Thursday, October 11, 2012

About 45 minutes ago, four years ago, I handed Josie to a tall, kind man from the funeral home and said, "please take care of my baby." He took her, all wrapped up in a Winnie the Pooh sleeper and hospital baby blanket, and his face just crumpled as he looked at her. Since my condition was listed critical and my own survival was not guaranteed by a long shot, I think he thought he might have to return later for me, too.

I hope this post doesn't come across self-centered. It's an attempt to explain what happened to "me" after Josie died. I know that many other people in the family felt horrendous as well, but I can't speak for them and for the experiences they had - only for myself. So here's my experience.

Today, four years ago, was meant to be her baby shower. I think it was supposed to be held at 1pm. There were bars made for the shower, which sat uneaten until after her funeral on Monday. Good representation of the ultimate nightmare, I suppose, having the cakes for her shower eaten at her funeral. Almost inconceivably horrible to this day, actually.

It would be another whole day until I could make it to the bathroom, and have a shower. The only thing they had on the ward to shower with were samples of Johnson's Baby Shampoo, which were given away with the new baby "kits." So there I stood, in this other world I simply could not comprehend, going through the numb motions of cleaning up after a major operation, without the little passenger I had carried for 9 months in my belly. There I stood, doing this normal task, which was the most horrible thing in the world - like the ultimate torture - washing with baby shampoo.

I can't remember any time in my life (and that includes some pretty negative personal experiences prior to Josie's death) that I felt more stripped of everything that made me, me. I'd watched my life blood come out on the floor of the ER, been taken, flattened out on an operating table, catheterized, pumped full of drugs and oxygen, torn open and c-sectioned in just under eight minutes. My baby girl had been hooked to an IV, shot full of adrenaline and worked on for almost half an hour before being declared dead. I'd held her for about 27 hours; the only way she got warm was through my body heat and the only way she opened her eyes was if I opened them.

My life was just...over. It was. Everything I'd known until that point was null and void, and would never return. The person I had been was gone. I had died. Nothing made sense any more. And it would never make sense again - at least not in the way it had previously.

Other experiences - even very bad ones - had left scars, sure. Some of the scars were deep. But I was still "me." I was just "me with scars." This time though, the "me" was gone. Totally gone. Exploded. Nothing left.The "me with scars" I'd come to accept was just obliterated. I had to rebuild.

I died on the way into hospital, watching the sun come up over the horizon, as I felt Josie's final turn in my tummy and knew she was gone. I was gone too. I was dead. That person is still dead. This person writing here now is someone new.

The person writing here now awoke in October 2008, alone and incomplete at the bottom of a meteor crater filled with wreckage and debris. Picture frames and torn paper, wood, rubble, weeds, tiny flowers hidden between broken pots and half-trashed pieces of furniture. The person here now trod on all the broken shards of glass as she went around, gathering pieces to add to herself. A makeshift leg out of a chair part. A torso out of pillow stuffing. Memories out of torn pieces of photograph and dust, swept up off the floor.

Beautiful new things too, found in scattered shafts of sunlight. I picked them up and made them parts of me. Eventually, I was functional in a rudimentary way, the bits of me held together in a body shape by clay soil, rainwater and tears - shed by other people as well as by me.  That was the beginning of the ascent out of the pit and into a different world.

The thing is, I don't mind this new person, made out of parts. Everything is very "now." I am very mindful and aware, a lot of the time. Sometimes I switch off, but when I am switched on, I am very grounded. So life is very tangible, almost all the time.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The End of the Summer Light...

Four years ago today was a Wednesday. The blue sky was covered in a layer of lightly-broken white cloud. The fall leaves were swirling in eddies outside the fire station, a light breeze picking them up every now and again.

I spent the afternoon alone in the house unti the two older kids needed collection from school. It was very quiet and I didn't turn any music or TV on, as for some reason I was really enjoying the stillness. I folded some baby clothes and drank some tea. I talked to my mother on Skype, on the laptop I owned at the time. I thought about going to the store, but then decided against it.

I'd nested. I'd packed. I was waiting now, 37 weeks and 2 days pregnant with Josie. She moved around vigorously even then - such an active baby, and got more wriggly when I listened to ACDC (and other rock of that type) in the car...

She'd been head-up until 29 weeks, but with the held of the cat-and-cow maneuver, I'd encouraged her rotation to head-down in about 3 minutes: she never left that spot, instead choosing to rotate and stretch her legs out, pushing against my backbone. That move would cause her little butt to stuck out of my tummy quite clearly - usually on the right. It made me laugh every time! There's her little butt again - naughty sillyhead!

That Wednesday, I set my laptop up to play music out of its speaker, in the upstairs bathroom, on the floor. I grabbed a couple of towels and about five small scented candles from various spots in the home, and went up there thinking, "this might be the last time I get to enjoy a relaxing bath before Josie comes out!"

I really relaxed and put Clannad on Windows Media Player. I think I must have listened to three albums or so. All I could hear was the music (which wasn't on very loudly), the bathwater, my heartbeat and the breeze, which came in little gusts and wrapped itself around the outside of the house, flicking leaves against the windowpane and the siding. They sounded dry, and I pictured them, orange and brown, the footnote of a beautiful summer I had very much enjoyed.

I had what I thought was a labor wave in the bath, which as very uncomfortable. Now I know that was the first indication of something going wrong: it was constant, and lasted perhaps three minutes. But as a first time mother, I had no idea. I just practiced my breathing and assumed it was a cramp, combined with prodromal activity. It went away, and I soon put it to the back of my mind.

I continued on with my day, collected Aurora and Devin from school, and spoke to one of their teachers briefly about how far along I was. They were both really excited to have a new sibling. Devin, who had taken a long time to come out of his shell as a little one, was very enthusiastic about becoming a big brother. Aurora was all set, fully in "little mama mode" and ready with a mental list of ways to help. She had been given a life-sized baby girl doll for her birthday the previous month and had been practicing her baby moves on it.


Later on, after Josie died, Devin could barely speak about it. When I found out Bella was coming, he took about ten weeks to acknowledge even the slightest possibility of actually becoming a big brother again. He just assumed Bella would die too. He was really angry and hurt about it...

Aurora was too, of course, but being Aurora and so big and self-sufficient, it came out in different ways: she'd cry over things she couldn't pinpoint, and on more than one occasion, I held her in a snuggle and really let her bawl. She held a lot in; Devin threw things down the stairs instead.

I so wish they hadn't had to live through that. They also lost an older sister, Alauna Marie, who was born at around 20-21 weeks on May 30th 2000 - about 16 months before Aurora was born. They may not have been there, but their father was and it affected him enormously and permanently. When Josie was lost, I think it broke him. Something cracked apart inside him right there in front of me that day and I saw it in his eyes.

It was just...a terminal loss of hope, there, in his eyes. I can't even describe it in a sentence. Someone "in the know," who knew where they were headed and knew they were powerless to stop it. Staring back at their home and the life they'd led with a shadow of a smile, and the last vestiges of light reflected in their pupils.

That look. It stayed on for about half a day. Then came the drop off. The falling off the cliff. The light went out and it was horrible to watch it happen; I was powerless to do anything about it. Autopilot reigned through the weekend, through the funeral, through the busy wake at our house, where I sat in the corner of the living room with my friend Em and her boyfriend, who shielded me from some of the mayhem.

Questions like "where's the big coffee pot?" and "do you have any sugar?" and "wow - look at all those beautiful flowers!" flew through the air. I sat there, bruised from bottom to breastbone, holding in position strategically to avoid moving my newly-babyless tummy and the dreadful emergency cesarean aftermath that was my torso. I wore a black wool sleeveless top that I had to be helped in and out of. I could barely dress myself, and bent over when I walked, even with narcotics and ibuprofen in my system.

I stared blankly into space and tried to remember what to say at appropriate times. Sometimes I just couldn't say anything at all. I was able to hold a conversation about virtually anything for about two minutes, before becoming overwhelmed and breaking down into tears. I couldn't remember how to do the laundry or load the dishwasher.

The contents of my brain had been permanently scrambled by the gigantic, soul sucking magnet of death that didn't quite keep its grip on me. It sucked me up to the point of entry into the next world, but didn't have a proper hold to pull me through the opening. So I fell and fell, and the impact with the solid surface of life below knocked loose every mental fixture, fitting, adornment and other decorative  element in my brain.

I'm still finding things four years later, but mostly I abandoned my old mind-blueprint and rebuilt as I went along, using the debris, which I combined with new things I noticed in the world. It's an ongoing story, still now. I don't suppose the journey will ever end. I'm so lucky to have some amazing people in my life, some of whom know child-loss from the inside, too. Without them I'd probably feel much more disconnected and much less sociable.

Thank you, my friends and my family, for your wonderful and continual support and willingness to listen to the things I need to express. Your careful nurturing and genuine caring never, ever go unnoticed, and I think of all of you with warmth in my heart every day.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Life after Death....

After the death of your child, you keep living. After a while, after the main "grieving period," you find yourself able to laugh and smile, make conversation etc, on a fairly normal basis most of the time. New nuggets of happiness comes into being; new babies are born; new places are visited. A new kind of life starts and in some ways, it's a more aware life.

You're more aware of the value of what you have in your life, and can experience things in a very mindful way. Colors are brighter, lines are sharper, noises are clearer. The relationships between people are more interesting. In some ways, it's like being born again. You re-learn everything from scratch. It's like being a brand new baby faun in a forest in springtime.

But then you have the awareness of something else - and some days, it's more acute than others. You have this overwhelming sense of living, after death.

In some ways, you see, you're actually a ghost. I know I am. Life is strange now, really. I am a ghost, living in my own life, watching life after the death of my old self. I almost died when Josie died, and often, I am conscious of the fact that I'm still straddling the fence between this world and the next. I really do have one foot in the grave; a leg in the afterlife. I know I'm not the only one who feels that way. And how can I not? I am a big believer in talk therapy - in fact, I am going back to university in January to complete my degree in Psychology - but I don't know if any amount of psychotherapy will ever help clear the residual effects of experiencing death occur within my body.

Someone else died inside me.

I can't see any way back from that. I think that on a fundamental, primal level, that has changed the hardware inside my soul.

I think I mentioned in a previous post that losing a child - particularly when you're already considered an unusual or hard-to-figure-out person - makes you quite inaccessible to many people forever after. Your friendship circle inevitably changes because of that, and it's an important thing actually. Your friendship circle has to change, into one you will forever be more compatible with. It's such a major life change that retaining the status quo just isn't an option.

So yes, I do feel like I am living after death, sometimes. On really bad days, I feel somewhat like it's all been a mistake, like I should actually have died on October 10th, 2008, and that somewhere along the line, something went wrong and I survived. That now, nobody is sure what to do with me and I am therefore stuck in a perpetual waiting area, while they decide what the next steps will be, and where I might now fit into the human race. It's a strange feeling.

Thing is, I'm not the only one. There are other people in that proverbial waiting area - other parents who've lost children. So with each other, we form a new corner of the world population. We are strong, resilient, empathetic, kind, understanding, open minded, mindful, loving people because we've been broken open and don't have a choice in the matter. We can move mountains. We have gained the power to survive and accomplish incredibly beautiful things. What you see is what you get; we have to live mostly on the surface, since we don't have much of an outer shell left. But if you get to know us and accept us for the very unusual people we now are, we'll bring you all the wonders of the universe, heaped on a plate, over and over again.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Life is most important...

When I think about it, I often wonder why people spend so much of their time wondering what the meaning of life is. To me, it's so simple. The meaning of life.

I think I knew Josie was on her way even before the test turned positive. I just instinctively knew there was life there. All those months spent planning and looking forward to her birth, marveling at the incredible nature of life growing inside me. Then all of a sudden, that life was extinguished.

And it hit me. That was it. Life was the point of it all. That spark; that little fire within. It starts at the moment of conception and grows...and grows. It just...does. I knew that life was there from the word go - I knew it in the deepest part of myself.

So after it all, I think I have actually been a little bit blessed by the aftermath of the situation - I know the meaning of Bella's worth so sharply. The perspective I've gained by losing Josie has honed my absolute knowledge of how precious and sensitive Bella is. If I could go back in time, I would save Josie somehow - that will never change - but since that is impossible, I have to look at how she has continued to change my life.

It is because of Josie that I value every life brought into the world.

No child "should never have been born."

No child should ever feel unwanted.

No single mother should ever be made to feel less adequate because she doesn't have a man. The same goes for single fathers. Love is love and a child grows from beautiful experience, not from the semblance of a nuclear family.

No child should ever have to grow up in an environment without compassion.

No child should ever have to endure the horrible loneliness of no physical contact.

Every child should feel loved. Because they are lovable. And worthy. And sweet. And smart. And beautiful.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy third birthday...

Happy birthday to you...
Happy birthday to you...
Happy birthday dear Josie,
Happy birthday to you...

I wish you were still alive.

Click for original sizes of the following panoramas... This is where she is buried and this was the sunrise this morning...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I wish...

I'm having a bad day. Tomorrow will be worse and for some stupid reason I made a doctor's appointment right smack in the middle of it. I'll probably walk in there and they'll want to know my medical history (first appointment with a new primary caregiver) which of course will include Josie, and I'll lose it.

So here I vent in an attempt to get some of this stuff out of my head...

Back in the glorious days of childhood; back in the days of magical thinking; back in the days of believing that people could come back to life; that bad things wouldn't happen if you just behaved well; that there were far-away fantasy lands in which giants roamed through the autumn leaves and everyone grew up...

I remember confidently telling my dad that if I grew up to be beautiful like Marilyn Monroe, then no bad guys would shoot me because I'd be too pretty to kill. I was about nine - he told me that no, bad guys would kill me regardless. He was right, of course. One of many push-pins that attached my psyche firmly to the walls of reality.

In so many ways, losing Josie threw me back to childhood myself. Back to the time of wonderment at everything, simply because I survived too. I'd been reborn and had to re-learn everything I'd ever known. In many ways, that is magical, that survival and the ensuing "different" that it makes you. In other ways it's alienating though.

This year will be the first year I've ever spent alone since Josie died. I will drive, alone, out to her grave before dawn and get out of the car and sit on the ground and cry. And watch the sun come up.

In one aspect, Josie's third birthday makes me want to crumple into a heap. In another, it makes me so angry that I want to smash everything up into thousands of pieces. This time of year is always bad. I want to shout "it's so f*cking unfair - I've had it!" It makes me want to say the following things, selfish or pedantic as they might be:

"All I ever wanted was a family, but then she dies and absolutely everything fall apart irreconcilably. Nothing happens for any friggin' reason. It's all bullsh*t."

"I was hard to understand before, already had enough to tell people that would put them off me completely. Now this too? Don't want to re-tell my story any more, want to live in a damn cave for the rest of my life. It's all crap and I'm so tired. So tired. So exhausted. So weak. So done."

"I don't want this burden any more; don't want to hold it up by myself and can't ask anyone else to help me. So lonely. Everything is useless. Alone, inside the high walls of my mind which have doors I won't come near enough to open because I'm too scared of the stuff people will see what's the point?"

"Everything just goes away. Emotions are poured out, hearts are opened and still, everything just goes away. Sometimes, I hate loving."

"I want to smash all the cups and the plates in my house and throw everything I own out of the window but instead, here I sit because I can't scare my beautiful living daughter. I have to pretend to be a normal person so that she will be okay."

"I'm so angry. I'm so hurt. I'm so hurt. I'm so hurt. I'm so hurt."

"When will I wake up? Please can I wake up now. This is a really long bad dream now. I've had enough now. I want to wake up and be four again, when everything was okay."

I'm broken, glad nobody else is here because I'm sure they wouldn't be able to handle me like this. No makeup, no airs and graces, just a woman in a puddle of tears. I wouldn't go near me if I were anyone else.

Now the tiredness has set in. I'll be really really glad when tomorrow is done. I feel really sick. Sorry if this entry sounds self-centered - I suppose it is really, since it's all about how I'm feeling. Bella is sweetly sleeping, looking like a little angel so it's just me here. I'm so glad she's alive - I'm so blessed with her.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

It was only one hour ago, it was all so different...

"It was only one hour ago, it was all so different..."

The first line from Peter Gabriel's "I Grieve" to which a link is below. I remember thinking that after Josie died. Racing into the sunrise, knowing in my heart she was gone and unable to do anything about it. Leaving the shreds of youthful innocence behind us as we sped down the freeway. All gone; never to be recaptured.

I think we hang on to the hours, the days, the minutes...since...because they make that event, that life, everything real. A few tiny bones in the ground that we can't see any more doesn't help. A big piece of stone over them, and soil - these things don't help, but remembering in minutes, hours, days, months, years - like a thread... That's all we have now. It's almost obsessive compulsive but it's a part of me that won't go away - and probably shouldn't. I map the passage of time after each of my children was born; one living here with me, the other stardust, as Joni Mitchell so beautifully puts it.

"We are stardust...we are golden...and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden..."

The day of the bath, today. That day I decided to have a relaxing bath in the fall sunshine because I knew it would be the last time I'd get the opportunity to do that. The day sticks out in my memory because it was also the first time I felt what I thought was a contraction but really wasn't - that pain that comes when something is going wrong with the placenta. I had no idea. I think I told people I'd had a strong contraction. There I was in the bath with Clannad playing on the laptop, candles burning and so on...

(Incidentally, I spent a lot of time in labor with Bella in the bath both at home and in the hospital. Funny how I threw myself into conquering my fears by repeating what had happened, in a similar fashion.)

You know that feeling you always got when you were little and you broke something valuable? That sinking feeling - you knew you were in trouble? Times that by about a thousand and it's one facet of how it feels to be the parent left behind.

I am going to curl up on the sofa now with a blanket and some hot chocolate...Bella is already sleeping. Down into the underworld I go for the third year - but not alone, because there are parents out there who know or can empathize with this. Thank you for remaining with me in my tired, aching, exhausted state that I get into this time of year.