Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Friend, I miss you

I have a friend.
We share a raft of uncanny similarities and often call each other doppelganger. Actually I call her doppel, she calls me ganger.
Not all the time.
Actually, not very often at all.
Maybe it was once, and I initiated it, and therefore think it to be funnier and a longer-lasting joke than it actually was. Leos can be like that.

Whatever the official statistical facts on the term’s usage, the point is the foundation reason why we/I decided upon such a term: we are very much alike.

We have not been friends very long, maybe a year, but we realised pretty quickly that a “clicking” was underway, and complete, within about three emails between us (she worked in an outer office of the newspaper where I work).

In-jokes, the crafting of a new pseudo-language, outrage over grammatical faux pas, tears of laughter over a random assortment of YouTube clips, primarily from the 1980s, tales of woe from our respectively mental family units, tips on tweaking our blogs: we have shared them all in rapid succession.
In my more vain moments, I may consider it plausible that we look alike in a sisterly way, although she is stunning. Well, we are both brunettes and tall, and that’s good enough for me.

We might not see each other very often, or talk all that regularly...but when we do, we slot as neatly into a rhythm of candour and affinity as a Scalextrix car into its tracks.

The spooky, mirror-imagery of our relationship reached a peak about six months ago when we became pregnant at almost exactly the same time.

There were, in fact, seven days separating our due dates.

Seven days.

It wasn’t planned, it just happened that way. And it was accepted as yet another example of two lives in parallel.
In those early months, before we lost the baby, I was so overjoyed to have strengthened our connection in such a freaky way.

What are the chances?

I told someone at work how great it was. “It’s like having a mother’s group before you’ve even given birth,” I said, smiling.
Smiling, and anticipating all the wonderful times we’d have complaining about being bloated while slurping mocktails and shoving her home-baked cookies into our endlessly-starving gobs.

Crying together when the hormones just got too much, laughing at the insane changes in our bodies and falling into that inevitable, non-malicious tit-for-tat dance all mothers – expecting or not – get into: have you felt the baby kick yet? No, I heard it won’t happen for another few weeks. How are your ankles? Huge! Same as my boobs. And will I ever stop going to the toilet? I know! Are you feeling sick at all? No, but really really tireddddddd – I barely had the energy to finish typing that word. Yeah, me too and I cannot sleep. I am eating so many almonds right now and heaps of tea. Be careful of the types of tea you drink – have a look at this website. Thanks, have you checked out baby paraphernalia yet? There are some great forums and product tests at this site. Good one, when is your 12-week scan? This week, Friday.

This week, Friday.

And that is pretty much where all the good stuff stopped. That’s when the beauty and colour went out of the world for a while.

That’s when bleak was an understatement. When tragic seemed a cliche not dark enough, or sufficiently devastating, to describe what we went through.

But I am lucky to be able to write that sentence in the past tense now, and realise that today, exactly three months on, things are slightly better.

Some hesitant watercolour brushstrokes are gradually bleeding into the stark white parchment of our lives (and I use the term bleeding both figuratively and literally...more on that later).

What picture are they painting? I don’t know yet, but I am grateful it is starting to take shape, and in living colour no less.

So what has it been like seeing her in the three months since?

There is no easy answer to that question.
I don’t mean to sound vague, but it has honestly been an equal and intense mix of heartbreak, elation, jealousy, joy, sympathy, sadness, anger and delight. The good feelings outweigh the bad ones. They have to, for sanity's sake.

Of course, when we see each other, I am not the type of person to let the bad stuff out face to face. It’s not as if I sit there drinking tea with her, seething and picturing myself slamming her head into the table.
Actually I must admit I don’t even have that thought when I am not with her.

I will admit, however, that in my quieter moments – often when I am going off to sleep at night or driving in the car – I feel a physical pang of what must be jealousy. But it is more about me wishing so desperately to be still pregnant, rather than me wishing she was not.

I would never dare think that. I am worried, in fact, about even writing it down.

I cannot deny it is hard sometimes seeing pregnant people, or mums with kids. I am such a bitch that I actually have flaring flashes of white-hot anger when I see some feral, disinterested teenager with two toddlers already hanging off her tattooed arms, pregnant and whining to her B-Boy wannabe boyfriend about the price of chicken nuggets or two-minute noodles or something. How dare she. She doesn’t deserve it. The baby, I mean. Everybody has a right to two-minute noodles.

It is easier to direct those sorts of feelings, fleeting though they are, to people I will never know or talk to. But I am not someone who would even contemplate feeling that way about my pregnant friends.

The fact is, good always beats evil with them, because I care for them deeply. Our friendship gives me an in-built cut-off switch for any of that bad stuff. But it’s a switch that never moves anyway. It’s taped stuck in one direction. That’s why, I think, we are friends in the first place.

Again, I am sensible and mature enough to know that hanging on to those toxic kinds of feelings will only contaminate your soul.

Yes you are allowed them for a while when life deals you a truly shitty hand, but letting them rule you day-to-day does nothing but leave a permanent and very ugly stain.

Perspective.
Attitude.
Outlook.

Every individual has one very powerful thing when crafting their own: choice.

I choose to recover from this. I choose to concentrate on all the wonderful things in my life more often than the bad shit that has happened. I choose to let myself grieve and remember and never forget, but I also choose to move on. I choose to feel whatever my hormones, environment and thoughts make me feel. But I also choose not to get too carried away by extremes. I choose to realise that having a purpose gives me the strength to push the darkness away. I choose to take refuge in the unconditional love I am so fortunate to have as my constant cloak. And I choose to make the effort to make good, not bad, on this short life.
What alternative is there?

So, friend, I love you. But I miss you almost as much as I understand why you are sometimes absent from my life. Please don’t worry about me or for me. Don’t ever feel you have to run and hide your big old pregnant self from me.

Tell me everything, keep me in the loop. Don’t anticipate or wonder how I might react. Just know that I will react, and 99% of the time I will be filled-to-overflowing with happiness for you.

If I’m not, if that 1% creeps in, well that’s my cross to bear; but it’s one I am trying to shuffle off.

I won’t be that type of crucifixed martyr.

I choose not to be.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Memory Foam, I presume

*This post is delivered with most humble apologies to Stephen Fry, whose esteemed chronicles I may or may not be reading at this very juncture. Please partake in visual and brainal enjoyment, if I may be so flib-gibberingly bold as to assume such a pleasant feeling should overcome you in the impending minutes, of the following few words and decide for yourselves whether or not I may have been so influenced by so mellifluously garrulous a scribe.

I LOVE this time of year and not because it’s when senses are assaulted by tinsel, carols, an over-abundance of red, white and green and the sudden appearance of a furry animal sporting a red nose that looks essentially like a horse with antlers.

Nope, my fancy is tickled by much more than mistletoe, wrong-hemisphere worship of snow and enormous, expensive birds that don’t fit in roasting ovens that frankly should be set to “off” on a 38-degree day in downtown, midsummer Australia.

Right now, I am in a different kind of heaven – the one that comes immediately after Heavens One through Six.

It’s Christmas catalogue time.

Merrily they arrive with lip-smacking regularity, deliciously glossy wads of wonder. I literally gasp each time I pull into my driveway and see those delightful letter box protuberances garishly announcing their arrival.

Two for one, they scream. 50% off, Christmas special, today only, cheaper than last year, accessories not included (damn! I really wanted those plastic grapes, empty LA Ice Cola bottles and painted cardboard box cleverly disguised as Kornflakes – a box which no doubt tastes inordinately better than Kornflakes when shredded into bite-size chunks, drowned in cold milk and drizzled with honey. Special, grammatically-challenged K indeed. The best was a recent Aldi catalogue that featured a picture of pork chops, sitting on a grill plate with a tiny piece of parsley in the middle of the meat. “Garnish not included” the catalogue warned with typical German no-nonsenseness. Fraulein, you can keep your superfluous greenery, but what, I wondered, about the grill? I shall let you know how my correspondence to the Advertising Standards Board is received.)

Often, such is their bulk come December, these wondrous Christmas catalogues come rolled up en masse in a tube held in place with a taut rubber band so that, fancifully, you can imagine you are Captain James Cook sailing the high 18th-century seas as you sluck the prized tube of paperwork under your arm and chortle inside to peruse your stash.

Zzzwwwiiickk, you tease and roll the rubber band from its moorings with deliberate and practised patience, all a ploy to prolong the pleasure. Fling, you throw the band to one side and greedily unfurl your bounty, as Cook no doubt did all those years ago with ship’s maps laden with talk of tides, compass points and furlongs.

Instantly you are Chief Quality Control Sorter, ruthlessly relegating the lower-grade and dodgy pamphlets to one side and tidying a neat stack of reading to another.

If it’s printed on daggy (probably environmentally friendly) paper, if it pathetically employs atrociously lazy and bland black and white drawings (Bunnings anyone?) and especially if it has no pretty pictures or too many jagged edges horrendously exposing its cheap mass-producedness – it’s out of there. Slapped angrily onto the crap pile. Honestly, why bother producing such wasted opportunities? How can these people who claim to run legitimate businesses put their names to such rubbish?

High gloss, heavy weight paper, minimal use of comic explosive boxes to illustrate pricing. Yes.

Catalogues that are bound, actually bound, and weighty like a book? Give them the Pulitzer. Golden, special things they are. Myer, I am looking at you.

Catalogues that proclaim themselves to be anointed with such specialness that they come wrapped and protected in their own clear plastic packaging? They hold as much value as the Dead Sea Scrolls – but they are of course infinitely better than those deceased papers. Aesthetically at least, for I have not read the Dead Sea Scrolls, although I hope to rectify that if my Christmas wishes do indeed come true.

And besides, have you seen those scrolls? Neither have I, but frankly, I imagine they look like you’ve given a Bunnings catalogue the pirate treatment (remember in primary school when you’d soak paper in coffee and burn the edges to give it an ancient, pirate’s treasure map look?).

The true higlight of my catalogue reading thus far is from a catalogue of a sort I would not normally read. At least it’s from a section of a catalogue I would not normally read. Apart from those ridiculous catalogues that all of a sudden go upside down half-way through your reading them, forcing you to waste precious life time closing them up, turning them over and starting again, my other pet hate is catalogues that try to cram too much in with no seamless transition.

Harvey Norman, that’s me shouting at you. I know it’s because you are so big you seem to sell basically every human goods requirement on the planet, from televisions, blenders and rugs to pool lounges, vases and double adaptors.

There you are, being swept away as you soak up catalgoue pages of glorious beachside apartments featuring the latest lounge, rug or dining setting and suddenly BAM! you turn the page and it’s boring old mattresses. White, boring, white.

But it was here, by happy accident, that I stumbled across Catalogue-Reading Season 2010 Moment of the Year.

There is, can you believe it, a bed product in existence called Memory Foam.

(I am so enamoured with the enormity of this discovery that I have emboldened its accompanying sentence.)
That right there is the most frightening piece of foam on earth.

Kinda makes me feel like this.


My extensive research tells me Memory Foam was actually created by NASA in 1966 – a good year for polyurethane – and it has only now weevilled its way into the bedding market.

So, what? It is a mattress that remembers your body shape and whatever lumps or bumps it may possess? You can go away, to work say, and come back that night, hours later, and it will inherently know who you are, your every single shape?

It is a synthetic material imbued with a very human ability to remember? Is that right? And if it is so human, so real, does it indeed hurt as its squishy memory is being formed? As millions of overweight Americans sink their enormous super-sized backsides into this Memory Foam foaminess, do these mattresses utter in unison a silent cry of pain, a cry that is sustained for the entire life of the memory, and therefore, the mattress?

The world, I am sure, has now officially gone mad. Next there will be talking carrots, card-playing horses and psychic octopi (vale Paul, vale).

I, as a sensible Australian, choose not to be known or remembered by something as ridiculous as a mattress. It is highly disconcerting.

Instantly, I imagine this famed Memory Foam thusly, in human (kind of) form, as apparently it carries a very human trait. Spooky, if you ask me, but it comes from NASA so spooky is part of the brief.

It looks like this:


“Ahhh, I see you have returned to me at last. I trust your time away from me was devastating? There, there, I’m here now. I remember every last curve of your body as if it was my own – how could I forget? Come now, lie down with me...let’s remember together.”

It speaks like this:

Although the speech is tweaked just a teeny bit so we can actually make out that the English language is being spoken (lo siento, Antonio, but stick to Spanish if you want to be understood).

That is all*.


Thank god they call it the silly season...I’m the number one season pass holder this year.

This smattering of light relief proudly brought to you by Sanity: driving the world crazy with normalness since 1712.

*Garnish included

Monday, December 6, 2010

Record downpours

Since last Wednesday, it has not stopped raining in Queensland. Not. Stopped.

Last Wednesday was December 1. It is now December 6.

We have not had more than four minutes of sunshine this ENTIRE MONTH.

I'll tell you where else there have been record downpours. My uterus.

Right, that's really crass. There you go, I acknowledged that, let's move on.

At 2.14am on December 1, I was woken by that frightful fear that I was wetting myself. Now, that hasn't happened for at least two years (joking) but it was weird to say the least.

I ran to the loo, casting a glance at the alarm clock (hence the very specific time reference) and quickly saw that there was a shitload of blood pretty well everywhere.

From 2.14am that day until about Friday night (Dec 3) I bled like I have never bled before. Toilet times, which were frequent, were reminiscent of the culminatory scene in Carrie.

Instantly the word haemorrhage flashed in my mind and I started feeling dizzier as the days wore on. I do not know to this day if that was because I was freaking myself out at the sight of all the blood, or if I was actually reacting to the blood loss.

Every time I went to the loo, it was as if a massacre had been committed in the bowl. Every time I went to the loo, I had to flush twice before the water returned to clear. I know you think I am being melodrammatic. I know the stark, bright red that some blood can colour looks damn frightening when contrasted against the white porcelain.

I know that. But I had a period less than three weeks before - and it was slightly heavier than normal. Now I was spending my days - excruciatingly at work, which was hard but necessary - racing to the loo every 20 minutes for fear the pad would not hold.

(Sorry for any grossness in the next little bit.) There were clots. Big ones. Like jelly. And fleshy. Every time I went to the loo, the sound of urine hitting the water would be punctuated with a staccato machine gun plop plop plop of bright red tissue smashing the toilet water meniscus to oblivion.

Scary.

I rang the doctor, feeling slightly weird as I wasn't technically a patient under the strict definition. On his advice, I had an ultrasound and politely declined the offer of an internal scan while lying on the table (are you off your face?? I am bleeding?!!!) I had a blood test last Friday and another today.

The doc rang tonight and, drum roll, it's nothing to worry about. He doesn't really know what it is, or what caused it, but he knows what it isn't and at last I can legitimately use Arnie's famous Kindergarten Cop line: "It's not a tumour!"

(If it was a tumour, there would have been the pregnancy hormone HCG coursing through my vines. And, sadly, there is none of that hormone there anymore.) It could have been something called an arteriovenous malformation, but they are rare in the uterus and congenital anyway and unlikely to form after a pregnancy.

The weird thing was that my case and symptoms mirror those of another of the doc's patients, and one he saw only two weeks before me. Her bleeding, the same as mine, resolved itself normally.

I have a physiological doppelganger out there and she lives within a 50km radius of me!!! Huh, imagine the ad in the personals I'd have to place to find her...

Anyway, that news is something of a relief.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

While my frittata gently warms...

Ok, so I have exactly seven minutes before my frittata is ready.

And don't think the irony has escaped me that I am about to blog about my body "image", for wont of a better phrase, while I am starvingly waiting for my lunch to cook. (Not sure how many grammatical/spelling rules I broke back there, but anyway.)

We had our last session w the counsellor last Wednesday. Well, last as in last for 2010 and last until we most likely call her again next year when we get pregnant again. (Not sure if I should have used "if" back there...told you my optimism had been dented by this whole experience of losing a baby.)

Anyways, it was a good session. Both T and I cried however. And there's nothing like therapy to make you realise how far and how not far you have come in one short hour.

Crying always takes us by surprise in those sessions. I know that sounds silly, but here is why. It's been two months since we lost the baby, and we do not regularly collapse as crying, heaving, sobbing messes into each other's arms while we are at home, during the normal course of a day.

The fact is there is just not the time for that. And I know that sounds weird. But there's Jay, there's work, there's the summer seedlings for the veggie garden to plant, there's that thing from that shop that I must pick up, there are deadlines, there's the Christmas ham to book, there's Medicare, there are Christmas cards, Christmas parties, oh, my, god, do, I, have, to, go, on?

But for one short hour or so each fortnight, we have been ushered into a small office out the back of the very hospital where, in Room 13 on September 23, I gave birth to our lifeless 16 week and four day old baby.

My grandma is looking after Jay when we go to the counsellor, I have left work at work and it's just us two and the counsellor in that room talking about one single experience and how it's affected us.

It's the only time we get to stop. To think hard about what it's done to us. Is it any wonder we cry.

This week it was more heartbreak for T as we talked about how deserted she has been by her parents (who don't condone our relationship - like I said, that's a whole other blog right there.) Tears, naturally.

Then there was me talking about how I had approached exercise in the preceeding eight days with the fervour of a Nazi Luftwaffe squadron leader: pretty intensely.

Problem was I had been sick with a head cold from hell at the same time - but I still went nuts bike riding, running, doing cardio exercise tapes any chance I could get.

Why?

The reason suddenly leapt out at me during our counselling session. I am desperate to get my pre-baby body back.

Now, normally you would associate that statement with someone who had gone full-term and given birth to a healthy baby. You'd purse your lips, turn them down into a mock frown and tilt your head to the side as you read something like that...sympathising that such a feat can be hard. Tough, naw.

But this is not some superficial Hollywood tabloid-type desire. It's simply about being a healthy weight.

Ok, so I am not obese. I get that. But my usual hover weight has been blown out of the water by this pregnancy cut short.

I am sure my own body is freaking itself out. I can imagine it going "Wait..now I'm sure last time I looked we had a baby in here. Where the hell is it? What in tarnation did I do with it?"

I am also not known for my patience, and so I expected to regain that magical hover weight after eight ridiculous days of exercise when I should have been resting my head coldy head.

The reason I was so hell-bent on getting it back is because I want to physically erase what has happened. I want all the cells in my body to forget, to go back to the way they were. That way, we can start again...back at the same diving board we leapt from all those months ago.

Slightly unrealistic, granted, but can you blame me. A deep part of me feels let down by my body, the body that was pregnant for not long enough. I want to get rid of any trace of that body and start again.

I have since mellowed a little bit about the exercise, and have actually noticed old clothes fitting almost as well as they did...before.

They do feel different though. Perhaps they always will. I cannot ever deny being changed irreversably by this. Inside and out.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ferran's profundity

Ok so I cannot listen to Ferran Adria talk on SBS for much longer for fear of breaking into a spontaneous flamenco. Either that or experimenting with gelatine, a flame thrower, an espresso cup and ascorbic acid.(There is a crazy ass doco on his restaurant El Bulli on TV right now (isn't everything on SBS crazy ass?) and while I love to hear the broodingly mad Ferran lisp and loll linguistically...I have had enough now). Basta, Ferran, basta. And that's right, you young upstarts, loll was actually a word before it became an SMS-inspired acronym minus that jaunty third L. So there.

So, that's as sensible a lead-in to a blog I haven't hopped on to for ages as ever. I think. Really.

I'm fine. Thanks for asking. How are you?

Right now the house is quiet, Jay is in bed and T is working, so I thought I'd pay my respects (penance) to the Blogger gods.

T and I are continuing with our counselling sessions and they have been brilliant. We go every fortnight or so, and the woman we see specialises in grief. Frankly, I don't know when we will stop going...and besides, it costs us $10 out of pocket each time and we get a lovely cuppa and macadamia shortbread every time. So why not?

In the olden days back when I was a smoker, I would have used the analogy "$10 - that's just one packet of cigarettes" until I happened to notice the daylight robbery currently being committed in tobacco vending establishments these days. Christ! Those things are $17 now!! What??

I think we've been four or five times. I've lost count. To the counsellor I mean, not tobacco vending establishments. Those places and their novelty bar mats scare me.

I must say it's hard to put into words what I have learned...even though I know it is large and significant.

For the past few times, in the hours before our appointment, I have wondered if we need to keep going. Is it worth it? Are we cured now?

In the hours after our appointment, however, we often sit in silence driving home just absorbing the profundity of the past hour and a half. That's right, I'm bringing profundity back...even if it makes me think of the word fecund (capable of producing offspring; fruitful - huh, weird).

Melissa, our counsellor, has helped us process what we thought was unprocessable. She has given us a framework to hang our rampant, unpredictable emotions from and validation for whatever the hell we are feeling at any given moment. Frankly, in this acute phase of grief (which she says goes for 12 weeks) anything you feel is right, is normal, is perfectly reasonable. And my, that's nice to hear, when some of those things feel downright terrible/crazy/weird/wrong.

She has also helped me understand people...especially T's parents and their non-reaction to the whole shebang. That, dear readers, is a blog for another day, but the extra heartbreak it has added was initially devastating and is now just...them, and all we can ever expect from them. (Aim low and we will never be disappointed.)

She has opened my eyes to the greyness of life, and made me realise that black and white is what newspapers are, not people or beliefs or situations.

She has slowly helped me heal what I thought was an unhealable, festering angry wound. A few weeks ago, I used to think of this experience as a bloody great big samurai sword that sliced me in half, forcing everything that made me me to pour out onto the concrete. It was cruel and gory and fricking nasty, and I felt as though all of that stuff was literally gushing out.

There was panic at wondering if that stuff would ever be replaced; and if it was, what with? Would it make me harder, bitter, more angry, less able to laugh, what?

Shit, I don't know what's there in its place yet. I think I am still refilling. I have moments of bitterness, sure. I get angry and sad. But I still laugh, and I still cry.

Doesn't everyone?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

One month ago


Yesterday was the one-month anniversary of the baby's birth.

In all, it was a pretty good day. Sure, there were a few moments of tears, terrible flashbacks and remembrance...dusk the night before was all it took to take me back to that hospital room exactly four weeks earlier and remember the frustration and despair at the sun setting on a day when all the horrible stuff should have happened, but it didn't. We had been in the hospital since 8am that morning...no one expected it to still be happening when the sun set. And yet it was. I was only half-way through. I never want to feel that pathetic desperation again.

Mostly though, I was amazed to be able to look back on how I felt four weeks ago and compare it to today.

I feel better.

My head is slowly clearing and the whirring merry-go-round making an ugly blurred rainbow of my emotions is gradually slowing.

Gradually. You hear of people describing emotional and physical scars from a trauma and they are really the best description.

Physically, I stopped bleeding almost two weeks ago - finally - and the occasional jarring pains in my abdomen have ceased completely.

I had exactly six days of blood-free bliss when I started again. Embarrassingly, I called the doctor, a little worried, and was told it was my period.

Right, well, my system seems to have corrected itself mighty quickly then, hasn't it? I would, however, like someone to explain to me how I can bleed for three weeks after a birth and still have the lining re-form, only to bleed again after a week's break. So, what? I have two wombs now?

Emotionally, I am still yo-yoing, but I feel like those particular wounds have sealed themselves with a bit of fresh crusty scab. No, not an overly nice description, and not an overly nice feeling this, but it is progress.

I can't remember if I wrote about this earlier, but T and I wanted to include our family in a memorial for the baby, even though they live all over the country.

So yesterday, being the one-month anniversary, we nominated a time of 4pm and let everyone know that we would be at the beach at that time to say another goodbye to the baby. Our family could do anything they liked from spending a moment thinking about that little life to lighting a candle, but at least we would be unified in thought and in farewell.

We went to one of our favourite local beaches with my auntie and nan, who placed flowers in the water among the rocks, as the tide was coming in. T, Jay and I stood slightly to one side and held each other...kissing him, thinking again about the baby and crying. It was windy, but beautifully sunny. Then we had a few beers and some fish and chips as the sun set and the most spectacular orange moon rose up over the ocean, between the pines.

The week at work was strange, nightmarish, great and exhausting.

I was completely freaked out at the thought of heading in there again. Why? Well, I realised as I pulled into the car park that the last time I was there, I was pregnant.

Minutes earlier, on the drive in, I almost lost it. I almost pulled over, called T and told her I couldn't do it. I felt so afraid.

But I shook myself alert, took a few deep breaths and kept driving onwards.

Frankly, after what happened in the first half an hour, I should have walked out the door and driven right home. It was freaky.

I open my diary with another deep breath and some anticipation about returning to work-type things to deal with, to handle, to fix, to deliver.

There on that day's date was a reminder about a 4.45pm appointment with our OB/GYN to discuss our 18 week scan the previous Friday.

Then, I decide to clean up my desk. There are a stack of papers on top of my computer and I lift them up, noticing something stuck to one of them. It's a toy dummy someone had given me to congratulate me on the baby.

Then, I am clearing a pile of three weeks’ worth of Financial Reviews...stacking them up one by one to make sure nothing is hidden in between them, and my eye stops on one edition and one only. Which one? The one from the date the baby was born.

Then, I am clearing the 4,277 emails that have accumulated in my absence and there are about five from people I know emailing about work stuff, but each one alluding to my pregnancy...”hope the bundle is growing well” etc. I email them back to tell them what happened.

I see four people in the office from other departments who I sort of know. They all ask if I am feeling better...well, not really. They all thought I was sick, I explained to a few of them and manage to make it through without crying.

Someone else asks me if I enjoyed my holiday. "Go anywhere nice? Hope you got some sun..." Sigh.

Obviously I really need to improve my marketing of this blog! It does all the talking for me. The feeling, however? That I have to do on my own.

Couple all of that with demanding phone calls and further emails, the inevitable work-related catastrophes, sitting in front of a computer screen for hours all day and even the light-hearted small talk with colleagues...and it was all enough to have me requiring immediate horizontal-ness every night. Throw in my "Period: Back With Avengeance...And This Time She Means Business" and I was a fricking mess.

I normally get a little moody at a certain time every month, but this was ridiculous. I had horrible, hot bursts of rage, severe annoyance at the tiniest thing (bananas facing the wrong way, T putting the butter back in the fridge when I needed it etc) and moments of panic that something bad was going to happen to Jay.

Oh, and Jay decided that 5am would be a fabulous time to get out of bed every day last week. Every day.

Thank the lord I do not have to do that week ever again!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Expressing my outlook

Cursor blinks.
Flashing. On. Off. On. Off.
Waiting. On. Off. On. Off.

I am writing the same email I have written more than 10 times this week, explaining to friends and acquaintances I know through work that our baby is gone.
These are people I know well, and people who knew I was pregnant. They do not know, until I email them, that is not the case anymore.
Each time, I stop at the same point, fingers hovered over keyboard and emotions suspended in mid air.
“Apologies, I have been away for the past three weeks on unexpected sick leave. We actually lost our baby, so it has been a...”

Cursor blinks.
On. Off. On. Off.

It’s been a what? “A terrible time?” “An awful ordeal?” “A period of time where we have been physically crippled with sadness?” “The worst, most fucking unfair situation I have ever faced in my life?” “A truly horrific experience I would not wish on my worst enemy?” “Pure hell?”
Any word or possible combination of words does not seem enough.
I can think of nothing to say to sum it up, and I kind of resent the very nature of email for forcing me to.

How have you been, long time no email, kind regards, looking forward to the next board meeting, we should catch up soon, when are you free for coffee, our baby died.

So, why tell them then? Firstly, I feel duty bound to explain my sudden absence because it’s the polite thing to do; and of course it’s a self-preservation tactic so I can get in first and drop the bombshell so I don’t have to risk responding to a “how's the baby bump growing?” question later.
This way I am in semi-control of my emotions.
And that’s a laugh. Each time someone asks me face to face about it, I react differently. A work friend rang me a few days ago and I couldn’t speak in response to her consoling words, so choked was I with grief. I squeaked, literally squeaked, a thank you, before I hung up and went to the loo for 10 minutes to cry.

But then a girl I work with came up to me at my desk yesterday and asked how the amnio went, and I despaired at the eager hope in her gaze.
But suddenly I was calm and sounded like I was telling her what I was having for lunch.
“Oh, love,” I said as I patted her on the arm. “We lost the baby. It was Downs Syndrome, plus a major heart defect. I’m only back at work this week...I’ve had the past three weeks off. I thought you knew.”
Someone else rang me today and asked “how’s the pregnancy going”.

The question hung for a mere moment in time...but it froze in my mind for longer than that as I took a deep breath and allowed myself a split-second fantasy that I could deliver the expected response.
“Great,” I longed to say, and smile while saying it. “I am really huge now and last weekend I had to go out and buy all these new clothes.
“We are due to have a scan this week and hopefully we will find out the sex.”
A pang of hurt instead brought me back to earth before I blinked and responded, giving her a glimpse of my reality.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

From this life to the next


Last Thursday we said goodbye to our baby in a simple Buddhist ceremony called a puja. Well, a goodbye of sorts, and a goodbye for now.

An old family friend is a monk who lives in Sydney and after we agreed on a time, he adjusted it for daylight saving and commenced the ceremony at the same time as we did, some 1000 kilometres to the north.

I picked some flowers from the bushes in our street: four bright red hibiscus and four bright yellow daisies from one end of the street, a clip of pinky-purple bougainvillea as well as the tiniest flower I have ever seen.

Frankly, I think it is a weed, as it grew from a decidedly boring and scraggly-looking plant at the front gate. But the flower it produced was a light powder blue, almost purple, with petals shaped like a delicate star protecting a miniscule set of stamens. How could something so tiny capture my gaze, make me stop in my tracks and lean in for a closer look? Hmm, how indeed. That flower represented our baby, so I picked one, and placed it in a little basket, nestled amongst the more strongly-coloured flowers. It fell almost out of sight a few times, just because of its size and seeming insignificance, before I placed it with extra care right in the middle. It was a little buried, but only because it needed a wall of the bigger flowers for protection. It was always visible, however.

We also got a bowl of clean water, a candle and some incense. Steve the monk (he does have an authentic title befitting his years of study and devotion to Buddhism, but I have always known him as Steve) asked us to write a small note to the baby, which we would burn during the ceremony. We would then put the flowers in the bowl of water, each of us blowing our breath across the liquid, before pouring it over the ashes of the burning note...all the while thinking of the good we have done in our lives and passing that loving kindness onto our son, to send him on his next journey.

I debated whether or not to, firstly, photograph this; but also whether or not to upload it here. I mean, the whole point was to burn it away to nothing. So, at the risk of breaking some sacred Buddhist rule (and surely that statement is contradictory), here it is. And I kind of figure, the more eyes that read it, the more people can stop for an instant and share a sentiment with us...and strengthen to send-off for our little boy.


T and I read some prayers calling on Lord Buddha to "grant our dear child peace, happiness and compassion". To bless him and guide him on his next journey.

A few lines from that first prayer strangle my heart with sorrow. "Our child is passing from this world to the next, he is taking a great leap. The light of this world has faded for him...he has gone into a vast silence. He is borne away by the great ocean of birth and death."

I think I am just paralysed with grief thinking about this tiny baby floating somewhere in the universe completely alone. Frightened, maybe, anxious. I want to protect him, we want to do that as a family. We were getting ready to do that and I was already doing that as he grew inside me for more than four months. It is incredibly painful not to be allowed to continue to do that.



The second prayer we read was titled The Heart of Perfect Understanding - surely the hardest thing to attain at a time like this. But surely something too important to give up on finding.

Then there was one last prayer we read together asking the Buddha to guide our thoughts, to help us to be strong at times of weakness, that we would not waste this life on useless pursuits and that all living beings find peace and happiness.

We sat in the backyard on cushions for about 40 minutes as the ritual played out. It was a sunny day, but swirling winds regularly blew out the little teal blue candle we had and made the sandalwood incense burn down much quicker than it perhaps normally would.

We laughed as T stumbled on some of the more lengthy and confusing words in the prayers and let out sighs of relief as we stretched our crossed legs out straight. We lit and re-lit the candle and more incense and we battled the bloody wind to get the note on fire...

But then we held each other in silence a lot. We felt the breeze dry our tears and talked softly about what might be next for our little boy. It just wasn't his time yet, we said. He could already have returned in another form and be making another family on the other side of the world blissfully happy. Yes, it is achingly sad that we couldn't be that family, but how wonderful that someone else could know him and enjoy him better than we ever did.

I cried a lot, and I was exhausted afterwards. But a strange feeling was also there - I was quite uplifted at the thought of his soul continuing a survival. I had not touched on the fringes of a thought like that during this whole experience. To me, this was final. It was awful and it was final. All over.

But it is not at all. My life will go on - it already is...everyone's life goes on. And even our little boy's life - in some form or another - will also go on. How amazing.

There is enormous peace in that. (But it still makes me cry!)

These are the blessing threads that Steve made for us and sent up to us in the mail. We tied them on each other's wrists and every time they catch our eye, we are urged to send thoughts of loving kindness to our baby.


And there is even greater peace in that, because it encourages a positive when there could potentially only ever be a negative. It forces light in, with too much power to be ignored.

Thanks Steve...lots of love to you for being the coolest monk we know!

Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet
Let it not be a death, but completeness
Let love melt into memory, and pain into songs
Let the flight though the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night
Stand still, o beautiful end, for a moment, and say your last words in silence
I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light you on your way

- Rabindranath Tagore

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Notes for counsellor

Notes for the counsellor (to remind me when we have our next appointment this coming Wednesday).
* anger, why me, order supposedly being upset
* in freefall, which is a new experience for me, want to know the process/timeline but cannot - no one can
* Jay: what is he feeling, how can we deal with that and protect him
* sadness
* helpless, hopeless
* optimisim, could tell myself I will be ok for the first time late last week
* sad that my optimism has been ruined. Changed me as a person and made me question if who I am is right, don't like that, but was that previous optimism fake? Is this a good change, an evolution to become more realistic about life. But what is life without hope? Are cynics the only ones who are truly happy?

Yeah, so that's an insight into the corners of my mind this past week.

Plus all of Mother Nature's fury has opened up on Queensland in the past few days and if I wasn't feeling unstable or unsettled before, I certainly am now thanks to gale force winds, thunderous clouds and non-stop, torrential rain.

Up and down. Up and down. You know, when I started this blog what seems like a lifetime ago, I used the word "rollercoaster" on my little descriptor thingy whenever I signed up to blog lists or whatever. And I remember thinking at the time that it was slightly less than honest, more for spin than truth. I think my head was filled with countless other IVF blogs I had hopped into at the time, and that word came up a lot. Rollercoaster, yeah, that sounds good. Put that. But us? Well, we had just started my turn at IVF back then and the only way was up, baby. The news was good, everything was progressing as it should. No surprises, no dramas.

Looking back from this very different vantage point now, as I reflect on the wild, and devastatingly true, undulations of experience behind us, I can say for sure: it has been a rollercoaster.

And that's life I guess, isn't it?

The "problem" was I had lived a very fortunate emotional life until a few weeks ago. No one close to me had died in the past 20 years, my relationships were truly fulfilling and my family was strong and loving. Sure, there was anxiety and worry and stress - but it never hung around for long and was always driven by something ultimately trivial. In fact, life was so good that I often used any quiet moments I had to pray to whoever would listen that it would continue being that way.

Now, and I know it is still raw, I feel completely different. But slowly I am seeing the lessons in this experience; they are like whispers in amongst a raging cacophany of nightmare.

Firstly, I realise the fragility of life. I feel it, I know it. And while it is so often unpredictable and frightening, when life throws you its worst, the occasion forces you to seek out and cling to the things you can count on. Your heart's safe harbour. And this is more than taking lemons and making lemonade - these are things that can save your life.

Like the unconditional love of T and Jay and my family and friends. Last entry I said I envied the ocean for its glorious monotony. A wave comes in and no need to ask what will happen next - no need to worry - because it will go out and be replaced by another within seconds. It has always been, and will always be. And so is the love around me. I feel that, I know it. I am lucky to have it.

And secondly, experiences like these teach you what is indeed trivial and what really deserves your precious emotional energy. That's a tough one for me, someone who is just as likely to call the police if my coffee is cold as I am to write a sternly-worded letter if I am overcharged 25 cents at the supermarket.

17 days ago, I felt real injustice. I know it. And I could not call any authority or write to anyone to fix it this time.

I spoke to a lovely family friend, who happens to be a Buddhist monk, this week. I was telling him how up and down I have felt these past few weeks.
"Use that as your anchor", he said. "Understand that your emotions will do that - because that is what they do."

And I was stopped in my tracks by the fact that I could actually rely on something I had thought the absolute defintion of unreliability: my emotions.

He let us know he can perform a ceremony for us to honour the baby and we will do something next Thursday: 21 days since he was born. I am not yet sure what is involved, but he will email some info over in the next few days.

I feel that will help. I know it will.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Butterflies and cockatoos

I went for a long walk on the beach yesterday.

I went for another one today.

Funny, the beach for me has always been a place for fun and relaxation.
These past two days I felt uncomfortable and tense most of the time I walked, until the roaring ocean crashes, swirling osprey squawks and the unrelenting wave tides reminded me that life goes on.

I stared at my feet in the sand and realised how insignificant we are - not in a morbid way, but I think in a positive way - as I try to put what has happened to us into some sort of perspective.

But I find I am trying too hard to make sense of it. And this time, I'm afraid, it doesn't make sense. But that fact, frankly, is ridiculous. Nonsense. How can it not make sense? Everything in my life until now has taught me that some sort of sense can be made of almost all things. Take your time, consider it, figure out a way to fix it, tackle it, break it down, share it - and then just do it.

Not this time.

I know this is a recurring theme, but I feel all over the place emotionally. Yes, I can tell myself there are millions of people who have it worse than us in the world right now. But in the next thought, I get my defences up and scream to my inner conscience "but this is pretty damn awful too, thanks very much".

Yes, I can say it will take time, that what I am feeling is normal right now - I know that, I do. But I am getting increasingly angry at those statements too, because they are not helping me RIGHT NOW.

Patience was never one of my strong suits.

Anger has become a shamefully big part of me lately. And I don't like it. I snap at T or Jay unnecessarily if the slightest thing goes against the picture I have in my head. It's like I am asking them for help setting the table, or something, and then explode in a rage because the knives and forks are laid out in a way I wouldn't have put them. Small, stupid, insane, ridiculous things like that make my ears hot and my brain swell in frustration, and before I know it, I have yelled at Jay or snapped a pointless remark at T.

I know that's no way to treat people, especially those closest to you. But I almost cannot stop it. Even though I feel worse than I already do once I blow up.

But some amazing, I think, things are also happening. Apart from the truly wonderful support from family and friends, which is continuing unabated, I feel a little buoyed by our native fauna.

During both walks on the beach, I had a bit of a cry. Both times it was triggered by plain old sadness and that destructive "why me" talk. Both times, the tears were fuelled by me seeing a family playing with a pregnant mother and a little boy - different mother and different kid each day, but each one was at about the same stage of pregnancy and the boys were both just walking. First of all, that's weird, I think...but then again, I am noticing pregnant women EVERYWHERE.

Anyway, yesterday was incredible because it was as if someone had scripted the appearance of these gorgeous butterflies each time I had a negative thought.

Yesterday, these little guys were everywhere.


And I swear, they appeared every single time I sobbed particularly loudly (yes, I was doing those gasping cries, quite melodramatic really), every single time I felt particularly low and every single time I caught sight of that family with the pregnant mum and little boy and felt a physical pain in my chest. Yesterday, they were everywhere. It was spooky.

Sometimes they hovered around me, other times they flew past making sure they were in my eye line, but mostly I saw them zoom in my general direction, before stopping mid-air right near me...almost as if to check I was ok.

Writing it now, it sounds crazy. I know. And they were there again today when I had another cry while sitting on the coffee rock staring at the monotony of the waves and desperately wishing life took as easy and predictable a course as the ocean. Can you envy a body of water? I sure can.

I tell myself those butterflies carry the soul of our baby. It's a thought that cripples me with sadness as much as it uplifts me - and I am crying hard writing this right now.

The other stunning member of the local wildlife family who has cropped up in our backyard lately is the yellow-tailed black cockatoo.
Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

We have lived here about four years and have never heard their distinctive call. I first noticed them about a month ago - when our world started its inward cave about the baby.

I took Jay for a walk in the pram early one morning last week and just as we entered underneath a huge canopy of yellow bottle brush trees, there it was.

That unmistakable screech. They were right above us. Two of them - it's always two - snacking on the flowers.

I pointed them out to Jay and we watched them before they flew off, spreading their wings to reveal a breathtaking splash of yellow, which on that morning was made even brighter by the sun's reflection behind the black plumage.

Like I said, it sounds crazy. But I noticed them, they were real, they were there and I don't think the timing was purely coincidence.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Time

We planted a tree in our baby's memory last Thursday. Wait, when was that? Yes, last Thursday. I honestly cannot keep track.

It is quite frightening really.

I remember being quite superstitious about getting the plant out of its temporary pot and into some decent soil before midnight struck to signal the end of Thursday, as that had been seven days exactly since the baby was born.

It's a spiky yucca some dear friends interstate had sent us and it now lives in a gorgeous light terracotta pot we bought especially. We put it on the pool side of the fence, but instantly I saw it was all alone out there with no other plants around it. So I grabbed two jade plants we had on the other side of the yard, and placed them either side to do three things: to stand guard like some brave warriors, to protect the plant between them and for luck.

Once planted, T and I stood there in the darkness with our arms around each other while a light breeze blew. We cried in memory of our baby and in the realisation that every time we glanced at that plant, as well as at a thousand other times, we would think of our baby again.

Otherwise, the day-to-day is just happening. Night becomes day and vice versa.

Life feels like just an existence at the moment, with a few normal moments of joy, happiness and bright thrown in for a very frugal measure.

I am still unsure how to approach this grief. I know now that is does not follow a timeline, it does not progress or worsen or improve or stagnate; but rather does all of those things, sometimes within the same hour.

This is like nothing I rememeber experiencing in my adult life and while I know I just have to roll with it, that thought is a little disconcerting for a perfectionist control freak like me!

I have thought a lot about how this whole thing has changed me. And right now I keep thinking of the bad stuff - I suppose that's normal at this early stage.

I really feel like my optimism has completely faded. Not disappeared, but certainly been eroded. I feel like I can compare my old self and my "new" self and I realise that the old me was much more hopeful, more bulletproof about things always working out. That change makes me really sad.

I am someone who often forgets bad experiences. Until now, most bad things that have happened to me have really been trivial. I have decided they are not worth any memory storage.

Of course, that has changed now. This is unforgettable.

Please don't get me wrong, or feel unecessarily worried. Blogging about the way I am feeling right now causes me to shine lights harsher than they should be on the darkness corners of my mind. There is plenty of good stuff in my life today, just like there was yesterday, and before.

I know it, I feel it; but sometimes it shocks me to realise that some bad stuff has crept in too, tainting those wonderful spaces within me.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Seven days today

I went to Woolies the other day.

I don't know which day it was, as I can't seem to keep track of them lately.

As I left, I caught the faintest whiff of the same perfume the midwife wore during her epic 16-hour shift last week.

I didn't make it back to the car without crying.

Instantly that smell had taken me back to that day and I didn't want to be reminded.

Today was incredibly tough, I think because it has been exactly seven days.

I had the energy to have a shower and eat breakfast (sadly, I am not one of those depressed types who misses meals) before I just had to get back to bed.

Lately I feel like a smoggy black fog is hanging over me just about all the time.

I feel like I'm on the edge and really vulnerable and worried about what my emotions will make me do next. If a random woman's perfume is going to have me erupting into tears, how the hell am I going to go back to work next week.

I am really looking forward to the counsellor tomorrow. I am not sure if work would actually be a good thing, bigger picture-wise; or if in fact I am not ready.

I just don't feel stable. At all.

One minute I want to be alone because Jay's grizzling is driving me over the edge, and the next, I want him and T there on the bed with me, cuddling me endlessly.

I know it will get easier. I know it takes time.

I just wish I was there already.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sleep brings no respite

I had a dream last night.

T, my mum, my sister and I were out by the beach or somewhere and all of a sudden I decided to put Jay, who is just over two and a half, on the bus home by himself.

A two and a half year old on a public bus home by himself.

Reason, ration...it all pretty much went out the window. That bizarre dream logic won the day as no one tried to stop me. One minute I had made the call, the next he was on the bus by himself.

Then, a little while later, after he was gone and out of my sight, reason and ration kicked in with devastating force.

The panic and the guilt jolted me awake and back to reality. It made me physically sick to my stomach.

In my half-conscious state, I imagined us all racing to the bus stop, calling the bus company and asking passengers on every bus we saw if they had seen him.

I imagined the worst and, worst of all, I imagined his little face, forlornly looking around. I imagined the worry forcing his facial features taut and I imagined him bawling unstoppably once the anxiety took hold.

I don't need a psychology degree to work out what that dream means. It still unsettles me to my bones. It still makes me cry, when I honestly thought the tears had run out.

Also, I re-read my previous post and suddenly realised I used the term "baby" when writing about, well, the baby. In hospital, I had said "foetus" - a cue the midwives had picked up on, displaying their finely honed sensitivities. They too called it foetus. The doctor, who we saw for mere minutes at a time and who we spent less time with, kept calling it "baby" or, in one heartbreaking moment, "bubby".

As the days wear on since last Thursday, I feel slightly closer to the baby - or its spirit at least. And it feels wrong to name it with such a clinical, medical term.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Little boy, I will never forget

It is done, it is over.
But there is no box on the planet big enough to contain this experience.
I can't close its lid and relegate it to the darkest, dustiest corner of the roof.
I cannot burn the memory or erase it from my conscious or subconscious being.
Forgetting, sadly, is not an option. Instead, I remember the sadness. I will never forget.

We went into hospital last Wednesday morning, arriving at 7.30am on the dot. Earlier, we had said goodbye to Jay and my mum, who had flown up for the week to look after him. As all four of us hovered at the front door, Jay leant forward to say he wanted to say goodbye to the baby. He leant further forward to brush his lips against my belly, concern and a look of "am I doing the right thing" etched into his furrowed brow. Of course it was the right thing, you darling little man. Even if it set us off crying.

The doctor came in to see us after the midwife had shown us our room. Next door was a family, the muffled bass tones of a man's voice and the stark crying of a baby indicated the new family they had become. They were there for the reason most women came to a maternity ward for. To have a baby. A living, crying, demanding, shouting baby.

How I wanted one of those.

The doctor explained how it would happen. "How many weeks are you now?" he said. "16 weeks and 4 days," I said.

Just before 8am, the first dose of Misoprostol went in. Two tablets inserted into the vagina far enough to sit at the opening of the cervix. Painful? Shit yes.

It would act to loosen the cervical opening, which only had to dilate to about 3 centimetres, before the baby would come out. Sounds simple, if horrific, doesn't it?

I was to be given doses six hourly. After the first six hours, nothing had happened. I think I went to the loo a lot and felt a bit of rumbling in my belly, but nothing more. So, we watched morning television, me wishing desperately to fit the true demographic this type of television is aimed at. I wished I was a bored housewife boning up on the Telstra T-Box or the Ab Circle Pro; a worker on a sick day tuning in to the morning cooking show or the uni student bludging lectures to watch Dr Phil: anyone but me, going through what I was about to.

2pm came around and the doctor reappeared to dose me up again. Still painful? Yes.

I could definitely feel something happening in my belly, and again I went to the toilet a lot (especially poos, the tablets make you do that apparently). But nothing major happened. For some reason, I had a 4 - 6 hour timeframe in my mind and I honestly thought it would all be over before night fell.

Well, night fell and there was nothing but a few waves of nausea and slight cramping.

The midwife gave me the next dose at 8pm. No less painful because it was given by a woman, by the way. Then things started to happen.

I guess they were contractions, I guess they were a toned down version of what real full-term labour feels like. A hell of a lot of discomfort, enough to make you feel like glass shards are being slowly hammered into your teeth. Twinging pain in my lower abdomen and fluttering waves of tightening and muscle cramps.

I felt like I had to go to the toilet a lot - again. I didn't want to lay in bed, even propped up. I think I knew something was happening, something was coming and it didn't feel right to be expelling that into the bed. I needed to be on the toilet.

I had had horrific visions of the baby coming out in the toilet - it happens - but the midwife said she would put a bed pan on the top, so that made me feel a lot better.

I had a about three intense waves of painful cramps, a lot closer together than the previous lot over the past few hours. I was on the toilet and felt incredibly sick and pained. Then, at 9.40pm, I felt something dislodge deep inside me. I swear it made a "knock" sound as it happened. Seconds later, I felt something slimy and slippery come out and land in the bed pan.

Instantly, my ears started ringing, my vision went fuzzy and my head completely clouded over. I went all tingly and felt hot, then cold, then hot. My lips were dry and I felt like my head was sitting on one side of the room, while my body was in another. I said I was going to faint, because I have done that enough that I know what it feels like. So another midwife told me to put my head between my knees. I did and slowly, slowly, came back around while T supported me and the midwife washed my face with cold face washers, although I was moments from losing consciousness.

With my head between my knees, I realised how close my head was to what I thought was my baby sitting in a bedpan, with nothing but a towel (which I had over my knees) and a strip of porcelain between us and it. We had told the midwife, the doctor, anyone who would listen, that it would be too traumatic for us to see the baby. That was imperative. But we accepted an offer for the staff to take a photo and store it, perhaps for later, when we feel up to it.

I sat up slowly and asked "is that it?" The midwife got me to lean back so she could look in the bed pan. She couldn't see properly, so I walked back to bed and lay down.

Then she came out and delivered really the worst possible news. It was only the membranes and about a litre of amniotic fluid. No baby, no placenta. I still had so much more to do, so much more to endure.

I think what made it more horrible was the fact that as soon as I felt it all come out, I felt instant relief and almost completely physically normal again. But it was only the beginning.

I was absolutely stuffed by this stage, so T set up her bed on the floor beside mine and we tried to sleep. I felt nothing in my belly until 2am, when the midwife came in to give me my last dose (they only do four at a time). Yes, still painful, even at that hour.

Surely, I thought as I gritted my teeth to stop the pain, this dose will be the last one and the baby will come out now.

Next thing I knew, it was 4am, and the midwife was at my bed asking me if there was any change. I had dropped off to sleep for two hours, completely at ease and feeling nothing, despite the fourth dose.

If you think you know frustration, if you think you know disappointment at being at the mercy of nature, your body and other totally unpredictable things - I do not want to hear about it!

Throughout the early morning, I had gone to the toilet and felt something strange when I wiped. I checked with the midwife who said it was the cord coming out - a completely horrific thought because I just thought of what was attached, you know?

I had also done a lot more number twos and there was yet more painful frustration when the midwife returned from emptying the bed pan to say the tablets had also come out.

The doctor came in about 6am I think it was and T and I were pretty strung out by this stage. We were coming up to the 24-hour mark and we were running on about 2 hours sleep.

The doctor did a fairly brutal internal exam to feel for the baby. My old tactic of finding a focus point on the ceiling to fixate on did not work at all this time. I kept losing sight of it as I blinked in pain, shook away tears and involuntarily darted my eyes around looking for some sort of escape from it all.

He finally finished and told me the baby's legs were dangling down in the vagina. He said he stopped the exam because he didn't want to dislodge the head from the body. There was, and still is, something just so endlessly disturbing about that. That part of the whole ordeal is perhaps the most traumatic to think about. To visualise. And it is something that will haunt me forever.

Plus T completely lost it at that point, seeing me in such pain. I was high on morphine (although I wish I was higher) and trying to console her when I couldn't even muster the strength to keep my own eyelids open.

"I need you to be strong for me. We're not finished yet."

He gave me a half dose at about 7am, as the 2am dose had fallen out, and we all prayed that something would happen now. Soon, those strange contractions started, but less intense than last time. I worried the drugs weren't working, that we had one shot way back at 9.40 last night, and my body was not going to respond to anything further. Jesus, what would they do then? If it didn't come out?

It was about 8am when I felt intense pressure to go to the toilet. I just made it to the loo when I felt something more than just urine come out. It felt slippery again and about a third less in volume of the earlier one.

I knew it was the baby. I just prayed the placenta had come out too. I collapsed into T's body, leaning into her as I sat on the loo and just cried exhausted tears.

I hobbled back to bed, only to be told the baby had come out but the placenta had not. While I turned my head to the right to look out a window that had the blinds drawn, I noticed the midwife in my periphery walking out of the room with the bed pan in her hands. With our baby in her hands. Taking it away from us forever. It was the worst experience of my life.

The next, and final, hurdle was the placenta. Then it would all be over and the important emotional obstacles would begin. The doctor said if it didn't dislodge by itself I would have to be sedated and taken to theatre.

By about 9.30am, nothing had happened. So the doctor decided to do yet another internal to help shift it. Slightly less brutal than the initial one, but brutal nonetheless.

Shortly before 10am, it came out and was all over. An excruciating experience that began 26 hours earlier was now finished. Finally, mercifully, finished.

26 hours.

The physical pain disappeared, but only because I think I was too exhausted to feel it if it was there. Then, as I expected, a new flood of emotion hit, tsunami-like. The doctor and midwife floated, melted out of the room when they saw the grief and relief spread across my face, which was criss-crossed with streaming tears.

I buried my head into T's chest and we both held each other, crying. "We made it," I said. Although it wasn't about some sense of achievement, just an awful finish line crossed, with a thousand more in front of us.

We will see a counsellor this week, and maybe a few more times. We are in a terrible limbo now, in the days following. What kept me going through the darkest moments was the unwavering thought that we had made the right decision. "We didn't want to see you suffer," I kept repeating to myself. "We could not have given you a good life. Your life would not have been worth living, we are sorry, but this is the most humane way to protect you."

In the days since, there have been darker moments - which I didn't think possible - where I have panicked and imagined the two-week amnio result report coming in the post, telling us the baby was 100% perfect, that it was all a mistake. It is virtually impossible, but guilt has created some crazy irrational thoughts these past few days. Like the hypotheticals in those statements above that I used to get me through. To get me through. So what about me? This is not about me, it's about a tiny life we chose not to allow to continue. For very good reasons, but a decision we made. Don't dare think we made it lightly, or that we won't feel its consequences forever. Those statements use words like "would" and "could", not "will"...no certainty. So those darker moments have been filled with a guilt-laced mourning and a real horror that we made such a huge decision based on "would" and a maybe. Highly likely, but a maybe.

In the days since, we have all oscillated between bursting into tears without warning and feeling crippling sadness and a lament that sits heavy on knotted shoulders and frowning foreheads.

Sleep either comes like a knockout drug or not at all, and I have not been able to drift off at night without crying yet. I don't look forward to going to bed like I used to. I don't want to be left alone with darkness, silence and memory.

Of course it's not all black, but you do catch yourself just marvelling at the fact that you are back doing those mundane life things like driving to the shops and doing the dishes and giving Jay a bath...and doing them so quickly after such a devastating experience. I had a massage the day after we got home and almost exploded into a fresh wave of tears when the masseuse's fingers finished kneading out the hundreds of little knots across my shoulder blades. Why? Because it was further distance from our baby. Those knots came from him, in a way, and the worry and anxiety and gut-wrenching he caused. And now they were gone. He was gone. He is gone.

Leaving the hospital in the early afternoon, more than a day after we had entered, was just horrible. I had given birth, but we were leaving without our baby. That is not fair and the cruel injustice of it all makes me angrier than I have ever been in my life. I wanted to be holding a baby in my arms next March, I deserved that, I should have had that. Everyone around me was looking forward with such anticipation to that moment. Who dared to take that away from us? We did, I suppose, in a way. But not in other ways. So cruel, so unfair. Our hearts are broken.

September 22, I will never forget you. Little boy, I will always remember you.

Friday, September 17, 2010

This is what worst case feels like

A few months ago, I had taken to putting four Xs on the bottom of emails and text messages.

Before then, I had deliberately chosen the three X-method, to signify my family and the three people in it.

So, at the risk of people thinking I had a strange obsession with Queensland's beer of choice, I went with XXXX.

After next Thursday, I will revert to three Xs.

The amnio did not go well. In fact, it went as worse as could be imagined.

The procedure was fine. It was just like a blood test, and the needle was mercifully really fine. I held my breath more or less the entire time, against doctor's orders, but it really didn't hurt then or after.

The doctor came in to the little side room we had been ushered into after the amnio was done. I thought we would just be signing something or whatever, as we did not expect results for another two days at least.

She told us that she had picked up a serious heart defect - and showed us the ultrasound close-up of the tiny heart, pointing out the gaping space of nothingness where a second valve should have formed.

This, she said, was consistent with Downs Syndrome babies, and she suspected that was what the baby had.

On the drive home, it dawned on me that there was no way in hell she would have mentioned that, before the results came through, if she wasn't almost certain. There is no way she would say that if she had even an inkling that the results may come back normal.

Devastating, numbness, my ears start ringing and I feel like I am going to throw up...but thankfully not too much shock as this ugly seed had been planted almost four weeks ago when we got the first scan, giving me a one in 29 chance of having a baby with Downs Syndrome.

I am that one in 29.

The doctor rang yesterday afternoon to confirm it is Downs Syndrome and it is a boy.

Thankfully we had a few weeks to think about it, and talk about it, so our decision is deceptively simple.

As we drove home I caught sight of some cows and horses in a field and cursed human science for being so advanced, for putting us in this situation, when less primitive animals sort out genetic abnormalities for themselves. Simply, they don't survive, or rarely at least. In the same thought, I praised the same science for giving us such a definitive result so early in the pregnancy.

Apparently we can test the remaining six embryos, even at that early stage, for Downs Syndrome and some other chromosomal abnormalities too. It costs a lot more and we don't know what's involved, but we are not sure if we'll do that. I mean, what are the chances that this could happen again?

I put the "why" completely out of my head. Truthfully, it was never there. This is a freak act of nature, and some bloody cruel luck. There was no history of the syndrome in the donor, nor in my family - and there often isn't. These things happen in life.

In the meantime, we go on straightening crooked picture frames on the wall, eating meals at the right times, doing the dishes, having showers at the right times, trying unsuccessfully to sleep so we can forget for a few hours and keep living a life. But it's a zombie's existence.

Some moments, the guilt is palpable...can the little foetus hear us talking about it? Does it feel anything knowing what we are planning? How dare we presume to play god?

Other bigger questions cloud our conscience...and they are ones we may never know answers to. How are we to regard this thing? Is it human, with a personality, a life force, a heartbeat and a happy existence ahead of it? There are as many yeses as there are nos.

At this moment, neither T or I want to see the baby when I give birth next week. It will be tiny, about 14 cms and its head less than a golf ball in size. Apparently I will feel something like bad period pain and when the pain stops, that is usually a sign that it has come out.

I will be almost 17 weeks when it happens. I will know when it is happening, which is better than a lot of women who have sudden miscarriages.

We don't feel, at the moment, that it is something we want wrapped in a blanket that we can hold and look at. Honestly, I just want it out. It will leave a lasting imprint on our lives forever, I don't need a visual to add to the trauma.

I had trouble getting off to sleep last night as I suddenly thought something should be done to honour this little one's memory. But what? Not a funeral, no big occasion. But what? I don't know.

I am mentally trying to detach as much as I can, a process I started four weeks ago. It will hurt too much if I bond more than I already have done. Thankfully, our OBGYN said you don't normally feel kicking until about 19 weeks.

You hear people say those one day at a time, one foot in front of the other cliches at times like these. But they are cliches for a reason - because they are so common. We are on an emotional yo-yo string right now, never able to predict our reactions.

Seeing Jay wake up all cute and sleepy from an afternoon nap is usually enough to set us both off in floods of sobs which utterly confuse him. But we just give him extra hugs and kisses, squeezing the life out really, while his eyes widen in bewilderment.

He is great to have around at a time like this. He doesn't know what's going on, although we have told him the baby was sick and we have to say goodbye to it soon. Funny, he knew when I was pregnant before we did and when we asked him if the baby was ok, he would say "baby sick" quite a few times. But he is still blissfully Jay, wanting a muffin, wanting to play play-dough, wanting a story, wanting to go to the park. And we do those things not because we feel like it, because we don't, but because of him. And then, when we see him laugh at taking an enormous bite of muffin, or zooming down the slippery dip, we realise how valuable he is. Because he is bringing a smile, or some joy into what seems like a pretty dark, joy-less time right now.

We will be ok, I know it. We have so many good things in our lives. Whether it is the unshakable support of family and friends, the six more chances sitting in storage in Brisbane or the fact that we were privileged to find this out this early, and not at 39 weeks.

Good things are all around. Some days they are harder to find, some days they are impossible to see, but we will get there.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A test in patience

In three more days we will have the amnio. We have only been counting down for 23 long, excruciating days already...so what's another three?

In fact, I sometimes completely forget all about it. Yeah right.

The week away in the Whitsundays was an excellent distraction. But it only soaked up five days of the anxiety that had spilled on the floor, flooding our hearts...we came home, and I felt like we ran out of paper towel some days. (We really did run out of paper towel last week, it was a mini domestic crisis. Weird.)

Actually, it's been the nights, they have been the worst. See, all of a sudden, my bladder is not the vessel of almighty impenetrableness that it used to be. I have trained it up well over many years sitting in offices swigging from a two-litre bottle of water; trained it to fill, and to the brim, before I go to the loo.

Now, half a sip of liquid and I am busting.

So, the bladder kicks my conscience into life at 2 or 3am, and then the worry brings it to its knees.

I imagine receiving both phone calls from the doctor once the results are in: the good phone call and the bad one. It's purely self-preservation, as I have to role-play it in my mind as some form of perverse preparation.

During the day, I succeed better at putting it out of my mind. There are phone calls, work, emails, life stuff, Jay stuff and home stuff to fill every space in my conscious mind.

At night, the only distractions are darkness and silence, and they are useless ones at that.

"Just put it out of your mind, shut up and go to sleep," I tell myself. "You will be cactus tomorrow.

"And besides, how stupid will you feel if you get the results and everything is fine and you find out you were worrying over nothing. What a waste of energy."

Other times I try and imagine what a long needle will feel like penetrating my belly: the fat layer, the muscle layer (if it is there) and then into the uterus. How on earth will it pierce the amniotic sac and not cause the fluid to flood out? How does that little spot heal? Will it hurt, will they have to yank it out suddenly if the baby moves right near it - and it does move around like some Thunderbird on acid, I have seen it! Will everything be alright in those two weeks afterwards? Are the two days that I am having off work enough? Will everything be alright?

It really has been a battle to avoid making it all-consuming, but 70% of the time I get it right. Whenever I think about the worst outcome, I often physically feel a pain...in my stomach or my chest or somewhere. And I tell myself that is not good for the baby. I imagine the little foetus frowning and jerking to try and shake off such negativity.

Sometimes that imagery works, sometimes it doesn't and the panic wins.

And the other thing about this awful limbo is that part of me feels I need to suspend any bonding until the test results are in.

I am not sure when you are meant to first feel the baby kicking, but I almost don't want to feel it. I don't want that other layer of emotion complicating my attachment with a being I may never know.

Roll on Wednesday.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Scare

Hello again, apologies for the absence blah blah blah.
It can partly be explained away by a week away from computers in Airlie Beach - lovely! And partly due to bone laziness.

Anyway, here I am, adopting a quality-over-quantity approach to blogging.

I am 13 weeks and two days today and just noticed the first signs of a baby bump today. That black skirt was a little more snug and that black top I wore to work rode up A LOT higher than usual.

We have had our first appointment with our obstetrician and our first proper scan.

And here is where the scary parts start.

I will just come right out and say it. According to the results of the 12-week nuchal translucency scan we had a week and a half ago, I have a one in 29 chance of having a baby with Downs Syndrome.

One in 29.

You know me, I had burst into tears as soon as we were free from the radiographer's dimly lit office...having sat through a 20-minute explanation of what those results actually meant.

Yes, the radiographer said, it was high risk and concerning; but I could also be one of the 28 women who would have a normal, healthy baby.

But what if I'm not?

Yes, the nasal bone was present, and in 85% of Downs babies, the nasal bone is absent.

But what about the 15% of Downs babies who obviously have a nasal bone?

Yes my blood biochemistry levels were good and normal, but my baby's nuchal measurement (the skin at the back of the neck) was too big.

Damn numbers, I have always, always hated them.

It was so damn unexpected. Like a blood test, I was seriously expecting to have the scan, get a nice clean one in 800 result and get on with life. But while it was awesome to see my little 12-week-old baby squirming and flitting about - and to see amazing details like a jawbone, nose and limbs - the gloss of the moment was certainly tarnished by that devastating news.

This may sound callous, and I expect to be judged even though it is an intensely personal decision, but if the results of an amniocentesis that we will have in three weeks come back positive, T and I will not go ahead with the pregnancy.

And that horrific eventuality (a positive result) gives rise to a whole host of truly gut-wrenching - and very negative - consequences; ones I won't go into here because I don't want to spend any more time agonising over an experience we may not yet have to endure.

T and I both know we do not have what magic qualities it takes to raise a child with Downs Syndrome. Thank god we are both on the same page. I know people with kids who have Downs say the same thing, but that they just got on with it and did their best, but I do not want to go down that path. All I keep thinking about is the child's quality of life, their longevity of life, the strain it will put on our relationships, finances, emotions...all the negatives. And I am sure there are positives, but I don't have the strength to wade through what I assume to be 99 negatives to reach one positive. I can see how that could be selfish, heartless, whatever...but it is how I feel.

I know I will suffer a lot of guilt if that is what ends up happening, particularly as this was an IVF pregnancy, but I suspect my family will suffer a lot more from the alternative.

Wow, it sounds really callous to type it all up in stark black and white, but there is the harsh truth of it.

In the meantime, it's a matter of desperately avoiding the issue in my mind. The holiday helped me succeed at that, but now I am home, I find it clouding my thoughts more often.

I am someone who worries about things I cannot change...I know it is unncessary, and yet I do it constantly. But I have really forced myself to change tack with this.

If I dwell on this, or worry all the time, I will literally go mad and no doubt harm the baby. The fact is, we won't know for sure until about three weeks' time. (The results of an amnio normally take two weeks (!) but you can pay more for a FISH test, which we will be doing, and you get a result in two days). Yes, I am sweating on that result - of course, we all are - but we know when we can get that news and it is not negotiable.

So, please, any positive vibes you got - send them my way!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Death and loathing

I found myself getting quite emotional while reading the Financial Review last week. As you do.

No, it wasn't the sudden sorry state of Telstra shares - although that was certainly cause for tantrummy tears for many - but a story on page three about the artist who won the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize.

Michael Zavros won for a painting called Phoebe is Dead/McQueen.

Thanks, smh.com.au

He said he was inspired to paint this particular, and very confronting, piece to illustrate how vulnerable he felt as a parent. Apparently, ever since his five year old daughter Phoebe was born, he has been plagued with fears about her being harmed. He said he has never known a love so powerful to be able to make him worry about loss so much. What if that was all taken away, what if he lost her?

When I read that at work on Friday afternoon, I lost it. Firstly, it was such a bloody relief that someone else, and look! a stern and sensible man no less, felt the same way as me, clearly an irrational silly woman. But it was nice to know that perhaps I wasn't as irrational as I thought.

I spend too much time thinking of horrible things happening to Jay...and that is only getting worse now that I am pregnant and so incredibly conscious of a second little life I, we, are responsible for.

Unfortunately, I know these anxieties are basically a parental prerequisite. I am not sure you can do a good job as a parent without feeling this way. Can you?

Oh, and the McQueen reference in the painting was about the scarf, designed by Alexander McQueen. Not sure what that added to the whole title shebang, as I am pretty sure "Phoebe is Dead" would have packed a far more devastating punch. Funnily enough, however, Zavros also called the painting playful. What? Yes, because he gave her rosy cheeks, not a morgue-ish pallor, implying that she could very well have been playing dead.

Bloody kids. I will kill Jay if he ever drapes himself in my scarf and lies prostrate on the floor naked like that!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Miriam Stoppard, you is crazy

Memo to Dr Miriam Stoppard:
You say in the early chapter of your pregnancy bible that it is unlikely for a woman's belly to protrude much in the first trimester.
You, lady, are off your tree.

I am 10 weeks and one day - not that I am counting - and I have a distinct bulge. Actually just last night I noticed it was firmer that the word bulge implies and felt quite, I don't know, fibrous...

Not like when your spare tyre visits Beaurepaires without you knowing and ends up transforming into a large car size with racing tread, instead of the small-to-medium with all-weather tread you have been sporting throughout your 20s. No, this type of stomachal protuberance is decidedly firmer than that. For a split second, I kidded myself it was my spectacular ab muscles being pushed forwards by an ever-expanding uterus. Yeah, then I smelled the coffee, almost vomited on the spot thanks to the nausea, and woke up to myself.

Yes, nausea...and tiredness...and constant trips to the loo. The holy triumvirate of the first trimester. Seriously, I am considering getting my office temporarily relocated to cubicle one of the ladies loos. Although the acoustics would be shocking...

See, they don't tell you about the constipation - so there's that, which I am trying to combat with lots of fibre and plenty of water. Plenty of water, plenty of toilet trips.

There's some annoying but apparently necessary hormone called progesterone coursing through my body right now. It is to blame for the tiredness, the constipation and the distinct inability to construct sentences on every alternate day. Apparently it slows everything down...your brain, clearly, as well as your intestines. So the longer "it" takes to exit stage left, or south, the more water is extracted and the harder it is to, well, you know.

Plus I have found my fibrous little expanda-uterus is decidedly bigger by about 4pm. All of a sudden that skirt I put on that fitted fine in the morning is riding up high enough to make a Melrose Place Heather Locklear blush and that top that shaped to my body quite nicely at 8am is suddenly bursting buttons Incredible Hulk-style. (Seriously, that has happened.)

Part of me feels like a third party watching this happen to someone else. It is completely freaky seeing your body change so much. Then there is the weirdness at something so tiny being able to so dramatically alter your every moment - making you more emotional, more puffed while just walking (what?), more tired, more forgetful. And, what's more, it's something you cannot see.

For christ's sake, if god or whatever was going to make the creation of a life so damn miraculous, you would think he/she could at least put a window on the belly during pregnancy. Oh! Imagine that! No internal scans...just a magic window you couldd peep into at any time.

Perhaps you could add a personal touch and make your own little curtains, or Venetians for the retro-lovers, a chic Roman blind or plantation shutters. Sure your jumpers may catch on them, but it would sure save so much stress and heartache!

Oh and by the way, I turned 34 since my last post - hooray - and cannot believe that at my next birthday, I will have a five month old.