Walking with the spirits

I’ve been missing my friend Leanne lately. Not like I did at first, with the heaving sobs and sense of disbelief. But I wake up and find her name in my heart, like a large rounded river stone. I miss her and I feel like I’ve grown so much since we were friends, and wish she could have seen that. Wish we could have talked again. She’d be so excited about what was happening in my life…

I miss Terry Pratchett too. I’ve never met him, but I find myself reeling over the loss of him, his profound gifts to the world. A finished story now. No more new books. My heart hurts and aches. It spurs me to reach out to my people, reminds me they are all mortal and will not live forever. I must tell them I love them now, must show them they matter.

I miss Tamlorn. In a couple of weeks we’ll be trying again for a baby. I’m excited and almost… Numb. It’s hard to believe it’s happening. It seems unreal and detached. I miss the little one we already had and I’m scared we’ll lose another. I’ve only just dropped the last of the weight I put on with Tam, I fit into my shoes and bras again. It’s strange to be inviting a little living thing back into my body again. Beautiful, wonderful, amazing, but strange.

I was at a wonderful community dinner this week, and as part of the getting to know each other we played a game where we moved around a hall in different groups depending on our answers to different questions. Go up that side if you were born in Adelaide and this side if you were born elsewhere… On of the questions was how many children people had. I stubbornly stood in the group who answered ‘one’, and was relieved when they didn’t ask us any more about our children.

It’s never easy to do, but every time I acknowledge Tam as my child, I feel stronger, and the grief feels… Cleaner. Sweeter somehow. Cold and clear as snow melt. My family feels whole.

The world is a strange and contradictory place, and we are likewise, so full of possibility and confusion and dreams. There’s a whole universe inside every one of us. I find myself simply marvelling at it, wanting to stop and simply be filled with wonder by the people around me. How vulnerable, petty, brilliant, deluded, and beautiful people are. How we get so tangled in the world and lose heart when our dreams die. And yet how resilient we are too, our broken hearts that hope again, almost in spite of us, our tenacity to keep living and keep dreaming and keep learning even when the lessons hurt. I’m proud to be here, glad to be alive, glad to be among people again. Life and death, love and grief, come hand in hand together.

I’m walking down to the edge again, to the sharp place in the dark where a life may be given or taken, where a child may live or die within me. I don’t walk alone. I don’t walk alone in any sense ever, the spirits of my loved ones come with me.

Kindness

It’s been a good day. I’ve cried a lot, washing out the emotional overwhelm from the past fortnight. I’ve come home to email inboxes totally out of hand, to do lists running into 5 pages, and so much coming in at me that I can’t process it. It’s hard for me to filter it or think clearly. My first couple of days back followed my usual impulse in such circumstances – work on it obsessively in a highly unbalanced way all day and night and become very dissociated from myself.

I’ve gone back now to the plan I was working before I left, where I work when Rose works and rest when she rests. It’s less than ideal from the point of view of those waiting to hear from me, but all I can do to look after myself. I can’t think very clearly or make sense of much of it yet.

But, this weekend has been lovely.

I’ve planted a lot of seeds and cuttings. Gardening is so grounding for me, I love getting my hands into soil.

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Our lilies are blooming, and they are stunning.

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Rose and I found this beauty in the side of the road for free. ūüôā

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The garden in winter is less spectacular than summer, but there are still treasures like this black pansy.

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We have a healthy patch of nettles for teas, they are high in iron. Rose and I are enjoying a shared love of growing and tending.

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Tamlorn’s peach tree was looking overgrown and unloved so we’ve weeded and laid down cardboard mats.

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We had a beautiful morning at the markets buying fruit and vegetables together. We’re working on reducing our food cost and increasing our unprocessed food intake. I feel very inspired to be more green. We currently compost our green waste via a council bin but I’m looking into my own composter or worm farm. I’ve made my own cleaner by soaking citrus peel in vinegar.

Staying in my van on the recent trip brought home to me how deeply I love to be connected to nature. I was unhappy about throwing away fruit peels and food scraps into the general bins and I think I’ll try and set up a bokashi style bucket for my next trip. I was also… Liberated. Living more simply calms my anxiety. I feel more at peace, in balance, in harmony. Remembering that I need so little to really meet my needs made me less afraid of loss, able to be bolder and braver. I drove to Port Lincoln without (as it turned out) enough money to pay for the fuel back, and my tribe – you guys, my friends and family and people I’ve never even met, and my new tribe out in the country, you guys supported me, repaid my courage, helped me to fly instead of fall. Brought me home again.

I feel… So humbled. So grateful. It’s hard to find words. I’m part of something. I want to say thankyou, in some way. Not to rush on into the busyness but to pause and really let it sink in, and to really see you.

I may not be able to repay, but I can pay it forwards. I got home to discover that my most difficult to live with neighbour had suffered the loss of her cat. Her deeply loved pet had been hit by a car. So I went over to say I was sorry to hear it. One of my cats, Sarsaparilla, has partly adopted her and often sleeps on her porch. I offered him to her, with all his papers and so on, if she wants to have him. She cried. She said she was sorry for being mean. I forgave her. I think we are slowly starting to rehabilitate our street – the one where near fatal stabbings, arson, vandalism, drug and alcohol issues, and cruelty are so common. We might not be enough to turn the tide, but at least we can acknowledge the deep woundedness beneath the violence. At least we can be kind.

Love. How simple, how difficult. We who have the biggest dreams, who want to change the world, who cry out in fear and pain – how? Well, this is how I’m doing it.

Painting mandala stones

Rose and I have started having craft nights some evenings, now that my intense work phase has eased up. We’re really enjoying it! Recently we’ve been painting stones, inspired by this YouTube video and this one too.

I brought these stoned home from the beach where I stayed overnight in my van on Mothers Day this year. It was a very liberating, very moving experience, and I wanted to bring tokens home. One we’ve kept for ourselves and put under Tamlorn’s tree in the backyard. The other has been given to my Mum, who would have been Tamlorn’s grandmother, to honour her grief and relationship. Each has a little gecko, which was our name for Tamlorn while they were trying to stay ‘sticky’ (alive).

For more amazing stone paintings, see here and this fantastic artist.

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Sculpture: She’s a Mother on the Inside

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Mixed media sculpture: Pine, brass, silver, freshwater pearls, AB Swarovski crystals, bone colouredcotton, Noodler’s Tianamen ink, various glass beads.

Made in honor of my beautiful partner Rose, who with my miscarriage of Tamlorn recently, has now lost 7 babies unborn. As we have no living children yet, she is frequently overlooked on Mother’s Day and rarely considered to be a ‘real’ mother by friends or during events. Added to the cultural pressure not to tell anyone about early pregnancy and not to mourn such losses as ‘real’ children, she has grieved and suffered silently for most of her life.

The title is borrowed from the Whovian/Palmer phrase bigger on the inside, referring to the TARDIS and the human capacity. The doll mother closes completely and locks shut. Once opened, 7 stranded pearls tumble from her broken heart, red rich, precious, and painful. They must be untangled to fall neatly.

To close her again, you have to touch the strands, to tuck them back into her heart. You must interact with and acknowledge them, and handle them carefully, or she will be ruined.

I love Rose deeply. She is still in profound, compounded, silenced, complicated grief. It is my passion and my joy to use my art to bring a voice to a topic so silenced, and so show her as I see her: however childless she appears on the outside, she is, like me, a mother on the inside.

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I’m making a handmade art book

I am part way through a hand made artist’s book about losing Tamlorn. This is the final project for a semester long class called Critical Visual Thinking. I’ve chosen a combination of sewing, watercolours, and bead embroidery for the pages. I have two more to finish then tomorrow I will start the process of binding it. It’s exquisitely beautiful and I’ve loved every painstaking hour I’ve spent on it. Here’s a little preview:

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Bearing Witness to Pain and Suicide

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Between Rose and myself, today has involved touching base with or trying to arrange supports for 3 suicidal people. We’re home now, the doors are locked, the phones are off the hook, and we’re sharing dinner. Rose has cooked using these beautiful little tomatoes from our garden. Someone stole our trowel and I got paid today so I bought her another one. It’s become a project we love working on together, a little hub of abundance in the middle of our busy, at times tiring, lives.

We both know what it’s like to be in that place, how dark, lonely, and desperate it feels. Sometimes there’s concrete things we can do to help, linking people to resources, taking people to hospital, going around and giving them a hug. Sometimes there’s so little we can do except bear witness. To find some way to say “I see you. I hear your pain. If you should die tonight you will be mourned.” I told a friend today that working in mental health with a system that doesn’t support people in ongoing crisis, at times I feel like I am standing at the gates to Auschwitz, helpless to intervene, marking a tally of those who enter and will never return to us. Sometimes counting the dead is all I can do, and it kills me inside. I’ve written about bearing witness before:

These are¬†people, who get thrown out of hospital for being a nuisance, who get turned away from services for being too sick, too suicidal, too much hard work. These are people who are dogged by the impact of chronic trauma and abuse, who fight so hard to stay alive through so many dark nights and simply run out of fight, people who want to live but can’t bear the pain any more and who sometimes want to die, whose ambivalence is misinterpreted as manipulation, whose suffering is disregarded as attention seeking. They are real people. Under the labels like Borderline Personality Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, under the other labels used (mostly) when they’re not in the room – asshole, stupid, FITH ‘fucked in the head’, bitch, waste of space, they are humans. They are dying. And if they die, they should not die unloved. If they die, we shall mourn them. If there truly is no hope (a common reason services withdraw help, because they’re ‘probably just going to die anyway’) we should not throw them out of services but move them to compassionate palliative care services. That’s what a caring society does for people who are dying.

I’ve seen this too often. I’ve had to contact media to force a hospital to admit a friend who had been left, untreated, without food or water, in the ER for ten hours with her arms lacerated by self harm. I’ve had to coax a friend into drinking activated charcoal to absorb the poisons that were killing them from a suicide attempt, because they had been marked a chronic complainer with behavioural issues and the entire state public mental health system had been closed to them – even sympathetic doctors could no longer admit them. I’ve myself turned up to ACIS, our crisis support service, homeless and acutely suicidal and been turned away because “we don’t treat people with DID very well, you’ve got a better chance of surviving on your own”… and that doctor was right. I did. I’ve supported people to increase their level of dissociation to survive the night when distraught and suicidal and unable to access any kind of support. I’ve visited people dying of self inflicted harm in hospital. I’ve sat on their bed and held their hand and shared ice cream with them. If I had a dollar for every email from a person with multiplicity who was confused, suffering, lost, and being more harmed than helped by the mental health services, I wouldn’t have a lot of debts left. I’ve lost friends to suicide, and supported others grieving after losing someone they loved to it, and shared poetry about it, and exhibited artwork in exhibitions to raise awareness. Since I was first suicidal at 10, it’s been part of my life.

So today – please bear witness with me. I’m not breaking any confidentiality, I’m not exposing anyone. I’m telling you that people like me stand at the gates and we tally the dead. Everyone we lose is a loss to all of us. A book too short, tragically ended, a life cut off. This is not the way people are supposed to leave us. Each loss makes the world a little darker, the night a little colder. We must find ways, together, to see people in pain. To bear witness to their lives. To sit with their pain. To mourn and to scream and to find ways to live. To burn brightly. To bring warmth.

If you are feeling suicidal yourself, or care for someone who is, you might helpful:

Broken and Loved

Precious, lovely Rose is going through a rough time. She’s been tangled in a bad depression since Tamlorn died. There’s some days that are better than others, but the bad days are very hard right now. If could, I’d sweep her up and squeeze all the darkness out of her, the deep pain, the dread, the despair, the exhaustion and fear that maybe life will never feel better again. It’s wonderful that I’m in a good place right now, because both of us being in misery is very hard. But it has its own pain for her too, a fear of holding me back, a sense of failing. Complicated grief, with deep sense of brokenness.

I can’t make it better, but I can make a space for her where she doesn’t need to hold up the sky or live up to expectations, or be worthy. Together, we can make our home a refuge.

Yesterday was a bad day. I wanted to give her some token she could carry with her, through all the dark hours. So I made this memory locket. I gave her one last year with little crystals in it to represent her family – her, and me, and 6 for the little babies who have died unborn. I broke it accidentally when trying to place a little charm in it that didn’t fit. So for her birthday this year, I replaced it with a new shiny one. I was going throw the old one away but her talk of brokenness made me see the possibilities in it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with memory lockets, they have a little window on both sides, giving them a front and reverse side. I used water colours and ink to create this little artwork, you can flip it back and forward in your hand to see each side.

She loved it. She doesn’t have to believe it. It doesn’t take away the pain. But it’s something. There’s a kind of peace there.

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Mother’s Day

 

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Love to all mothers, to those of us with hearts brimming over and those with hearts tattered and battered and torn. To those with hearts broken by yearning and sick with unrealised dreams. Love to those grieving, to those mothers who can’t or won’t use the word mother, who fall through the holes of our language into a silence, those who love dead unborn children, who mourn children lost, who love children they have no claim of flesh and bone and law to but love them anyway. Love to all women who love and give life to and grow something more than themselves.

Love to all children, to those of us with¬†hearts brimming over and those with hearts tattered and battered and torn. To those with hearts broken by yearning and sick with unrealised dreams. Love to those grieving, to those children¬†who can’t or won’t use the term mother for a woman who once bore them but did not love them well, who fall through the holes of our understanding¬†into a silence, those who love dead mothers, who mourn mothers lost, who love women they have no claim of flesh and bone and law to but love them anyway. Love to all children and once children who love and are brought alive by and grow because of or in spite of a mother.

(thanks to Ellie Hodges thoughtful facebook post for the image)

 

I’m Burning

I’m flying. I’m strong. I take up the space I live in. I have a voice. My mind is clear. I look after my body. I look after my soul. I’m learning how to do the things I need, what strange food and drink I must live upon: like sleeping under stars, running away from home, breaking the routines. It makes me strong. It makes me fly.

I have the most incredible life.

Today was amazing. I did things, with this fierce roar in my chest. I did difficult things, without anguish. I walked a long way through the autumn, wind blowing through my heart, feet kicking up leaves. I made soup, for dinner, with my hands, and felt connected to the simple needs of a body. I met with people and made plans and did needful things for home and business and networks and through it all I was bold and attuned. I gave out a lot of energy and did a great many things.

I’ve been finding what I need. Rose has been helping me so much. Lost in her own grief as she is, she has been so faithful. She’s organised and arranged each of the three trips we’ve taken since Tamlorn died. And with each, my head has become clearer. She’s cooked countless meals when I didn’t feel like eating, done hours of shopping and bought home treats to tempt me. She’s the beloved heart of my world.

My world has been kind. My friends give to me, in many different ways, so generously. I have a tribe who love me. My tutors are giving me room to breathe at college, to find my feet, to ask the questions I have to ask and find some end to the tangled thread I can follow. I have been very fortunate in my pain. I have been well loved.

And I am thriving. I’m bursting with energy and passion. I know this place, it’s intense. I’m in a state of growth and output. Full of courage and strength, I could uproot trees and dig lakes with my hands! It’s fierce and magic. I have to care for myself so it doesn’t burn me out, doesn’t wear me to the bone, doesn’t eat me from the inside like fire. I have to rest, to listen for strain and exhaustion, take days off, allow downtime. There are seasons in all things, including this. I will use the energy while it is here, build new things, tear through the obstacles that were defeating me, move my whole world. And I will listen for the tiring, the turning away, the winter settling in. I will slow and be still, retire, meditate, listen to the earth, when I need. And I will grow peacefully, the small things each day; the dedication of farmer tending crop and shepard the flock. Each season in turn.

But gods, it’s good to burn again. The Roar in me still ringing. This is life and I will suck the marrow from it.

Carpe Diem

Sometimes life kicks you in the face and you fall over and have to curl up and lick your wounds. Sometimes it just keeps kicking you and at some point you get up and kick back. That’s where I’m at now.

Two days ago, we sent Tamlorn for cremation. We took all your beautiful sendings with us in a box.

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This is how mothers say goodbye – on their knees.

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Yesterday we learned that our donor’s circumstances have changed and he’s no longer going to be part of our process.

Today I picked up Tamlorn’s ashes from the funeral company.

Tomorrow I’m going back in to the local welfare centre again to beg for help with these ongoing debt issues that no one ever returns calls about.

And I’m fighting back.

I’m sleeping. I’m cooking meals. I’m energised and throwing myself into life. I’ve started the new term of art college. I used the holiday to catch up on all the homework so I’m ready and focused. Things are different now I’m in second year subjects. This week I’ve actually felt like this isn’t a crazy waste of time. I’m getting some support for the kind of art that is meaningful to me, learning useful things about the history of art where I can place my own stress and ambivalence into context. I have a new sense of hope that there is a place for me and what I do in the art world, somewhere.

I am currently doing prep work for a gathering tomorrow of the potential board for the HVNSA and DI networks I’ve been care taking through my business. And I am excited! I’ve been reading a couple of books; Start Something that Matters by Blake Mycoskie, and Be a Changemaker by Laurie Ann Thompson. Social entrepreneur… it’s not a word I’m familiar with. I have painstakingly gathered business skills in my face painting business over the last couple of years. I am not good at marketing myself. I am good at giving things away for free to vulnerable people. But now at least, I can manage invoicing, tax, record keeping, and the basic admin of a business. And I am finding words for my passion for people, and models for what I’ve been trying to do. I feel less alone and bewildered and overwhelmed. The other board members are good people, conversations with them¬†imbue me with hope about what we can do together. I am realising that what I most need at the moment is not to be doing this alone.

So, I’m burning with passion and my mind is clear and alert. I’m confident and imaginative and enthusiastic. I know this energy can’t last. No matter the cause, at some point the body needs to rest, the mind to recharge. That’s okay, I can do that. I’m astonished by my current state, grateful and relieved. I did not expect this. This has been an incredibly hard year. I’m determined to live fully, to embrace what I have and do what I can. I’m reaching out to country and interstate people about going and giving my talks – I’ve decided to offer some for free and ask for help to cover travel costs. I want to be out there, I want to be doing what I love, helping people. I don’t have a little baby in my arms, I may not even be able to try and get pregnant again this year while we look for and build a relationship with another donor. So I have a lot of love in my heart and there’s a lot of people out there who need a bit of love.

And when the night falls on my heart again and that flame of hope goes out… I want you to remember that one is not good and the other bad, one is not real and the other a lie. Pain, sorrow, anguish. They are as real and necessary and sane a response to my life as my current zeal. I am reminded of something I wrote a long time ago in Traumatic replay:

When awful things are happening I feel awful. I feel numb. I feel furious. I fight like hell. I feel strong. I feel helpless. I feel vindicated. And other people say things to me like ‚ÄúHow are you still going?‚ÄĚ, with respect.

When nothing awful is happening I still feel awful, numb, furious, but I have nothing to fight. I feel weak, helpless, stupid, pathetic, and full of self loathing. And other people say things to me like ‚ÄúWhat is wrong¬†with you?‚ÄĚ, with contempt.

Remember this day, tomorrow when I am broken again. They go together, the flying and the falling. This is the fire РI am forged strong, but I am also consumed and devoured by it. This is my life, ending one minute at a time. Carpe diem.

Poem – The Roar

We cremated Tamlorn yesterday. It was very hard to go to the funeral home, to face this painful thing. And yet, it was transformative. Unexpectedly, something shifted in me.

The scream behind my silence becomes a roar
I can breathe again, the weight lifts.
Perhaps it was not grief, but silence.

The silencing, the weight of a culture that says ‘do not grieve’
for fear of being accused of wallowing, or worse, 
public wallowing. 

Like cresting a steep hill, I inhale the view, deeply.
You were part of our family, dearly loved.
and we mourned you as we mourn our own.
Even the cats have graves Рeven little injured 
wild birds that die on the way to the vet.  

Something came and took you from us
into the night and I thought I’d never get you back.
There was just the void and a great silence.
A deep numbness. In that place, you did not exist, neither did I. 

But somehow, in this defiance – naming you
mourning you, cremating you, in some way we drew you back
from formlessness, you took on shape
became a part of our family, honored by our rituals, inducted as a member.
Part of a legacy.  

We are your home, love.
You are not a body washed up nameless on foreign soil
you are not a stray dog dying alone out in the bush
you are ours. We took you back. 
You lived and died in our body
we have sung you to life and back to death again
we have burned you with lavender and rosemary
the drum of my heart calls your name
you are here, you are here, you are here. 

Poem – Saying Goodbye

We are going to arrange Tamlorn‘s cremation tomorrow. I have been gathering the poems and sharings from other people, but finding myself wordless. It was very hard to find some way to say what I needed to. In the end, I wrote this poem. All will be burned to ashes with Tamlorn’s tiny body.

Whenever I try to find
A way to say goodbye
There’s no words in me
No poems or flowers that can speak for me
Just a scream rising up inside
If I let it loose, the sound would break the world. 

I don’t know how to say goodbye.
I can’t bear this.
I can’t bear to face you
And I can’t bear that life goes on without you
Everything is wreathed in pain. 

Are you there?
I don’t know if you are there.
I don’t know where you came from
I don’t know if there is any spirit left
After your heart wound down.
I can’t, with all my agony, pierce the veil
I can’t find absolution
I can’t find certainty
I can’t find hope.¬†

My abdomen has deflated like a soft balloon
My breasts sag gently onto my chest
My body remembers you, little one.
I loved you so very much and
I’m not sure that you knew that.¬†

There’s a pain in me that nothing stops.
There’s a terror in me that nothing eases.
I feel like running, screaming through the streets
Naked, tearing out my hair, like a madwoman
Screeching “We’re all dying! We’ve so little time!”
The end is coming for us all. 

I felt you once, so near, flesh of my flesh
Now I do not feel you at all.
I cannot hear anything over the harsh sound of my breath
Over the frantic beating of my heart
Life is brief and it is taken from us
I can’t find meaning in this.¬†

Who were we, I think, to love you so dearly?
Unknown, unmet, undeserving
When the world is full of loneliness and death
When so many children grow without love
My hypocrisy chokes me
I am ashamed. 

I wish I knew you and I’m glad I didn’t know you.
I think about babies dead at birth, or 3 months, or 2 years
Dead at 8, or 16, or 27 – it’s unbearable.
I keep dreaming my mother dies.
I keep dreaming of losing everyone.
And in the meantime, try not to tear my life apart
Cutting strings with my sharp pain
The brutal arithmetic of loss, the restlessness
The need to run, to make a mark, to change something
Here in this little life.
To make it mean something
That I lived, when you did not.
To atone. 

I loved you, and it was not enough.
I do not deserve life, as you did not deserve to die.
I can’t make it right.
I’m just here, wordless, choked
Terror, and loss, and love
Empty hands and heart screaming
This is what is left of love, little one
This silence that has a scream beneath it
These empty hands, this empty womb, my breast folded soft against my skin.
This is love seen at night, love on the cliff at the edge of the void and it’s unrecognisable
It’s sharp as knives and burns like poison and there’s no comforting me
It tears my dress and pulls out my hair and runs blood down the inside of my legs
This is love in the shadow of your loss, Tamlorn
It’s a mad and terrible thing
It’s a death, of a kind, a kind of despair
The keening howl of a wolf returning, who finds the den destroyed
There are no words here, no peace
This is love, my love
This is how mothers say goodbye. 

We went and we’re back again

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It was everything, beautiful, painful, resting, freeing. I don’t want to be home yet. My life doesn’t feel like mine. This coming week I have a massive list of college homework due, a network board meeting, a cremation, and our engagement party.

Still admin. Bank, welfare, public housing, all causing major issues. Promising to call back and never calling back. I am full of a kind of horror about having to try and deal with them again.

The days are very long when I’m free of my routines. They are full of nooks and little opportunities for happiness, a book, a bit of writing, an artwork, a bath. I wish I felt more free, less compulsive, less crowded.

I’m home again. I’ll look for small ways to be more free. Or we’ll run again. Even counting up the cost of nice meals and a beautiful place to stay with a spa bath, the whole week cost less than a night in psych hospital would,and did a lot more for us both. Breaking the routines helps.

Grief and the book

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I’ve been very sad today. It’s three weeks after the miscarriage surgery today. I feel heavy and tired and dazed. Plodding along in my own little world at my own tired pace while life moves on around me.

There’s been a lot of things to manage and arranging Tamlorn’s cremation keeps getting pushed back. I have a folder of beautiful and touching contributions by other people. I’m still wordless myself. I turn towards it and look at it and there’s just nothing in me. No poetry, no artwork, no words at all. Just a sadness, unfathomably deep.

I seem to have spent today weeping in cars after very nice visits with lovely people. As soon as I walk away there’s a terrible emptiness, a loneliness in me.

I keep working on the book. It’s something I can do. It’s an anchor when I feel lost. I don’t know that it will be worth anything, useful to anyone, worth all this time and love. I don’t know that anyone will read something so obscure by someone so unknown with so few credentials. Self published at that. I feel very small. There’s a weight of self hate like a blanket over me. I need to be doing homework, chasing up money issues because departments that were supposed to call me haven’t. But the words are flowing. My mind is teasing out the knots and puzzles of multiplicity and my life and my approach, constantly. Between emptiness, nightmares, moments of connection with others like candles being lit in a windy place, there’s the riddle to be solved. There’s just grief and the book at the moment for me.

Understanding Emotional Flooding

Oh, the joys. I’ve been wanting to write this for ages, but it’s large and complex. I haven’t entirely done it justice here and I’ve touched on some areas that I’ve covered in other posts in more detail so I’ve linked instead of repeating myself. A lot of us with troubles with flooding get diagnosed with things like Borderline Personality Disorder, and although having a word for it can help, it can also leave us feeling very powerless and different from other people, which in some ways can hurt a lot worse. I don’t think we are either powerless or even particularly different. I think we are experiencing powerful things that our culture isn’t good at handling, and often convinces us to respond to in the worst possible ways.

What do I mean by emotional flooding? That place in which you are drowning. Emotions are so intense, so deeply felt, and so long lasting that you feel like your very identity is dissolving in them. You can’t clearly remembering not feeling this way and you start to lose hope you will ever feel differently again. We have a term for this when the feelings are really good ones – mania. But for the black depths of emotional pain or the anguished hypersensitivity of the chronically triggered, we don’t have a lot of words. Which doesn’t help! Decompensation is one way of putting it, but it’s not pretty and describes the effect of it, not how it feels on the inside.

I call it flooding. It’s the opposite to numb. It’s breaching containment. It’s not just taking the lids off boxes full of strong feelings and painful things you don’t like to think about, it’s falling in and having them snap shut on you so you can’t get out again.

Flooded can be an enduring state or a temporary crisis. I’m really familiar with it because I’ve spent a lot of my life flooded. It’s the state of being without ‘skin’ described by people trying to recover from trauma. It’s the ‘highly sensitive person’ label used by those who flood easily but don’t usually identify trauma. It can be hell. Exhausting, overwhelming all your resources to cope, and rapidly getting you to the point where you hate yourself and your life. It often leads to a state of frantic agitation which can be dangerous. People feeling frantic distress may resort to self help measures that seem crazy to those around them, and often to themselves once the crisis has passed.

I can only really describe flooding from my own perspective and much of this may be fairly unique to me, but I’m hoping there’ll be points of recognition and useful ideas for others too.

I flood quickly under certain circumstances. The first is when I’m chronically triggered. That might be a particularly bad week where a lot of big triggers happened to line up, or it might be that I’m particularly vulnerable at the moment and triggers I could otherwise handle are setting me off. One big trigger can cue a level of sensitivity and vulnerability that make me exquisitely attuned to all other triggers around me – I lack psychological ‘skin’ and can’t buffer the world anymore. Everything gets ‘under my skin’, everything feels personal, I can’t shrug anything off, and the littlest things feel like the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’ve touched on these issues before, you can read a little more about them and my coping strategies:

The opposite process can also flood me, not triggers from outside but the result of internal processes. When you’ve come through anything that causes big feelings and intense thoughts and questions, most of us learn that to get out of bed in the morning we have to contain them. We put them in a mental box (or the cellar, or walk away from the big pit, or however our mental landscape works) and go focus on the rest of our day. This is a really useful skill. However it has a couple of risks. One is that triggers can set off a really huge reaction if they breach this containment. That’s why I can go from completely fine to a panic attack or overwhelmed with tears about baby stuff at the moment. My miscarriage is fresh and I have a lot of big stuff in boxes that can flood out and overwhelm me. The second risk is that, once we’ve boxed up the big stuff, we can find that walking back towards it voluntarily takes a bit more courage than we can coax up. Worse, our culture of ‘move on and get over it’ and our warped ‘recovery oriented’ mental health supports – when they think recovery means not feeling big stuff, can punish us for opening those boxes and warp our mindset to a point where we think that being in pain is sickness, failure, or us doing something wrong.

At that point we can shift our focus from containment – a highly necessary skill! to suppression. Where containment boxes stuff up so we can focus and be safe and do day to day things until we have a safe and appropriate time to feel and think and open the box back up, suppression coats the box in concrete and drops it in a lake. We box things up with no intention of ever going back for them. When they rattle and howl and start keeping us awake at night, we concrete the lake too. The trouble with this is that this stuff has buoyancy. The deeper we push it down, the harder it pushes back up.It also contains key aspects of our self. Little bits of us gets boxed up too. The reason the stuff wants to come back up is because we need it. Like iron filings trying to reach a magnet, it tries to come home. But we have split off from it and don’t recognise it as ourselves anymore. It’s like your lost cat turning up on the doorstep in a storm, wet, covered in mud, howling like mad. We freak out and slam the door and shut the windows while it cries, growls, and starts to attack the door.

Suppressed material isn’t trying to torture you, it’s trying to finish a key part of a process that you started – reconciliation. When we never make space for it, it randomly ruptures through a thousand feet of concrete and bursts all over our life with the intensity – and sometimes the unseeing rage – of an abandoned child. When we finally get it back ‘under control’ we feel vindicated that of course this is the right way to deal with it, because it is completely irrational, intense, dangerous, and unmanageable. It is flooded. But the truth is, this is the outworking of our process.

In suppression, we often turn against ourselves with shame, rage, fear of this feeling of being out of control, and often harsh self punishment. This is what does the harm, not the flooding, but our misunderstanding of it and response to it. Intense feelings and confusing questions are a normal part of life. They are frequently but not always triggered by experiences of change, loss, or trauma – not always our own. They are not mental illness or weakness or brokenness. They are our responsibility to figure out how and when to deal with them. Being flooded is not an excuse for flooding or abusing those around us. But it’s not a¬†bad thing, not something to be ashamed of. It’s just human. We need food and air. And sometimes we need to feel very big feelings and ask very hard questions. There’s nothing wrong with us.

Shifting from suppression and self loathing¬†(I hate myself) back to containment is possible. When suppression has been used a lot, initially the mind fights all forms of containment. Even putting aside little feelings can become impossible because you have broken trust – your mind no longer has faith that you will come back for anything you manage to compartmentalise. In an effort of elf preservation, it tries to stop you adding anything at all to the massive, growing collection of suppressed material you already have trying to break back through into awareness. Basically it doesn’t want you to feed the volcano any more. As you start learning how to safely let out small amounts of contained stuff, without blowing up the whole volcano every time (it’s not always possible), your mind shifts gears. It gets that you’re back on board and starts working with you to contain things. You have to coax and prove that you’re trustworthy, but it can turn around surprisingly quickly. This can simply start by inviting your mind to help you put aside your reactions to a trigger until you can get home, and then promising you will make a cuppa and sit in the back yard and let the feelings and thoughts come up – or however it is you prefer to feel big things.

For those of us with multiplicity, parts can be flooded, that can be their role. We often hate the part instead of hating and dismantling the role. In fact, whole groups of parts can be flooded. While they can feel like the worst thing imaginable, and impossible to let out or connect with, they are probably what stands between you and a lot of big stuff. They flood so you can feel sane and think straight. For me, I have taken on the idea that my job isn’t to reject them but to start to figure out how to look after them. If my most likely to self harm part comes near the surface I push her away until we’re home safe, and the she can sit in the bath or write in the journal or paints inks on our skin as she needs. (Wrist poems)

Another common trigger for being flooded is approaches that treat¬†the flooding itself is useful. Ideas around catharsis, ‘letting it all out’, the need for big ’emotional releases’, and some approaches to anxiety use flooding¬† because on the other side of flooding is some outcome they want. A common example is people who have a perfectionist approach to therapy or self improvement and try to ‘process’ all their feelings or triggers all the time. I explore this more in

Flooding can activate attachment and makes us bond to others nearby. This can be a very valuable experience of being safely supported and connected with when we are overwhelmed. It can also be a form of dangerous trauma bonding in which attachment figures are sometimes experienced as safe and sometimes so frightening or intrusive that we flood – and in response to that flood they shift back to being caring so we bond. Some parenting approaches teach parents to deliberately induce flooding in children using methods such as restraints, because the resulting bonding is thought to be helpful – however, most therapists argue that bonds created under such duress are problematic and that the experience of being so intruded upon and overwhelmed that you are pushed into flooding does long term harm to a child’s perceptions of safety and autonomy that the trauma bonding merely conceals for a time. When this occurs without good intentions on the part of the adult the same process may be described as ‘child grooming’.

Some approaches to phobias also deliberately flood people ‘Flooding’ is in fact another name for ‘exposure therapy‘ where someone is deliberately overwhelmed with triggers to try to break the link between the trigger and the flooded state. Forced to confront what they would far rather avoid, for some it may reprogram that link so that trigger no longer evokes panic. It can be a powerful way to reality check a broken internal alarm system – see, you were so scared, but nothing bad actually happened. For others they may simply snap from being flooded into being dissociatively numb. The way exposure therapy is timed – some therapists take patients beyond the point of hysteria, while others move extremely slowly and practice relaxation and calming skills through the process, and the way it is handled – if the patients wants it or is being forced into it, possibly impact which outcome occurs – a genuine changing of the trigger or simply a dissociative break.

We ourselves can trigger these same dynamics with rapid changes of approach to our own triggers and vulnerabilities – going from extreme avoidance to extreme confrontation of triggers is common for those recovering from trauma. It often sets off cycles of being flooded and numb. We also feel deeply frustrated that ‘no matter what we do’ we still feel out of control and overwhelmed.

We can cycle between numb, ‘normal’ and flooded. This makes us feel chaotic and crazy! We can also get stuck in a flooded or numb space. For those with multiplicity, this kind of cascade switching can be a system desperately attempting to self regulate by giving each kind of part some time out. (Multiplicity – rapid switching) The problem is that you don’t get to choose when it happens and feel horribly out of control. You also probably use all the times that you’re numb or feeling okay as ‘proof’ that you’re not ‘really’ needing extra care or having big feelings, you’re just kind of faking or being weak and need to try harder – ie need to suppress more. Self care becomes suspicious self indulgence in your mind, especially if it acts as a trigger and the mind assumes that self care means its an appropriate time to let out some big feelings. It doesn’t work, we think to ourselves. It just makes me weaker and sicker! Being mean to myself is much better, it makes me stronger.

Other people being kind to us or praising us can have the same effect – sudden flooding can be cued simply by feeling slightly emotionally safe. This can make you try to self regulate by maintaining a chronic feeling of being unsafe. Over time you exhaust as well as emotionally starve and your containment starts to fail. Flooding becomes a regular part of your life and you are at constant war with your mind to keep it at bay, using what has always worked in the past – punishment, self hate, chronic anxiety, and staying away from people who treat you well. Traumatic replay of horrible events can easily be part of this dynamic too.¬†These approaches make complete sense but they take you nowhere good in the longer run! Bits of them here and there aren’t the end of the world on bad days, but if this is how you always approach flooding you are in for a rough time.

For me, being pushed for intimacy instead of invited into intimacy can also trigger flooding. Some situations (eg therapy with someone I don’t trust yet, or a relationship where connection is being demanded) will inevitably flood me. If we are being asked for things that are currently in our mental boxes, being contained – whether that is ‘be more vulnerable with me’ or ‘I need you to show me how you feel’, my mind will open all the boxes ¬†if that is the only way to be obedient or to have a connection. That isn’t the end of the world unless I or the other person don’t cope with the flooding or I get stuck in it. I’ve had this happen a couple of times and ruin friendships. These days I’m a lot more careful of this dynamic. People who have empathy for your vulnerability will usually cue it just by being attentive. Those who demand it are often those who are least equipped to cope with it.

Good trauma therapists are familiar with these dynamics and don’t panic if someone floods, but they also don’t try to open all the boxes at once. I recall a great example given by Barbara Rothschild where she uses the metaphor¬†of carefully opening a shaken bottle of fizzy drink bit at a time, so you don’t get¬†yourself covered in drink. Here’s a talk by her about this idea with a couple of easy to understand examples like that one:

It takes some practice to learn containment again and work¬†with your mind when you’ve been using suppression and feeling intense fear or shame about your flooding. It’s especially challenging when your social network doesn’t get these ideas and supports the suppression-and-shame approach without realising what that’s costing you. A lot of the ideas around phase-oriented trauma therapy is giving people time and support to really learn, experience, and trust this different approach before opening the really frightening boxes. Of course, you don’t need a therapist to change how you think about and respond to flooding, and many therapists will actually make this process worse. I know of one locally who would insist that any client who wept must leave the room and stand outdoor the closed door. They were not permitted back until they ‘had themselves under control’. Bad therapy frequently confuses obedience and suppression with ‘recovery’ and would make this process of turning towards yourself, tuning in to yourself, and working¬†with instead of¬†against¬†how your mind is trying to work, much more difficult.

It can be done. You can normalise flooding and have compassion for yourself in this state without just being overwhelmed by it or fighting it. You can learn how to open and close boxes again – not perfectly, not always exactly the way you would like, but enough to be both human and able to function. You can find value in the intense states and learn with experience that you do pass through them. It’s not fair that some of us have a much rougher road and a lot less skin and we build up huge amounts of intense stuff to deal with. But it’s also part of a more profound experience of life. Intensity isn’t just about mania or despair or depersonalisation. For myself at least, there are also experiences of deep connection, spirituality, the profound, the sublime. I envy the undisturbed a lot less when I realise how deeply connected to my own heart I am, the passion with which I have lived my life. It is precious to me that I can feel, even that I can be stripped of name and self, that I can find myself at 3am naked on the cliffs before the void in my own soul, in a kind of utter freedom. That I can sink so deeply into love, contentment, peace. I have lived deeply, and I would not have it any other way. I have suffered, but my heart has also been made larger. The size of the cup that brings pain and bitterness to my lips is the size of the cup that brings joy. Even in pain there is something of value, something human. To be deeply moved, to know passion, to know life. To know and recognise and be able to sit with flooding in others without being swept away. It takes courage to live in hard times, to live with an open heart. It can be a thing of great beauty.

How to tell it’s getting cold at night

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Our three cats. Sarsaparilla hates sleeping indoors about as much as he hates Bebe. Sars is the black chap on the left, Bebe has the laser eyes.

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Tonks is helping me write my book.

College is over for the term! I’m on a two week break. I have a fair bit of homework to do but I’m taking a couple of days off first. Saw my doctor today who was not fazed by depression or suicidal feelings, considered them all to be perfectly normal grief and trauma reactions, and that the fact that Rose and I are getting dressed and leaving the house most days and talking about Tamlorn are all really good signs. Her biggest concern was for us not to rush through it all but go at our own pace, as delayed grief is complicated. She didn’t mind calling them a baby either, and made it clear she considers Rose and I to be mothers. Good doctors are a blessing.

Rose proposes

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Yesterday Rose and I drove for about 6 hours home from our little get away. I don’t cope with coming home sometimes. By bedtime I was a mess, head full of noise, overwhelmed by emotional pain. We lay together in the lamplight and I pulled apart my heart in confession: “I feel so bad at times I would do nearly anything to stop it.”

“My thoughts are turning to suicide.”

“The contrast between glowing with health and hope in pregnancy and now not caring about my body and wresting with self harm is shattering.”

“I feel like I’m letting you down.”

“I feel scrutinised and under pressure to cope gracefully or at least to hide how much this is hurting so that I don’t seem ill. I feel in a double bind where wanting a child very much and loving them very deeply is seen as a sign that I would be a good parent, but grieving them deeply and being affected by their death is somehow a sign that I am worryingly ‘mentally ill’ and would not be a good parent.”

“I want to run away from my life. I want to hide under a rock. And I don’t understand it because I’ve worked so hard for my life. I love it. But right now I hate it.”

Rose stepped into that place with me. She didn’t argue or hush me. She shared her own pain and sorrow, her own desire to run, the sense of pressure to cope. “I thought you were coping so well and I was the ‘ill’ one.” And in that sacred place of shared pain, a relief. Illuminated by the fire from our burning dreams, we lay naked in darkness and shared our hearts with gentle, brutal honesty and I felt like I was breaking and I felt like I could breathe because I wasn’t alone. There’s a kind of nakedness that has nothing to do with clothes. She wiped tears from my face and on impulse, scrapped grand plans for a big romantic reveal. She dashed into the rain and found the ring hidden in the shed and sat on the bed with me to tell me how much I’ve changed her life, how deeply she loves me in my light and darkness, how privileged she feels to be so close to me,¬†to all of us who are Sarah. She asked us to be her family and gave us this ring.

The ring is from the same jeweller that made hers, all the coloured stones are sapphires from around the world, and the diamonds are ethically mined. The rings are similar but different, just like us. Rose’s ring:

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So there in the dark it shines on my finger. She loves me as I am, not just for my best days, my successes and triumphs. Even in darkness, broken-hearted and lost, she loves me.

“I don’t want this ring to be about pain or Tamlorn’s death. But it just felt right that you need a symbol now to take with you to remind you that I love you.”

This is our family. The rain crashes through the night. “If you have to run away, I’ll understand.” I tell her, “Run and be safe and come back to me.”

“If you have to run, just tell me.” She says, “We’ll find somewhere safe for the animals and run together”. We lay blessings on each other from one broken heart to another.

I proposed to her in a forest, at a time when our lives were bathed in light, full of hope and excitement. She proposed to me in a storm, at a time of deep grief and loss. They are perfect bookends. This is who we are. She loves us, and we love her.

Distraught

I am shattered. 2 days of intense Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) type distress. I remember this, it’s like being 14 again (when I was first diagnosed). I jump at every little sound or movement. I’m still bleeding, so much blood. It flashes in front my eyes, I see it pouring from my opened wrists for just a moment, a flicker of it pumping from the drip site in my hand. This isn’t just grief, it is trauma. I feel like I’ve staggered into another world, I’m walking wounded with the returned soldiers from a war we’re not supposed to talk about that everyone pretends isn’t happening. I feel like a ghost. I feel like I’m dead. I’m slipping sideways into that detached place where I’m not sure what the hell is wrong with me or why I can’t just cope better, where nothing matters and nothing counts.

I’m reading about women miscarrying at work and not being allowed to go home early, about partners putting on pressure to get over it, about women who were treated with sympathy after the first loss but the fourth is old news now and there’s just frustration that she needs time off again, about women being treated brutally by medical staff, denied pain relief, denied the treatment of their choice, suffering through multiple internal exams, strangers trying to pull the last debris from their womb by hand. I’m reading about women who 3 years on still have flashbacks, can’t bear to be too close to another pregnant woman, can’t see her children without pain. And no one talks about PTSD or trauma, because no one has talked to them about it. Because ‘nothing¬†really happened, miscarriages happen all the time and most women just get on with things and don’t make such a fuss and an early loss isn’t¬†really¬†a baby and it’s best not to talk about, not to think about it, not to make a big deal out of it…’ So we don’t call it trauma and we don’t call it dissociation or flashbacks or triggers we just call it some hypersensitive women not coping…

I’m at the limit of coping. Small things push me into hysterical distress. I can’t go more than a few hours without feeling absolute desolation and sobbing. My voice cracks, my heart feels shattered, there’s this keening howl in my throat when I breathe in. I feel like I can’t breathe. I feel like I’m drowning. I hate reading other people’s experiences but I can’t bear to be alone in this either. Their pain, their crazy-making pain, their trauma and woundedness and hopefulness and grief and sense of being alone give mine context. This is just what it is, this is what it feels like. I get it now, and when I feel compassion for them or rage on their behalf, a little spills over for me too.

I crave sleep and rest, time in the garden, in the sunlight. Other people’s children hurt to see, their babies are a physical pain in my chest, an ache in my arms. But I love them also, I want to be near them, to follow them, if they look at me or smile I feel like my heart breaks but it is bitter-sweet, a flood of love and hope, looking over at world where the sun is shining. I don’t want to avoid them yet. Maybe after the next loss I will be in that place.

Every time I have to talk about the pregnancy in the past tense I feel a fresh wound.

I find I crave touch. I want to curl into a hug for 6 hours and not get up again until the world hurts less. I want to hide in a pillow fort, under blankets until the monsters go away.

I want to run down the streets, naked and screaming, blood streaked, and set fire to the houses of the complacent people who don’t think this is a big deal.

This morning I slept in a little then got up to go to college. I dressed and got ready then opened emails from welfare. They have made major mistakes with calculations and we owe them a lot of money. The same thing has happened with housing and we now owe a lot of backpay rent too. I called a friend in hysterics. They came round and cleaned the kitchen while I called debt departments and wrote up excel charts to try and figure out how this happened and how we are going to manage it. I spent all day in admin between bouts of hysteria. I’m exhausted to the point of trembling.

People are sending in messages of grief and support from our Invitation. I read them out loud in bed to Rose at night. We kiss goodnight through tears. I’m so glad we did this, so glad we chose to handle it this way. It’s deeply meaningful to feel we are honouring other dead babies, other families love and grief too. I have to go back to college soon, to work on artworks and all I want to do is memorialise grief. All I want to do is make trees that weep for dead babies, monuments that speak for silenced grief.

I’m trying to keep my life running. I’m scared of dropping out of college, of losing my business, my networks, my friends. I’m scared that when I climb out of this black hole and there won’t be anything left. The world is already moving on, sweeping me along, demanding attention. And I’m still here, bleeding. I’m still here.

My book is back

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Yesterday I woke up with a book in my brain and my heart light. I sat out in the backyard all day and worked on how to put this massive amount of information together in a useful way. After some lovely conversations with perceptive friends I have decided on a new structure for my book. I am constantly overwhelmed by my own inane desire to write a comprehensive treatise, a PhD thesis on the entire history and cross cultural perspectives on multiplicity, a summary of everything I’ve ever experienced, heard, read, encountered, or wondered. Obviously, for people who need information in a simple, manageable form, this would be about as useful as a free aardvark. For anyone in crisis, it would be about as useful as a free colony of rabid bats delivered to your living room. I¬†know this, but it’s hard to let go of anyway.

So, I am not writing a book any more. I am writing a series of booklets. Smaller, simpler, more accessible, on a very specific topic, and as I publish them I can if I wish and there seems to be interest, group a relevant collection into a master volume. Otherwise tentatively called a book.

A friend kindly pointed out to me yesterday that it’s interesting that a book about multiplicity, written by a multiple, is constantly changing structure. Many of us are working on this and clearly we all have different ideas about structure. Obvious when you think about it! So far this new approach is working, partly because it makes room for a number of different approaches to be part of this series, distinct but connected, such as collections of diverse stories from other people, poems and artwork, workbooks with exercises and tools, crisis resources, and so on.

The first is going to be a summary of my understanding of the experience of Multiplicity – the inevitable “So what is it?” component of every talk I give and the necessary link in the opening paragraph of every blog post on the topic. (when I’m being conscientious) It seems like a good place to start. I’m happy to be working on it actively again.

Today was harder, I had a rough night and feel sick again with nausea and crampy pain. Rose and I took a drive through the hills, admiring the autumn leaves. We bought a few plants for the garden and had teary conversations. I’ve been reading the emails that people have been sending in to grieve with us¬†out loud to her, and we are both so deeply touched by them and feel so glad to have made a small space for others to grieve their own losses too. Much love to all of you. xx

We invite you to grieve with us

We have arranged for the hospital mortuary to hold onto what they call the ‘products’ of my post-miscarriage surgery. A company I really respect, The Natural Funeral Company, are going to collect our little Tamlorn on Monday and make arrangements for a cremation.

It might seem silly to fuss over a miscarriage, over a baby who was so little and died so early. But for some people, it’s exactly the right thing to be doing. It gives a home to aching loss, rituals of grief are how we anchor the senselessness and bewildering pain. This isn’t the right way, the only way, the best way. It’s simply what Rose and I are exploring, step by step, as we feel our way through our needs.

Because Tamlorn was so tiny, we have been advised that they usually cremate such little ones with paper so that you can be given enough ash to scatter or bury should you wish. We decided we would like to gather some things of meaning to cremate with Tamlorn. We are aware that as we have been so open about our pregnancy and loss, there are so many others who have grieved with us. We know that many of you have felt the old ache of losses of your own, babies and other loved ones. Grief calls to old wounds of grief.

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So we wanted to invite you to email us something (skreece1@gmail.com) by this Thursday April 2nd, if you wish, to be included in the cremation. I will print it out and take it along to the cremation with our own letters and poems.¬†You don’t need to feel that you have the ‘right’ thing to say. Words come easily for some and others grieve wordlessly. Here are some ideas about what you might like to send:

  • A photo of your favourite place
  • A picture you or your child has drawn
  • The names or dates of your own angel babies
  • A favourite poem
  • A quote you find meaningful
  • Song lyrics that speak to you
  • Lines from a text sacred to you such as the Bible, Koran, or Torah
  • A letter to someone you have loved and lost
  • A brief message such as ‘With love from the Smith Family’

If this seems uncomfortable or strange to you, please feel welcome to let it pass by. You don’t need to send anything, it’s not about ‘proving’ that you care. We simply wanted to acknowledge the outpouring of love and sadness and for those who wish to be part of this, extend an invitation. For those of you who have suffered loss such as infertility or miscarriage, especially if you have not felt safe or ready to share, or not had the opportunity to remember them in some way, you are welcome to be part of ours and to remember them with Tamlorn. You don’t need to have been close to us to be welcome to do this, we are opening this up to our whole community including those of you who read here or have just heard about our loss through friends. If you feel moved to participate, you are welcome.

If you would prefer instead, you are welcome to send a small token we will hang on the peach tree we will be planting for Tamlorn. Items can be sent to PO Box 165 Brompton South Australia 5007. If you send something you wish to be kept private, please let me know so I don’t share it with anyone other than Rose.

Thankyou xxx

Surgery

Okay, surgery tomorrow. No more waiting to miscarry.

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Not ready. Ready, but not ready.

Today was full. I moved very slowly. I went to sculpture class a record 4 hours late. My tutor is away sick and we have a new one! I talked to them and two other lecturers about my miscarriage and surgery. I went into this weird slightly hyper state to get everything done without crying. People seem to keep expecting me to be emotional in public but I don’t have a lot of shades at the moment, it’s nothing at all or all of it. So I keep a lid on it until I’m home safe. I hate that breathless feeling though, the cheerful, slightly hysterical note in my voice, the way people misunderstand easily and think I’m being flippant.

I stayed until 6 and finished my sculpture projects for the term. They’re placed in a corner, labelled and tagged so they’ll count even if I can’t go in next week and present them. I have worked so hard this term to stay up to date with the course work in case something like this happened and I am so organised and ready. I’ve never done 70% workload at uni before and I’m managing it. I’m so proud of myself.

Tomorrow is going to be weird and hard. I’m going to ask the hospital to give us Tamlorn’s remains. I’ve arranged a cremation with a local funeral company. Rose will not be allowed to wait with me before surgery or come into the recovery area after surgery. She is going to have a very long, lonely day floating around the hospital. She’s not even allowed to wait outside the surgery area – those seats are strictly for patients. A lot about hospital procedure has left a lot to be desired in this process, such as having to wait on hold for an hour to get through to the antenatal department to cancel our first appointment tomorrow, while someone on a looped recording gives me advice about taking care of my baby. Trauma, trauma, trauma.

And then home. Not pregnant anymore. Tamlorn gone. After the high and the busy-ness, the crash, the silence. I’m not ready. I’m ready.

After the miscarriage

Home today and dazed. I feel like I’m picking my way carefully through a harsh and dangerous land, trying to find a path through. Stepping stones across rapids. I didn’t attend college today. Rose made it to work for most of the day. I’ve been tackling the admin in the wake of yesterday. Cancelling the antenatal appointment, informing college about my absences, contacting parents who had face painting booked with me this weekend, notifying the others coming together to work on the networks Hearing Voices Network of SA and the Dissociative Initiative that I’ll be in surgery when we were planning to meet. There’s a thousand small decisions to be made.

These are the most helpful resources I’ve found so far:

  • Management of Miscarriage: Your Options¬†Rose and I decided on surgical management. What I’ve experienced is called a silent miscarriage, that is, I’ve had no bleeding or pain. My body still thinks I am pregnant although the baby has died. The hospital explained to us that it may take up to 8 weeks for my body to let go of the pregnancy. I’m finding it hard to be aware of a dead baby inside of me, and the thought of not knowing when it will happen is distressing. The 10 day wait between our ‘it’s not looking good’ scan and our scan confirming death was gruelling. I feel exhausted already by waiting. I’m afraid of more trauma, seeing blood, tissue, tiny body, of pain. So this time I’ve chosen surgery. If I’m ever in this situation again a different option may feel like the right choice. I don’t judge anyone else’s choices. This booklet was helpful and didn’t make any option sound superior.
  • On Miscarriage – a personal experience by Clare¬†This article is a first hand account of miscarriage. I keep coming back to it. Her thoughts about the taboo of miscarriage resonate with me.
  • The Natural Funeral Company¬†are my local creative funeral company. I already had tagged them as possibly helpful people back when we were preparing to get pregnant and I wrote Preparing for the death of a child. I contacted them today, embarrassed and confused, to ask about my options if I choose to take home Tamlorn’s remains from the hospital. They confirmed that they will perform a very low cost cremation so we have some ashes to scatter or keep.
  • Funeral Planning for a Miscarriage¬†It’s hard to think clearly when things like this happen. Checklists and suggestions from other people who have been here are helping me know what my options are and feel out what’s right and fitting for Rose and I and Tamlorn.

There’s a new peach tree in my front yard, waiting to be planted in Tamlorn’s memory, shedding leaves as autumn creeps on. We chose a variety that will fruit in March, blessings every year to remember them. Our community – readers here, our friends and family and workmates and friends of friends have poured out messages of love and loss and support. We have come through the very outcome that people counsel you not to share because of, and we’re still glad we shared. (It’s okay if that’s not the right call for you though) We’re also glad that we decided to tell people what would and wouldn’t be helpful for us to hear. Rose has had a much gentler time in conversations this time around than after her other 6 losses, and we think that had a little to do with it. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to be helpful and having someone tell you can make it easier.

We are hearing that some others affected by this loss have had some tough times with other people and that’s sad and frustrating. Grief is contagious, it links us to other experiences of grief, it reminds us of vulnerability, mortality, that the world is not just. It touches deep wounds. Frequently unpredictable and always a legitimate need of the heart. We shouldn’t have to grieve secretly, justify grief, or be afraid of our tribe when we’re hurting. We grieve for things that happen in other countries, for tragedy suffered by people we’ve never met. We’re supposed to. It’s okay if you’re feeling affected, more than you thought you would be, more than someone else thinks you should be. Rose and I don’t own this pain, you don’t have to be close to us, or related to Tamlorn, or have experienced a miscarriage to justify your feelings. If you’re grieving then you need to be, so please be kind to yourself, please ask trusted people to be kind to you.

There are people who think grief is straight forward, clear, direct. Concentric circles spilling out from a central relationship. I don’t believe that. There are people who think we only deeply grieve people we have known and loved for many years. People who think miscarriages are not something that should ever be grieved. (you don’t have to grieve a miscarriage, you will feel grief or not, as your heart needs. It’s not wrong to not feel grief. It is wrong to try and quiet someone who is grieving)¬†People who try to rank grief, this loss is worse than that loss. I believe none of this. Grief is a deep aching need of the heart to weep. I have grieved lost hopes and dreams. I have grieved lost health. I have grieved losses of people I have never met. I have grieved for characters in books. I have grieved for pets. I have¬†grieved for suicidal loved ones, for their anguish. I have grieved for whole cities, whole countries, forests. When I was 15 the river dried up and left shrinking pools of dying fish. I prayed to every power I knew and wove every spell I could with my poems, and carried them in buckets to swim in old cattle feed troughs and bath tubs and they still all died. And I cried like the world had ended, cried for days and days with a profoundly broken heart because I had just learned that some things are beyond my control even if I love with all my heart. Grief is part of being alive, part of being human. I don’t believe you choose to grieve or to live, grief and living weave in and out of each other. If you have ever loved anything or anyone, then one day you will grieve.

I can’t tell you how sorry I am that our shared joy has become shared pain. I’m sorry for everyone who is hurting, remembering other losses, feeling helpless, feeling torn. I’m sorry for those of you who have had terminations – who found yourselves with life that was not the right time or with the right person, growing in the wrong places, growing broken and unable to live – who grieve even if the decision was the right one, and can’t speak of your grief. I’m sorry that your loss is so often hidden in the shadow cast by the loss of a wanted child. I want you to know that I don’t hate you or judge you, that you are allowed to not grieve or grieve as you need to also. I feel like my grief and my situation makes people think we are enemies, standing on opposite sides. I want to say we are not enemies.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that you care, that you reach out, tell us Tamlorn’s name is beautiful, remind us we’re not alone, share tears with us. I know it feels like there’s nothing you can do, but listening and caring are doing something, doing the most powerful thing you can. As we listen and care for each other, fumble through rituals of grief for a loss not often acknowledged.¬†I’m sorry we brought this touch of death into your lives, but I’m grateful that we’re not here alone.

The passing of our Tamlorn

Tamlorn 9 weeks, 5 days wmOur baby has died. There is no heartbeat, no growth, no obvious abnormalities, they’ve just died. You can see them in this last scan, all curled up, head at the top and body tucked under in the dark womb. The painful wait is over and there’s no hope left.

We’ve had a very, very long day. We’ve just arrived home from hospital. We’ve spent all day in waiting rooms with pregnant women and new parents with tiny infants. We’ve decided we have waited long enough and will end this on Thursday with minor surgery to empty the womb. We’re exhausted and devastated.

I know it’s so hard to know what to say when people when grieving, and that grieving people are often distant, preoccupied, and angry. Here are things Rose and I are finding helpful and not helpful.

Not helpful:

  • At least you know you can get pregnant
  • You can always try again
  • At least it was only early
  • It’s natures way of protecting you from a damaged baby
  • Maybe you did something wrong
  • It’s God/The Universe telling you something
  • It will happen when the time is right
  • Cheer up/chin up/it will all work out

Some of these things we already know, others are attempts to cheer that just hurt more. Grief hurried through become lonely, twisted, dark. Grief given time will heal.

Helpful:

  • I’m really sorry to hear that
  • It’s okay to take time to grieve
  • Would you like it if I shared about my experience of loss/brought round some dinner/sent you a card/gave you a hug?

It’s okay to say nothing at all. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to sit with other people’s grief, to be silent and not try to make it to be anything but what it is.

We’re calling this little one Tamlorn, after a beloved child in a book by Patricia A McKillip. My Tam. Our Tam. We’re hoping to go out tonight and buy a tree to plant in their memory.

We will rest for a couple of months and then plan to start trying again. Our donor is still on board, so this is not the end of our journey. Thankyou all for your hope and messages of love and support.