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.