• Brittany Oaks

Carry Each Other


There is a lot of lip service these days to curating a tribe of women who support and lift each other up. Human nature as it is, joining together in celebration or outrage seems to be pretty effortless. But what about sharing each other's grief? A lot harder, right? I think this has a lot to do with our unfamiliarity with grief and for the purpose of this post, specifically that related to death: for most of human history "dying—like being born—was generally a family, communal, and religious event, not a medical one. Because many deaths occurred at home, people were likely to care for dying relatives and, thus, to have a fairly personal and direct experience with dying and death."¹ But now it seems that "death at home in the care of family has been widely superseded by an institutional, professional, and technological process of dying. That process—its positive aspects not with standing—has distanced the final stage of life from the rest of living."² I have argued in the past that the removal of birth from the home and the insertion of so much patriarchal medical institutionalism has certainly changed American birth culture for the worst. The stats seem to agree with me: recently it was reported that "more American women are dying of pregnancy-related complications than any other developed country".³


Experts cannot agree on the exact reasons for this trend, but studies do bear out that a bigger role for midwives could be key to reversing it. "The midwifery model, which emphasizes community-based care" as well as "close relationships between providers and patients" seems to bear out that the simple human act of being there for each other can have a huge impact on outcome.⁴

So what do we do with this knowledge? Should we all start giving birth in a yurt with everyone in the neighborhood present? Start burying our relatives in the backyard? Maybe?

The simplest solution though is just to make a conscious effort to support each other. Through joy, protest, birth and grief. Help remove the stigma of talking about loss. Talk to mothers about their angel babies. I know, it's uncomfortable, but buck up - you aren't the one who lost a child and it is the least you can do. Check out these sweet friends consoling a grieving mother: did they have to come and be face to face with her loss? No. But they showed up. They comforted her. They were there for her.



Don't be too uncomfortable to join your loved one in their grief. Researchers "have suggested that Americans do not deal very well with dying and death and suffer much avoidable angst and expense as a result."⁵ I agree. Maybe "if more Americans spent more time with their dead—at least until the next morning—they would come away with a new respect for life, and possibly a larger view of the world."⁶ Maybe we could even take a cue from the animal kingdom: in fact, the inspiration for this entire post was a painting going around on facebook this morning: a beautiful illustration of the mother Orca who made headlines for carrying her dead baby. The post states that the mother "was getting too tired to carry it so the pod stepped in and the other females are taking turns carrying baby so mom can rest and eat." This resonated heavily with the internet, and the post went quickly viral.

The takeaway was simple:

carry each other.


¹ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK233601/

² https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK233601/

³ https://www.npr.org/2017/05/12/528098789/u-s-has-the-worst-rate-of-maternal-deaths-in-the-developed-world

https://www.propublica.org/article/midwives-study-maternal-neonatal-care

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK233601/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-surprising-satisfactions-of-a-home-funeral-53172008/#JSmhiASJtc263I1C.99Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGvFollow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

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