My daughter Delaney was born on June 7th, 2015. She was 5lbs 5 ounces. Delaney was pink with curly brown hair and ruby lips. She was right there and yet, she was dead. This beautiful being was placed, eyes closed and peaceful on my belly. My husband and I had the privilege of getting to know her for four hours. I’ve been asked several times since then, “How were you able to give Delaney back to the nurse and leave without her?” My answer is simple. Shock.
The human brain is a miraculous machine and on the singular day that my daughter was born and died, it created a barrier between me and the gut wrenching realization that my child was not ever coming home. And so we left. My machine served me well that day. It did precisely what was necessary for my survival. But, like all machines, they’re vulnerable to hacking and are often reprogrammed with all thoughtful functionality lost.
Through the death of Delaney, I have learned that I’m a “Body Hacker”. I’m able to override my difficult emotions. I disassociate from all things uncomfortable and focus on the story behind my feelings instead of feeling the feeling itself. This in turn keeps me from emotional maturation and transformation.
I’ve been told that losing a child is like losing a limb. A part of you is gone forever. I didn’t experience that. After years of suppressing my emotions, my body stopped trying to get my attention. It barely even differentiated feelings for me. So why now did I want to unearth all of these emotions? I wanted to honor Delaney, my health and the body that longed to nurse and cradle. I also wanted these emotions to transform me, not embarrass me.
It takes a village to return to the un-hacked body and I called all its members. I called the body workers, doctors, therapists, meditation instructors and a pharmacist or two. All of their tasks were the same, to invite me back into my primitive body. This is the body I was born with, before I hacked and hid. This body knows how to rest, how to digest difficult emotions and prod me to stay with them when they arise. This body supports me as I weep and quiets the many voices throughout my life that said “Don’t cry. You’re fine.”
Un-hacking the body and allowing my emotion to express itself is a moment to moment practice. I ask myself when an emotion arises, what emotion is this? What does it feel like? Not the story of the emotion but the feeling it evokes. I identify where it’s felt. “It lives in my chest and it’s accompanied by a dull ache”. I feel this emotion with the curiosity of a child and over time I begin to notice that these difficult emotions loosen their grip. When felt and not thought, emotions change and dissolve.
Things that used to hold my anger for months now dissipate in moments. Conscious breathing is another way I support my body’s homecoming. I used it to labor Delaney into this world and I use it to cope with her departure. Whether it is sophisticated meditation or counting breaths from 1 to 20, I have depended on it to pull me back from the throes of anxiety and or the grip of numbness.
When we learn how to be with these emotions, we begin to change. There’s a grounded quality. There is a new presence to the way we show up with people. Our heart opens because we know pain and we recognize it in others, without fear. We can be with them and ourselves authentically and make honest decisions based on nothing but the present moment and our intuition.
Body Hacking is a remarkable survival mechanism likely installed as children when we didn’t have the faculties to work with such big emotions. Most of us have those tools now and can restore our machines to their original factory settings.
Yesterday I cried unabashedly for my daughter, Delaney. It felt like that lost limb I had heard so much about. I welcomed it.