I haven’t written anything here for months, in part because the posts below are a record of last year’s stillbirth, and it doesn’t feel right for them to become lost in chronology.
At one of our early sessions, my beloved perinatal grief counsellor drew a picture on the whiteboard in her office of a circle of grief, then another circle attached to the side. She drew more and more circles until it looked like a cluster of cells stuck together, a blastocyst. The grief was still there, in the centre, but the other circles had grown around it until it was just one circle among others. I was sceptical: at the time, Edie's death and birth were still lodged in sharp shards all over my body. Feeling normal seemed impossible.
At my youngest son’s Gymbaroo class, they have a machine that fills the room with bubbles, and the kids are encouraged to pop them using one finger. It is to improve their fine motor skills, I guess, in preparation for handwriting. Jed tries to pop them with his tongue, his toes. Sometimes the machine shoots out a string of mutant bubbles, three or four bubbles conjoined. ‘I got a triple!’ he yells, swatting it with his whole hand.
This is what I think of when I remember the conjoined circles on the whiteboard, the grief at the centre. A few months ago, I was stuck in the bubble, looking out through the swirly, soapy walls. Not letting anything else in, or out.
But now the grief has shapeshifted again and has become something that will forever be part of our family, but no longer feels all-consuming. The time between bouts of crying in the toilets at work has grown longer. I no longer dissolve into tears upon finding a pile of old maternity clothes in the bottom drawer, at learning about a colleague’s pregnancy. My life has grown around the grief, as promised.
I never thought it could happen, but here we are, nine months later, and I can look up from the daily minutiae that occupy a family: kinder enrolments, applying make-up in the car, late-night Panadol dispensing. Drying cheeks, wiping faces. I can look back, at what happened. At how we survived the impossible. Finding out your baby has died in utero, then carrying her, dead, for three more days before giving birth, without drugs, in a labour ward where you can hear women delivering healthy babies in the next room. Choosing a funeral home before she is even born. Going back to work, body and heart still aching.
It's amazing what humans can withstand.
This time last year, I was newly pregnant. By now I would have a four-month-old daughter. I would be deep in the throes of a new baby: waking through the night to feed, my belly still soft and swollen.
Instead, her ashes are in a cardboard box on the bookshelf. We have planted a pink flowering gum, in memory of the sister my sons never met. The wallabies keep chewing the leaves, and I keep forgetting to water it. It might live, or not. It doesn’t matter either way. She is not in that tree, or even in the cardboard box, really. She is still in me.
She is the extra depth of emotion I can access at any given moment. She is the fire in my belly, the survivor's instinct. She is in the way my son's pat me on the hand when I cry in kid's cartoons, in the way they have seen their parents bend backwards, almost breaking but not quite, before slowly straightening again, stronger than before. She was here only momentarily, but her legacy remains forever.
There is an old hymn I cry to sometimes. I don’t know who wrote it, but I listen to the June Carter version in the car, tears pouring down my cheeks.