I have many reflections to share in this “new” year but I need to polish my words a bit more. In the meantime, I’ll share some words I recently posted on Facebook and the video of a talk I gave as part of an online gathering called VISIBLES in October of 2020.Continue reading Lightening Talk: VISIBLES
Bathtubs are a rarity in Oaxaca. I can count on one hand the number of tubs I’ve seen here in the past decade. Yet some years ago I decided I wanted to be able to immerse myself in water (at least partially) and partake in this healing and relaxing ritual from time to time. I went to the fancy, evil grocery store and bought one of those large, opaque Tupperware tubs. I remember pulling it into the aisle and sitting down inside of it to make sure that I would fit.Continue reading The Tupperware® Tub
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.
Well, life is still just a fucking roller coaster, ain’t it? In any given moment I might be feeling prfound gratitude for the innumerable gifts that Rafa gave us all with his fleeting existence, and the next I’m crying in an airport, surrounded by toddlers. One afternoon I may be indignant and angry about all I’ve ‘been through’ this past year and the next I find myself in a lethargic, depressive state, asking: why I am still here? Through it all, one constant that I keep discovering is the tendency to compare and measure. I’m quite curious about the persistent and perseverant nature of comparisons: why do they appear as part of my daily thinking?
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.
Not quite sure why I’m here today. Over the past months, I’ve come to the blank page with a question, theme, feeling or relationship in mind. But today I am in a place of not knowing what will come out here. You see… there’s actually so much. I’ve been chewing on a number of things these past months. It has been a time of rich learning, growth, reflection, connection, meaning-making and meaning-breaking. A time of much movement all over this hemisphere.
No estoy muy segura porque estoy aquí hoy. A lo largo de los meses que han pasado, he llegado a la página en blanco con una pregunta, tema, sentimiento o relación en mente. Pero ahora estoy en un lugar de no saber que resultará aquí. Sabes… hay de hecho tanto. He estado masticando varias cosa estos últimos meses. Ha sido un tiempo de rico aprendizaje, crecimiento, reflexión, conexión, elaboración y ruptura de significados. Un tiempo de mucho movimiento por todo este hemisferio.
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.
I heard that some of my friends have been struggling with the last piece I posted here. That makes sense. People were not really sure “what to do” with what I shared. I know that my families of origin and choice want to offer me their consolation and support. And I said I didn’t want to talk about it. That I didn’t want to be hugged. And I didn’t. I was fucking pissed when I wrote all that. I’m still angry. AND, that was a moment. It has come and it has passed. I am somewhere different now. Where that is, I’m not really sure. But I’m ready to talk about it… a little.
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.