The Inside / Outside Dilemma

I heard that some of my friends have been struggling with the last piece I posted here. That makes sense. People were not really sure “what to do” with what I shared. I know that my families of origen and choice want to offer me their consolation and support. And I said I didn’t want to talk about it. That I didn’t want to be hugged. And I didn’t. I was fucking pissed when I wrote all that. I’m still angry. AND, that was a moment. It has come and it has passed. I am somewhere different now. Where that is, I’m not really sure. But I’m ready to talk about it… a little.

I’ve not had much of a chance to slow down and process the new grief of losing another baby. I have just had to (or chosen to) work. I knew long ago that this time was going to be extremely full and intense, but I would never have guessed the heaviness, exhaustion and sadness that would become the backdrop for my life. My addiction to work has been a full-on coping mechanism since the first of March. And now, we’re in South America. More work… and hopefully some space to process and feel… hopefully some time for connecting with myself. I guess we’ll just see.

Hearing about the way that my last post impacted people has me thinking about a weighty theme that was present throughout my pregnancy with Rafa and at the time of his death, birth, in the aftermath and now, with this. It feels like it’s in everything. And that’s funny because despite its all-pervasive nature, I don’t know how to name this issue right now. I guess it has many facets:

  • How much do I worry about what other people think of me?
  • How are my thoughts and actions influenced by what the “outside” world thinks or feels is appropriate/good?
  • How often are my actions based on what I really want from within myself without concern for how things appear to others?
  • How much do I do in my life for the approval or applause of the external world? How much do I do for myself based on what I intuit or know I need?

57521860877__2762eb9f-f521-4bc0-b5dc-fb626731ebfe.jpgIf you had talked to me when I was a tween, I would have told you that I didn’t care AT ALL about what other people thought of me. To some degree, that was true then. And, to some degree, there is still a vein of truth in that statement. I pretty much do what I want. Outwardly, I’d not say that I’m a big fan of following specific social codes or norms that might be considered “obligatory” in the dominant system.

The experience of becoming unexpectedly pregnant at age 43 of carrying that child to term and then having him unexpectedly die for unknown reasons, has opened my eyes to the reality of how deeply concerned I am about what the world outside thinks of me and my life. I’m learning that my concern about what ‘they’ (the ones ‘out there’) think of me is a much more complex and layered issue than I realized.

It was a real issue starting early on in my first pregnancy. It felt bizarre to keep such exciting news to myself. I’m also not very good at keeping things to myself; I love to talk with my friends and family about what’s happening in my life at multiple levels. Then when it was ‘time” and “okay” to start telling people we were pregnant, that also felt weird. It was really at that point that I started to realize that I was investing time and energy into considering what others felt and thought about me being pregnant. Most people, of course, were just thrilled for us and the news brought them great joy (which, in turn, made me feel wonderful).

The places where I was aware of this most were concerning two fundamental issues: my age and the baby’s gender. I remember one moment in particular when I was facilitating and we did an exercise with the group where we had to gather with others of our same age. I noticed that I felt suddenly ashamed that I was 44 years old and having my first baby. I thought people might judge me for being pregnant and so old. When it came to the gender of the baby, I struggled a lot. I wished that we had not found out the gender. It wasn’t that I felt necessarily judged but it just was one of the only things that people asked about ALL THE TIME. I told people that we would know the baby’s gender sometime down the line, when he/she/they let us know. It was just a weird thing that I didn’t know how to navigate with the outside world.

img_2057.jpgBut this was nothing compared to how I felt when Rafa actually died. I may have mentioned this before, but when we returned from my doctor’s office before the labor started, I called for a dialogue circle with my husband, midwives and doula. I was the last to speak. I started by saying that I was concerned about what people would think of me when they found out that our baby had died. It sounds INSANE to my own mind right now that this was what I was thinking after only hours after learning of Rafa’s departure from this world. But that was exactly how it happened.

And it was HARD afterward. It was devastating to have to tell people what had happened and to face the folks who sold me vegetables and juice in the market. They were the ones that I thought: “Well they must have noticed that I’m not pregnant anymore. They must have noticed that I don’t have a baby with me. Why don’t they say something?” On top of the pain, grief and desperation of the Rafa’s death, navigating what people thought or were saying was sticky, complicated and unexpected. At the root of this is a fear of making people uncomfortable. I’ve learned that being a “good” human being in the world means doing everything I can to make others feel confortable and content. And here I was facing a stillbirth. What could be more uncomfortable than a dead baby?

That last question seems to reveal yet another facet of this messy issue: how much of all this is just drama? These shocking things I write and say and do, are these just pathetic pleas from my ego for attention? I often think about this when I share something edgy on social media, like this last post. This is tricky because I’ve said many times that the last thing I want is for people to feel sorry for me or see me as weak. And yet I see these dramatic outbursts as a way of saying: “Look at me. Poor me.” Sometimes I act in the way I think a bereaved parent of a stillborn child should act. “I’ve been through so much, I deserve to feel destroyed and act out on those around me because of what the world has done to me.” And that, quite frankly, is bullshit.

IMG_1431I am continuing to find myself caught up in this inside / outside dilemma with this latest pregnancy and the miscarriage (is that what it’s called?). I feel embarrassed for telling so many random people before the second trimester. The story I told myself was that because I had so much work, I would tell the teams I was working with so that they would help me to take care of myself. But I didn’t let them and I didn’t do an awesome job of taking care of myself either. I worked until I was exhausted and then worked some more. I feel a lot of anxiety now about being judged, especially by doctors and the allopathic medical community. I continue to be acutely aware of the difference between miscarriage and stillbirth. It’s easier to not talk about the first and it’s more uncomfortable when you don’t talk about the latter.

I feel like a failure. In retrospect, I can see the way that I buried my grief and mourning for Rafa in the ambush of hope that came with this new baby. Ego was in there as well. I didn’t see it then, but I am now aware that I felt somewhat vindicated by this latest pregnancy. Subconsciously, by conceiving again, I was proving that I could and would be a mother to a live baby. The return of disappointment. This time, I feel like I disappointed myself more than the other people in my life. But disappointment is disappointment. It sucks.

Mostly, these last three weeks, I just feel really, really tired. And pretty undone. I see the way that I went straight to anger and rage after the miscarriage (?) as well as the flippant, pissed off attitude of: “I’m over it.” And, man, have I been tempted to stay in that place. But things, inevitably, are moving.

When Things Fall ApartAbout six months ago, I received a package in the mail from my hometown. It was from a dear friend of our family, a lover of writing, books and literature. She sent me a copy of When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodrön, a collection of writings that changed the way everyone in my family saw the world some twenty-odd years ago. It is rare for me to read a book more than once and I thought, “That’s weird. Sally must know that we have already read this.” But the day after the miscarriage (abortion? what IS it called?) I threw the book in my backpack on our way to the airport.

I never imagined that Pema’s thinking and writing would be been more meaningful to me than it was when I read her as a young woman. But now, after all that has happened in these eight months, When Things Fall Apart is affecting me in ways I could never have fathomed. This familiar (but now distant) worldview has been putting words to things that I am feeling and struggling to express, Pema tells the story of arriving to the abbey she now directs and how nothing was working and she was driving everyone crazy with her style. And there was nothing to do about that. It was in the staying with what was and not trying to change it or fix it or solidify it into any one way of reacting or being that some newness arose. She said that it was “all about letting go of everything” and talked about the sign she had on her wall that read “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” This is how I feel. I am letting the indestructible be found in me.

Becoming aware of this pervasive concern I have about what other people think of me and of my propensity for acting out and indulging my ego in dramatic, attention-seeking outbursts – and accepting these things without judgment – allows me to be more friendly with myself. I am just human. This is yet another gift of this most difficult of times. Pema says, “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

I see that my real challenge right now is fully feeling this pain while trusting that if I allow myself to be utterly heartbroken and real with that, both within myself and before the “external” world, I will cultivate a more tender relationship with my always-shifting self and with others. It’s actually more than that: I feel a sense of deep trust, faith even, that the path of fully feeling is leading me to a deeper understanding of life and what it means to be human. I just wish it didn’t fucking hurt so much. Because being in this pain is so uncomfortable. I’m not used to being the person who screams and loses her shit in the street or who walks into a bakery with tears unapologetically streaming down her face. It’s deeply uncomfortable. And it is a part of my path right now.

Once again, for me, Pema says it best:

The spiritual journey involves going beyond hope and fear, stepping into unknown territory, continually moving forward. The most important aspect of being on the spiritual path may be to just keep moving… How do we work with our minds when we meet our match? Rather than indulge or reject our experience, we can somehow let the energy of the emotion, the quality of what we’re feeling, pierce us to the heart. This is easier said than done, but it’s a noble way to live.

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Cover artwork by Argelia Matus. Other art by Luciana Corres and Alan Altamirano. Photo by Craig Dunford. Collage by Aerin Dunford.

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