Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A Reflection on Grief, Loss and Joy

Once, in a little pond, in the muddy water under the lily pads, there lived a little water beetle in a community of water beetles. They lived a simple and comfortable life in the pond with few disturbances and interruptions. Once in a while, sadness would come to the community when one of their fellow beetles would climb the stem of a lily pad and would never be seen again. They knew when this happened; their friend was dead, gone forever.
Then, one day, one little water beetle felt an irresistible urge to climb up that stem. However, he was determined that he would not leave forever. He would come back and tell his friends what he had found at the top. When he reached the top and climbed out of the water onto the surface of the lily pad, he was so tired, and the sun felt so warm, that he decided he must take a nap. As he slept, his body changed and when he woke up, he had turned into a beautiful blue-tailed dragonfly with broad wings and a slender body designed for flying.
So, fly he did! And, as he soared he saw the beauty of a whole new world and a far superior way of life to what he had never known existed. Then he remembered his beetle friends and how they were thinking by now he was dead. He wanted to go back to tell them, and explain to them that he was now more alive than he had ever been before. His life had been fulfilled rather than ended. But, his new body would not go down into the water. He could not get back to tell his friends the good news. Then he understood that their time would come, when they, too, would know what he now knew. So, he raised his wings and flew off into his joyous new life!
Adapted from 'Waterbugs and Dragonflies' by Doris Stickney

I started writing down the thoughts that I have been sharing over the past couple of months about two years ago. I wrote manically initially, finding the whole process cathartic and healing. Around 'big' milestones I found that my words came more freely and flowed more easily. Around the time of my miscarriages, for example; around Emilie's anniversaries; when we went away as a family and I was able to sit down and think a bit more; around the time that I was experiencing failed fertility treatment; and around my 30th birthday. At these times the feelings were so raw, so intense, that I was able to sit for hours and write. And all the time I was looking forward. All the time I was waiting for our miracle; our happy ending. I JUST KNEW it would happen for us...that I would get that positive pregnancy test and the months would go by with me getting bigger - and probably more stressed - until we had a healthy little baby at the end of it....

....but that didn't happen.

Our lives remained trapped in the state that they had been when we lost Emilie  - when we heard the words "I'm so sorry, Claire, but your baby has died".  We were stuck and unable to move forwards physically or emotionally. Each time my fertility treatment failed and each time I miscarried it was Emilie who I longed for so desperately. It was her face I saw as I lay in pain waiting for a miscarriage to take place and it was the silence in the delivery room I experienced each time I flushed the remains of my babies down the toilet; the deafening silence.

The thing that surprised me most was the fact that life carried on. The world didn't stop turning and time didn't stop moving ;  our lives had ground to a halt but still things were carrying on around us as normal.  The words of a song by The Carpenters go like this and each time I have heard it since Emilie's death a lump has formed in my throat at the sheer reality of the portrayal of sorrow - albeit in this case through the loss of a love.

Why does the sun go on shining
Why does the sea rush to shore
Don't they know it's the end of the world
'Cause you don't love me any more 

Why do the birds go on singing
Why do the stars glow above
Don't they know it's the end of the world
It ended when I lost your love

I wake up in the morning and I wonder
Why everything's the same as it was
I can't understand, no, I can't understand
How life goes on the way it does 

Why does my heart go on beating
Why do these eyes of mine cry
Don't they know it's the end of the world
It ended when you said goodbye

Each day when I woke up I couldn't understand how or why things were carrying on as normal. The sun indeed was shining - in fact it was an Indian Summer - and I couldn't bear it. I remained indoors wrapped up as much as I could bear refusing to believe that there could be beauty and joy outside of what we were feeling and experiencing.

And the world did carry on. Babies carried on being born and people carried on getting pregnant. Children in the wider community carried on falling ill and some even died. The grief was so immense and all encompassing that I couldn't bear the thought of what these parents would have to experience - of the long road of grief ahead of them and the fact that the only way in which the grief gets easier is by your own capacity increasing.

As time carried on I felt like my life remained rooted in that day and I didn't know how I would ever feel happy again. Relatively small things would bring me crashing back down so that the grief was as raw, as painful as it had been when Emilie had first died. I knew that I would never be the same again and I struggled to see people with whom I had had less meaningful relationships prior to Emilie's death. I couldn't cope with the superficial, the surface level and the unimportant and must have seemed like an incredibly solomn and serious person. But the relationships that endured through those difficult times have become incredibly strong throughout the times that followed.

As I began to realise that we were struggling to move forwards and that it was incredibly difficult to fully embrace the 'new normal', my writing began to slow down.  There were only so many ways that I could express the way I was feeling and talk about what was happening.  I felt hopeless and every single pregnancy or birth announcement stung in a way that I cannot explain.  And still we stood still.
Each time a pregnancy was announced I would congratulate the couple and share in the joy as much as I could.  I didn't always get this right and neither did some of our friends.  Generally though, friends were amazing and gave us the space and grace that we needed without withdrawing from us or being awkward around us but still, each time an announcement was made I would think 'it will be me next. Surely'....only it never was.

After my second miscarriage, after truly giving the situation over to God and putting it in his hands, I noticed a huge shift in the way I felt.  Suddenly the pain did not consume me and overwhelm me as it had and I was able to have more headspace for considering a future different to the one that I had had planned out.  This is not to say that that pain went away, however.  It still remained under the surface and reared its head with every trigger; the sound of a heart beat, an ultrasound picture, the cry of a newborn baby, the sharing of a birth story.  I learnt to control it more effectively, however, and realised that people understood if I left a conversation and a lot of grace was given to me for sharing my birth stories and for talking about Emilie.  For this I am truly thankful.  There are times, however, when I genuinely feel that I have nothing to add to conversations - that when labour stories, breast feeding stories, and pregnancy stories are being shared no one wants to know my side of the story and at these times I need to be kind to myself, take a deep breath and remove myself from the conversation if needed.  This took me a long time to learn.

When it started writing this story I was convinced it would end with us having another healthy baby.  I knew that my story hadn't ended.  As this became less and less likely I began to slow down with my writing.  Who wanted to read a story about a couple who had suffered terrible loss and infertility and did not get their rainbow baby? 

And so this section has been very difficult to write and has taken me a long time to get it right.  Making the decision to adopt Molly meant that we were putting an end to our attempts to have a biological baby of our own.  It was not an easy decision and was not taken lightly.  No baby - whether biological or adopted - will ever replace Emilie; will ever fill that gap.  Each child is individual - fearfully and wonderfully made and created for a purpose.  One child can not fill the gap another child has left any more than a square peg can fit in a round hole.  But somehow we have been chosen and trusted to care for her and had Emilie survived, although we would have pursued foster care, it would not have been at the specific time that would have allowed Molly to come into our lives.  I try not to focus on this point too much as I find it too painful but I have realised that we have had our miracle; it has not come in the form of healing, neither has it come in the form of a rainbow baby or what other people might see as a normal situation.  It is not a happy ending; not in the way I had expected it to be and had I been told that 30 months after Emilie's death we would have stopped trying for a baby the mere thought would have invoked a panic attack.  But somehow, 30 months after the nightmare began, God has truly used our experience for good and we look forward to a time when Molly can share our name and we are legally her parents.

When Emilie died, I was truly broken and couldn't work out how to move forward.  I couldn't ever imagine how I possibly COULD move forwards. And from that position of brokenness, God touched our hearts and gave us such a sense of compassion for broken children that I cannot put into words.  He taught us how to truely love unconditionally and, because of our brokenness and pain, we have been able to accept a little girl in need of a family into our own.  

And still, I know that this is not the end of the story.

Romans 8:28 (MSG)
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.