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120 months (ten years) ago today, I moved to Mexico. One year and two days ago, I started to share openly that I was pregnant. Four days ago, my husband’s mom died. It is almost inconceivable to me that in less than 6 months, Yeyo lost his son and his mother… and both of them, so very unexpectedly. I only know how it has been for me, the departure of my mother-in law, María Ofelia Arruti Hernández. I can only talk about the way that one grief touches and stirs the other. I can only share that every time I imagine Ofelia on “the other side,” I see Rafa in her arms, the two of them smiling and enjoying themselves. Every time I think of this, I weep. They are tears of sadness and joy, pure emotion. I have no idea if a place like heaven exists. I doubt it. But it gives me so much solace thinking of Rafa with his grandma, that I am forced to suspend my disbelief.
In the aftermath of the news that Ofelia had been admitted to the hospital during the early morning on January 8th and that the same evening she had stopped breathing and as a result, had died, I recognized some patterns within myself when it comes to dealing with death. As I shared in my last post, when my doctor confirmed that Rafael was no longer alive within me, my mind immediately took the reins and wanted to know what was to happen next. In hindsight, I can see that my heart was not very present in that moment. I only wanted to know: how do we manage to get Rafa’s body out of me, while trying to ensure that I would be “okay” at the end of the day? I noticed that the same thing happened to me when we found out about the death of my mother-in-law. I jumped to action looking for plane tickets to Cancun, cancelling and rescheduling appointments in the following days and working out details with the other visitors in town. I did not cry, not even a little. Only when I thought of Ofelia meeting Rafa did emotion touch me for one moment. I suppose that this is a defense mechanism of my mind attempting to protect my heart from the shock of unexpected death.
The next day, Yeyo, his son, my sister-in-law and I traveled to Cancun for the funeral. In the plane, I read two books. Both were written by women whose babies died. They are very different from one another. There is one chapter in Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss and the Heartbreaking Pain of Grief, written by Joanne Cacciatore, that is called “Grief Broth.” She uses the example of a soup that she once made for a friend of hers who does not like cilantro (there is a strange gene that make cilantro taste like soap to certain people). Even though the author took out all of the cilantro leaves from the soup, her friend could not get the flavor of soap out of her mouth and she was not able to eat the soup. Cacciatore says that this is like our grief. Once it is mixed into our lives, we can never get rid of the flavor. One grief revives all of the griefs of the past. And well, in our case, the pain of Rafael’s departure was not so distant. Reading the last chapters of this book made me feel my heart again and I cried for the death of my mother-in-law and for the death of our son… once again.
After that, I started the other book. It is the story of a mother ten years after the death of one of her twin baby boys. I find the writing very strange. The author writes at the beginning, “This book is about you, not me… It’s about your story through the lens of mine.” And the truth is that it is written with just this kind of voice, in a definitive tone. Often, she writes in the second person: you do this; you feel that; you think this way. I do not like it. It’s interesting because I have, from time to time, had the impulse to write certain parts of this blog in this way, but I have been learning a lot about the importance of speaking in the first person. Now, I am understanding why. For me, it is almost offensive that this woman is telling me how I feel simply because we have had a similar experience. It seems so impertinent, especially because her perspectives and feelings are so very different from mine. This is particularly true when it comes to her relationship with her own body.
She writes, “I hate you body. I will hate you forever.” She repeatedly expresses the sense that she feels her body “failed her” when she was forced to have a C-section at 27 weeks of pregnancy. I feel exactly the opposite. My body, our bodies astound me. Their ways of communicating with the mind, of self-care and healing, of protecting themselves, of making things happen seem almost miraculous to me.
It’s beyond rational comprehension the mere fact that I could get pregnant after six years of trying and after the lab analysts and doctors told me I would never conceive. Although we have called this a miracle many times in our family, it is nothing supernatural, but rather an exquisitely corporal miracle. Rafa grew in my womb. My body (and the bodies of all pregnant women) did the incredible work of forming his organs, neurons, his hair and little nails… all of it. What an amazing thing!! Of course there is so much that we do not understand about this process, but at the end of the day, we were made to create new humans within us.
Rather than feeling angry with my physical body, the only thing I feel is admiration and gratitude. Even though my labor was induced and, without doubt, terribly painful, I was able to give birth to the body of my baby vaginally, without his help and without major allopathic interventions. I did not tear, nor did I experience unusually heavy bleeding. With the help of homeopathy and allopathic medicines, my milk did not come in. Within a few hours of the birth, I was walking without any problem and I felt totally fine, physically speaking. It is so incredible what we naturally are in our most basic expression: in our corporal beings.
During and after my pregnancy, I was supported by the wisdom of many women (midwives, herbalists, doulas and naturopaths) who often work with plants and the natural world as their ancient guides. When I think about these plant-teachers as the gifts of the body of this planet, our Mother Earth, I recognize a resonance between the awe that I feel towards my own body and the great body of this Earth. We are all made to be healthy and connected to our wisdom; the only thing we must do is trust in the inherent wellbeing of our beings. The plants do not cure nor fix, they simply support our bodies do what they do in a more effective or efficient way. For me, the synergy between the plant world and our physical bodies is a kind of magic.
When I was a teenager, my body made me crazy. I wanted to be skinnier, littler… different… other. I was never satisfied with my figure. After giving birth to Rafael, I saw myself in the mirror and I promised myself to never denigrate my body again. I promised myself I would give thinks every day to this physical form that life has lent me. So I don’t blame my body at all for Rafa’s death. We do not know why he left.
I offer daily thanks for the body and life of my mother-in-law. Even though she suffered physically these past few years, she enjoyed life. She was always smiling. She especially smiled with her eyes. Even though her spirit is no longer incarnate – no longer here with us – how blessed I feel that she lived, that she gave birth to her three beautiful children. Rafa would never have existed without his grandma, Ofe. Wherever they are, I hope that they’re happy… and laughing like crazy!
4 thoughts on “Awe Embodied”
Hey Aerin, thanks so much for your writing and your perspective. I’d love to be in touch with you, if possible. I sent you a message through messenger a few weeks ago but am not sure if you received it. No pressure of course, if it doesn’t work for you but I just wanted to reach out.
Maria. I did get your message a few weeks ago and I thought that I had responded… I will go and check it right now and we can surely be in touch. Thank you. – Aerin
The other day, when I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina and reconnected with my great doula and dear friend, Julieta Kohan, I was complaining a little bit. I said, “I’m not feeling so happy with my body these days.” And she reminded me of a pact we made after the birth: we promised that we would never again speak ill of our bodies. I was so grateful to my wonderful body after giving birth to Rafael that I promised myself that I would always appreciate and take care of it. I remember now.