Tag Archives: awe

Birth Experienced First-Hand

“Do you want to feel a puppy while it is being born?” my dad’s wife asks me as I sit on a small chair against the wall of the now hot and muggy puppy room. She and my step sister are looking after Kate, a yellow lab who is pushing and panting out her fifth and final litter of puppies who will be raised through Canine Companions as service dogs to people with disabilities. It is April 13, an auspicious day for children of any species.

She has already delivered the first three: yellow male, around eight ounces, whose tiny trembling form sends us many times scurrying for hot water bottles to keep him warm; black female, feisty from first breath and a massive thirteen ounce firey bundle of look-out-world; black male coming in to top his precocious sister in weight by a single ounce, whose low plaintive cries make the eldest sound like it belongs to a smaller dog breed. Kate is, at the moment, fulfilling her motherly duty: taking a rest while her babies keen continuously for her attention.

A hands-on birthing experience? I wonder at the idea, realizing that the possibility to have such an opportunity is making me excited and apprehensive all at once. I get very still and consider the question. It sounds amazing, but would Kate mind? How would she feel about that? It is a strange thought to have regarding a dog, I know. I have been noticing lately that I’ve been taking such considerations far too seriously after attending a conference on minimally conscious people and whether they can participate in medical decision making. Of course Kate won’t be phased in the slightest. And unlike a wild dog, she’s even nonchalant about humans moving her babies away from her to a warmer place to help keep them alive and comfortable.

Even so, I find myself inexplicably feeling shy. “I’m not sure,” I say slowly, as relief mixes with a tinge of regret.

“Okay. Let me know if you change your mind.”

All through the birth of pup number 4 I find myself reflecting on the experience I am having already. I am quite moved, and I feel honored to watch. I am astonished by how such a process has gone on since the first instance of life, and yet for me, a single living individual experiencing just one particular life, I have never been present at a birthing before. How strange and beautiful, I think, to witness the transition of a unity, two lives in a single body, into its division of distinct and vibrant creatures– one with eyes watchful of the ways of the world, the other arriving silent and surprised, already implementing instincts to breathe and cry and move.

I try to imagine what it could possibly be like to be squeezed out into a cold, loud, incomprehensible world. I’d cry. I’d sense and feel and feel and feel and there would be nothing else but the moment, no time or ordering, only the now and now of changing feeling — and rising unaware, the impulse to respond. But this is where my imaginative empathy stops. I admit to myself that I really don’t know what it is like. There are people who claim to have memories of their own birth. I am definitely not one of those people.

When pup number 5 is on his way, I decide to change my mind. I simply can’t pass up a chance to be in the middle of things, literally speaking, and really get a feel for what happens (no pun intended.) I am right there with Kate when pup 5 Is born.

Girl helping to deliver a puppy, it's curled up in the sack it is born in.
Éilis delivering pup.

Puppies are born in a little sack, unlike humans. When they first arrive, they are not even breathing. There really is a fetal position, and pup 5 is in it. I help with taking him out of the sack, and hold him as he takes his first breath of life. In that moment, it is my turn to be breathless. Puppies are born blind, and I think deaf as well. His first experience isn’t the sight of his mother, but me holding him in the palm of my hand. For my part, I am in awe of him.

Like usual, when I attempt to say something out loud in response to the experience, my words hardly convey my internal thoughts and feelings. “Does he have any fur?” I am immediately answering myself in my head. Of course he does, he’s a puppy! But in my defense, he really doesn’t feel like he has fur. He is so slick in my hand that his fur feels like skin. It is only when I get to hold him again after he’s dried off that I can feel his short newborn fuzz. His ears are barely distinguishable from his head. His tail appears sort of wilted compared to the full furriness characteristic of labs which it will grow into as he gets older.

Girl sitting next to round tub with yellow lab mother and puppies, holding a tiny newborn.
Éilis holding a puppy seconds after birth.

I hold him a couple minutes longer while he tries with uncoordinated enthusiasm to crawl around in my hands. I lift him up so he’s more level with the tub which will be his home until he’s big and strong enough to climb out of it, and my dad takes pictures.

Close-up of girl holding newborn yellow lab.
Pup number 5, baby boy, in the first few minutes of life.

Afterward, I assume I’ll be giving him to Kate straightaway for tending, but instead we weigh him and put him with the other puppies to stay warm. Kate, it turns out, has one more delivery to go.

Kate's last litter, six healthy pups.
Kate’s last litter, six healthy pups.

On the Journey Unfolding

Stillness sparkles
Like beads of sweat upon her skin
Overwhelmed with not knowing
Enough, and too much at once

Off the next step of the journey
She falls as if diving
Backward, body tumbling suddenly
Into a network of outstretched hands

Cautiously she peers up, seeking reassurance
In their wise and ancient faces
Gently they explain the why of it
For a second, peace, she accepts

But silence shrouds the when and how
Unsettled by uncertainty
Stars wait to intermittently flicker
Behind the eyes she starts to close

She is a crescent of moon
Surely too small to be prepared
To rise full across the sky
Reflecting the sun

How does light, bending
Coalescing into prisms
Of the named and unnamed colors
Experience living, life dynamic and moving

She could ask them to leave her here
But that would only put an end to growing wild
And what joyful homecoming might await them
Passed the familiar with its running interference

And so, though fear taunts her
Beckons with cold stone stare
She is already changing
One fragile life, they carry her

Where are they going
Needing, again and again at every moment
To trust, letting go into love
That no matter the form, she remains who she is

Light is a shelter woven over her
Light is sharp awe, soft wonder
Seeing herself take shape before her eyes
Recognizing, eyes open, she will mirror the spiraled patterns of being

The Antlered Branch _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 13

December 23, 2013

By the time I finally leave the house with Allegro and make my way to Aquatic Park to go look for what Oisín and the others have left for me there, it is around 5 PM. I certainly had no expectation of anything in return when I first agreed to make my place their own. I am still just as surprised as moved that they’d secure some kind of manifest world object for me to show their gratitude. I still know little about what is possible in the otherworld, but imagine that moving physical objects to specific locations is no small matter, and it is even possible that it would take tens to hundreds of otherworld people to accomplish such a thing depending on the size of the object. Even now, I have no idea how they did it.

The walk is quiet and uneventful. Hardly a manifest person is around. The water laps softly along its bank, the birds’ songs are muted, and the trees stand silent and resolute against the sky which is slowly darkening into ever more mysterious shades of twilight. This has always been my favorite time of day. As a child, I used to cherish my time outside when the sun’s light, glowing like ebbing flame starkly against the night’s deepening presence, revealed to me a world of image that usually was lost to me. Often, I’d stand precariously on the back of a swing in the yard, frightening my parents for sure, but too immersed in the ecstatic wonder of suddenly illuminated shapes and outlined objects to care much at all about something more earthly, like safety. Besides, I reasoned as only a six year old can, I had excellent balance. I could not as well leave this brilliant light behind just to heed adults who wished me to come inside.

As with then, the fading light fills me with a silent, quiet, wild joy and I still imagine myself laughing and leaping and flying through that light, which is filling every space around me now with its mystery. I walk through this wondrous world, tracking the shadows in the wooded areas to my left where I found the picnic table that I am trying to locate again.

An older man, who I met once before in passing and know is quite lonely, says hello to me and I ask whether he knows if I’m near the turn off to the table. I think I am, because there are lights above and beyond the brightly infused sky flashing in the trees at this spot. But finding a picnic table while offroading with a guide dog is a hit or miss project. He assures me I am in fact close by, and asks if I don’t mind some company. I look around and don’t see Oisín nearby, so I agree that we can talk for a little while.

The two of us sit across from each other as he shares some of his life with me and I listen. A half an hour goes by, and now I do see Oisín standing at the edge of the clearing. I send him a picture of the situation, and he says not to worry, he’ll stay until the stranger leaves. So finally I say to the manifest man, “I am really enjoying talking to you, but I have to meet someone now. Can I be alone?”

I briefly wonder, as there are no other manifest people within sight range to speak of, if the man might think I’ve had enough and am just trying to back out of talking to someone twice my age. Fortunately, he turns out to be happy to grant me my request for solitude without question, and doesn’t appear to be taking it personally. When he leaves, Oisín walks over to stand beside me.

“There are a great many trees around here,” he observes, “So I thought to come show you to the one I spoke of yesterday.” This is true enough. Together we walk over to a tree which is at a diagonal from where I was previously sitting.
Once I am standing in front of the tree, Oisín vanishes, presumably so I can discover for myself what he’s left there for me. I have to admit that I am now feeling a bit like a kid on a treasure hunt. No point in ignoring the curiosity of my inner child now, I decide.

Cautiously, unsure if I’m looking for something sturdy or fragile, I reach out my hand. The tree is eucalyptus, like every other of its myriad cousins in this area. But the branch my hand encounters is not only very detached from the tree, but is actually made of Oak. It is placed rather impossibly around the trunk, and to this day I haven’t been able to get anything else to stay up there. I’ve tried, I admit.

Antler Branch On Wall

I take the branch down from the tree. It’s big! From one end to another is approximately two feet across. There is a section of branch which is just the right size to fit my hand around. Holding it there, the rest of the branch splits into two halves that arc away from each other in a kind of narrow semicircle. On each end, two twigs stem out giving the whole of it an uncanny resemblance to deer antlers.

I know the significance of deer to Oisín’s immediate family. His father, his son, and himself were all named for this animal, after all. As a totem animal, a concept from a culture which Oisín’s clan would have never known existed, deer are usually symbolic of inner gentleness and compassion, as well as protection. I mean, that can be quite true of them and everything, but deer aren’t like that all the time! They’re also wild, fiercely territorial and adaptable, resourceful, and don’t hesitate to answer to a challenge. When I have looked into Oisín’s eyes, I have seen all these things, and more of course. I for one think that if a totem is going to give insight into the spirit of a person,, it’s probably best to recognize that nonhuman animals can have natures as complicated as any human. I digress, however.

I imagine that if clan Baiscne, to whom Oisín belongs, had a family emblem, I am holding a representation of it in my hand. I have too many thoughts and feelings occurring at once. I am astonished and happy and wondering how many people it took to get this branch here—it’s so big. I am moved by how one physical object could convey so much meaning to me. If I had ever worried about being accepted, it looks like that worry is both unreasonable and I not only belong, but somehow have been accepted into Oisín’s family. This realization overwhelms me. It would be hard to believe if I weren’t holding tangible proof of it.

Equally overwhelming, however, is that, as I gaze at the branch in my hands, it seems to emit a soft, continuous glow, as if the very wood could radiate that divine spark at the heart of itself out into the changing clay world. This is all quite enough to take in, so I do what I usually do when I have more energy than I know what to do with: I choose a direction and take off. Full of a wild inexplicable joy that seems to suddenly come upon me, I gather up Allegro and we walk so fast that we are practically running. I’ve never run with a flashlight, having never had the need for one, but the blazing light around the antlered branch in my hand illuminates the night, casting bright shapes across the landscape. Sometimes, when I look through the middle where the branch splits in two, I feel like I am almost catching someone’s eye. I definitely do not feel like I am walking alone. There are no manifest people in the park at the moment. Somehow everything around us holds still, while we, myself and what feels like many who I cannot see but seem to be with me, traverse the trail back to my apartment. I, or perhaps we, make it home in record time, and the whole return journey has oddly felt effortless.

Once I walk through the door into the kitchen, I carefully set the branch down while I go get a vase from above the refrigerator to place it in. This is not because it needs to be placed in water, but just because I can’t think of another way to make sure it won’t fall or get broken. I’m trying to grab a glass vase precariously from a cupboard which is slightly too high for me to actually reach safely. But I’m in a great mood and not alone. This means I’m determined to attempt to accomplish what I’m aiming to do successfully, since I feel I can do just about anything at the moment.

“Don’t do that, you’ll get yourself hurt,” someone is saying with concern, and when I turn around I see Oisin standing behind me.

“You think so?” I ask cautiously, “I think I can reach up there. I’ve done it once or twice before.”

“Well, it’s not a great idea for what you are aiming to do at the moment. Are you sure you are not actually trying to do something again beyond your limits to prove to yourself that you are worthy of our company?” Oisín asks, challenging me with his compassionate, yet wildly fierce eyes. “We want you safe, child.”

Is that what I was really trying to do, I ask myself a bit reluctantly? Well, okay, yes that was a substantial if far from explicit part of my motivation. It would be too awkward and self-defeating to deceive myself into thinking otherwise.

“Thanks,” I say, and grab a chair from the kitchen table to stand on. The particular vase I need, it turns out, is behind a bunch of other smaller vases and would have been impossible to grab from my earlier vantage point on the floor. I am growing, even now, but I just have to remember that won’t translate into physical height.

The antlered branch is still shining with otherworldly light where I’ve placed it on the counter. It’s amazing in its own right, but perhaps more, well, awesome still is that I have become like family to Oisín and the fianna. I am trying to integrate this into my world and it’s happening very slowly. Attempting to sort out my thoughts, one in particular suddenly comes unbidden into the forefront of my mind. Is it possible, the thought interjects, that I have always been a part of this family and just don’t know it for certain yet? How else to explain why I’ve felt like Oisín is a long lost grandfather? Why else does he call me child? But I can’t even entertain the idea. I almost desperately shove the thought out of my head so that I don’t have to possibly face another instance in so many days of my beliefs being turned upside down.

So instead, I turn to Oisín to thank him properly. In response, he simply fills the room with light. We are, I realize, speaking without words. And in the silence there is understanding, of what is, which words don’t ever seem to capture adequately. I’m glad that I can let go of trying to put everything into language and can communicate through wordlessness. This wordlessness is, I am beginning to realize, the grammar of being, it is why silence is intelligent, and how existence speaks for itself.