The Goddess Speaks

Tuesday, February 23, 1999

Becoming human
after witnessing life

By Joleen Oshiro


My grandmother used to say you are not a human being until you have had a child.

My first child was born nearly four years ago. The birth was long and complicated; ultimately, my son died when he was five days old. A day into the ordeal, I knew deep inside that my son wouldn't survive. There was nothing else to do but surrender to death. In that letting go, I was engulfed with an exhilarating awe. I had not only participated in beginning his life, but I would share in his passage onward as well -- how incredibly humbling.

Info Box I stood by my son's crib hour after precious hour, examining his ears and toes, stroking his soft skin, combing and recombing his hair. I wanted to remember everything.

My child wouldn't live to be one or 10 or 100, I thought. But his life path deserved just as much respect as any other, even though it was just five days long and spent in a hospital. And so I was able to let him go.

Some of our family, anguished and grieving, discussed retribution and lawsuits because of the complications over the birth. But during the long hours of labor and in its terrible moments, an invisible umbilical cord had grown between those of us who had struggled together to bring the baby into the world. I think our ties paralleled the intimacy among soldiers in war: We had wrestled a horrific event alongside each other. Blaming anyone equaled blaming myself; we had all contributed to what took place.

Forgiveness honored the best efforts we put forth and the love and wisdom my child had elicited through his life and death. Without forgiveness, I knew I couldn't survive the long journey of grieving ahead.

Life after the baby lacked the swooping, inspiring lessons that filled my spirit while he was alive. I struggled at the edge of a huge, dark crevice that threatened to swallow me up. Afraid my broken heart would do me in, I closed it up tight. The isolation I created then spills over through today.


Last March, my daughter was born. Her entry into the world took just two-and-a-half hours, so quick I could barely breathe for keeping up. My life changed almost as rapidly: In a few months, I had given up work, moved out of my house with my husband to live with parents and was spending 24 hours mothering. Life has continued this way for almost a year, but it's still scary and wonderful all at once.

Budgeting is harrowing business. Some months I don't know how we make ends meet. And days can get long without adult conversation and the challenge of a career. But stay-at-home mothering allows my daughter absolute security during this time when the world is so new to her. It allows me the luxuries of breastfeeding her each and every time she's hungry, greeting her each time she awakens from a nap and getting to witness her every first. My daughter's gift to me is a fullness in my heart I never thought would be possible after my son died.


Motherhood has been the greatest teacher about my humanity. Grandma may have been a bit extreme, but my life has made her point. I have come to understand grandiose issues such as the power of forgiveness and the beauty of life and death. Nowadays, I tackle smaller lessons: patience, fortitude, reprioritizing life. They can be just as tough. The journey continues.

Joleen Oshiro is a free-lance writer and
former Star-Bulletin copy editor.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
and is a column by and about women, our strengths, weaknesses,
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