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 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.

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


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.