(Z's paper plane flying upwards into the trees above the bush chapel)
It was a busy week, but I woke up early to do my ivf injections, and afterwards, I’d go for a little walk on the beach and to Z’s little spot, to touch the sandy earth and bring her a little flower or shell. And after all the rushing about of the past year, I feel like I finally had time to think properly, and a good beach to do it on.
One of the things I found hard about the idea of being ‘in the moment’ was the fact that some moments are awful – if you completely focused on that particular moment, wouldn’t you drown in the sheer awfulness of it? Wouldn’t it be too depressing to survive?
I realised last week that I had a particular opportunity to test run this theory, because, for me, there is quite clearly one moment that I thought I would love to cut away from the fabric of my life – to slice away the moment of impact and everything it set in motion. I know that I can’t turn back time or undo it, but was it really a moment to relish, to pay attention to?
What if I had taken that moment, where I was sitting in the wreckage – trapped, bleeding and so afraid that the car next to us would explode – what if I had taken it and let my fears and hopes dissolve, so that I was no longer being tugged forward into a better or worse imagined future – what might I have experienced right there? With hindsight, I could have been fully present to the last moments of my daughter’s life. She was doing that hard work of dying while I was fervently wishing I was somewhere else – in a future where she was okay.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the reality of my situation – and for me to sit with that uncertainty felt impossible. I thought that me denying the possibility that she might die could magically save her. I know there is no way I could have known what was happening with her, but I do wish I’d been a bit more present for those last little beats of her heart. Instead I was demanding something of her which she could no longer do. (Please, Haloumi, please be okay. Please be okay, my little one) I don’t want to indulge in regret, because I don’t think dragging myself into the past helps either, but I’m open to learning from this, to realising that even the worst moments deserve my attention.
When El Prima tried to call me into the moment and asked, “Is Haloumi moving?” I was so angry – I stubbornly wanted to avert my attention, to avoid the uncertainty. I look at it now with tenderness – it was a futile denial, kind of like a three-year-old holding their hand up so they can’t see you when they want you to go away. I didn’t want to be engulfed by fear, but it wasn’t even conceivable that I could do something other than fear or hope – that I could just sit with the huge, frightening uncertainty of the situation – that I could treasure a moment with my daughter when it was possibly her last.
It seems odd to me that such an awful, traumatic moment can be – really – such a precious one. But it rings true with my other experiences – with that amazing preciousness of seeing her little, still face, and the pride I felt in labouring for her (even if I didn’t, in the end, birth her naturally because of the internal bleeding). And bizarrely, this realisation has made me feel calmer in my grief – this realisation that paying attention to a moment can’t make it any worse – and indeed, that running away from it (into fear, hope or denial) can cause further suffering. I finally feel like I’m learning something from all this grief – that I don’t have to keep grasping for some kind of solution – that I can sit with this discomfort and uncertainty, that I can feel that something is impossibly painful and still do it.
On the last night of the camp, we had a little non-denominational chapel service, and in the dark, with the bush noises around us, I told my story. I won’t repeat the whole thing here, but this is the main bit:
In the last year since the accident, I have had to do the impossible every day. I have planned my baby’s funeral from an intensive care bed. I have learned how to walk with a broken knee. I have held the people I love the most while their hearts are breaking and there was nothing I could do to fix it. And every day, I live, while she is dead.
For a long time I was desperate to escape my grief – I thought there would be some ‘solution’ to it – a time when I might feel some ground under my feet again. But like it or not, this is the nature of being a human being. We know that we are fragile, and we know that we will all die, but it all seems pretty theoretical until you lose someone you love. It seems impossibly cruel that a baby could die when we loved her so much and we hadn’t even had a chance to see her open her eyes. But, this is what life throws at us - impossible miracles like babies, and impossible losses.
And while I now know there are no guarantees, this is what gives me a little peace – that what we have experienced is not a terrible aberration from the good life that we are all entitled to – but that the sadness and wretchedness of grief is part and parcel of the love and inspiration I still feel for my daughter.
And this is the strange thing. As this loss has carved my heart out so painfully, I’ve also felt an intensity of joy beyond anything I felt before – often mingled together – a bittersweetness. Things feel sharper than ever before – more intensely painful but also more intensely beautiful. Where I thought this pain would crush me, it has transformed me and by feeling it, and gently observing it, rather than trying to escape it, my heart has expanded.
I have a different kind of uncertainty in front of me now. It won’t begin in earnest really until the embryo transfer – maybe Thursday next week. But then it will be an uncertainty marathon. I’ve found the discussions in the comments about hope in the last post to be really useful in getting some perspective on it. Thank you so much for all your thoughts. I can already feel my hope building – I actually look forward to giving myself the injections because it means we’re one day closer – but I think I’m being gentler with it – not setting big expectations, and not presuming that I’m responsible for generating a result. I’m going to try to “lean into the sharp points” as Chodron would say, and see how that goes.
**apologies for long post!