In my experience, stillbirth takes its toll on relationships. It can be especially difficult on the intimate partnership or marriage of the bereaved parents. For me, in the immediate wake of Rafael’s death and birth, there was so much happening on the emotional level for everyone around us. Each person was processing shock and grief and solidarity in their own way, at their own rhythm. And our processes had intimate encounters, intertwined and sometimes clashed with one another… to the point that sometimes it was even difficult to know which feelings belonged to whom. Through it all, there was a feeling and a field that deepened and widened between Yeyo and I: LOVE.
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.*