The Love of suffering
This is a long post. It describes the most emotionally painful experience I have had in my life, and a powerful and unexpected feeling I did not understand at that time.
You should know, in advance, that this involves the stillbirth of my first child – 27 years ago next week. I am writing it because it may help anyone who has been through – or is currently going through – very intense suffering. (Almost everyone on the planet during this time of Covid-19.)
This is my experience as I remember it – and it’s not the kind of thing you forget.
In my mid-20s, I was in a casual relationship that turned serious when we discovered we were pregnant.
Originally, we were not going to get married. But a few weeks into the pregnancy, my girlfriend said, “If we don’t get married, I’m going to go and have the baby on my own”. And at the same time, my parents said, “If you don’t get married, you are no longer part of this family.”
So we got married.
I remember sitting in the church, looking at the Fire Exit door and thinking, ‘If you got through there, it’s over’. But I stayed. I’m sorry to say, it was not a happy day for me.
Pregnancies are not the easiest times, for either person, and there was some arguing (understandably, in the circumstances). At one point, late in the pregnancy, I remember thinking, ‘I wish this wasn’t happening’. Almost immediately after this thought, the following occurred. My thought did not create this experience, but you might appreciate, it led to a degree of guilt in me later.
A lucid dream
I had a dream where I met my son. (I love this dream.) We were sitting in leather wingback armchairs like you might imagine in an English gentlemen’s club. The chairs were on either side of a fireplace and we were talking like two old men. This was only bizarre because he had the body of a baby of less than one-year-old. There might even have been brandy and cigars.
In the dream, I explained my theory of incarnation at that time. I said something like, “There is a room with only one door. Before you are alive, you’re outside the room, floating around. When you are born, you go in through the door and live your life. And when you die, you go out through the door, back to where you came from.”
I was quite pleased with this theory.
But my son just looked at me and said, with authority, “It’s a bit more complicated than that.”
The following day
I’m pretty sure it was the day after that dream, my wife phoned me at work to say she couldn’t feel the baby moving. There is a standard response to this, as we both knew, which is to sit down with a cup of tea and wait for the movements to start again.
That evening was my first real involvement with the pregnancy. It was the evening where the dads/birthing partners were invited along to meet the midwife with everyone else in the NCT group. There were only six weeks to go and the midwife talked us through the birthing process we would soon face. There were breathing exercises but I don’t remember anything else.
[This is where it gets very emotional for me and I still usually break down when I talk about it…]
After the evening – involving several couples in a community hall – my wife told the midwife she hadn’t felt the baby moving all afternoon. The midwife took her into another room, to check with a portable scanner. A few minutes later, she came up to me, quite red in the face. She said, “Go and get the bag. I’ve called an ambulance.”
We only lived a few hundred meters away and I sprinted to the flat, grabbed the bag which was packed and ready by the door, and sprinted back. My wife was already in the ambulance and we went to the hospital, about 20 minutes away. During the trip, I asked for the blue lights to be put on – there was no time to waste.
When we arrived, we were put on a monitor with the screen turned away. The nurse/midwife looked for a while, then said she needed to go and get someone more senior. I asked her to tell us what was going on and said I am from a medical family. She told us, “Your baby is dead.”
We fell apart. It’s the only time I have cried like that.
For medical reasons, we were told we had to go through the birth normally and it would start the following day.
We were left in a room with a bed and I don’t remember much except crying and saying things like, “He’ll always be an angel”. I think my dad came to see us, because he is medical and was known to the hospital. My wife called her own mother, who started arranging to come from across the country.
After an epidural in the morning, we had one midwife with us until our son was born, naturally, around 4.00pm. The midwife was experienced, calm and absolutely brilliant. The last stage involved the pushing and breathing you would expect, but after the actual birth, there was silence.
That was one of the hardest parts.
The midwife took him away to dress him in the clothes from our bag and brought him back to us for a few hours.
Our midwife had told us there’s a stillbirth in that hospital every couple of weeks. An organisation called Sands (the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) provided a disposable camera that we used to shoot a roll of film. (I just saw on their website that 14 babies die before or soon after birth every day in the UK – so many broken hearts…)
Sometime after 10.00pm, our son was taken away in readiness for a post mortem. The next time he was with us was at his funeral, which was one of the other really hard parts. The coffin for a newborn is very small. White and tiny. It may have even had only one pallbearer.
Those are the facts. Hard to write and hard to read, but not the reason I’m writing this blog post.
For a few days immediately our son was born, I was aware of an incredible feeling of love around us. It was huge. I felt like we were being bathed/cushioned/surrounded by love. At the time, I thought our son was surrounding us with love to help us get through the worst experience of our lives.
I have told people, if we hadn’t been married at that point, I would have proposed. The love was total. Super-natural.
It was many years later – and only a few years ago – when I understood what had really happened… (I am not discounting the energy sent by our son or other entities. No doubt that was also happening.)
Near the beginning of this blog, I was given one of the most significant books of my life. The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. I had just had what I call an awakening experience, following another unexpected and traumatic event, and the timing was perfect.
In this book, and on his videos, Eckhart talks about the present moment in a way I hadn’t appreciated before. (It helps to be in some kind of suffering to understand this.) It’s such an insignificant-seeming thing – one we habitually overlook – but it is the key to this whole game we’re involved in. It’s literally in front of our nose the whole time…
To really experience the present moment, you have to stop thinking about the past, the future and even the present. I mean stop. Totally.
When I read this, I immediately realised what had been going on for those first days after my first child was born.
At that point in the pregnancy – 7.5 months in – all your thoughts are concerned with the baby. Everything is planning, planning, planning. In one instant, that entire future had been deleted. So all those thoughts stopped. The past probably went with it. We were just in the present, and too stunned to think about that.
And what happens when all the thoughts stop, is that you notice the pure, boundless Love that is always there. The blue sky, as some people describe it, without the clouds.
All there is, is Love
You may have experienced this at some point in your life (if not yet, I hope you will) when you “fall in love”. It could be inspired by a person, a painting, a sunset, a song… There is no time – just space filled with joy.
The last time I had this experience was a year ago last summer. For one week in July, almost totally unexpectedly, I fell in love (again). It had no history and I didn’t know if it had a future – all I knew for sure was what was happening at that moment.
I remember one moment, when my lover and I were meditating on the bed, facing each other. I became aware that my mind was trying to make sense of the situation. And another part of me said, ‘Don’t try and make sense of it. It is not to be understood. This is beyond the mind.’
The idea of not trying to understand life has come back to me a few times recently. We are not here to try and understand what life is, how it works, or find out what happens next. It is all beyond the mind’s ability to understand.
Instead, we are here to live. To be alive. To be present as fully as we can. Life can’t be planned. It just… happens. And, if you just go along with it, as Dr Seuss pointed out (in Oh, the places you’ll go), “You’ll start happening too”.
But one thing I promise – and hopefully the above event will help you see – is that when the worst thing that could ever happen does happen, Love is there for you.
It’s there all the time. We only think it isn’t.
You may want to know what happened to the mother of my first child.
We stayed together for almost a year, then went our separate ways. Unfortunately, she had other pregnancies that didn’t work out. But one day, I got a message from a mutual friend to say she had had a healthy child. I’ve seen a couple of photos, and the child is beautiful.
I have since been in a serious relationship in which we had two children, who grow up fast.
In my reading of various books on the subject of death and rebirth, I have come across a couple of things that are relevant to this post – and may be helpful to anyone who has been through the stillbirth experience. (It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe what I’m going to say – belief is all in the mind anyway and my quest is for Truth. These two points resonated with me and bear repeating.)
First, I have read that a soul knows that a pregnancy will be terminated or end in stillbirth before they agree to join that body. They have their own reasons for this, which might include practising to be incarnated. (We do not appreciate how hard it is to be incarnated – to fuse our being/essence with flesh in the material world. It is one of the reasons this planet is so hard – and so miraculous. The fact that you have done it at all is a massive achievement.)
The other point is from one of Carol Bowman’s books on reincarnating back into the same family. It stopped me in my tracks when I read it…
From memory (please forgive any inaccuracy), a child was talking to their mother as they were driving one day. It came up that the mother had had an abortion; maybe more than one. And the child said they knew. The child said they were also the aborted baby. And they knew their mother was not ready yet.
A final point on suffering. The best explanation I’ve come across so far is that suffering happens when what is happening and what we want to happen do not match. Another way of saying this is that we resist the present moment as it is.
The answer (these are both extremely useful expressions and both from Eckhart) is: (a) you accept the present moment as if you had chosen it; or (b) you surrender completely to the present moment.
Why is that useful? Because suffering does not come from the event itself – it comes from our thoughts about the event. When we surrender those thoughts, we suffer less. We can then put our attention on the event and be more present with it.
This is easier to read than to do. And the last time I suffered greatly, I was consumed by it, despite knowing what I’ve just written. My whole body was electrified by the suffering, and the spell was only broken when I read an email from my daughter to tell me that she was suffering from some situation.
My mind was distracted, and I was able to fall asleep very quickly – something that I’d been finding impossible that night.
I hope you find some of this post helpful. Please feel free to comment below.