Oh Sweet Jesus! Let’s talk about TIME! I spend a relatively large chunk of my waking hours wishing that kronos would speed the hell up so that these past four years might fade more rapidly into the background of my life. All the while, I beg for time to please, please SLOW DOWN because… well… apparently, there’s a biological time bomb ticking away in my ovaries. And underpinning all of it – especially throughout these past few months – I am tormented by a constant sense that there is never, NEVER EVER ENOUGH TIME. I’m harangued by a nagging voice reminding me constantly just how “behind” I am. My inner critic looks over my writing from the past year and shakes her head disapprovingly. Just four measly blogs? And this one itself has been in process for five months?
“Tsk. Tsk,” says time. (Or at least that’s what my mind tells me that time said.)
Tengo varias reflexiones por compartir en este “nuevo” año pero necesito pulir un poco más mis palabras. Mientras… comparto unas palabras que publiqué en Facebook recientemente y el vídeo de una charla relámpago que presenté en Octubre de 2020 como parte del encuentro virtual: VISIBLES.
I have many reflections to share in this “new” year but I need to polish my words a bit more. In the meantime, I’ll share some words I recently posted on Facebook and the video of a talk I gave as part of an online gathering called VISIBLES in October of 2020.
Bathtubs are a rarity in Oaxaca. I can count on one hand the number of tubs I’ve seen here in the past decade. Yet some years ago I decided I wanted to be able to immerse myself in water (at least partially) and partake in this healing and relaxing ritual from time to time. I went to the fancy, evil grocery store and bought one of those large, opaque Tupperware tubs. I remember pulling it into the aisle and sitting down inside of it to make sure that I would fit.
Deep breath. It would seem that I have survived this unscheduled month of “vacation.” I did not, in fact, fall into a deep, dark hole in the absence of all my self-important busyness. I am well. I think some new possibilities have opened in the spaces within; I’m more able to notice and accept some aspects of myself and some things in this (rather fucked-up) world. There’s more space around everything somehow.
I didn’t write or post much of anything marking Rafa’s death/birth day this year. I was in the mountains and at the coast for nearly the whole time. I didn’t feel like I had much to say to the world and was very much deep in my own process (and celebrating Yeyo, as he shares a birthday with his son). What I did notice was a culminating angst in the days leading up to July 30th and 31st, and a palpable sense of relief from August 1st onward. Now, some weeks later, I feel called to share some of my reflections from this time.
Over the past month of marking so many second anniversaries, I’ve spent quite a lot time remembering with incredible detail my experience of labor and delivery. Obviously, it’s a very painful memory (on so many levels) and probably one I’ve chosen consciously not to revisit with any frequency. But, the images and the impressions of those twelve hours just kept coming up for me this year. There can be such power in the experience of birthing a child; power and pain. Because Rafa died, and is not present in our lives in a physical way, I sometimes forget that I actually physically did give birth to his body.
I remember the calm before the storm: the hours between receiving the first dose of misoprostol and when the contractions started. I remember that my midwife gave me acupuncture while I lay on my bed. I remember Yeyo asleep, challenged but resting to face the night ahead. I remember that when hard labor started around 2am, I needed something really hard to press my hands and arms into in order to bear the experience. I remember grasping the bannister in excruciating pain. I remember that I could not hold still. I remember feeling that I was uncontainable, inconsolable. I remember when the midwife checked my cervix at 4am and said we could drive the hospital. I remember trying to put some pants on and then realizing I needed to just wrap myself in a sarong or sheet. I remember everyone trying to put more clothes on me as we left the house and tearing the jacket from my shoulders screaming “I’m not fucking cold!” I remember truly believing that I was dying during the 15-minute drive to the hospital. I remember begging for pain meds when we arrived, though deep down I knew it was too late. I remember lying on the hospital bed and thinking that this supine position would cause him to come out faster. I remember how much more pain I was in when I was on that bed. I remember asking for forceps. I remember finally getting up and sitting on the birthing stool and how it didn’t help the pain but did help bring him out. I remember Yeyo sitting behind me. I remember that when Rafa’s lifeless body was born, I only felt relief. No sadness. I remember that I did not recognize him as human in those first minutes.
Some weeks after the birth we went to an open house. I was talking with a friend, the mother of a one-year old daughter. She told me about all of the physical challenges she faced with incontinence and post-partum depression following the birth of their child. It was during that conversation that I realized that I too had given birth. That a stillbirth is still a birth. Because it is such a difficult and taboo subject in our society I actually felt that I didn’t have a right to talk about my experience with labor and delivery and even the post-partum time. In fact, I still feel like that. It all seems hung heavy with shame. Obviously, everything is different when there’s no living baby to care for after the birth… but I felt I even censored my own memories of labor and delivery since few other people (even other moms of stillborn babes) seemed willing to talk with me about their experiences. I am deeply grateful for my doula, Julieta, because a year later she shared with me her experience of the birth and the beauty she experienced with Rafa finally was born. The beauty and the agony in a single instant.
Sometimes, I worry that I think about this all too much. That my constant reflection on what happened two years ago isn’t serving me in the here and now. Yes, I gave birth, but it was not the kind of joyful moment that other moms and dads and grandparents and siblings want to remember. So… why is it still so alive for me now? Am I too obsessed with this one experience in my life? Has it got an unhealthy hold on me?
I would like there to be more of a forum in this online space… more of a conversation between women. But mostly it’s just me here, reflecting on myself. Sometimes it feels like a naval-gazing house of mirrors where I’m just driving myself (and possibly my husband) crazy. I am deeply grateful that I realized how important a (mostly) natural, vaginal birth would be for me. And I am thankful for the pain and suffering I endured, as I do believe that it is an essential element in my ongoing healing and my continued desire to work with grief in community, particularly with mothers who lose their children during the perinatal period. But is there a “too far” with all this? Should I… could I… just stop remembering?
I remember the very moment I read Dr. Kay’s message. It was one of those rare nights when my husband went to bed before me. Though I would say that there was nothing “normal” about that time after Rafa’s birth. After the ceremony and the departure of my family. After that cleansing time at the ocean. Everything was rare. I was walking up the stairs, headed toward bed and reading messages on my phone. I was almost to the second floor when I came to Dr. Kay’s message. Carlos Alvarez (a.k.a. Dr. Kay) is our dear friend who was living across the ocean in South Africa when all of this took place. Over five weeks had passed since Rafa’s death and the texts, voice messages and emails were no longer as overwhelming as they had been at first. Roughly translated, the message read:
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine
Some weeks ago, I started singing those lines in my head. Apart from the chorus, the rest of the song is a rapid rattling off of what seems – at times – to be nonsense and at other moments, profound political commentary. That’s what life has felt like these past three months: crazy, intense things happening too quickly to even fathom ‘keeping up’ with them. Flying around the world from one continent to the next with fleeting days at home between trips.
There have been many things to write about and I have composed the first lines of more than one post in my mind. But, the beginning of the year seems to be the time that “In the Name of Rafa” hibernates. And that’s okay (at least that’s what I keep trying to make myself believe).
Hope has always been a ubiquitous and elusive character on the inner stage of my life. I admit that mostly, I’ve been quite skeptical of her. Over these past fifteen years, I’ve adopted a vaguely Buddhist view that hope is a form attachment to a certain preferred future; fear’s undeniable and constant companion. It is said that we fear that which we believe will cause us pain, and hope for that which we believe will bring us pleasure. Yet my recent life experience shows it’s not quite that straightforward. This skepticism has been punctuated by momentary glimpses of other ways of relating to or defining hope: the way it has kept so many peoples alive through devastating circumstances of inter-generational trauma and systemic oppression; the occasional definition of hope which unhooks it from the attachment to a particular outcome;* during the time in the months after Rafael died and I had to figure out new ways forward; when we conceived Ramona and I felt hope dart in, briefly.
When I was young(er) and I lost something, the instant I realized said thing was no longer in my possession I immediately spiraled into an obsessive panic. I felt the urge to FIND the thing and to find it NOW. If, after wildly riffling through all my belongings and scouring my immediate surroundings I did not find the thing, I widened the range of my search. I probed every possible nook and cranny and even occasionally interrogated innocent bystanders to see if they had seen or taken the thing. If still I had no luck and saw that I would be forced to accept the fact that my precious thing was indefinitely gone, I would move into Phase II of the Lost Things Mania: REPLACE THE THING. I would look for the quickest and cheapest way – quick being more important than cheap – to get a new pen or pair of sunglasses or piece of jewelry. You see, what I really wished was to erase from memory the very idea that that thing had ever gotten lost in the first place.
Well, this little blog project, ‘In the Name of Rafa,’ just turned one. It’s hard to believe. Throughout these twelve months, I have done my very best to share thoughts, experiences and feelings boldly and humbly from the heart. Many things have happened: deaths and births, travels, workshops… and all kinds of feelings from love to exhaustion, from rage to elation, with the constant presence of deep sadness and deep gratitude; life’s two palms gently against one another in reverence.