Not quite sure why I’m here today. Over the past months, I’ve come to the blank page with a question, theme, feeling or relationship in mind. But today I am in a place of not knowing what will come out here. You see… there’s actually so much. I’ve been chewing on a number of things these past months. It has been a time of rich learning, growth, reflection, connection, meaning-making and meaning-breaking. A time of much movement all over this hemisphere.
Today, I am going home. In some ways, I never want to go home again. My ‘little me’ unconscious brain seems to believe that if we could just keep moving ourselves from one place to another, we’d be too busy packing and passing through security and driving and settling to feel anything. I fear facing a sadness and depression at home that will somehow swallow me whole. I fear that the grief once I am there will be bigger than ever. And, then again, what do I know?
In other ways, I cannot wait to get home. It has been too long of being away. I miss my dog, my bed, my family and friends. I need rest. Real rest. I am exhausted from all this moving around. In a workshop we gave in Argentina, I posed the question: “How do I stop?” In the two months since then, I’ve learned that nothing ever really stops. If we were to completely stop, we would die. Even the things we consider as “inanimate” are full of quantum particles jumping around. I’ve been exploring “The Art of Slow” as I support this online course and realizing that maybe it doesn’t have to do with the velocity at which we move. It has to do with really experiencing the thickness of each moment. Full presence. I’m tuning into my body with practices of Social Presencing Theater and opening myself to its wisdom. I’m getting really curious about how to drop into a space of allowing what wants to emerge to come forth.
The miscarriage and the rage I felt afterwards marked me as we set out on this journey. I know that I wrote about having to lock away my heart, only to find it breaking open within two weeks of posting that. Even though I know that some processing has happened during this time on the road, I sense that something deeper – something unknowable at this moment – will rend me from any certainty I may have had in the past.
I feel this in my guts and in my chest and in my joints and sore muscles. I also know that this next time is calling me into a place of gentleness with myself and with the world. A space of not being so worried about what I’m doing/producing, a space of letting space be. And that also means being kind to myself about being a little busy. Even though I won’t be traveling again until the very end of summer, I cannot deny that there is still a lot going on. Repeat after me: “I will not beat myself when I realize I am doing too much; I will just stop doing some things.”
In a way, I’m back on the pendulums again, particularly that one that wavers between pain and despair and infinite gratitude for the ways that the gifts and learnings from Rafa and this other little soul have enriched me and my life. A few weeks ago, in my hometown of Salt Lake City, I attended a talk by my brother and colleague, Bayo Akomolafe. (Though Bayo and his family live on the other side of the globe in India, they accompanied us through the grief of losing Rafa with the intimacy of family.) Bayo spoke about the concept of sanctuary, which formerly simply meant shrine or sacred place. Under this medieval law, a fugitive could be immune from prosecution within a church for a certain period of time. In order to enter, however, the accused was often required to grab the ring in the monstrous, gargoyle-shaped knocker on the door. Bayo explained that the person was actually not guaranteed safety within the sanctuary and, in fact, it was a time of intense deliberation and decision-making. Those who entered into these spaces often came out remarkably transformed as a result of their experiences inside.
These ideas of embracing the monster as a way of passing over the threshold and being forever changed by an experience made me think about Rafa and about stillbirth in general. From one point of view, stillbirths are really quite monstrous and gruesome. At least that was my experience. I have noticed that we prefer to say that birth is beautiful (even if the child is not alive). And, at least from what I’ve seen online and in my conversations with neighbors and acquaintances, folks tend to prefer metaphors that are more “palpable” to our modern sensibilities. They talk about our “angels” and our “estrellas” looking out for us and waiting for us in heaven. That’s all good. But, for me, it’s only one way of thinking. Rafa was also monstrous and alien. When he came out of me, I did not recognize him as human. Perhaps that sounds insensitive of me. It is the truth. There are many truths.
While this perception may not be popular, I feel that it is time to embrace our monsters (just as I did with Rafa’s little lifeless body a few seconds after his birth). I have been reading some pretty intense articles and studies about the state of the world these days and I will say that things are not looking good. There are many who are saying that it is actually too late to save our species and that near-term collapse is imminent (check out this study on Deep Adaptation by Dr. Jem Bendell). I have no idea what will happen. It’s just too complex to say. However, I do feel that it is time to start practicing seeing and being with the things we have rejected in the past – our beautiful monsters (thanks for this term, Alan Sloan). We’ve got to get better at being with the pain, grief and discomfort that comes with things we have deemed ugly and un-seeable in the past.
My experience with stillbirth is a good example of how I feel we deal with these so-called “horrors.” For the most part, I have felt held and loved by everyone around me. I have also felt that the support groups and online spaces for people who have experienced this “unimaginable” thing are used as a means of isolating us from the rest of the world. I felt a little like people said to me: “Look over there! There are some other people who have survived this. Now, go over there and be with them. They will make you feel better.”
While in Utah, my mom said something about me “belonging to a club that no one should ever have to belong to.” (Don’t worry, mom, I understand the compassion and love behind your words.) I responded by asking: “Why not?” Why do we feel like nobody should belong to this club when it is something that 2.6 million expectant mothers (that’s 2% of all pregnancies) experience each year? It’s a club a lot of us belong to. I do not feel like there is a place in our world where we put stillbirth in the center of everybody and say: “Hey, this happens. A lot. What might we, as a society, as a group of people have to learn from this?” In the West (and maybe everywhere), we’ve tried to push this occurrence into the corners, to hide it away from our sight and consciousness. We’ve told people to move on, have another baby or “gestate” an important project. I don’t think we can afford to do that any longer. I’m pretty convinced that those of us who have experienced stillbirth, and especially us mothers that have actually given birth to the bodies of dead babies, have an inherent gift to offer this world, one that has been tragically woven into who we now are.
The other characteristic of Bayo’s description of sanctuary that struck me as similar to my experience co-creating, gestating, entombing and birthing Rafa was this idea that sanctuary isn’t really about being safe. It isn’t about getting our old ideas about how things work reinforced. Claiming sanctuary changes us forever… just like stillbirth. We will never be the same. As much as we might wish that this never happened to us… it did. As much as we might wish that it never changed us… it has. I believe that we’re about to go through things in this coming time that will forever change us as a species of beings on this Earth. And I believe that the wisdom and lived experience of women who have lived this twisted kind of sanctuary may serve us in the coming future times.
What does it look like to put the sage wisdom of those of us who’ve faced this tragedy and lived to tell about it in the center, rather than on the margins? What would it look like to have the body of a dead baby among the images that we share every day, rather than just the happy-face living babies that we see? At this moment, I do not know. But I am sure that this is part of the work and journey I am about to embark on. Let me go gently and kindly, with myself, with others and with the world around me. Let me be humble as I set out. This is not about ego. Rather, it is about sharing something valuable.
I am seeing the way that calling circles of women (and possibly men) to come together to share about the deaths of their unborn or recently born children fits into my other work with The Emergence Network now. Seeing how Rafa, his story, my story, our story might fit into that work in the future, feels like a seed being planted in soil rich with just the nutrients it needs to thrive.
This last time, while swinging on the pendulum between all this being a great life lesson and it being the worst, most debilitating experience ever, I had a little breakthrough. As I’ve expressed before, sometimes I worry that this seeing the big picture and this magnanimous perspective on Rafael’s death is just a way of emotional bypassing, of avoiding the ‘negative’ and painful feelings. What I realized is that if these insights bring me more into the feelings in my heart and body, I will listen and follow them. If it feels like these “ah-ha moments” mask or remove me from how I feel, if they put me up on a pedestal of ego, it is probably best just to let them pass on by.
One thing I feel quite sure of is that we will need more people who can hold collective grief in the times that are coming. I am beginning that work with my sister and my doula, Julieta. We are planning a workshop around grief and death (especially when a child dies). There will surely be much to learn on the journey. I look forward to holding space for whatever comes up in these circles.
In this not-knowing time, I am listening more deeply to instinct, to the wisdom of the present felt-sense in my body… to the world around me. I feel a comforting confidence (with a lining of humility and gentleness) about the future. I still feel sad and mad and uncomfortable a fair amount of the time… but those are all feelings that come and go (along with the joy, laughter, tenderness, pleasure and contentment I also feel).