Category Archives: The Story

A Birth, Still

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?

Photos by Úrsula Hierra and Yeyo Beltrán.

Would I Give Anything?

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:

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Water Signs

June has come and gone. It’s been raining here some, these past weeks. There’ve been quite a few tears, too. At some level, it all makes sense. It is the rainy season in Oaxaca, after all. As the one-year anniversary of our due date approaches, it’s no surprise that deep emotions are stirring. I knew that this summer would be hard, but I did not expect the trouble to begin so soon.

It’s Cancer season, one of the most foreign astrological signs for me. Since Rafa’s due date was originally July 18th, I imagined he would be born under the crab’s sign. I found this curious since I sometimes struggle to relate to the introverted, homebody Cancers in my life. What would it be like to have a water-son? With all my fire and earth, how would that feel?

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The Days of Hell

I do not want to be sitting here, writing this. I would rather be doing any other thing in the world. I have procrastinated for long enough and now, in the short time I have, I must write.

I was going to start this long overdue post by saying that time is flying. I was going to say that there are certain things I need to write about from the time right before Rafa’s death and birth so that I will never forget them. But now, time is mush. Time is nothing.

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Tratando de Ser Puente

Read this post in English.

¿A dónde vamos desde aquí? Porque me siento un poco perdida después de estas últimas semanas de subibajas emocionales, de escritos y reflexiones sobre asuntos tan cerca de mi corazón y tan difíciles de articular; tal vez recordar la historia de mi embarazo me ayude a orientarme un poco. (Esto no quiere decir que ya no tenga muchas subidas y bajadas de ánimo, situaciones, sentimientos y pensamientos extraños, pero regresemos a eso más tarde).

Una de mis pasiones en la vida es hacer conexiones. Particularmente, me encanta crear las condiciones para lograr conexiones inesperadas entre las personas. Creo que las relaciones humanas honestas, confiables, recíprocas son magia verdadera. Cuando podemos compartir algo de lo que somos y cómo vemos el mundo de una manera auténtica, especialmente a través de la distancia y la diferencia, se hace posible algo que antes no lo era. Creamos nuestros futuros al relacionarnos, colaborar, hablar con la verdad y al poner a un lado nuestros egos.

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Being a Bridge

Leer este post en español.

Where to go from here? Because I feel a little lost after these last intense weeks of up-and-down emotions, of writings and reflections on matters so close to my heart and so difficult to articulate, perhaps going back to the story of my pregnancy might help me get oriented. (This is not to say that I am not still having plenty of up’s and down’s, strange happenings, feelings and thoughts, but let’s circle back around to all that at a later time.)

One of my passions in life is making connections. I particularly love creating the conditions for unlikely connections between people. I believe that honest, trusting, reciprocal human relationship is real magic. When we can share something of who we are and how we see the world in an authentic way, especially across distance and difference, something becomes possible that wasn’t before. We create our futures by relating, collaborating, truth-speaking and putting aside our egos.

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Messiness: Everything All At Once

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. IMG_1820There 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.

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The Mystery & The Miracle

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.”

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Introducing Ruby

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.*

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