The Day My Baby Died To Save Me

The bleakness of winter holds no strength against the force of life that Spring brings with it.

He came into my life like sunshine, stretching itself out from behind the clouds to light the day.  There is the hope that comes from being in the arms of a new, beloved companion and security in the knowledge that life is evolving, moving on, giving me new beginnings.

The discovery that there is new life growing inside me is at once both surprising and joyous. My unborn baby blew into my life like a summer wind: refreshing yet completely unexpected. There is never a question of how much this is wanted, only a question of how best to prepare ourselves for the arrival. We are soon going to be a new family. I feel amazed: somehow it feels like I have been bestowed a great honour…

And so….exciting. It’s no secret that I had wanted another baby one day…obviously the circumstances are different now, life has changed so fast in such a short amount of time, but the joy of bringing new life into the world is still the same to my mother heart.

And then the bleeding starts….such a small amount that I keep denying it is anything significant. I put my boys to bed and sit down on the couch and it hits me. The pain. There is a massive stabbing pain on my right side which sends shooting pains into my pelvis and down my leg. My leg is feeling a strange tingling sensation, like pins and needles with numbness. I don’t worry. This is my third pregnancy, and I know that bodies can do unpredictable things as they adjust to the growing life inside them. During the night, I am wide awake with pain in the back kidney area on both sides. Aha, I realise, I have not been drinking enough and my body is dehydrated and worn out because of that. By morning, I am doubled over in pain. I know that getting into my doctor at short notice is akin to stumbling across rare whale ambergris on a crowded beach in the middle of summer. I soon add fever to my list of maladies and soon suspect a kidney infection. I organise my boys to be cared for and get examined at the emergency department of the hospital. After taking routine blood tests, it soon becomes clear that something is very wrong.

The pregnancy is confirmed, but my body is showing signs of a huge infection, yet my kidney function comes back normal. The pain on my right side increases…I can barely move from the pain. I am referred for an ultrasound, in the hopes that it may confirm what is now a tentative diagnosis of appendicitis. No appendix is visible on the ultrasound, which I am informed is quite common, and when my uterus is examined, no baby is found either. The Gynaecological team announce that the baby must have already been miscarried, but I know for sure that the limited amount of blood I have passed does not equal the loss of the baby inside me. There is only one reasonable cause, in my mind. If my baby is not in my womb, then it must be somewhere else within me.

Ectopic pregnancy is mentioned, but glossed over. I am told I am not in enough pain, therefore it is not evident. My blood functions worsen; it is decided that my appendix must be removed immediately and I am prepped for surgery. There is no time to inform the ones I love what is happening. I am wheeled away and informed that because the diagnosis cannot be confirmed completely before the surgery, I should sign the consent form giving permission for further exploratory surgery, should it be needed. I am feeling horrid and ghastly by now, and I know that whatever is happening inside me, above all of my own needs, my whole body is fighting for the life of my unborn child.

There is a flurry of activity around me, a fast moving world that I cannot become a part of. The awakening. The movement begins to affect my body: a blanket placed over me here and another lure inserted into my vein there. Slow Down, I implore with my mind, my voice hidden somewhere under a haze of oxygen masks and deep sleep. As if in reply, I feel a soft but firm hand on the side of my face. My sense of touch feels heightened, while the rest of my senses are failing me, making everything feel far away, removed from impacting upon me. Rebecca. The owner of the hand speaks now, and I force myself to focus on the kindly nurse in front of me. I already know the truth, yet this is still all new information to take in. I hear and comprehend without understanding. It is lost in a haze of words that transport me deeper out into a sea of disbelief.

I am overboard and I swim to carve out clarity amongst the waves that are crashing over me. It was ectopic. Appendix was fine. Fallopian tube ruptured. Internal bleeding. A lot of blood. Life threatening. All Removed. Mrs Kindly Nurse turns away, busy focussing on the drip transfusing into the back of my hand. Now I have understanding, but ache for more clarity. I try to speak but nothing comes out. A jolt of urgency acts like a lawn mower choke upon my throat and I cough out, “My baby…my baby is gone.” It is more of a statement than a question and a sympathetic nod and hand on mine greets me as confirmation.

Then comes the grieving….the going home; the physical pain of major surgery; the pretend dance of normalcy for my boys; the dark nights alone after my love goes back home and sadly slowly slips away from my life; the wondering, anguished and desperate questioning of whether any of it meant anything at all…..I had fought against dying and survived, yet my baby had not.

Love is not a victory march; it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.

-Leonard Cohen

A precious life….Borne of love so deep, so sweet, so pure. You sprang forth from the love he gave to me. You found your home inside of me, and grew embedded in a place both secret and unique. My womb cried out with a longing to embrace and nurture you, but was left wanting, abandoned and afraid for you. I fought so hard to protect you and save you. My body grew battle weary from the fight; broken open from the war. And still, you fought so hard to stay. I slept a deep and dreamless sleep and woke to find you gone. Lifted from my incised and bleeding body.

I will never look upon your face; I shall never feel your heart beating in time with mine as I hold you against my chest and breathe in the essence that is you. Your essence. This world will never know it, but it will always live in me, an undying ember that warms the blood that pumps through my maternal heart while simultaneously igniting an eternal flame far from me; one that I shall never get the privilege to be illuminated by.

Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, heart of my heart. You died to save my life. I could not save you. You could only save me.

Now I live on while you remain here in this eternal moment. I live for us both.

With Much Love,

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The Perils of Bear Hunts and Self-Betrayal

Feelings roll in upon the shores of our minds, and like the impermanence of waves, they roll out again. I learn not to fight it, to accept what comes and just let it be. There is no point in trying to deny or negotiate with pain, it will keep going around the same old mountain with you until you draw from it, feel it, use it, learn from it. As if on cue, one of my children’s favourite books at the moment is ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen. It reads:

We’re going on a bear hunt.

We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.

Uh-uh! A forest!
A big dark forest.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.

Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!

Stumble trip!

Stumble trip!

Stumble trip!

Now I know that this is an imaginative children’s story that probably was never aiming to become anything more profound. Yet I find myself drawing meaning from anything now; everything has changed and is being reevaluated in my life, and even the mundane things seem to be acknowledging this. Like navigating the fictional forest, there are no short cuts through this process. Sometimes the pain is overwhelming, and yet I have learnt very quickly that I need to feel the pain in order to grow and move on. Though I may stumble, I will persevere because for the first time in my life, I am understanding what it means to own my life, own my story and set about creating that which is written on my heart.

With this comes the understanding that for so long I have abdicated my responsibilities to myself, placing more importance on the needs, wants and ideals of everybody around me than I did my on my own. Some of this was an attempt to avoid rocking the boat, to make life easier for others, to avoid my husband’s displeasure at my decisions, or to avoid the judgments of others. The world around me supported me in this endeavor: selling me the lie that as long as I, as a woman, looked OK on the outside, then what was on the inside wasn’t important. Suck it up, sweetheart, no one wants to be burdened with an emotional drama queen. Somewhere along the line it became the norm for me to accept that this is just how things were. To deny what it meant to look after myself properly and claim what I needed in order to grow in every aspect of life: physically, mentally and spiritually. The thing is the desire never left.

We can never completely silence the still, small voice of our true selves. I took her with me everywhere I went and in everything I was doing, but she was suffocated by fear and doubt. Buried deep down where she wouldn’t burden me or anyone else. The thing with this is the desire will still rage and manifest as something else: depression, anger, frustration, grumpiness, a constant state of being unable to give to others because I was so lacking what I needed. A bizarre world where I felt myself trapped inside myself yet I would deny it at all costs to myself and everyone else. I couldn’t ask for help because I felt undeserving of it, yet still felt a sense that others should be caring for me since I wasn’t allowed or able to care for myself.

When you deny your true self, it is a separation that is complete. There is no segmenting off the bits you don’t like but retaining the good. Oh no, with the truncating comes a cutting away of the things that make us decent, loving human beings. The things that we want for ourselves, the things that we think matter. I felt my character and my values silently slipping away but felt nothing. What difference does it make, I figured, I’m invisible. My actions don’t matter. I don’t matter.

One of the hardest things I have had to do over the past few months is forgive myself. To betray and deceive myself on the level that I did is the worst thing I have ever done. The consequences have been monumental and have cost me years of my life, and pain for those around me. It grieves me that I hurt the ones I loved, and all I can do is humbly apologise with my whole heart. Please accept this as your personal acknowledgement and apology. I used to think that self-love was a weak consolation prize for those who felt that there is something lacking in their lives. That self-care meant eating well and going to bed early every once in a while. I now realise that I was lacking so much in my life because I denied my worth. The day my husband left me, I was jolted awake. Through my tears, I began to see that this was not the end of my life; it was the beginning of my own becoming. It was the time for everything that I thought was true, and everything that anyone else believed about me, to be stripped away until all that was left were the parts of me that can never be taken away: my deep burning love and my hope.

Contrary to what some people may think, it isn’t selfish of me to want to live empowered by the fuel I am throwing on my own fire. It is, in fact, the only way that I can whole-heartedly offer anything of value to anyone else in my world. Sacrificing myself on the altar of wife and mother martyrdom did nothing but ensure the coals of my heart gave smoke signals but no actual heat. Living half-alive is no longer good enough for me anymore; and the people I love deserve better. I refuse to listen to the voices of shame and self depreciation any longer that come while I constantly strive but fail to meet the unattainable ideals of perfection that I have bought into over the years. I choose to live believing that I am deserving of love, grace and forgiveness, despite my mistakes.

Being perfect is a myth sold to women by a society who cares more about making them feel inadequate in order to market to them stuff they think will fill the void but in actual fact they have no need for. There is no such thing as perfect. There is, however, the appearance of perfect. I have discovered that people, as I did, will go to great extents to avoid having their true, raw, messy selves seen by others. There is a huge fear of appearing ‘less than’ or weak to others, and a sense that this is to be avoided at all costs. We think that this will save us from the unbearable pain of rejection, only to find that we are missing out on the forging of deep and lasting relationships where our true selves are seen and valued.

To be truly loved is to be loved, valued, accepted and respected in spite of our flaws, not because we are walking around pretending we don’t have any. To reveal our vulnerabilities to others is to take a risk, but it is a far greater risk to deny ourselves and what we have to offer the world. We must kindle our own flames to both light our own way and give freely of our light to others.

“Recovery is an unbecoming. My healing has been a peeling away of costume after costume until here I am, still and naked…. stripped down to my real identity.”
― Glennon Doyle MeltonLove Warrior: A Memoir

Much Love,

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Voices and Wings

In winter, the sun fades fast at the dimming of the day. The darkness fills the void it leaves, eeking down to surround me. By the time my boys rest peacefully in bed, the inky darkness is complete, and it is so very cold. The quiet offers both peace and distraction at once. It is a silence that I have never known. An aloneness that I have never experienced. I think back over what evening has meant to me in times gone by: hysterical laughter warmed by coffee in the comforting presence of living with my best friend in early adulthood to cooking dinner and taking comfort in the presence of the man who loved me. More recently, this had been punctuated with periods of nurturing newborns to sleep and resettling restless toddlers, but the theme was always the same: my evenings revolved around the significant ‘other’ in my life, and life just hasn’t been the same without it.

 

It is the silence that forces me to focus, however. I think, and reflect and try to take stock of the different pullings going on inside of me. At first there is only loneliness and regret to muse on, the constant sense that I should have somehow seen this all coming and been able to fix it. Over time this feeling becomes synonymous with the image of a runaway train: I had but a fleeting moment to try and dodge the inertia of its weight hurtling towards me because the reality is that the engine and its carriages had already been derailed. I cannot control how somebody else feels, nor the decisions that they have made.

 

Other feelings creep in, too. There’s the small sense of pride that I feel when I briefly pause and realise that the house is still standing and the world hasn’t collapsed even though I am doing it all on my own. I’m working long hours, commuting, and caring for my boys around the clock. The bills are getting paid, the dishes are being done and the animals are mostly getting fed. I look at my giggling boys playing together and realise that they are ok, that they will keep being ok, that we are holding it together. There is joy still happening here. We are still a family.

 

I become aware of the sense of relief and freedom that slowly creeps into my days. Realisations come hard and fast: I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It is painful yet cathartic at the same time: I didn’t know how unhappy I was. I didn’t know the real me had been buried under years of control and routine and negative influence. I feel her still there, that girl I once knew. She isn’t the one who has been forgotten or left behind; she had gone into hiding a long time ago. The melting away begins with the benign: what music I choose to listen to on the way to work, and becomes bolder and more confident: What do you dare to hope for in the future? I want to fight it, to deny hope its complete audacity under such circumstances, but I find so many strong voices in my life echoing the sentiment that it becomes harder to shake off. You will build a new life, they encourage. One of the silver linings in the whole situation lies with the friends who reach out and share their own stories and vulnerabilities with me. It gets better, they implore, so much better. And then came the game changer: He has set you free, Babe, you just need to learn how to fly….

The Abdication and the One Left Behind

The gloom precedes him when he comes around; he blows in like an unwelcome and sudden storm fixated upon its path to the detriment of all else. He is a whirlwind of packing and loading and sorting and disposing. A force that literally cannot be talked down nor reckoned with. The work sounds difficult, there is banging and crashing and cursing and dragging of heavy things…an atmosphere of stress that only adds to the gloom cloud, making the conditions perfect for an electrical storm.

The intensity is frightening when it comes though, and I still find myself caught off guard. I find myself searching desperately for an anchor to hold onto, but there is nothing in my life left to cling to….I lost my certainty about everything the moment he left and now the waves wash over me in violent tirades, nothing to stop the jarring impact of being tossed upon the rocky shore. It is a shock to me how familiar this feels, and for the first time I find myself questioning how safe I ever was with him. And then as violently and sudden as it began, it stops. He is gone again.

It takes me a long time to go downstairs. I try to steel myself before I make my way down…but the barrenness that greets me is still shattering in its intensity. It is a wasteland, a bare, invisible monument to all that once stood there. I mentally fill in the blanks: the bookcase full of the manuals he used to fix anything and everything, especially anything mechanical…the garage workbench, filled with half completed projects and dreams not one hour before. It’s gone. Just gone. The plans, the hopes, the dreams, the future. The things that meant so much to him. Everything that showed he was ever here, ever a part of us. Our family. He has left his role, his place….I choke back tears, my heart aching for him…for the man who felt that disassembling his entire life, piece by piece, was somehow easier than fighting for us. For me. It is an insipid, unsettling feeling: to consider the fact that I had caused somebody, anybody, such unhappiness that they have had no choice but to destroy the life that they have built. Their home. Their family.

I move around the house with the distinct feeling of having broken into someone else’s life and that it is due to come to swift end at any moment once I get caught out. But there is no one to intervene, no one to come and clear up the confusion and mix up that has occurred. This is it now. This is me, this hollow shell shuffling around, a zombie craving food and sleep but with a body that seems unwilling to comply with its need for either. I stare blankly in the mirror, wistfully longing for some recognition of who I am now, but all I see is someone else. The one who was left. The one left behind.

All The Things

Exactly a week after my husband has walked out on us, we are meeting to discuss All The Things. It is cold, detached and formal, and I am struggling to believe that our life together boils down to this. This stilted bargaining for things that no longer hold any meaning for me while I desperately search his face for any trace of the man I once knew. I am denied any semblance of familiarity; it has all been replaced by clipped professionalism that I do not recognize. I ask him why he couldn’t have stayed, why we couldn’t have worked this out for the sake of the children. He looks at me somewhat incredulously and tersely explains that the last few years have been for the sake of the children, he hasn’t been happy for a long time. I quickly realize that I am the whale and he is the hunter, far from bringing any kind of closure, answers are merely harpoons in his hands, and my heart is being brutally ripped apart. I stumble on, regardless, desperately sifting among the ashes for something, anything, that might be salvageable. I implore him for some way back, some way of fixing this, of getting some help. In return I get a blithe Uhhh, no. A jolt of recognition comes to me, finally. This is the same way he had always ended any argument when he thought I was being completely ridiculous. It was his final word, conversation over.

Yes, there had been arguments, and I am the first to admit that I had my own faults. Most recently, I had been consumed by the trial by fire that comes with the first few years of motherhood. With two under two for a while, it had, at times, been overwhelming. So yes, there had been fights. But there had also been as many apologies and promises to do better next time and hopes for the future. There had been weekends away, and hands held and love made. There had been happiness, and laughter and hours of fun with our dynamic and endlessly entertaining boys. For him to sit there and make statements about how he should have had the guts to leave years ago feels completely disingenuous. Mind you, there is nothing about this entire process that doesn’t feel disingenuous.

He is reiterating the importance of me transferring the power account into my name. It is risky, he laments, to keep it in my name when you could rack up a huge bill and not pay it and then run away. Then it would be my credit rating that gets affected. I’m too distracted to be outraged. Incredulous at his priorities. I know we have been tip-toeing around the most important issue and I am trying to prepare myself for what is coming. But when it comes up, I am both relieved and surprised. We make mutually agreeable arrangements for the boys swiftly and without fanfare.  He then leaves swiftly and covertly while the boys are distracted. That’s it then. Just like that. We have now sorted All The Things.