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Three weeks and one day. The time we have left here in New Zealand. Time. It’s ticking away before my eyes.

Scrolling through our ‘To Do’ list just now, it’s hard not to feel overcome. Not just with the enormity of all that we have to get done in the next three weeks and one day, but also for that which we have already crossed off the list. When the list was made, it felt like we had all the time in the world. But now time has caught up with us, and there’s not much of it left.

If you’ve been following this fitful blog of mine, you will know that we started planning for this move over 12 months ago. After a few false starts, and much planning and replanning, we finally find ourselves here at the pointy end. It’s really happening. We are finally moving to Australia.

Amidst all the practicalities of moving countries with two small children, there has been little time for sentimentality. Until tonight. Laying in the bath this evening I took some precious moments to think about the past 6 years of our lives here in Wellington. About this house of ours, and how she has played host to some of the most joyous and also the most heartbreaking moments of our lives. I have spent endless hours lying on her living room floor, marvelling at my babies as they grew and developed into the wondrous little individuals they are today. There were the days and months of grief stricken depression after the loss of Stella. There was an indescribable comfort in the simple act of sitting on the heated tiles of the kitchen floor during those dark moments. On other days, her awe-inspiring mountainous views were a tonic for my heartbroken soul. Then there were the much cherished visits from family and friends from afar. The mundane and extraordinary, this house has been a gracious host and I will miss her.

Snow on the hills and bugs in the air. It must be winter.IMG_20150418_214632

But for now, I still have three weeks and one day. We still have a lot to do before we leave, but I am determined to stay present and not lose myself to the chaos. I want to enjoy every last minute I have here in the comfort of this place that has been our beloved home.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.