Baby has arrived

We have a beautiful healthy little boy, born on Friday by c-section. It’s been a very long, disruptive process of inductions and hospital visits and stays. He’s not yet been named. He’s very beautiful with a full head of dark hair. He makes all the lovely newborn snuffles and snorking sounds. He feels like velvet. Nightingale was able to do skin to skin immediately after birth in the theatre and through recovery. He’s in newborn sleep mode which means loads of naps during the day and cluster feeding and squeaking all night.

ID light brown newborn wearing a blue singlet, snuggled up on a cream blanket. He has short dark brown hair and looks content.
ID black and white portrait of a baby wrapped in the striped hospital blanket and lying on his tummy. He’s looking very serious with big dark eyes.

Nightingale sailed through day 1 post surgery then started collecting a horrible bunch of post op complications. We’ve been stuck in hospital much longer than hoped because of them. She’s been through hell the past few weeks with so many painful procedures and things not working. I’ve held her hand through most of them and we’ve worked hard to protect ourselves from the stupidity and vagaries of the health system. We’ve succeeded far better than I expected in many ways, but far less than I’d hoped. There’s a lot of bad stories and a lot of pain and trauma. Most of the staff have been fabulous, and a few really saved the day by talking us properly through options, or listening to concerns which they thought were unlikely but turned out to be accurate, or protecting our wishes when someone else tried to take over. A few have been so bad we banned them from contact again. It’s so different to Poppy’s birth and yet so familiar. Miraculous and beautiful and awful and dark. We are grateful and relieved and overjoyed and exhausted and hurting and can’t put many of the experiences into words.

Pain is an ongoing challenge, Nightingale has been suffering from pain crises where she is in 10/10 pain, sometimes for many hours and the pain relief doesn’t work. A few nights back she was unable to move or speak for 6 hours while the staff maxed out all the pain relief options without effect. She should still be in hospital but we negotiated fiercely for home. I can nurse her with all the same resources they have the (except of course, someone to take over at shift change), and the stresses of the long stay in hospital have been building each day. The awful food, the hundreds of people who come into the room day and night, the Covid limitations on visitors so we can’t have both our kids visit, the lack of proper titration of pain medication, the way the plans change at every doctor shift change, notes going missing, stretched staff taking 45 minutes to respond to a call bell, the new person not reading the notes and harassing Nightingale for needing pain relief or blaming her for not getting out of bed every day because someone forgot to chart that she has, the ones who don’t understand consent or are confused by anything that’s not 101 typical presentation and keep giving bad advice, the ones who block agency and access to even the basic resources like an ice pack, the constantly having to explain, provide context, build rapport, and ally with every new staff member, the gratitude for things that should be a given, the sheer helplessness of being stuck inside a system with so little power. The costs accrue alongside all the good care and helpful folks. So we’ve finally come home late last night with a long list of medications and things to deal with and some home visits and outpatient appointments.

Everyone has been homesick and missing each other. Our community of family and friends have been looking after Poppy and Nemo. We’ve managed two hospital visit with them both, Nemo is anxious about accidentally dropping the baby, while Poppy is nearly exploding with excitement. We feel stretched at the seams. We’re trying hard to look after all of us.

ID Sarah holding baby. Fair skinned adult with green hair cradling a baby who is wearing a black onesie covered in bright coloured stars.

He’s beautiful. It’s incredibly strange to have a baby I didn’t birth. It feels a little like cheating at times, there’s so little effort on my part to bring him here, while Nightingale’s body has been a war zone. I feel oddly guilty.

I also feel slightly out of the loop. The hospital don’t see partners. They see a mother baby dyad. I’ve been absolutely invisible for most of the process. The same rules apply to me as any other visitor. All the paperwork says Baby of Nightingale. I have to find and store my own meals. I’m often not allowed to use the bathroom in our room but required to go elsewhere. There was a moment in theatre when they needed to take him off Nightingale’s chest and weren’t sure if they should put him in the warmer. I offered to hold him skin to skin myself and they were so startled and flustered and turned me down. The doctor asked Nightingale about her mental health as part of discharge, I’d spent most of the day crying but didn’t flag. We’ve done a fabulous job of protecting the connection between Nightingale and bubs, I’m not quite there yet.

I feel fiercely protective of both of them, and deeply relieved he’s okay, but also jolted by a hundred small experiences that tell me he’s not my son, like micro aggressions that have stacked on top of each other over weeks. I can feel the difference and I can feel the trauma jangling in my bones, the way I’m frustrated with him when the staff are doing something horribly painful to Nightingale and I’m trying to hold her hand and hold him too and he’s screaming and I can’t comfort him so I can’t comfort her. I hoped it might be better than this, we got our golden hour and protected our family as best we could. But here it is. We got the perfect outcome with him. We got a difficult outcome for Nightingale and I. We’ll keep repairing the damage. We’ve got time to grow all the good things. There’s a lot of love here.

Waiting for Baby

Everything in our lives for the past year has been moving towards this point, like a staircase spiralling up a tower. We are in the last days now, waiting. Our kids are enjoying visits to friends and family, while we swing between home and hospital for daily checks. We’ve had a bumpy ride with hospital, some wonderful staff and some hostile and probably traumatised ones. We’ve worked hard to build relationships, normalise seeking consent, and collaborate on the approach.

Nightingale has had a bit of a rough pregnancy, very high hormone levels causing severe morning sickness and some difficulties with low blood pressure and gestational diabetes. As a result we’ve been put on the high supervision pathway, with frequent growth scans, twice weekly diabetes check-ins, and so many hospital appts that some weeks it’s felt like we live there. Every time we attend there’s a different doctor or midwife, and often different contradictory information and advice. It can be very stressful.

Now we’re approaching the due date with pre labour contractions making every day a possible birth day. It’s exciting and tiring. There’s a steady stream of enquiries from folks wondering if bubs has arrived and we somehow forgot to let people know. It’s impossible to make plans, and anytime we can we’re just catching up on sleep.

We went into hospital recently for a catheter induction which was very painful and unfortunately not effective. Nightingale has previously had a c-section so some options they might usually consider at this point are too risky. There’s no signs of distress for bubs or Nightingale so we’re just waiting at this stage. After meeting with the delightful head of the department we have collaborated on a plan to try again next week, and in the meantime go into hospital for a checkup every day. Being able to go home to proper food and good beds has been deeply appreciated and helps a lot with the fatigue. Now there’s a clear plan it’s been a much smoother process instead of each shift change exposing us to a new person’s ideas and values. We’ve denied contact from a couple of staff who’ve been aggressive and controlling, protecting our space and the precious sense of safety and trust needed to labour and bring a child home.

It’s incredibly hard making decisions and trying to weigh up different risks and approaches, often with very little quality evidence to go on. I don’t envy the doctors who have to try and do this for many people every day. Tailoring individual care on the basis of conflicting research, poor quality information, or massive cohort studies full of unmanageable variables is very challenging. Each protocol and policy has unintended consequences and theories and ideas that seem so intuitive, so obviously helpful turn out to be full of incorrect assumptions and focusing on the wrong indicators. There’s so much we don’t know and so much knowledge we lose.

We ride a roller coaster together, and our community along with us. There’s times of deep peace and connection, such hope and joy. We’re ready for them, everything is ready. There’s times of fear and sadness, afraid of loss and regret. We tumble up and down together, riding the waves and watching the stars. Come home littlest love. We’re waiting for you.

Marrying Nightingale

Nightingale and I married in July, on a winter night in a forest beneath a beautiful old tree. It was magic. It was messy. It was beautiful, and imperfect in many ways both trivial and significant. It was us.

ID: A forest at night. In the foreground is a cluster of wooden chairs of various designs, arranged in rows facing a huge white dead tree. Pink, blue and yellow lights are cast upon the trunk, making it glow. Bottles of fairy lights are on tree stumps on either side.

We started many months before, with rings. It was a delicious way to spend precious date time together. Nightingale wears a simple sweet sapphire ring I brought myself years ago, and she took Poppy shopping to help pick out a lovely trio of rings for us to choose between or wear together. We tried on rings together, talked with jewellers, and fell in love with parti sapphires. It took us months to pick out the stones, taking them back and forth between sunlight and lamps to see them change hue. Design and manufacture was beset with troubles and they’re still not finished, so we married with our stand in rings. We planned a lovely hand fasting and brought beautiful silk ribbons for it, which we forgot to bring into the forest with us. There was a delightful frazzled moment mid ceremony where we each started to stumble across these facts and Nightingale smuggled our rings off and gave them to our wonderful minister just in time for us to give them back to each other.

Nightingale has a wonderful friend who is a minister living overseas. We wanted them for our celebrant but they can’t legally marry someone in this country. So we found someone local who was happy to team up with them. Then Covid and vaccination rules meant some very important people couldn’t attend the wedding with our celebrant. So we split the day into a tiny legal ceremony with the local celebrant and a big ‘renewal of vows’ in the evening with our friends and family and minister friend. This meant two ceremonies to plan, and a lovely restaurant lunch between intended to thank our hard working friends and family, that instead ran terribly overtime and took up most of the prep time for the evening.

A couple of weeks before the wedding we had to change venues for the reception due to issues hiring generators and accessible toilets for use in the forest. So our simple outdoor ceremony then ran across two ceremonies and three venues!

Vases accidentally got taken to the forest instead of the hall, leaving hundreds of flowers in buckets in a back room. People who planned to help set up with us were sick on the day and I woke up to a huge asthma attack after packing all the things the day before in the cold air. The flowers for the cake were wrong and had to be completely redone by the cake decorator that morning. It was complicated to say the least and various dear friends sprang into service and filled in some huge gaps to ensure things were set up and people were comfortable, fed, and enjoyed themselves.

In the end Covid or similar illnesses knocked a number of key people out on the day, guests, members of the wedding crew, our videographer, and most crucially darling Poppy who is still sad they missed out. Once our rings are finally done we plan to do a little ceremony again together to include them.

ID Large red cap mushroom with white dots nested in pine needles on a forest floor. Trees are visible in the background.

Our lovely people carried us through. The lights on the trees in the forest were incredibly beautiful and finally all our confused guests understood what we meant by the theme of WOMADELAIDE. Stunning red and white spotted mushrooms sprang up all through the forest that day. The day was perfect weather, cool but clear, and the hall we found was so well appointed, warm and comfortable with the most lovely person staffing it. Our dessert table was a rainbow of lollies as a nod to our lovely queer crew of teen guests who worked as kitchen hands for the night and gave us some of the most beautiful wedding cards.

ID: A trestle table set with bowls and jars or lollies and treats arranged on approximately a rainbow from red to purple. Two large rainbow umbrellas are open over the table. Visible are red jaffas, pink musk sticks, yellow bananas, yellow fantails, green spearmint leaves, and purple pastilles.

Clothes were lovely and difficult and complicated. As a non binary person there’s not a lot of weddings I see myself in. Nightingale thought she wanted a black dress but hated them when she tried them on. Thought she wanted pants but found herself twirling in the beautiful white dresses feeling oddly at home. We tried on so many clothes. I held space for her to experiment and find what she really wanted. She held space for us to be confused and excited and anxious and try on femme and masc clothes and try to figure out who of us was going to be present and how to present us. In the end we both wore beautiful jackets, white shirts and black jeans to the first ceremony, she wore a red sari to lunch, and we both wore amazing dresses to the evening. She spent several months having to convince her nearest and dearest that this was her choice and not being fostered on to her by someone obnoxious or tradition. Hers was a stunning white halterneck with clean flowing lines that fit over her baby bump, and had pockets! Mine nearly didn’t arrive in time, a guest kindly brought it in their luggage from the overseas seamstress. It was a lovely ivory and honey tulle skirt with a corset top. Nightingale wore fairy lights in her amazing braided hair, and they were sewn all through the lining of my skirt.

Everytime we talked to the celebrant or minister, I cried. It hurt. There are important people in my life who wouldn’t be there. I have been married before and I promised then to hold on until death parted us and I took that promise so seriously it nearly destroyed me. I’ve failed before, profoundly, when it meant everything to me and I still don’t in my heart understand why I couldn’t keep what I loved alive. How do I offer such imperfect love to someone I love so deeply? How do I believe in promises again? I couldn’t find the right words and they had to be right. There was so much sickness and loss and grief to row our little boat through and I felt so excited and so guilty and sad. And there were people there to hold us and guide us. We stumbled through the fears and grief to find what we do believe in, and what dream is so important to us we’re willing to put life as we know it at risk for. Knowing love hurts and breaks as well as heals and grows. Being hurt and broken and holding on to each other and the shared life we’re growing.

Friends helped me gather the flowers myself when we suddenly had an indoor venue that we wanted to decorate to feel special. I got the fabulous experience of being able to pick them out and plan the table flowers, cake flowers, and bouquets. I chose a range of flowers from the most important bouquets Nightingale and I have brought for each other since we first became friends. There were black lilies and white and green and blue chrysanthemums and white and blue delphiniums and tiny cream roses and andromeda and asiatic lillies and jonquils. Her bouquet was accented with green and mine with blue. It was spectacular and lovely and delightful. The tables were also decorated with willow branches and tiny red mushrooms, potted plants, blue books, and fairy lights in gin bottles.

ID: Table decorations. A potted black violet in bloom worth a decorative red and white spotted mushroom. To the left is a gin bottle with blue fairy lights inside. To the right are booked wrapped in brown paper. In front is a chocolate cupcake in silver foil, with a swirl of teal icing and two silver chocolate bird skulls on top.

The cake was a splendid teal buttercream chocolate cake with fresh black and blue and white flowers and silver bird skull memento mori. The guests had cupcakes in silver foil. For gifts we wrapped ‘blind date’ books by some of our favourite authors, the potted plants, lolly bags for the kids, and boxed macarons. So many of the people we love either garden, read, or enjoy a sweet treat.

ID: A three tier wedding cake surrounded by cupcakes. The cakes have teal icing, silver bird skulls, and edible flowers and butterflies. The main cake has a spray of black lilies and other flowers flowing down the right hand side. Black chocolate drips from each layer.

Our backup videographer was lovely. Friends stayed late and helped us clean up. They wrapped our last gifts and decorated tables and unpacked chairs and kept an eye on my asthma and kept an eye out for the few guests who knew almost no one else. Our makeup artist soothed many difficulties and helped us dress. Two dear friends missed the ceremonies because they set up the hall and spent the evening cooking for us! An interstate friend wound up mostly driving hired furniture and lights around instead of us. We woke the next morning incredibly ill with what turned out to be influenza. It was a brutal one and none of us left bed for a week. We didn’t get a honeymoon or to spend any time with our lovely long distance visitors. We still haven’t picked up all the wedding bits from the kindly folks who took home bits and bobs with them so we didn’t have to.

ID: Hand holding a cupcake with two bird skulls.

And it was perfect. No one fought, no one cried, we created name and pronoun badges for all the guests to make life more comfortable for all the gender queer folks to wear whatever we wanted to. The venues were beautiful, our guests delightful. People restrained themselves from giving us physical gifts as we currently have no home to put them in. We announced our pregnancy to much celebration. There was hot homemade soup and a stocked bar and a tremendous amount of kindness. We wrote emails about accessibility and tried to consider sensory needs, small children, chronic illness, mobility, safety, and comfort. We tried to ensure every guest knew at least one other guest. We brought beautiful shoes we didn’t wear and ordered lovely food we didn’t eat and stayed in a home nearby with an extra bed for tired guests we didn’t use and none of that mattered.

Nightingale was so beautiful and full of life. So lovely and nervous and kind. Putting the wedding together had been lovely and stressful and incredibly time pressured with so much else going on in our lives. I was afraid that on the day there would be tensions, sadness, fights, strain. But all the fears and tears and pinch and ache of the planning and stress just eased that day. We rolled with every change and gratefully accepted so much help and enjoyed all our guests and just let go of everything we couldn’t control.

Our vows were lovely. Our choices for everything were so considered and so specific to us. Our people carried us through bad luck, poor planning, and difficult timing with such generosity and grace. We made promises and vows we believed in. We exchanged rings. We held each other at the end of the longest day and felt exhausted and grateful. She said yes. She is my wife. I am her spouse. May we always be as lucky and as loved as we were that day. It was splendid, and she was spectacular.

Birth trauma

I’ve come home from the dentist today feeling shattered. I’ve struggled with medical appointments since Poppy’s birth. I was not treated well during surgery and that left me furious and frozen in medical settings. I’m very overdue for dental care and have started the grueling process of attending appointments for 11 new fillings. It was miserable today, my saliva thickened and I gagged a lot with my neck extended to allow access to the inside of my top front teeth. It took nearly 2 hours and other teeth are still irritated and sensitive from the previous session.

I’ve never been able to write Poppy’s birth story. Now so many of the details are hazy. I’ve struggled to understand the impact on me and the contradictions in the experience. I’ve felt deeply unreasonably humiliated by my struggles. I know trauma, it’s one of my major areas. I had PTSD at 14. I’ve read the things and been to the therapy and run the workshops and supported others. Somehow instead of creating grace for myself, my experience drowned me in shame. I should be immune? I should be able to deal with this? I shouldn’t feel the way I do. I trekked through a number of birth trauma specialists I didn’t find helpful, froze and forced myself through dentists and pelvic exams hoping I would just adapt. Then turned away from the whole mess.

Lately going to prenatal appointments I’ve run into all these ghosts. Going for a scan and finding myself in the room where they confirmed Tam had died. There’s ghosts of me throughout the hospital, screaming soundlessly and running with dark hair matted and white gown flailing. A portrait of derangement and madness. I sit in appointments, incoherent with rage and painfully aware that I present as rude, distrustful, obnoxious. All my energy goes into not screaming, stuffing all the words back into my mouth, not shaking, not biting the hand that touches without permission, not raving at the language that is so devoid of the concept of consent. There’s nothing left for the smiling and eye contact and apologetic shrug and recruiting them to accommodate us in any tiny way. I’m so tired until I’m sitting there, then I’m so angry and so aware my anger instantly strips me of any credibility or power I might have had in this place. They think of trauma as the panic attack, the victim. I am on fire with fury, watching their every move and listening to every word and seeing ghosts of myself weeping and running through every corridor, abandoned and untended.

So we’ve put aside some money to spend on a good dentist, and today on catching an uber home again because I’m usually too ill to drive afterwards and couldn’t find a lift. She uses the anaesthetic that doesn’t work as well but I’m less allergic to. And she says things like “you’re in control, let me know anytime you need a break”. I lay very still and my tears roll down my temples into my hair.

I come home and Nightingale brings me mashed potato and pasta and sympathy. I’m going to hurt for weeks and it’s exhausting.

I’m talking to people about birth trauma and how stuck and silent and alone I’ve felt. I know better. I know shame isolates. I know hundreds and thousands of other people will have come through something similar. I know how to use art, writing, talking, and research to process things. I know that knowledge doesn’t protect you from experience. I know it’s not punishment. I know self compassion is crucial. And I know it’s difficult to do when no one in the medical environment sees the injury, or responds with compassion. It’s difficult when it makes you feel weak and vulnerable. It takes patience. And a dentist who’s had good trauma informed care training. I wanted to be doing that training by now. Frustration and roads untraveled.

I feel voiceless a great deal of the time about most of my life, in a way I can’t express well or articulate even to myself. There’s been so many changes and challenges to my ideas about my life, my relationships, who I am, what it means and what to expect. Trying to understand late in life diagnoses of autism and ADHD, what they are, what that means for me, my family, my children. The ending of an eight year relationship with the parent of my child. Beloved Star cut contact with all of us last year after joining a church. Getting married, a new baby. Work stabilising and becoming less overwhelming. The awareness in the back of my mind that I’ve been diagnosed with something that indicates I lack social awareness and the resulting severe loss of confidence to speak and own my own story. Lost about how to be authentic and work, navigate complex relationships, parent. I miss having a voice and a community. I put a call out yesterday for help to attend the dentist and got no reply. Covid has not been kind. There are empty gaps in my world and they hurt. There’s so many ghosts.

I have birth trauma. I’m trying to find my voice again. I’m trying to make sense of which stories I can share and how. Today I was brave. I’m hurting. I’m not alone. We’re all alone. It is what it is. I’d rather take the slower and more dignified route to knowledge, through study. But lived experience brings not just the silence and scars, when we wrestle with it, it comes with powerful inside knowledge. When we can speak we break the shame that binds us all. I didn’t think it would happen to me, but it did. I didn’t think I would get stuck, but I did. I couldn’t fix this one myself. But someone like me must have found a way to speak to a dentist and because of them I could get broken teeth fixed today. And tomorrow I’ll pay that forwards.

Mourning Luna

Drums in my head, beating against the thick wall of my skull. We’ve lost the pregnancy.

Waking Nightingale’s teen to tell them, sorry Squid, we’ve lost the baby. Where? they ask, sleep blurred and confused.

Walking into my studio for the first time in months to wrap my book ‘Mourning the Unborn’ for a customer overseas. Then weeping in bed instead of taking the package to the post office. What strange timing, I’ve not sold a copy in over a year.

We find someone safe for Poppy to play with. I buy a bouquet and we bring it back to bed. It is bright and colourful and has the painful cheer of hospital flowers next to the white sheets. We spend the first day alone and entwined, breathing in the loss.

And then, nothing. I try to get through the days.

I’ve lost my voice, my loves, for a long time now. The unbinding of my family, my terrible depression, the building of something new… I’ve been so silent throughout most of it. I rarely share online or even journal privately. I take few photos, write fewer poems. There’s been no art in my world at all in years.

All my life has felt unsharable. The stories have been beyond my ability to put into words. I don’t understand them. They defy telling. I cannot speak because I do not understand. I cannot explain.

My life has been tangled into other people’s lives. I fear hurting others. I cannot share my own experience now without impacting those who share or once shared my life. I never want my words to be a trap or a weapon. I don’t have the strength to manage what might come in with the tide. So I’m silent. Cut off and waiting for I don’t know what. Unsure if this is only for a time or this is just how I am now.

Nightingale is savaged by grief, while I am numb. There was no body in my body, there’s no blood on my thighs, no community to grieve with. I tell friends we lost the baby, who tell me to send their love to Nightingale. The child that was also mine, becomes in death not mine. The miscarriage becomes hers alone. I’m behind the glass, handing out hot water bottles, dedicated and soothing and far more afraid of the impact on her and I, of losing us than I am of the loss we’ve just suffered.

Behind the glass it’s almost like nothing happened, there was no child, no dream broken. The child was not mine. I remember well the black void of trying to conceive Poppy after losing Tam, and I grasp at the relief like a lifejacket. There’s no void here. There’s nothing to grieve. I’m not falling off the face of the planet. I’m a good parent, an attentive partner. I’m functioning.

I don’t talk about it, write about it, cry about it. I don’t want a body to hold or a talisman or a tattoo. I want to hold Poppy and never let go. I want to run from the burning pit where my grief is not clean and pure thwarted yearning, but something ugly and sharp, pierced through with raging fear and doubt. Maybe the baby didn’t come because I’m not a good enough parent. Maybe they’re better off without me. Fertility as the blessing of the divine, the endorsement of the universe of your capacity. All such bullshit and yet my heart labors under the fears.

I can’t help but turn my face from the anguish of possible later loss, stillbirth, a child dead at 4 months or 2 years. The demand that I can handle whatever tragedy might come and still be here for Poppy. It makes me terrified of my dreams because I know tragedy will come, that grief follows love like a shadow. When getting out of bed each day is a torture of pain and mental exhaustion and humiliating incapacity, I can’t afford to risk much more. So, the horrifying traitor thought: maybe it’s better this way.

This is how mothers say goodbye, little Luna. Face turned to the side in rejection of all that you were and represented. Eyes fixed firmly on the child remaining, heart broken by doubts and unworthiness. Numb to the bone.

The brutal mornings become unmoored from the source of the pain. I drive Poppy to school and then collapse sobbing in the car and can’t drive home for hours. Nothing means anything. My heart runs from you. If you weren’t real, there’s nothing to grieve. I build no shrine and hold no memory tight of who you could have been and the life we dreamed of together. You were almost never here, real as smoke or mist, dew gone in the first light of sun. I betray you.

Nightingale is alone and not alone in grief. The primal need of grief is to know it’s shared. I add to her anguish. In the night we are raw and wounded. I turn my face back to the loss, and reach for a key. We watch Losing Layla and I find you there Luna, in the face of the dead child. Grief, pierced through with doubt and shame. I howl in her arms. My functioning evaporates like dew.

We go wander the WOMAD festival, under the trees and the flags, arm in arm. The night is soothing. We get a henna tattoo each for the child, a Luna moth and a moon.

ID: A brown skinned hand with a moon henna design, next to a white skinned hand with a Luna moth henna design.

I buy and finally read Terry Pratchett’s final book, The Shepherd’s Crown. The mere thought of it has been unbearable for years. Now I read it through and I cannot feel anything. My eyes are dry.

I miss all my children, the ones who could not stay, or who left. Everything tangles into darkness. I am dumbstruck, spellbound, silent, paralyzed. I cannot be who I wish to be, who I am. I cannot find comfort in your name. I thought losing Luna would feel like losing Tam, but it turns out each loss is distinct and each grief is its own thing. Everything hurts, and I cannot feel anything at all.

This is what it is. I was once so blasted by sorrow that I couldn’t feel even the wind on my face or hear the trains in the night. My whole world was ash, and I was buried deep beneath it. I’ve come back from the dead before. My littlest love, you’ve pulled me into the underworld beside you. I’ll find a way to kiss your bitter mouth goodbye and live again.

Nightingale Proposes

Quietly and secretly, Nightingale and her son crafted a beautiful proposal. In a dim room in the city, above the scrape and bell of the tram line and the river rush of traffic I found her waiting for me one evening with a table laden with gifts. She had been collecting mementos of us; sheet music from our songs, text from the books I’ve been reading her to sleep with, lyrics and poems and quotes we’ve shared. She printed them onto my favourite colours, finding the codes for teal and not aqua with the same fumbling determined uncertainty I have in her world of music and song where I think I can almost hear the distinctions she points out. These papers were folded into 5 petal origami flowers, one for each day we’ve been dating.

ID a coffee table with a white table cloth, covered in multicoloured paper flowers and candles, in front of a huge window through which there’s a view of the city lights and a gibbous moon rising.

She disguised it as a work project, folding in lunch breaks, hidden in her lap on the bathroom floor while I had a hot bath to ease pain, in the hours I was asleep or working. They are double sided with paired matched mementos, the music and art of our love.

ID close up of origami flowers, candles and gin.

Nested into this paper bouquet were fairy lights, candles, rose petals, our favourite chocolates and gin, and the set of rings she brought us. Three stacking rings as placeholders for the engagement ring yet to be designed. Three slightly different rings so we can each choose which to wear and change them as we wish. To have our plurality and non binary identity given such care and room to breathe is such a joy and relief.

In the centre of the table was a love letter tied with black ribbon. I sat and read the flowers, opened the chocolates, smelled the candles, breathing it all in while the moon slowly rose outside the window. There’s tears and joy and peace. In the letter she talked of our love and what I mean to her, and she asked me to marry her. Words can be hard, voice is harder still.

I say yes and kiss her face and hands and then write yes on paper and nest it into the flowers beside her letter. At 3am when the magic will seem strangely distant and maybe a dream, it remains there – her question and my answer. A beautiful anchor in such strange seas.

ID a person kneeling before a table of rainbow paper flowers, reading everything with great care.

I’ve spent years learning how to let go of what I cannot have, how to release my desire for control over what cannot be controlled, and how to let go of dreams that have broken my heart. Suddenly she is there, so incredibly real and beautiful, moving towards me, kisses on my mouth and a thousand arrows in my heart and my life is no longer about letting go or accepting the fates but grasping hold with fierce anguished joy. It rains in my nights again, and when there’s no rain there’s tears like rain, talking through the nights, hearts on fire. The children sleeping and stirring and singing and hurting and needing and loving and somehow embracing us both despite all the stories and norms of fractious step families. The things we expect to be hard are easy, and where there’s sorrow and loss we can name it and give it a place to be. The stakes are impossibly high and at the same time they’ve never been more within reach. We hold each other and weave together this dream of our future, unpicking and reweaving and getting tangled and easing them out again with patience and courage. She’s magnificent. Love is always a wild thing, untameable, a leap, a gamble. And yet, I feel so grounded, roots deep down and my voice unbound. She’s beautiful and wounded and fierce and devoted and I adore her. The family we make together is utterly worth the risk.

ID two hands over lapping, each with place holder rings. Mine is the white skin and all three rings stacked. Nightingale has 3 small sapphires on her placeholder ring, her hand is slender with brown skin.

When we first started dating we feared losing our friendship. Now I think of my life without her and that’s a cold wind, an empty chill. Life is painfully short, impossibly long. We wrap ourselves around each other and hold on. Some nights it rains. Some nights she sings. I’m writing again. Life is hard and bountiful. The garden is well tended and yields fruit. In the winter, we plan to get married.