Category Archives: loss

my neverending story

Nothing ever ends. Not really.

As a story-lover – and occasional story-teller – this is difficult to accept. Traditional narrative requires – sometimes demands – an ending. Whenever I read or hear or watch a story I am always wondering, “How will this end?” Because endings are a point where everything makes sense, where motivations, events, actions and reactions have a purpose. A place where a line is drawn under that which went before, leaving a creamy blank sheet to start a new story.

Life is not so easily contained.

My last blog post was on October 15th, 2010. It was never intended to be an ending. But today will be my final post here. So, while my brain rails against the ease of narrative structure, my romantic heart still loves a neat(ish) ending. Today, the first day of the year, I draw a line under this story and start a new one.

But, nothing ever ends. Not really.

The stories I shared here are still here. They still come with me, loyal companions, wherever I go. They are the invisible thread of my existence. They haven’t stopped being. They haven’t finished their noisy, joyful, wrenching, messy reverberations.

Between then and now there have been other stories. Some I can’t tell because they are not mine alone. Not that any stories are ever really mine alone to tell. When we choose to write we plunder the lives of those unfortunate souls whose paths cross ours. But, even in my haphazard pursuit of truth, beauty, wisdom and wonder I know there are stories which can’t be told to all. These I share in private circles. Safe, protected circles where tender hearts and sadnesses are watched over. Where stories of pain and confusion are held to tiny lights and examined and, by the power of telling, set free. Not to end but to move away. Often they return, changed, evolved. Sometimes they bring a new pain. Occasionally knowledge. Always a growth – a leaf, a branch, a bud or an ugly gnarled offshoot which becomes intrinsic to the whole.

The last two years saw a gaping rent in the gossamer from which I’d woven my stories. A rent which isn’t an ending but a delineation. A signpost between then and now. The dangling threads in my fabric – tiny imperfections – got caught on a sliver of the sharpest steel, and there followed a heart-in-mouth tearing sound that always bodes ill. Frantically I grabbed to salvage what was left, catching the ripping fabric before it tore entirely in two. Over time I have patched it back together with scraps I have found littered around me. New stories. New friends. New life.

And I love my new, messy cloak. Now it’s authentic. It is speckled and peppered with love and laughter as well as those old faithfuls: sadness and confusion. These days it feels like home.

My cloak is not a dress that I wear for the world any more, but a blanket to enclose myself in. It’s a rug that I lay upon in the sun and examine, picking and caressing the gold here, the silver there, the black, purple, yellow and orange patches all over. It’s a shield I hide behind. It’s a flag I fly when I feel brave. It’s everything and it’s me. But it isn’t new. It’s woven from everything that never ended.

Because nothing ever ends. Not really.

This time six years ago I was newly released from hospital. I had two small children and had just given birth to – and lost – my third – a tiny daughter. On New Year’s Eve that year I recall feeling as if I was in a bubble of exquisite alone-ness as I walked to the corner store for orange juice. In the surreal December morning I felt heightened and alive in the aftermath of losing her, and almost losing my own life. It was my first realisation that nothing ever ends.

In the space of loss, if we look hard enough, what remains are heart echoes. Things that still sound when tangible evidence is gone. Maybe it’s the words of a lover, an inflection of their voice, their sigh as they sleep, the tears that they gave you. Perhaps it’s the dreams for a child who never was. It might be a wisdom shared, a scene glimpsed, a fragment of conversation that drifted on the breeze. A secret kiss. A dead snake or a coloured feather, found on a walk. A sudden gust of wind. The season’s sweetest cherry. A friend’s laugh. These things echo in our hearts and halt the very idea of endings. These things say: I was here. And so were you.

One of my favourite ways to capture – and watch others capture – heart echoes, is with words. Words I read. Words I write. Words I hear. A constant for me. The nuts and bolts of storytelling. My lifelong companions.

But I have become wise to the ways of words. Their tricks. The paradox of words is that they can appear as truth, and yet truth is the most elusive of all things – more elusive than heart echoes built out of memories. But words do offer a glimpse of transient truth. Something that is true for now. Something that resonates at this moment. A changeable, malleable truth that needs to be looked at constantly, refreshed, made more true.

Stories are a way into that truth, no doubt, but the very best, most true stories are the ones we create ourselves. And the most wonder-filled story we create is the story of our own lives. My story is different to yours. And to yours. And yours. But within the pages of my story and yours are the similarities which connect us. I write my own story, I choose my own adventure, but the intersection of our adventures is where the magic is. This is how we put an end to endings. This is how we make heart echoes. By connecting our stories. By making an endless patchwork quilt across humankind.

The first day of  a new year is a sweet construct, tricking us into believing in endings and new starts. I’m not comfortable with neat packages when life is a spectrum of faltering footsteps and unexpected headlong plunges. But I will use this quiet morning, with the sound of splashing summer children outside my window, to think about a creamy sheet of paper upon which to write today’s dreamed adventure. To draw an imaginary line under the tellings contained here. To end this Best of All Possible Worlds in an artificial way so I can go on living in it authentically. But how to end a piece about things never ending? Well, there has to be a closing song of course…

This song was given to me in its original form by someone very dear to my heart. A strip of light in my darkness. Since then it has come to me over and over. This collection of words has created heart echoes in ever widening circles. Magic.

And then I found this version. Yes, it’s an ad campaign, but ad people are some of the best storytellers in the game. There are layers upon layers of meaning for me in this representation. Every time I watch it a new layer is added, making its echo stronger and louder for me.

And today, as I rode my bike and I listened to it and thought about words – these words I needed to write, future words that I want to write – I knew who I had to dedicate it to. On this, the first day of the new year. Or, simply, yesterday’s tomorrow.

So, Muse, if you’re listening, this is for you. Come sail your ships around me.

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birthday gifts

Dear Sienna,

If things had gone as planned – as promised in the ideal world I used to live in – you would be turning four today. Anzac Day wouldn’t be just Anzac Day; it would be your birthday. And I would probably be wondering if the shops were open because I forgot to buy sprinkles to make the fairy bread for your party.

Things would be different.

But it isn’t your birthday today. Today there is no four-year-old girl at our house. Your big brother is still the baby of the family – though at eight he really isn’t a baby any more. When I see him with our puppy – the way he cuddles and calls him ‘Bubba’ – I know he would have been a great big brother. He’s not supposed to be the youngest.

And Indy? Well I know she wishes she could say the words: ‘My little sister’ without watching them fall to the ground – all meaning lost because you’re not here.

Today – on your would-be birthday – I wonder what you would look like. I remember ‘four’ with the other two. Such a gorgeous age. Would you be blonde like them? When you were born you had your brother’s legs and chin. Your eyes were the same beautiful shape as your sister’s. As tiny as you were there was no doubt you were so much like both of them. I wonder: what funny things would you say if you were four? Who would your little friends be? What would you like to eat? Would you have a favourite toy? TV show? Bedtime story?

But all of this wondering comes to nothing. Because you are not here.

Things are different.

In the void after I lost you I returned to writing. I wrote about you. That was the beginning. A collusion of inexplicable good fortune saw me land a most amazing job. Through it all I fell headlong back into a long lost love affair with the world of words. I became more *me* than I’d ever been. Because of you. The gift of you.

But you know I’d give it all back in a heartbeat if I could have you. Never gonna happen. Because everything is different now.

I don’t believe in heaven any more. Not because of you. Just because. Words like ‘god’ and ‘soul’ and ‘angel’ don’t sing to me. But there’s still one thing that does.

When I planned your funeral I struggled to find a song to play. The funeral people had some suggestions – and yeah Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven breaks everyone’s heart but wasn’t right for you. But, the day before you were to be born I got in my car and there, on the radio, was the song.

I knew immediately. Ok, it turns out this is one of the most requested funeral songs ever, so I am rather predictable after all. Nevermind. It still works for me. And this is why. As always, it’s about the words.

When I’m feeling weak/And my pain walks down a one way street

Yep. Not only do I love me a metaphor, but I’ve been down that one way street.

There’s also this:

Down the waterfall/Wherever it may take me/I know that life won’t break me

Yep again. When you’ve been through the worst you kind of adopt a bit of a ‘bring it’ attitude. It’s a strength that you have given me. Another gift.

And here’s the thing – the reason good ol’ Robbie Williams reached me in this way is because I *should* be loving a four-year-old little girl, but turns out I’m not. Call you an angel, call you whatever – but things are different and loving you as a memory, well, that’s what I’m doing instead.

So today,  this life of infinitesimal wonder, confusing and conflicted awe, marrow-sucking, torturous, life-affirming, mind-blowing, O Captain! My captain! Carpe diem–ness – today it sucks in the most exquisitely bittersweet way.

But, at the bottom of it all… I miss you.

Happy birthday.

Mummy

xx

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the book launch – part four (in which i finally finish my story)

Continued from the book launch – part three

The beautiful baby was Chloe. Before she was born her mum, Louise, lost two babies to stillbirth. A daughter at 21 weeks and then a son at 36 weeks. She contributed some of the most heartbreaking and inspiring pieces in Zoe’s book. Her ability to extract the oh-so-hard-to-find gifts from her experiences is truly beautiful.

But I didn’t know this on the night. Zoe wrote to me yesterday after reading my blog. She told me about her own pregnancy and about preparing for the launch. She wrote: “As time went on, it looked more and more likely that I would be celebrating the birth of the book shortly before the arrival of this baby. Both filled me with anticipation, excitement and terror.” She had also written about the launch the week before on The Punch.

Hopefully this was an easy birth for Zoe. For Luke and I –  involved, yet once removed like doting relatives – it was incredibly important.

I left off my last blog with Luke and I ensconced on a comfy lounge chair. Zoe’s husband called everyone’s attention and gave a short introduction. His presence was another reminder that, when it comes to babies – including babyloss – it is always, always about two people.

Next it was Zoe’s turn to speak. I didn’t do the good journo thing and have a recording device at the ready, but the one thing I do remember Zoe saying is this: “I wish I never had to write this book. I wish that every pregnancy had a happy ending. But the reality is that everyone – either directly or indirectly – will be affected by pregnancy loss.” With each passing day I know this to be true.

Emma McLeod from the Stillbirth Foundation and Dr Devora Lieberman from Sydney IVF also spoke with grace and gratitude to Zoe for writing this book about a subject which is, in many circles, still hard to talk about.

When the speeches were over the guests started to mingle. I chatted briefly to the woman next to me. She had come to support one of her friends who was also a contributor. Her friend had lost a child to stillbirth but was now the proud mum of a six-month-old baby. Again, the joy kept coming. The happy endings.

But Luke and I left soon after the speeches – not because of the happy endings all around us, but because we had a chapter to write in our own.

Our latest loss had left us reeling. We hadn’t had time to reconnect, to just *be*, without the demands of the real world. After congratulating Zoe one last time (and getting her to sign my book :-)) we headed out into the rain-washed streets of the city. Our own hearts, lifted by the humbling and life-affirming experience of being in a room where the extremes of human existence – loss, pain, joy and hope – were intertwined, were, like the streets, cleansed and renewed.

In my heels I walked – clutching my man. We stopped near an art gallery to ask two men sitting on the stoop for directions. We headed to Darling Harbour, where our really very nice hotel awaited (come back Scottish pipers – all is forgiven). But first we enjoyed a dinner for two. Date night for a babylost mum and dad.

We bypassed all the too-cool-for-school haunts and settled into a crowded steak joint. We needed to eat our fill; to sate all those things which had been left wanting in the wake of our loss. Our appetites, our need to be together, our need to talk to one another uninterrupted.

Darling Harbour is like the precocious teenage sister of the world’s oldest and most beautiful cities and landmarks: stunning but still not quite sure of its own beauty. That night I reveled in its freshness and the sense of promise it projected. Promise, hope, the future: my themes for the night.

Dinner over, we took the short walk back to our hotel. First stop was an all-night convenience store where we bought a huge bag of pick-n-mix lollies. Like two kids we went upstairs, ordered a movie, giggled together and reclaimed our love.  Simple. So simple.

The next morning I woke up, showered and put on a new dress. A daytime frock I had bought for the occasion. Luke suddenly turned to me and said. “You looked beautiful last night. And you look beautiful in that dress too.” I  literally swooned.

Saturday’s papers, Eggs Benedict, coffee, juice. He said to me, “If we had to live in the city, could we?” I answered, “Only when I write a best-seller.” We both grinned. I knew then that we would be all right.

Another baby would be beyond miraculous for us but, after last Friday night, I know that we will have our happy ending. Come what may.

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the book launch – part three

I did a little ‘live blogging experiment’ – well that’s what I call an inability to cut down this post into a manageable size. 🙂 It started here with the book launch – part two.

This is the next part:

Life being what it is for working parents the day started off pretty damn ordinary. Luke had work to arrange. So did I. As well as grandparents to organise for school pick up and sleepover duty, bags and lunches to pack and assorted annoying things to attend to.

Not to mention the  bloody Scottish pipers who had booked all the rooms in the city. I nabbed a last minute deal but I was sure we were going to be sleeping in a rat-infested place in some hellhole on the wrong side of town.

IKEA was our first stop. Now, I’m an IKEA freak. Hubby hates shopping. And that would be a red flag you can see waving right there.

But we managed.

Next stop, The City. We got lost.

We always get lost.

Tempers were being held politely in a stranglehold as we cursed the gods of ‘no right turn’.

But we got there. I checked in while Luke waited impatiently in the car – terrified of giving up his parking spot and risking an eighth drive around the block.

Then, a sliver of light. Our room number was 16. Sienna’s birthday number – December 16. It doesn’t sound like much, but it kinda was. I exhaled just a little.

Hankering after some unfettered prettying-up time I handed Luke the remote and got busy while he zoned out to Sky News. After an hour’s nap he put on a gorgeous shirt and tie (making no comment about how I looked, *sigh*) and we hailed a cab.

We’re not city folk, but this time we both fell in love with Sydney. How could we not? Our taxi dropped us under the Harbour Bridge as a light mist of rain tumbled down, the same kind of whimsical rain which fell on our wedding day. The Rocks spoke to us in the voices of the first white settlers – convicts and others who no doubt experienced tragedy and suffering which I cannot begin to imagine.

We found our destination – The Harbourview Hotel – and made our way up the stairs. Zoe greeted us – recognising me from my pictures (surprise surprise). As she stepped out from behind the table where she was signing books, I saw her in all of her beautiful, pregnant glory.

I knew Zoe had been pregnant when she started writing this book. After suffering her own heartbreaking losses she was having her happy ending. But then, I thought, she started writing this book a long time ago – much more than nine months. I bit my tongue. Never ask a woman when she’s due unless you can see the baby’s head crowning: a warning  I had vowed never to forget after embarrassing experiences on both ends of that particular faux pas.

Luke and I were among the first to arrive so we wandered onto the balcony. There, we watched bridge climbers parade past us, outfitted in identical shell suits and shackled to one another, much like those early residents whose echoes I could hear. The mood was almost mystical.

A glass of red wine was exactly what I needed. We found another seat – a cosy lounge inside – and settled in. Sighing, I tucked in close to Luke and watched as the other guests arrived.

And so they came: people I didn’t know, and yet there was an incredibly pervasive vibe, the sense of membership I often speak about when it comes to the babylost community. As I looked around at the couples, the friends, the mothers and daughters I found myself wanting to ask, “So who are you? What’s your story? Was it your part of the book which made me sob my heart out? How are you? Do you have *your* happy ending?”

But, still feeling a little shy, we held back.

And then I saw the first bump. A glorious pregnant belly in a tight striped top.

Despite the fact that I hoped to be showing off my own belly I was unequivocally thrilled for this expectant mum. Unequivocally. Maybe it’s because I am blessed with two living children, but I have never felt jealous over other pregnancies. After all, that is not my child she is carrying. That is not the child I covet. My hunger is for my own child. Her pregnancy is her own joy and how could I ever begrudge anyone joy?

Plus, her presence at this launch hinted at a history of suffering which, although I was not privy to, I could only imagine. I grinned inanely at the bump.

And then another. Another beautiful swelling. Another little life on the way. Hope in a rounded belly.

Luke and I, quietly content in one another’s company, sat enjoying the  ‘orr derbs’ – our own private joke. We relaxed, finally. We were reconnecting.

Just like Sienna’s funeral, this was about us – unencumbered by family or friends – entwined in one of the most intimate and painful shared experiences I imagine a couple can go through: the loss of a child.

Then, the white angel entered the room. Held almost aloft, one of the sweetest of life’s prizes, a baby. Maybe three, four months old – resplendent in a white satin dress, with mum, dad and (maybe) her grandparents in total thrall to her cherub self. I almost cried with happiness.

To Be Continued…

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the book launch – part two

Last year was rough for Luke and I. We lost another baby.

Luke wants more kids as much as I do. I’m grateful for that. Many friends have told me of their own baby yearnings which have been met by a flat out ‘no’ from their other half (male and female). But there are times when I do wonder if it would be easier if Luke just said, “You know what, this is too hard. Why don’t we give up the dream.”

When you are reproductively challenged there’s a down side to having a partner who wants a child as much as you do. With every loss I feel his pain as well as my own.

During this last pregnancy I started writing The Secret Pregnancy Diaries. A rough journal of my experiences – unedited, unproofed, uncorrected. A pure outpouring of my emotions. I think I hoped it would be a record of the journey to our ‘happy ending’.

Here’s a sample:

the flowers that bloomed so beautifully when I first found out I was pregnant – the ones I held onto because it was the first bunch you ever bought for me – today have to be thrown out. as I carry them – lilies – the flower of death – as i carry them outside to tip onto the garden they shed their delicate petals, like tears, behind me. Levi exclaims with sadness, “Mummy, your flowers are dead”.

In those same diaries I wrote about my husband’s loss:

Your pain, intuited, is almost too much for me to bear. I can’t carry your pain and mine too.

Things have been tough for us since we lost this last little one. Our Sunshine Coast holiday in January did not heal us. The loss – papered over in the festive rush of Christmas – was raw. Gaping.

This is why I hoped beyond hope that my husband – not a big fan of the ‘social occasion’ – would come with me to the launch of Zoe’s book.

To Be Continued…

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the book launch – part one

I thought I’d be sharing my news by now. I thought I’d be planning a very different kind of year. I thought this time would be different, but it wasn’t. And here I am, once again, with emotional whiplash as I recover from the abrupt change of direction which you would think I’d be used to by now.

I’m telling you this because of the book launch.

Luke and I are heading down to Sydney tomorrow for the launch of Zoe Taylor’s book, Pregnancy Loss: Surviving Miscarriage and Stillbirth. A couple of years after I lost Sienna, a fellow babylost mama told me that a journo was writing a book and maybe I should check it out. I wrote to Zoe telling my story. I’m in the book. This is part of what I wrote and which Zoe has kindly included:

“The baby was born and I asked what it was. “It’s a little girl,” the midwife whispered. Alone in the room with the midwife I didn’t have to be the brave wife or mother or sister or daughter or daughter-in-law or party guest or employee. I had my longed-for daughter and I would never really get to have her. I screamed from the depths of my heart.”

I don’t know how many miscarriages I’d had when she first started writing. Maybe three. This last one was my fifth.

At the end of last year when I was pregnant I tried to work out my dates. How pregnant would I be when the launch came around? Would I be telling people by then? I think I would have been 16 weeks this week. I would have had to wear a different dress to the launch.

But I’m not pregnant. I lost this baby – number five since Sienna – on the fourth anniversary of her birth. Nine days before Christmas last year.

There’s a longer story, but time has run out to tell it today.

But, because I’m not pregnant,  my New Year’s resolutions are different to what I thought they’d be.

I was going to quit my job when my due date came near. Then, when baby came along I was going to write my novel while the little one napped. I was going to breastfeed. I was going to buy new finger-paints. There would be fresh Play-Doh in our cupboard.

But no. This year I will keep nurturing my ‘baby substitute’: the magazine I edit; my writing. I am doing my Masters. Because I can, dammit.

My gorgeous kids will keep reminding me how lucky I am. My son, fast turning into a technogeek newsmonger looks set to follow in my footsteps. I adore that. My daughter, on the other hand, is the dreamiest child a mother could ask for. The fact that I have them still takes my breath away at times. I’m blessed.

So here I am. Off to the book launch. I’ll be wearing a dress which hugs my body because I have no baby bump. I’ve had my hair done. I want to look nice. It’s something to look forward to. Something.

Last night as I read through Zoe’s book in readiness for the launch, my throat ached with the pain of the experiences – including mine – she has documented. It’s the same pain I feel when I see babies.  But I’m going tomorrow to celebrate the spirit of women and men who have survived this hell. It’s the club for which I have a lifetime membership, and I will not hang my head as I walk into that room. I will be standing up, ready to be counted.

Read about our night at the launch here.

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who’s the mum?

I was 20 when my mother became permanently disabled. One December Saturday the line between parent and child became blurred. It’s a challenge many of us will face – how do I parent my parents?

My Mum suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm at age 44 which left her with a permanent left side paralysis. At the time I was starting the second year of my journalism degree at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. Our journey through her illness has, in many ways, paralleled my journey as a parent.

Beyond the realms of hope Mum survived two complex brain surgeries. In those earliest days she was as helpless as a newborn – hairless and feeding on liquids. There were doctors and flowers and holy water. Relatives came to visit and we spoke in soft voices as we gathered around to see her – this miracle of life.

Her first weeks post-surgery were spent in a local hospital but it became apparent that an extended stay in a rehabilitation facility would enable her to achieve her maximum potential. On that first night, as I said goodbye and left her crying in her wheelchair, I glimpsed my future. Years later, while saying goodbye to my tearful three-year-old on her first day of pre-school, I felt a certain déjà vu.

During the six months of rehab I studied all week and travelled to Sydney to visit Mum each weekend. The staff would inform us of her progress.

“This week she has been learning to use a pen.”

“Today she went swimming.”

“She is able to eat with the others now.”

Little steps.

But the day I remember most vividly is when we arrived at the hospital and a nurse with a playful smile said, “Your Mum has something to show you.”

In the next room Mum was waiting in her wheelchair. “Okay,” said the nurse as she helped Mum to her feet, “Show them.”

The nurse let go and Mum took her first steps alone – for the second time in her life.

We all cried and clapped and told her how wonderful she was.

Big steps.

After many struggles and a whole lifetime of tears, Mum now lives independently not too far from my home. As a family we try to share the care around and part of my role is to take Mum shopping every fortnight. I’m sure it’s one of the highlights of her calendar and – I never thought I’d say this – it has become one of mine.

It’s not always easy. We usually miss the disabled parking spaces, and little kids running on her left side freak her out… but we laugh. We laugh at ourselves and the bother we get into as we try to push a trolley and gather her groceries. We laugh at the way she always says, “Don’t let me get any extras this week!” as she picks up an extra packet of chocolate biscuits and some lollies for the kids. She always shouts me lunch.

Little things.

After lunch I try not to rush off to my own family and we sit and chat. Occasionally we’ll delve deeper than our usual gossip and she will tell me stories of the days before she was a mum – tales of girlfriends and music and surfer boys. I picture her dancing on strong legs.

As I care for my Mum I sometimes feel burdened, and there are times when I wonder what it would be like if she had been able to hold my babies or have them for sleepovers like other Grandmas. But I have come to understand that caring for a parent can be a privilege – a way of giving back. I wouldn’t swap my Mum for quids.

And do you know what else I have discovered? She will always be The Mum.

In what ways do you care for your parents? Do you find it a challenge as you tend to your own family?

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