For some women pregnancy is a glorious and sacred time, shrouded in the mystery and awe of woman bringing forth human life. For other women, pregnancy is more like a 40 week marathon that you can’t stop running. I am a part of this group.
While I fully recognize what a blessing and honour it is to bring children into the world, I am one of those women that does not carry pregnancy out well. I turn from my normal self into this completely unrecognizable other being – think blood engorged fat grey wood tick mixed with a Barba Papa.
But how quickly the struggle of pregnancy vanished the first moment I heard my baby cry. As I held her in my arms a fiery love rose up inside my sprit saying, ‘I will protect you and love you for as long as there is life in me.’
One month later and sleep is all too often interrupted by my baby crying. Crying because she’s hungry, crying because she can’t reach her pacifier, crying because she’s too hot; there’s been a lot of crying in our house.
Thankfully, not many of those tears are mine. When my baby cries I don’t often feel frustrated or exhausted. Rather her tone sounds sweet to my ears, inspiring me to soothe away her sorrows.
It is the space of emotional resilience that mothers of newborns around the world have dwelt in since the beginning of humanity. In spite of being stuck in the same baby puke covered clothes for two days, I am happily in the baby zone, doing my job.
Yesterday I sat down with the baby to give her a bottle and turned on the tv just in time to watch the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reveal the final report on Canada’s Indian Residential School System. As I sat in my living room holding my newborn daughter safely in my arms and comforting her cries, an Ongwehonwe woman on tv sitting in the crowd caught my attention.
She was sobbing and wiping her eyes with a tissue. Kneeling on the floor by her feet was her daughter, speaking words of comfort upward to her mother. To the right was her granddaughter, cradling her grandmothers head in her arms and rocking her side to side while the elder wept.
As I sat in my living room cradling my newborn, free from the fear that she would be apprehended from me unjustly or become a statistic, I broke down crying. I hugged her tightly and kissed her little head. Inside my spirit was that same phrase echoing, ‘I will protect you and love you for as long as there is life in me.’ And I imagined that there in that moment, between grandmother, mother, and granddaughter that same phrase echoed through them as well.
So much was going through my mind. And I realized that right now – our generation, the indigenous mothers and daughters of our time in Canada, have been tasked with a huge and unfair responsibility.
For the first time in the history of our people, we Ongwehonwe mothers and daughters have been tasked with providing a mother’s loving comfort in two directions – to both our newborns and our parents or grandparents. We must be ready and willing to provide comfort to our aunties and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers with as much tender love and patience that we hold our babies. Because all too often they were denied it and given something poisonous in its place.
Thankfully, in many situations, our love can be the salve.
This is a very beautiful thing, but also very difficult. It’s not easy to love on a grown man or woman like you would an innocent newborn. Precisely because innocence is gone. In adulthood we are faulted for our many mistakes – and for survivors of the residential school system all too often those mistakes were made while they were parenting.
At the same time because of our collective grief – a love has been birthed between us in our families and communities and across the entire nation – giving us the advantage of a great national empathy that is so strong it radiates. Especially when we are gathered together in the humility of our pain.
This love medicine echoes from the spirit of our women and girls crying out, ‘We will protect you and love you for as long as there is life in us.’ Perhaps this is why the skewed statistic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is such a national tragedy for our nations — because they are the fuel to our healing and somewhere inside we know it.
Perhaps now is the time for all of us to love each other deeper, hold one another tenderly and violently comfort away the pain in hope for a greater future for all the faces yet to come.