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:
I’m just back from South America, where I co-hosted my first grief workshop for parents whose children have died. Because I promoted the workshop amongst all of my networks in the region, especially to mothers who I knew had had miscarriages or stillbirths, many people asked me how it went. Honestly, it was magical. Not so much the workshop itself, but the process of planning this experience and particularly the days leading up to it that I spent with my doula, Julieta.
It’s pretty constant now. The remembering. My thinking: “At this time last year, I was… we were…” Last day of work. Belly photos. Nursery painting. Baby shower. Doula arrives. Midwives’ appointment at the house. Last breastfeeding class. In-laws come for a visit. The pull of memories, regrets and nostalgia make it challenging for me to stay present in 2019. I’ve always been like this about the details of what happened on a certain day, in a certain year… even at a particular hour. It feels like a blessing and a curse – this year more than ever.
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.
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.
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.*