Sunday, August 30, 2009

An empty heart

Here's my very rough attempt at an idea which was a lot grander than my abilities seemed to allow, but I was pushed for time to meet the Guardian Poster Poem deadline and thought I'd post it anyway. In time I hope to revise it. I think the second stanza probably needs to be made into two stanzas as it changes too suddenly in the middle. The thought behind it was the thought that a person could have paid the price for taking every opportunity to live the experiences which life offers, the price being losing the ability to hold love in their heart, through the loss of innocence. Any thoughts on what works and what doesn't would be welcomed...

An empty heart, a bitter pill:

The night had swallowed my heart whole,
A sugar-coated dust-filled shell
And faint placebo for its ills.
Hungering for solace and cure,
Darkness kneaded vacuous depths,
Moulding dull flesh in bony fists,
Dredging deep for those connections
Which once held my heart at its core -
Rich sinews of the loved and lost
It thought would form emotion's web.

But the gloom could not gain control,
Could not stir sorrow and yearning,
To feed itself on my despair
And sustain its halt upon dawn.
As the sun's light did not burn me,
Nor wake painful rememberings.
For I danced in bleakest shadows,
Had sworn myself without repent
To lustful hedonistic gods -
My heart's blood as the recompense.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Forward to normal?

Today has been a tough day. My first day back at work for three and a half weeks. I was dreading it, but I hadn't quite worked out why beforehand. Three weeks is long enough to notice a colleague's absence, even if you don't work with them very much, so I knew there would be questions. I suspected the source of my dread was the prospect of being asked where I'd been, what had been wrong and whether I was well again, from the people who didn't know. I imagined myself telling them in a detached manner what had happened to me, because I would feel like I was ok again if I'd returned to work. But I suspected that perhaps the other option of everyone knowing and sympathetic looks and gestures might be equally difficult to handle.

I didn't know what to expect from the people who I was going to have to see and interact with, but probably more importantly I didn't know what to expect from me. No idea! No idea if I'd be up or down, friendly or defensive, happy or sad. It was beyond what I could predict or contemplate. I made plans of course: getting there early to avoid running the gauntlet down a full office; telling a couple of people there I was feeling wierd about it so I could call them from the door if I needed help; deciding what work I was going to do to ease me back in; and planning other aspects of the day.

Most people left me to my own devices, which was probably the best option I could have hoped for. A couple of people asked and were a bit put out by the curt answer they got. I was perhaps more put out than them though, as I was shocked at the curt answer I gave. We'd decided as soon as we knew what was really happening that we wouldn't hedge from giving the real answer if people asked, but somehow in a room full of people who didn't know and some of whom I didn't really know well enough to expect them to want to be involved, it became a vast truth to speak out loud, it became an impossible task, the words just wouldn't leave my mouth. Maybe I didn't really know what to say. Should I have told them that I'd had an ectopic pregnancy but it's all fine now, panic over, and after all we could try again and be nice and positive, or would that have sounded too much like I didn't really care about my loss? Should I have said I'd lost a baby and left them feeling that I was melodramatic and enjoyed creating awkward silences? By the time you try to work all these things out you get so exhausted that you just go for the easiest option which is to just say you've been ill and leave it at that.

I've been defensive all day... Yes I'm fine, yes I'm over it now, yes I have been away for a long time but it's best to make sure that I was fully recovered to be able to come back and hit the ground running...

That's all complete rubbish.

I'm not over it.

Right now, this minute, I'm less "over it" than I've been for weeks. Some friends have just had babies, some friends are expecting babies, most people are telling me that the worst is over, but I just don't see how it can be. Yes I'm getting fitter again, I can sit at a computer again and do normal things, but I don't feel like I will ever be the same again. What level of "normal" am I returning to? What am I getting back to? I just don't know.

The person who's been sharing this with me has tried to understand, but he just can't. He can't understand what it's like to be a mother and then not a mother. To have a child physically removed from you. What it's like to be reassured that all you lost was a bundle of cells, yet to know in your heart that if the bundle of cells had been in the right place that you'd be allowing the nurturing feelings to grow and you'd be already seeing it as your baby. How can it be something one minute and a nothing the next minute? I know there are lots of people out there who do know what it's like and I know a lot of you have left me messages already, which I have really appreciated. But just now in the maudlin state that my first day back at work has reduced me to, I can't see how anyone knows exactly what it's like to live my life and understand my battles. I'd only just been picking myself up in life, learning to unfurl my painful truths, only just starting to appreciate how the events of my life shaped me into the emotionally stunted person I am in real life, only just learning how to be selfish in demanding support from other people.

Then suddenly I get thrown into a situation I can no longer handle on my own, one in which it is essential that I trust other people and one which I don't have the ability to process mentally on my own or deal with physically without help. I've been absent from my normal way of life, been thrown off the path and I've been fighting my way through the darkness and the elements to get back again. But where do I return to? Which version of myself? That person who was yet to be a mother no longer exists, at least if she does she's still very lost and confused. In the end do I want to be that same person anyway? I've learnt so much from these past few weeks that the positives which have come from this experience will be lost if I go backwards to the person who I was. So who do I now become?

Getting back to normal is a fallacy and an impossibility. I need to get forward to normal. A new version of normal. How do I do that?

I need to say goodbye to my baby, whether it's the real little ball of cells or the imaginary baby which now lives in my head, the one which this pregnancy would have become in different circumstances, I'm just not sure how I'm going to do it.

Say "Goodbye" to goodbye:

A brown envelope, plain and small,
Screams its importance in dischord
Within its nest of birthday cheers.
Mirroring that happier time,
Where sunrise of benign relief
Rose positive from negative.
This time doomed to herald bad news
Whatever the results may be,
The final outlet for our grief.
"Sadly no official remains"...
Nothing which they need to dispose,
Nothing human we need to mourn.
All moments of existence wiped
By faceless official decree.
The time for forgetting has come.
Tell it to my body, my heart,
My soul and my maternal urge
That they are misplaced, mistaken,
That they are just not viable
That a life did not truly start
Because it could not reach its end.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Are you ok yet??

Am I ok yet? That's a good question...

I'm not far off physically. I can do most of the things I want to do now, although sleeping is still a bit of a problem as I can't get comfy, so I'm still very tired. I'm having a couple of naps during the day, so I'm not sure how that would go down in the office. Actually I have had a quick nap there once or twice before balancing on my hands, elbows on desk, looking like I was concentrating on something complicated. So maybe it wouldn't matter? Also I'm still not able to do all the things which I used to do which involved bending in the middle, but then again who actually wants to do laundry, unstack the dishwasher, or sweep the floor??

One answer to the question is how can I not be ok with these gorgeous flowers beaming at me?:

I still have most of the five bunches of flowers I received (although the chocolate is nearly gone and a fresh supply is being brought this lunchtime). Strangely the biggest and most impressive display died off first. I'm hoping that the sunflowers last for a while as they really do say what I need a bunch of flowers to say. They bring happiness and sunshine, which is sadly lacking with this miserable summer.

Nature has such restorative qualities. Just a simple ten-minute walk down the canal which runs along the bottom of the valley was enough to bring some perspective. There are ducks and quite large ducklings now, sort of teenagers in duck terms, still slightly fluffy round the edges though. The valley sides rise into imposing jutting hillsides, covered in sheep and cows gently calling, and it doesn't matter that it's not good weather, the whole scene is peaceful and makes me realise that life goes on.

(This is the view from my sofa - utter tranquility)

Someone once said, when explaining how devastated they were at their father's death, that they couldn't believe that the buses were still running that day. It's true that you have such a life-changing day and that you can't quite believe that it's just a normal day for everyone else and that things keep on going on regardless, but being in the midst of nature can really bring back to you the sense of insignificance you need to get cracking with life again. Of course now my head is raring to go but my body is still letting me down and I know it will for a few weeks yet.

I suppose really the question of "Are you ok?" doesn't mean what people think it means. To me OK means are you sound? are you ready to carry on? are you managing?. It doesn't mean that you're on top of the world, a hundred per cent happy. In a previous post I talked about visiting my family and seeing that they were ok, that they weren't going to burn out and that they had enough strength and mettle to fight the good fight. That's how I feel now, so as far as I'm concerned I'm ok.

At the moment I'm still in the section of my life where I'm getting special dispensation, I'm not expected to do my share of the housework, I'm not expected to be thinking about complicated situations or legal concepts because I'm off work, I'm not expected to be the best friend listening to other people's troubles (although I don't mind), I'm not expected to be "normal" yet. This makes me feel alright though. I'm as ok as people are expecting me to be. What I need now is to go back to normal life. People keep on saying "don't go back to doing normal things until you're ready", but I don't agree. Doing normal things, finding them scary or traumatic and then getting over them or finding a way to do them differently is what I need now. I need to go to the supermarket and feel overwhelmed and lost, I need to get on the train and fall asleep and get off at the wrong stop, I need to go back to work and find it impossible for a while, I'd rather get thrown off the horse again than get used to not having to ride it at all.

I suppose this is precisely when you are ready, when you can't stand waiting to be ready any longer. No-one is ever fully prepared for what life is going to throw at them next, but knowing that you're ready to stand up tall and face its next challenge is probably as far towards ok as you are ever going to get. At the moment I'm in the house, surrounded by reminders of the fact that a small tragedy has happened and I think it's easy to get pulled into dwelling on that tragedy when you'd really like to move on. I suppose I feel like I should be miserable for a bit as a tribute to the lost baby, but then again the best tribute to him would be to try again, to create the next life and to put the experiences to positive effect. We've had our first lesson in parenting, and it's a very important lesson, how to cope with loss and how to stick together. Actually that's two lessons... there are probably many lessons!

People think that you getting on with life means that you're over the tragedy. That's not the case. It's a hard little stone which you'll always have - you just smooth down the corners until it's not harmful to the touch anymore and you stow it neatly away to be carried around with you. You know it's there and you'll take it out and have a look at it or a feel of it sometimes when something in life reminds you of it. You don't ever let go of it, because it's part of you.

When will this be a distant and dusty recollection?
A set back, not an ending, a hiccup in the process.
When will I awake without the ache in my belly
And a hole in my heart where my nurturing love had swelled?
When will I awake without sorrow falling from my eyes?
When will this just be history, part of the family story,
Told to the grandchild wriggling on my knee?
When will I no longer have to swim up to gasp awake
Through the dark blue sea on which I am drifting?
When will this be a distant memory of a sad time,
Which makes the good times all the sweeter?