The Days of Hell

I do not want to be sitting here, writing this. I would rather be doing any other thing in the world. I have procrastinated for long enough and now, in the short time I have, I must write.

I was going to start this long overdue post by saying that time is flying. I was going to say that there are certain things I need to write about from the time right before Rafa’s death and birth so that I will never forget them. But now, time is mush. Time is nothing.

I have been avoiding this virtual space for the past six weeks. This might be because just days after my mother-in-law passed away, I discovered that I was pregnant again. And yesterday, I found IMG_2257out that the fetus was no longer “viable” ­– the cells had not developed, there was no longer a heartbeat, the uterine sac had collapsed. Another dead baby in my womb. This one with the gestational age of approximately eight weeks. So today, not knowing what to do and mired in anger and hate, I’ve been avoiding writing. But I know it will help.

I’m not much in the mood for sharing how I feel about what has just happened. Instead, I’ll go back to my original intention for this post: to talk about the three terrible days between the afternoon when we last heard Rafa’s heartbeat on the midwife’s examining table and the morning that she could not find it as I lay in the same spot. They were pivotal days in my life. In retrospect, I learned about the importance of listening to my intuition during that time. I experienced an extended and tortuous internal struggle between the “good girl” in me that doesn’t want to bother people or cause trouble and my intuitive self that knows things deeply. Time and again the good girl shushed and suppressed the intuitive one.

IMG_5622After days of sporadic contractions, lots of baby movement and then long periods of stillness, I thought that active labor was imminent. The night after I was “due” I discovered what I assumed to be the “bloody show” in my underpants. I went to sleep that night having contractions and assuming that things would be in full swing by the morning.

Unfortunately, our water cistern had run dry earlier that day. This did not bode well for the birthing pool we had waiting, inflated, in our living room. We woke up early on Friday and called a pipa (local water truck). My mom came up a few hours later to help clean the house. She found me already in a tizzy over the water situation. We now had a full cistern but the pump was not working. We could not get the water up to the tank on our roof. Yeyo was frustrated because I kept a bunch of plants on top of the wooden plank that covered the pump. I was pissed at him because he was supposed to have gotten the pump fixed months ago. I guess we had different definitions of the word “fixed.”

All contractions and other signs of labor had vanished. Around mid-day, Yeyo came into our room where I was working on something. It was clear he was seeking a truce. But I wanted none of it. I dug in my heels and said I would have nothing more to do with the water pump and that I would never put plants on top of that wooden plank again.

I spent the afternoon angrily doing errands. Yeyo said I should not go out alone. I didn’t care. I suddenly thought it absolutely necessary to get him a birthday present, buy some plants and lettuce seeds or something. It was a hot day. The rains had not yet come though it was nearly August. I remember I saw my midwife that afternoon. She asked me how I was and I lied. I said that I was well.

In the late afternoon, after we ate lunch and my mom went back to the hotel, I tried to talk to Yeyo about what had happened. He didn’t want to discuss it. I had missed my chance. There was a very loud and ruckus concert in the auditorium above our home in the evening.blood moon It was hard to get still and connect, but we did a little ceremony for the full blood moon. It was the last time we sang and prayed together alone in our home for many months. When we went up to bed, wondering what had happened with the contractions, I tried again to get Yeyo to talk to me about how he was feeling. I pressured him a lot and he got angry with me for pushing him to share. I got even more angry. I screamed and yelled and pounded the mattress. I cursed the night and the moon and myself and everything. I don’t know if this might have been the moment that Rafael departed or if it was, perhaps, my first grieving of his death. After the screaming and yelling, I paced our room, not knowing what to do. I realized later that I had not felt the baby move all day. I actually had not been in my body for the whole day.

I stormed to the empty guest bedroom. We had moved the bed downstairs for the labor and delivery. I filled up the “bathtub” (a large Tupperware storage tub) with tepid water. There seemed to be no hot. As I sat in this “bath” I felt nothing. Just emptiness. I looked at my belly and it seemed different. After that, I just lay on my side on a yoga mat. I wrote in my journal about how it was the time for nothingness. I just had to let things be as they were… Yeyo eventually came to the door and said, “I’ve wanted this baby for a long time.” I said that I knew.

Eventually, I went to bed. I awoke early in the morning with terrible dreams and could not go back to sleep. I wandered downstairs with my journal. I wrote about the lack of water… in the skies, in our city, in our cistern in our drinking vessels. I wrote about laughter and how much I knew that Rafa loved it. I wrote about hoping that someday we would both look back at these days of fear and worry and laugh… I hoped that I was wrong about what I felt. I wrote about our dog, Nita, and what a great big sister she would make.

At some point, once the sun had risen, Yeyo came downstairs and we had a wonderful, terrible, raw and open conversation. It was so healing. We made love in our quiet bedroom and I fell asleep, somewhat at peace. We told our families and friends and all that we were not going out that day and that we needed some time to ourselves. In some ways, I think that this day, this Saturday, was Rafa’s first wake; a private velorio, just for Yeyo and I.

tom-sullivan.jpgI was not well. All day, I worried and wondered why the baby didn’t move. But I didn’t want to call anyone, I didn’t want to bother my midwives or doctor or doula with my fears. At night, Yeyo suggested I just call Julieta, my dear doula to tell her about what I was feeling. She was very supportive and soothing. She told me that sometimes, this idea of motherhood can be very frightening – it can awaken sleeping insecurities. She said that maybe I should talk to the baby and tell him about my fears, maybe dance and sing to him. She told me that if there were anything wrong with the baby, I would not be feeling well myself. She told me I would know in my body if he was unwell.

I did all those things. I was reassured by her words though they brought me to tears. I slept well that night. The next day I tried to pretend that everything was normal. I went to breakfast with my mom. The baby still did not move. I hung out with my dad in the hotel and I went home to watch  stupid Netflix shows. In the night, I became desperate. I frantically searched YouTube for tricks and tips to get labor going. I was bouncing on the yoga ball and walking around. Julieta suggested that maybe I go to an all-hours clinic just to hear the heartbeat. Thank god I decided not to do that. It was another night full of anguish and insomnia. At some point in the early morning I gathered together all of the pregnancy books, the studies and ultrasounds and stuffed it all into a closet and shut the door.

In the morning, I knew I needed to go see the midwife. On the way out the door, I was short with Yeyo again… something to do with the water, I think. The next time we spoke was an hour and a half later when I called him to say that we couldn’t find a heartbeat. I saw him at my gynecologist’s office and we discussed the options for induction or c-sections with stillbirths.

Thirty-six hours ago I sat in that same chair to have this latest little fetus, only one and a half centimeters in length, sucked out of my uterus. It hurt a little physically. But the worst part is the unleashing of sadness that this latest loss has brought in these hours. After Rafa, while I was asking myself why it happened at the very end of my pregnancy, while I was hearing the stories of the miscarriages, abortions and stillbirths of other women, I wondered why it is often such a silent and unshared grief. Now, I have to say, I understand their silence, their discretion, better.

Losing a baby at twelve weeks usually means that very few people know about it. It feels so much easier right now not to have to share the pain with others. But I did tell some others. If I could just pretend this hadn’t happened, I would. If I could tear up the ultrasounds and forget the new hope I felt when I heard this little one’s heartbeat, I would. If I could delude myself into believing that I just missed my period for a couple months because my cycle is still becoming regular again, I would. If I could avoid feeling this, I would. In fact, I am trying. And failing. But I understand much better now why people don’t talk about their miscarriages. It’s a pain that seems easier to bear when held close to the heart.

I don’t feel like being hugged right now. I don’t feel like talking about it. I just feel like feeling and crying and praying that I can get through two intense weeks of work away from home. That the bleeding will stop and be one less reminder of this fresh death that has happened within me… again.

[Note: I know that this post is very personal. I want to express deep gratitude for my beloved husband, Yeyo. Thank you, love, for your willingness and for supporting me in sharing our story in this public space.]

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Photos by Aerin Dunford, Mitzi Dunford and Craig Dunford. Drawing by Tom Sullivan, Saatchi Art.

14 thoughts on “The Days of Hell

  1. Hello Aerin. And Yeyo. Oy! Just sending a bit more friendship from my place to yours. Thank you for sharing. No need and tidy sense-making. But clear love with you.

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  2. I woke this morning and wrote out my own struggle. Then opened the ipad and Facebook was open to your post. Have been thinking about you for weeks, writing your name on my list of who I want to be in touch with – starting each list with it . . . Now taking this all in and gazing on the photo of you and Yeyo at the end, still connected – looking out . . . Another day beginning – the sun pouring in. A deep true way to start this day – being with you. I love you Aerin – B

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  3. Oh, dear friend. Sitting here, feeling so much as I read your words.
    I bow to your courage in writing. With my first two miscarriages, I couldn’t bear to share beyond closest friends. It was even more painful to feel others’ grief.
    There are no words, really, but I find myself wanting to reach through the laptop to say, I see you, I’m with you, and I’m sending love. It’s so awful. I’m sorry.

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  4. Oh sweetheart, so terribly difficult all this. How much can a heart take…? Wish I were there to give you and Yeyo a big, long hug.

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