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.)
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:
120 months (ten years) ago today, I moved to Mexico. One year and two days ago, I started to share openly that I was pregnant. Four days ago, my husband’s mom died. It is almost inconceivable to me that in less than 6 months, Yeyo lost his son and his mother… and both of them, so very unexpectedly. I only know how it has been for me, the departure of my mother-in law, María Ofelia Arruti Hernández. I can only talk about the way that one grief touches and stirs the other. I can only share that every time I imagine Ofelia on “the other side,” I see Rafa in her arms, the two of them smiling and enjoying themselves. Every time I think of this, I weep. They are tears of sadness and joy, pure emotion. I have no idea if a place like heaven exists. I doubt it. But it gives me so much solace thinking of Rafa with his grandma, that I am forced to suspend my disbelief.
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.”