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!

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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.