Shame in the Throat

Leer este post en español.

Anyone else feeling utterly exhausted these days? It feels like the state of our world and the deep and troubling complexities of life (in nearly every sphere of my existence) are wearing me down, moment by moment. I’ve found myself recently describing my state of being as “flat,” blah,” “without a spark.” In Spanish, one might say sin ganas.

As we once again begin the painful transit through the anniversary days of Rafa’s demise and subsequent birth, I am feeling baffled by this lingering melancholy tinged with resentment and adorned occasionally with flashes of anger. Today, Rafael would have turned three if he had been born alive. What a thing to imagine.* Of course, this year—oh 2021, the year of the trickster—has been a roller coaster of intense changes, surprises and emotions. And not just some rickety old, small-beans, kids-style roller coaster. No, I’m talking about the most INSANE feat of gravity you can imagine: a turn-you-upside-down and make-your-guts-wanna-come-out-your-mouth kind of ride. Only… the first seven months of this year haven’t left me feeling invigorated like a good roller coaster experience might. No. As we head into the second half of this year, I am really wondering where and how I find the energy to move on. 

Back in the spring, something started happening in my body. I felt that there was an obstruction in the back of my mouth, at the very top of my throat. I thought it might be uvulitis (an inflamed uvula), some kind of an infection… or even… god forbid… cancer. I got tested for Covid-19, negative. I went to acupuncturists and homeopaths and finally a good ol’ ear nose and throat doctor. The only thing that came out of all of this was that this feeling of blockage in my throat may be caused by stress or tension in my neck, jaw and face. I think it may have more to do with not being able to express my deepest longings. One morning, during that stressful and scary time I managed to scratch out these lines:

Today, I am writing these words. I am writing these words because I do not seem to be able to speak them. I feel shame, anger and embarrassment… which seem to be preventing me from speaking. This silence seems to be causing a physical ailment in my body, some kind of strange obstruction and discomfort at the back of my throat. I cannot sleep. I am anxious and depressed simultaneously. And since I still seem too afraid to say what I want out loud, I’m here… Writing. It seems it’s the best I can do.

The thing I realized I was so afraid to say out loud was that it was/is my deepest desire in this world to become pregnant again and to try to have a healthy, living, breathing baby. Even writing those words just now is excruciatingly difficult. A part of me wants to shrink away from them in embarrassment, to wrap myself in an invisibility cloak of okay-ness. But I cannot. I need to say this to you. To those who are willing to listen. I know that at 47 years old and given my gynecological history, the three “lost” pregnancies [four, actually, since the original writing of these words a few weeks ago*] I know that it is very unlikely. And yet, I cannot continue to keep this longing inside any more. I must say it. For my own sanity and despite the audacity of the desire.

I have known that the Longing was in me since Rafa’s death. It is why there are still three tubs full of baby things, a stroller and a playpen in the closet of our spare bedroom. I have never given up hope. What I did not realize until this year is that, when it comes to sharing this deepest of desires, I have been accumulating more and more shame over time and throughout my other pregnancy “losses.” I started to notice this during some online courses I engaged in with other women at the beginning of the year. I observed that when I did feel brave enough to share the Longing with my closest friends, I became very emotional, particularly when they encouraged me not to let go of my dream. But the clincher was when I went to the homeopath about my throat. Rather than really looking into that symptom, she started telling me about how my hormones were changing and how I should start to prepare for menopause… do more exercise and whatnot. On the inside, I was shouting: “NO! That is not where I’m at in my journey. I don’t feel that this is actually happening to me right now. Too soon, lady!” But accommodating Aerin sat in the leather armchair nodding and mmm-hmmming. After this appointment I started to see and feel the shame viscerally.

I should also mention that all of this—the throat, the shame, the longing and the confusion—was unfolding in the midst of extremely stressful conditions at home and work. For three and a half months, nine and half hours a day, six days a week we were tormented by the constant banging of sledgehammers against concrete, as a two-man crew slowly, painfully destroyed the house next door to ours, leaving our backyard exposed and my nervous system brittle and raw. This made working from home impossible; I was constantly seeking out new places to do my online work and moving from one location to the next week after week. We made the decision to look for a new house in March, found a new place in April and undertook the age-old ritual of the MOVE, with all its exhausting logistics and unexpected emotional outbursts, at the beginning of May. I think maybe I still haven’t recovered from that chaos all these months later. 

Once we were settled in the new house, I consulted with a fertility doctor in the U.S. about my chances for fulfilling the Longing. She sent me to get some hormone tests. It was while waiting for the lab technician to figure out what she was doing that I felt the shame rear up in me again. Every time she verified my birthday and age (which I think was at least three times) I felt myself shrink in my skin a bit more. The results of these studies revealed that I was very unlikely to become pregnant again and that if it were somehow to happen, it was even less likely that I would carry the baby to term. I once again gave up my hope. And though devastating, it somehow freed me for a short time. Things got a little better for a few weeks. I went back to therapy. Even my libido was revived!

Yet in mid-July I once again sort of fell into a flatline state, feeling tired all of the time and struggling to find a source of motivation and energy to keep me going. I didn’t understand. I was also confused about why I had not had a period in almost two months. I had taken a pregnancy test at the end of June just in case. Negative. But I decided to just double check and one early Saturday morning I once again saw the double pink lines on the white plastic stick. I was stunned. 

Memoirs of a miscarriage.

I won’t go into the details of what has unfolded these past few weeks. But let’s just say that it has been excruciating. There have been multiple difficult conversations, harsh words, anxiety attacks, tears and confusion. The pregnancy ended “naturally” at about 8 weeks and we medically induced a miscariage (“expulsion” of the dead fetus feels more accurate… but whatever… I still don’t have the right language for this). I feel angry, empty and depressed. I struggle every day to find meaning in life and a reason to get out of bed. All that being said, what remains is the Longing. And it is clearer than ever before: I want to be a mother. In whatever way I can. 

Before I knew I was pregnant, I had a conversation with a new friend of mine who has been walking the path of grief herself for the last few years. Five years ago, Aimée Wilson’s mom died from complications related to breast cancer. Two years later her best friend also passed away in an accidental OD, after being under-resourced and isolated in a system that couldn’t support his grief or needs. As a result of these experiences, Aimée was called to a piece of land in New Mexico to co-create and steward a grief sanctuary: Unashay Home. When I speak with others who are deeply engaged in griefwork, I find I feel more courageous to say things that I fear might provoke responses of repair or consolation if I were to share them with other friends or family members. In our recent conversation, I said to Aimée that sometimes the only way I can relate to Rafa’s death is as an event that has ruined my life. 

Unashay Home: A grief sanctuary

While I know that this isn’t “true,” lately it really feels like it. I am struggling day-in-and-day-out to try to understand what this life is all about… where it’s going. I wonder: what do I have to look forward to? Will any of this actually make sense to me ever? Will it ever feel like all this pain and difficulty helped me in some way? After this fourth pregnancy “loss,” the third anniversary of the stillbirth of our first son, and one of the most difficult periods of all time in my marriage (not to mention the ongoing global pandemic — currently worse than ever in Mexico — countless other political tragedies and unfathomable “natural” disasters around the world)… well, I find it hard to find reasons to keep going.

I heard this Tolkein quote the other day: “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.” This is how I feel now. There is no going back. The morning of Rafa’s birth, my mom asked my OBGYN if she knew how to heal a broken heart. The doc said, “With time and love.” I am starting to doubt that prescription. In this world, at this time, I don’t know if anything can heal my/our brokenness. I know that my personal metabolic grief-processing system moves slowly. I need a lot of time to work through these events in my life. It seems a good moment to deepen my labors in the emotional realms, with the Longing, and the messages coming from the back of my throat… rather than unplugging from the world and staying very, very busy. I am just beginning to be able to lift my heavy head from the pillow in the morning and feel called back into the land of the living, despite these hurts that have gone so deep, that have taken hold.

* This post was written over the span of one month from July 30, 2021 to August 31, 2021

10 thoughts on “Shame in the Throat

  1. Beautifully written as always amiga. I am in awe of your ability to bring your feelings to awareness and articulate them. You are not alone in feeling that it is all overwhelming right now and that the joy seems to have been sapped from our existence. How I wish I could teleport to Oaxaca and share a cafecito and a long conversation. You are on my mind amiga. Abrazos

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    1. Querida. I really think we need to develop this teleport machine. We miss you in Mexico. Love you so much! Hugs to your whole family. – A

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  2. Aerin, you are always in my thoughts and especially around Rafa’s birthday.
    I would like to email you but not sure if you have the same address? Mine is the same. Love you friend

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  3. Dear Aerin, your beautiful writing has touched me deeply, with grief, sadness and a distant embrace for you. “the only way I can relate to Rafa’s death is as an event that has ruined my life.” heartbreaking, and your experience. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I think of you and Rafa with love often as I smell the white roses.

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  4. Oh Aerin, that hole/pit and big bump in your throat are just there. Seems that warm tenderness should just always envelope you so that you are comforted and carried as you suffer so. I am so sorry and wanted to hold you as I read this sharing of your missing, grief and longings. Siggy

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