"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.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

December, you sneaky bastard

So, it's December, and driving in the car is making me cry again.  But this time, Ali says, 'Mama sad'.  'Yes, I'm sad, my love.  I miss Zainab'
'Meb', he says.  
This is his name for her.  It makes my heart leap that he has a name for her.

I try and stay in the left lane as much as I can.  Away from the cars hurtling in the other direction. Sudden movement on the road makes the breath stop in my throat.  There is no crash (this time) but I gasp with tears. 
'Mama sad'
'Yes, Mama is sad. I'm ok, little one, sometimes I just feel scared.'  
I should stop there but I don't.  
'All these cars and trucks are so big, my love, if they bump into one another then people can get hurt'.  The words catch and I sob again.

I don't want to give him a neurosis.  But I also want to tell him the truth.  I don't want this truth to come as a rude shock. I want him to know that 'normal' is not just the good, happy things (though I hope they make up the majority of his days) - that 'normal' includes the whole range of human experience - including heartbreak, grief, anger, not getting what you want.  This truth won't, can't insulate him against the pain that accompanies all these things, but he should know that they are heartbreakingly normal, that they happen to everyone, that they aren't his fault.  That these hard things are just one part of the big glorious horrific picture.

'Digger!' he says - and I'm relieved for the  distraction.

It doesn't help that I've been sacrificing sleep for work.  Sleep is the sawdust that keeps me solid. Without it the tears wash through me, blurring the boundaries between the one big old grief and all the surrounding griefs of this year (my dear friend Sam, cut short far too young, my two friends who have lost their dads in the last six weeks, one to a motorcycle crash, Stella Young, who I'd only exchanged emails with once, but whose wit and heart are sorely needed in the public conversations about disability and feminism).  And then there's atmospheric grief - the colourful shapes that I spy from the train under a bridge, then realise are sleeping bags and mattresses.  The sound of small voices at the library sing-a-along that make my heart ache for my own babies, one safe with his grandad today, the other in the care of the sandy dirt and gum leaves at Somers. 

I have work to do, I need my focus, my solidity, my sawdust.  But if I don't let this sadness leak out a little, it will drown me from the inside.

My sister is pregnant.  She's just had her 20 week ultrasound and everything was wonderfully, swimmingly fine, but still she's not buying any baby things yet.  They have bought a new fortress of a car though.  It gives me the heeby-jeeebies with its 4WD bulk, but I can understand why they might want a fortress.  She's been the one at the other end of the phone line, receiving bad news, she has no interest in making her own news.  

I'm so sad that our experience has made pregnancy scary for her, but so thankful as well for the prospect of being an auntie to this baby who is already so buoyed with love.  The sadness and fear, the love and gratitude are two sides of the same coin now, they are my in- and out-breath.  Neither can be banished, neither is unassailable.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Histopathology (from the greek: the study - logia of suffering - pathos tissue - histo)

When my dad visited me in rehab, he would bring little offerings to make me feel better.  A newspaper clipping about the zoo, little sachets of miso soup, a small posy of violets.  And one day, a pomegranate.  Everything about it was exquisite.  Once my visitors had gone home for the day, I held it in my hand – a crimson magical orb.  I’d eaten a pomegranate before, but I’d never dissected it like I did that day.  The process of cutting into the fruit and cracking it open felt like some kind of brutal surgery, the seeds bleeding into my fingers.  I peeled away chunks of pith and peel – at once leathery and delicate – football red on the outside and a soft cream on the inside.   Row on honeycombed row of translucent seeds was lodged into the pith like teeth in someone’s gums, each compartment veiled from the others with a filmy rose-yellow silk membrane.    I prised them out one by one, and took photos of all of it – the broken scraps of peel, the membrane, the translucent seeds.  Here was something that, even when split apart and broken only revealed more beauty.  

A few days after I was released from rehab and could join Rima and girls in our new house, a pomegranate tree was delivered – a gift in Z’s name from dear friends who lived overseas.  It stood, green and hopeful, on the porch as the summer days and weeks wore on – hot and dry.  I feared it would die there. I almost willed it to die there, and then was torn with guilt at the idea that I could kill my daughter’s memory in plant form.  Nonetheless, we waited.  

At first we were waiting for the placenta – I wanted to bury those cells that belonged to both Z and me underneath the tree.  The placenta had been dutifully saved by our midwives at the hospital – it was the one part of our birth plan that they were able to deliver.  It was being held by the histopathologists at the hospital after being examined to confirm the cause of Z’s death.   When I tried to follow it up, we were invited to a meeting at the hospital.  They put on their understanding faces, and made the ‘sorry for your loss’ noises.   My placenta had been treated with formaldehyde, making it toxic.  I imagined it floating in a jar.  ‘Does that mean you want to keep it?’  ‘No, no, but it has to be disposed of as medical waste.  Not so great to plant in your garden, especially if you are growing food there’.   It was a very long way of saying, ‘no, you can’t have it.’  By that time the fight had gone out of me.  The poor histopathologists – I think it was probably quite odd for them to have the owner of some tissue that they had preserved and examined show up and demand it back.  So from then on we were no longer waiting on medical bureacrats but on my own battered ability to make decisions and to dig a hole. 

The drought had killed a small tree in the front yard – it stood, unrepentantly ugly between our bay window and the front fence.  I didn’t know what kind of tree it was – much as I liked the idea of a garden, gardening itself was still something I thought old people did.  It was nearly March by the time we started digging it out, when the Preston clay was at its hardest.  I threw the pick at the ground, over and over again, carving out the rough outline of a circle around the dead tree.  The arc of the pick swinging up, the rush down and the ‘thuck’ of contact – the sheer solidity of the earth was a relief.  I didn’t need to weep, or think, or speak.  Just dig. My convalescent limbs were sore and sweaty from the work – I took a long bath with some chalky bathpowder my sister had given me for Christmas a few months ago on that other planet that was my life pre-accident.  

The next day I carried bucket after bucket out across the porch and out to our hole.  I gave the dead tree a relaxing bath in my second-hand bathwater.  The clay held the water almost as well as the enamel bath tub.  The digging, to my regret, had to be postponed while the water level slowly soaked lower and lower until I braved the mud and worried away at the dead tree’s root system , carving away the stiff mud.  My dad and occasionally Rima took turns, but I was alone for the last bit, when the tree developed a tantalizing wobble, like a loose tooth.  Even then it took nearly an hour before it gave way with a satisfying crunch, the small dead tree suddenly lurching so that it looked more dead and more out of place than before.  Remembering what it was like to feel strong in my unfamiliar, resurrected body, I lifted it part-way out of the hole before calling for help.

It left a crater in the front yard – a crater I tended lovingly with clay-breaker and compost, before we finally eased the sickly looking pomegranate tree into the hole.  Promptly on arriving in its new home, the tree dropped the rest of its leaves for autumn, leaving us to wonder about its survival until Spring.  Miraculously, there in August were tiny red buds – having eschewed the colour red for autumn yellows, our little pomegranate tree wore red for Spring instead.  

I would prune the miniature roses at the front of the house, making a tiny posy to bring inside and then carrying the loose petals and heads over to the pomegranate tree to sprinkle the petals at the base of the tree, giving it a composting carpet of pink, red and yellow-gold-pink.  It became a ritual.  A chance to have a natter with my beautiful girl.  “I miss you, my little love.  I wish you were in the house, being loud.”  I would kneel in the front yard chatting to a pomegranate tree – ok with being the crazy grieving mother of the neighbourhood if it mean I could chat with my daughter.  Or maybe they thought I was just a very attentive gardener?

When two and half years later, after Ali was born, I realised that the stash of frozen breastmilk had passed its use-by date, I let it defrost, and then poured it out under the pomegranate tree, finally giving my daughter the milk she’d never tasted.  

We dug that hole a second time nearly four years later.  The ground it grew in was no longer ours – sold at auction to another family after Rima and I separated.  The rest of the garden was theirs – the quince tree with its delicate blossom, the hot pink camellia which helped us through the winters, the miniature roses which I had picked posy after tiny posy for Zainab from – but the pomegranate tree I needed to take with me.  A colleague’s son achieved in five minutes what had taken us hours and days four years before, slicing neatly around the root-ball and leveraging it up onto his ute.  

Here, the pomegranate tree takes up most of an enormous wine-barrel pot on my little deck – within a line of sight from the kitchen sink.  I worried about whether it would survive a second transplantation, into a more confined home, but when it lost its leaves, there on the fence side were two modest sized orbs – its first edible fruit.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Taking the hills

There's a bit of our ride from home to the uni that I love or hate - not sure which. 

We're coming past the playground on the gravel path.  Ali points, explains in Ali-language - I think he's rating the slide as one of his favourites.  "I know, bubba, the best slide ever!  Not this time though, love - we have to get to work.  We'll come back another day".

The path heads downhill and I avoid the gully in the middle of the path made by rain.  I touch the brakes but we are still picking up speed.  Ali flings his arms wide and inhales all that fast-moving air - there are no words, even Ali words, for this.  I scan to check if someone is coming down the path towards us (as far as I can see before the path twists off into the bush), and if it is clear, I push harder, getting the most out of the downhill before we swing up the parabola of the hill, dropping gears quickly (but not so quickly that we lose traction) while turning sharply to the right. 

If it works, we hit the hill at a decent pace, and chances are I won't have to get off and push halfway up.  I'm quickly down to first gear and pushing slower and harder as we inch up the hill. 

Ali makes an insistent point, then turns to look at me to see why I haven't responded yet. 
"We're going up a hill, bubba" I pant.  "It's hard work!" 

A part of me just wants it to end, just wants to say "stuff it" and take the car next time.  Part of me doesn't want Ali to see me struggling like this, and sometimes 'failing' and having to get off and push.  But we are here now, and there is no way to get to work this morning except up this hill.  I pull the handlebars towards me with each push of the pedals.  Already this hill is easier than it was last week, but no matter how fit I get, it will always be a slog.  I've learned now that from halfway up, I can take the path around the estate - it adds maybe half a kilometre to the ride, but at least it dilutes that hill.  There's another dip, earlier in the ride, that I skip altogether, zig-zagging through little streets to follow the ridge line.  But really, can I blame anyone for the hills, when I've chosen to ride a bike?  And while my thoughts are going in circles like this, my legs are doing the hard work, and suddenly we're there and cruising on the flat, and I can hardly remember what it felt like to be pushing uphill. 

Now that we're in our own space at last, I've been thinking a lot about the things that may have gone wrong with El Prima and I.  One of those things, I suspect, was the habit (ok, my habit) of blaming, of looking for some excuse or outward reason when things were hard.  I'm re-reading Pema Chodron, When things fall apart,  and her take on the principle, "drive all blames into one".  That doesn't mean just swapping blaming others for blaming ourselves instead - rather, Chodron suggests that the whole blaming process is an attempt to reject whatever unpleasant feelings have arisen, rather than just feeling them and letting them soften us and open us to compassion for ourselves and others.  Rather than just taking the hill and feeling what it is like to sweat and pant and work hard, and sometimes to stall and have to get off and push. 

There's no one to blame for a hill, it just is, and it is up to me to work my way up it, or to navigate another way.  And I don't really need to hate it or love it, just to take it as a hill.  This is what my new life feels like - freedom and hard work in equal measures.