A few days ago, we returned home from the YES! Jam, a gathering here in Mexico that some friends and I began dreaming up before Rafael was even conceived. The Jam was an important milestone in my healing process since the plan had originally been to participate as a family. It was supposed to have been Rafa’s first encuentro with people from his extended global family of friends and non-blood siblings. The time was good and hard. There’s some gratification that comes with simply completing the gathering. This completion helps me to remember that time is passing, that I am still alive and moving forward. There is the lingering sadness that was more alive (or had more room) during the time we were together; our togetherness somehow made Rafa’s absence more present. There are questions about how much I should continue to self-identify first and foremost as a bereaved mother, asking myself if that is healthy or useful. There was space for anger (which I have struggled with letting out). There was this beautiful little one-year-old, Andino. There was also a fuck-ton of laughter and fun and joy! I felt bathed in the light of the community: the light of each person and the glow of our collective power.
Vi la película Coco. Fui a verla el día después de Navidad con Yeyo y el resto de mi familia. Tenía dos meses de embarazo. De hecho, me gustó mucho. Lloré al final pensando en cómo iba a crecer nuestra familia con la llegada de este bebé. Este año, escuché muchas quejas en Oaxaca sobre la comercialización y Disney-ficación del Día de los Muertos como resultado de ésta y otras películas. Mientras se aceraba el mes de noviembre, hubo un cambio tangible en la energía de nuestra ciudad. Todos los hoteles iban a estar llenos y era imposible encontrar un vuelo. El lugar estaría con máxima ocupación y eso me puso nerviosa.
Pero, no me mal interpretes, me encanta todo sobre estos festejos. Me encantan los colores: morados, anaranjados, amarillos, fucsias, negros. Me encantan los disfraces, las comparsas, la creación de altares. Me encanta la solemnidad y la celebración, todo junto en un paradójico paquete. Este es básicamente el único día feriado que celebro durante el año. Pero con el bombo publicitario en los Estados Unidos sobre el Día de los Muertos en los años recientes, Oaxaca se ha vuelto en un tipo de Meca para extranjeros durante estos días. Y este año, pues, tengo una relación bastante distinta con la muerte de la que tenía antes.
I saw Coco. I went to see it the day after Christmas with Yeyo and the rest of my family. I was two months pregnant. I actually really liked it. I cried at the end, thinking about how we would soon be a bigger family with a new baby. I also heard a lot of grumbling in Oaxaca this year about the commercialization and Disney-ification of el Día de los Muertos as a result of this and other films. As November approached, there was a tangible shift in the energy of the city. Every hotel was fully booked and flights were impossible to find. The place was going to be a full capacity and that made me nervous.
Don’t get me wrong: I love everything about this holiday. I love the colors: purples, oranges, yellows, fuchsias, black. I love the costumes and parades and the building of altars. I love the solemnity and the celebration all tied up in one paradoxical package. It’s the pretty much the only holiday I celebrate all year. But with all the hype in the U.S.A. about Day of the Dead in recent years, Oaxaca has become somewhat of a mecca for foreigners during these days. And this time around, well, I have a very different relationship with death than I did before.
Note: Sometimes, this blog will be in Spanish. Sometimes in English. I will not translate, but rather try to strike a balance between English and Spanish posts so that these reflections can reach a broader audience.
Nota: A veces, escribiré en español. A veces, en inglés. No voy a intentar a traducir todo, sino encontrar un equilibrio entre las publicaciones en inglés y español para que estas reflexiones pueden alcanzar una audiencia más amplia.
Hoy, el 24 de octubre solía ser el Día del San Rafael, el arcángel. También hay cierta evidencia de que hoy, hace un año, fue el día que el embrión que era nuestro Rafa se implantó en mi útero. Nunca lo sabremos por seguro. Pero me parece un buen momento para compartir algunas de las sincronías relacionadas con el nombre y el ser que fue Rafael.
Nuestro bebé no tenía nombre. Por muchos, muchos meses no supimos como llamarle. Su nombre sólo vino después de que murió y nació. En el mero principio pensábamos que iba a ser una niña entonces le decíamos “lentejita” porque presumimos que era Ruby quien venía en camino. Luego, cuando descubrimos que el bebé tenía pene, Yeyo se obsesionó con la idea de que aún así, el nombre tenía que empezar con una “R”. Buscamos por arriba y por abajo los nombres que nos gustaron que empezaban con “R”. Fue difícil. Creamos una pequeña lista de candidatos y la escribí en un cartón amarillo que colgué en el refri. De vez en cuando agregamos un nombre a la lista.
Twelve hours passed between the mid-day visit to the doctor’s office confirming that Rafael was no longer alive inside my womb and the beginning of full-on labor. That time was both sacred and a total scramble of consciousness and memory. I had several realizations during those hours that I have come to see as “Truths” (for me) in the months since Rafa’s death. I now live with the lessons that came to me during that precious time as guiding principles. One of them has to do with the mystery and miracle of life itself.
After the doctor’s office, I asked my midwife to drop Yeyo and I off at my parents’ hotel. My mom and dad had come to Oaxaca from Salt Lake City for the birth. Once we had delivered the devastating news, we sat stunned on the uncomfortable couches in their condo-style hotel room. I think it was then that my wise husband said, “We have to remember that this little baby was a miracle. His very existence has no medical explanation.” Followed by: “And why he died is a mystery. It’s something we will never understand.”
Since I wrote that first post about Ruby, I’ve been thinking about how to continue. I contemplated sharing the riveting story of “How I Found Out I was Pregnant.” I’ll get to that, eventually. But I realized that the chronological, ‘just the facts, ma’am’ version of Rafael’s story would not only be boring it would also be extraordinarily safe. Because sharing the blow-by-blow of events is not hard for me. Feeling my feelings and exposing my open, broken heart, on the other hand, is terrifying, uncharted territory.
The day after I gave birth to Rafa’s little body, we went out to lunch for my mom’s birthday (I insisted we do it). We ran into some friends who had heard what happened. They said only one word: fuerza. Strength, as in: have strength. But it is not strength that I need. Strength I got. Strength got me through pregnancy without a hitch, working and travelling until the end of my seventh month. Strength is what helped me survive labor and delivery of a stillborn baby. What I need most now is softness, surrender, vulnerability. This is what Rafael’s conception, growth and death is inviting from me. Vulnerability comes from the Latin vulnus, meaning “wound.” Or as one poet* put it: “the place where you’re open to the world whether you want to be or not.”
Before we get to Rafa and his story, I need to tell you about Ruby Beltrán Dunford. Unlike our son, Ruby did not come to exist on this material plane, she was not conceived or nurtured or born. Ruby was the baby girl that Yeyo and I dreamt of for some nine years before the nurse practitioners and OBGYNs and clinicians told me that I could never have children. She was the baby that never was.
In the early fall of 2007 I decided that I was ready to have a baby (to raise on my own). I thought Yeyo would make a great dad (you know: smart genes, good looks, sensitive soul and loads of generosity and kindness). But he wasn’t the sperm doner-ing type, I guess. He said, “I’ll have a kid with you, but only if you’re my partner and we try to build a life together.” And I said… “Well, why not?” We decided I would move to Mexico the following year and I headed out from Boston on a freezing cold morning in January with three suitcases and never returned to live in the gabacho.*