"Edited to Add"....

This started as a pregnancy blog when I fell pregnant in May 2009 after four years of finding a donor, doing all the counselling / paperwork / tests and trying.

And now, thanks to a 4WD which skidded onto our side of the road, killing our baby daughter at 34w and injuring me, my partner and two of my stepdaughters on 27 December 2009, it has turned into something else. We didn't want this something else, but apparently it is all we've got to go on with.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The 'Awful' moment

I’ve just had a week volunteering at a camp for 16-18 year old girls. This camp is the place where Z’s ashes are buried, in a beautiful bush chapel where you can hear the waves crash and birds call above.

(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!


  1. No apologies needed. None at all. It sounds Luke the time at camp, and with Z, were really good, inasmuch as it can be. I hope that it helps you during all the uncertain times to come.

  2. When I read your blog i always just want t say something better and more clever and more comforting that I possibly can manage.

    When I think of what happened to you. Oh my goodness :( I wish I could reach out and hug you.

  3. I wanted to say too, that I sympathise. When Freddie was born, I was the first to realise that he wasn't okay. I looked at him and said "he's going to die" and to my shame, I turned my head away. I feel I should have immediately knelt by him and willed life into him, but I looked away. And then, in the subsequent moments when they began to work on him, my body was screaming for them to give him to me, some inner thing was sure if he felt my body he would realise what he was supposed to do, but I didn't. I guess I know really that I knew he needed them, not me, but sometimes I feel so bad that I didn't follow my instincts.

  4. this is such a big, amazing, beautiful, heartbreaking post that i don't know what to say. but i had to say something.

    the last paragraph of what you said, in particular... it's lovely.

  5. N - thank you - yes, it has been really good for me. I think I was 'stuck' at a particular spot with my grief for so long, and it feels a bit different now - as though my heart has stretched to fit it. Still sad, but in a less desperate way.

    Merry - but you do! You're always very thoughtful. It is a huge comfort to know that you and others are reading along. Thanks for the virtual hug. I often feel like being physically injured at the same time as being babylost was kind of helpful, in that it was a more recognisable and speakable loss, and because my physical state at least matched my mental state for a while (ie broken and bruised).

    With your moments with Freddie - I think your reaction was a perfectly human one. It is an awful awful thing to realise that your child might die. The fact that you said that, in my view, shows what beautiful, close attention you were paying him.

    B - thanks so much. Glad you enjoyed. xx

  6. Thank you again for such a beautiful, insightful post. I have been following you even though commenting has been difficult. May you be present for each moment of unknowingness and aspiration with your IVF. You cannot determine the outcome, but I think you are right, that leaning into every moment will give you a richer connection with your reality whatever it may be.


  7. Oh H. I have read this post several times now and find that I still don't really know what to write in response.

    Mainly that I am glad that you do not regret how you spent that awful moment. You spent it in that way because you loved your daughter. I don't see how you could have done otherwise.

    I think I understand what you mean when you write about the preciousness of that awful time. I think I feel the same way about G's death. I just loved her and I was so pleased to be her mum and so proud. Her death was only a part of that time although it is hard to view it that way all the time.

    Thinking of you as you set out into uncertainty. xo

  8. i feel like i should comment, but i really don't have anything to say. just, i guess, that i admire this journey you're taking into understanding the depths of your heart and soul.