Grief, recovery and a baby shower

I went to a baby shower at the weekend. For the first time in a very long time, I actually sat and joined in with stories of waters breaking and labour pains. I laughed. I felt normal. Stella was on my mind, but not in the gut wrenching, “how the hell can I get out of here” kind of way she normally is during these types of discussions. I talked about my eldest child’s birth. I laughed at how his waters broke while we were having dinner at a friends’ house. I nodded knowingly at the discomfort of late pregnancy. I laughed at how bizarrely primal and animalistic labour is. I bit my tongue when one mum told the heavily pregnant guest of honour that she was “in the safe stage” of her pregnancy. I kept it to myself that in pregnancy there is in fact, no safe stage. I stayed quiet about the birth of my second child, and didn’t talk about my third.

My second child, Stella, was stillborn. Just out of the blue, she died. It was an ordinary Wednesday back in 2012. It was August, and we had the in-laws staying with us. It had been my husbands’ 40th birthday and I had thrown a surprise party for him. All his family from Australia had come to New Zealand for the celebrations. It had been the most joyous time, and I was revelling in the success of all those months of covert party planning. And then I woke up. It was a Thursday morning. There was an ominous stillness in my belly. My baby was dead and nothing would ever be the same.

39

In the 20 months that have passed since Stella died, life has gone on. I have woken up every single morning and gotten myself out of bed. I have cared for, and nurtured my son in the best way I know how. I have continued to be a good wife to my husband. I have carried my precious third born to term, and delivered her, alive and kicking, into the world. That I survived the anxiety and fear of my third child’s pregnancy still astounds me. Nothing can prepare you for pregnancy after such profound loss. In doing all these things, I have continued to exist every, single, day, since the day that my daughter died.

Moving through these months, I have felt like a mere approximation of myself. I lost the easiness that I have always had with people. I became tense and anxious. I dreaded meeting new people. People who didn’t know about Stella scared the hell out of me. I was fearful of what they might inadvertently say, and more so, about how I might react. Simple discussions with strangers in supermarkets about how many children I have could send me off to a very dark place. With my friends, when I wasn’t aloof I was intense. I felt tainted. I was awkward and uneasy. On certain days, it was almost debilitating.

Recently, there’s been a welcomed shift within me. I’ve been feeling a bit less like a cheap imitation of myself, a bit more like the real deal. I’ve found myself meeting strangers’ eyes on the street and smiling back at them. Conversations with the other mums at my sons Kindy have been coming more easily. I even had coffee with a new mum yesterday. These are the types of things the old me would have done, without even a second thought. The me before grief took hold.

I’m certainly not saying that my grief is done. It is liberating to feel some sense of forward motion, but I’m still not as accepting of my daughters’ death as I would like to be. I suppose grief is something that I will never shake off, and maybe I don’t really want to? It is after all, the vehicle that enables me to continue to parent Stella. By taking care of my grief, I am in some small way taking care of her too. I am not yet whole, but for now though, this is good enough.

Advertisements

Fijian escape and a baby on a bender

The holiday started at a crowded and chaotic Wellington airport. We were off on a much anticipated family trip to Fiji. There was fog; a lot of it; and yes, it was lingering. Air traffic around the city had ground to a halt. Our plans of being poolside, cocktail in hand by 3pm were diminishing fast. The weeks leading up to this trip had been fraught to say the least. The hubby was doing some crazy hours at work (often 12-14 hour days), which left me lone-wrangler to Mr4 years and Ms9 months. Mr4 had also been experiencing some health problems which resulted in some minor surgery just before our trip (thankfully with a positive outcome – phew!). Add to this, the stress of trying to sell a house and voilà, you have one pretty stressed out mama. Yes, I was in desperate need of a nice, relaxing tropical holiday!

IMG_6110

So, back at the airport. With the hubby on his way back home in a taxi to collect his forgotten passport, I found myself in command of a wayward luggage trolley, several large suitcases and two small children, one of which was harnessed to my front, the other manically speeding around the over-crowded Air New Zealand check-in area pretending to be a jet. It occurred to me at this point that things hadn’t started well. In an attempt to quell the rising anxiety, I felt it was time for a little mindfulness. I really needed to put aside the stress of the past weeks and the frustration and uncertainty of how and when we were going to get to Fiji, and just concentrate on what was happening in that very minute. I knew we’d eventually get that poolside cocktail, and I just needed to go with the flow until we got there.

With a passport holding husband back in the fold, we hunkered down, waiting for the fog to lift. Long hours were spent playing any and every child’s game that involved a pen and paper. Every shop in the airport was explored. Twice. We watched the Duke and Duchess of Cambridges’ plane land (interesting how their plane seemed to have no troubles navigating the Wellington fog!?). We ran into some old friends we hadn’t seen for ages. We chatted to other stranded passengers. My husband and I chatted with each other. It was actually a very pleasant family day out. In the end our flight didn’t leave until late afternoon, which meant staying in Auckland overnight and then an early morning flight the next day to Fiji.

By 11am the next day we were there. Hoorah!! The resort was gorgeous. White sandy beaches lined with coconut trees and recliners. Enormous pools that snaked their way around the resort. We had arrived and it was going to be bliss! There was even an adults-only pool, the Holy Grail. Two years ago, we’d had a Fijian family holiday. There were only three of us then, back when Mr4 was Mr2, and Ms9 months was not yet here. Back then, the hubby and I devised the most perfect holiday formula. We would take it in turns (day-on, day-off) to be on child-duty. On your day-off you could chose to do what-ever you liked. I would often spend the morning with the family, but then take my leave in the afternoon, heading straight for the much coveted adults-only pool. Book in one hand; cocktail in the other; the rapturous sound of silence in my ears. What could be better!? We left Fiji feeling renewed and refreshed. Family holidays are awesome!

IMG_5866

Or are they!?

So, the hubby and I figured we’d just apply our winning formula to this holiday. Eeeeeasy! However, there was one particular variable that we failed to factor in; the small matter of Little Ms9 months refusing to sleep in the hotel cot. In order to get our cherub to sleep I ended up having to share a bed with her. Given that Ms9 months is still breast feeding, sharing a bed with the milk truck was just a little too exciting for her. She managed to work her way through the entire week on a constant milk bender. It was almost like she was a teenager away on an end of year schoolies trip, but instead of binging on Midori and lemonade, it was mums milk all the way. The milk truck was exhausted! There was little hope of me catching up on sleep during the day, since our bundle of milk would only sleep in the daylight hours whilst being chauffeured around the resort in either the front pack or pram. The minx! I hasten to add that she sleeps perfectly well in her own cot at home, so this was a complete surprise to us. I spent the entire holiday in a sleep deprived state and feeling utterly wrung out.

Dad, forget sleep, where's the milk truck?

Dad, forget sleep, where’s the milk truck?

Sadly, our winning holiday formula didn’t make it out of the bag this trip. There was no time hanging out by the adults-only pool and neither of the two books I’d packed for the trip made it out of my suitcase (two – what was I thinking!?). We did have lots of family fun though. Mr4 spent hours swimming and digging in the sand. We took a boat trip out to a gorgeous tropical island. We ate out for every meal. The sun shone every single day and the sunsets were just simply stunning. We spent time all together, the four of us as a family.

IMG_6050Since we got back, I’ve been reflecting on the trip and the mismatch between how I thought the holiday would be, and how it actually was. I have come to the conclusion that I have probably been a little selfish in my expectations of what a family holiday should be. Holidays have always brought out the hedonist in me, and I guess this one was no different. Looking back, I now realise that I was so focused on the things I wasn’t doing (i.e.: sleeping, relaxing by the pool, reading my book etc), that I struggled to focus on what I actually was doing. It’s a shame that the mindfulness I had been practicing so well back at Wellington airport didn’t join me for the Fijian leg of the holiday. Family life is busy and family holidays are no exception.

Is there such a thing as a relaxing family holiday? Any tips welcomed!

New Merino and a Bolting Horse

A friend informed me the other day that 2014 is the Year of the Horse. Now, I don’t know much about the Chinese zodiac, but I do know that there has been more than just a touch of the bolting equine about the past few months in our household. At the risk of sounding prosaic, where the hell has this year gone!?

ImageWe find ourselves now in April (well, almost), and our house that was meant to sell in February is still on the market. It’s simple case of supply versus demand. The housing market is over-supplied and the punters are thin on the ground. We are now faced with a catalogue of decisions about the rest of the year. Do we take the house off the market for a while, or do we rent the house out and hightail it back to Australia? If we do stay, then which school should we enrol our son in when he starts in October? If we go then how do we juggle the logistics of selling a house remotely? I feel a bit irritated with having to ponder all of this. The Grand Plan had us selling the house back in February and being all settled back into Aussie life, complaining about all this heat, by now.

I found myself at the shops the other day, perusing merino for the kids. I even made a few purchases. Here in Wellington, this is what you do at this time of year. You invest in new winter woollies in anticipation of the coming winter chills. The fact that I have made these habitual purchases gives some hint as to my state of mind. I keep thinking that in a parallel universe I’m living it up in sunny Brisbane, buying sunscreen in bulk and throwing another shrimp on the barbie.

ImageIn the midst of all this chaos and uncertainty, I am mostly keeping up with my goal of being calm on purpose. There are times when the anxiety of the unknown abducts me and holds me for ransom. I pay the ransom fee (usually about 5 uninterrupted minutes of quality time with a bar of chocolate) and then I just get on with it.

I’m not sure there’s anything that can be done to tame my unruly Horse? I guess I just need to hold on tight and let it take me where it will. If that means we stay here in Wellington, well then at least the kids have new merino.

Has your Year of the Horse jumped the fence and bolted up the road like mine?

When the Glitter Rubs Off: Adjusting to a New Baby

In any family, the addition of a new baby brings with it a period of adjustment. The dynamic that once was, will never again be. The new baby of course, has been much yearned for and is a welcomed and treasured member of the family. But the shifting and shuffling that happens after this new little being enters the world can bring many challenges. This has certainly been true for our family since the arrival of our daughter almost 8 months ago.

Our son, Mr4 had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of his new sibling since the moment we told him I was pregnant. He sang songs to the bump and frequently had conversations with it, often planning out the things they would do together… and then when you’re bigger we can take turns on my scooter… After we found out she was a girl, Mr4 was the first one in the family to choose a name for her (which has since become her middle name). As the arrival date got closer, he told me not to worry about setting up the cot, because the new baby would sleep with him in his bed. He had it all sorted out.

IMG_5804

Oh, we were smug, the husband and I, so very smug. We wouldn’t have to worry about all that sibling rivalry business. Oh no, that wasn’t going to happen in our family. Our well balanced, gentle natured little boy would welcome his sister with open arms, and we’d all live happily ever after.

And this was how it was for about the first 6 weeks of our daughters’ life. Mr4 fell instantly and completely in love with his baby sister. We would often find him gazing at her as she slept in her cot, all the while cuddling up to his own little baby doll. He was my helpful little assistant, immediately at hand with a clean muslin, a fresh nappy, a cuddly toy for his sister. It was adorable and just as we had imagined it to be. Ahh, the blissful smugness….

IMG_3358

One morning when our daughter was about 6weeks old, Mr4 dropped a bombshell. The four of us were all snuggled up in bed discussing what dreams we’d had the night before, when from out of the blue Mr4 said ….mama, I think it’s time we put baby in the bin…. And with that, the glitter had quite suddenly rubbed off. Our gentle, caring, doting little son suddenly turned into an irritable, short tempered, tantrum throwing rogue.

The gentle kisses and cheek stroking he had once bestowed upon his sister were soon replaced by rough and vice-like ‘cuddles’. When he thought we weren’t looking, he would stand on her tiny hand as he walked by her or squeeze her cheek just a little too roughly. For months, the littlest thing could trigger a complete meltdown (like not having enough brown sugar on his porridge), and often mid-tanty he’d yell at us that … you hurt my feelings or that …I don’t want you to be in my family anymore… I’m not sure if he was talking to us or his sister in those moments?

It’s safe to say that at this point, we were cured of all smugness.

These were some long, hard months, and in my sleep-deprived state, I felt like a deer caught in the headlights. Up until this point, I had always prided myself on my gentle parenting style. And while I knew that Mr4 was grappling with some huge changes, I really struggled to give him the support and reassurance that I knew he needed. My respectful and gentle approach bit the proverbial dust, and I spent most days feeling utterly furious with him and his impossible behaviour. I was rigid and shouty. I used the Disney Chanel and Time Out too often. I’m not proud of my parenting-self when I think about those months.

I think the change started happening when I began paying more attention to my own state of calmness (or lack there of!). By being calm on purpose, I found myself less reactive to every little thing my son did. I can’t emphasise enough how powerful this was. Mr4 and I had created this volatile dynamic, like two sparring roosters fighting beak and claw to the very end. By being calm in the face of his raging anger, there was no longer a battle to be won.

IMG_5737I can now confidently say that I have re-established my gentle and respectful approach to parenting and thankfully feel much more connected with my son. The meltdowns do continue, but gradually they have become less frequent and angst filled, and he seems to recover from them more easily. Mr4 has also started to be kinder and gentler with his sister once again. Interesting how his behaviour seemingly mirrors my own. He has even admitted to me that …it’s good having a baby in the house. I can play with her when you’re busy doing stuff

Have your children struggled with the addition of a new family member?

Did your parenting style change in the face of these new dynamics?

A Brutish Virus & Career Angst

The past week has seen the entire Mama Maru household violently knee-capped by a brutish virus. A whole eight days later and we are only just hobbling our way back to some semblance of health. When my husband woke me in the wee small hours with his violent shivering, I knew we were done for. Since then we have been on a carousel of fevers, lethargy, aching bodies, trips to the loo (post haste!!), pounding headaches, a crying babe, a whining pre-schooler and two particularly cranky grown-ups. Good times!

With all these distractions, the sense of calm that I had been nurturing, has completely abandoned me. My worrisome mind has been let out of its cage and is roaming the streets of my brain freely, baring its teeth and terrorising all my happy neurons. My mind has been fizzing with worries about finding a buyer for our house; wondering if we’ll ever get to move back to Australia; whether our son will have to start school here in New Zealand instead of in Australia as we had planned. The list goes on and on…..

Surprisingly, I have also been consumed with worry about my career over this past week. I say surprisingly because I thought that I was very happy to be staying at home with my two children. My youngest is only 7 months old, and I have absolutely no intentions of going back to work before she’s 12 months (or even older). This past week however, when I think about the current state of my career (i.e.: dead in the water), I am overcome with a thick blanket of dank stagnation. I have been very fortunate in my career, and before we had our children I had enjoyed great success in my professional life. As is often the case for many women, our priorities shift dramatically when we have a family to care for. I have loved this. I adore that these two little beings are the centre of my universe.

So why this sudden nagging feeling?

My eldest is 4 and half years old, and we moved to New Zealand when I was pregnant with him. The idea was that we would nestle down in New Zealand, have our family and then move back to Australia after a couple of years. In my mind, I had calculated a career hiatus of maybe 2 or 3 three years. Have a couple of kids, enjoy being a SAH mummy, get back into it. Sorted. A traumatic miscarriage, then the loss of our baby girl to stillbirth sees that 2 or 3 year hiatus stretched out to 5 or 6 years. That’s a bloody long time to be out of the game! Sure, I have dabbled with working in between this time, but I haven’t really had any strong commitment to my career. In the grip of illness this past week, I have never felt so desperate to reconnect with my old self. The one that was productive, determined, focused, successful and respected. I don’t mean to suggest that I’m not those things now, but I think the old me just had more potency.

Image

So, now that we’re out of the viral woods, it’s time to put the leash back on the wild beast that is my angst-ridden mind and get my inner calm back on. Today, I am focusing on breathing. When I water my garden, I will practice some mindfulness. Out of the ashes of this dreaded virus and a week of unbridled angst, has come a newly determined me.

 

Pass the Lava: Celebrating World Book Day 2014

Image

Yesterday was World Book Day (thanks to Mummy Says for the reminder). It seems fitting then, that I spent a good chunk of the afternoon helping my son to write his very own book. For the past month, Mr4 has been absolutely obsessed with Peter Gossages’ story of the Battle of the Mountains. They have been reading it at Kindy, and he is captivated.

The story is based in Maori Mythology and describes a heated love triangle between three mountains. Pihanga was the much lusted after lady mountain and the two feuding fellows were Mount Taranaki and Mount Tongariro. I have lost count of how many times over the last month I have had to pretend to be Pihanga, while Mr4 and his toy Zebra battle it out for my affections. We have also spent hours crafting a Mount Taranaki out of a large box, making mountains out of ice cream sticks, painting mountains etc etc. You get the picture.

ImageRunning high with mountain fever yesterday afternoon, Mr4 asked me to make some pages into a book. I did as instructed and sat with him while he illustrated his own version of The Battle of the Mountains. Mr4’s interpretation had some interesting twists. My favourite deviation from the original story was when all the mountains sat in a circle together playing pass the lava in celebration of Taranakis’ birthday. Hilarious!

ImageI adore that my son is so immersed in the world of this book. It has sparked his imagination and extended his play in so many ways. Just one example of how books really can enrich our lives.

Is your child immersed in a book at the moment? Has there been a particular book that has captured your child’s imagination like Mr4 and his mountains?

Still Memories: When a baby dies.

We have three children, two precious little munchkins who fill our days with their vigour and vitality, and one who fills our hearts and minds with her precious memories. We named her Stella and she is our wishing star. Eighteen months and twenty three days ago she was born, still. Every month when the moon is full, my heart aches a little. On the 7th full moon after she was conceived, our Stella died. Although the days and months roll on, I continue to feel utterly shocked that my baby girl died in my body. Unknowingly, I held my daughter as she died. What could be more shocking than that!? I keep thinking … well, that’s all that anyone really wants in the end isn’t it, to be held as you die? I did that for her, and the comfort I feel with that thought is slowly growing.

ImageIt has taken me a very long time to let myself think about those moments; when she died; her birth; her homecoming; her funeral; and after, the pure devastation of her absence. Even still, my mind will only offer up quick flashes of information, testing the waters, assessing how much I can take on any given day. The morsels on offer at the moment involve a lot of silence. The silence of my midwifes’ doppler in that silent clinic room. The silence of the CTG machine in the labour ward. The silence of the medical staff as they crowded around the ultrasound screen, looking for signs of life. My daughters silence as she exited my body into that stuffy, silent delivery room. Silence. Too much damn silence.

Immediately after my husband and I were told that our daughter had died, we were visited by a midwife. Her name was Georgia and her baby girl had been stillborn 10years before. I remember that she was talking and talking and giving us a mass of information all at once. It was like she was desperate to pour all her wisdom into us in that moment, so that we would know what to do. So that we wouldn’t have regrets. My head was whirring like a spinning top, but I remember trying so hard to grasp everything she said. I was in uncharted waters and I needed some kind of compass to show me which way home. She talked a lot about taking every opportunity in the coming days to make memories with our precious baby. She told us to take a million photos; if we could, to take our baby home; to sing to our baby; to hold her; to introduce her to the people we love. Just do everything, she said.

And we did. Stella came home with us for a day and a half. We held her; we introduced her to her brother and her grandparents; we sang to her; we read The Cat in The Hat to her; she stayed the night with us in our bedroom; we dressed her; we bathed her; we took a million photos. We parented her and we adored her fragile little being for that time. At the moment, I have trouble looking at those photos, and her memory box is tucked firmly away in the back of my closet, hardly touched. But I know those memories are there for me when I’m ready. I often wonder how different our experience might have been without Georgia’s advice that day. Would we have done all those things? Would we have made all those precious memories? I am so grateful that she was working that day and that she was able to share her wisdom.  This was the first of many instances of the road rising up to meet us during those dark days and months.

Image

Sitting on my kitchen floor in the sleepless wee hours of the morning trying to plan out my daughters’ funeral, I reflected on all the memories we were creating and I was hit hard with a sense of utter despair. This was it. This was all we’d get of her. She’d be cremated and then she’d be gone. We’d have the photos, her foot prints on a piece of paper, the clothes she wore, her hospital name tag, the cards people sent to us, but that was it. When this time was over, there would be nothing more. I wished so hard to believe in heaven at that time, just to have the hope that she could still be there, somewhere, and that someday I would see her again. I don’t believe in heaven though, and those thoughts offered no solace. Sitting on my kitchen floor, googling away on the laptop, I happened upon this poem by Mary Frye:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circling flight.

I am the soft star-shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.

In that moment, these words gave me so much hope for the future. If I could just look for the beauty in the world, then I would be able to find my Stella. She could be with me every single day. An unforgettable sunrise; the delicious warmth of the winter sun on my face; fat dew drops on nasturtium, the full moon rising up over the mountains. She is everywhere. These would be my new memories of her, and I would photograph them and take them with me. And so this is how I live now. I look for my beautiful daughter every single day. Some days she looks for me too, and takes me by surprise with her beauty. Like when I’m walking down our path and an audacious Tui swoops right by in front of me, or when she streaks the sky with bright pinks and oranges as the sun is setting.

Image

This is also how my family remembers Stella. Watching the sun rising this morning with my son and my husband, we talked about how this was our Stella saying Good morning my lovely family. My son wondered out loud if Stella was tickling the sun to wake it up and send it up over the hills. What a beautiful thought. He also calls her our wishing star, and often finds her shining brightly in the night sky. I love that we can all remember her through the natural beauty of the world.

And so we continue, living with, but without our Stella. Since Stella died, we have had a new addition to our family. Our third child and our second daughter. She’s just 7months, but already we talk to her about her big sister. She will know the magical beauty of her sisters’ blessings, just as her brother does now.