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Tending Grief: from Heaviness to Wholeness

As the nights become longer and the coming winter beckons us to do less and rest more, it is a time of year that many find difficult. In western culture, we are ill equipped to welcome the slow down and introspection that naturally occurs as the year ends. We are continually called to consume and work, more so with the holidays, when our bodies are actually craving the opposite: less work and more connection.

Could this be why we struggle to come into relationship with grief?

In his book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow, Francis Weller reframes the narrative around grief to call us into its gifts: “Without some measure of intimacy with grief, our capacity to be with any other emotion or experience in our life is greatly compromised.”

As birth workers, it is impossible to not come face to face with the human truth of grief and loss, and yet many of us feel unprepared to navigate this essential relationship as too many of us feel alone in our own experiences of grief. From the larger Griefs of miscarriage, pregnancy loss and harmful systems of care to the smaller griefs of difficult births, burn out and lost identity along the way - none of us are meant to move through this alone. In his book, Weller names 5 gates of grief.

  1. Acknowledging that everything we love we will lose

  2. Grieving the parts of ourselves never touched by love

  3. Grieving the profound losses of the world around us

  4. Experiencing the losses we never knew to acknowledge: the loss of the village

  5. Ancestral grief

Of these, the 4th gate feels especially resonant within the world of birth. The very act of bringing a child into the world, within intact indigenous communities, was a shared experience, held by generations of collective wisdom.

While modern medicine, of course, has brought countless innovations that have no doubt saved lives, it has done so at the profound cost of the village that binds us together and distributes both the joys and burdens of emerging families. Imagine the new parents, surrounded by extended family and community familiar with tending to their daily postpartum needs. A web of support in which all players are getting their needs met. A far cry from the current reality of countless families living alone in a home, overwhelmed and unskilled in both asking and receiving community care. Loneliness and isolation are as dangerous for postpartum parents as for doctors, nurses and midwives who struggle to keep unprocessed trauma, grief, exhaustion and burn out at bay.

How can we remember and call in the medicine of community to remind us that grief and loss are sacred human experiences that yearn be witnessed and shared in community?


“To fully release the grief we carry, two things are required: containment and release. In the absence of genuine community, the container is nowhere to be found and by default we become the container and cannot drop in the space in which we can fully let go of the sorrows we carry. In this situation we recycle our grief, moving into it and then pulling back into our bodies unreleased. Grief has NEVER been private; it has always been communal.”

- Francis Weller

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