Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Eleventh Hour

A liminality is a threshold one reaches within a process of change that introduces the chance of moving to a new phase or back to the old. Those in liminal spaces are “neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between positions” (Turner, 1969, p. 95). In this sense liminal people stand waiting on the doorstep, but are not yet welcome to enter a dwelling place. Eleven months after Matilda and Milo’s birth and his death, I find myself in such liminal purgatories as I learn to exist as a mother to a living and a dead child.

Getting to be Matilda’s mother has brought me more joy than I could have possibly imagined before she came to me. If I would have realized the extent of this love when my infertility journey began, I’m not sure if I would have been able to travel such a treacherous road. The longing for her and not knowing if she would ever come to me would have wounded me so deeply that I would not have been able to persevere. This joy is partnered with an unnamable sadness that I have gotten better at keeping below my surface. However, it is constantly there percolating, begging for those who dare ask about Milo to tempt it out of me. Betwixt joy and sadness I do dwell.
Matilda 9 Months, Milo 3 hours

Similar to the notion of liminal spaces AnzaldĂșa (1987) defines a borderland as “a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary, that is in a constant state of transition” (p. 7). Eleven months after my babies’ births, here at the border of transition is where I find my infertility. At Matilda’s daycare, I pass as just another fertile mother with my neatly labeled bags of frozen breast milk that I place in her classroom freezer each Monday morning. But pangs stab me when a father stops by to tell one of the teachers his wife is pregnant. My (in)fertility is a borderland, an undetermined space between finally birthing my child(ren) and not knowing if there can be more. As Calafell and Delgado (2004) contend about the borderland, “in this space the ability to manage the ambiguities of life, of social rules and roles, and of one’s own identity, become manifest” (Calafell & Delgado, 2004, p. 8). Indeed, who I have come to be remains in question. Existing in these spaces makes finding “my people” difficult. I don’t fit in with new moms; my son is dead. I don’t fit in with the infertile or bereaved; I have a daughter and she is alive. And so I seek out others who too are neither here nor there—a friend who just recently married and faces both the hope of getting pregnant and the fear of being barren, a friend whose husband has been given just months to live, a friend with an incredible mothering heart who chooses to be child free.

Liminalities render people without clear status, as if their former position has been filled as they wait to receive another that lies just beyond the corridor. Despite my own liminal space, yesterday I was reminded that Milo has arrived at a clear and unwavering homeplace. I finally got up the courage to go get Milo and Matilda’s birth certificates and his death certificate. After carefully filling out the forms, writing my check, and taking a number, I sat face-to-face with the woman helping me. We were so close yet so far away, as a glass panel with only a half-inch space below it to slide paperwork back and forth separated us. I held my breath while she clicked keys on her computer and asked for forgiveness, as her system was moving slowly. I felt sure some error would prevent me from being able to get the certificates. Her computer finally cooperated and she made check marks on Matilda’s form and then moved to Milo’s two forms. Check, check, check went her pen. My eyes began to well. It was true. His life and death were in the official system. She excused herself so she could go get the documents off of the printer. When she returned, she then slid them through the tiny space under the window. I was sure to take my time checking them despite the line behind me to be sure there were no mistakes. I was confused at first as the three documents were different. I was expecting two similar birth certificates and one death certificate. What I held in front of me at first glance appeared to be two death certificates and one birth document. I opened my mouth to question her, but then I realized what I was holding. Milo’s birth certificate, although similar to Matilda’s had the giant word, “DECEASED” stamped across it. My eyes about overflowed as I walked quickly to my car hoping the wind would not take these precious documents away from me. As I sat in my car, I again looked at Milo’s forms. His record of birth literally is stamped with his death. His death certificate is a reminder of what will never be: “Married—No,” “Education—0,” “Career—Infant.” Such beautiful and heartbreaking reminders that Milo has crossed over his border. His space is not liminal but permanent.
Milo's Birth Certificate

In one month I will make my way to a new year with Matilda and without Milo. I am afraid of what this will feel like. There is some comfort in remaining in a space that teeters between the sorrow inherent in grief and the elation of raising a child. Perhaps I fear that moving away from my heartache toward healing will mean that I love him less.

Despite this fear I take comfort in knowing I am forever grounded in one permanent position. Here I am never threatened to take a step backward toward a more liminal space. Here, after eleven months, I am still and forever will be Matilda and Milo’s mother.


AnzaldĂșa, G. (1987). Borderlands/la frontera: The new mestiza. San Francisco:
Aunt Lute.

Calafell, B. M., Delgado, F. P. (2004). Reading Latina/o images: Interrogating
Americanos. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21, 1-21.

Turner, V. W. (1969). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press.

*Thank you to Mark for his loving and thoughtful feedback on this post.