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?
Mostly these days, I’m doing badly. I’m not sharing this fact to elicit pity. In fact, it’s one of the things I least desire. Nor am I seeking advice on how to make it “through” this moment, nor how to fix/heal/find closure. It’s simply how I am.
For some months this fall, I felt a lot of tension and anxiety about how to navigate my relationship with the outside world following Rafael’s death. I’d say that some of my feeling badly now is still related to this: wondering how to reengage with the world, return to work, be with other people. But something has changed, settled down a little. Maybe I’m aware that other people aren’t thinking so much about how I am or feeling as uncomfortable around me because nearly five months have passed. (Note: I recognize that many ideas I have about other people and the external world-at-large are fantasies and projections that most likely exist only in my head.)
I have a somewhat strange practice that I do at the beginning of each year. A while back, a friend of mine told me about las Cabañuelas: in some Oaxacan communities people believe that one can learn something about the upcoming year by paying a bit more attention to what happens in the first twelve days of January. Each day corresponds to an upcoming month. I like the idea of seeding intentions or understanding better what one could expect of the year, simply by being more aware during its first days. And so, since 2015 I have been writing monthly intentions for the year between the first and twelfth of January.
But since Rafa’s death, time is different – I no longer live it as a mere instrument to mark the passing of specific events. Though I’d like to still believe that time is divisible, limited, linear… I no longer believe it’s that simple. I now experience linear time as a trick. When I turned to the month of December in my calendar this year, I read the intention there, shook my head and laughed cynically. It said: “Enjoy the moments of feeling good and wellbeing. It is a time to celebrate a wonderful, magical year.”
Below that, in pencil, I wrote myself a note in response: “Fuck you, former self.”
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. There 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.