• Nathan Riley, MD

Death Through Birth Through Death

Updated: Jan 27, 2020

My friend's sister died in December. I can only imagine that, for her, Christmas felt more like an afterthought, as mourning the loss of a 34-year old precludes the classical merriment and family synchrony that generally warms the heart in late December.

Fast forward a month, and my friend is now mourning the loss of her baby, which was diagnosed with anencephaly, a condition that is incompatible with life. She was forced to make the impossibly complicated decision to terminate the pregnancy. In the state of Kentucky, there is only one abortion clinic, meaning protesters swarm the entrance of this lone Louisville facility on a daily basis, salting the wounds of women facing the most difficult decision of their lives.

When she and her partner told us this the heartbreaking news, it sounded like a goodbye, a goodbye to my wife, thanking her and reminiscing about how nice it had been to be pregnant with her. She and Stephanie had just taken a photo with their pregnant bellies touching only days before the procedure, and now, her belly was empty, no longer harboring new life. My wife and I met her tears with a deluge of our own. There were no words appropriate to console our friendship. The news was earth-shattering, and enough words had already been spilled by the medical professionals, protesters, and everybody in between. We sat there, wiped our eyes, and channeled in silence our deepest sympathy for our friends, who were suffering from a quiver of arrows to the heart incurred over just a few weeks of time.

We didn't have the right thing to say, because, in the face of tragedy the right thing to say doesn't exist. The right thing to say is a machination of scripted primetime specials. "I'm sorry" and "It'll get better with time" don't cut it when the heart is broken. What matters is the space, the space that we hold for those we love. The heart heals; the heart scars. And, with space, we pick ourselves up, in our new place - in some ways stronger, in some ways broken and in need of repair - and we move forward together, in love, through death, birth, and rebirth.

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