"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, December 16, 2010

The Hard Swallow

**thank you so much for all your good wishes and encouragement for our imminent rumpusing! It was a good reminder of why I shouldn't hide away too long from this lovely place and you lovely people.**

This is a new sensation I've discovered in the past few months - "the hard swallow". It happens when I'm driving, and see a 4WD coming towards me, or when I see a baby and try to estimate - 11 or 12 months old? Or when the IVF administrator tells me the dollar amount we have to pay to start IVF. A ball of fear or sadness, or something of a similar texture, rises in my throat and I have the urge to run / scream / hide. But I know I can't, so instead I swallow it down, "suck it up" and get on with the business of moving through the world.

I'm not pregnant this time. I didn't really think I was, but when I got to the 27 day mark, I just started entertaining little thoughts, "maybe Christmas would feel good after all" etc. But no. And while IVF felt like a relatively positive Plan B when I went to visit Dr Lovely last week, it doesn't feel like such a fun path now.

I'm a big hippy, you see. I don't like the idea of doctors taking control of my cycle, forcing my ovaries to blister with artifically stimulated ova, vacuuming out my eggs, and coercing them to germinate with a selected sperm. It all feels a bit too much like high school dancing classes where we were made to dance so closely pressed to the boys that a record put between us couldn't fall to the floor*. As though the doctors were telling my body, "Oh, just get out of the way and let us do this properly!" I know what it feels like to have medical experts take over my most basic bodily functions - I'm lucky they did, otherwise I would be dead, but that doesn't mean I like it.

We don't *have* to do IVF. As a dear friend has pointed out, our lack of luck so far is probably more about timing than anything else. But given our issues with frozen insems, and the difficulty and stress involved in interstate fresh insems, and "advancing maternal age"**, it is making sense. What I don't like most about IVF is that I feel corralled into it by fear - fear that maybe Z will be the only baby I have, that it is all too late, that if Christmas 2011 were to roll around without a pregnancy in sight, I'd lose what scrap of sanity I've got left. So it is a pragmatic choice, but a very reluctant, sulky one. And it makes me even sulkier to know how much we have to pay for procedures which I don't want anyway (or wish I didn't need).

But this is where the hard swallow comes in. *Gulp*

* Yes - a record! Remember them? Round, flat, black things with grooves on them. Told you I was old.

**I'm 34 - I know that is not so old in the scheme of things, but I'd like to have more than one, and I'm very conscious that it only gets harder and more risky after 35).

Sunday, December 12, 2010


(Image from here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/04/06/2865005.htm)

I've been hiding from the whole Christmas thing, and hiding my head here too. It has been a rough couple of weeks. The anxiety truck has hit me like I've never experienced before - building up from an incident a few weeks ago when I was driving and a car very nearly hit us head-on again, but swerved and didn't touch us, thank god. What is it about enormous silver 4WDs - I don't want to get paranoid, but they're all out to get me, aren't they? *insert crazy-lady face here* Normally, I'm pretty good at CBTing myself out of the anxiousness, but this time, I really feel like I dropped my bundle and wasn't actually able to function properly. I was so stressed that poor El Prima was being subjected to me grinding my teeth at night, and I was waking up with pain in my jaw and headaches. I had to ask work colleagues to finish some of my marking for me, cancelled a paper I was going to give at a small local conference, and took some sick leave (and antibiotics for a sinus infection).

Things have eased up now, but I think the extra stress of a near-miss, on top of working full time, TTC, and coming closer to the anniversary of our accident and losing Z was a bit much. With the warmer weather, and the winding up of the university year, it is so hard not to make the comparisons - one year ago, we were frantically packing, and in between I was going for swims in one of the most beautiful places I know. It was a busy, stressful time, but there was something amazing about moving through the saltwater while Haloumi did her own swimming within me.

Please excuse the big whinge. And now for the fun sequel to hiding - running away! Or, to be more correct, sailing away. El Prima, the girls and I are getting on a boat to Tasmania, to go and have a wild rumpus with the wombats.

(image from here: http://my-over-the-fence.blogspot.com/2010/11/wild-rumpus.html)

Christmas? What is that? We'll be rumpusing and white water rafting and beaching and camping, and hopefully eating copious amounts of tasmanian oysters, cheeses and wines.*

TTC? Oh yes, I feel like I've been running away from that too. I was in such a sorry state when I went up to Sydney for the insem that I didn't have much faith in my reproductive system, especially after a shocker 23 day cycle in November. So who knows, who knows? And better still, after months on the waiting list, we went to see the lovely IVF doctor who helped facilitate this fabulous miracle of a family
, so I finally feel like I'm in capable hands. And if (as is likely) we are not jubilantly waving urine-soaked sticks in the air within the next week, then I'll be starting a prescription to begin an IVF cycle. Apart from being capable and lovely, Dr Lovely was also more than happy to fit in with our Tasmanian holiday plans, as he is around in January for a stimulated cycle. So it feels like we have a bit of a plan.

And then, the small matter of the 27th December - the date that has been hovering over my head like a 4WD half a second before impact? We'll look into its beady eyes and will remember what it felt like on the other side - to feel whole and unharmed and hopeful. We'll stand on a beach and tell little Z how much we love and miss her. I don't really know what we'll do, but we will be at this beach, and won't have to drive anywhere, and I'll have El Prima and the girls by my side, which is about as good as it gets.

(image from here: http://www.smh.com.au/travel/all-walks-lead-to-fine-wines-20090205-7ymn.html)

There may not be a lot of internet during the rumpus, so while I'm sure I can squeeze in a little post before we go, I'll get in early and wish you all good things for the season, and a happy & safe start to 2011. xxxxxxxx

* okay, yes, we will 'do' christmas, but it will be in a hut in cradle mountain, and will bear no resemblance to last years Christmas (which counts as 'best ever' christmas thanks to Haloumi, and thanks to my mum, brother, sister, dad and me and El Prima and girls all being in the one spot at the one time).

Monday, November 22, 2010

So so many things

There are so many things I've been wanting to say - mostly thank you so much for saying lovely things about our khallila (little darling) Z and her photo. I want so much more from that little face, but I know the hankering doesn't do me (or her) any good. "I love you just the way you are, my darling" - I guess that is the bit of parenting that I still aspire to - loving without being pushy, without wanting more.

Last week things kind of overtook me - more media around the sentence being handed down, then my step-daughter gave me a cold, and now that I'm feeling on the way to human again, there is an enormous pile of exam marking to be done. Mrph. But there are good things in there too, like finally deciding how we're going to spend christmas and new year and having to rush crazily to book ferries and accommodation, and pleasantly dithering over where I'll plant new little vegie seedlings, lovingly germinated from seed by my best friend. And, as always, a good amount of standing in the front garden staring at the full moon and one particular star, and getting weepy all over the pomegranate bush.

The sage flowers are finished, and the succulents are making pink plastic-looking blooms. This little cactus-y plant has a history - it came to us from the house around the corner, where six grown-up siblings were having a garage sale of their 92-year-old mother's house, where they'd grown up. We'd bought some furniture and pots and it was the end of the day, so they insisted on giving us all the left over plants. Their mother has dementia, and is now in a home, hopefully with some good plants around her.

El Prima is away on a work trip, and without her here to harangue me to bed, I'm aimless, pottering until far too late. After all my false hope of last month's TTC efforts, this month was decidedly low key - I was half surly about the whole process and the twisting effect it has on our hearts. So it was mainly grim determination, rather than hope, this month, and my body rewarded my cynicism with a 24-day cycle - sparing me the agonising over faux-symptoms and whether or not to test that those last days usually entail. Which means I'm booking another flight to Sydney...

This paper-thin year is nearly done. I had been sulkily refusing to acknowledge the existence of 2011 (what kind of ridiculous futuristic concept is that!) but we're heading steadily towards it regardless of my sulking. Please let it surprise me in a good way.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On being "brave"

Our gorgeous baby girl made the news again yesterday. I knew there would be some media, but I didn't realise that it was unusual for people to read their own victim's impact statements. And I didn't mean to make the judge cry.

It certainly didn't feel "brave". It felt like the relief when your ears pop as the plane goes up and the pressure equalises in your head. The main difference is that for one day the sadness was not just in our heads, but everyone else could feel it too. It meant that right in the moment when the cameras were turned on me to document my sadness, I momentarily felt better - so much better that I felt like a bit of a fraud for making such a fuss. But I held her photo in an envelope in my hand and thought, she's worth making a fuss over. Indulge me as a mum and let me make a fuss about her, because, god knows, we won't get to do that in the future. I guess this is why I preferred to speak for myself rather than just be the silent victim (not that I would judge anyone who makes a different decision - this was just what I preferred in our particular situation)- because I didn't want us to be painted into a stereotype and have others put their "tragic" gloss on our situation.

I know so many babylost mamas don't get this kind of acknowledgment, and I feel kind of greedy for hogging the limelight like that, but part of my reason for speaking was that I wanted to make Z visible and to make it clear that while stillbirth is an awful thing to happen, it is not unspeakable. Like Sally, it irks me that the media often seem squeamish about talking about stillbirth, which leaves families who experience it feeling like freaks, because everyone thinks that (as Ceil Drucker put it so well) stillbirths "went out with hoop skirts".

People want to respect your privacy, which is a kind thing, but for me, I want everyone in the world to be aware of what happened, because, yes, it is horrific, but it is such a huge part of our lives. She's our baby, and even if she's not here, we're so proud of her. To me, it is important that people get some idea of this grief - that it is enormous and crushing, but also really ordinary and everyday for us - that we fold it up with our washing and rinse it out when we brush our teeth. When we laugh, I want to know that her little cells are laughing within mine, and that when I see something beautiful, it is all the more beautiful because it feels like she is a part of it, and all the more heartbreaking because she is not here to see it.

What I don't want to get drawn into is investing too much in the particular sentence dished out to the accused. We made a deliberate choice while I was still in the ICU not to put any energy into getting angry at him, but to focus on us getting better, taking care of our girls and remembering Z. I've spent enough years as a lawyer to know that there is no point expecting a court outcome to "fix" things. He is being held accountable for his actions, and after yesterday I feel like he has some idea of what impact his actions caused.

We've felt a huge wave of love in the last 24 hours from family & friends and from so many people who've seen the news. She's made her mark, our gorgeous girl.

(Oh, I'm so nervous about putting her picture up here! But you are all lovely and deserve to see her.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A breather

It's been a very intense couple of weeks, and finally, I've finished teaching for the semester (and for the year!) so I'm taking my therapist's advice and taking a week off work. We've got the sentencing hearing coming up in early November, and writing up my victim impact statement and supporting the girls and El Prima while they write theirs is about the only 'must do' thing on my list for next week.

Apart from that, there will be catching up with friends, planting vegies, playing in the garden and knitting.

Lots of this:

Our front yard - with the sage and lavender in flower and broad beans going gangbusters

* * *

The other thing hovering on the horizon is an exhibition opening on Friday night. One of the odd things that happened with the accident was that I suddenly became obsessed with taking photos... (I'm embarrassed to say this) of myself. At first it was to capture all the crazy bruising and gruesome wounds/ scars - I have a whole album of these ones - macabre but colourful - but then it became something I could do when I was alone in the hospital and trying to make sense of the senseless. (Here's a tip. You can't make sense of the senseless. All you can do is document it)

I needed to work out who this crazy lady in the mirror was and whether there was still any connection with the pre-accident me who felt like a very different person. And, given that a death had occurred within my body, was I really alive, or perhaps I'd missed something and I had actually died in the accident too? (I've seen The Sixth Sense, I know that it is important to check, even if you *think* you are alive.)

I'd had an obsession with Frida Kahlo as a sixteen-year-old, so I knew that she'd also survived a road accident and had lost babies (though not at the same time). So I took her as my 'recovery mentor' and made the decision that I was going to use art and writing to lever my way through. For a while, taking photos and writing was what I did. In hospital, I had to rely on carers to do the most basic things for me, and I no longer had my work to do or a family around me to organise and feed and transport to places. It meant that I had a strange trauma-led renaissance - as though the only way I could handle the onslaught of grief and trauma was by spilling it all from my head onto the page or into images.

One of the outcomes were these strange computer-animated self-portraits which blink in grief and disbelief.

They're being exhibited as part of a show put on by the Transport Accident Commission of artwork by survivors of road accident trauma. (It feels very odd to be a 'survivor'. I used to think that survival was a pretty low expectation to meet, but now I realise what a bloody effort it can be.)

* * *

It is halloween / all hallows eve and I'm thinking about ghosts. Apparently I'm not the only one. In fact it was Angie and Jenni's very apt words that tapped my thinking on this. Come haunt me, baby daughter, I miss you.

(First roses of the season - I've become a big gardening nerd and can't help myself taking photos of plants and flowers.)

** EDITED TO ADD** Oops - for some reason the .gif file is huge. But I rather like the effect when the webpage cuts of half my face, so I think I'll leave it. Please let me know if it does terrible annoying things on your computer.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Conversation a hypothetical crazy lady might have with herself

Scene: toilet cubicle, pub. I'm rummaging in my handbag.

Me (to body) : So what was that about, all that nausea?

Body: (shrugs shoulders in a sulky way)

Me: I mean, I still feel green and spewy. Should I be seeing a gastroenterologist?

Body: Maybe it's in your head.

Me: Oh - in *my* head? Physical symptoms?

Body: (shrugs again) Even after a negative test result you wouldn't believe it.

Me: I took it 4 days early, so it was only 74% accurate.

Body: I thought testing early was supposed to shortcut all this drama.

Me : No, I'm afraid not. Last time I trust that theory. Or you and your "symptoms".

Body: (dissolves into a weeping hormonal mess)

Me: You really wanted that test to be wrong didn't you?

Body: (nods)

Me: Yeah, me too. I'm sorry I called you a weepy hormonal mess.

Body: I'm sorry I implied you were delusional.

Me: (glares for a second) Hmph. Speaking of which, I should probably stop talking to you as though you had a separate consciousness.

Body: Oh yes. But remember, you promised blue cheese and oysters if this happened?

Me: Yes yes. Enjoy it while you can, we're on again in November.

(I finally find something small and white - not edelweise - in the side inside pocket of my handbag.)

Yep, it's day one again, and even though it is the first month we've tried since losing Z, it still feels like groundhog's day. And as philosophical as I can be in my head about percentages and buying our lottery ticket, flipping our coin and whatever stupid metaphor you want to use, I'm still crushed because I'm a dirty hope addict, and I really did think something miraculous might happen. Bugger.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

5mm per minute

Yep, that is the speed that sperm can swim through an aqueous medium. That alone should tell you how productive I have been today. I know I'm torturing myself, but the issue is, we had insems on 9 and 10 october, but then I had EWCM (if you don't know what that means, it is probably for the best) on the 12th and then a postive LH test on the 13th, indicating that ovulation would happen within 12-36 hours. So, to have any chance at their booty, the sperm would need to have hung around for a good 4 to 5 days. And of course I had to turn to Dr Google for help.

Aside from the hilarous responses on yah.oo answers to "how long does sperm last within the human body?" (my favorites were "too long!" and "two days if you are trying to get pregnant, five days if you don't want to get pregnant"), I found this delightful article about Sperm Transport in the Female Reproductive Tract. I love that! All those little sperm thinking, what kind of transport should I use? Should I catch the bus? Or ride my teensy sperm-sized motorbike?

And a bonus - the article features a picture of sperm nestling into a "ciliated area of Fallopian tube epithelium" - please tell me this doesn't remind you of Nemo hanging out among the fronds of the sea anenome? (the white arrows point to the heads of the sperm)

Image from here.

I was reading out bits of this article to El Prima, and told her sperm had a usual swimming speed of 5mm per minute, and she said, that's faster than Ian Thorpe. Indeed it is. Given that sperm are only 5 microns in size (admitedly not including their tails), it would be like Ian Thorpe swimming at 1200 km per hour!

The upshot is, who knows. Who knows whether they got there in time, who knows whether they survived long enough. I got sad news yesterday that my friend doing IVF had a negative blood test - and am hoping the little fertility charm works for her next time. We're still waiting for our lottery ticket to be called, but in the meantime, I'm distracting myself with all these scientificky words:

In the uterus, muscular contractions may enhance passage of sperm through the uterine cavity. A few thousand sperm swim through the uterotubal junctions to reach the Fallopian tubes (uterine tubes, oviducts) where sperm are stored in a reservoir, or at least maintained in a fertile state, by interacting with endosalpingeal (oviductal) epithelium. As the time of ovulation approaches, sperm become capacitated and hyperactivated, which enables them to proceed towards the tubal ampulla. Sperm may be guided to the oocyte by a combination of thermotaxis and chemotaxis. Motility hyperactivation assists sperm in penetrating mucus in the tubes and the cumulus oophorus and zona pellucida of the oocyte, so that they may finally fuse with the oocyte plasma membrane.

So now I've got scientific evidence that fertilization can occur when the sperm arrive "up to five days before ovulation". Which leaves me singing my strangely hopeful little song, "Who knows, who knows who knows who knows".

Monday, October 11, 2010

Back in the game (yes, I'm a big superstitious hippy)

It was well past midnight when we finally got home from our flight from Sydney after our weekend of "baster-related" activities. El Prima was exhausted, and went straight to bed, and I meant to, but I kept coming back to the lucky 10c piece which we'd found yesterday (on the lucky date of 10/10/10).

I'd spent Saturday afternoon with a dear friend who is doing IVF, and had an embryo transfer on Friday, and we sat there eating yum cha - compatriots in this strange lottery of trying to get pregnant. When I found out that she was having the transfer, and that we'd cross paths in Sydney, I suddenly felt very pagan, and adapted one of my mum's shell mobiles to craft a little fertility charm for her - copper wire, mother-of-pearl, a shell spiraling into itself and infinity, and purple cotton yarn to connect all these things.

So when I got home to our house, quiet with the girls sleeping, I thought, I need to mark this moment - to embrace the hope and to give my little pagan thanks that we are finally back in the game - and to somehow weave together our love and grief for Z with the hope that one day we might bring home a living brother or sister for her. In the two days we'd been away, the sage bush in our front yard had burst into dark purple leafed flower. I went out, in the mild spring night, and cut two sprigs, and put them in the cornelia shot glass in our bathroom. I tucked the 10c piece into one of the shells which hang above the bath (also from my mum). And then, with the same special matches I use to light Z's candle, I lit a new little light.

Who knows what will happen? We've tossed* the coin, now we just have to wait two weeks to see which way it lands. We might be lucky, or it might take us a long time. But I'm so glad to at least be back in the game. Wish us luck. (and tell me, do you have little luck rituals? Do they work for you(either to make the good things happen, or to make you feel better about the trying)? I felt so secretive and embarrassed about this - I wasn't sure whether to post it or not. I know it doesn't make sense, and I know that these things won't change our odds, but they do help my heart, so that I can sit with this uncertainty and not let it drive me crazy)

And in related fertility news, look at my broad beans! We ate our first little crop tonight, with fresh tagliatelle, pesto and parmesan. So so good.

* ahem!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

afteriris response on good birth

EDITED TO ADD: **oops. I didn't mean to publish this as a post at all, only to save it somewhere before I posted it as a comment at Jess' blog, After Iris, in response to her brilliant discussion on what a "good birth" means for dead baby mamas. But since I stuffed up, I may as well leave it here, and extend the conversation. Is there such thing as a "good" birth when your baby dies? **

I was all geared up to (hopefully) have a birthing centre birth, and almost had a pre-emptively smug sense that I would be one of those women able to birth easily, along with a huge dose of anxiety just in case I wasn't. And when the accident happened, when the ambulance crew arrived and I realised that the car wasn't going to explode (I'd seen petrol leaking from the car that hit us and was worried because I was trapped in the car), I thought, it will all be okay. And I naively thought - I hope they don't give me a C-section. As if that was the worse that could happen. Ha.

I couldn't even let myself think that haloumi had died. She was right there, she'd been hiccoughing all morning.

Once we were at the hospital and it was clear that she'd died and that I had internal bleeding, I thought they would do a caesar right away, so I was very surprised when they told me they would try to induce me. So there I was, labouring with a broken knee and liver and spleen lacerations (and, thankfully, with lots of morphine). Except that it wasn't in fact labour, but couvelaire uterus, so that my contractions were six minutes each.

And as crappy as that was, it was the "best bit" of the whole affair. The sense of emergency was over, I'd been released from the horribly uncomfortable spinal board and neck brace, and I could try and move my body of my own volition, albeit with drips and bandages and monitors all over me. My mum and sister were there and had brought in my birthing CD, so the whole emergency room was subjected to hippy affirmations about breathing. And I thought, this is something important I can do for my child. This may be all the mothering I get to do for her. I also had a beautiful midwife who really did abide with me, in the way that yours should have Jess - she was there, she was with us, she did not look away for a second.

And when I had to get sent off for a caesar anyway (because of the internal bleeding) she helped us pick a receiving blanket for Z from the baby things my mum had made. And when I woke from the anaesthetic, the first thing I saw was her coming towards me to show me a photo of my daughter.

I'm still sad that I had a caesar, because it meant I had less time with her, and I didn't get to do something I was really looking forward to. But I'm not going to beat myself up about it, and I'm certainly going to be much less judgmental about others who have caesarians - because who knows what their reasons were (and why is it any of my business anyway)?

So, yes, I think conversations about a 'good birth' (ie a well-supported one, not any particular exit route) are really important for babylost mothers. Women are so vulnerable in birth and doubly vulnerable when they are grieving their child at the same time. In a way it makes good birth support even more important. Thanks for making me think about it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Blowing bubbles at the big sky

We've been off to the Agricultural Show with the lovely baybeasts ladies and their gorgeous family - including one nanna, and a Jinny-in-arms. Amidst the flashing lights of the rides, the softness of sleeping calves, and press of human traffic, we were accompanied the whole way by Huey's laughter, Arlo's questions, and the occasional "quack" from Jinny. Such a good remedy for a weary week, especially when our girls are away with El Prima's family for the school holidays and the house feels very quiet.

And as though I needed a big sign saying "You are turning the corner", lovely Anne of Harvey's World has nominated me for this:

Just the thought of having to pick ten other blogs to nominate made me so nervous that I've sat on this for a week and a half, but the time to 'pay it forward' is now well overdue. The support lovely people like you have given me via this blog has been amazing. There are certain comments which stay with me, and which have helped me through the really rough bits. Thank you and huge love to all of you.

the rules are....
1. Accept the award and post it on your blog with the name of the person who has granted the award and his/her blog link.
2. Pay it forward to 10 other bloggers that you have newly discovered.
3. Contact those blog owners and let them know they have been chosen.

But my extra rule is, if you are not a rule-following type, feel free to accept and just bask in the glow.

So here are ten extra lovely blogs:

1. Schrodinger at Schrodinger's womb
2. Ping at Pigs and Bishops
3. Ya Chun at She Almost Made it
4. Mariana at A Lifetime Ahead to Remember Her
5. Bean and Sorensen at Baybeasts
6. Pomegranate
7. Jeanette, my favorite http://www.lazyseamstress.blogspot.com/ (I'm yet to see any evidence of this "laziness")
8. Catherine W who sits Between the Snow and the Huge Roses
9. Jess of After Iris
10. Brianna at daily amos

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Even Clare Bowditch can't make it better today.

I have an arsenal of things to make it better. I found some new weapons for the armory on Friday, when I discovered that the song I had in my head on Thursday, the rhythm which pushed me through the cross-examination and over to the other side was Clare Bowditch's modern day addiction. Please, go listen to it here, and tell me how good it is! The fact that she sang on Q&A makes it even better.

But as good as she is, she's not fixing me today, not on a monday, with a pile of papers to mark and a huge aching to know what my nearly nine-month old daughter's cheeks would have hypothetically looked like.

So I'm moving down the arsenal, next thing on the list. What is that? It is a toss up between chocolate and sitting in the courtyard waiting to see a blue wren or a red rumped grass parrot. Here's one for your benefit. They are more consoling in real life, I promise.


Warrior Two

The night before the hearing I went to yoga, and we did the warrior two pose (it looks like this ) and I stared along my outstretched arm and middle finger as though I had magic laser eyes, able to bore into the back of any given lawyer's skull. And I felt strong, even though that glare isn't quite strong enough to push a hurtling 4WD out of your path (I tried that, as well as various other things, and nothing worked). When I'd first re-taught my broken knee to bend, in the first few weeks after leaving hospital, there was a day when I got my yoga mat out put the crutches aside, and moved slowly into Warrior Two. El Prima and my mum stood in the doorway and cheered, and I stared along the line of my arm and thought, "bring it on universe - if you want to mess with me, I will take you on." It doesn't last all that long, but I have to grab those moments of strength when I can.

The hardest and the best bit for me about yoga is the part where you are doing something difficult, where it feels like your bones just cannot move the way you are asking them to. It is uncomfortable and your initial reaction is, no - enough, I can't do this. But then you notice the discomfort, acknowledge it, breathe in, and then as you breathe out, you move past it. You ask an open question of your body, and sometimes your body responds in surprising ways. Things unfold, settle, stretch. And you realise that the thing you had thought was imaginably difficult - well, you've already been doing it for 30 seconds. The answer was there all along, within you, you just needed to ask the right question, and to listen patiently for an answer.

It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, it is good. It restores my faith, it reminds me that sometimes my body knows more than my mind.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Me, Lindy & Feminism

I was nearly four years old when Azaria Chamberlain disappeared. The controversy surrounding her mother, Lindy Chamberlain, who was accused of murdering nine week old Azaria, formed such a interwoven part of the cultural carpet of growing up in Australia in the 1980s, that it took me a while to realise, first, what an extraordinary woman Lindy Chamberlain is and second, that I now have several things in common with Lindy. It bothers me that I have some kind of cultural cringe in saying these two things. But when I got over having to look at the Herald-Sun website*, and read her letter, it hit me like a tonne of bricks:

"It is hard to believe it is thirty years today since my darling baby was taken.

For some odd reason everyone says you will soon forget.

Why is it that people expect me to forget a part of myself? Why would you? Loss of a loved one, particularly a child is not something you forget any more than you can get out of your mind that you once attended school.

That does not mean you dwell on it all the time. It is simply there in the fabric of your life and history. In some ways it seems forever and in others it is like yesterday still."

Image from here (Papers donated by Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton to the National Library of Australia)

For all the movies and telemovies and tabloid newspapers and magazine coverage, I had somehow forgotten that this woman lost her baby - lost her beloved 9-week-old daughter. And suddenly I thought, here is a woman who has survived babyloss - and she seems so functional. Not just losing a daughter (and never having the chance to say goodbye, because her body was never found), but on top of that, being accused of killing your baby as part of some cult ritual, enduring more trials, inquests and royal commissions than have ever been held on the one issue in Australia, being jailed and separated from her living children for over three years, and being at the centre of a media circus for most of two decades. And yet, here she is, self-possessed and able to articulate her position clearly and passionately. I think she deserves some credit for that.

But I also think of Lindy whenever I have one of those awkward moments when I'm out somewhere, I've pulled it together and am actually enjoying talking to people, but then I have to tell someone what happened to us, and their natural reaction is shock and sadness. And they look at me, and I'm not weeping and falling to pieces, in fact, I want the conversation to move on, and I wonder whether they think I'm some monster who doesn't care that her baby died. I need a little sign that says, "Yes, I do care. This is the saddest thing that has ever happened to me. My grief is huge and voracious and has eaten huge amounts of my time and energy and personality. But right now, I've got it on a leash and feel like I'm in control of it. Don't start poking at it now, or it will chew my leg off before your very eyes. I need my grief to behave in public, for my own sanity and dignity."

I wonder - why do I care so much about whether people think I'm grieving "enough" or in the ways that they would expect? What standard am I trying to perform to here? If I don't fit within one stereotype ("good grieving mother, tragic, weeping") does that automatically push me into another stereotype ("bad, uncaring mother")? And this is where it comes back to Lindy, and to the way she was demonised by the media for appearing to be 'cold' when she had to give evidence at her trial for her daughter's murder. We grieve in the shadow of all these myths surrounding Lindy Chamberlain. For me it is a reminder of why we need feminism - to remember the force that stereotypes have over women, the way in which our bodies and stories are so often appropriated for other peoples' purposes. That sometimes we need to claw away all the stereotypes and speak for ourselves.

I have to give evidence tomorrow. Unlike Lindy, I won't be on trial for killing my daughter (someone else will be, though he's being charged with dangerous driving causing serious injury, not with with murder). But I'll be thinking of Lindy, and wearing sunglasses on the steps of the courthouse in her honour, and in memory of Zainab and Azaria and all the babies that we wish were here with us.

* I'm trying to think of the UK / US equivalents for the Herald Sun. Maybe the National Enquirer or The Post? Just think tabloid journalism at its trashy finest.

** I've re-posted this to get the date right

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Here's my hope - squish it in your doctorly hands!

Okay, that is probably a bit melodramatic, but we're out of the baby-making game again for this month.

Yes, our clinic does allow you to take home frozen sperm for an at-home insem;
yes, they understand that trying again is a huge part of our emotional recovery;
yes, there would be enough sperm...
But no, you can't have it, because in order to use sperm for a take-home insem, the donor must have specifically consented to that at the time of donating.... Which in our case, was 2007, in Sydney, at a clinic with different policies where no such question was ever asked. So, no, we can't take our long-suffering sperm home for any insems this cycle. All the clinic options are out because they would only want to do a 'controlled' cycle so that they could trigger ovulation, because of our thawed sperm motility issues.

The 'good' news is that the doctors are happy to agree that I'm medically sub-fertile (rather than just willfully socially infertile in a lesbian way) - meaning we can claim a medicare rebate bringing the cost of IVF down from astronomical to just painfully extortionate. But before we're allowed to do IVF we need another counselling appointment and another appointment with a nurse who can tell us how babies are made. Just what we need. In a very different context, last week I met the CEO of the local qango which decides who is allowed to make babies without having sex and I had to restrain myself from breaking into the crazy-lady voice and ranting, "How many hoops exactly do you want us to jump through? How many?!"

But given that our donor, J, will be in the country next month, and is happy to make the interstate trip for a fresh donation, we're going to give that a go first. Dear Universe, it happened once. Please let it happen again. I just want that feeling of small knees and elbows tapping out a message, that warmth and potential. And I'd really like to finish the story this time - not with a memorial service, and condolence cards and a small amount of ashes falling through our hands, but with a new little voice crying and baby eyes which open and move. I have this sense that somewhere, Z has found her little sibling soul, and is whispering in their ear, giving them kisses and just waiting for us to get organised with all this fertility stuff. We're nearly there, my darling, nearly there.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Crazy-lady messages = Massive Win!

After leaving another message with the private rooms of Dr NSFU*

- mentioning that even though I may not be her private patient, she has nonetheless made a decision delaying our treatment which I would like to talk to her or another doctor about;

- explaining that the clinic had not called me back after numerous messages; and

- saying the magic words "Health Services Commissioner"...

I got a call back from the clinic - yes, they can fit us in for an appointment tomorrow!

Woo hoo! So at least we get to talk to a doctor who can make a decision, and we've got a chance of at least starting this cycle.

Thank you all for your support and good wishes - clearly the universe's desperate wish facility is in working order today (for us at least). Now perhaps I can devote my brain to what it really should be doing... (marking take-home exams and fixing footnotes)

love and wishy goodness to all of you,


* No sperm for you! (unless you jump through hoops 1 through to 267... )

Celebratory picture of the Milagros a friend gave me which graces our front door. Until I read Angie's post I had no idea what it was, just that it was meant to bring good luck. Gracias mi milagra! [and apologies for the lousy spanish]

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I don't like Patience. Not the word, not the f***ing awful Bon Jovi song, not the concept. Maybe the flower? Oh wait - that's impatiens - much more my style.

But I thought I was doing an okay job of being all philosophical and willing to deal with our clinic delaying IUI treatment for another month. And okay, so it turns out freezing techniques do terrible things to our donor's samples, so our odds are actually pretty lousy. But you'll still let us try this month, won't you? They were going to tell me last Friday, then I was promised an answer yesterday. While the rest of the country was hanging around to see whether we'd finally know who would be Prime Minister for the next couple of years , I was waiting for a phone call from our clinic. Finally, they called, and said, yes, you can go ahead as long as you have an appointment with Dr Sp.ermLibrarian so he can explain exactly what lousy chances you have using IUI and why you really should be spending $7ooo a month to do IVF with ICSI. Okay, yes, I can have an appointment, that is fine - just give us the bleeping sperm and let me get on with my delusion of thinking that I am doing something towards falling pregnant again...

But the problem, only apparent this afternoon, is that Dr Sp.ermLibrarian is all booked out until mid October, and no, treatment can't go ahead until I've sat in a consult with him and listened carefully to him telling me just how bad our chances are with IUI. Mid october would put us out for two cycles. When I pointed this out, the receptionist was kindly able to find us an appointment for 4 october. But that still means that we miss this cycle. So I'm leaving crazy-lady messages for the Clinician who made this decision (but who has never met us), and then when her receptionist called back to tell us to talk to the Drs at the Womens, leaving crazy-lady messages for them too. Little do they know that isn't half of the crazy. If this goes on, well, there might just be a huge crazy-quake in which I stage a full public melt-down in the foyer of the Womens.

This feels like a bizarre form of torture by bureacracy. I can't call any of the people who can actually change the decision which affects me. Most of them have never met me. I have told everyone I speak to, 'you know what happened to us, don't you - you know that we lost our baby at 8 months?' and all the receptionists and "donor managers" apologise and express their sympathies, but tell me their hands are tied, not their decision.

I'm at the stage of saying, just give it to us and we can at least do a home insem this month - go on, play along with my delusion that I have some control over what happens in my life, please!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

hey you!

I rang my sister the other day. It went a bit like this:

Me: "blah blah about stuff in my life blah"
Sister: "I know, I've been reading your blog."
Me: "oh - you have? You secret squirrel you! blah blah what a lovely sister you are but how come you never comment blah."

I've had similar conversations with a few other friends. It does feel nice, to know that loved ones are reading, and have a bit of a picture of the multiple roller-coaster-riding life here at chez sesame-seed. It means a huge amount to know that. I won't go all comment-nazi on you, but I've now changed the settings to make it easier for people to comment anonymously if they want to, and thought I would open up this post - if you normally visit quietly, please feel free to stick your head up in the comments and say hello this time. xxxxh

Spring and the Coping / Not Coping Ratio

This is my little measure of the good and the bad days - the ratio of coping: not coping time. The not coping has been kicking my arse lately. I have no hesitations about weeping on public transport these days.

So I've had to rely heavily on the campus ducks and cockatoos - they do a fabulous job at cheering me up on the way in / out of work.

But watching spring happen in the garden helps too. The little succulent which I planted from a cutting a few weeks ago suddenly has a bright magenta bud, which goes from this in the early morning:

to this when the sun comes out:
And then there are the broad beans:

and the blossom on the pear tree on our nature strip:

And on the blossom a bee:
Wishing you good things for Spring! (or autumn/fall if that is where you are)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Inside-out Day

Friday was the 27th - eight months since our accident. I was trying to figure out why it felt so much harder than seven months. We were in Singapore at the seven month mark, and somehow felt like we were "on holiday" from the grief. I'd just given my conference paper and we had a little holiday ahead of us. I felt close to Z, but the grief felt distant, smoother. Eight months isn't half a year, it didn't make sense for it to be any harder than seven months. The answer was so obvious it took me a while to realise. She lived eight months in my belly, and from now on she would have been dead longer than she existed. I spent eight months gearing up to be a mother, and then the pendulum swung back, and I feared that my whole pregnancy has now unwound - that I'm back to where I started. I know that doesn't really make sense, but it feels like some strange marker. It wasn't such a desperate sadness as the six month anniversary - I feel like I've built her memory into our lives more now.

I dreamt last night that someone was giving away a baby car seat and pram for free - and El Prima and I were discussing - is it too soon to start buying baby things again? I woke, and she'd had a very similar dream - that we'd won baby things in a competition, and were toying with the idea of bringing them home.

Maybe this means we are ready to start again, to push the pendulum back in the direction of hope.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


(Photo by Rober McKechnie)

This Bookbook owl in our local paper made my morning. Look at those eyes!

It feels like spring is coming, like something is lifting. I love Anne's phrase that she is "ready to bloom again". Me too, soon, I hope.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Day one - nearly!

I was so ready to step from the grief rollercoaster onto the TTC (trying to conceive) rollercoaster, or, more realistically, to try some Evil-Kenevil feat of riding both rollercoasters at once. And we'd been working with our clinic since march to try to make sure that could happen in August. August is the month which has been dragging me through, pulling me forward through the treacle.

So when I hit day one of my cycle last weekend, I thought, woo hoo. I woke up with that birthday feeling, this is the month that something might happen. Well, lots of things will happen in August, but trying to get pregnant won't be one of them. Our frozen "samples" (I love that euphemism - samples of what?) have arrived from the Sydney clinic, but the doctors won't let us use them just yet because they arrived without all the paperwork, and because in any case, the Sydney clinic hasn't done all the barrage of tests which the Melbourne clinic requires, and which will take another week to do. Thus taking us out of our window of opportunity for this month. Bureaucracy 1, babymaking 0. Grrr.

I did have a post half-written about all the good things that have happened in the gap between posts, about the amazing feeling of getting a glimpse of pre-accident me, feeling (even temporarily) well, whole, able to plot out an idea, an argument. All that is still a big step, it was lovely while it lasted. And I'm sure that in September, when we really truly will hit "day one", this sadness will feel like a blip. I'll know that it may have had just as much to do with the nasty headcold, the rain. But today, it feels like a continuation of all the waiting, and I'm getting petulant. I'm trying to bandaid together these little bits of hope. Here is my one certainty, this situation will pass.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Haloumi Star Sign

I've been on a hiatus, but it has been a good one. When I started work in April, I made a ridiculous commitment to give a paper at a conference at the end of july. I'd drafted the proposal for the paper back in November, in that other life I had, pre-accident, thinking, perhaps Haloumi would be ready to travel overseas at 6 months so that she could accompany El Prima and I to the conference. It would be in Singapore - some welcome heat in the middle of our winter, and we'd have a fat, sturdy baby who could hopefully adapt well to travel. Or maybe she wouldn't, and we could cancel the trip - I was happy to put it at the mercy of our imagined baby-parenting lives.

By the time I found out that my proposal had been accepted, my life was almost unrecognisable: no baby or pregnant belly, broken knee, scarred body, new city, no busy working life, and a strange weepier, more fragile version of myself. The way I walked, the clothes I wore, the things I needed to do to get myself out the door, the small things I needed to have close to me - it was as though I'd developed this new invalid personality. But I knew that I would need some kind of deadline if I hoped to get any research done in this new job, and there was nothing like a conference paper to spur me into action.

I couldn't get funding for it, I had to pay for it myself, but I needed a date to work forward towards. As the date got closer, as June and July dissolved into more grief and sadness, I thought, "I've made a terrible mistake - I won't be able to do this. The bit of me that could draw research together and write is gone." But I had to come up with something.

And somehow, I did. It was only after I became too tired to be tired, and too panicked by the deadline to panic, that from weariness came something that was there all along. For a little while, I had my concentration back, and I could look at all my work and pull the threads together, say what I needed to say.

It was such a relief, to get a taste of that pre-accident me, to remember that I'm still there, that the sadness hasn't wiped away everything.

El Prima came with me, and after the conference, we took a bus, then a boat out to a little malaysian island - adrift not only in the South China Sea, but when nighttime came - also in the middle of the Milky Way. I've never seen so many stars.

One of the lovely things some friends did for us after Z died was to band together and to name a star after her. We have a chart, a certificate and everything. After a few unsuccessful attempts at finding her particular star with zero astronomical knowledge (and without a telescope), we've taken to appropriating whichever star we liked as 'her' star. Usually, for me, it is the first star I see in the west as I'm walking home from the tramstop. Given its brightness, I think it may actually be a planet (maybe Venus?). But that night on the island, our heads together and our toes in the sand, El Prima and I saw a shooting star, and felt like she'd sent it for us - a tiny solitary haloumi firework.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


here's what I've caught and dragged home this time.

This from Catherine, a poem from her daughter Olivia's memorial service:

The End

It is time for me to go, mother; I am going.
When in the paling darkness of the lonely dawn
you stretch out your arms for your baby in the bed,
I shall say, “Baby is not there!”–mother, I am going.

I shall become a delicate draught of air and caress you;
and I shall be ripples in the water when you bathe,
and kiss you and kiss you again.

In the gusty night when the rain patters on the leaves
you will hear my whisper in your bed,
and my laughter will flash with the lightning
through the open window into your room.

If you lie awake, thinking of your baby till late into the night,
I shall sing to you from the stars, “Sleep mother, sleep.”

On the straying moonbeams I shall steal over your bed,
and lie upon your bosom while you sleep.

I shall become a dream,
and through the little opening of your eyelids
I shall slip into the depths of your sleep;
and when you wake up and look round startled,
like a twinkling firefly I shall flit out into the darkness.

When, on the great festival of puja,
the neighbours’ children come and play about the house,
I shall melt into the music of the flute and throb in your heart all day.

Dear auntie will come with puja-presents and will ask,
“Where is our baby, sister?”
Mother, you will tell her softly,
“He is in the pupils of my eyes, he is in my body and in my soul.”

~ Rabindranath Tagore

And then this, from Zan:

To Impatience

Don't wish your life away
my mother said and I saw
past her words that same day
suddenly not there
nor the days after
even the ones I remember

and though hands held back the hounds
on the way to the hunt
now the fleet deer are gone
that bounded before them
all too soon overtaken
as she knew they would be

and well as she warned me
always calling me home
to the moment around me
that was taking its good time
and willingly though I
heeded her words to me
once again waking me
to the breath that was there

you too kept whispering
up close to my ear
the secrets of hunger
for some prize not yet there
sight of face touch of skin
light in another valley
labor triumphant or
last word of a story
without which you insisted
the world would not be complete
soon soon you repeated
it cannot be too soon

yet you know it can
and you know it would be
the end of you too only
if ever it arrives
you find something else missing
and I know I must thank you
for your faithful discontent
and what it has led me to
yes yes you have guided me
but what is hard now to see
is the mortal hurry

– W.S. Merwin, from Present Company, 2005, Copper Canyon Press

I feel odd, asking a little question into the quiet space of this blog, but let me experiment. Which poems do it for you? (and what is it they do?)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Little Sister Lionheart

Two hospital rooms, twenty six years apart. In one, I learned to read. Not to spell out letters or say the words - I'd learnt how to do that at school. But to read - to breathe in a story, to weave your own dreams from its dangling threads, to leap wholeheartedly and without realising you've leapt into another person's world.

The book was The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren - it still rates as my favorite book of all time.

It didn't strike me until a few years ago that perhaps a book that starts with two little boys dying might be considered slightly morose reading for seven year-old in hospital. But it wasn't morose, not in the least, because dying was just the kicking-off point for marvellous adventures for these boys in a world where they could fight dragons, and lead revolutions, and learn that sometimes, even people you loved failed you. This wasn't "heaven" and it certainly wasn't a cushy affair with clouds, harps and eternal life. In my pink pajamas and with my seven-year old certainty, I wasn't scared of dying then, and I didn't find out until years later what a close thing it had been for a moment there. But when my grandparents died, I thought of them as there, in Nangijala, going on with their slightly more adventurous lives and sending us a dove every now and then.

I hit a snag, though, in that second hospital room twenty-six years later, when the buzz of medical people doing things to various remote parts of me had stopped at last and I was left alone and with-it enough to think for the first time since the accident. My belly was still so swollen, but not with her - so where was she? We'd just farewelled her cold little face, so where was she - my moving, hiccoughing baby? Z was too small for adventures, too small for riding horses and fighting dragons. She was still too small to be away from me and my heartbeat, or to even know how the whole communication-via-doves thing works.

All I could think of was her howling, in a rustic-looking basket on someone's stone doorstep, and her little hands reaching up searching, and rustling the swaddling clothes. Someone would come, of course - but who? Some anonymous pre-modern wet-nurse? This was why I had to invent the idea of godparents, to populate her world with people we loved, who knew us and who could tell her how much we loved her, who could sort out doves for her. It kind of works, but it still feels like an invention. I've got nothing against delusions, if they work to make things feel okay, but perhaps this one of mine needs some finetuning. Maybe it needs to rest in my palm until the rough edges wear off and it becomes smooth and true.

Darling girl, we'd hoped your amazing beginning would be here with us, but since that time was so short, I love the idea that you are having an amazing beginning somewhere else, growing and learning, just like lhasa desela.

(thanks Kate for this post)

But really, I'm sure it isn't death that is such a difficult thing (she's through it, she's there, waving at me from the other side). It's the living without that is hard. Obvious, I'm sure, but true.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Irrefutable proof that I have already turned into my grandma

In an act of pure, leafy generosity, our camellia bush has burst into flower just as things have been extra rough. When everything else in the garden is doing its best dead stick impression, the camellia is relishing the cold and lavishing us with its pinky goodness.

El Prima has been sending me photos through the day at work just to cheer me up. I couldn't resist sneaking out in the cold morning and taking some photos. I don't think this counts as showing-off as we did absolutely nothing to deserve such a display - clearly she thrives on neglect.

I know! What is this - four posts within 24 hours? Unheard of. I think, though, it is a good sign. And thank you to A for pestering me about updating more regularly. You know who you are! Enjoy it while it lasts. xxxxh

Trying to make a baby by doing paperwork and having blood tests, part the three hundred and forty-one-th

Did I mention we're leaping onto that great roundabout again? Woo (excitedly restrained and slightly worried) hoo! We're discovering that the Victorian roundabout is a much more expensive and paperwork-bound one than the NSW one we left behind.

Oh how we long for the simple times of a 7am visit to our friends the vampire bees (aka fertility unit nurses at RPA - they take my blood and pollinate such blossoms as me who need help in the pollination department, you see). The NSW process did take an awfully long time, and wasn't terribly effective in the end (Halloumi was the result of our lovely donor collaborating in a sneaky home insemination, with El Prima doing the honours, after 8 months of unsuccessful frozen insems). But it didn't cost the multiple arms and legs that the Melbourne clinic seeks to relieve us of, and didn't require:
- a police check;
- a child welfare record check;
- an application for approval to a qango (if that is indeed what VARTA is);
- blood tests for El Prima (slightly odd, given that she's not undergoing fertility treatment); and
- enough forms to make a forest weep.

In addition, despite having been through a counselling process with our lovely donor back in Syd, we had to do it again, and have him come and give his consent *in person*, because Victorian ART law doesn't recognise NSW donor consents... The counselors and medical staff we've come across are all very apologetic, but there is no get-out-of-paperwork-free card just because we've already been through the process in NSW and lost our first baby.

But we do get a fancy booklet* explaining how my reproductive system works - so that makes it all worthwhile. I was wondering what that uterus was for... Cross fingers we get to put it to good use soon.

** PS
Dear Organon Generic Fertility Drug Company,

How kind of you to make us a little booklet about IUI (intrauterine insemination)! With diagrams! I was so excited to receive it, I didn't even care that all the pictures on the front, and back are of hetero couples looking hopeful and sly at the same time.

How helpful of you to tell us "which couples benefit" - listing the main indications for IUI as unexplained infertility, anti-sperm antibodies and mild endometriosis.
But I think you are missing a key indication for IUI here - how about: partner has no sperm-shooting penis, because she is a WOMAN? Certainly, most of the people I know using IUI would fit into this category.

You don't have to make the whole booklet about us, but I'm sure we give you decent market share - how abouts we get a tiny mention in your booklet? You do have a section entitled "whose semen?" after all - it could go in there - just before you do the suggestive up-sell about how donor insemination is an "emotionally difficult procedure" and this is why it is better to go for ICSI and IVF instead.

Ta very much,

H el R

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Funeral Appreciation

It's been a season of grief. Our own grief is becoming worn and supple, though it still catches at our heels, constrains the way we walk. We limp as veteran mourners into the new fresh grief of K & N and my cousin (whose husband of 22 years died suddenly two weeks ago). I'd never been to a funeral of someone younger than 60 before (how fortunate! what lucky planet was I living on?) - but we've been to two within a week now.

I now have a new appreciation for funerals - the time that goes into them, the importance of the small details, the careful, deliberate laying-down of ritual and memory. We sit on hard wooden benches, search for tissues, give much longer than usual hugs.

How precious it is to have a festival for the lost one you treasured - to put them in the centre, include them in the party one last time. At the funeral, two incompatible realities collide: "He is gone forever, we must say goodbye" and "he will always be here with us, in our hearts". Nothing can stitch those two opposites into a cohesive story, but this is the heaving, fractal reality. Instead we have to re-stitch our hearts around it - or let them break, brittle, on the floor. It hurts to stitch our hearts like this, when the needle goes in we think we cannot bear it a moment longer. We think everything our hearts are made of will shatter. Yet the laws of physics bend once again, and so do our hearts - sore and tortured by the thread - pulled painfully back into something heart-shaped.

I wished so much I could offer some sage advice to K & N on how to survive this loss, but the truth is that I'm no closer to finding "the secret" than they are. Surely, it isn't helpful to say, "If your loss is anything like ours, you will struggle to stay sane and find meaning, you will feel broken for a long time and your loss will creep its way into everything - your work, your sexlife, your friendships, and into the minutiae of what you wear and how you cook."

It is the truth - but it is also true that we have times when things feel good, when it feels like the edges are coming together and we can laugh.

And even if we did know the secret (I'm still hopeful) it would nonetheless be our secret to our loss, and would likely be helpless in the lock of their sadness.

I was so hesitant about coming back to Sydney - to look at these "before" places where the imprint of being pregnant and pre-accident is so fresh. But once we were here, things were nowhere near as raw as I had imagined. Yes, I was here before - we drove these streets in our now-dead car, my tummy rounded and living full of our now-dead baby. But things were wound-back then, and it felt good to remember that witless hopefulness and presumption that everything would be okay. We drove past our old house and parked across the road, and I thought of the last time we pulled the front door shut behind us.

We were sweaty and gritted with the dust that emerged from behind the furniture. It had been humid since I'd woken up in the summer morning dark, still filling boxes. From 8 weeks, Haloumi had been waking me early, but that morning it was my excitement as well as hers that propelled me out of bed - this was the day - the day we moved. After so many hours, our hands papered with corrugated cardboard and the sweetness of packing tape on our teeth, the truck had left - our things packed tight like tetris blocks. We'd tiptoed across the damp-mopped floors with the real estate agent to sign off on the condition report. The electricity company man had come and read the meter, and switched off the power. We'd wiped the place clean of our existence there.

The car was loaded with all our holiday things - I took it to fill up on petrol while El Prima and the girls walked to the chicken shop, and parked it across the road, its nose pointing west to the M5, and Melbourne. And we sat there - on the naturestrip across the road from our house (no longer our house) and had an impromptu picnic on the grass - relishing for a moment all the work of packing and the relief of finishing it.

I had worked so hard, and though at times my mum or El Prima or the removalists had told me to sit down and have a break, I felt strengthened by my very-pregnant state, not weakened by it. My belly was heavy, but even in my sweaty dirty state, sitting on the naturestrip eating take-away I felt like a trailer-trash goddess - beautiful and potent. Sitting in the car nearly seven months later with a saggy belly and our baby girl reduced to ashes, I could still feel the warmth of that December afternoon on the grass - gone forever, but always here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fierce with Love (Six Months without Haloumi Cheese)

27 June 2010
Something is different today. I woke in El Prima's arms, like last Sunday, but this time without sadness pulsating through my head to the tune of K's announcement that A had died. Today I can get up and decide what to do without tears, I can pull on my new, soft elephant t-shirt for the first time and think "maybe I can do this, maybe I can be like an mama elephant*, and be all the more fierce with love because of my loss".

So what happened to make this small welcome change? Partly the elephant t-shirt, a birthday present to myself. Partly spending Saturday night with friends, so that we could release balloons for little A, to mark his paris funeral. Partly having an hour holding our dear friend's 4 week old son, and drinking in his living baby features and living baby noises.

But a big part of it is also coming home to a parcel from sydney containing this:

I can't remember exactly when my friend Leo had started up our little stitch and bitch group - but it became a force of its own. Our formula was very simple - we'd lug sewing machines & sewing boxes over to someone's house, and spend the day eating pastries, drinking tea and talking, and eventually get around to sewing something.

Nearly every scrap of fabric in the banner I remember from a project - pajamas for Nik's son, a gift Leo was making, a dress for Cathy's daughter, the apron Belinda was making for her sister in law. And linking them all together - the green backing and the letter "O" is the fabric I found in a cupboard in a sharehouse in Brunswick over nine years ago. there was metres and metres of it, so at my last stitch and bitch before we left sydney, we cut it down the middle and I left them with half. As their little note said, Haloumi was a definite part of our stitch & bitch sessions together - both when we were wishing for her and when she was there in my belly, encouraging me towards another pastry. I wept, but my heart swelled and I felt humbled to be the recipient of so much stitched love.

* apparently a ridiculously huge proportion of first elephant pregnancies end in stillbirth, often after 22 months gestation. If you can find a reference for this then you are more dilligent than me. I promise you I read it somewhere. [<-- I would be in fits if any of my students tried to reference in this sloppy manner!]

When words failed me

and we were on opposite sides of the world, knitting seemed like the only thing I could do for K & N.

Flying home to this sad winter, with their baby boy in the luggage hold rather than bouncing in their laps, I thought a little bit of extra warmth wouldn't go astray.

Thanks P for the beautiful yarn.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Of Chickens, hatching and counting

** Thank you for your thoughts for our friends K & N and their loss of beautiful little A. We're resolving (as some of you kindly suggested) not to let this sink us further, but to hold strong for K & N and offer them all the love and help we can. **

Image from here.

El Prima got two job offers this week - very welcome news after months of searching. In my excitement I posted the news on FB before she'd received the formal offer, sending her into a spin of nervous worry that the offer would be withdrawn, that they would change their minds, that somehow, she'd have the rug pulled out from under her feet again.

It was silly of me, for we do not count chickens at our house anymore. But what do we do with good news - news that may still all go wrong, but for now, is worth celebrating? How do we celebrate it without jinxing ourselves, without inflating our hubris only for cruel-humoured deities to pop it at our expense?

We look at what we have right now, and we gently pat these warm, unhatched eggs. Not counting, just loving these little possibilities as they are right now. Who knows what will happen. Whether or not they ever peck their way out of their shells and into a chickeny future is not for us to know. But right now we have eggs, and we're going to enjoy them for their sheer eggy possibility.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

F**K NO, Universe, you have to be kidding me

I've just found out that dear friends of ours living in France have just lost their little boy - he was just over 6 months old - to SIDS. He was due just a month before Z, and we were so excited when we found out that we were pregnant at the same time. He was born just before Christmas, and we saw the first photos of him on Facebook on Christmas eve at my dad's house - resting the laptop on my huge Z-filled belly.

And now he's gone - or is lying cold in a paris hospital, while K & N try and get their heads around the fact that their beloved first born son just will not wake up.

What is it about death, that it has to be so damn permanent and non-negotiable? There is no 'maybe' left, only 'never'.

So I hope his little spirit is somewhere warm, somewhere good. And that he might just bump into Z and make knowing baby eyes at her. "You too, huh?"

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Poetry + Art First Aid

Mark Rothko, Orange and Yellow 1 from here.

Yesterday I tried all kinds of things to quell the weeping, and this was the only one that really worked - to memorise one of my favorite poems:


Children, if you dare to think
Of the greatness, rareness, muchness
Fewness of this precious only
Endless world in which you say
You live, you think of things like this:
Blocks of slate enclosing dappled
Red and green, enclosing tawny
Yellow nets, enclosing white
And black acres of dominoes,

Where a neat brown paper parcel
Tempts you to untie the string.
In the parcel a small island,
On the island a large tree,
On the tree a husky fruit.
Strip the husk and cut the rind off;
In the centre you will see
Blocks of slate enclosed by dappled
Red and green, enclosed by tawny
Yellow nets, enclosed by white
And black acres of dominoes,

Where the same brown paper parcel -
Children, leave the string untied!
For who dares undo the parcel
Finds himself at once inside it,
On the island, in the fruit,
Blocks of slate about his head,
Finds himself enclosed by dappled
Green and red, enclosed by yellow
Tawny nets enclosed by black
And white acres of dominoes,

But the same brown paper parcel
Still untied upon his knee,
And, if he then should dare to think
Of the fewness, muchness, rareness,
Greatness of this endless only
Precious world in which he says
He lives - he then unties the string.

It has provided comfort before, but there is something about being able to recite it in my head whenever things get too much that gives a settling feeling. I haven't yet memorised the whole thing - just the first two stanzas, but even that gives a little sense of completion.

I think I understand a link now between our loss and this terrible sense of being unable to follow anything through - it is as though my hope mechanism, my ability to imagine completing something, has been damaged. To take the hard small steps to get there, I need to be able to imagine getting there. And I'm hesitant to do that because all that we imagined for Haloumi was lost in a silly moment. I need a little splint for my broken hope bone, a poultice to lay upon it. And time for the bone to knit.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Here we are now

Most of the shock has worn off now, and we're just doing the daily grind of grief. The sadness is still huge, but we have to live with it now, work with it, breakfast with it and somehow go on.

Every now and then I think of a new part of the accident I hadn't processed before - my dad coming to the hospital, and I was so bossy telling him to go straight to El Prima (in another hospital across town) - when he must have been so shocked. He and my stepmum had been having dinner with family friends, and of course he wasn't answering his mobile during dinner when my sister was trying to call him to let him know what had happened. She had to ring around the family until she finally hit my stepsister, who knew where they were having dinner and called the landline.

Dad came to see me and then El Prima, and my stepmum went to the Children's hospital to be with the girls. She stayed there all night with them, until they were released the next day. Snazzy drew a picture of it later - of her and Snacky in their hospital beds, with our stepmama on a campbed between them, and tears on all their faces.

It still seems insane that such a tiny quick little moment of impact can send such huge ripples of loss through all our lives.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Corner - I am turning it!

It has all been so grey for the last few weeks, that I could hardly bear to inflict my sullen mood on anyone else but myself. But this week, I can not only see the corner, but am being happily dragged around it, primarily by beloved friends and family just coming and being with and sharing their sparkle.

In particular, here are some of the corner-turning things:

- Digging in the company of my dad and El Prima. The poor pomegranite is STILL not planted, but oh boy does it have a rolls royce hole to look forward to. We've just bought mushroom compost and mulch to mix in with the dirt, so planting is imminent. If I can keep up the digging, I think it can substitute completely for any SSRIs.

- Eating cake, drinking tea and extracting gardening advice with lovely new neighbours.

- This, courtesy of P. Plus, being plied with chocolate zuccini cake and home made anzac bickies!

- A farm visit with an old friend, and eyefuls of Mt Sturgeon, Mt Abrupt, wedge-tailed eagles and a ridiculously frisky three-week old foal.

- Tuesday night champagne with another old friend.

I know we might not be able to quite keep up this pace, but it does make things so much easier, being around lovely people.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


is the kind of thing I need to get me through the pile of marking I have before me:

TODAY by Frank O'Hara

Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
You really are beautiful! Pearls,
harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! all
the stuff they've always talked about

still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day
even on beachheads and biers. They
do have meaning. They're strong as rocks.


It's better than a bottle of gin in the desk drawer, isn't it?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Tofu-induced meltdown

We’re sick of the house, sick of our own misery and sick of each other’s company. So what is the best remedy for this malcontent? Clearly, wandering around IKEA with legions of pregnant women and parents holding small children behind every Billy bookcase is a fabulous idea.

Things started badly this morning when I woke early, and read the last few chapters of an unmentionable “children’s” sci-fi book. I had thought, given the irresistibly comforting premise the book begins with – in which all humans have their own spiritually-connected talking animal companion – that I could expect a happy ending, or at the very least a Harry Potter-esque happy-and-safe-for-now ending. But no. Apparently author Phillip Pullman has other ideas, which don’t include rounding off my escapist bout of children’s sci-fi in a gentle enough way so that I can start my Sunday morning without feeling like Armageddon is around the corner.

We entered the IKEA play-house with two very simple objectives, and neither of them was to be reminded that even if we buy all this stuff, our house will never look like an Ikea showroom. I think it must be a genetic thing – either you have the tidy-decluttering-clean-lines-matching-furniture-Ikea gene or you don’t, and El Prima and I clearly don’t. I don’t want you thinking we are complete grots - we do Make An Effort, and temporarily fight back the jungle on a regular basis, but with three pets and two teenagers, as well as our own messy selves, there is quite a bit of jungle to deal with.

If you’ve been to one of those water theme parks which has a canal section where everyone floats around the same circular route on giant inflatable donuts, then you may as well have been at Ikea with us, floating along a twisting series of Ikea-ized rooms, bumping up against pregnant tummies and living babies at every turn. I’m not mortally offended by all this evidence of everyone else’s successful fecundity, but it is hard to concentrate on finding semi-essential soft furnishings while I’m constantly playing games of “Would she have been about that big by now? Or fatter?”

Eventually, the current brought us along to the cashiers, and we piled our small pieces of pleasantly-smelling wood and nordic-looking fabric into our ridiculously small reusable carry bags. By then, shopping centre fatigue had set in, and it only took one song to make me weep in the car. From there it was only a short hysterical step to melt-down-land when I got home and realised that there was no tofu in the fridge for the one meal I could imagine making – green thai curry. It is a sad thing when you feel like you are useless at everything, including feeding your stubbornly vegetarian self some kind of protein on a regular basis. (“What about those teenage girls though?” I hear you cry. What indeed? Don’t fuss, El Prima keeps them well-supplied with meat, to their great joy, so I don’t need to fear for their protein / iron levels.)

Somehow, the lack of tofu, and consequent nutritional failure was the last straw on top of the giant haystack of things I’m not managing to do very well lately, including finding decent work clothes to wear, cleaning the house, being an academic, turning all this terribly sad emotional pain into some half-decent art / writing and being a likeable stepmother. But you’ve just lost your child, only four months ago – give yourself a little break – as a beloved friend was telling me just this morning. Yes, yes. Four months. How long will it take before I can function normally? I was doing it okay two days ago, or at least creating the appearance of it. If things fall apart only every second day, is that progress?

El Prima was lovely – Ikea and shopping centres don’t seem to have quite the same enervating effect on her. She let me weep all over her in the kitchen, and suggested we order in pizza. Instead, I marched off damp-eyed into the dark to hunt and gather tofu from the supermarket just to prove to myself that I could do the adult thing and make dinner. It was a pretty ordinary green thai curry, but it did have tofu in it, so there is hope – isn’t there?

(It’s been a very rhetorical post, hasn’t it? My apologies.)