Monday, 31 October 2011

Fabric, love and fabric love

A couple of days ago, I wrote about healing hearts blocks. Since then a funny thing has happened. 

Annie, my friend in Melbourne is the person responsible for introducing me to quilting. I fell in love with the beautiful baby quilts her mum made her son when he was younger and so I wanted to learn how to make my own. 

Annie and her mum Barbara, a very accomplished quilter who has made some stunning quilts so far are also the people who guided me through my early foray into quilting by leading me astray into my fabric addiction...I offering gentle encouragement and kind advice. They also happen to be the ladies responsible for introducing me to the Southern Cross Quilters online guild and without them, I wouldn't know what a healing heart block is let alone half the things I have learnt since about quilting.

So I was very touched when Anne offered to make a heart block for Pip's quilt and I promised to send a patch of background fabric to her in the mail. While i was cutting all the background fabric into size this weekend, I cut up a block for Anne too. 

It was a lovely surprise when I asked Anne for her mailing address and got a response asking if she could pick it up in person since she was up from Melbourne visiting family. We arranged to meet for morning tea at Barbara's place today and I had a lovely time catching up, admiring Barbara's latest quilts and talking quilty with them.

Before I left, Barbara pulled bits out of her very impressive stash and offered me some fabric for Pip's quilt! Quilters are usually a very generous and caring bunch, but I was very touched by the offer because it's a special privilege to be allowed to pick pieces from a quilter's personal stash. It's amazing how this project which started off with a simple idea of remembrance has also now played a role in reconnecting me with the very people who started my love of quilting! Talk about coming full circle. 

We sat on the bed and looked through all the different fabrics and colours. In the end, I decided on a yellow fabric which I'm thinking I will use for the star blocks even though I already had another yellow fabric in mind. The yellow fabric has little multi-coloured hearts through it which match the ice cream colours of the quilt so far. I also loved an aqua fabric, also with tiny purple hearts because aqua is the birthstone for March (Pip's estimated due date) and a patch of gorgeous sun and moon fabric which I'm not sure how I will incorporate in yet. 

It's also funny that I was toying with the idea of doing a shooting star block (to symbolise hopes and wishes) instead of a standard star block I'd originally thought of to symbolise hope. The colours in the yellow fabric could easily be drawn out with other fabrics to make the trail of the shooting star and as Barbara suggested, the blue would make a nice border also. 

Before I left, I asked Barbara if she would like to make a heart patch for Pip's quilt and she said yes. She even offered to do needle-turn work (which she hates) if I wanted! Now if that's not love, I don't know what is.

Thank you so much for your contribution to Pip's quilt Anne and Barbara. I can't wait to see your blocks and who would have thought that your quilty influence would someday give me the skills I have learnt from you and since to help me heal a broken heart.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Prep and math

Almost this whole weekend was devoted exclusively to Pip's quilt. My mum's comment on my industrious streak - "If you keep going at this rate, you'll have it finished by Christmas!" may be a bit ambitious, but I'm very proud of how much I got done.

It feels like 80% of what I've been doing up to this point has been prep work. When I sat down and drafted the heart blocks and quilt layout the sums so far worked out as follows:
  • 9 x embroidered blocks
  • 8 x heart blocks
  • 4 x star blocks
  • 16 x apple pip fabric blocks
  • 12 x 9 patch blocks (hmm...still wondering if this will work)
  • All this surrounded by 2 or possibly 3 borders (See what I mean about the quilt's design changing on the fly?) 

So most of the weekend was spent chopping fabric up into patches. All the apple fabric blocks are now ready to go, the background fabric for the heart and star blocks cut and as of last night, the appliqued angel hearts have been vlisoflex-ed on. Vlisoflex is a double sided fusible magical creation that you iron on to hold applique in place until you've stitched it in place. Think double sided tape for fabric!

Each heart has 2 wings, each side of the wing has 3 pieces. So 6 different pieces for the wings alone, per block. I was determined to get the heart blocks ready for stitching if I could by last night, so I worked late into the night laying each piece out so that I could fiddle with arrangements and colours before I settled on the final arrangement. 

Even though in my sketch the hearts are red, in the end I chose a rainbow fabric I found in my fabric stash because it's so pretty and because it's a reference to rainbow babies. This is how Urban dictionary describes what a rainbow baby is: 

A "rainbow baby" is a baby that is born following a miscarriage or still birth.

In the real world, a beautiful and bright rainbow follows a storm and gives hope of things getting better. The rainbow is more appreciated having just experienced the storm in comparison.

The storm (pregnancy loss) has already happened and nothing can change that experience. Storm-clouds might still be overhead as the family continue to cope with the loss, but something colourful and bright has emerged from the darkness and misery.
"We lost our last pregnancy, but now we have a rainbow baby."

Someday when the universe sees fit, we would love to have a precious little baby to love, whether it is Pip returning to us transformed, or a brother or sister to love, the thought of a rainbow baby has a touch of magic to it.

So after fiddling with it some more, I finally decided on a final layout and ironed it all on. 

Excuse the awful overhead lighting, but I couldn't wait till morning to take a photo. I even managed to find a cute pink fabric that had silver glitter all through it (top part of the wings in the heart block pictured below). As my friend Nat said, every little princess deserves a little bit of bling! (even if Pip's bling is woven into the fabric of her quilt).

So here's a line up of the blocks so far. 

I'm quite happy with the way the colours are working together. Can't wait to get started on the blanket stitching on the heart applique. Hopefully the stitches will outline the different fabrics more.

According to the current plan, there are a grand total of 49 blocks in the middle. Which will be surrounded by 2 (possibly 3) borders and finished off with the binding.

Current count of blocks ready to be pieced into the top 17. 

32 blocks to go!!!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The heart block

The design for the heart block has been marinating in the think tank for a while. I agonise over every detail of this quilt because it has to be just right. Normally when I make and design a quilt, things happen on the fly. I trust my design intuition to guide me in the right direction and usually just work from a rough sketch that guides me from the start. I've never redesigned a quilt as many times as I have with this one though!

I know I want a heart with wings for the heart blocks. But even the direction of the wings was something I thought long and hard over. At first I thought I wanted the wings to face downwards, but a few weeks ago found that I was inspired to have it facing upwards instead. It's just a tiny detail, but to me the way the wings look and face really make a difference to the emotion behind the graphic. 

That day on the beach when I wrote Pip's name on the sand along with her other angel baby friends, I also doodled a rough sketch of an angel heart and really liked how it looked. 

Today I finally finished the embroidery for the second embroidered patch. Work has been keeping me very busy and I don't want to work on it when I'm exhausted because the chances of making silly mistakes usually grows exponentially by the minute.

Then I started thinking about what the whole quilt will look like and decided to make some changes, so I drafted a mini projection of what the whole quilt may look like when it's done. I say "may" because it's already been through about 20 changes. Insert colours and I'm liking the way it's coming together. 

Finally after spending the better part of this evening doodling hearts on scrap paper and after many corrections, I think I'm finally approaching satisfied on what it looks like on the mock paper block. The sketch of the quilt is also a bit off in dimensions. The finished quilt should turn out to be shorter in width and hopefully long enough to cover the cuddlee's lap and legs.

As much as I am enjoying the hand embroidery, I can't wait to get started on a heart block now. Hopefully the turn around time for the heart blocks will also be a lot quicker!

Monday, 24 October 2011

"You're treating this like someone has died..."

When someone first said this to me, I was too shocked to say anything at the time. Even after a few weeks of contemplation, I cannot help but think..."WTF?!" 

I still can't make sense of this comment. Are there people out there who think that if a baby hasn't developed to full term and isn't born into the world, that that baby isn't a person? How far along does a baby need to be before he or she is considered a real someone

The image below from 1972 is a well publicized picture of a tiny fetus still in his/her amniotic sac, which was taken after surgery for an ectopic pregnancy. This baby is 6 weeks old. Our Pip was the size of a 6.5 week old baby when we saw her at our 9 week scan, so I imagine she would have been very similar in size and development to the little bubba in this picture.

When we saw the only glimpse of Pip we had at our first scan of doom, I could clearly see the shape of her head as well as the tiny buds on her body which looked like tiny hands and feet. That image has been burned into my mind and I don't think I will ever forget it.

A baby's heart begins to beat by day 21. By week 5, the brain has divided into 5 areas, some cranial nerves are visible and their facial features have begun forming. At 6 weeks, the heart has dividied into it's left and right chambers, it's pumping blood and although we can't hear it yet, it beats at the rate of 150 per minute, which is twice the rate of ours! Halfway through week 6, the baby makes it's first movements although mum doesn't feel movements until the second trimester.

I'm sorry, but to me that sounds like a human being. I don't understand how someone could dismiss a life just because of it's size.

To me, someone has died and that someone is my baby. She was alive and growing inside me and now she is dead. Is that really so difficult to understand? 

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Names in the sand

Several days after our second scan of doom, hubby was sent away for work in a trip that had been scheduled long before we found out that we were pregnant. While he was away, I miscarried Pip :( and as you can probably imagine, it was a devastatingly awful time for us. We needed so much to be together, but couldn't.

So while we were apart, we planned to go on a short holiday together upon hubby's return. Thanks to technology, emails, skype and viber, we were able to stay in touch pretty well. But what we really needed was some couple time. Some time to be alone together, time to talk and time to cry.

That's how we ended up in Jervis Bay. A glorious spot on Australia's east coast, home to Hyams Beach where the whitest sand in the world lives, according to the Guinness book of world records. The perfect place to heal and recover after such a traumatic time in our lives.

In the lead up to October 15, which is pregnancy and infant loss memorial day, I was wondering what we would do in memory of our beautiful girl. I don't know if some people will find this strange, but a friend once asked if I felt like I was a mother. I answered yes without hesitation. In my heart I do feel like a mother, I carried my baby for as long as I could in my belly with love and joy and I can honestly say that I would have given anything within my power to physically continue carrying her. Now I continue to carry her in my heart with love and joy. 

I may not have given birth to my child, I may not have nursed a sick baby late at night or early in the morning, I may not have wiped runny noses and worried about whether my child was warm enough, but by God, I wanted to with Pip. Those dreams were taken away from me the day I heard the words "I can't find a heartbeat". So what makes a mother? I know I haven't experienced the full gamut of what motherhood has to offer, the good, the bad, the ugly, the joys and rewards and little moments that make it all worthwhile. But still, I will always and forever be Pip's mother and she will always be my angel.

While this loss is so very personal, I feel like any proud mother I know. I love my baby so very much and I want to talk about her. I think it's sad that in this day and age, talking about miscarriages is still tabboo. So my way of getting past this was just a single small step, but I believe a very important one. 

I had no idea what to expect when I posted the "I am the face" picture as my facebook profile picture. In all honestly I was prepared for some not so nice comments, because the reality is that there are some not so nice people in the world. I was just hoping that none of the people I considered friends would be among them. I'm relieved to say that what I got instead was a lovely outpouring of support from family and friends. Some of my friends even sent me private messages to share similar losses they had experienced. I never would have guessed. They sent virtual hugs and messages of hope. They shared stories of their own pain and healing. I feel so blessed to know each and every one of these special people.

That day we walked along Hyams beach and I found it very therapeutic to write Pip's name in the sand along with the names of all the other angel babies we know. I still can't say why, but maybe it's because in my heart she is real and I want the world to know that. She existed, she was here, she lived and then she died. That's my girl and I will always love her.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


Hi sweetheart,

It's mummy again. I haven't stopped thinking about you this week. Or ever, really. You are always in my heart. They say that time is supposed to help heal all wounds and maybe in time I will feel better, but this week I seem to have been missing you more than ever. 

This week, I know of two beautiful children who have arrived in the world and their mummies and daddies are celebrating their joy with the world. I couldn't wait for the day when you would arrive, so that I could show the world my beautiful daughter. I know you would have been the apple of our eyes. In another part of the country, another angel mummy I know is grieving her little boy who was meant to arrive this week. I asked the world why are some families blessed with beautiful healthy children and not others? It doesn't seem fair that not every baby is born healthy and strong.

As hard as I try, I still don't understand why you were taken from us. It seems that everywhere I look, I see beautiful, glowing, pregnant mummies and it hurts my heart that you are not here with me where you belong. This week I also saw pictures of other mummies who are expecting their babies to arrive around the same time you were due. Pictures of their bellies growing with their babies. I looked down at my belly, it feels too flat and too empty without you here. 

The doctor said that maybe you had to go because your organs hadn't formed properly and you couldn't survive. I'm so sorry that my body failed you and you didn't get what you needed from me to grow up big and strong. I would have given my right arm, my life and my soul for you if it would have helped to give you what you needed to be okay. Somedays I am so angry because I know that there was nothing I could do to help you after we found out that you weren't okay. 

That one week we waited between scans, was the longest week of our lives. Did you hear daddy when he told you about all the places in the world he would like to show you? Did you hear me when I sang to you? You are still my sunshine and I hope that you'll know how much I love you and always will. I am so very sad today because my sunshine was taken from me. 

I want you to know that I'm not afraid to talk about you, my darling girl. I don't have any photos of you to show the world, to tell them here she is, my little Pippy. But like any mother I know, I want the world to know that you were here, no matter however briefly you were able to stay. And everyone who hears about you knows how much we loved you. I wish you could hear us talk about you. 

I hope you are in heaven where it's safe and warm. I hope that there are some very special angels there who can hold you when you're sad and tell you how much we love and miss you every single day. I hate the thought of you being alone. Maybe some day you will come back to us as our rainbow baby. Or maybe you're transformed now and you will stay to look over your family.Wherever you are, I hope you are okay and know love.

I've cried so many tears for you sweetheart and just when I think I'm all out of tears, there comes some more. I miss you so very, very much. There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about you and wonder why all of this happened. 

The other day I was in a store and felt someone watching me. I looked up and saw this little figurine sitting on a shelf above me. I don't usually buy or collect figurines, so it was strange that I fell in love with this one straight away. I have been wondering what shape the wings on your heart blocks should be and when I looked at the wings on this little angel, I knew that they had to face up like hers. She sits on my desk and I look at her and think of you. I love her, but I wish I didn't need anything here to symbolise you. I wish you could still be here with us.

I miss you so much, Pippy.

I love you always and forever, to the moon and back,
Mummy xxx.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Healing heart blocks

A few years ago I became a member of the Southern Cross Quilters online guild. One thing I have always loved about the group is a running project they've got going called "healing hearts". 

The idea is that whenever someone is going through a hard time, a call for heart blocks is posted on the list and anyone who wants to send a block then does so. The design is usually a heart or combination of hearts on a plain coloured background. It's not unusual for the person to receive blocks from strangers who just want to show that they care.

So there I was working on the embroidery for pip's second block when I started thinking about my girl and wondering what she was up to on a day like this. I've often wondered if my angel baby was playing with the other angel babies I know. Which got me thinking about a very special little boy. If you have a moment, do pop by and visit Nat's blog about her beloved Sebastian Levi. I don't think I'll ever forget how even in the midst of her own devastating loss, Nat reached out to me and linked me in with a beautiful group of angel mums - something I am thankful everyday for.

I'd heard through her posts that a friend was working on a memorial quilt for Sebby which got me thinking about the healing hearts blocks and whether I could send one for Seb. So I got on to Nat and asked if she'd like one. With dimensions (which I eventually got wrong - Sorry Nat!), colours and an idea of what the rest of the quilt looked like, I was so excited to be able to send a patch for Sebastian's quilt. 

It was a slight race against time because we were going away for a short break and Nat was moving house before we were due back from our holiday, so the block had to make it to her within the week. So now all I needed was an idea for a design!

I said a little prayer, "God, I've opened my big mouth and asked to make a block, please guide me!" lol So off I went to Lincraft - a local craft store that sells a range of sewing supplies to see what I could find. I knew that at her baby shower, Nat's friends had decorated blocks with ribbons and buttons, so I was looking to see if I could find anything special to put on. In particular I was looking for something crabby!

You're probably thinking, why a crab? Well, if you're familiar with the Disney cartoon, The Little Mermaid, you'll probably remember the character of Sebastian the crab. When Nat and her husband chose Sebastian's name, they likened it to Disney's Sebastian so that their children could have a point of reference for his name. The rest is history and Seb's "symbol" soon became a red crab. 

So now I had hearts and a red crab. And I was looking for a button or something that would fit. There were plenty of red heart buttons but nothing really seemed perfect. So I walked around for hours in the shopping centre until finally I came to a craft store that I normally would have overlooked because it doesn't supply sewing materials. I don't know why I went in there knowing they don't supply sewing materials, but I'm so glad I did because in their scrapbooking section I found a bag of alphabetical beads. Close enough to buttons! I'd love to "write" something on Seb's block, but I didn't have enough time to embroider it, so I figured that this would be a great way to put my message on.

At home, I looked up images of stylized crabs and eventually came up with my design of a crab using hearts and buttons. Hours of tiny blanket stitches later and the result is as you see below: 

(Sorry Nat, had to pinch your photo as I rushed to post it and forgot to take some of my own pictures before I popped it in the mail! Oops!)

Thank you for allowing me the pleasure of contributing something towards Seb's quilt, Nat. I can't wait to see what happens with the rest of the story!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Threading lightly

So a few weeks ago, when I'd finished Pip's first block, I was still mulling over whether I should embroider all the blocks in the same thread, or whether I should be adventurous and use a different thread for each block. The idea was to match each element with a colour, so blue for the running wave in "Deep peace of the running wave to you". Maybe green or brown for the quiet earth in "Deep peace of the quiet earth to you" etc. 

This quilt is already quite colourful (I love colour, especially colour for a child's quilt), so maybe various colours would have fitted in seamlessly. But in the end, my anal attention to detail also known sometimes as my perfectionism, won the day. I decided that it would look the best in one colour throughout not nine.

So during our lunch break at work, we drove down to a craft supplies store and found the perfect match. I chose the same colour with a slight sheen to it because I'm (sometimes) a raven and I like shiny things. I also found this cute little embroidery hoop (100mm) which will be great to focus on each word at a time.

I'd already started embroidering the second block with a greyish coloured thread, but was happy to unpick that and start again with the new version. I'm not sure if anyone will notice the difference between the thread in the first block and the second, but if it starts to bug me, then I will probably redo the first block in this thread. I have 800 glorious metres of it on this reel so don't have to panic if I make a mistake and need more. Besides, I always know where to get more.

As I get started on the unpicking and redoing, I'm thinking of all the other angel babies out there. I wonder what they're doing on a day like today. The rain has come and gone and so has the sun. Does heaven have weather? I love laying in bed and listening to the sound of the rain, so I hope it isn't always just sunny there. Besides, one of the most fun things about being a kid (big or little) is playing in the rain and dancing through puddles. I hope heaven has puddles too and gum boots.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

October 15th

I'm sad to admit that before any of this happened, I had no idea that October 15th was pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day. I'm sure that had I known, I would have been sad for all the families out there who had experienced such pain.

But now, that pain is personal. That pain is my pain and that loss is my loss. Our loss. Although October 15th is only really recognised officially in the US and in Canada, I believe the UK is starting to recognise it too. But as far as I know, we're still behind here in Australia. I signed a petition the other day to bring this to the attention of the leaders of our country.

The statistics tell us that 1 in 4 experience this loss. If you think about that for a second that almost means on average, for a small-ish family it's roughly 1 per family. For an average family, 2-3 and for a large family more. So why is it still known as the "silent grief"? 

Why are we not talking about this some more? Why do mums and dads, grandparents, brothers and sisters have to fumble their way to help when it is so common? Why do doctors not have resources on supports available for families ready to hand out? 

Life is too short to stuff around. It's time for families to stop grieving in silence and to think they're alone. When we found out about Pip, we felt alone too. I was lucky that I was part of a very supportive online network and was able to be linked in pretty quickly with other mums who had experienced the same sort of loss. Together we cry and together we talk about our babies. We talk about the love we have for them and our hopes for them. I honestly don't know what I would have done without the love and support I found with these beautiful ladies. My hope is that all families affected with this loss find the support and strength they need in those awful times.

So come on world, let's break the silence on miscarriage, infant loss and stillbirth starting now. If you are a fellow parent who has experienced this, or if you are a supporter, especially if you're on a social networking site like facebook or twitter, it won't take much effort to change your profile picture to an image similar to the one above to get people talking about October 15th, to spread the word and to maybe, just maybe, help someone who is struggling with it not feel so alone in their grief.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Insight into culture

My mother often talked about how she was forbidden by my grandmother from buying baby things while she was pregnant with me. In our culture, it was (probably still is?) "bad luck" to buy anything for a baby until after they arrived.

The first time I heard this, I couldn't imagine it! I couldn't even wait till 12 weeks to buy Pip some gorgeous baby things, I sure as hell wouldn't have lasted 9 months. Plus imagine having a baby and not having anything for him or her! To me that borders on neglect, but maybe neglect is too harsh a word? 

I can't imagine my poor husband having to run around and buy a whole bunch of items while I was in hospital with baby. First of all in his sleep deprived state, he'd probably get something wrong by accident (sorry honey!) and second of all, I'd prefer to spread out the expenses throughout the pregnancy rather than dig ourselves into a big financial hole right when baby arrives. So many of my friends have told us how expensive preparing for a baby is, this is after they've gotten items as gifts or which were passed down from other families and friends who don't need them any longer.

Also in Australia, public hospitals require that parents bring their own baby clothes, some don't supply nappies. Some private hospitals supply generic baby clothes and nappies, but then to take baby home, you will need at the very least, a suitable infant car seat that will be checked by the hospital before you're allowed to drive off with bub.

I loved the thought of preparing for Pip and after much debating, we even had a nursery theme picked out. I loved the idea of a circus themed nursery, or maybe a pirate themed nursery for a boy. Even before I was pregnant, whenever I saw something really special for a baby (especially if it was on sale!) I'd buy it and put it aside for that special day when we met our baby.

It seems that this custom also exists in Russian and Jewish cultures. In Indian culture, gifts given toward the well being of the mother are welcomed but baby gifts are only given after the baby's birth. I'm not sure if it's only observed in conservative families or if it's still a custom that is quite widely practised?

The reason behind it as far as I'm aware is it would be absolutely devastating to have prepared a complete nursery, bought heaps of baby things and clothes if something then went tragically wrong and baby didn't make it home.

While the reasoning behind this makes sense, personally I actually find comfort in the little things I got Pip. At the start, I couldn't bear to look at some of the things I'd bought, but now it's different. It's comforting to hug those little onsies and baby clothes and therapeutic to have and hold the soft, cuddly blankets, especially in the midst of a downpour of tears. Of course we didn't get to the stage where we'd begun working on the nursery, but I was raring to go!

To me creating a nursery from an empty room would have been more than just just a practicality or us experiencing the "nesting" instinct, it would have been a labour of love. How special it would have been for us to create a beautiful space for our precious baby to rest, play and grow. I know hubby would have loved to have put together a cot and stroller while probably refusing to read the instructions on how to actually assemble it. There would have been a lot of teasing and laughter.

Interesting to consider the wisdom of cultural beliefs and to look more closely at why some of these customs and beliefs exist in the first place. So many things I looked forward to in the short time Pip was with us and so many things I feel so sad that I can't do anymore. I can't help but wonder what my grandmother would say if she was alive today.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Thief in the night

Sometimes my grief sneaks up on me like a thief in the night.

I thought I was coping okay after my doctor's visit on Monday. I was fine at work, which is a small blessing - thank you God. I was even okay while stuck in traffic despite a headache starting, but when I got home, kaboom! Explosion of tears and heartbreak.

It's a helpless feeling when I can't even predict when it's going to hit me anymore. Some days I feel the build up starting and can prepare for it by removing myself from places, people and situations that I know will not help. Other times, it is completely unexpected. 

I so wish that my doctor's visit on Monday could have been for a different reason. I would have loved to have seen my baby and to have heard her tiny little heart beating.

Pip would have been almost 15 weeks old today.