The biggest surprise of my pregnancy was how much it prompted me to think about death.
Not in a morbid or fearful way, and not even because I’d been reading up on birth stories and stats that expose America’s unnecessarily high maternal mortality rate. I just found that I couldn’t reflect on what was happening in my body from any perspective except one that hovers above the axle of life’s revolving door.
To contemplate a beginning is to contemplate an end. To introduce a life into the world is to introduce a death into the world. That is the dual nature of nature – the twin stares of Mother Isis, all swirling simultaneously in my gut. Especially in the early weeks, when a miscarriage felt as likely as anything, the birth/death outcomes seemed two ends of the same rope at which my imagination grasped so ardently, late into the night.
Before I’d told anybody I was pregnant, I used to pace hurriedly through the streets of our neighborhood just like a girl with an urgent secret, instinctively holding my stomach and racing with thoughts, one of which was, Wow. I have inside me right now the person who is going to bury me someday.
When I later shared that with friends, they laughed, seeing it as comically macabre. But it wasn’t that. I actually felt comforted and even awed by this preemptive glimpse at closure. As I wrote in my journal the night my pregnancy was confirmed, that moment of finding out instantly became “the belly button of my life,” tying the skin of my past and future existence into a defined center, giving it unified form.
As torturous as it always is to think of loved ones dying (especially my own child – cringe), I suddenly understood how some people say that having kids makes it easier to die. Certainly I’d always thought of the inevitability of death as a lame “reason” to reproduce. But now that I had another generation gestating inside me, I saw the relief of being survived not as a reason to do anything, but as a sweeter description of what will happen someday.
We are the stories we tell ourselves. So what’s wrong with believing whatever helps us face the great mystery in peace?
I admit, I do feel better about her father and I eventually dying, believing that our families have combined into a new person who might carry our love for the world into the future, simply by existing. It’s not that we’re looking for a way out of death, or that we naively believe we’ll carbon copy ourselves onto another being. We just lived our lives naturally until more life grew out of it, and somehow that notion takes the edge off death’s unyielding persistence.
Somehow it allays whatever doubts I had that the big revolving door is nothing cruel, or futile, or even anything to fear. Now the door seems, just like everything in life, another way of learning to share, learning to take turns, learning to grow up.