Monday, 26 May 2014

Take my place

Losing one baby changed my world. I cannot imagine having to go through this pain and heartbreak multiple times and yet so many of my baby-loss friends have lived through just that. Multiple miscarriages, stillbirths and sadly their beautiful babies die shortly after birth due to complications or diseases that were not or could not be diagnosed until after they were born.

Lily Allen wrote this song after she lost her son when she was 6 months pregnant. That was after she had experienced a prior miscarriage. I think her words truly reflect the heartbreak and despair of baby loss. 

Friday, 18 April 2014

Turning Wounds into Wisdom: The Power of Transforming Pain into Strength

A few days ago, I came across this article on healing which resonated with me so deeply, that I had to share it with you. 

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~ Kahlil Gibran - 

As our inner work unfolds, we often discover many setbacks and may even experience traumatic events that fundamentally change us. Even in the healthiest families there can be significant emotional wounds leftover from our youth. But these don’t have to be unfortunate occurrences. And maybe they weren’t even accidental. Perhaps “fate/destiny” had something else in mind for us, in order to catalyze a particular type of personal development that requires trauma for its genesis. What hurts us can cripple us, but it can also shape us into something more powerful.

But this requires presence. It requires having a different perspective about what it means to hurt and what it means to experience emotional trauma. One way to change our perspective is to look at our wounds as sacred things. Our sacred wounds can be a great source of personal development. Like John Keats wrote, “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” Indeed, allowing our wounds to become sacred is allowing Ego to become Soul. 

If we really allow ourselves to live greatly, we must open ourselves up to being present to our sacred wounds. The ability to have an authentic engagement with life takes the courage to face prior heartache and pain, and the ability to cultivate it and refine it. Either way, the pain and heartache will be there. The question is whether or not we have the courage to transform it into something that can refine our soul.

Pema Chödrön said it best: “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” Letting there be room is allowing for a space, a sacred space, where we can be fully present with our pain.

There’s a lesser known Hindu deity named Akhilandeshvari, or The Goddess of Never Not Broken. This Goddess embodies the ability to come together and fall apart, over and over again. She is the personification of healthy annihilation, the archetype of vicissitude. She breaks apart in order to come back together as a more powerful entity. Indeed, it is exactly because she is able to break apart that she is so powerful. What a shift in perspective!

True strength isn’t wholeness but the ability to adapt to the change that comes from falling apart and coming back together again, from wholeness to brokenness and back. This is the epitome of transforming pain into strength. Falling apart is what happens when we experience trauma. Coming back together again is the scar left behind. Adapting to the new way in which we are put back together again is honoring the sacred wound. Like Joseph Campbell wrote, “Suddenly you’re ripped into being alive. And life is pain, and life is suffering, and life is horror, but my god you’re alive and it’s spectacular.”

It may take an entire lifetime to complete the healing of our sacred wounds, but the point is to begin the healing – and there are diamonds in the rough. Those who become wise always experience the most pain. Falling apart and adapting to coming back together again in novel ways is the epitome of wisdom. Facing the pain is like looking into the abyss. It’s like having a staring contest with our inner-most demons. But with enough practice, with enough polish, we can transform those demons into diamonds

We can transform that abyss into a mirror that reflects infinite growth. “Think of the birth of the pearl,” writes Bill Plotkin, “the tiny grit of sand within the oyster creates an irritation the oyster seeks to eliminate by coating the grain with successive layers of lustrous deposits, ultimately producing the jewel.” Just as the grain within the oyster can be transformed into a pearl, the pain within the human can be transformed into strength.

There is a saying in Tibet, “Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.” At the end of the day, life is pain. We must learn to experience pain well. Indeed, there is an art to cultivating sacred wounds that only the happiest people know. Like the Buddha said, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” When we resist pain we create more pain, which is called suffering. When we can embrace pain with a warm, peaceful curiosity, we gain the ability to transform wounds into sacred wounds, and we limit our suffering.

Like Leslie Fieger ingeniously opined, “Any fool can run toward the light. It takes a master with courage to turn and face the darkness and shine his own light there.” Let us have the courage to turn and face our pain, to shine our own light there and see how many demons we can mold into diamonds, how many wounds we can transform into wisdom, and how much pain we can wrestle into strength, in order to become multifaceted beings with the power to heal the deeper wounds of the world.

Reblogged from: The Unbounded Spirit - Thank you for sharing.

Source: “Turning Wounds into Wisdom: The Power of Transforming Pain into Strength,” from, by Gary Z McGee

Monday, 31 March 2014

Little Pip and the rainbow wish

Last October something special happened. 

I was sitting in front of my computer in the very early hours of October 15 2013. The act of being up late in itself rarely happens any more. With a young baby, it has become the norm for me to become somewhat less coherent the closer the clock ticks to midnight. 

So there I was, going through my emails when I came to an offer for children's books. I was absent-mindedly scrolling through the page of discounted books when the book "Little Pip and the rainbow wish" just jumped off my screen. I sat there staring at my screen with my heart thumping in my chest. 

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll know that Pip is our name for our first baby. We nicknamed our baby "Pip" because when we found out that we were pregnant, she (strong girl feeling) was the size of an apple pip and so the name Pip just stuck. Sadly Pip was lost to us in an early miscarriage and this blog is my story of how I am still putting myself back together after her loss. 

In baby loss circles, the term "rainbow baby" refers to a baby that comes after a pregnancy or infant loss because rainbows symbolise hope, just as a rainbow baby carries all the hopes of his or her parents that he or she will arrive safely in this world, especially after the trauma or the "storm" of baby loss previously experienced. 

As I looked into this book a little more, I realised that the main character called Pip was a boy mouse. Even though I "know" in my heart without a doubt that my Pip is a girl, I still could not shake the feeling that this was an incredible coincidence.

After we lost Pip, to say that we felt her loss deeply would be an understatement. We still miss her now after all this time. After her loss, we also prayed, hoped and wished for another baby - a rainbow baby - to join our family.

What made this even more special is that this book found me in the early hours of October 15. In baby loss circles, October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance day. 

I wanted to contact the writer, Elizabeth Baguley, to share this story with her straight away. But instead I sat on it for over a month until finally I knew that I had to do it. So I wrote to her last November. A few days later, she wrote back in a lovely response:

"...I'm glad that you did write to tell me all this: it's such a touching story.  Although it's pure serendipity that Little Pip has such a resonance with your circumstances,  I feel somehow proud to be part of your life, especially since there's such a happy epilogue to your tragedy (although the tragedy still remains, I know).

I hope you'll read Little Pip to your daughter when she's old enough – and I'm certain to think of you whenever I read it to children when I visit schools."

I wrote to her again to ask if she'd mind that I share this story on my blog. Happily for me, she was delighted for me to do this. So thank you Elizabeth Baguley for writing this book and for allowing me to share this story here on my blog. I know that as my little one grows up, your book will be one of the most special in our library. 

Thursday, 31 October 2013

How many children do you have? Is this your first baby?

Such ordinary questions. But after baby loss, such a heart breaking questions as well.

Now that we have our precious rainbow baby, whenever I'm out with my daughter and we meet someone new, or even someone in our day to day interactions at the store or at any old mundane place, I can almost predict the way the conversation will go...

At first they coo over our new baby. Almost everyone in this country loves babies, so I have almost  always come to expect that most people I interact with will engage in conversation about our baby. Babies seem to be the perfect excuse to start a conversation with me - a foreigner in this land and most people want to have a peek inside the stroller, almost like it's a compulsion to some people to know what this foreign baby looks like. 

The first thing people say when they lay eyes on our baby is "Big eyes!". Then if my husband is with me, they often remark on whether baby looks like myself or my husband. A few moments of silence follow while they are smile and making googly eyes at my baby and then they ask, "Is this your first child?"

I am somewhat less uncomfortable with the question now than the first time I was asked it. I was just starting to show in my pregnancy and someone posed the question, "Is this your first baby? How many children do you have?" 

Most people would consider this a fairly harmless question. But for someone who has experienced baby loss, it is a fully loaded question. Every single time I'm asked this question, I consider the answer I will give very carefully. It is very important to me to acknowledge all my children. 

But at the same time, if it's someone I will never meet again, such as a store assistant, I don't really want to explain my whole life story to them either. If that is the case, especially sometimes with the language difference, I just say "She's our first born child". By which I mean that she is our first baby to have completed a pregnancy (and then some being slightly overdue).

It also makes me think that the next time I'm pregnant...despite having had a rough pregnancy, I must be crazy to consider going through it again, but there it is...the screen will say G3P1. In every pregnancy ultrasound picture, you will notice that there is a "GxPx" statement somewhere at the top, near the patient's name and the hospital's name. 

G stands for Gravidity, which originates from the latin word Gravida, meaning pregnancy. In this case G stands for the number of known pregnancies a woman has had. While P stands for Para or Parity, which in a nutshell means the number of times a woman has given birth to a baby aged 24 weeks and over, regardless of if her baby was born alive or not. 

In my second pregnancy with my daughter, it was amazing how many of the scanning doctors were not paying attention because they would say, "This is your second child?" And I would say, "If all goes well, she will be our first born". Then it would sink in and they would say, "I'm sorry I can't see that you had a miscarriage", but just by looking at the G and P numbers, they should have known.  

G3P1. Just four characters, but what a story those four characters tell.

Coming back to the question of how many children we have, it made me feel so much less alone to know that my husband struggled with this question too. We were out having lunch while my mother spent some time with her grandchild and I mentioned how difficult this question was for me. He surprised me by saying that he struggles with it when someone asks him that question too. I love this man for so many reasons, but most of all I am so grateful that our Pip, wherever she is, knows that she is included in our family. She matters to us and she counts. 

So now when someone asks me how many children I have, I usually say, "Two. I have one in heaven and one on earth". 

Sometimes my response takes a while to click. Often people will ask for clarification, but mostly people will say, "Oh I'm sorry" and move on. I don't mean to make anyone uncomfortable. After all, this is my loss, this is my grief and these are my children. 

For the person I'm in conversation with, they will probably forget me the moment I am out of sight and I have stepped out of their store or restaurant. But for me, every time I count Pip as my child, even to a stranger, I honour her. I honour her life, however brief it was. I honour her spirit, which I hope is free and in a happy place. Last but not least, I want my daughter who is here on earth to know that each and every member of our family is precious and loved.

How many children do you have? 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

An eventful pregnancy

Disclaimer: This post contains a couple of photos of a medical nature, stuff that happened at the hospital and throughout the duration of my pregnancy. Please exercise due care when reading and viewing the contents of this page. 


After we lost Pip, it took us some time to build the courage back up to start trying for another baby. Since it took us a while to fall pregnant with Pip, I was bracing myself for what could possibly be a long and eventful TTC (trying to conceive) journey. So many changes took place in our lives and then suddenly, the cycle after Pip's EDD (estimated due date), I started to feel very queasy and generally felt "off". 

I told myself I was imagining it and since we were travelling at the time, I didn't want to rush off to the pharmacy to buy a test and to build my expectations up only for everything to come crashing down again. Ah the joys of the emotional roller coaster that is TTC! When I struggled through a 3 hour plane journey, I knew that wasn't normal. But still, I didn't allow myself to believe until a week later. When I couldn't stand it any longer, I took the test. 

Lo and behold, two little lines appeared. 

I can't tell you how long I sat there staring at those lines. There was a quiet sense of joy, an instant surge of love and an all encompassing feeling of fear and anxiety. I told my husband and we both celebrated quietly. There was happiness, but behind our joy lurked the fear and dread that history would repeat itself. We didn't get as excited as we did when we fell pregnant with Pip - self protection to help protect us from the pain of loss we only knew too well. 

When we found out we were expecting Pip, we rang our immediate family straight away and everyone was so happy for us. This time around, we took our time telling everyone. Our news was received with joy, but we also felt the echo of our loss. People didn't get as excited as they did before. There was a quiet acceptance of our little one immediately into the family. But grief and loss has a way of breaking you and then putting you back together again in a way that is quite difficult to explain in words. So while we were happy and excited in our own way, it was different to our first pregnancy with Pip because we were not the same people we were back then. 

I think it really hit me that I was pregnant when I started to feel quite ill. I have certainly felt more unwell in my life. But I have also gotten better pretty soon afterwards each time. I think the thing that made the pregnancy sickness I felt so awful was how it went on and on and on and on and on and on with no end in sight. 

Sometimes certain things helped for a day or two (like ginger, dry toast etc.), then on the third day, I was back at square one. It really didn't help when I was told things like "you'll only feel sick when you wake up in the mornings, so just eat a dry cracker and you'll be fine!" or "yeah by 12 weeks you'll be fine!" or "oh I know exactly how you feel, I threw up three of four times when I was pregnant too". I realise that people try to be supportive by sharing their experiences, but I only truly found understanding in my friends who had also experienced Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) during their pregnancies. 

At around the same time that we lost Pip, I was hospitalised with HG after I could not keep anything in. I worried day and night that I was starving my baby. That she couldn't possibly be getting enough in the way of nutrients to grow. I could not even tolerate pregnancy multivitamins. My doctor said that this was quite common in her patients who experienced HG and she had me taking folic acid only for the longest time. I was terrified that due to a lack of vitamins my little one was not receiving all a baby needs to develop healthily. That it would only be a matter of time before we lost this one too. Each day was terrifying. 

I was very lucky to only be in hospital for three days and two nights. Some women I know experienced countless hospital visits for the entire duration of their pregnancies and in some extreme cases, were hospitalised for months. Some of my friends told me that they only felt better after they had given birth. I felt terrible for 16 weeks and I was only able to stop all HG medication and began to feel reasonably human again by around 20 weeks. I was thankful then and I am thankful now that I only had HG for around half my pregnancy and not the whole run. 

Back at the hospital, I was so exhausted from feeling so sick that the first night was a blur. After my IV was inserted, my doctor told me that I was out like a light. Hospitals are also one of the worst places to get any rest because every few hours someone is there checking on something, taking your temperature, strapping the blood pressure machine to your arm, changing IVs, pressing buttons, moving things around, asking questions when I was half asleep and so on. 

I felt a little better once I was starting to get re-hydrated  but I still couldn't keep anything down. My doctor recommended Gatorade to try to keep my fluids and electrolytes up. I tried to drink it, but it would not stay down. I tried to eat. I really did. I even forced myself to eat. But the result was always the same. Fifteen minutes to half an hour later, up it would come. It's so much fun running to the bathroom when you've got a needle in your hand and the IV trolley to roll around behind you! I became an expert at reading the "about to throw up" cues.  

The hospital tried to accommodate me and sent up their interpretation of Western meals. I really appreciated it, but unfortunately it didn't really help. I probably would have felt the same eating almost anything. By this point in my pregnancy I could not even look at meat. Which by the way, was a huge deal for me because I used to really enjoy meat as part of my meals. 

In the picture above, the hospital had prepared a cream sauce pasta with carrots and cauliflower after I asked if it would be possible for them to eliminate meat from the meals they sent up. Out of the four items on the tray - the vege pasta, toast, soup and some fruit - you guessed it. None stayed down. 

When I wasn't passed out with exhaustion I talked to my baby and told her how much we're hoping she's okay and we're looking forward to meeting her soon. A bit of deja-vu as I did this with Pip also in that week following the scan of doom. It was hard not to go back to that dark place, especially during my scans. But thankfully through this whole ordeal our baby was okay. We heard her heartbeat for the first time then and it made my HG experience bearable. I started to consider that perhaps feeling sick was an indicator of my HCG levels remaining strong, so every time I threw up during the day I'd tell myself that it was a sign my baby was getting stronger. I had started to feel sick during my pregnancy with Pip also, but no where near what I felt with this pregnancy.

I convinced my doctor to send me home after my second night in hospital. If I was to continue throwing up, at least I'd be somewhat more comfortable in a familiar environment. She kept me for observation a little while longer, then we went home with a bag of anti emetic medication. By the time we were about to go home, my hand was so swollen from the IV that I couldn't even see my knuckles any more. The saline and other medication administered through the drip was cold so my hand was constantly freezing, but having a warm compress over the needle in my hand helped it to feel a little better. My hand was really hurting after the second day. By the morning of the third day, my hand has blown up like a balloon. Fun times. 

Back at home, the challenge to find something - anything - I could eat that was nutrious continued. I managed to find some instant Pho noodles in the grocery store and for a few weeks lived on that because I couldn't stomach anything heavier. The worst part was I'd start to eat the noodles, have to get up mid way through a meal to throw up, then come back and force myself to eat the rest of it so that baby was getting something other than just water. Now I can't walk past a store that sells Pho noodles without feeling the same nausea in the pit of my belly. 

I drank clear chicken broth for a few days and that helped some. But eventually even that was no longer tolerable. The smell of anything meaty would set me off. Especially the smell of raw meat or the smell of meat cooking. I was in the 3rd floor of a friend's house and the moment I opened the door, the smell of meat cooking in their kitchen on the ground floor would make me leg it to the bathroom. It seems that I had developed a super sensitive sense of smell as well during pregnancy, which didn't help.

I am so thankful that my doctor was so compassionate and understanding. It would have been awful to have been under the care of a doctor who thought I was making this up. In fact the day that my husband took me to the hospital after I could not even keep water down, my doctor was not there so I was sent to see another doctor. She was one of the rudest and most uncaring people I've ever met. She pinched the skin on my arm and stated "You're not dehydrated. Go home". When I told her of my history of miscarriage and my concerns that I would loose this baby too if I kept vomiting, she dismissed me and proceeded to list her duties as a lecturer of medicine in a nearby university which I can only assume was to make the impression that she knew what she was talking about. I suppose that after practising medicine for many years, some medical professionals become desensitised to suffering and only severe medical cases make any impression on them. Luckily my doctor returned my call just as she was about to send us out of her office to go home. After my doctor had a brief chat with Dr Unhelpful and checked in with me, she told me to go to the maternity ward for observation and later admitted me.

Nothing can beat being under the care of an experienced and compassionate doctor. When certain things caused a reaction, she would suggest other things that had helped her other patients. And so when I reached the point where I could no longer eat real food, my doctor said "just eat ice cream". So I did. I normally love ice cream, but even this was a struggle for me. My husband was wonderful and purchased a variety of flavours for me to try. In the end I would just settle down for dinner with a spoon and the ice cream container. 

Until I felt my baby move, every day brought it's own emotional challenges. I was so lucky to feel our baby move for the first time at 16 weeks. I was sitting in bed with my laptop and I very clearly felt a sharp poke from the inside of my belly button. From that point onwards the movements became clearer and I really loved feeling my baby move and it gave me the reassurance that she was alive. Towards the end when bub ran out of room, I could see little lumps and bumps on my belly where an elbow or a knee would be sticking out. My husband also loved feeling our baby move and so it was awful when one day she suddenly stopped moving. 

Back to the hospital we went and strangely enough, I ended up in the same bed which was in the maternity ward where I first got hooked up the IV and was under observation. This time I got hooked up to a fetal heartbeat monitor instead. I can't tell you the relief we both felt when we heard our baby's faint heartbeat. I had to press a button every time I felt our baby move as well. We did this for several hours and lost baby's heartbeat a few times as bub moved around, but thankfully all was well and we went home later that night. 

There was a bit of drama in the rest of the pregnancy when we were exposed to Tuberculosis and my husband and I had to go through several checks, an xray for my husband and blood tests for the both of us for this. Not only was this incredibly stressful, but dealing with the possibility that our child could be born with TB and all that implies as well as dealing with HG   was just not fun. 

Along the way of course there were a million other blood tests as well. Most were uneventful but one in particular left a huge bruise on my arm. The nurses were always telling me that I had tiny veins, but this has got to be the worst blood test ever. This photo below was taken a few days after the bruise had started to heal so this was after most of the damage had subsided. 

I was devastated when the routine gestational diabetes test came back positive. So I went back for a more thorough one. I have a history of diabetes on both sides of my family, but I had been so strict at not eating any junk or sweet things during my pregnancy that I felt like all my efforts had been for nothing. I also didn't have a sweet tooth so it was a bit of a shock on that front as well. My initial test reading was great, but the readings after that were terrible. It was interesting that on the day when I went back to the hospital for the second gestational diabetes test, I saw a Pip number plate and just felt her presence with me. I certainly needed a bit more support that day, so I did appreciate the little signs of her that I received. 

I was upset at yet another hurdle along this journey, but I was determined to avoid insulin if I could help it. So I isolated the foods that gave me high readings (toast at breakfast, even the whole grain, sugar free variety made for diabetics!) and avoided those. The only thing I could have for breakfast for the longest time was oats, but in the final weeks even oats gave me very high spikes. I have always disliked oats but now I had to force myself to eat it. It would literally take me 45 minutes to swallow 3 spoonfuls. 

My testing kit came with me everywhere. The biggest changes I made to what I was already doing was to eat a small snack in between meals, whereas before I had only been trying to eat 3 meals a day. By this point in my pregnancy I had lost any enjoyment I previously obtained from food. I ate so that my baby could live and that was really it. This also was a radical change to who I was pre-pregnancy as I really enjoyed good food. 

Thankfully just as I started to feel better, it was time for our family to relocate internationally so I was grateful that I could do a lot of the packing and sorting that was required. During this time I started experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions at least twice a day. My doctor told me to rest as much as I could, which was difficult while we were relocating and trying to get a large amount of work done in a short period of time. I was given medication with to stop labour if it started, just in case. Thankfully with the help of family, our move went smoothly and then we waited for our container to arrive so that we could get settled into our new home. 

Since I was experiencing regular Braxton-Hicks, my doctor sent me for non-stress tests every two weeks once I reached the late 20 weeks mark of my pregnancy. I was so glad that my mother had joined us as it made a big difference to lifting my spirits. She was relentless in trying different foods until she found dishes I could tolerate when it was clear that my childhood favourites were no longer doing the trick. I only wanted bland food all the time because spicy food or anything with a strong flavour made me feel ill. 

I became very familiar with the non-stress test room and the ultrasound rooms. I knew that the spikes in the bottom chart indicated contractions, but to be honest I didn't even feel them. Towards the very end of my pregnancy the doctors who did my scan knew me by name and would exclaim "Your baby is still not here yet!" as I went in for yet another non-stress or ultrasound.

I stopped attending pre-natal yoga by 38 weeks because I could barely walk any longer without assistance from my husband or without holding on to rails. From the 30 week mark of my pregnancy I had developed hip pain which meant that my pregnancy waddle was quite distinct. 

We were getting excited as the days grew closer to 40 weeks. I was feeling worse and worse about my diet as towards the end my gestational diabetes restricted the variety of foods I could consume without causing spikes in my readings. At 40 weeks and 6 days, my doctor strongly recommended an induction. Having gestational diabetes severely increased the risk of stillbirth the longer we waited, so we went ahead with this. After the whole day in labour with no signs of progress, our baby was born via a c-section that evening. 

There was a sheet from my chest upwards, which prevented me from seeing what was going on as the surgery got under way. My husband held my hand and we talked excitedly about meeting our baby in only a few short minutes. Then my husband said "She's here!" but I couldn't hear anything. My husband left my side to cut the umbilical cord and I could not see or hear anything. I waited in agony to hear my baby cry but there was only silence. 

I remember that the first thing I said to my husband was "Is she alive?" and my husband replied, "She's beautiful". Then I heard that first cry and before I realised it, tears were running down my face. The nurse mopped up a few tears because my hands were strapped up and she said "You're crying so much!" and I assured her they were happy tears. There was a blur of activity as our baby was weighed and then finally after what seemed like forever, they freed my hands and placed her on the pillow next to me. 

I can't tell you what I felt in that moment but it ranged from overwhelming joy, relief that our little one had survived pregnancy and birth, LOVE! My heart was just bursting at the seams with love and happiness. It felt like I had waited a lifetime for that moment when I finally got to meet her. Too soon after that, they took my daughter away to put her under the heat lamps as she was getting cold and I remained in the operating theatre while they finished up. 

I was so delirious with joy that I remember talking to the nurses non-stop. After a while they gave each other a look over the top of the sheet and I said "Am I talking too much!? I'm just so happy!". That adrenaline rush lasted 3 nights. I could barely sleep and I was smiling from ear to ear. I recovered well and was able to walk with help two days after my surgery. On the third day we came home and life was never the same again. Because of the HG, I lost a total of 9kgs from my first doctors visit to when our daughter was born. Our baby weighed just over 3kgs when she was born. The road to recovery was pretty good actually after the c-section, but my hip pain lingers on still. 

Now that I have experienced labour pain, I can say for sure that the pain I experienced when miscarrying Pip was indeed labour pain. The birth of our baby has helped us heal so much, but yet the void that Pip left behind remains. I don't think that anything will fill that void and certainly nothing and no one will ever replace her. Once upon a time I did not think that it would be possible to love another baby as much as we loved Pip, but now I know that my heart has just expanded to include both my children. 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

A surprise and Pip's prayer flag

It's been a very long time since I've posted anything on this blog. I've been wanting to post over the past few months, but something always comes up and it doesn't happen. I'm so thankful that I've finally been able to carve out chunks of time to devote to a few posts.

So much to talk about, first of all I've been wanting to show you the lovely surprise I received after I mailed my prayer flag off for Carly Marie's October 15th beach prayer flag project. In my previous post, I talked about the prayer flag I made amidst the mad rush of packing and moving, how it didn't turn out as perfectly as I would have liked and as it might have, had I had more time to devote to it. But I found my peace with letting go of imperfection in the end. I worked on Pip's prayer flag on the anniversary of her passing last September. A few days later I mailed the flag to Carly in Western Australia. 

It's was 3 weeks after we'd arrived in our host country and after we'd moved into our new home that we were able to get internet access at home. I was slowly going through the backlog of emails and what a lovely surprise it was to find a message from Carly in my junk mail folder instead of the usual spam. Thankfully it hadn't been deleted in the automatically scheduled clean up. I suppose if anyone could understand how important the prayer flags are, it would be Carly. I was so grateful to hear that my flag had arrived safely and was being handled with the same compassion, care and respect I gave it. As a surprise, Carly added that she was sending one of her lovely butterflies as a thank you to every family who had participated. Here is the butterfly she sent us for Pip. Isn't it beautiful? I love the roses and the lilly in the body of the butterfly. If I close my eyes, I can almost hear the waves on Christian's beach and smell the salt in the air with the faint perfume of the lilly and the roses. What a special gift. It truly made my day and I was smiling for at least a week after receiving it. 

Carly, please forgive me for editing your beautiful photos. I removed our family name for privacy reasons.

I knew that Carly was planning to photograph the prayer flags that she had received from all over the world on October the 15th 2012. So I was waiting for her post to say that she had done this. However, very sadly the weather on the day was not what she had hoped for and in the end she staggered her photographs of the flags over a period of time.
Finally after weeks of checking back every now and then, I was so happy to see the photo of Pip's flag in her gallery. It looks so beautiful here in the candle light (and you can hardly see the iron burn mark! Not that I'm still obsessed with that or anything...)

It's amazing how this whole project was born out of the very simple idea of honouring our beloved children who are no longer with us. Yet the impact that it has had on my own healing journey has been tremendous. I don't know what it is exactly, or if it is any one thing in particular that makes me feel so at peace. I just love the thought of my flag, made with all the love and care I could muster on what will remain a sad day for me, flapping in the wind along with all the others. Each one a symbol of love and hopefully healing for one family out there in the world. Each one a message to the world and to our children that they are still loved, never forgotten. Thank you Carly, it meant so much to me to be a part of your special project. 

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Fly free my beautiful girl

It's hard to believe that one year has already gone by since that awful night when what was left of my beloved child left my body. Sure I knew that she was no longer alive long before then, but the hope for a miracle never left my heart until I physically experienced my miscarriage. 

What a year it has been. Looking back now, there is a very clear "before" and "after". My life will never be the same again but that's not good or bad, it just is and I am perfectly okay with that. This past year has taught me so much about life and death, about love and compassion and about pain and healing. As a mental health professional I find behaviour endlessly fascinating and in many ways my experience of miscarriage and loss has given me an incredible insight into human behaviour surrounding the grieving process, especially in regards to how grief is viewed, accepted and processed and how the grieving person is treated. 

So many unexpected surprises and blessings have come out of Pip's death. Some of the very people I thought would have no patience with my grief have in fact turned out to be the most supportive in their own quiet and beautiful way. People I didn't even know from all over the world reached out to me in ways I will never be able to repay just to let me know that everything I was feeling and experiencing was and is normal. That in fact, there is no "normal". Each experience of grief is personal and individual. I have made so many new and wonderful friends through this loss that I would not have met any other way. Then there are the people who have had their own experiences of significant personal loss and they were the ones I thought would be most likely to offer understanding and support, but for some their own grief was the yardstick by which they judged me and my grief. I lost a lot of respect if not all respect, for a few people I had previously held in high esteem. 

I struggled with how at times it seemed like my husband and I were the only ones who really felt like our baby was a real person. People seem to dismiss miscarriages as "God's way or nature's way" of dealing with a defect. Natural selection, if you will. There is sometimes very little compassion for early pregnancy loss because "it" is not yet a real person. I still can't quite wrap my head around that. I am the kind of person who loves with my whole heart or not at all. From the moment we knew she was our child there was no question that she was truly and completely loved. It didn't matter to us whether she was a bundle of cells or a tiny human being with a rapidly developing body. To us she was and always will be our baby girl. That knowledge to me is so basic and fundamental that it surprised me when I found myself needing to explain it to others. 

I wondered if I would feel differently now that I am pregnant with our rainbow baby. But no, the same thing happened this time as well. As soon as I knew she (yes we are blessed with another beautiful girl) had started her life with us, I claimed her as my child. My love for her is absolute, just like my love for Pip was and always will be. I guess that is why I find it hard to understand how people can so cruelly and thoughtlessly dismiss any child no matter how young they may have been. 

This first year of grief has been a roller coaster I never wanted to ride on. But I'm choosing to see that perhaps life just is a collection of rides. Some more bumpy than others, but all collectively taking you somewhere. I know that my grief is not as raw and overwhelming now as it once was. I haven't "gotten over it" as many like to so delicately put it. Instead this grief and loss has become another facet of who I am. Integrated and painfully pounded into the very fibers of my being. People see my pregnant belly and innocently ask "Is this your first child?" My heart says no. My mouth says yes because I don't want to share the precious memory of my child with someone who will not understand or show her memory the respect it deserves. If there is a chance that I think they might understand I say, "Second pregnancy and if all goes well our firstborn". But even that doesn't quite capture it.

We still see signs of her everywhere. Yesterday hubby sent me an MMS of a picture of a double rainbow in the sky outside his office window. I see her name in car number plates at the most unexpected moments. I see children wearing clothes with halved apples and apple pips on the designs and it makes me smile whereas before it would have only made me hurt. Some may probably think we're reading too much into it, but to us these little signs are wonderful and comforting. 

My heart can't deal with the math sometimes. If Pip had lived, we would not have our little jellybean now. Pip was due in March 2012. We fell pregnant with bean in April 2012. While technically it would have been possible for me to have given birth to Pip then fallen pregnant immediately afterwards - even after meeting many women for whom that scenario was indeed the case - I know in my heart that that possibility would not have been the outcome of our story. How do you live with knowing that had one survived the other probably would not be here? Maybe I'm just greedy. I love them both and want them both. 

Ordinary days are no longer a struggle to get through. There are still sad moments and I am sure there will always be. But now when I see a sign of Pip or have a memory of my pregnancy with her, I am thankful for the opportunity that I was given to be her mother no matter how brief the time, I say a little prayer and I can send love and peace to my baby without my heart falling to pieces. Some days it's harder than other days, but on the whole the sadness is not as heartwrenchingly bottomless as it once was. Special days are a bit harder, maybe because of the lead up to them and knowing what they symbolise, such as the 3 month anniversary, the 6 month anniversary when I would have been at certain points in my pregnancy, her due date when our lives would have changed forever and of course now the one year anniversary of the date she left. I don't know when she died exactly, so the 8th of September is the date I choose to remember her passing from this life because that was when she physically passed from my body. 

I like to mark special dates by doing special things and when the 8th of September rolled around this year, I had to do something. The timing couldn't have been worse, it was just days before the international removalists would be coming to relocate our lives to another continent and there were a million things to get done. But I knew I would be useless on that day and so I compensated before and after by giving myself permission to do whatever I needed to do to heal, love and remember my little girl on that day. It's amazing how I never really have anything planned for special dates, but then somehow some special project always makes itself known. 

This year when I heard about Carly Marie's October 15th beach prayer flag project, I knew that it was what I would be making on the 8th of September. At first I didn't know how I would do it when half of my sewing things were already packed away, but somehow the universe conspired to assist me in creating a simple and meaningful prayer flag for Pip. People from all over the world made prayer flags to remember their children and mailed it to Carly Marie in Western Australia so that she could include them in her special October 15th memorial project at Christian's beach.

I started with the dimensions suggested for each flag and no clear idea of what my prayer flag would look like. First I needed a strong backing fabric to be the backbone of the flag. Most of my fabric stash had already been carefully packed away, behind a mountain of other boxes that I had no hope of reaching without the help of two strong people to help me move. So when I found a piece of my husband's jujitsu gi (martial arts uniform) that he had assigned to the rags pile, I knew it would be perfect to have a piece of her father "carry" her prayer flag. Martial arts uniforms are made from very strong fabric and I was satisfied that it would stand up to the winds on the beach and hopefully the test of time as the flags are being kept by Carly for future ceremonies and not returned. 

Next I wanted to add a symbol of her. To me Pip's symbol is an apple with heart shaped pips. So I found some applique fabric and designed a simple apple with fabric marker pips drawn on. I loved the thought of her flag flapping along in the evening breeze and my message for her to fly free came with the next thought. I added the words with printer transfer fabric. Unfortunately I was a bit over zealous and the iron setting was too high when I ironed on the transfer. For the longest time I kicked myself for ruining the flag when an awful iron print appeared over the words at the top of the flag. But after a while it faded and left a graded heat mark on the transfer portion of the fabric. To my surprise and pleasure the few friends whom I shared it with kindly commented that they thought it was actually part of the design instead of something I'd almost ruined. That made me feel so much better!

Image modified to preserve privacy

It looked too plain so I went digging for more fabric and found some precut squares of red gingham and a red and gold spotted fabric that I had prepared and put aside for another Christmas project last year. They were just the perfect size for hearts and miraculously fit three in a row without any measurements or manipulation on my part. I like to think that it symbolises mummy, daddy and Pip. 

Normally I would have spent hours on creating a more elaborate design and something that I could detail a bit more, but that was not the point of this exercise. I was happy that in the middle of our moving madness I was able to carve out a chunk of solitude on Pip's day to make something that was purely devoted to her memory. It isn't going to win any prizes, but I'm going with elegant simplicity. Looking back now at the "before" version of who I was pre-Pip, I probably would have started the whole flag again from scratch. I may well have if I had the time and resources, but for today it was enough. 

Then I wrote Carly a letter to tell her about Pip and to explain some of the symbolism in my flag. I packed it away carefully into an envelope and ironically I put it aside with a bunch of other envelopes that were ready to be mailed containing presents for friends who had recently given birth to their babies or are about to. 

For the longest time after Pip died I couldn't walk into the baby section of a store and avoided the rows of tiny baby outfits as much as I could. To be truthful, I didn't allow myself to do the same this pregnancy for bean now either until I was well and truly past the 20 week mark when our congenital abnormality scan showed that absolutely nothing was wrong and all signs were pointing to a healthy alive baby. 

The thing is when you've lost a baby, you tend to go back to the basics. Every vital sign that appears is a cause for celebration. Waiting to hear the heartbeat on bean's first scan was such an anxious and terrifying experience for the both of us because it brought back the trauma of a different time, in another darkened room, staring at the ultrasound screen with great expectation only to face the most crushing of disappointments. We hung on to each others hands and my mantra was "Please be alive". Hearing that heartbeat was just such an incredible sound that I cannot describe the intense relief, love and joy that we both felt at that moment. 

In many ways this is a strange month. On this Saturday the 8th of September I am alone by choice working on this prayer flag for Pip. Next Saturday my home will be full of family and friends who will come to celebrate bean as I'm having an early baby shower before we leave the country. At this time last year I never would have imagined myself remembering one child and soon after preparing to celebrate another. Sometimes that's just the way life works out. Wherever you are, I hope that you're happy and flying free my beautiful girl. We love you, we remember you today and always will.