"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.

Monday, January 31, 2011

In bud

At this morning's scan, there were about twelve follicles in bud. I'm sure that's not the technical term, but I like the idea of being in bud, like the branch of a plum tree, even if it is a chemically-induced harvest.

The buds above are from a Cannonball tree in Cairns, where I've been visiting my mum, brother & sister in law. Aside from growing amazing 'cannonball' like fruits, their flowers are amazingly complex and beautiful:

Thanks for bearing with me through all my little philosophical meanderings - it has been so good to have this time to think and write, and to have some amazing people to bounce these ideas around 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!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Close up with hope

(Andy Goldsworth, Sticks in cobweb Wales? May 1980, from here via the lovely Lis)

Recently, I've started feeling queasy about my own hope in the same way that I do with really corny advertising. It doesn't feel true. I know from experience that hopes can be shattered, even when you are being cagey, trying not to hope too much. I know at some level, that is why I hadn't finalised a name for Haloumi before she was born, hadn't found out her sex - I was trying to arm myself against hope. But I still believed in it - and attempting to guard against it was really just replacing overt hope with secret hope.

I've gone through life with a naive idea that things will work out, that if I'm calm and careful, it will all be okay. In that moment when the car stopped moving after the impact, when people had arrived on the scene and were helping us, when I'd been able to wriggle my toes, and didn't feel any pain in my uterus, I was so certain that Haloumi would be okay. I was good, I stayed calm, I did everything I could to cooperate with the paramedics and firefighters. I didn't even let the idea that she'd died enter my head - I kept my hand there, on my belly, inconveniencing all the doctors and nurses wielding dopplers and ultrasound wands, because I was trying to keep her alive by hope alone.

And I was so so wrong - she was so so dead - even by the time they got me in the ambulance. That doesn't mean that screaming and losing my shit would have been a better response - but it has taken me a long time to try to get my head around this broken hope. I know it makes no sense, but I'm so sad my hope wasn't strong enough, that it failed when put to the test.

So, I'm exploring a bit about hope, and Pema Chodron's suggestion - "if we're willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation".* That sounds quite stark, but I know from my story (and from most of yours) that there are no guarantees, that the ground can fall out from under you at any moment. So, this approach is realistic at least - there really is no hope that you could live your life with nothing bad ever happening to you. But is it 'psychologically healthy'? Wouldn't it be morbid and negative to be continually mindful of your complete lack of any security? It seems counter-instinctive that you could be both thinking about your 'groundlessness' and 'relaxing' at the same time. So far, though, trying out this groundlessness has been calming in an odd way. It is helping me drive the panics back a bit - or rather - to acknowledge them and sit with them rather than run around looking for something I hope might 'make it better'.

But I still find it very hard to embrace the idea that giving up hope is a good thing to do - or that it is a part of appreciating that life is full of impermanence and change. I like hope! I'm always hoping this, hoping that - for myself and for others I care about. So much of the culture I have grown up in is based on the idea that "things will get better", that the good life is normal. But there is also a big sense of relief in accepting that this is really a bit of a crock. Yes, there are heart-achingly beautiful, good things in the world, but they don't last forever, and death and cancer, and embarrassment and disappointment are part of the nature of being alive.

And this bit especially made sense to me:

"Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can't simply relax with ourselves. We hold onto hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. ... Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look....

We can drop the fundamental hope that there is a better "me" who one day will emerge. We can't just jump over ourselves as if we were not there. It is better to take a straight look at all our hopes and fears. Then some kind of confidence in our basic sanity arises."*

Now that I've started giving myself the tiny injections of the IVF drugs every morning (who knew they made such tiny fine needles! This is just like DIY acupuncture!), I know we're getting close to the extreme hope-dance that is an egg pick-up, an embryo-transfer. And I feel like I wasn't coping very well with hope for the last three cycles of TTC. So I'm going to try this groundlessness - to sit with the complete uncertainty at the heart of baby-making and do a bit less grabbing onto the hope of some other future moment making things better. Of course I want it to work. But I'm curious about how different things might feel if I just take each moment for the groundless, uncertain thing that it is.

I know this touches very close to peoples' belief systems and philosophy so I don't want to start any arguments, but I'm also curious about what you think - does this make sense to you? How do you deal with the hope thing - either around your grief (hoping it will get better, hoping you will hold your baby again one day) or TTC?

Fear is the other one I've been experimenting with, trying to get close up with. On the first day of our holiday we went white water rafting, and half an hour in, our guides pulled into a deep, still corner of the river, and pointed up. "See that little cliff?" they said, grinning. "You're going to jump off that". And we did. I felt the panic grip me and tell me to turn around, and I hesitated once, well, twice. But then I jumped, and the panic jumped with me and I screamed like a big girl and flapped my arms all the way down. The girls laughed their heads off. And I got to know my fear a little better.

(Someone else's splash, on a different river! Photo from here)

* Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart - Heart Advice for Difficult Times, Shambhala, Boston 2000, pages 44 and 41.

Monday, January 10, 2011


We've been back from Tasmania for a week exactly, but I've felt untethered and confused about what to do next. It was like I'd fallen off the edge of the map I'd made for myself. All that planning and booking and making tabulated itineraries for our travels, and then ... nothing.* Or, nothing except those dates on the calendar, which burn through from last year. It didn't help that my phone battery had died, and I hadn't bought a 2011 diary yet, so I didn't have a paper or electronic year to stick my life onto.

But my new diary arrived today, the phone is fixed again, and with a mostly restorative weekend under my belt, I'm feeling a bit more human. And every now and then I remember, yes, we are here, (mostly) whole and (mostly) sane, having made it past the anniversary of the accident and Z's death / birth. I was so scared of the 27th of December - it felt like a black hole threatening to suck us in. But in the end, it was just an ordinary/extraordinary day (as they all are) - arguments, half-successful pancakes, picnic lunch, peace-making. We walked all the way from our campsite to Wineglass Bay and back again (with swimming in between), El Prima insisting that we stop at the bar in the lodge for a drink in Z's honour. A superb blue wren joined us.

It was almost dusk as we walked back to our campsite via the beach, and in the wet sand, the girls drew our family with sticks - including M (El Prima's older daughter, who lives in Sydney, and we miss) and Z - depicted still in my belly. She lived her whole life there, so I guess that makes good sense.

I wrote her name too, but I liked this one the best, with a Zorro-like "Z" right at the edge of the waves, where the sand is not solid or liquid but some other matter.

I've gotten so used to the idea of Z - this mysterious girl-baby who is almost indistinguishable from my baby-shaped grief. I think of how I was a year ago, and it was only just dawning on me that nothing would fix this, that I had to fit my head around two huge things in the one moment - I had a child and my child had died.

The holiday rolled on and we were kept busy getting from one place to the next, packing, unpacking, putting up tents, consulting maps. A beautiful, pleasant busy-ness, punctuated by meanders through rockpools, and along shorelines, through forests and by small rivers. (but still a running away) So it was all here waiting for me when we got back. And I'm trying to stop the running away for a bit and to see what it is that's chasing me, sit with it and see what it does.

* and El Prima and I were both back at work within 12 hours of getting home, so by "nothing", I mean the nothingness of back to the two working parent gig - not the nothing of days at home (which I appreciate can at times be just as lonely).