Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Stepping back in time

We're in Plett for the week. The Band's folks randomly decided to camp at the lagoon again for the first time in many, many years and so we've come to join them. This is also the first time we've been back here since Sophia was born 4.5 years ago.

I've not known what to expect. Would it hit home at all or would I remain stoically numb and resigned as I mostly am? Would I fall apart in a dramatic heap? Not likely although sometimes I wish I was more in touch with my emotions. It's been lovely so far, despite the rain.

Today I got away from all the family to get some work done. I'd planned to sit at a coffee shop and catch up a bit, but instead I found myself driving the route I've relived so often, passing the same restaurants we patroned in the days leading up to That Day. The restaurants where people gave me that knowing smile reserved for obviously pregnant women. All the while my baby was already dead and I refused to realise that.

I followed the road to the hospital and went in. It really is such a beautiful, peaceful hospital. No one stopped me as I wandered about. Partly I wanted to see if my memories were accurate or if they had been tainted or romanticised over time. They've not.

I stepped again into the room where I was first lead that morning. The room where they searched in vain for Sophia's heartbeat. That room and that moment which I've relived in my waking and my sleeping infinite times. It was only my second time in that room... after that moment they moved me elsewhere and for the rest of my stay in the hospital I couldn't even look in that room as I passed it. Today I could.

I peered into the room next door. The double room where we set up camp for our time there. Where Stef and I slept. Where my family and a few friends sat. I passed the courtyard where we ate delicious toasted sandwiches (for the ridiculous price of R6 each) while I bounced on a ball to try speed the labour along.

And I sat in the room where I delivered Sophia. Where we met her face to face and in the shock of it all and my exhaustion she felt so incredibly heavy in my arms. All 3.1kg of her. I saw various little stumps of candles on a shelf there and remembered the midwife had lit candles for her birth to somehow soften the blow of it all.

That midwife was amazing. She fought to give me a natural birth despite the gynae encouraging a caesar. She insisted on bringing in a woman who'd lost a child herself to talk to me and advise me - Claudine - she acknowledged the personhood of Sophia from start to finish with the most incredible insight. She treated me like a daughter rather than a patient. I saw her this morning. Sister Barnard. We reminisced. She remembered it all. A stillbirth is something which affects all those involved and nearly 5 years later it still affects her to an extent. I showed her photos of my girls. I told her how happy we are. I told her how I'd had to have caesars since and how grateful I was for my natural birth experience with Sophia. I told her how grateful I was to her for bringing Claudine in - Claudine who I will meet up with later today. I told her how my sister-in-law too had lost her baby and how we'd walked the road together. I told her how many countless others I've known to go through it since. And we agreed that it's a blessing I can be there for them, but yes and no. No... I'd sooner have my daughter with me any day than be a good friend and support and I've no doubt each one of those moms would understand that fully.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sophia's story

We were interviewed at church about losing Sophia... Here's the video: I know that hyperlinking that should be simple, but it is beyond me. I hang my head in shame. x

Thursday, August 16, 2012

days become weeks become months

We are now 3 months down the line from Lilly's death. And as that time wears on you realise that for my SIL now and for myself back then, the hospital is perhaps the sweetest part of this whole ordeal. Now that sounds ludicrous I'm sure. And many husbands would want to usher their wives out and home as quickly as possible after the child is born, but if you are fortunate enough to have a caring hospital - where you are shown much care and placed far from babies and happy moms - then the hospital may well be the best of the worst. For one thing, the hospital is the first and last place you will have seen your baby and so, agonising as that is, it is precious. There is a closeness. A newness. The pain is raw and searing, but it is pure - untainted just yet by the inevitable anger, bitterness and hopelessness that follows. It is simply what it is: grief in its purest form. And something of that pure grief is beautiful because it connects you to your child. Back in the real world, as the weeks pass by and you're left with only the empty womb which failed you and surrounded by people who are determined to continue with life as it once was, moms will feel a loneliness like nothing on earth. There really is no describing it. People are wonderful and they try, but really it is you, as the mom, who has known your child and so it is you, as the mom, who grieves that child and will do so as long as you live. Dads* and famly and friends mostly grieve the prospect of what might have been - they grieve it, they accept it and they move on. Moms alone grieve what was. What is. What never will be. And how do you keep the bitterness at bay? How can you be happy for the pregnant around you? And how is it possible that every waking female in a 50km radius will joyfully announce their pregnancy within a month or two of your loss? And how do you paste that smile on your face when people say the ridiculous things that they do? And how do you ever ever make peace with the determined way women in our age and culture insist on bitching about the burden of motherhood, almost affectionately, as if they are hard done by heroes? And how long do you ignore the nursery and leave it set up, museum-like for the arrival of the baby that will never happen, and how long til you muster up the courage to unpack the baby bag? How long til you can have caffeine and alcohol and sushi and all the things you so stoically refused during your pregnancy without feeling some misplaced and non-sensical guilt? And how do you muster up enthusiasm for the job you once loved given that you should be home, flawless infant cuddled to your chest? It's hard. And all you can possibly do is try to get up each day and brace yourself to face the world. * This is my experience - I know of some exceptions of dads who have and do grieve their stillborn children deeply and ongoingly

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The journey of stillbirth - part 2

It's been at least 2 years since I've felt so utterly depressed. And really, the word depressed is not one I throw around. Down is not depressed. Sad is not depressed. Depression is dark. It is a sense of utter hopelessness and that is what I am now fighting. Thank God for Tandi. A million zillion times over. Thank you God for Tandi. It's very hard to cry with a little girl splashing water in your face from her bath, trying to hide Gubby (the Guv) in the cupboard or pinching your nose and wrenching open your jaw to try shove food in while laughing manically. She is incredible. Thank you God for Tandi. Back to the stillbirth journey. I really hope that these posts can be of help to someone.. I mentioned how important it is to hold your baby - you wouldn't want to miss that - but there are of course times it won't be a good idea. If the baby is in a bad way then perhaps it's best not to and that is a very very tough call to make. It's important to take photos - even just to keep in case the mom ever wants them. I took many photos of my neice (her name is Lily) and sat with a friend who helped me edit them to soften the colour etc. I printed them and my folks bought a special album on which we engraved Lily's name. Well I only chose the very best of the photos for the album (want to play with the others a bit more) and every time I see my SIL the album is either in her hands or nearby. It is utterly precious to her and I'm so glad I did it. In some of the photos I placed one of Lily's toys, a bunny, and my SIL now has that bunny to keep forever. I also helped the nurses take hand and footprints - not always possible to do - but it is another precious keepsake for my SIL. The hospital room is a safe place. People who visit are there briefly to pay their respects and the nurses, hopefully, would be caring. But once you leave that hospital the world will confront you. In my case, we stopped at a chemist on the way home to collect my prescriptions. I stayed in the car while The Band went in. Sitting there, I saw a woman walk past. She had her baby to her chest in a kango pouch, covered in a blanked. All I could see was a little pair of pink-clad legs. It was all I needed to see. I will never forget the searing pain of that sight. Once you are out of your hospital room, in 'normal' contexts, people feel the need to act normal. I remember going to dinner with my folks (we were all staying in a hotel in Plett when it happened and so dinner out was a given). I remember my folks making conversation and seeming very cheerful and having a drink or whatever and by the time we walked into the hotel I lost it. I could not take the normalcy, how quickly they returned to normal, how quickly they could laugh again, how quickly they could forget, how quickly they could move on. I broke down and said it was all just a bit much. Last night - my SIL's first night out the hospital - was the same and I feel sick for not preempting it. There were too many of us there and we were chatting. OF COURSE none of us had forgotten and of course I now know that my folks were doing their level best that night in Plett to try cheer me up and had not at all forgotten - but that is how it felt and that is how my SIL felt last night. It is an agonising thing. People - even your very closest family - WILL forget. They WILL move on. but it won't be in the first week. The other thing that happens by about day 3 is that you start to be able to have conversations yourself about other things and even to laugh and have pleasant moments. Unfortunately, the aftermath is fierce. You feel sick and guilty and like a bad mom for forgetting for a moment that you have lost your child. It is a sickening awful feeling which makes you want to guard your grief almost jealously to avoid feeling that way again. TBC

The journey of stillbirth - what to expect part 1

I am reliving so many of the things I'd forgotten. I am recognising so many of my sis-in-law's emotions and feeling them myself for her. One of the first things you feel when you lose a baby at the end of a pregnancy is "how can I possibly start all over again". You feel exhausted and utterly defeated at the thought of starting from scratch. You have worked so hard to get this far and it's all come to nothing. "What was the point of all of this?" But soon - like within the same day - you feel desperate to start again. Basically life has been concentrated down to one miniscule, utterly focused point - having a child - and it seems to have very little point beyond that and so in those moments the only thing that seems to have any glimmer of hope or value in it and the only reason there seems to be for bothering to go on is the prospect of still being able to have a child. With both her and I, we lost our first. I guess it might be different if we had already had children. I remember not really speaking about it too much as people think you are loopy and should just focus on getting through the days ahead. They may be right, but so are we, because really, the only possible thing that gets you through those days, when a massive, gigantic all encompassing baby shaped hole takes up your heart, is the possibility of another child. Basicaly you need that hope. I remember saying something like "I will have a baby by next christmas or else". Else what? Else I would throw a tantrum? Hate the world? Top myself? No idea. Basically I don't think I'd have been able to breathe without a baby. That's more or less how it felt. Of course, at the same time, there is nothing more terrifying than the prospect of another pregnancy - naivete gone now that it is - but still, despite that horrific, choking fear, the prospect of NOT being pregnant is even worse. Rock and a hard place of note. With your first baby, your first pregnancy, the prospect of a child remains a bit abstract until you hold him or her. Of course you love that child and dream of her and all that, but only once you hold her does an entire shift in you occur. That's true either way. Many moms would be nervous or reluctant to hold their stillborn - of course they would - but part of why it is so important is because that mother's love envelops you when you do and so you can then mourn her wholeheartedly. And what an utterly bittersweet moment it is, to hold your child for the first and last time. To feel all the love in the world for a child who has already left the world. For the mom of a stillborn you feel much bitterness ahead of the time. You feel angry and victimised by life. But seeing and holding your child softens you. It's as if, for a while after that at least, that pain is distilled into something very pure and sweet. The simple sadness of a mom who has lost her little girl. That sadness must be the most agonising pain on earth (ok one of them at least), but it is such a beautiful thing. So much of the grief that follows is tainted by offence and bitterness and fear and all muddied emotions, but that sadness is just you and your girl. When I felt it again a while ago I treasured it. A friend offered to pray for the pain to go and I said something like "don't you dare. It is too precious and rare to feel that untainted grief". ***side note: I just overheard my dad saying to someone "now we know why caz had to go through this herself - so she can help others". Meh. Yes and no. MEH! That doesn't answer why others have to go through it. ugh. I mean I agree and I disagree and it all just sucks. Ok I have to go. there is more, much more, and perhaps this will be helpful to anyone else who has to support and try to understand someone going through this.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lightning strikes twice

It's a funny thing. Just yesterday, mother's day (which I still hate), I was missing Sophia and wondering at how I have taken to avoiding grief and even this blog. I've meant to write often but always found a reason not to. The reason has largely been that I've wanted to avoid being sucked back into the awful world of grief and loss. I've wanted to deny my membership of this club of angel mommies. Not that I've wanted to deny Sophia - never. But I've wanted to avoid the raw pain of this world.

Today life dealt us another vicious blow. My brother and sis-in-law who we are very close to and who live in the same town as us tried for a long time to fall pregnant. The pregnancy has gone well and I've told all who would listen how much I love my niece. Ive marveled at my love for this little girl - how could I so love a child who wasn't even my own? I've been privileged enough to go to two of the scans and have seen my niece wink at me onscreen. I've helped talk through the endless decisions of planning for a baby - prams and monitors and nursery colour schemes and baby showers. Painting curtain rails and washing clothes and preparing hospital bags. And I've moaned about how long the next 5 weeks are going to take and how I can't wait to meet this little girl.

This morning we got a call. Bad news. No heartbeat. Time warp back to September 2009 - the worst thing a mom can hear. No heartbeat.

My SIL had had pains for the last week. Random, undistinguished pains. Upper back. Here and there. She'd been to the doc 3 times. All looked one each time. She'd had extra scans to check blood flow and she'd been on the ECG. All fine.

This morning no movement was worrying her and so she went in. 4th time in less than a week. No heartbeat.

Tonight we are at the hospital. My SIL has had a Caesar and I've just taken photos of my precious little niece. She is beautiful. I'm not just saying that. She is. The marks of death are not yet on her and I am so grateful for that.

Tonight I rejoin that club in support of my SIL and for the first time I feel some gratitude for having been there myself. I can support her and understand her in the dark months to come.

I'm so very sad for them and our family and her family and for me. For the niece I love so much and for tandi who would have been her BFF. But I'm glad that she'll have a guided tour of Heaven with Sophia and a BFF up there.

Rest in peace precious treasure. Your aunty loves you so very much.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Good bye Chaka

A friend of mine's cat was run over yesterday and I'd be lying if I said I didn't fight the tears when I heard. I've been sad ever since and keep thinking of her beautiful cat and my beautiful friend.

To the non-cat lovers out there (how do you survive on the Internet, seriously?) perhaps that sounds absurd. In the wake of all the tragedy around, how can I be so sad over just one little cat?

It's coz there is no such thing as just a cat.

Just as my Guv quite possibly saved my sanity in my darkest hours and is still my baby who i adore (sure he may be demon possessed but still!), this cat played a similar role in my friend's life.

This friend is a warm and lovely person. She turned 40 on Thursday and has been married many years but has been unable to conceive. Her husband wasn't too keen on pets and so it's always just been the two of them at home until last year when her mom was going through the last stages of cancer. My friend was taking strain and seeing her mom weakening and suffering new each day.

In the final months of her mom's life a kitten started showing up at my friend's house. A kitten who refused to leave.

Her husband may have tried a weak protest but was soon won over by this lovable little cat.

My friend advertised that she'd found a cat but after receiving no queries she finally allowed herself to believe that this, Chaka, was to be her baby.

Through all the visits to her mom and through her mom's death, the funeral arrangements and the lonely months that followed, this little cat was there. She brought joy and silliness and laughs and love in a dark and lonely time. She lit up the home and she lit up my friend. Each time I saw her she'd animatedly regale the Chaka's latest antics.

Next thing Chaka was pregnant and my friend was playing midwife and nanny and granny to more kittens (2 of which she kept and the rest of which went to her own sister). Now my friend's flawless home was really the territory of 3 gorgeous, young and mischievous cats. But Chaka remained my friend's baby.

And so yesterday, the day after my friend turned 40, when her Chaka was run over, I cried.

That silly saying about God sending people for a reason or a season (or something) is evident in this story. Seems to me God saw fit to use a little cat to get my friend through her hardest time.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The sweetness of pain

In case you didn't know, The Band is a pastor. That's right: I'm a pastor's wife.

Tonight he preached about His life and about how God has always been there. In the good times, the bad times and in all the mundane times inbetween when we are most likely to forget Him.

He spoke about the two times he's cried. The first was when he prayed for salvation. The palpable Presence of God touched him, melted him and he found himself with tears pouring down his cheeks.

The second time was when Sophia was born and he held his little girl for the first and last time.

Something about this moment, sharing that pain, that beauty with a room full of people has brought it sharply to the surface for me. I've felt pain more rawly than I have in many many many months.

And it's a precious thing and a sore, raw thing. and in the same instant I want to beg God to take this very brutal and fresh pain from me, I want to cling to it as tightly as I can because it is real and it is what I have of my little girl.