person heading to the other side (into parenthood/through death/in illness/etc.). Allowing the person to say what they want… rambling speech or exquisite poetry. I like to keep notes, but not at the expense of my complete attention.
One caveat: Take as many pictures as you can… with each person separately, everyone together… take pictures holding the person’s hand… get video of them if they are still talking. I have nothing with my dad’s voice on it and regret that terribly.
Mindfulness is a buzzword right now, but if there was ever a time to be Mindful, it is when with someone in transition. Not worrying about getting to the store, checking your phone or even talking to others in the room about mundane life crap. BE with the person. Give your full attention to them. Watch them. Witness their transition completely.
If you get tired, you rest. No one can be expected to be Mindful or present 100% of the time. Do go for walks outside. Walk the dog. Eat a good meal. Be mindful of your needs, too.
There But for the Grace of God Go I
When I am with someone in this holy place (which does include childbirth, of course), I want to share with them how I hope to be treated during my own transition through death. Not that it is my prescribed way of dying, but simply respectful and kind attention.
My family knows how I want to go. At home. People happy, laughing, music blaring, telling fun stories, remembering all the wondrous things I have done in this life. I also want to be read to. Read to me when I am tired and need to close my eyes for a moment.
But that is me. Not everyone wants the levity part that I have requested.
Perhaps the person you are with wants to smoke again, drink until they are drunk every day, wants to go out to a forest and dig their toes in the dirt one more time. Take them! Even if you have to hire an ambulance service and need to push dirt through their toes while they are on a gurney. Be creative to give the dying their wishes. If they want to watch a favorite movie on a 24-hour loop and it makes you crazy…
…so what?!? Let them!
Talk to your loved one. Ask them what they want and need from you.
Then do it.
An added note: I understand that children dying slowly can be another aspect entirely. I have not lost a child to cancer or another illness or malformation, so cannot speak to it accurately. But, as with everything anyone in the world writes or says:
I initially wrote this on my Navelgazing Midwife blog, but it needed to be shifted over to here. It was written on July 4, 2016. I remain endlessly in awe of those that responded to the call for help in saving lives on June 12 and 13, 2016.
I have wanted to write this since 3am on June 12, and every day since, but it took awhile to even begin to formulate the right words; there was simply emotion and incredible sadness hindering my fingers.
I was a midwife and doula for 32 years, holding lives in my hands many times, resuscitating babies and stemming the tide of postpartum hemorrhage in mothers. Yet I have but a whiff of what our First Responders (and others named below) experienced the night of June 12 and all these days since. I have tried to think of a way to thank these people, have an intense urge to seek each one out and hold them close to my heart while whispering, “Thank you,” over and over again.
The scope of actions from those that were there… are there… for my gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer and straight family, Latinx or Anglo, (for they are family to all of us) is enormous. The incredible amount of love, care, detail, sweat, tears and even shock must be acknowledged. As a care provider myself, I listened to the incredible unfolding of the hospital staff’s descriptions of their work as the waves of dying and injured flooded through their doors. I sat through their first press conference with survivor Angel Colon front and center, enraptured, yet sobbing with gratitude and awe at their choreographed and executed dance to save lives.
I know I could never begin to thank every agency that pulled together those first 24 hours, but I need to try. Each profession or organization I list is a thread in the whole, beautiful tapestry that is #OrlandoStrong.
Please feel my overwhelming love and gratitude… and know there are thousands and thousands of others who feel the same. You people, my Superheroes, are a gift to humanity. Never, never let the finger pointing touch you. Do not claim that bureaucratic static that will certainly grow to a cacophony before too long. Stay true to your knowledge that you did everything right, you saved so many. You did the very best any of us could ever have done. No, you did far, far better than most of us.
Thank you a hundred million times plus 102 to those mentioned below. If I have forgotten you, just add yourself to the list; it was merely an ignorant oversight. You, too, belong here.
Thank you to:
– The entire Orlando Police Department who risked their lives, over and over again, to save as many people as possible. I am filled with so much gratitude, my heart overflows with tears streaming down my cheeks.
– Everyone at the Orlando Sheriff’s Department who also risked their lives multiple times and kept communications between the different agencies running smoothly. I also weep with gratitude for your agency.
– Orlando’s amazing SWAT Team who found ways to get into the building to save people and then removed that evil animal from this earth. You all are incredible.
– All the tireless Paramedics who used their minds and skills, even when the solutions were unorthodox, to help save lives.
– All the Ambulance agencies that responded and tended to the wounded while getting them to the hospital as fast as possible.
– All the EMS personnel who had many roles to fulfill in saving lives.
– All 911 Dispatch Operators… my heart aches for you wondrous folks who comforted the injured and dying throughout the several-hour ordeal. You gave genuine love to those that died while you were on the line with them and helped keep others alive until help arrived. Your professionalism and note-taking will not be forgotten as the information continues being disclosed. I send you special wishes for emotional and spiritual healing from this horrific experience.
– Orlando Regional Medical Center Hospital, especially for their readiness drills that helped set them up for success with extreme situations such as this. No words can possibly express my pride in your response, care, and skill when you were least expecting it.
– The ORMC Trauma Team, all those years of study, school and thousands of hours working in the hospital and learning specialized skills culminated on June 12, 2016, saving untold lives.
– The Emergency Room Team, thank you for always being ready for anything. You were there. You were there for all of us that night.
– The dozens and dozens of Doctors – ER, OR & ICU – for utilizing everything you’ve ever learned (and things you surely had only heard about) to save so many. There really are not enough words to offer my gratitude and love for you all.
– The Orthopedics teams… your amazing skills working with the back and muscles was most assuredly crucial that night. I am sure you saved so many from being paralyzed with your gift during surgeries. Thank you so very much.
– The Microsurgeons, your extremely specialized skills surely saved so many from bodies that would be unable to feel or move properly once healed.
– The Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgeons, your specialization was crucial with the horrific injuries to the chests of too many. Thank you for keeping so many hearts pumping.
– The beloved Nurses – Trauma, ER, Triage, OR, ICU & Surgical Recovery… it is beginning to sound trite, but I promise, I am absolutely speechless with gratitude for your gifts of kindness and skilled caring. Nothing that night (and since) could have been done without you incredible human beings. You are the Angels of Mercy.
– All the Surgeons of an endless variety, thank you for specializing in your individual areas and to the General Surgeons, thank you for attending to the multiple types of injuries that night. Thank you all for remaining strong and focused during the assembly line of cases that surely seemed never-ending at times. Your hands, in the most direct way, saved so many lives that night. Thank you.
– Residents – who used every moment of training to step in wherever you could.
– OneBlood blood bank personnel including Blood Collection sites, thank you for assuring there was ample blood at the hospitals for all the cases that needed it. Thank you, too, for opening up sites on Sunday to collect blood and organize getting that blood back to those whose lives depended on it.
– The Phlebotomy team, your job had to have been incredibly challenging that chaotic night of terror, finding veins and arteries, keeping the vials organized and then running the thousands of stat samples to the lab, over and over again… thank you for your skills and dedication.
– The Radiology team – your job was infinitely complicated by the sheer numbers of people working on each person, yet crucial to examining the patient in a life-saving manner. Thank you for knowing how to peek inside the bodies that needed so much help.
– The Respiratory Services team who were called into action to keep massively injured people breathing, either from the assault or the incredible shock and fear they were experiencing. You all are wondrous healers for those who cannot breathe.
– To Environmental Services, who were said to have cleaned and set up a room in 30-45 seconds; miraculous! It is challenging enough to keep things pristine and safe from cross-contamination under normal circumstances, but that you worked with all that blood, tissue, drapes, gauze, tubes, gloves, and then cleaning beds, rails, the floor and emptying the contaminated trash while patients were waiting for a place to lay… doing all of this in mere seconds, really is worthy of immense gratitude.
– To you amazingAnesthesiologists and Nurse Anesthetists… while I know you are highly-trained for emergencies and working with people in dire pain or unable to communicate their medical history, I am sure this night multiplied the need for your skills and knowledge dozens-fold. That you were able to anesthetize our precious friends and family so they might be saved under such circumstances is a miracle to behold. Immense gratitude.
– ToORMC Laboratory Services, the tasks thrown at you June 12 and the days immediately after had to have been enormous, yet you were there as the backbone for the entire health and safety of the injured, getting blood to whomever needed it, organizing the lab results so all providers could coordinate proper care, the list surely continues endlessly. Thank you for your amazing skill and meticulous attention to detail under extreme duress.
– To the Orlando Medical Examiners, especiallyJoshua Stephany for your immense sensitivity in keeping that madman separate from our lost souls. The unbelievable task you all gently and respectfully undertook is appreciated beyond words.
– To the Physical Therapists who began working with the survivors almost immediately so they could have as full a life as possible once they are recovered, thank you for your skills and knowledge of the body and its nuanced possibilities through movement and touch.
– To theChaplains of the Orlando Police Departmentand the others around Orlando, thank you for rushing to the spiritual aid of our First Responders, the families of the injured and dying and praying with the mass of disbelieving friends and relatives in their moments of spiritual questioning and anger towards God. Thank you for your love and patience with so much inner pain.
– To our Mental Health Therapists & Psychiatrists who flooded the different locations where families waited for news of their loved ones, knowing crisis counseling was an immediate need and you provided it, with zero regard for payment of any kind except knowing you were helping someone in emotional pain. Mental health needs will reverberate for years and years for so many of us, so thank you in advance for all you will do for everyone as time unfolds the mental and emotional anguish of this horrific night.
– To the Pharmacists at ORMC, your enormous task of providing the correct medications for scores of critically injured patients has not been overlooked. Filling order after order in the middle of the night had to have been daunting, yet when you, too, called for help, it came in in droves. Thank you for your education and extreme attention to detail.
– To the LGBTQ Center of Orlando, who immediately opened their doors to anyone who needed a place to talk, be held, cry or mourn. No words can express my gratitude for all you have done, are doing and will continue to do for our incredibly awesome and diverse community. May our Center grow as much as our hearts have for you after this disaster.
– To the Cell Phone companies for keeping those injured and dying in touch with loved ones and 911 operators.
– To those inside Pulse that struggled to save lives as the horror unfolded, who shielded others with your bodies, who comforted the injured and dying as you hid anywhere you could, who held friends as they bled to death in your arms… no amount of tears and thanks can explain how full my heart is for you beautiful people. Your unspeakable pain will never be forgotten or taken for granted. You are incredible human beings who were in a horrible situation, but your soaring kindnesses outshone any evil that man tried to snuff out. Bless all of you.
– To those who work at Pulse for your belief in human rights and dignity – you will never be forgotten… especially Barbara Poma – you are so loved.
– To the civilians who just happened to be in the area and helped the injured, comforted the dying and transported anyone they could to the hospital, thank you. Clearly, we needed you there that night.
– Special note to the Religious Community… Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and many denominations of Christians… who pulled together to pray and offer support to all who needed it. In the days afterwards, church services were held to assist the mourners who found solace in religious healing.
One national speaker, Victoria Kirby York of the National LGBTQ Task Force, spoke at a local church service and she must be held aloft and applauded. In a sea of religions not understanding the LGBTQ community, Ms. York stunned everyone with her ability to use Scripture to affirm the LGBTQ experience and right to love who we choose. Her words were a spiritual salve for so many who have been alienated by the religions in our neighborhoods and the policy-makers’ pens.
To the hypocrites among the religious folks (you know who you are), I hope you are able to rectify the doublespeak you drooled off your tongues after our tragedy because our LGBTQ family keeps dying because of your hate and damning judgment. It needs to stop. Now.
Ongoing Love & Support
While the above list, surely not complete, reflects the care and love from only the first day or two post-massacre, I could continue for another three days thanking the multitudes of restaurants, airlines, hotels, businesses, those that brought Comfort Dogs to love on those that needed a tender doggie hug, and then the ongoing monetary donations to the Pulse GoFundMe Page.
I must also thank the rest of the United States and the World for their endless support through vigils and moments of silence for our 49 beloved murdered friends and 53 recovering victims.
Please take a moment to offer thanks to everyone I’ve mentioned and those I have forgotten to name.
And lastly, please remember the families of those who have died and been injured. Their lives are forever changed. May they find at least a moment of peace through all of our love.
To our most precious doves, we will never forget your names or who you are: