And then a Rainbow appeared (in the form of two pink lines)

TW a bit of loss, not much

I found out that a baby born after a loss is called a Rainbow Baby… I love it! I love rainbows. I love sunshine amidst rain, the fracturing of light, all the colours, diversity and gay pride – all the best things!

keep-calm-i-m-having-a-rainbow-baby
http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-i-m-having-a-rainbow-baby/

 

In December, my partner and I will bring a rainbow baby into the world, if all goes well – which I feel it will. This little human is truly coming out from behind the darkest clouds to light up our lives.

It has been a hard road, and with this unbelievably wonderful development comes a strange sort of guilt. We didn’t have to wait too long. Only about 6 months after we lost our 10 week bean, I was able to see those crazy little double pink lines on the test. I left it sitting on the bathroom sink and watched my partner from the shower as he looked at it. Furrowed his brow and looked at it some more. And then looked at me. His expression was priceless. I had been waiting to see those lines for months; picturing them, hoping for them – even imagining them – but for him, he wasn’t completely sure of what he was looking at.

“It’s happening,” I said.

Our immediate reaction to this was so different from our first pregnancy. Surely the first trimester is the hardest time for a couple who have suffered a miscarriage or still birth. For us, there was no reason to believe that we would miscarry again – except the fact that we had miscarried previously. The stats do show that miscarriage is more likely to happen when there’s been one already (but I can see how this number might be affected by fertility or medical issues that reoccur with each pregnancy).

Up until about 8 weeks, I felt hopeful but overall pretty neutral. Just sort of going through the motions of life. The family members that we told would ask about the due date and we would quickly say “December, but we won’t talk about due dates yet, let’s just get to the ‘safe zone’…” And my beautiful sister would say “ooh I’ve got such-and-such to give you” and I would say, “Okay, okay, yes that would be great – but let’s just get to 12 weeks first.”

At 7 weeks and 2 days we had the optional dating scan. My dates were spot on. I wanted the early scan so I could ease my mind… last time we had two foetal sacks but only one foetus had a heartbeat. The other would probably vanish later on. It was complex last time – not dangerous, just complex. So at 7 weeks this time we were able to be reassured that we had one normal looking little bean. Not complex. But I still didn’t let myself get excited. We saw a heartbeat last time too.

Once I got to 8 weeks, I hit peak anxiety mode. I tried to keep busy, but I was feeling so exhausted and sick. Every time someone asked about the sickness I would say “yeah, it’s bad – but I’ll take it! It means everything’s still happening!” I lay awake at night – something I’ve done since my last pregnancy pretty regularly. I dreaded blood every time I went to the toilet. I almost expected it. When I felt cramps I would freak out. When I didn’t feel nauseous, I would freak out, until it returned. (A lot of my fear around this time was that I believed I had come far enough for a miscarriage to be very painful. Like the point of no return. It was either going to be great, or it was going to be really bad.)

I understand my loved ones saying “You have to be positive”, “It’s not going to happen again”, or “It will all work out when it’s meant to” but these phrases are just words that could not in any way ease the pain or the stress that I was feeling. Yes I needed to be positive – but I wanted to protect myself. No – you can’t tell me it’s not going to happen again! Because, well it might. Yes, miscarriages happen for reasons, I got that, but that didn’t make me feel better because I SURE AS HELL was not ready to go through another one.

The 9th, 10th and 11th weeks were just a sick, stressed, grumpy string of days. I had marked in my calendar each week milestone up to 12 weeks. From about a month out, I even marked in countdown days. 12 more days and we are safe, 11 more days, 10 more days, 9 more days… The ‘safe zone’ of course, is just a thing we say. Some say you need to get to the END of the 12th week, others the 13th. But to me it was all about the scan that we had booked for our last pregnancy, but hadn’t made it to. The 12 week scan.

I couldn’t actually believe it when we got to 12 weeks. I mean, I had only dreamt of getting there and when we did I wasn’t sure what to do! We had the scan and saw our baby moving around, drinking, waving… We left the clinic stunned, buoyed, and amazingly grateful.

WE MADE A HEALTHY BABY. AND IT WAS (PROBABLY) GOING TO BE OKAY.

It rained all the way home from our scan. Then the sun peeked out through the darkness, and a small, colourful rainbow appeared.

🙂

(I totally just made that last bit up, but hey, it’s my story.)

sunshower and rainbows

 

 

 

What my Miscarriage taught me about Pain, Death and Community.

TW – loss and blood talk

Disclaimer – this is my experience, I cannot pretend to understand all stories, especially not those of couples who have lost more further along pregnancies 😦

 

Sometimes I joke about my miscarriage. In fact I was joking before my miscarriage (Nurse on call asked if I had back pain and I replied “Well, I do, but I just vacuumed!) and during it (“Tell the boss I won’t make the interview I’m meant to be having now!”), and sometimes that shocks people. But what else can I do? Break down in tears? Blame and hate myself? Humour is a means of dealing with stuff for me, as is sharing my story.

Please understand I am not writing this to garner sympathy or pity. I am sharing to work through what is the most confusingly painful thing I have ever had to deal with, and share for others who have also experienced or are experiencing miscarriage. Perhaps loved ones might better understand how miscarriage might have affected those close to them.

I would also like to at this point admit that having not been pregnant before, and not experienced this, I previously had no idea what this would be like for others. I had no idea. I have previously been completely unaware of the pain and loss involved and have, I am sure, said totally the wrong thing in the past and certainly had a very uneducated view on how this could feel.

 

Surprisingly large amounts of people are unaware (I certainly was) that early miscarriage can be so painful. I think they think you go to the toilet and see blood and go ‘oh!’ I was bleeding for 2 days before, and was not in pain until cramps set in and progressively worsened. When the real pain hit 15 minutes before school ended on a Friday, I knew that it was happening. That morning I had gone to a job interview in the city before heading to my school. I had another interview lined up at the other campus principal after school at 3:15. I was lucky to be team teaching at the time and told my colleague (who knew I was pregnant, and knew I was bleeding – yeah, we’re close) “I think it’s happening” and ran out of the classroom.

What ensued was the worst pain I have ever experienced. The first contractions went about 30 or 40 minutes. Possibly more or less, I don’t really know. A colleague called my husband and told him how to get to school (once again, I joked through my tears “he’s never been here, look for a tall man with a bright red beard!”) and as my principal was guiding the paramedics over the phone he learnt that I was 11 weeks pregnant. Poor guy, that was awkward.

I have had migraines that have made me bang the heel of my hand into my head so hard, hoping that a different pain would take the migraine away. In terms of a pain threshold, I thought I was pretty strong. The contractions were full on. Not like a ‘bad period’. Much worse. When I have migraines I know it’s bad if every so often my feet kick involuntarily. During this, I had to consciously stop both my legs from thrashing out every minute or so. A colleague sourced a heat bag for me. After a certain amount of time, the paramedic said “do you want to come and sit on the toilet now?” She was calm and supportive, and amazing that she knew just then that the time had come. I passed blood and tissue, and would pass more at home later. This woman talked me through it all, and was there to check whether I was having any abnormal bleeding or symptoms.

The other night, when my partner thought I was asleep, and I should have been – I said with a start – “Maybe the paramedic lady asked to check the blood so that she would flush the toilet and not me?!” Hubby was just like “…what are you talking about?” I just had realised that in that act she had saved me from flushing my future baby down the toilet. The toilet I would continue to frequent during my working life. I actually don’t remember if she did flush or if I did, but I can’t remember doing it, so maybe she did. And doing that I think, was a really thoughtful thing.

The next day I actually felt relieved. I felt like the weight had been lifted as the anxiety of unexplained bleeding had ceased. We had good friends around. I drank Gin. I felt great (although I did cry later I think, drunk). I was in a sort of rebound high post pregnancy. I sent out an email to every colleague I had told and let them know what had happened so that they wouldn’t feel awkward later asking me about my pregnancy. I stopped bleeding very quickly. I congratulated myself on the efficiency of my uterus, so quick to dispel every part of the obviously faulty pregnancy.

I won’t go into it too much, but there was an interesting day where my hormones and post trauma brain led me on a thought excursion that can only be described as delusional. The doctor noted that a blood test to ensure my hormone levels were dropping might be in order due to the fact that there had been two foetuses in there originally. With my breasts and belly still feeling big, a sick day at home allowed me the chance to cook up the craziest belief that one had survived. The internet willingly confirmed the possibility of this. I knew it was crazy but I still indulged my damaged brain. (When the Doc mentioned the possibility of one of the beans surviving, I said “well, it might be soaked in Gin!” – seriously what’s wrong with me!?) The next day my body deflated and I looked back at my mind’s workings the day before with amazement.

 

The good friends checked in via text message every few days to check that I was ok. Many colleagues shared their own stories with me. Immediately, so many women and men came and shared their experiences. Most of my workmates would just give me a little squeeze on my arm as they passed, or a sympathetic ‘you ok?’ half smile. This was the best. The office ladies left a cute orchid on my desk. The librarian freaked out when I asked for the key to the toilet there, “Is every thing ok!?” which was cute. The worst thing that people could do was bail me up in a corner and ask me very pointedly, HOW ARE YOU? ARE YOU OKAY? I found myself in the photocopy room with my two principals who (wanting to be supportive) proceeded to very caringly interrogate me with their thoughtful words. I sacrificed my photocopying and got out of there pretty quickly.

The best thing someone said to me was that one day I would be able to offer support and love to another woman who was feeling how I was feeling. And I know she is right. The colleague who happened to be next to me in the toilets (I could hear her always jingling bangles) when I said “Hey _____, I think I’m miscarrying, can you help me?” was able to support me and help me through the experience until the paramedics arrived because she had also miscarried before.

The worst thing someone said to me (which honestly, I had probably said something similar myself when I had no clue) was “11 weeks. So still pretty early.” That is like a punch in the guts. How dare we minimise the potential new life and family member to a timeline of dates and landmark developments? I don’t feel like I lost a child. But I feel the greatest loss I have ever felt. It is the loss of what could have been. Saying, “You’ll get pregnant again” (again, something I have thought or said myself) is a useless statement. I am not pining for a baby. I am dealing with a loss. If a family member or friend died, you would not imply that they could be replaced. No, all you need to understand about how I am feeling now, is great loss.

I kept hearing “It’s very common”, “1 in 4 pregnancies”, but I didn’t know anyone in my family who had had a miscarriage. If it is so common, how come it is not talked of more? Once the heartbeat was seen on the 8 week ultra sound, I lived by the mantra “once you see the heartbeat, the chance of miscarriage drastically drops”. I will not do that again, nor will I tell so many people so early. But – I do not regret that I did.

However, at the moment the thought of pregnancy is a highly anxious point with me. I find myself saying the word ‘anxious’ a lot at the moment. The smell of the toilet where it happened gives me an anxious jump, menstrual bleeding brings with it a deep anxiety and I have had many sleepless nights kept awake by my active mind. Sometimes I am reliving the event, and other times ‘pre-living’ me being pregnant again. That brings an actually quite hilarious situation of me being anxious, about being anxious. I stress about finding out, feeling pregnant, going through that first trimester where I will be always, always vexed about the possibility of experiencing what I did, again. I picture myself breaking down at the 10 week mark, or spending the entire first trimester in a hole, not seeing anyone, and not even moving unless I have to.

This does not necessarily mean we should wait before trying again – whenever we reach this point again I will have to deal with these emotions. And yes, I know that one miscarriage does not necessarily mean more.

Some nights I have lain awake asking myself every WHAT IF and WHY question I could. WAS IT BECAUSE I went on water slides, WAS IT BECAUSE we had two in there and the loss of the unviable (urgh, I hate that word!) twin brought about the end of the healthy one? Was it because we got pregnant super quick and maybe my body allows ‘bad’ eggs to be fertilised? Was it because I unknowingly exposed myself to the Slap Cheek virus that was around in my family? Was it because my partner and I are genetically incompatible? Was it because I don’t eat meat or much dairy? Was it because I lifted all those school books or that big bag of dog food those times…?

In the end, whatever reason our little bean decided to depart was due to something I most likely could not have prevented. More importantly, there is nothing good that is brought on by considering all these questions.

 

I do not in any way apologise for making people feel uncomfortable when I tell them that we miscarried. Especially when people (often good friends) ask when we are going to have children. Are we planning to have kids? Is there any news? If they ask this, we either smile and nod and say “Yeah, hope so soon!” or (depending how I am feeling) I tell them (poor hubby, I don’t often give him a choice, but he said that if writing or talking about it helps me, then he is okay with it – dammit I love him!). Often people respond by telling me their own miscarriage story and I wonder why they would feel that it was right to ask the question then! Have they forgotten the pain they felt?

We need to talk about miscarriage as a death that has been experienced. It is a death of a dream and the loss of a life that was yet to be validated in the way that being brought into the world makes us ‘alive’ and human, even though couples who lose further along pregnancies of course know that the little one inside them is alive and literally kicking. It is a death. It should be respected. But it is a hard death to mourn, and a type of mourning that is hard to understand from the outside looking in.

I am glad that people knew that I was pregnant and knew about the loss. I felt supported and loved. In your first trimester you are feeling sick, tired, and experiencing a weird and wonderful event inside your body. Losing that, I felt empty, fat, and tired. And people around me understood this. I have suffered physically since then with pain that has rendered me sluggish and sore, unable to exercise, and emotionally deflated and sad.

And how can I expect people to always be sensitive to what we have felt? People will always, of course, talk about babies. You will be shown pictures of their kids, you will see pregnant ladies walking down the street, and Facebook will inundate you with ultra sounds, announcements and #nesting and #eatingfortwo. I can’t expect people to stop doing this, and I don’t want them to. I can always walk away from the screen, or people talking. Just the other day I listened as women chatted away in front of me about how horrible being pregnant in summer would be. I would have been at the end of my second trimester then! In that situation, I just moved away.

I am sensitive, and good friends recognise this. At work in the days following the miscarriage a “Kid’s Party” themed morning tea was held by the English team. Replete with a musical performance of that Wiggles song that you sing your kids when you are trying to get them to sleep. This was followed by the coincidental announcement that the AP was leaving because his baby was being born… A beautiful friend at work texted me the night before, telling me he could get the whole theme changed… Hell no, I said. All good. Yes, it wasn’t easy. Yes, many awkward eyes darted at me throughout the song, and the announcement. But yes, I smiled and laughed and pretended I was fine.

 

Thank you for reading all of this.

I am sending out a lot of love to all those who have had to bear the loss of an unborn child. To those who lost, anywhere between conception and full term. My heart breaks for you as my heart broke. But it, and yours I hope, will heal.

I know that this had made me stronger. More importantly it made me realise my strength. It has also however, made me realise the flaws in always keeping the strong face on, when you are struggling. I always smile, even when I am in pain. And this may have resulted in people thinking I am fine. Which I am clearly not. But I am getting better. And if I feel that I need to talk to someone professionally, I will. This episode has left me with the very, very strong belief that you should always, always share your stories. For yourself, for mothers, mothers to be, partners of those women, and for all women everywhere. We are the village and we need to support each other.

 

PS

After the miscarriage, the paramedics left the school grounds, my principal waved goodbye with last words of “Take as much time as you need, ” and my husband helped me out to the car. Before we walked out though, he suddenly stopped “Wait!”, and tilted my face towards his. He wiped the tear driven mascara from my cheeks and all the black from under my eyes. I had put on a lot of makeup that day for my interviews! What a man, I thought. Later he would run into the milk bar for sanitary items and come out with Tena pads. “Those are for people who CAN’T CONTROL THEIR BLADDERS!!” Even though I was writhing in pain in the front passenger seat, with contractions still coursing through my body, this seems hilarious to me now.

The loss of which we are unaware

I recently watched footage of the killer Anders Breivik entering a room with the Press watching on, and my heart did a brief flip as I realised that the ‘applause’ I thought I was hearing, was the constant clicking of the photographers’ cameras. This man is responsible for the horrific Oslo bombing and subsequent shooting massacre of 69 youths who were the young political thinkers of their nation. These victims were the next generation’s decision makers, policy changers, revolutionaries, leaders.

While Breivik’s justice is coming one year on, this week – decades after the crimes – we are witnessing the trial of Ratko Mladic, the man who oversaw the slaughter and persecution of Muslims and Croats, from what he considered Serbian territory, including the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebenica in July 1995.

8,000 men and boys. 8,000 brains, bodies, loves, hates, hearts, dreams, hobbies, thoughts, memories, habits, sleeping patterns, skills… 8,000 lives that could have – would have – been something.

That’s this much potential the world never saw live and die naturally:

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These men did not have to die.

This year, we lost (yet another) teenager to bullying-induced suicide. A gorgeous young woman decided to end her life, after posting a sad, but beautifully made YouTube video, flipping through small placards of her message that explained her story, her hurt, and her abuse.

How does this happen? An obviously intelligent, talented young woman has taken herself out of this world. Her death will be greatly felt amongst her family and friends, as she has already imprinted her personality and style in her school and social groups.

[Action taken this week against workplace bullying (“Brodie’s Law”) is a welcome movement in the hope of stopping bullying and associated deaths in the workplace.]

In World War One, C.S.Lewis fought alongside J.R.R.Tolkien. What void would exist in the literary history – and present – of the world had these men perished alongside the many that did?

More importantly – what if the man, shelled on the front line, who was advancing next to the writer of the Lord of the Rings, had been a great composer, a great sportsmen, a wonderful father? That man has been taken from the world because of war. Because of hate, greed, intolerance or just plain stupidity. THESE are the losses that we cry for, when we cry over war.

At my uncle’s funeral, we heard eulogies from his family and his ex-wife, with whom he shares a son. She declared him as ‘the very best of men’. And that he was. He never wrote a book, or discovered something in the science realm, but he worked nights in the infectious diseases unit without telling her, to feed the family. He cared for all his family relentlessly, and gave money to charities when he had none for himself. His loss is a great loss to his loved ones, and his friends, and his community.

Every child that breathes in this world has potential. Whether they are wearing elite school blazers, or playing hacki sack alone in the Himalayas. When you look out over the 25 heads in a Primary School, or Secondary School classroom, each of those bodies is a brain and soul worthy of ‘having a go’ in this life.

In a country far away, or living next door to you, could be the next Tolkien, or the next Obama, or the next Fred Hollows, or the next Cathy Freeman.

About 40 children have died since you started reading this blog. They would have died due to poverty or disease that could have been stopped. They might have died in Syria, victims of cruel oppression and relentless violence, or they could have died in the most remote regions of Nepal, where access to toilets and clean water might have saved them.

That’s this many lives:

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…that could have changed the world – and what they could have done and who they could have been, we will never know.

PS. I am a Buddhist. I believe that we come and go into and out of this world, and even in a short visit, we can do great good and spread great love. But this horrible sadness we feel when we know it is just too soon – it is not right that we lose beautiful lives due to war, genocide or conditions that could be avoided. I guess this is the lesson we learn.

A Sad Sort of Stoicism: Japan’s Relationship with Death

One time I was sitting in a Kokugo class (Japanese native language) in my Japanese classroom, generally ignorant to what the teacher was saying, (as I didn’t really study Kokugo, but I sat in the classroom studying Japanese privately) and I found myself being addressed.

“Jacqueline,” she said, “your religion is Christian, yes?”

“Yes, I’m Catholic.”

“In your religion… is it a good thing to commit suicide?”

I remember sitting there, a 17 year old, still young in so many ways, still so uneducated in culture, history and the world, and furrowing my brow – thinking I’m sure she said suicide, did she just say the word suicide? I reached for my translator but needn’t have, for, my confusion evident, the teacher translated the word in question for me: “Suicide, like, to kill yourself.”

I thanked her and nodded my head to show her I understood.

The entire class had turned to me, in their usual excited way when the blonde, odd-ball Foreigner was about to speak. The nice girls smiled, the mean girls just stared, and the three boys in my class I noticed were actually awake for once.

iie,” I said, with what I am sure was a flummoxed, slightly amused look on my face. “No, it’s bad.” With all the sweetness of youth still intact I was mortified at the question asked to me.

“Thank you Jacqueline.” The teacher continued on with the lesson, and the students all turned back to the front, and I was left pondering how, in any religion or culture, committing suicide could be anything but a bad thing.

After a decade of study of the Japanese language and culture, and experience of living withing Japanese society, the way in which the Japanese people have faced the recovery from the devastating tsunami and nuclear disaster, does not surprise me, and yet – always does.

Everyone knows about Kamikaze pilots. Many people have heard about Seppuku – the act of disemboweling oneself in a suicide act, usually with someone there to decapitate you shortly after. Japanese people have been hardened, through centuries of wars and much loss, but have always held ‘honour’ and ‘humility’ as important values in their society. A Hollywood film might portray the terribly tragic scene of a Japanese soldier killing themselves seconds before they would be captured by allied troops and possibly freed to return to their loved ones in Japan – but the terribly tragic thing is that it truly happened, many times.

But not only soldiers or military personnel. Mothers on the Ryuuku Islands (Okinawa) slit their children’s throats before taking their own lives, as the American troops arrived to find the families hiding. As pawns in the Japanese mainland’s war, Okinawans saw the only fighting on ‘mainland Japan’ and lost so many lives, as the islands were the first frontier of advancing enemies. The mothers who killed their children did so because the mainland Japanese army had spread word amongst the islanders that American troops would rape and torture the women and children, and they were better to die by their own (or their parents’) hand. There is a story of a teacher taking the class out to the “Suicide cliffs”, singing the national anthem, and leading the little ones in a jump to their deaths.

Of course I cannot compare mass suicide to mass loss from a natural disaster. But it is one tragic aspect of Japan’s relationship with death. Japan has also faced the devastation of the A-bomb. What other country has faced this horrifying weapon and its consequences (and how dare any country ever consider its use again?), and rebuilt two beautiful cities from scratch, both infrastructure-wise, and their populations. Also, did you know that more people died from the fire bombing in World War Two than from the A-bombs?

Japan has also lost so much from natural disasters, the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake saw the deaths of over 100,000 people, burnt in their wooden homes as lit candles set Tokyo and Yokohama alight. And the Kobe earthquake of 1995 devastated the Hanshin area of the main island.

My point is: From what we see of Japan, a year after the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster, its people exhibit such stoicism, you can only admire them. Because once again, they have endured so much loss of life. But you can hear it in their voices, you can see it in their half smiles of frustration, exasperation, faint hope – the Japanese are strong. They are also very practical – they cry, they hurt, they despair – and then they say, Okay, let’s get on with this, let’s fix what we can and move on.

Of course, they are experiencing the same emotions that any person of any country would experience. And we do see crying children, distraught adults, lost elderly – but every sad story seems to end with a vote of confidence, a smile, a nod of the head or a daijyoubu, ne (it’s alright, yeah?).

It’s difficult to consider how Australia, or America would handle such a large scale disaster.

Death and displacement, turns lives upside down – and Japan is dealing with hundreds of thousands of upside down lives right now. But their past has forged an attitude of sad stoicism that fills me with pain, as well as admiration. The tragic acceptance of death throughout their greatly militarised history, perhaps also the fact that most Japanese are Buddhists plays a part, and the cultural importance of honour, humility, and not showing emotion in certain situations.

Australians have seen such spirit already in bushfire recovery and flood loss, and I have faith that if another such tragic event occurs, once the tears have flowed, we look to the future like Japan is always, somehow, able to do.