Ink Painting: There is no bridge

Image description: Blue, purple and black ink artwork depicting a dead elderly man in a boat full of flowers on a river, with a young girl on a swing anchored to the boat, and a woman mourning on the riverbank.

My Grandpa’s committal service was beautiful and painful, lovely and heartbreaking. I read a letter by Rilke exhorting the mother to embrace death as an essential aspect of life, part of a whole that is richer for it. Rilke was an astonishing poet and letter writer, full of passion and depth. Looking for a suitable poem to read at the service was good therapy.

We painted this today, with Robert Oster’s Blue Black ink. The text along the riverbank reads “There is no bridge between us where you are”. The ink is watersoluble so the brush and pen work is completed in layers, drying then reworking the water to create depth. The color is stunning, a dark purple that bleeds blue.

Love amidst pain

At times when I’ve been very broke, I’ve felt that a troubling and difficult to name challenge that has been not the obvious stresses – affording bills and medical care and food, but a subtle one. Judged according to choices it’s assumed I’ve made, my life, my clothes, my presentation fits me to a standard. If there’s only one pair of jeans in the op shop that fit me, their cut and colour says little about me except my lack of choices. When I’m with others who’s choices are also constrained, this is understood, and we envy each other when personal taste isn’t inhibited by limitations. It’s a joy when we can forge something close to our sense of self from what we have.

Today I have been resting. My mind is burned out trying to understand some things that are extraordinarily painful to me. I have read and watched movies and curled up on the couch under a blanket. The weather is glorious, late summer and soft sunshine. I am recovering from a horrible head cold that has made my whole body ache. And I am thinking about my life not in an abstract sense as if I could have done anything, but from within the constraints I have faced. The long and terrible illnesses, the homelessness, the loneliness, the terrible suffering and self loathing I am still recovering from, growing up queer and unsafe. I think about the cards I was given and how I have played them and I am at peace. I have an incredibly beautiful life. I adore my family. I have navigated such heart rending and terrifying challenges to be here and to love the way I do from a heart so starved and shattered. It is so far in many ways from what I wanted or hoped for. But it so glorious given how lost I could have become. Queer and Christian can be a death sentence, and when I return to my old home at times, I can see myself on the floor of the bathroom like a ghost. I am curled around myself screaming silently and begging god to undo what I am. I have faced the absolute terror of hell and exile to stand here today. I have faced suicide and self harm. I have faced a loneliness so deep and profound that it felt like it was erasing me from the inside out. I have navigated multiplicity and psychosis, caring and needing care, the loss of friends, the heartbreak of not finding my place in employment.

I would not have chosen this path. I would never have chosen homelessness, or chronic pain, or my string of failed attempts to haul my life back onto the track I was aiming for. I would not now choose our vulnerablity, our financial insecurity, our public housing. I aimed very high and where I’ve landed so far, it turns out, is incredible.

I adore my daughters with all my heart, and the joy in parenting them surpasses anything else in my life. My beloved Rose and I are restored to each other after the terrible strain of last year. We are learning that knowing each other for 6 years does not mean we know each other. That love is in asking the questions and listening closely to the answers. The hand reached across the gulf of miscommunication and expectations. There’s so much love here.

Yesterday I went to a wonderful talk by local artist/illustrators about how they navigated their work while raising young children. It was wonderful and I learned so much. I also realised that their process was only fitted around children, while I was trying to build mine around illness and disability and many other things. It has not been easy and yet I am finding a small slow path.

Yesterday I went to the funeral of someone I had not known very well, the husband of a dear late friend. I was not sure I would be able to go. Death is not something I am reconciled to since I had my terrible breakdown. I felt angry and humiliated by my vulnerability to it. Rose eased me into finding the thorn in my paw. I was terrified of my secret, nagging judgement that his life had been wasted. I recalled heartbreaking conversations with him about his lack of the spark of joy, his envy of my passion. He too, faced many challenges in his life. Only when I found this fear could I see that my block was little to do with him, but my own secret terror that in some way I couldn’t even find words for, my life has added up to nothing.

So I went to the funeral. They read a poem by my late friend. It hurt so badly it felt like I was dying for a time. My heart broke for his friends and family. My heart broke for my friend, and how hard friends can be to come by. How irreplaceable each of us are in the web of our lives. I thought of the millions of people in the world and how easy it is to be lonely. How hard it can be to listen as deeply and carefully as Rose and I are learning again to listen to each other. How life is neither all triumph nor all loss. I listened to the heartfelt eulogies by his friends and saw both his pain and his life in a softer and more loving light. I thought about my friends. I thought about how I would be remembered if I died today, the way I would not want my sorrow or my struggles to be the focus, but my love and the people and things I have loved and tried to learn how to love well.

I went to a therapy appointment yesterday to open in a safe place a big painful box about family and history and abuse and relationships. I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe or stay seated on the couch. I couldn’t stop. So much love and so much pain. Agonising dilemmas that are sunk deeply into my skin like razor wire. No easy answers or lights on my path.

When I left I splashed cold water on my face and hair and wrists. I took a cold drink in a small paper cup and I staggered carefully to my car. I sat with my journal in my lap and no words until the urge to vomit passed. I drove home carefully into the sun, taking the route with the most shade cast by trees, and crept into my home to hold my little girl and a hot water bottle for the rest of the evening.

Today I look at what I have built, what I have made of my life with what I’ve given, or found, or forged, and I am content. It is humble but no secrets rot beneath the floor. It is glorious. I am limping and dancing, both. There are many beautiful and wounded people I have built relationships with, of one kind or another, tended these like gardens that need work and effort and understanding. Learning how to listen, how to speak, and how to endure. Gratitude for those who came before me and made my world possible, those who changed my world so that queer people were not vile, those with disabilities were not repulsive, trauma was not a weakness of character, and that those who were sick or poor should be given a wage to allow them shelter and food. I remember their sacrifices and their work and I am thankful. I remember them when I choose to make sacrifices and to work towards a better and kinder world for my children and their children. There is so much love here.

Painting in bed

All last week I was awake half the night with Poppy who was very unhappy with a throat infection. Pratchett, who died 3 years ago, has been keeping me company through an ebook on my phone. There’s an astonishing kind of magic there, that he can have been dead for years and still be present in a way that’s warm, human, and real to me. I fall in love with books all over again.

Poppy is recovered now, full of life and somehow extra words and communication now she’s feeling better. She sleeps with her hand touching my back or her feet resting on my leg. I am often surprised at my own wordlessness with her. My world revolves around her like a hatchling in a nest, and we venture through day and night together, yet there’s few poems since Tam. Still stoppered.

It feels like I haven’t met her yet. I don’t know who she will be or what worlds she will walk. Sometimes I live so much in her future I forget she is here now. I remind myself to wake up and look and she delights me with a grin and a kiss. She will never be this age again, never again be who she is right now. She’s astonishing.

Rose has been sleeping upright in an armchair to help manage pain from her ear infections. I find myself awake in the small hours, trawling Facebook, unsatisfied, lost. I’ve read all the books I can afford to buy and I can’t stop looking for something, and can’t name what it is. At last I realise simply that I’m lonely. I message Rose, she’s awake too. She comes to bed for a little while and I snuggle into her warmth. For the first time in a long time I unpeel my spikey armor and bring my soft vulnerability to her instead of sharp, prickly fear. We rest in the dark, wordless, holding hands. Thinking not of the past or the future but simply present in the night, velvet soft and beautiful with the child sleeping next to us.

I’m on day 8 of being sick myself, virus gone bacterial and dropped into my chest. I woke earlier this week to discover that a friend of mine, Amber, had died suddenly. She who survived so much suddenly taken from us. I spent the day crying in bed. I’ve spent the week in bed. I hope I’ll be well enough to attend her funeral.

So much illness brings its own fears. Am I annoying my friends? Have I missed some underlying cause? I find myself picking at the threads of my life, trying to work it out. Why am I hurting? Where have I gone wrong? I’m so depleted – how do I recover? What do I need? The picking brings no answers, it unravels certainty, brings doubt to every choice I’ve made. The only thing worse than being sick is also being afraid everyone else is bored and out of compassion, and that maybe you’ve accidentally brought it on yourself. After a while, with an effort, I stop picking and remember that in the middle of the illness is the worst time to ask such questions. I’ve no brain for it. Rest, fluids, kindness. I go back to bed and buy myself another book to read. Help Rose manage the new and unpleasant ear medicine in the hope of keeping her out of hospital.

Today the infection is worse but paradoxically I feel better. Good news is bouying me. I have new support and new projects on the horizon. I’m planning an art exhibition for later this year, I have a mentor lined up for my guide to multiplicity, and I’ve been selling art this week. I’ve borrowed a laptop while I need to be at home which has helped so much. Today I’m starting the painting for my handmade book for prisoners project, in bed.

Chronic illness and caring complicate my work and career goals, but I’m finally adapting and finding paths through. Letting go of the things I can’t have right now, like the time to create a solid primary income. Instead figuring out what works around my needs and my family, how to have the resources to be on call for them and trickle in enough paid work to keep up with my studio rent and my shrink fees. (Thinking of Frida, painting from bed in her body brace) There’s a kind of power in being able to do this, to still engage, to contribute, to feel connected and chase my dreams even from bed. I’m about to close down some aspects of my business and open new ones up that better fit my situation and my skills. Figuring out a model that works for me has been a major focus for the past year, and it’s finally emerging, as is the support I need to make it happen. I’m excited to launch it soon.

So here’s to life, my loves! It’s complicated at times. Full of grief, loss, sickness, plans gone astray. But also incredibly beautiful. I’m still a part of the world, part of the community mourning Amber, part of a team who cares about prisoners, part of a tribe who turn up with lunch and cry about heartbreaking things and laugh over a board game. I am here, in the heart of it, anchored by love.

Holding ghosts

This is always a hard week for Rose, with anniversaries of miscarriages and other losses. In the past she’s grieved alone, with no grave to mourn by and no recognition of her loss. So today I took her to a cemetery.

I had permission from a friend – the mother of a lovely girl who died far too young, to sit under her memorial tree and remember Rose’s little ones and our Tamlorn. We sat in the shade her beautiful tree with Tam’s ashes, shared a birthday cake for the 7 children not with us, and cried.

It hurt. It was hard to do, many kinds of pain are shrouded in shame and a trick of the heart that says don’t look, don’t go, don’t feel it, it’s too big and dark and will destroy you.

It hurt but it was not unbearable darkness.

It eased the loneliness of loss but it was not epiphany or resolution.

It did not cure, but it had meaning.

We left roses beneath the tree. I made an ink painting to remember the day. Then we left to pick up Poppy from daycare, and held her tight, all the rest of the night.

Sudden death

My family has been touched by death again recently and it’s complicated and painful. Sudden death is like a punch in the mouth you don’t see coming. Rose’s estranged biological mother has died. It’s the end of a complicated relationship. It’s the end of a cycle of abuse, suffering, love, rejection, corruption and hope. It’s deeply sad, a kind of freedom, a loss, a relief, and a new torment. It’s the end of hopes and efforts for change and ‘one day maybe things will be different’. It’s a lot of secrets taken to the grave. It’s unfathomable by those of us lucky enough to have good relationships with our mothers. Some of us have never listened – or choose not to know – of the darkness that can exist between mother and child, of the grief and rage and bewildered pain of the children where things are so bad at home they end up on the streets or in care. 

Rose wrote a public farewell, feeling the tensions between the untold stories and the assumptions of others, the pressures on those who grieve to do so in the right ways, to justify their choices and fit their painful, complex experiences to our simplistic ideas about the virtue of mothers. Platitudes that hurt. 

Not all children are wanted. Not all children are loved. Not all loved children are well loved. Not all mothers or parents who love have the skills, support, and capacity to meet their children’s needs and protect them from their own demons. Some of us eat our young. 

My precious child.

Tonight as you sleep your mama is feeling lots of things. She feels sad, she feels angry. There is relief and guilt and frustration. Your Mama feels lots of things all at once and then nothing at all… numbness always follows.

This week my darling daughter, your mama recieved a call that she has been expecting her whole life. You see… your Mama’s Mama died on monday baby girl; she died in her home from a heart attack. She was 62. 

Mama hasn’t seen her Mama in a long time… it’s been about 8 years. Mama made that hard choice and mostly doesnt regret it. They have spoken but rarely and not always nicely. Your mama recently shared stories and photos of you and all the wonderful ways you fill up your Mums’ lives. Her Mama was happy to know you were happy and healthy. 

Mama had a complicated relationship with her Mama… it was never easy or particularly healthy. Mama stopped living with her when she was still a kid because she was sick and needed help to be a better Mum. That was tough on her Mama and she didn’t always try her hardest, but she never gave up. My Mama wanted so badly to love and look after me… right until the very end. 

Mama knows that things are gonna be tricky over the next little while. There are hard conversations to have and affairs to attend to. Mama is glad she has her best friend and girls by her side. Mama will be ok; she will cry, she will feel bad. Mama will hug you a little tighter, she will tell you that she promises to do her very best, she will possibly cry while rocking you to sleep. Mama will try to take too many photos as usual.

You have done something amazing baby girl; you have turned a broken, alone, afraid little girl into a proud, strong, brave Mama… and my Mama would be proud of that!

Sleep well my precious daughter… you are so very loved xxx

We’re all wrestling in our own way and finding ourselves out of step with each other. Even sweet, innocent Poppy knows something is wrong. She’s been teary and difficult to comfort this week, biting, scratching and clinging to her safe people. We were busy making the transition to Star in school again, and me at work, and Rose at home and in some work. Suddenly we’ve been adapting to this new reality and the presence of death. I’m glad I saw Cave this year. I cry and I’m scared at times for my hurting love, but I’m not crashing into the black place I did a couple of years back. He’s made death bearable for me again. 

It’s not so much a transition as a transformation. We are all so changed by the events of the past year and there’s no going back. At times I find myself paralysed by terror, rigid with fears of loss. So much to lose and so much self destruction in me and those I love, such deep wounds. With money from my art, I buy a good pen and write, and my terror eases. Fear steals so much from the good years. I see a therapist who reminds me to breathe into my bones. We sleep and are all still here in the morning. The Rose I wake to at dawn is different to the woman who lay down beside me the night before. And so are we. 

Recently we went to the home of this woman Rose has not seen in 8 years. We picked through things, looking for important documents and childhood mementos. Rose shared some of the memories with me. These are the stairs she pushed me down. This is the cupboard I would sleep in when I was afraid. Some of the stories are unspeakably bad. The walls are covered in photos of Rose. The rooms are full memories of pain. There’s shit on the carpet, filth in the corners. The neighbor tells us stories of her kindness and how much she cared for her friends. I never met this women. I feel the complex tangle of who she was to different people in her life. There’s inspirational quotes on the walls, Bible verses in journals. She kept the paperwork where her parental rights were severed. “Lying c*nt” she’s written in the margins of Rose’s testimony. We stack the tins where she kept her street drugs and dirty syringes on the coffee table. Poppy plays with a wooden toy we find for her. We take a few dolls Rose used to love and a little girl’s dress. The place feels like a cage that’s finally empty. 

We leave. We pick Poppy up from the ashy floor and gather our little collection of toxic treasures that will hide in our shed until the right day to look at them. It’s over. 

We lock the door behind us and drive home, to our beautiful home with our tree hanging green over the roof, our clean beds and lovely daughters, garden full of roses and cupboards full of food. There will be time for grief and rage and bitter pain. The wounds that don’t really heal and the fears that linger. Even when you escape the ghosts come with you, in our home it’s only Poppy who hasn’t yet learned this. But alongside so much pain is now so much tender love. None of us grieve alone. None of us dream alone.

Facing death with Nick Cave

My beloved Rose and my siblings teamed up and bought me a ticket to see Nick Cave as an early birthday present. It was beautiful. The night before I woke at 3 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. Full of emotions I couldn’t put words to, I slipped out of bed around 5 and painted. When Poppy woke and cried out I went back to bed and nursed her back to sleep, then curled up under Rose’s arm weeping. “I’m so sad and I don’t know why”, I cried. “I’m full of sadness and grey rain.” 

I’ve been unable to bear death since my decent into anguish at the end of 2015. The consuming black void took over my life for several months, like I’d fallen off the face of the planet. It was a place without meaning or comfort, where everything I once beleived in dissolved. I finally escaped it, but I’ve been running ever since, vulnerable and frightened. Anything to do with death sets off that terror in me. I can feel the void hunting me. It runs and I run before it. 

Cave lost a son recently, to accidental death. It’s a devastating thing. It permeates this album with deep sorrow. I stood by the stage in the darkness while he sang Into My Arms, the song Rose and I sang each other to give us courage during the pregnancy with Poppy. I sobbed, mascara running down my cheeks. He made death bearable to look at again. 

I was reminded of a student in my art class telling me that about my work. “You make such gentle art about such dark things. You make them bearable to look at.” For the first time in over a year I could hold the idea of death in my mind and not start fraying. This is something art can do. 

I realised it was not and never has been death that frightens me, it’s the void; the emptiness of the morning after. The place without the one you lost. “I hear you’ve been looking for someone to love”, he sings. And I think that in all the billion people on this planet, how can I be so afraid of living without someone? Do I really believe that if I lose my beloved people, I won’t find anyone else to love and be loved by? So many of us are so lonely. No one is replaceable, but I don’t have to live forever in the empty spaces.

Story was one of the few things that helped when I was in the void, but it also lost meaning. All our stories, all my hopes and beliefs and values became ‘just stories’ we told in the dark to make it more bearable. Nothing I’d leaned on had substance any more. The story only soothed me in the telling, once the book was shut it had no power. Nhilism devoured me. I felt so alone. 

In song, Cave tells us his story. This is how he lives, how he survives. I can do that. The stories are like guides in the dark. We don’t have to travel alone. They don’t have to be true to be meaningful. (Good writers touch life often – Bradbury) It’s okay to need art to make it bearable to look, stories to follow like paths in the wild. To be a teller of stories is powerful. Many stories were told about me and they had a binding power. Learning to tell my own stories with honesty and self compassion has been liberating. Even in the sense of being trapped, lost, empty, and profound failure there is a story that can be told in a way that still dignifies this as part of life. Any Leonard Cohen fan can tell you that.  These things are simply part of the human experience at times. We’re all more lost and more failures than we want to be. 

Sarah & Poppy; what’s going on and what’s helping

Well! This is our garden at the moment, bright with red poppies. 20160816_103851_wm.jpg

I use pseudonyms for my family members on this blog – just because I’m public about my life doesn’t mean they always want to be. I’m also very discrete about information linked to other people, so for example anything I write about Rose or that might impact on her, she reads and has veto power over before I publish it. That means little frog needs her blog name now she’s been born, and Rose and I have picked Poppy. 🙂

Poppy is going really well, she’s healthy and gaining weight well. I am still a bit of a mess and struggling to get back to health. Everyone was so sure that once I’d delivered bubs my health would improve, but heart-breakingly that hasn’t been the case! I am dealing with a stack of problems and making more progress on some than others. It’s taking a lot of emotional energy, keeping pain levels high, and forcing us out of the house (which I hate with a passion at the moment, it’s so hard on all of us) for expensive medical appointments and treatments. We are regular fixtures at the chemist at the moment and I am very fed up about it. Things are by no means all bad – we’re both making sure we get lovely moments of connection each day and Poppy is simply the most beautiful, adorable little tribelet in the history of the world, but this is the other side of things that it’s hard to put into words at times. Here’s my health stuff – skip it if you’re squeamish.

  • A grade 3b tear during Poppy’s birth. No one knows why, I was about as low risk for a tear as it was possible to be. Tears come in grades 1-4 (from grazing through to tearing into the rectum) Mine is pretty bad, I have torn through muscles and into sphincters. It was originally mis-assessed as a grade 2 tear and stitched by my midwife with a local that didn’t work. It was then un-stitched and I was taken to surgery for repair under a spinal block. It was not handled well and the whole experience was pretty traumatic.
  • Due to the tear, urinary incontinence. This was a huge shock to me and very embarrassing. Not to mention extremely painful, having urine burn into damaged skin and stitches. Severe pain, numb areas, and no bladder control at all for the first week caused horrible situation where I was peeing the bed or all over the floor without any sensation or warning. Needless to say, there were quite a few keen would-be visitors I was pretty distressed about seeing me in this state. Things are improving as the days go by and the muscles begin to heal.
  • Severe genital pain. Days of doctors telling me I shouldn’t be in as much pain as I was describing, contradictory advice about whether sitting on my wounds would heal them faster or slower, and my allergies to most pain killers made this a bit of a nightmare. Some of the pain may be nerve pain, which is not responding even to high levels of pain killers. Some pain is improving as things heal. I’m expecting to need pelvic physio care down the track.
  • Thrush, systemically. Genitals, nipples, and mouth. Extremely painful. My tongue swelled up and began to crack as doctor after doctor insisted it wasn’t thrush. Burning pain with every breastfeed from about the second day of Poppy’s life, that got steadily worse each feed. Three courses of antibiotics (for my skin infection, the tear, and then retained membranes) over the past month have destroyed my healthy bacteria levels. Now that all areas are finally being treated I’m seeing rapid improvements across the board – this has been the best news all week. The private lactation consultant we saw on Tuesday picked up on the nipple thrush and within 2 applications of anti-fungal gel I was able to feed for up to an hour without intense pain – I have literally been chewing on my hands to cope with the pain of breastfeeding while people kept telling me it was normal and my skin would toughen up eventually. They were wrong!!
  • Tinea (also known as jock itch, athlete’s foot etc, another fungal infection). This is a bit of nightmare for me because I’m really allergic to tinea. It makes my skin peel off and leaves me with horrible, painful open sores. I often get it when taking antibiotics, same as the thrush. I have it all over my genitals and in my armpits. One armpit has almost completely healed, the other is almost entirely an open infected sore, genital area starts to heal then sloughs the fresh skin a couple of days later. Wearing clothing/underwear is very painful.
  • The open sores caused by the tinea have been colonised with what my gp suspects is a staph infection. I have to be extremely careful not to infect Poppy. I am washing my hands so much they are starting to develop excema. The infections are painful, itchy, and difficult as hell to cure. I am trying a number of different things looking for something effective – often a treatment looks like it is working for a day or two then things flare back up and I have to add something else.
  • Urethritis/urinary tract infection
  • Fissure
  • Painful lumps in my legs and arms – we are unsure exactly what these are at this stage, possibly fatty deposits caused by a reaction to my high hormone levels. If they get worse or don’t go away after I’ve got the more urgent problems under control we’ll investigate further
  • Blocked milk ducts. This means large, hard, hot, painful lumps in my breasts, that could turn into mastitis (an infection). Rose, Poppy and I took a long drive up into the hills yesterday in sheer desperation to see a lovely physio who showed me how to massage the lumps and try to clear the blockages. I spent an hour face down in a hot bath last night doing just that.
  • Major breastfeeding issues. Poppy has been diagnosed with a posterior tongue tongue tie, a disorganised suckling method, and of course I’ve had nipple thrush. We also had latch issues for the first week and my milk came in late. Breastfeeding has been a special kind of hell. I am expressing using our breast pump and Rose is learning how to breastfeed Poppy herself using a supplemental nursing system and my milk. (she has not been able to induce lactation herself) It’s been a steep learning curve for us both and frankly after so many extremely painful feeds I’m pretty traumatised. We are still fighting for breastfeeding at this stage. Poppy is also cluster feeding which I have found really hard to handle, so for example I took over a shift from Rose at 6am this morning so she could get some sleep (we handle the nights in shifts now, the nights are really, really hard on us all) and she fed from 6am – 9am. For the first half hour it was calm and even pleasant. Rose woke to me pretty distraught and in a lot of pain by the second hour. Now that we’ve identified this as an issue we are working on making these less distressing. Half the problem is just identifying what the problems are!
  • Severe sleep deprivation and mental health distress. After 12 days of early labour disrupting sleep, Rose and I were short on reserves. No one got any sleep the night of Poppy’s birth, and the days in hospital following Rose and I managed less than 8 hours in total, over 5 days and nights. I was extremely concerned about harm to bonding and psychosis. Both have been present in small ways. For example, I’ve struggled to remember who Poppy is at times. Rose has gone out and bought some very feminine outfits for her because I find that helps. When she’s dressed in something more gender neutral and it’s night when I’m more tired, I find myself getting confused and thinking Poppy is Tamlorn, which is heartbreaking.
  • Grief. Grief, grief, grief, grief, grief. So many dead babies, so much fear of being judged, told we need to just be grateful, focus on Poppy and don’t think about it, and so on. Rose and I have waited our whole lives for Poppy. We love her so much our hearts burst. We adore being parents. And there is also pain and grief and darkness and fear. There are nightmares where we wake to find her dead. The black hours are really, really black, and we are looking after each other intensely to get us all through them.
  • Trauma. I’ve got a lot of stuff to process about birth and postpartum. I’ve been able to have a debrief with the midwife at the birth, and with our amazing doula, and both were painful and healing and desperately important for my mental health. I know I need more time and safe places to talk and that will be a priority at some point. In the meantime I’m debriefing and talking with people close to me and that’s a huge help too.

So, this has not been a regular postpartum recovery. We are getting help for the breastfeeding and seeing midwives, doctors, physios and so on for my health. We are very, very broke because we had no idea we’d need to save up for this time as everyone was confident my health would improve once Poppy arrived, and as I was so ill by the end of the pregnancy we spent our money on treatments and care then. Our tribe have been helping out which is simply incredible and has made such a huge difference. On good days we stay home and hibernate with our new baby and there are salt baths and naked sunbathing and cuddles and photos and a lot of bonding and hope. Those days or hours are only possible because of the huge amount of support we’ve had around us, and I’m so grateful!

We’ve had some folks not really getting why we have not been up to much in the way of visitors. Postpartum is a crazy vulnerable time for most (there’s a cool article here with suggestions about visiting people who have a new baby I can really relate to!), and for me it’s been extra stressful and vulnerable. There’s not a lot of people in the world I feel okay on any level about peeing myself in front of, being half naked while I learn to breastfeed, having nasty open smelly sores, crying every other hour, and dealing with a massive amount of blood and other bodily fluids of all kinds. It’s not about withholding access to the lovely new baby, it’s about protecting us in a really vulnerable time.

Some folks have been asking what they can do to help and I’ve found that impossible to answer. There are some ideas in that article about visiting, but I’ve also been thinking about what other people have been doing that has really made a difference to us all. Here’s the short list:

  • Meals/food is awesome. Really appreciated!
  • Doing a chore or two when visiting
  • Picking up stuff for us like a hand held shower rose for me to keep my wounds clean more easily, or milk, or filling scripts at the chemist
  • Helping out with our medical costs
  • Touching base via text or messenger and not taking it personally if we forget to write back. I get phone phobic when I’m stressed so don’t take that personally either.
  • Listening ear
  • Recommendations for helpful things (books, lactation consultants etc) and also not taking it personally if we don’t pick up on it/don’t find it helpful/see someone else
  • Clearly communicating things using small words and repeating them when we look glazed or fall asleep mid-sentence
  • Not taking anything personally really, we are in survival mode at the moment and things are tough and we are crazy vulnerable and doing our best to take care of ourselves
  • Goo-ing over photos and commiserating over the tough stuff. Rose and I keep getting stressed when it feels like we’re only sharing (or people are only hearing) one half of the amazing/horrible experience this all is at the moment.
  • Not mixing up the parenting stuff with the health stuff. The parenting stuff is tough and amazing and exhilarating. The health stuff has been a nightmare with no upside. People keep trying to commiserate by telling me being a new Mum is tough which is lovely (and true!!!) but also frustrating for me at the moment because frankly I want more chances to be a new mum and spend less time trying to pick my health up off the floor.
  •  Understanding the context of our lives with Poppy – there’s grief and trauma and a long history behind this amazing rainbow baby. That’s a different experience from what some people have, it’s a bit messier and darker and opens up some old wounds. I keep being told that being a new mum is the hardest thing I will ever do in my life, and I understand that’s coming from a  place of empathy and connection, but for Rose and I it’s not really true. This past fortnight has been crazy difficult, but I’d still say it was easier than some other things I’ve come through, and I’d definitely choose it again over experiences like abuse, homelessness, suicide, and miscarriage.

So there we go. Huge love to all our peoples. I hope it’s helpful to have things laid out more clearly than we’ve been able to until now. I swing between massive gratitude for the good fortune, good care, and love of our friends and even strangers (new friends!) we’ve received over the past few weeks – and feeling overwhelmed, guilty that so many new mum’s in our position don’t get this care, and swamped by self loathing for needing the extra support. It’s all very up and down, this postpartum thing! Thanks for being part of it with us. ❤

My Nana has passed away 

I’m home, by myself, in bed. Feeling the week wash out of me like the tide. I curl into my cocoon while the world goes on without me, and do the only things that make sense right now; sleep, think, and write. My daughter does the same within me, sleeps, stirs, dances, dreams.

All her great grandmas have now died. My Nana lived overseas so I won’t  be able to attend the funeral. I sent her a letter in the last days to tell her that she is important to me and I loved her. I haven’t seen or spoken to her for many years. I lost all the relationships with my father’s side of the family when I lost my relationship with him. Family tears apart down bloodlines and homeless with my mother, I had made my choice and thrown my lot in, not with sides but with individuals I loved and knew and felt responsible for. All the broader connections of family in my life, fragile and stretched by distance, by my own illness, by lack of understanding around sexuality, by communication being filtered through people who told only the stories they wanted heard… All of them fell away and I plunged into bitter isolation and loss, alone in our tragedy, focused on survival.

So many things divide us. Across the chasm, neither of us reach. There’s too much time passed, too many questions, too much pain, too many bad memories and bitterness and assumptions and loss. I had to dig into secrets and history to figure out the shadows cast forward that shaped our ruin. I had to run from the boxes assigned me to grow into, far too small and the wrong shape for me, far too silent and powerless and accepting of the stories I’d been told about myself and the world. I couldn’t grow within family, within school, within those friendships or that world I’d inherited. I was stunted, lonely, and dying. There was no future for me.

Out in the grief numbed solitude after my world burned, I wrote new rules, told new stories, learned to look at the world out of my own eyes. Grew more tender, more harsh, more strange. The roles assigned me fell away like so much shed skin. My pain and loneliness nearly sank me. I rebuilt very slowly, turning around my damaged valves: I am no longer grateful to anyone for attention: it is a privilege to get close to me. Alone in my caravan I repeated the words over and over to myself. Only letting the special ones in. Breaking all the old rules, as over and over as they crept back into my life. Mourning everyone I had ever loved and doubting everything I had ever believed in and sacrificed for.

Rose, Star and myself are in family therapy. It’s been a good experience. I joked last time that each of us has so much painful history with the idea of family, that we can be badly triggered about ‘family’ merely sitting in a room by ourselves and thinking about it, let alone when we try to relate to each other directly!

I have rebuilt so much. I have trouble feeling it, trusting it. The first two friendships I grew close enough that we told each other we loved each other both abruptly disconnected from me and they’ve never spoken to me since. My grief was intense. I live in a whole world that’s triggered by the idea of family.

I had a dream of one day taking my family overseas and visiting all these strangers and asking the hard questions and speaking the hard truths and finding and giving grace, freedom and connection. Some days I feel strong that way, no longer small and frightened, that I can lead us in a new direction, I can take back what I’ve lost and bridge the gap.

Other days my own bitterness swamps me. I was alone and no one reached out to me. Or  the old roles hang waiting for me – submissive, grateful for scraps, secretive, and wondering what I did wrong to not be loved better, how I could change myself to be embraced. A child among giants. Who do I hate for the pain? The wheel spins and today it is me, tomorrow it might be you. There’s enough pain for all of us. My dreams burned down and body fell apart and I was homeless and did not ask because I could not bear your silence and yet that silence still rings in my ears and I feel the loss like a missing limb. All those people who came to my wedding, that joyful throng, all silent at my divorce, at my poverty and disability. I went alone to the court. I slept alone in the shelter.

Sometimes the distance simply overwhelms me. Blood might connect us but these people are strangers to me. What could they possibly owe me, or I them? Why would they thank me for disruption? Let them be, accept the loss, move on. Build a new tribe and love them instead. People I can share with, even pain. The numbness still haunts me. I try to feel the hugs, on good days I feel connection, I believe that in a few years time these people will still be here, I believe they genuinely care about me and don’t merely feel obligated, I believe I can be loved and also free of tyranny and abuse. There are not very many good days like that. Mostly I keep my focus more narrow – this day, this week. I hope rather than trust. The hand that reaches out hides the tremor. I love from a heart that has scars I can’t heal and memories I can’t forget.

My Nana has died. The woman I’ve been likened to all my childhood, who’s sicknesses and allergies I seem to have inherited along with her creativity, her predilection for grand projects, her impulsive generosity. Almost everything I know about her is through stories. I can’t remember the colour of her eyes, the touch of her hand, or the sound of her voice. We are all only stories, in the end. She was part of my old life, before all the fires and loss and freedom. I’ll get no answers from her now, no absolution. That broken circle stays forever broken. While I try to live my life with some integrity and joy, people get only older, the old shapes of things changes, rain erodes the soil and land falls into the sea. While I debate the timing of the tearing off of old bandages, the breaking of promises and the gift of forgiveness, time passes and each of grows older in our own mirrors. While I wonder if I’m strong enough yet, wise enough yet, while I doubt my motivations and interrogate my impulses, the world spins on, out of kilter, slowly into darkness. One by one, they will die, with or without me in their lives. Those stories will end.

Oh, little frog, what a broken world you inherit. I’ve been far stronger than I ever thought possible and your nest is a safe one. But not strong enough to repair all the harm or bind back together all the brokenness. Three women sleep in your house and nightmares stalk each of us. We each love you and we are each wounded. I don’t have the answers and I don’t understand life. But I love you fiercely and I want you to be free to grow. So I keep growing too. Here in my grief, my stolen grief for a woman I barely knew, here in my bed with my cat on a cold winter day when the week of doing has finally ebbed to a day of being  and following only the strange impulses of my still wild heart… Here I hold you close and try to weave the stories of your family and your roots into a shape you can grasp and grow with, to honour the dead and the living with truth and grace, to show both  the beauty and the shadow, to neither privilege nor ignore blood or the other bonds between people. Precious daughter. There is family here waiting for you, ready to love you. Let that love not be a cage, and let it not dissolve in the dawn. Let it be stronger than the pain.

New life and death

Wrote this earlier in the week – it’s been a hard one between a funeral, a bout of gastro for me, and a lot of other stressful events and appointments. Glad it’s done and to have Rose home again after her quick interstate visit for the funeral. 

We had our beautiful baby shower on Saturday, and woke on Sunday to the call saying Rose’s Gran has died. We are all tired, physically tired after preparing for a big event, and emotionally tired from so many feelings and people and connections. Yesterday Rose went back to the venue to clean and collect the last of our gear, Star cleaned out our car from front to back including the gear ruined by leaking seals in the boot, and I cooked and washed dishes and cleared and reorganised our pantry. I am very sore and very tired, but all the displacement activity has helped ground me. There was sweet beef curry for dinner, a family recipe which was comforting, and a fresh batch of banana muffins for lunches.

It has been a slow, sad day. We three have moved mostly in our own spheres, awkwardly when we are together. Moments of connection are easily fractured by misunderstandings, miscommunication, frustration as words won’t come or fit together right. We are still defining ourselves as a family, defining our culture. I’ve laid a blanket over the day, soothing the anxiety: it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be out of sorts. You don’t have to pretend to be anything else. It’s okay to need time alone, to need company, to need both.

Zoe spent the morning jumping up on everyone and constantly wanting to go outside and come back in again. When I woke up I was able to bring some soothing to her energy and we realised she was trying to tell us she was cold. Rose and I packed her bed with an extra wool blanket and a pillow and Zoe settled at once. I could only be soothing because when I woke early this morning, sleep deprived and in pain, it was Rose who wiped away my tears and calmed me back to sleep. Peace and gentleness like a baton we hand between us in relay. And in that peace, all the things we couldn’t hear a moment ago suddenly make sense, like finding the radio station clearly between the static.

New South Wales is currently buried under storms, with the airport half closed and many evacuations in place. We have just learned that the funeral is planned for this Thursday, and we are changing plans and rearranging appointments so that Rose can attend.

But in among all the heavy weight of grief, I want to take a moment to acknowledge our baby shower, which was simply beautiful. We both felt very vulnerable that morning, but our people who could be there embraced both the silly games and the moments of ritual and connection. We were very loved up, and despite lots of sickness and cancellations and worries, it all turned out as good as it possibly could. It’s been a long time coming for us both, and it was precious. We’re in the last months of pregnancy and taking each day as it comes, looking for windows to enjoy it and delight in it between the troubles and discomforts. Celebrating with our tribe was a very important milestone for us. ❤

Guest Post for Sands on Mother’s Day

This year I was invited to write a guest post for Sands Australia for Mothers Day, which I was delighted to do. I decided to share some experiences and photos that I haven’t put on this blog before. It’s been a day that Rose and I have struggled to navigate for many years, so I wanted to talk a little about that journey and how we’ve changed our approach over time. You can find it here; Untold stories of Mother’s Day.

This year, Rose, Star, myself and other friends are away camping for the Medieval Fair, which is very tiring but very lovely.

For all those of us for whom this day hurts or brings up complex memories or feelings, I wish you kindness and gentleness. I hope you find places where it is okay to hurt, people who treat you with understanding, and some compassion towards yourself. It’s okay to grieve, okay to be angry, okay to be confused, okay to ignore it completely. Do what you need to do to find some kind of grace, or peace, or way through. With much love xx

Wonderful Arty Things

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My lovely exhibition Waiting for You is still on display at the Box Factory in Adelaide until May 19. (details here) As I can’t attend every day, I’ve been working on setting up materials that will be helpful to those who couldn’t attend the opening night. Today I finished the final draft of my brochure about the exhibition and had a collection printed, it contains information about me, how the exhibition came about, the artbook Mourning the Unborn, and prices. I bought these stands today, and they are now on display alongside brochures from Sands, all free for anyone. There’s also a display copy of the artbook for people to have a look at.

If you’d like a brochure yourself, Sands have theirs on their website, and I can pop one of mine in the post for you – those of you with orders will get one with your art as a keepsake. 🙂

I’ve also been to the printer this week and placed the opening night orders for art and frames, and the printer there loves my work and has offered to display some framed on his wall, for sale to his customers. How wonderful!

Tomorrow I will be working on a guest post for the Sands blog for Mother’s Day, which I’m very pleased to have been invited to write.

There’s also a review of the exhibition by artist and writer Julia Wakefield, which I feel very fortunate about and will share with you very soon. 🙂

It’s wonderful to see this exhibition/community event continue to grow in various ways beyond the opening night.

Tonight I attended the Healing Voices film and was once again struck by how tremendously important artists of all kinds can be in creating community and bringing issues to light. While many other people did the hard work of organising the screening, artsy people wrote and directed and edited and created the beautiful content that spoke to people. I still lament that there has been no real home for me in mental health locally, but I am feeling great hope and strength in standing on the platform of arts to be part of change in the world. A friend from down south was lamenting the difficult hours that Waiting for You is being exhibited currently, and asked me if I might be interested in finding a hanging space for it in her area sometime. I think that would be a fantastic idea and I am keen to explore other opportunities for the exhibition beyond May.

I’m also quietly giving some thought to World Hearing Voices day coming up later this year and what I might be able to do as an artist to raise awareness and be part of that. There’s a place for me somewhere.

Freedom & safety for a charged topic

My Waiting for You exhibition opening night is just around the corner and I want to speak briefly about creating safety when dealing with such a painful theme.

For many of us, this is a really charged topic. It’s painful, intense, deeply personal, and may not be something we’ve ever really had a chance to process – much less to engage in a public setting. Breaking taboos can be liberating but also triggering and incredibly distressing. I’m deeply aware of this, because Rose and I are in this place in a very real way, right now. I want to share publicly the same conversations I’m having with her, because I suspect she’s not the only one feeling conflicted. I want to speak into the heart of that conflict because it’s what hurts so badly and makes it so hard for us to talk about these things and know what we need. We often feel pulled in contradictory directions – needing to talk about it/see it in public/bring it to light, and also needing to hide away from it and deal with it in privacy. It can be really hard.

I have taken a number of steps to help the opening night to be a safer space. You can help me with this in how you treat the other guests and yourself. Here are some guidelines and values I’ve set for the evening:

Freedom

  • You are free not to come! I won’t be upset with you if I know you personally. You are not under pressure to attend to support me.
  • You are free to be ambivalent and unsure. It’s okay to decide at the last minute if it feels like a good idea to come. It’s okay to change your mind. Please don’t force yourself to do anything that doesn’t feel like it’s right for you.
  • Free to leave any time you need to. It won’t be ‘rude’ to step out or leave early. No judgement. You’re also welcome to step out for a bit then come back.
  • Free to decide you’d rather attend privately instead of for an open night with other people around.
  • Free to buy something that speaks to you to take home, and free to find the art confronting or disconnected from your experience, and support me in other ways if you want to.

Feelings are okay

  • It will be okay to feel things. It’s okay to cry, to be moved, to remember, to talk about things.
  • It will be okay to feel good, or sad, or mixed up, or lots of things at the same time.
  • It will be okay not to feel things, to be numb, or not in that space, or not public about it.

Resources on the Night

  • Sands Australia will have a representative at the evening who is more than happy to talk to anyone looking for information or support. Sands provides a helpline and other resources around miscarriage, stillbirth, and newborn death. She will also have brochures and information you can take home and look at later.
  • Tissues and friendly people around (my tribe is full of good people) who can give you space or a hug. Some of my friends are champion huggers, so just sing out if you need one.
  • A place to be involved. Rose and I have created a small installation We Love – providing a space for you to participate and recognise your own losses. You can write names or something meaningful to you on papers provided and have a time to reflect.

Art can be powerful. It can bring the private into a public space. It can help us to speak about things its difficult to find words for. It can help people not to forget that behind silence and cultural taboo are real people who need and deserve safety and connection. It can express and share our unbearable experiences in ways that help make them bearable to look at. This kind of art can be a speaking back to silence, a way of documenting things that were erased from our lives and never allowed into our histories and family stories. These things happened. We felt many things about them. They changed us. They are important. We deserve space to share our stories, mourn our losses, and rebuild our lives – without secrecy, without shame. In community; with connection, privacy, and love.

Waiting for You Exhibition is Open

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It’s up and beautiful and ready for viewing! The theme of pregnancy, loss, & motherhood is so special to me. The works are joyful, heartbreaking, raw, and tender. For those who missed my heartfelt radio interview about my experiences of miscarriage and this exhibition, it is now available as a podcast through Radio Adelaide here.

The Exhibition

Open between April 19th – May 19th, Monday to Fridays, 4-6pm.

It’s at the Box Factory, 56 Regent Street South, Adelaide. (map) This is a wheelchair accessible venue. All works are available for purchase.

If you are on Facebook the event details are here.

The Opening Night

Was a wonderful success. 🙂

There were prints and cake because this was my birthday celebration this year. I launched my beautiful artbook Mourning the Unborn. As I was dealing with a charged topic, I took care to create a safer space – read about the values and resources.

Last minute questions about food and kids etc.

My Online Store

Especially for those further afield, I have just opened my Etsy Art Store and begun stocking it with prints from this exhibition, and my artbook Mourning the Unborn. It won’t be quite as lovely as seeing these beautiful gold embellished prints framed and displayed, but you will still be able to see the artworks and buy a regular print yourself.

I’ve turned 33 this year, and I’m glad to use this moment to put my work out into the world, and honored to include everyone it speaks to in some way. ❤

Poem – Terror

I am terrified.
I try very hard not to be.

Everything I build is a bright island
In a black sea
One day
There will be a storm
The water will rise
Or the land will sink
the sun will go out of my world again
not dead, or lost, or drowned
still shining somewhere else
but whatever blessing I was living on
will be withdrawn.

There will be no sense to it.
There will be nothing I did, or did not do.
It will follow no pattern.
All that is bright in the world
will be a memory
everyone I love will die
everything I care about will drown
beneath that black water
life will be unbearable pain.

Over and over again.

1 in 135 births is still born.

Even if the light shines on me
someone else goes home drowning
the simple arithmetic of loss
someone will get their heart broken.
I’m 23 weeks pregnant
and drowning in survivors guilt.
Terrified of the future
And I still can’t talk to the baby.
Oh Job, did it work for you?
Can you really give back children after taking them?
Or did you howl in the bitter hours of the better days too?
Like all of us who love from brokenness.

The sun is shining
and the sun is shining
and I’m not afraid
and there’s no darkness coming

The sun is shining
and it shines for me
because I’ve done the right things
and I’ve figured life out

Nothing bad is going to happen
Night will never fall again
Everything is under control now
Life gives us what we deserve.

How do we live without our lies and illusions?
How do we face the sun when we know it’s dying?
I crawl from my broken place, over to you love
touch your face, and it’s wet with tears too,
kiss your wet face with tears in my mouth
the sun on our faces shining
The sun shining on your glorious face
The glorious sun shining on your tears.

Anniversaries of loss

Today is the one year anniversary of our first scan with Tamlorn, the one where we found out they were not okay and we would most likely lose them, which we did. I wrote here on this blog on March 13th in 2015; Some days are just sad. This week, Rose and I celebrated 3 & 1/2 years together. Rose has had a couple of anniversaries of miscarriages recently. Later this week we will have our morphology scan to check the health of our little froggie. Today I learned that another of my lovely friends on the other side of the world has recently suffered a miscarriage too. So much. Everything overlaps like currents in a sea.

I am creating my first self hosted solo exhibition and some days the doubts overwhelm me. I’ve learned to stop working on any artwork for a day or two at the point where I’ve come to hate it. Putting together a whole exhibition on a theme is new territory – exciting but also new. Mortifyingly exposing and personal. An exhibition about grief and loss feels like the strangest birthday party I could possibly arrange. And yet… it also feels right.  There’s so much grief in the background of my life at the moment, under the surface, forming the soil from which my new family is growing. I’m working on new artworks to balance the exhibition and they are a fitting way to mark these painful anniversaries that come towards me like trains, and slip past me like leaves in a river. There’s not enough time in the world to weep all the tears, instead they flow quietly from my brush in a corner of my lounge room late at night.

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A sample of an ink painting I’m working on for the exhibition

And the strings of heartbreaking stories like strands of pearls that unfurl in the threads following declarations of loss call to me. Some days I struggle with feeling my exhibition is silly and pointless. Then I’m reminded so many people have suffered this way, without acknowledgement, without funerals, silent and nameless and secret and broken.

So, it’s a little thing I can do in a big world full of hurt. Make a place where we can remember, where the grief is shared and public and accepted. It’s not much in the big scheme of things, but it’s something I can do, and maybe those who need it will find it.

Everyone’s invited to my birthday

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I’m not that great at birthdays, to be honest. I often get depressed and confused, and spent too much time wondering about the state of my life instead of arranging a lovely celebration. Choosing who to invite fills me with gnawing anxiety in case someone feels left out, and trying to word “please don’t bring gifts if you are broke/forgot it was on until an hour ago/would find that stressful BUT equally if gift gifting is something you love and part of your love language I will not be angry/set them on fire/refuse to speak to you again if you do” so that it fits on an invite gives me a headache. The event itself, which I find mildly terrifying but slightly less awful than not having an event, either falls to my long-suffering partner or friends to conjure, or in a last minute fit of bewilderment gets sprung on my nearest and dearest with anything up to 6 hours notice.

This year will be different! With encouragement from Rose, I am working on a project I have been thinking about for a while – I will be hosting an art exhibition for my birthday instead of a party. It will be exciting, give me something to focus on, justify the expense and time, give people things to look at that are not me, be open to everyone who wants to come, and there will still be cake! Win-win.

I’ve chosen the topic of pregnancy, loss & motherhood as that’s been a huge focus over the past few years and I would love to showcase the artworks. My artbook Mourning the Unborn will also be launched and available for sale, as will prints of the art. I am working hard on the second draft of the artbook at the moment, which will be my first ever publication! I have also put in a new order for 24 karat gold leaf and look forward to showing my beautiful hand gilded prints for the first time!

The Opening Night (ie when cake is being served) is on
Friday the 22nd of April,
The Box Factory, 59 Regent St S, Adelaide
(map)
starting at 6pm

If you are on Facebook the event details are here. This is a public event, open to all.

The art exhibition will be available to view between April 19th – May 19th on Mondays to Fridays between 4-6pm. The venue is wheelchair accessible.

Pregnancy & Grief

The most wonderful news came in last night – the laws here in South Australia have been changed and just in time for Rose and myself. This means that she will be able to be on our babies birth certificate and has full legal recognition as their parent, alongside me. We were so happy we cried. It makes such a difference for our little family.

I am 15 weeks pregnant now and my bump is too big to fit my jeans or a lot of my skirts comfortably any more, although I still weigh a lot less than I did at the start of this pregnancy. I am experiencing a little less intense nausea and getting about 2 good days out of every week, but the fatigue in particular is still severe and demoralising. My world is home at the moment; I do housework, and household admin, and debriefing for people, and drive people to appointments when needed. A lot of time is needed to rest. Eating is still a bit tough and often takes some time to recover from. I’m hoping that as the pregnancy progresses I might start feeling better and better. Rose is busy and productive with her full time study, and the teen staying with us is a studious school student, so I feel a bit lost without a project of my own, in that rather unglamorous and unrecognised place of spending my health on whatever needs doing I can manage around the edges. I’ve been getting very teary and distressed at the prospect that I might not make it back to paid work or wind up with a degree or a career despite all the work I’ve done towards those goals.

Rose is such a help. She doesn’t get my distress personally – her focus is on being a Mum and that fills her world. I always wanted kids and work outside of the home and I’ve been so ill for the past 6 or so months I’m starting to lose hope. She was up with me until 1am last night while I just cried my heart out. It’s a madly intense grief and it’s all tied up with self worth and a sense of significance and belonging and connection and making a difference in the world… I don’t feel any sense of judgement towards others who need support or are sick, I’m just struggling to navigate it myself. It’s a little better than it was 6 months ago when it actually felt like if I couldn’t figure work out and find a way through I couldn’t survive. Planning a baby has kicked my sense of wanting to financially contribute to my family into overdrive, far beyond my capacity. And where pre-Rose my focus was strongly about contributing to the world – doing something of value whether I got paid or not, with a family I suddenly also needed to bring in money. Those are very difficult values to pair up at the best of times. I feel like I’ve been mangled between them.

It’s become such an obsessive focus for me that I’ve been unable to do other things that I love, like paint, because it doesn’t even feel like I can breathe until I figure this out and am on track for a paid job. Combine that with very poor health and that’s a long time of beating myself up and not breathing. I was chatting with a friend the other day who was angry about someone who was breaking the law and being horribly irresponsible and I mentioned that I was not feeling like I was being very responsible at the moment. She looked at me oddly and said that being on disability support wasn’t criminal or irresponsible. I know that but it actually kind of surprised me too. The kind of urgency I feel is as if what I am doing now is illegal and I must find an alternative. I know it’s not rational but it’s incredibly difficult to put the brakes on it.

I find it so much easier to be brave about my mental health than my physical health, which is the reverse of most people and probably partly a hangover from having all my physical health issues treated as psychosomatic for so long. To talk about having a child while on welfare, in my culture? It takes more courage than I have most days. I get attacked, like everyone who’s poor or queer or has a disability does when they want kids of their own and it’s just too much to bear a lot of the time. Too public, too vulnerable, too much vitriol from too many directions. All spewing the same message of worthlessness, as if I haven’t heard that enough in my life, felt it enough. In some ways being a parent feels like crawling back into the school yard to let the bullies have another go at me. See if you can hit me where it already hurts, some of those wounds aren’t very healed still. I feel an intense grief to be where I am, such a sense of lost years and lost health, so much pain and chaos. So many dashed hopes and so much hard work.

All my accomplishments start to twist in my mind and what I was once proud of, like my extensive voluntary work, I start to feel ashamed of, that I was foolish and trusting and exploited. That I somehow fell short being good enough to pay. That I trusted the wrong people, made the wrong decisions, invested in the wrong career paths, and cared too much about keeping my precious ethics intact to deal with the real world of work – which is that I am nobody and have no power and no voice and should simply have put my head down and done whatever was asked of me. My overinflated sense of personal responsibility and grandiose ideas are the real problems. My sense of connection to and trust in other people twists too. I feel very envious at times, and in some cases very burned and bitter, in others just overwhelmed. It’s a painful place to be in.

One thing that has helped a lot has been reading Mary O’Hagan’s memoir Madness Made Me about her terrible years of suffering and her path into advocacy and activism. Maybe because she makes herself so accessible, I was surprised that her road into paid employment was simpler than I thought it would have been. Maybe she was gutsier than I’ve been about pursuing grants, but I could see for a moment that she was in a time and place where there were opportunities for someone intelligent, passionate, aware of the dynamics of power and with a capacity to doubt all the simple answers. It unhooked me for a minute from my frantic soul searching to figure out where I’ve gone wrong or what else I need to do to try and make it across the divide of activism and into paid employment. Some of the answer here is being in an environment where the opportunities are present. I have a lot of opportunities around me and very few of them are paid, and none of them are employment or regular work. Some of the answer too is that most of the other mental health peers I admire so much and have been trying to emulate haven’t had to deal with the multitude of issues I’ve been hit with such as severe physical illness and years spent as a the carer for other people. Many have experienced one or two of the batch but being hit with childhood bullying and abuse, a repressive religious environment with queer sexuality, family violence, severe physical illness, homelessness, years of intensive caring, major mental health challenges, poverty, isolation… It’s been a complicated life.

Some days it helps to remember that for someone who has come through what I have, still being here is a success. Not having died when I first wanted to at 10 or at 18 or 23 or 27 is a huge deal. I accidentally burned my wrist on an oven tray cooking this evening and it was very triggering because my wrists were often the target of my desire to self injure – such an intense, shameful, private drive that I spent many years learning to understand and dismantle. That’s something I’m proud of too, and it’s something else I can talk about openly and with compassion when I’m connecting with someone else in that kind of pain. It matters that I can do that even if I don’t get a badge with my name on it and a pay check. I’m not useless or lazy. (I’m so scared that I’m useless or lazy)

It helps to remember that I’ve brought things out of nothing and made things that help ease pain. I’m so, so beyond sad that I haven’t been able to grow them bigger, that the DI is just a little website and a few brochures that the spiritual-cause people find too clinical, the clinical and diagnosis people find way too maverick, and the rest find too mainstream. I know it annoys in some way almost everyone connected to it because trying to find a middle ground between all those perspectives is irritating to everyone. It seemed like a good idea anyway, a safe meeting place for everyone. I don’t know. I know that some people found it helpful and if it really is a good approach I’m sorry to everyone else that I couldn’t get the message out any further or louder and that it will probably die with me. I’m just too tired to do much more. But all the little things count too, right, not just the movements that gain momentum and change the world in a big way, it’s also all the little pebbles bouncing down the cliff years before the avalanche that makes the big difference.

That’s another pincer – that what I’ve dedicated my life to wasn’t worth the cost, or that it is important, but I can’t take it any further anyway. Either way I’m swamped in grief.

I want everything to be better before the baby gets here, in an insane way I know I can’t achieve. I want the house to be organised and the back yard to be planted and clean of poop, and to have resolved my work dilemmas (do I have enough spoons to be a part time receptionist and a Mum? How can I know? I know I don’t right now – how many months after the birth is the fibro likely to still be severe? Is there any point in hoping anymore?)… I want to be a better person and eat less chocolate and watch less TV and be calmer and cry less and… sigh. It’s all so painfully vulnerable!

It’s not enough to stop living while I try to force myself through this brick wall. I’ve worked so hard to be here, and it’s not my fault the wall is so high. I need a hand over it and I haven’t found one. I have to be okay with that, at least for now, and that means letting myself grieve, and it also means going back to the things that give my life meaning and joy. If I can’t do ‘real work’ it’s okay to spend time on my voluntary work. It’s okay to make art even if I’m doing it while the rest of my household is out doing real work. If I can’t find a work related project then I’m going to make a life enhancing project I can work on on my better days and get excited about and feel connected to the world with. (hold on, my love, one day there’ll be a place for us) Not so many years ago I was friendless, suicidal, recurrently homeless, terrified of my multiplicity, and deeply wounded. Not so many years I couldn’t shower without assistance or make it through the shops without a wheelchair. I remember a time when my pain was so bad I would scream myself to sleep. Here I am, fattening with a little dragon wriggling inside me, loved and safe in my home and family that’s suddenly 3 of us and waiting on the 4th. I refuse to keep suffering to punish myself for not having recovered further and to motivate myself to reach that one last big goal I can’t seem to secure. It’s okay to fail, it’s okay to fall, it’s okay to hurt about it, and it’s okay to build yourself some kind of compassion and forgiveness out of all that blood and broken bones. It’s okay to live anyway.

What do you do when the dreams burn down? What I’ve always done, mourn and howl and dream new dreams. When the bullies make me bleed I paint my face with it and refuse to become one of them. I find my warrior and call them out on it. I run into the wilds where they can’t trap me. I’m 15 weeks pregnant and sometimes now whole days go by where I’m not afraid the baby will die. It’s the most wonderful and joyful thing, especially last thing at night when I’m lying in bed in the quiet and Rose rests her hand on my bump and all the world is just the sound of our breathing and the warmth of our skin. It’s humming with usefulness and competence on the good days, making phone calls, mopping floors, paying bills, listening to people who need a compassionate ear. And it’s pain and vulnerability, ugly and awkward and embarrassing, it’s snot dripping from my nose and making my sinuses ache, and feeling obsessive but unable to let go, and getting cabin fever from another day aching and hurting on the couch, and getting afraid that maybe I’ve complained too much on Facebook or not said enough to my friends how happy I am to be pregnant. It’s waiting and waiting and waiting and following all the instructions about forbidden foods and drinks and worrying that lying on my back will reduce the blood flow to the baby and going to mummy events and feeling weird and alienated and icked out by the overwhelming pink and pastels and brutal birth stories. It’s strangers touching me and not being able to reply to messages despite feeling guilty, and wanting to make art but feeling like it’s in a locked room and I haven’t done enough to earn the key yet. It’s wanting to but still not being able to talk to or write to this baby directly.

15 weeks pregnant is not a stretch cream or baby formula commercial. It’s life and it’s messy and some of it really, really hurts. And I’m sobbing with sadness about my career at the same time that I’m overjoyed beyond words to be pregnant. It’s feeling useless and horrible on the bad days and proud of myself for making sure my people have clean clothes and for navigating difficult conversations well on better days. It’s not a happy ending, it’s not recovered, it’s not out of danger or no longer at risk.

It’s not without pain, but neither is it without meaning. It’s precious, and it takes courage.

Keys to locked places

 

I’m 10 weeks pregnant and have been so continually sick that I’ve been unable to enjoy almost any of it. I get a good hour or half day here and there, but the rest of the time I am deeply miserable. The nausea is intense, to the point where I sweat, salivate, and tremble. Sometimes even the vibration of speaking will set off my gag reflex. Smells are intense and mostly horrible. The hot weather has left me weak and exhausted. 2 months of this has thrown me into a perpetual flashback of sick years where this was my life. It’s my nightmare – sick and needing Rose to do everything. Useless, exhausted, and depressed. Housebound, often bed bound. Joint pain, muscle pain, headaches. Thinking with sad longing of my old electric scooter. Visiting friends as long as Rose can drive both ways, and falling asleep on their couch anyway. I’ve been here before and the memories are so painful. I am so tired of being sick.

I know what it’s like to have an unborn child die, and I know that one of the things that burns is hearing women who are pregnant complaining about how difficult they are finding things like morning sickness when you’d give anything to be dealing with that and still have hope of a living child. So I don’t say much.

And I don’t say much because people love to tell me that what I’m going through now is only the tip of the iceberg, that the third trimester is exhausting, that labour is far worse, that chronic sleep deprivation and caring for an infant will make these days happy memories of vigour and health.

And I don’t say much because even my own lovely doctor wasn’t particularly sympathetic about morning sickness that doesn’t involve frequent vomiting, at least until she discovered my significant weight loss and realised I have been very sick. Then she told me that actually lots of women find the first trimester incredibly difficult, and it’s not uncommon for them to be in at their doctors in tears, ashamed and overwhelmed and saying they can’t cope after all and maybe they shouldn’t be doing this.

I don’t say much because I’m grateful grateful grateful and don’t want to lose this baby.

I don’t say much.

I, who have bared so much, find myself silent and stoic, head bowed, making bargains with the universe. If I accept this, will you turn tragedy aside from my family? Does the suffering make my child stronger? I have fought shaming and silencing in so many ways and yet here in a second pregnancy after loss, I find everything has changed. It’s such an effort to share this time, I stir myself from muddy deeps and swim oh so slowly towards the surface, weighted by dread. I fear attack, fear shaming, fear all those who believe that the world is just, that good people are taken care of, that fertility is somehow fair: an indication of boon or blessing or divine right. In my mind I can follow the tortured logic and understand people’s need to calm their own hearts but my heart doesn’t understand, doesn’t forgive, it’s just dark and thick tongued and wordless and afraid.

I didn’t just lose Tam, I’ve lost those beautiful weeks and months of heartfelt joy this time around. That calm certainty that things would be okay; all the stars in their right place and me in mine. (We think we are kind when in fact we are merely happy – CS Lewis) This time around the highs are followed by plunges into deep lows. We talk with qualifiers – if the baby comes, if everything works out. I find myself drawn to stories of tragedy with children and feel like I’m falling into a dark world I can’t get out of. Infants dying in the NICU, 3 year olds with cancer, 7 year olds who drown. I feel like I was so arrogant to think that if I did everything right, I could somehow bypass more savage loss. I could move out of the underclass, plagued by poverty, homelessness, and sickness into a bright ‘normal’ place where things like this don’t happen. That I’ve suffered enough and worked hard enough, earned my way out of more pain, as if life is about what we deserve. Isn’t that the illusion all hopeful parents have? That we can build a pastel coloured wall around our children and keep them from all harm? And when harm comes to your family anyway, the whole strange pastel mummy world seems so bizarre, such a fiction of security. We lie and lie and lie, and create these strange microcosms where nothing casts a shadow and nothing ever dies, and I cannot even breathe in them.

On good days I don’t just feel better, with the health unlocks all the memories of strength, hope, and vigour. I sing and play and work and find myself for moments in the sunlight feeling connected or excited or content. On good days I feel stronger than the bad stories, stronger than the fear and the sense of loneliness and cabin fever. On good days I feel like I will be my own kind of parent, strange and deeply loving, not squeezed into the strange mould I feel advancing upon me, I remember that there’s more than one way to do this right and that authenticity is more important than people pretend, and that some mothers climb trees too and understand both the lure and the fear of the backyard after dark. On good days I can breathe.

Most days, Rose sings to our unborn child, lullabies to quiet all three anxious fluttering hearts. Recently we lay naked in the summer night and she asked me to teach her a new song, something I loved. I thought of us the week before, driving to our first scan, making ourselves face this terrible laying bare of all our hopes and illusions. We sat upright in the car seats, that willing of the body to do what it does not wish to do. We sang to each other, tears masking our faces as we breathed in terror and breathed out our last courage. I sang songs by one of my favourite artists, Nick Cave, and so in bed I sang Into My Arms to her again. There in the warm dark, her fingers tracing my skin, I felt some shadowed part of my heart unlock and found a small sense of peace. A vision of myself rocking a baby and singing Cave rather than inane children’s songs to them in the small hours. It’s the first image of motherhood that exists in my mind beyond the fears of loss and the laughing tales of misery my culture gives me at every turn. I feel like myself in that vision, and in that moment I’m not afraid.

Another night recently we go to bed and I lose my grip on the crumbling stoicism and howl with a broken heart about so many things. How different this pregnancy is and how much I want to enjoy it and feel excited and connected to our growing baby. How deeply sad I am about my business failures and losses, and all the jobs I applied for last year and didn’t get, and the career that I so deeply wanted and have worked so hard for and now… realise that I might never have. Grief, grief like losing a piece of myself. My broken, frozen system, out far beyond all certainties and lost past the edges of the maps. All these dreams. She holds me, my love. She holds me and I weep onto her chest, she soothes me running her hands along my back as I shudder with pain. I find my voice in the darkness and I stop being strong and I stop accepting the pain as my part of the bargain and a little love seeps in through her arms, her kisses. My dark and silent prison unlocks a little. A little light reaches me, and I don’t feel so alone or so afraid anymore.

Trying to get pregnant and breathe

Today, I called the SANDS helpline and spoke to a lovely woman. I so needed to hear that the mess I’m in is ‘normal’. It makes sense. Other people who have been here get it, in all the horrible intensity. Trying to get pregnant again after we’ve lost Tam has bowled me over. I had no idea how hard I would find it. After the devastation of losing Tam, on top of the terrible string of losses Rose has endured, by mid year things felt so right and ready. We had a donor again, I had some fantastic opportunities for my business, Rose was working…

I remember that when we first started trying to conceive, I was haunted by a death sense that took me by surprise. Trying again after loss has magnified that to proportions I can hardly fathom. When Rose crashed into severe PTSD and couldn’t work, and my own business hopes were dashed, I went into meltdown. I fought and struggled and tried to find a way through. In the end I’ve had to accept that I can’t stop it happening and just accept it and be patient.

Some days I shift my sense of accomplishment to things like – well today I’m not in hospital. I’m not costing the taxpayer money for a psychiatric bed. (which would be find if I needed it, of course, but hooray that I’m not) I don’t have a string of medicos giving me conflicting advice. I get to choose my own reading materials from the library and I have control of the remote for the tv. Plus, I’ve showered, dressed, hung out with friends, and have all my pets around.

This week has been a lot better. I’ve had a number of good days, and the bad days have reduced me to ‘useless’ but been nowhere near the intensity of 8 hour crying jags or 6 hour panic attacks. I actually felt well enough to call a helpline today – I know that sounds oxymoronic, but it’s really risky for me to reach out when I’m not okay at all, because there’s an even chance of not getting help and then I’m in terrible trouble. Today I could risk it and it helped a lot.

It feels like my life has stopped. Every cycle we aren’t pregnant feels almost like we’ve lost another baby. I’ve never cared a whoot about my own ageing, but I fell apart in the shower the other night suddenly noticing changes to my skin. I’m plagued by nightmares about my friends and family dying. Sometimes when we’re not pregnant I’m heartbroken and relieved in equal measure because at least that’s a baby I won’t miscarry. I can’t breathe properly, all the time. Remember that nightmare ten days between our ‘it doesn’t look good’ scan and the ‘they have died’ scan with Tamlorn? Like my life is on pause. Just trying to catch my breath, all the time, every day. A scream inside that never draws breath. Trying to force myself to be reconciled to something that everything in me simply cannot accept.

I feel crazy. I’ve been vaguely aware of ‘baby mad’ people from outside and never expected to be one myself. I want to be able to have a life while we try to get pregnant, and that feels impossible at the moment. I can’t fathom how that’s the case, but but right now my reality is that most days taking care of myself – eating, drinking, coaxing myself to sleep, staying in touch with my people, and so on, is all I have in me. I can’t tell you how frustrating, humiliating, bewildering, and scary that has been! It is so incredibly hard to maintain any kind of perspective and it’s unbearably vulnerable.

It’s unbearably painful to keep trying, and it would be unbearably painful to stop trying. I chose this and I felt ready and I thought we could ride the roller-coaster and walk into whatever came without regrets but now – I feel trapped. I can’t breathe. I can’t make it happen. I’m out to sea and helpless. We might get pregnant and we might not. We might carry to term and we might not. All the assurances people give us (it’ll happen when it’s time, when you’re ready, when the universe or God decides it’s right etc etc ad nauseam) belong to another world, an illusionary place where there is justice and fairness and a grand plan and some kind of certainty. I don’t live there! I’ve read the stories and talked to the people and I can tell you for absolutely sure that fertility is not fair and there is no certainty. If I knew we would never bring home a live baby I would stop right now and throw no more of my life away on this impossible dream. No more days just trying to breathe, talking myself gently through every hour, every minute. On the other hand, if I knew we were going to conceive this month and carry to term… nothing in the world could stop me. But I don’t know, and I feel powerless. How to live without regret in the face of such unknowns?

I am so frightened. I’m scared that I’ll never feel better, that I’ll have post natal depression, that I’ll be an awful parent, that we’ll never have a child, that all our friends will leave us, that we’ll have another miscarriage, or a stillbirth, or a baby who dies at 2. I’m scared that I’ll lose my mental health, my family, my tribe, my capacity to work, my lovely partner. What am I willing to give up for this? What if it doesn’t work?

Strangely, just being able to ask these questions helps so much. It gives shape and form to pain and darkness. If I can name it, understand it, share it, it’s not so overwhelming. I spoke to a stranger on the phone today and told her how agonising it has been to watch my beloved Rose suffer through PTSD. Night after night of screaming pain, to be holding her hand when she can’t even feel me there. And somewhere in all my rambling I said the thing I haven’t been able to say even to myself – Rose has loved so deeply and lost so many babies, I am afraid that if we never bring home a little one of our own, her heart will be broken beyond repair and I will lose her. I type that with tears running and my face aching with a scream I can’t sound. She hurts so much and I can’t bear it or take it away.

I don’t know how I found myself here, feeling so stuck, feeling that all my world pivots on a single dream I have so little control over. I can’t go forwards, I can’t go back. I can’t breathe. I’m ashamed and embarrassed and confused. I am good at reconciling myself to terrifying things! I’ve supported people I love through suicide attempts, I’ve built a life from homelessness and isolation, I’ve escaped communities in which I was dying and I’ve been able to grieve my losses without going back. I am good at this!

But oh, watching my love in pain. Oh, oh, my heart. Like an addicted gambler, where the stakes are everything I have done with my life until now – each month I roll the dice and hope. I can’t bring the stakes down, can’t end the game, can’t breathe.

Yes, said the woman on the helpline. It makes us feel crazy. It sends us into breakdowns. It isolates us.

Writhing like a worm on a hook. Silent because too many people already think I won’t be a good parent, or that I’ll regret it, or that I’m not up to it. Silent and frightened and embarrassed as my sense of the world falls to pieces and I’m in the biggest free fall through the deepest black pit.

I didn’t have any idea just how hard the last few months were going to be. I wanted to be able to handle them so much better! I’ve tried very, very hard to do so. And I’ve done a lot even in this distraught place that I’m proud of. I’ve helped my love find the support she needs, held her hand and cheered her on as she’s moved into an incredibly fast recovery and return to work. I’ve supported my sister through a tough time. I’ve not leaned too hard on any one person, but I have asked for help and been honest about how not okay I am. And I’m still here, still with Rose, in our lovely home, caring for our pets, gardening, looking after myself, hanging out with friends. I might have flunked college and given up on my business and not been able to write or paint and have no idea what I’m going to do for work – but I’m still here. My life has  not burned down around me. I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve even joined a baseball team, just last night, with Rose and a couple of friends. I still have my life and I’m starting to come out of the deep darkness. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to hear a beautiful talk about supporting trans men at a local pregnancy service a couple of days ago and my heart was so buoyed by it – I love work like this so much! I can’t wait to be well enough to get back to it. Our stunning garden blooms outside my window and it feels like a metaphor on a day like today. All that hard work months and years ago, and today when I have done nothing – not even got dressed, I just sit here and watch it bloom. The effort pays off and carries me through the times I can’t do anything. I rest and it carries me through. I rest and it carries me. For that I’m thankful.

In memory of our Tam

Tamlorn was due today.

It seems so much died with them. A fork in the road and a different path forced upon us. I don’t know how that can be but it seems it is. Somewhere out there, in a different universe, two happy ladies are so bouyed by the pregnancy the work stress doesn’t tip one of them into ptsd. We don’t lose our donor, we go to the pregnancy expo full of excitement, we don’t push the business hard and wind up falling down a hole of broken expectations and pressure. Such a little thing and yet our whole year is different. Our whole world.

My sense of faith or meaning about life and death, any possible afterlife, has splintered. Sometimes we comfort each other that if they all still exist somewhere, Leanne and Amanda and Grandma would take excellent care of Tamlorn. I can’t imagine three people with more love and skills and care and humour. And maybe all the others I didn’t know so well would help too; Bethy, Tash, Nana, Bradbury, Pratchett… Somehow every possible answer seems to hurt more than it comforts. This loss makes me need a certainty about death I simply can’t have.

We are still trying to get pregnant, and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It seems so little, but it’s so consuming! The roller-coaster emotions make me feel crazy and I work hard to hide and suppress them. Rose and I are so gentle with each other, constantly making room for both hope and grief, reminding ourselves life is still wonderful without a child, that whatever the outcome is we have each other, and yet it’s like trying to calm a storm by talking to it. Beyond our power by far! It consumes everything. Our whole world becomes balanced on pinnacles between ecstacy and devastation.

I’m always trying to manage fear. I’m frightened of losing our donor again, frightened Tam was my one and only baby, frightened of getting pregnant and losing another one by miscarriage or stillbirth or leukaemia at 3 years old. Life feels like a lottery and the bland reassurance of those who’ve won and spun it into some kind of ‘just world’ (don’t worry, of course it will work out) is balanced by the raw pain of those who’ve lost and are childless following eleven miscarriages or other patterns of tragedy and loss.

The best feeling in my world is that moment before getting up to do a pregnancy test. Everything glows with possibility. Our bodies fit together, skin warm and soft, and the morning is gauzy with the film of dreams. We promise not to be devastated, that it’s early days only, that it’s okay to grieve, we can do this. We feel strong and settled and ready.

The worst feeling is another negative test. Coming up with all the reasons we might still be pregnant anyway. Trying not to feel that empty pit inside. Patting each other – it’s okay to be disappointed, we’ll be okay, we’ll try again, while inside we’re both dying. Wastelands and ruin and fears that we can’t counter that perhaps all this is futile. It might be. The only thing that would be harder than trying, is stopping trying. What started in joy begins to feel like a trap. We can’t let go of the dream but the dream is all fire and pain. We surface from misery briefly to remind each other that life will still be worth living if we can’t have children of our own.

We claw for balance, serenity, perspective, and it’s a veneer only over so much shameful intensity. We glory in our roles as aunties of others children, come home feeling blessed to be trusted and embraced, remind each other it’s significant and meaningful and worth putting effort into. And cry as quietly as possible when we’re alone, trying not to be ungrateful. We try to protect each other from our anguish and find gulfs open between us that we have to work hard to bridge with something other than raw hurt.

The very worst of it – worse even than platitudes or instructions to worry less or being told it will happen if we’re really meant to be parents – like a divine benediction, like the gods blessing the ascension of kings – the worst of it is feeling so alone and ashamed by how incredibly hard it is, so disinclined to let anyone know because it seems crazy, and if we seem crazy maybe we shouldn’t be parents after all. The pain of longing reinterpreted to prove our lack of worth and fitness. We’re not so far into this that I can’t recall my own bafflement at ‘baby-crazy women’ and wonder why they can’t just live their life and let it happens if it happens. It so seemed like such needless fuss, such obsession, but on this side of the fence it’s the dream that drives you and it burns.

On bad days I’m glad of a negative pregnancy test because at least that means I won’t miscarry again, or break our hearts with a stillbirth, or lose an infant to an accident. I like to take risks where I feel I can survive them not working out and I’m beyond that place at the moment. I can’t bear the thought of another loss and I don’t know how I’ll find any contentment in the moment or belief that things can work out. I read of women who’ve suffered catastrophic losses and their stories leave me gasping for air, completely unable to fathom such grief. I reach out to Rose and she tells me we’ll take this one miscarriage at a time if we must and my throat closes over and I can’t breathe at all.

What helps is sitting in the night with Tamlorn’s ashes or going to stand by their tree. What helps is spending time with other people who have walked this road or walked roads like it and seeing that the trauma and pain and sense of being crazy and need to hide it are nearly universal. They are normal responses, not well understood by those who’ve not been there usually, but very much the norm, especially for those of us with losses, fertility issues, a donor, and a culture that can be harsh about queer parents. Our sense of fear and vulnerability and exposure is strong. Our need for swift blessings to show the benediction of the universe is much higher.

The pressure on us to be highly emotionally invested but at the same look calm, balanced, and even slightly indifferent, is high. We feel crazy counting days and tracking cycles and collecting clothes, and we’re aware we mustn’t look crazy because it’s only recently that queer parents were even allowed to live openly together, to both call ourselves mothers of our children, and that is still being argued in courts of public opinion that talk about deviance and harm to innocents. (homosexuality was only decriminalised 40 years ago in South Australia) We’re still being held accountable for other people bullying our kids because of us. We still get looks of revulsion when we walk hand in hand. And we are some of the luckiest queer women in the world!

We lost so much with Tam, far more than I realised at first. My cycle is still unpredictable, which apparently is common following a miscarriage. We can’t track it accurately at all – on one set of tests I apparently never ovulate or produce any hormone surges, on another I’m about to ovulate constantly – we gave up testing after 9 positive days in a row. My cycle is now a different length each month. We guess the relevant week and scatter insems through it and hope, and try not to think about it. I try to imagine a future where things work out okay, and I stop reading the anguish of the women in my miscarriage support group. Being pregnant was the most wonderful experience. Trying to get pregnant has been a kind of hell. Normally dreams sustain me and only hurt when they fail. This one cuts deep as you hold it, brings life and death unbearably close, gives me joy and takes my breath away with pain.

image

White poppy

On Monday this one white poppy bloomed in the sea of red in our garden. Rose found some comfort in taking it as a token of Tam’s nearness. We talk back and forth to our garden, to Tam’s tree. It bloomed with a thousand blossoms, none of which set fruit. Red poppies in memorial, white poppies for peace. Today we’ll take flowers down to the ocean and set them in the water. (we hold hands like widows over graves)

Oh darling Tam. Do we mourn you or ourselves? You were loved every moment of your short life, we tell each other that. At times I think all the ills of the world could be righted if we could but love it and each other the way we loved Tam. In my minds eye I see myself as a bringer of death, my womb as a coffin, a portal through which souls come into the world to die, and there’s a stream of dead babies flowing away from me to the afterlife. My soul is twisted under the weight of knowing I’m not supposed to care this much, think this way, feel these things – and of not wanting to, either. Spare me the burning intensity, the clinging awareness, the cloying emotions. Spare me 3am and nameless dread. The stakes are high, the bets are placed, and each month the dice rattle in the cup like old bones; I wear a scarlet dress to hide the blood.

Darling Tam, who sometimes seems so close, when I close my eyes I can almost see us together in another world. You are nested between our bodies, fat and pink and milk-drunk, with eyelashes soft as moth wings. Our hearts are like ripe grapes on the vine after rain, overfilled and torn open. It’s a sweet pain.

Dearest Tam, tell my people that I love them. Love them fiercely from this side of the valley. Forgive us that we could not keep you here or hold you longer. Help our hearts tear open with love and heal again with the same love, every day. Happy birthday, darling unborn. I hope you are at peace. May we find some too.

Tam’s tree

If I’d been able to put something up here three days ago, I’d have said we were going okay. Rose held my hand through the stall at the Pregnancy Loss walkathon. It was just like old days, her stalwart, me skittish. Not many people were interested in the stalls, but I did sell one print.

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Two days ago I’d have said I think we’ve turned a corner. I let go of all my fears and plans and expectations and found some sense of ground beneath me, the present moment full of light and glory. For a couple of days I could breathe most of the time and coax Rose into doing things that helped us both feel more alive. I so wanted to write that post and share that news. We made each other laugh, even in flashbacks and darkness, and the darkness was less dark, less painful, less total.

Today, I couldn’t sleep for hours. I’d settle then startle awake to some concern, personal or existential. I deeply want to caretake my people and my networks but I’m too heartsick to do it. I can’t get back on my horse. I can’t be inspiring or hold hope or protect or save or make things better. I’m here, in the mud, too injured to climb back on my horse. Here in the mud, knowing that my life is beautiful, my tribe is beautiful, that I’m vomiting pain in a life I’ve worked so hard for and built so painstakingly. I’m peirced through by a sense of failure and loss and my own woundedness. My baby died. My love is hurting. My business runs at a loss. The word ‘recovery’ is like a spear in my side. I want to be riding my horse. I’m just going to lie here and hurt.

I know some of you are in the mud too. Broken dreams and hurting hearts. A memory of strength and energy and courage. And it’s so desolate and desperate. I know I’m not the only one and I’m not alone. Whatever your life looks like on the outside, you can choke on pain. Something inside screaming out for help and nothing you do calms it. Working hard to do things that might help, to shore up the river banks and sand bank the doorways against the sense of self hate and defeat.

The day with my art prints stall was very long. I took some art supplies and started a new oil painting. It’s Tam’s peach tree in bloom.

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Happy three years to Rose and I

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Sometimes you celebrate each other from the tops of mountains, when things are going your way and the whole world glows with possibility. The wells are full to over flowing, the larder is stocked, the roads are wide and smooth, the sun turns the world to gold. Love is easy, forgiveness is easy, kindness is easy. All things are in abundance.

Sometimes the path is narrow, twisted, bewildering, faltering into bogs and falling over cliffs.

I love her because even when I’m scared I’m not scared of her.

I love her because even when she hates herself she’s gentle and tender with me.
I love her because when we have very little, what we have she shares with me.

At night at the moment we both toss in the dark, dream-wracked and afraid. Sleeping in shifts between storms of tears, a broken voice crying out, the shudder of nightmares under skin. We bump along like two boats in black water and a moonless night, kissing hulls to be sure there’s someone still there. Over and over we turn to each other, hands reach like a bridge over the gulf, feet tangle like vines around each other, lips touch shoulders and we murmur soothing sounds or sing snatches of lullabies to each other. Stroking fevered faces, calming the hair back against arms, the arched back to rest again into soft bedding. “Love, love” we croon like doves, the inarticulate language of night; sharp cries like gulls, and the hushing of mothers half sleeping, voices a deep soft purr in the chest.

Adventures are tricky things. Reflected on from comfort, the sharp edges dull a little, the black nights turn pearl grey in memory. Here in the moment it’s stark with presence, bright as a papercut, a piece of glass in the shoe. It’s not called an adventure if everything turns out according to plan, if there’s no dark nights, no fears to conquer, no cost.

In the full glory of a spring day, sunlight on her bronze skin, her mouth open with laughter, her eyes full of light, she is beautiful. In the dark hours of the soul’s midnight, her body painted with pain, eyes closed against the burning memories, lips drawn back hard against teeth, she is beautiful. It’s a different kind of love that grows here, threadbare, harsher, there’s pain woven through it, and bone for strength.

She holds me in the shadows, sings peace to fall like rain down upon us both. I have seen the moon bright and full, and dark and empty. I know her in triumph and tragedy. There’s still love, in each place, the thing and the shadow of the thing. The rainbow and the rock beneath.

Holding hope

Some days I give hope and some days I gratefully receive it.

Rose and I are having a tough time. Flashbacks, panic attacks and terrible depression are our normal right now. We spent an hour on the couch today weeping over Tamlorn’s ashes.

Kindness and care from our loved ones helps. When I can’t feel hope any more, they hold it for me.

Even on the days when it feels like we have so little to give each other, we are kind at least. It’s not everything, but it’s not nothing. Even on a day as black as today, we have small victories to celebrate.

My Artbook: Mourning the Unborn

I have completed the Artbook I created after my miscarriage earlier this year. Inviting you to send in things to be cremated with Tamlorn was a deeply moving experience for me. Afterwards, it felt to me like the most natural, connected, public artwork imaginable, for such a private and taboo experience. I wanted to capture some of the sense of ritual and connection for others to use as inspiration in mourning their own losses. I’ve been distressed to be part of support groups and hear how isolated and hurting so many people are.

So I wrote and painted this book, hand bound it using coptic stitching, covered it with silk, and illustrated and embroidered it with velvet, silk, and seed pearls. The binding alone took me 8 hours to hand sew. It’s very precious to myself and Rose. Here are a few images from the book:

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The peach silk cover, chosen because of the peach tree we planted to remember Tam by.

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First pages

 

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I’ve gilded the print on the right with gold leaf

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To the left are some of the names of other unborn children people sent to me. On the right, three seed pearls have been sewn to the watercolour vial to represent the glass vial of tears we sent with the box to the crematorium.

 

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On the right, a silk ribbon embroidered rose has been stitched into the book.

Now that we are trying to conceive again, the time feels right to share it. I am currently talking with local services about an exhibition of this book and my other art about pregnancy and grief to raise awareness and help start conversations. I am also reaching out to other communities such as those affected by partner violence to create exhibitions that speak to their experiences also. My next big task is to reproduce it in a colour photo book edition so that I can share it with you.

Update April 2016: I have now completed this project! View my beautiful photobook of this artbook in my Etsy store.