Monday, April 30, 2007

There's a thought...

Maybe the reason that Zoe was taken at 37 weeks is that God was being gracious in letting her live that long. Maybe she would have died much earlier, but survived to that point because we, friends and family prayed fervently that she would.

Now there's a thought for you...

If that's true, would I have wished things otherwise? If I knew that our prayers were keeping her alive, would I have continued to pray, or let her go? Would I have prayed harder so that she lived longer?

2 more weeks until we know whether there was a reason for her death...

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Our history

OK. I promised a post briefly summarising the walk we've had as a couple. Actually, I don't know how brief this will be, but I'll try my best.

Graeme and I met in 1993, and I knew instantly that he was the man for me. It took me about 9 months to convince him that I was worth dating. But we started dating in 1994. After dating for years, our relationship turned destructive for reasons I don't really want to get into in such a public space as this, and we broke up in 1997. After 6 months apart, we got engaged, and 6 months later we were married, in April 1998.

On honeymoon I became very ill, and proceeded to be incredibly ill for about 9 months. During these 9 months I developed bronchitis, then pneumonia, then pleurisy. The GP I was seeing basically told me that I either had to have bed rest at home, or be admitted into hospital, because if I didn't I was going to die.

Between the problems we'd had before we broke up and the stress of my illness, our marriage basically fell apart before it even started. Because my parents are divorced, and I've seen first hand what a divorce does to a family, I decided that if our marriage wasn't going to work, I'd rather get divorced early (ie after 9 months of marriage) than have kids and THEN have to get divorced. Graeme persuaded me to try marriage counselling, which we duly did, and it saved us (obviously, as we're still together!). While it didn't sort out our issues, it did give us a means of communicating with each other that enabled us to start to rebuild the trust that had been broken by our break-up. The other life-saver for us was that roughly 18 months after our marriage (in Feb 2000) we left South Africa for London.

This is not because there is anything wrong with SA, but because we needed to be in an environment that forced us to rely on each other, that took us completely out of our comfort zones and left us with absolutely no security other than God and each other. We left our families and our friends, and arrived in a city where we knew no-one, with no jobs and nowhere to stay. We also had the "joy" of supply teaching in a culture that is just different enough from SA culture to be completely disorientating. (Unless you've done it yourself, you won't believe the stories we could tell, so I won't regale you with any now.)

By the middle of 2000 we had both changed careers. Graeme was working in IT and I was working as a PA cum worship leader for my church. During 2001 I went through a course of particularly harrowing counselling and Graeme had a short course as well. It was necessary work, but Graeme didn't find it particularly helpful. I found most of it helpful, but it left me in a place that wasn't good. It helped me to forgive others who had hurt me through my life, but it didn't help me get to a place where I could forgive myself for my own actions. (Odd that I found it possible to accept God's forgiveness but not feel able to forgive myself...) So we both finished that feeling let down and isolated.

One day, when I have the courage to face my demons publicly, I'll write a book about it, because I think there are lots of Christians who need to know that even Christians sin, even Christians get it wrong. Christians can still be drug addicts, or prostitutes, or murderers, or child molesters. Just because we're saved does not mean we're sorted. It means we're on the road to being sorted, but some of us are just taking longer to get there than others. I think there are a lot of people who need to hear that. And I want to extend to them the kind of forgiveness and love and welcome that I doubt I would have received from most of my Christian friends if they knew what I'd done at the time... Anyway, that's off the topic....

Since then, as I've worked through the forgiveness issue, I found myself back working at various schools that required a lot of love on my part. Eventually, suffering from depression, I went for another bout of counselling, which helped fix the depression and made me realise that my job was killing me, and by proxy, my marriage. After being physically and verbally abused by some of the kids I taught, I resigned and moved to my last school, which was much better. Graeme was going through some personal stuff at this time as well, which I don't feel I can share - I'll leave that for him at another time.

One of the reasons my job was killing me and us is that I believed it was the wrong job. I had started to pursue the possibility of becoming an ordained minister in the Church of England. This is something I have wanted since I was a little girl, but till then, I had never dared to share this dream with anyone.

Anyway, everything went very smoothly until the last hurdle (selection conference), at which I was told that I wasn't suitable, for reasons that (even now) I find very hard to accept. I can't begin to explain how that affected me. It's the closest I have ever come to losing my faith, and it was touch and go for a long time. Because I hadn't shared the fact with many people that I was trying for ordination, our grief over my rejection (euphemistically called non-selection) was very private, and therefore all the more intense. As Graeme was struggling with his faith too, it wasn't easy for us to cope as a couple. At the time that we got the news about my non-selection, I fell pregnant with Janel. Trying to cope with that, on top of dealing with this massive rejection and the resulting faith fall-out was tough to say the least.

In the midst of all this, Graeme's family went through a rough time as his great-aunt, uncle and gran all died within about a year of each other. I sat the death-watch with his great-aunt. Saying that now sounds so benign, but it was one of the most harrowing events I've experienced. Graeme found the death of his gran particularly difficult as he couldn't attend her funeral.

But by the grace of God, we got through what was a very difficult period.

Then we fell pregnant with Zoe, and lost her... She's not the first child we've lost. We lost another one several years ago, at 8 weeks. We don't know the sex of that child, but we decided to name 'him' Malcolm. Losing a child... well, there just aren't words to describe how tough that is, so I won't try.

This post comes out of a comment I made about how tough a road we seem to have walked, rather than what an incredible experience our marriage has been. So if I've made it sound like our life has been a living hell for the last 14 years, be reassured that it hasn't. We've had times of joy - like watching Nellie grow up - this just wasn't the place to express them.

Another weekend gone...

Graeme and I have returned from a weekend away on our own, courtesy of my in-laws. They figured we needed some 'us' time after everything we'd had to deal with this past month. Very nice of them, really.

So we went to a health resort hotel (not a spa - apparently there is a difference), but the jacuzzi wasn't working (chlorine levels too high) and the treatment rooms were fully booked for the entire weekend (so no massage or facials or anything else) so all we could actually use were the gym and the pool.... hmm..

As a result, we wound up benig tourists in the area. Went a small wine farm specialising in ciders, then had a shopping spree in Maidstone buying toys for Nellie (not as if she doesn't have enough or anything, but we just missed her so much!) and today we went to Hever Castle, which is stunning and well worth a visit. They have this awesome water maze there that the kids (big and small) just adored! It has 3 concentric rings of slabs, linked here and there by some other slabs. Some of the slabs are cantilevered, so that when you step on them, you get sprayed by jets of water. The trick is to find your way through the maze to the tower (you can climb up the inside of teh tower to get a lovely view of the grounds) without getting wet.

The weekend was a fabulous blessing to us, and I think we reconnected with each other and ourselves in a very special way. I was saying to G at one point that a part of my personality that hasn't been seen since we were on honeymoon was finally coming out again. We've walked such a rough road since our marriage back in '98. (For those who don't know about it all, I'll try to summarise it briefly for you in the next post.)

Some of you have probably heard about the 4.3 earthquake we had here in southern England. Well, we were only a few miles from the epicentre... although as we lay in bed watching the news about half an hour after it had happened, Graeme did ask me whether the earth had moved for me.... I'm pleased to report that we were far enough away that we didn't feel a thing.

I had a FANTASTIC belly laugh on Sat evening. I was lying in bed, exhausted after a very long evening (we had stayed up till nearly midnight to catch a re-run of 'Have I Got News For You'). Graeme was in the bathroom getting ready for bed. I stretched, yawned and made Nellie's-very-tired noises (where she moans, but with the dummy in her mouth), to which Graeme responded with some very arbitrary remark (so much so, I can't even remember it now! I think it was something about going to buy something for me). However, I was so tired, and his response seemed so off the wall, that I promptly fell apart laughing. In fact, I laughed so much I wasn't sure whether I was laughing or crying; I laughed so much I had a mild asthma attack (only to discover that the pump I had with me was empty). Man! I've missed laughing like that.

Since getting home, I've been reading some of my favourite blogs, and found these words by Bob Dylan... (my vicar/ minister, Stephen, would be so proud of me!)

"I stood unwound beneath the skies
And clouds unbound by laws.
The cryin' rain like a trumpet sang
And asked for no applause.
Lay down your weary tune, lay down,
Lay down the song you strum,
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum."

I feel like I'm starting to let go of the pain of losing and I'm starting to see the sunshine again.
Graeme starts grief counselling tomorrow. He's going to have a few sessions on his own, and then I'll join him for some couples counselling. I know that there will still be dark days ahead, and the counselling will no doubt spark stuff in us, but at the moment I don't feel like I'm carrying this massive weight on my shoulders anymore, and I thank God for that!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Graeme's blog

Well, he's made a start! The link is on the right, under 'Check these out...', listed as (rather helpfully I thought) 'Graeme's blog'.


We just had our first drawing on the wall..... nooooo.....

More pics and TONS of frustration

Thanks to Ash for these lovely pics!

This is Nellie with Bradley, one of the other kids our childminder looks after. He's been like a big brother to Nellie, and she copies everything he does and says, and follows him everywhere. She also bullies him when she can - takes toys from him, pushes him off chairs, that kind of thing.

Latest skill - sitting the right way around on toy cars/ motorbikes and pushing herself FORWARDS, not just backwards! Doesn't she look so proud of herself here?

And a new favourite activity - playing with the straps on her pushchair/ car seat. She knows where & how they're supposed to fit together, but she doesn't yet have the fine motor coordination to put them together. She's trying though - it's better than a puzzle! It keeps her occupied for long stretches of time, which is especially useful when you're standing in a long queue!

Speaking of queues... we stood in one for over an hour this morning trying to sort out her SA passport etc. What a saga! We registered her birth & applied for her passport back in SA in March last year. We thought we were being clever. As it takes 4-6 months to process (you just gotta LOVE the SA Home Affairs department's efficiency!) we were told not to check up on the applications until at least 6 months had passed. This we duly did. After 6 months, we called. No sorry, they have no record of our application. We faxed all the receipts etc to prove that we had made the application. No sorry, they have no record of our application. We must apply again, and no, sorry, they will not refund us our fees.

So, we duly applied again. This time from the UK, via the SA consulate in London. But it took us a while because you can't download the forms off the web (although it says you can) and their phone system is an automated one that does not allow you to leave a message. Oh, and you can't go in to their office - they don't accept visitors without an appointment, and you can only make an appointment for a passport application once you have the forms and an application number.

In frustration I eventually wrote to them to ask for the forms. Forms were duly posted to us. We completed them, and sent them back. They were sent back to us because we'd missed something off (which was not listed in the 'supporting documents you need to send with your application' list. Then - silence. Nothing. So, 2 weeks ago I wrote to them again, explaining that as we are planning to move back to SA at the end of June (and they lost our documentation the first time around) I'd like to know where we are in the process. And then... silence. No response.

Yesterday though, I finally get a call. Didn't I receive a letter from them on the 20th March? No, I did not. Oh, well then they'll have to post me the forms again because we missed a spot where we had to sign something. (AAARRGGHHH!!) Ever so sweetly I ask whether it won't be possible for us to come in to the office to sign them - explaining again that they'd been lost the 1st time around and that we needed them done ASAP because we're moving home. Oh yes, no problem. Just come to the office any time in the morning and let the security guard know who we're coming to see.

So - early this morning we arrive (they only open at 9am and there was already a queue). The guard/ doorman is only letting people through who have an appointment and whose name appears on his list. (I just have to say how typically African this mentality is - we only live by the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law!) However, after explaining that we'd been called by one of the clerks and what we needed to do, he eventually let us in...

... where we proceeded to wait for about 30 minutes or more for the clerk we needed to see...

... only to sign the form in 2 places where (and get a load of this) there was no indication that we needed to sign and no line on which to sign...

... and then to discover that there was YET another form we needed to fill in that was not on the 'documents you need to send with your application' list...

...which requires us to fill in the ID numbers of both of one our sets of parents. Yes, like we carry that sort of info around with us all the time. I don't even know Graeme's ID number, and I'm supposed to just remember my parents' ones too?! And am I allowed to use my mobile phone (cell) to call them to get the info? No, phone use is banned in the Consulate. So, I duly ignored that rule and called my mother... (I figured one ID number was better than none.)... 3 times because reception was so poor she could barely hear me and I didn't want to shout as that would attract attention to the fact that I was illegally using my phone....


And then, after all that, we STILL have to wait 4-6 months for the application, even though it's now been 2 months since we started this whole process with the Consulate!

Very sweetly, and trying very hard not to lose my rag with the poor clerk (after all, SA civil servants do not have minds of their own or think for themselves, they only do exactly what they are told to - nothing more, nothing less), I asked if there was any way we could speed the process up (given they'd lost our documentation and we need Nellie's passport by the end of June so she can legally enter SA because her British one isn't good enough if we're moving back permanently because she doesn't have residency yet....)? No. At least, there isn't any way it can be done from the Consulate. (I mean - COME ON!! - this is the CONSULATE for crying out loud!!!)

No, what has to happen is that WE have to phone Pretoria Home Affairs ourselves, explain the situation all over again, and hope and pray we get a nice clerk on the other end of the line, because they're just the London Consulate Office, and apparently Home Affairs will take more notice of us than of them. Hmm... ja well no fine. (Now there's a good old South African expression!) If we do get a nice friendly clerk (CHANCES?!), then we might be able to get it early. If not, then we will have to apply for emergency travel documents for Nellie.....

I'm very tempted just to ignore the whole thing and pretend we're going home on holiday so she can get a 3 month visa. Her application OUGHT to be done by then... right? Or is that hoping for too much from our lovely government?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Learning all the time

It's amazing how much kids learn and how quickly!

Yesterday, Nellie not only sucked on a straw for the first time (as opposed to blowing on a straw), but she managed to consume a large amount of my fruit frappacino using one! Her face when she first did it, and got a mouthful of cold juice, was a picture. I wish I'd been paying attention and had my camera ready!!

Then today she learnt to give a 'high 5'. How cute is that?

Silly stuff

Because I now spend an inordinate amount of time online every day reading other people's blogs (basically ostriching) and the SANDS message boards (getting grief support), I'm really starting to get into the blogging/ posting thing in a BIG way.

Just how big? Well, so big I've actually signed up to a website that tells me how many people visit this blog, and ranks my blog. Sad, but true! What's even sadder though, is that I'm really excited to report that my ranking has improved dramatically.

Yes, when I signed up at Amatomu, this blog was #263. This morning it is #103! I've had 102 people visit my blog in about 10 days. Frankly, I find that rather incredible - that there are that number of people who actually want to read my ramblings! Especially given that I don't comment on world events (except occasionally) and that my ramblings are all focussed on people they've never met. Bizarre!

But then, I enjoy reading my favourite blogs - and I've never met some of these people either. I've mostly stumbled onto their blogs because we have something in common, but not always. So maybe I shouldn't be so surprised.

The other news of the morning is that there's a report on the news regarding the latest stats on stillbirth. Apparently, in England, Scotland and Wales, the stillbirth rate is now 1 in 200, of which half are unexplained. I couldn't tell from the news report though whether that stat includes miscarriages and neonatal deaths, or if it's just perinatal deaths like ours - which might explain why it look better than the stats I've previously reported. Then again, I think the stats I reported (which do include neonatals and miscarriages I think) are for the whole of the UK.... That's the problem with stats - they are SO easy to misrepresent and can be so misleading unless you have all the facts to hand (which you seldom do because the papers seldom report all the 'boring' details that really help you to interpret them... Anyway, 1 in 200 is still pretty high.

The amount of information given to pregnant women about the possibility of: miscarriage AFTER 12 weeks/ stillbirth/ neonatal death is WOEFULLY inadequate. The good news to report though is that Miriam Stoppard (author of an excellent pregnancy book called 'Conception, Pregnancy and Birth'!) has agreed to re-write her section on stillbirths for the next edition of her book. This after one of the mums on the SANDS forum wrote to her expressing the view that so many of us have about the lack of information. Good for both of these amazing women - the first for actually getting off her butt and trying to make a difference for other women (unlike me who just complains about it all the time), the second for being brave enough to listen and change her book. Makes me proud to be a woman and a mother!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

One month exactly

Today is exactly one month since Zoe's birth. My head has been elsewhere for the past 2 or 3 days, so I didn't even realise that today was the 24th until a friend told me.

I've been feeling really numb again - in the eye of the storm, as it were. I don't want to cry, I don't feel pain, I'm laughing easily again, but I feel disconnected from everything and everyone. It's like being on morphine - you're fully aware of everything, except you can't feel anything. I've never taken drugs or drunk myself into a stupor, but I would guess that this feeling I'm feeling is what some alcoholics and drug users are looking for - being beyond the pain somehow.

Needless to say, I know this is just the 'eye' and that in a while the storm will return. In the meantime, I'm grateful for the emotional breather, I'm trying not to feel guilty about not feeling pain and I'm trying not to think about the time-scale for when the pain will hit me again.

Some of you have asked how Graeme is doing in all this. Well, after much thought (on his part) he's decided to start his own blog as we both recognise that this really is my blog (rather than our blog), even though it's about us. He's created it, and sat down last night to write something, and froze up. So, bear with him - the intention is there, he just needs to find a way to start to express himself.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Avoiding the grief

The best way I've found of avoiding the grief is to simply be too busy to think about anything. So, with that in mind, on Friday night we went out for dinner with friends. On Sat am I buried myself in a book, we went out with the in-laws on Sat afternoon, and Sat eve we watched 'Dr Who' (which I love! It reminds me of the A-Team, or Airwolf, or McGyver, except with aliens.) followed by 'Any dream will do' (I can't BELIEVE that ALW saved Chris over Johndeep!!)followed by 'NCIS'.

Anyway, the afternoon was spent at London Wetland Centre, which has a lovely kiddies playground, including a foofie slide (without the foofie bits), a duck race table, a kiddie sized rabbit warren and an adult sized dagon-fly see-saw. We all had fun playing in the playground, but especially Nellie!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Philosopher found

The name of the philosopher I quoted on 17 April (Real meaning of life vs happiness) is Bachya ibn Pakuda - just for those who are interested. Thanks Jenny for finding his name for me!

He was a Jewush rabbi & judge in the 11th Century, lived in Saragossa in Spain, spoke Arabic and his magnum opus is 'Guide to the Duties of the Heart' (translated, that is), which is credited as the first in a 'new' genre of Jewish literature (now known as Jewish Ethics). You can find out more about him here, if you want to.

1 month already...

I can't believe that 4 weeks ago today we found out Zoe's heart had stopped. I can't believe that 4 weeks have slipped past. I can't remember most of it - there's just this haze of days passing and an endless supply of tears. (While the body is around 80% water, nothing brings it home like endless crying...)

While the pain isn't as constant, it's still just as intense. The wonderful people on the SANDS forum say the pain doesn't ever really go away, it just gets easier to manage. One of them posted this poem - I don't know where it comes from.

I was so excited when I woke up today
I heard my Mummy was coming to play
I washed my wings and my halo too
Cos that's what Mummy likes me to do

I went to the place where I knew she'd be
It's where she comes to visit me
She comes for comfort in her despair
Oh Mummy, can't you feel me touching your hair?

I'm by your side all through the night
I never let you out of my sight
I was your baby for only a day
But soon we can be together and play

You know we'll never be apart
You'll never let me leave your heart
Mummy I'm not really in the ground,
lift up your head and look around

The clouds, the birds, the raindrops too
These gifts of life were given to you
Don't cry for me Mummy, I know you're here
Please let me wipe away that tear.

I was sent to you from up above
And you showed me the ultimate love
Instead of giving me all of your years
You freely gave me all of your tears

Remember your relatives, the ones who have died?
They brought me here, I'm by their side
They watch over me and help me to see
Just how much you really love me

So don't be unhappy when you come visit me
I'm the angel above you, up in the tree
And when you leave, you'll never be through
You'll always be my Mummy
And I'll always love you....

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Fun in the sun with mum

Splish splash I was taking a bath, all upon a Saturday night...

We've had such beautiful weather the last few weeks - it feels like summer is nearly here already. However, the weather report forecasts rain for Monday... SO - thought we'd make the most of the sunshine that remains and get the pool out (in April!! I know!!) - mind you, I did fill it with warm water rather than cold.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What a difference a few hours can make!

After my horrendous morning, I had lunch with a good friend (Sarah - you're the BEST!), which turned into an all afternoon chatathon, which was SOOO theraputic for the soul.

I then came home, and re-reading an email from a Saffa living in France (I met her online as she runs an excellent website and e-mag for [Saffa] mamas - check it out - called Urban Mamas - and I offered to write an article or two for it) in which she suggested I read a blog by another Capetonian who had lost several babies.

I've just been reading it now, and her disclaimer really made me laugh. (Check it out too... there's no 'home' button though, so if you want to read the blog itself, then click here. She's recently won the SA Blog of the Year award, or something similar.)

Isn't it amazing how in just a matter of hours one can move from the fury of the storm to the eye, or vice versa, from the depths of despair/pain/ grief to rolling-on-the-floor kind of laughter?!

Here we go again

Today I was supposed to be meeting up with my 2nd time NCT mums group (see post on 23 March 07), but last night I got a text from the hostess to say that as 3 of the women had given birth in the previous 24 hrs she thought it best we reschedule.

Unfortunately, the text came through at around midnight (although it was sent earlier) when I was fast asleep. As a result, my defences were WAY down so the news that these lovely ladies had given birth hit me hard. I am thrilled for these lovely ladies, as most of them had really difficult first births, but I'm devastated again. Needless to say, I didn't sleep very well for the rest of the night and am shattered today.

Will I fall apart every time I hear of a healthy baby being born? My brother and his wife are expecting, and I just couldn't bear it if I were to fall apart when they give birth in a few months' time.

I also went to collect Zoe's ashes from the crem this morning. No words to explain how awful that was, made more so because of the emotional state I was already in.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The real meaning of life vs happiness

I was listening to 'Thought for the day' on the radio this morning. The Rev. who spoke was talking about the difference between pursuing the meaning of life and pursuing happiness, with reference to the shooting at the US university yesterday, in which 32 people have died.

He quoted some philosopher (and of course I wasn't listening properly, so I don't know who it was) as saying that everyday is a scroll and on it we should write whatever we want to be remembered for. The Rev. summed up by saying, in every day, do whatever is necessary to give your life both meaning and happiness.

While I think that's commendable, I don't know how to restore meaning or happiness to my life. I don't know what things I can do that will make me feel happy. It's not that I haven't felt happy since Zoe's death, because I have, and I have laughed till I cried. It's just that I can't think of anything that would particularly make me happy.

Worse though, I have no sense of purpose, and everything I think of doing to restore that sense of purpose feels utterly pointless. Again, it's not that I don't have a purpose, because caring for Nellie is definitely a purpose to get up/ clean the flat/ do the laundry/ go shopping/ have a shower/ get dressed, it's just that none of that makes me feel purposeful, and neither does pursuing any other activity.

Grieving sucks.

I've started thinking about volunteering again, and thinking about where I might get involved. I was thinking that the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home would be great - you don't have to explain yourself to animals and dogs, in particular, are empathetic. Not only is working with animals theraputic for me, but right now I know the pain that rescue animals feel which would make me more empathetic to them. However, they're not recruiting at the moment, and their vetting and training time would probably mean we'd be on a plane to SA by the time they think I'm ready to help out anyway. Never the less, I've applied. You never know.

Other than that, I was thinking that I might volunteer somewhere with children... then again, maybe not - too emotionally draining. Maybe a few hours a week at the Besom Warehouse... Anyway, I haven't decided yet, but I need something to get me out of bed on the days when Nellie's not here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Time for Nellie...

Easter was a good time for Nellie, although she really doesn't seem to like chocolate - evidenced by the fact that she's very happy to give it away. Of course, Mommy (behind the camera) is not going to say no to free chocolate!

Granny's visit was over far too quickly...

The latest development is that Nellie is quickly learning to baby sign. In addition to 'more', she is now starting to sign 'please' and 'thank you', and 'nappy'. Of course, she still gets them all mixed-up, but the fact that she's trying is very cute. She has also learnt to put her hand in front of her mouth when she coughs, which is just so sweet!

Fortunately, it seems that Mommy and Daddy are learning what her different cavewoman grunts mean, so we've had fewer tears of frustration recently. Of course, it now seems that her molars are starting to move around in her jaw, because she's started drooling and chewing on her fingers again. Associated with this have been bouts of crying for no apparent reason, so I'm hoping they are just because she's in pain, rather than that she's crying because she's picked up on our grief.

She's also learning to pick up after herself. We've started to insist that if she deliberately throws things off her highchair she picks them up after the meal. Likewise, we've started insisting that she helps clean up when we're done playing. This has also resulted in some tears, but that's more about the fact that we're defining boundaries than anything else. In general, she really seems to enjoy doing what we ask - either bringing things to us so we can put them away or putting her toys back into their bags/ boxes. Long may her enjoyment of this last!!

Summer seems to have arrived - over the weekend we had temperatures in the mid-20's! This is when I thank God our flat has outdoor space where Nellie can ride her car, push her pram and throw her ball. She has also been learning to garden with her spade and little basket, and plenty of Mommy's unused plastic pots. She has a little watering can, but if we fill it with water she seems more intent on watering herself than any plant, so we haven't done much of that.

Of course, like all children, she's also spent quite a bit of time eating soil, and then coming to us to have her tongue brushed off.... I keep telling myself not to worry - she'll soon grow out of the need to mouth everything, and in the meantime eating soil will only build up her immune system....

With the improved weather, and more time spent outdoors, and with Mommy being in a place to give her a little more quality attention, Nellie has been really happy the last few days. She is the one bright thing in our lives at the moment, and we both thank God for her and for the way she brightens up our lives. 'You are my sunshine, my only sunshine...'

Funeral Audio/Video Downloads

A number of people who couldn't make it to the funeral service have expressed an interest in hearing or viewing it, so here are some options for you to try:

Funeral Service Audio (MP3 file - 25Mb) ~ This recording is quite soft, so you will probably need to adjust the volume settings on your computer speakers.

Funeral Service Audio (M4a file - 14Mb) ~ This is a more compact format, but one that you may or may not be able to play - it will prompt you to download the file to your PC and you can play it from there.

Funeral Service Video (Mpeg file - 264Mb) ~ The whole service - A huge file & very slow to download (took me an hour to upload from work), but here in case anyone wants it. Below is the video of the service, cut into four chunks so that they can be viewed in turn:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Donations update

I loaded all the money collected at the funeral onto the Tommy's donation page today, and this brought the total raised to £926.00!! We really didn't expect to raise more than a couple of hundred - thank you so much for your generosity, it has been a real blessing to us, and hopefully the money will be able to bless others!!

According to the Tommy's website:
  • £15 could help pay for research updates to be sent out to midwives and doctors 3 times a year.
  • £25 could provide 33 mums-to-be with Tommy's guide to being pregnant to help them protect their unborn babies.
  • £50 could help pay for 7 mums-to-be with complications to receive life-saving treatments for their babies through Tommy's research projects.
  • £100 could pay for important equipment to help our researchers find out why problems in pregnancy occur.
Here's hoping that nearly £1000 can do a great deal of good.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Ashes to ashes...

The good news is that we have ashes.... With stillbirths or neo-natal deaths there is always a chance that you won't get any because the baby's bones (which are the main constituent of the ashes) are so small. We had Zoe cremated early in the morning so that the ovens wouldn't be too hot (increased heat means decreased chances of getting ashes), and that move has paid off.

So now one of us needs to make the trip down to the crem to collect them.... I'm not looking forward to that, but at least we now have something to take home. The plan is to plant at least one tree for her - at Willow Point (the Broster holiday house in Sedgefield, RSA). I want to plant another one in the house we eventually buy to raise our kids in (as opposed to the house we bought just to get onto the property ladder before the market went WILD in CPT), and I want her ashes to go in the soil around the roots of at least one of them.

This whole thing just seems.... Time to go be an ostrich for a bit, before I fall apart some more.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


SANDS, or Stillbirth And Neo-Natal Death Society, puts the stats for stillbirths much higher than the bereavement midwife gave us. They say that (in the UK) 1 in every 100 pregnancies results in a stillbirth, or death of a baby within 4 weeks of births. 1 in every 100!! Of those, half of all stillbirths are unexplained. Half!

Tonight I find myself back at the 'Would Zoe still be alive if I'd only...?' stage. Not in the second-guessing myself kind of way though. It's weird, and hard to explain. This time, it's much more gentle, and more out of a wondering about the reasons for her death. So the fact that half of all stillbirths are unexplained is not very comforting tonight.

I've been reading some of the stories posted by other loss parents (what an awful term!) on the SANDS website. While I don't want to ring the helpline or chat to any of their volunteers, I did find myself saying 'that's exactly how it was for me too!' to the stuff I was reading. Things I'd forgotten (already!) from the moments when we first found out her heart had stopped, to moments during the labour. Needless to say, I had to stop reading after a few, because I was in floods of tears again, and I'm not sure I'm actually ready to share others' pain, even if it is the same as mine.

While I have needed and appreciated the love and support of friends and family, reading these stories made me feel understood. It made me realise that no-one can really understand what I feel except someone who has been to this particular hell. It's funny how you can know something basic like that in your head, but when you actually experience that spark of connection with someone else (even just from reading their words) and the fact you know becomes the fact you experience, suddenly you 'know' it in your heart; and it's funny how head knowledge doesn't have a patch on heart knowledge.

If you can stomach it, I'd really recommend that you browse the stories written about Pax and Joseph ( and click on support, poems and stories, shared experiences, stillbirth), and the songs 'Sweet Little Child of Mine" and "Yellow Rosebuds" ( and click on support, to read and listen to, SANDS cd). They express in so many ways what I haven't been able to put into words.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The point of it all

My day was fairly productive, all things considered. I wrote a few letters that I've been putting off for weeks. I also started and finished Zoe's scrapbook - sticking the photos of her into her baby book, and then filling the pages we will never use with the cards and emails we've received. It was hard work trying not to look at the photos or read the cards. I tried hard not to think about what they really portrayed, or think about the emotions I felt at the time.

As I was driving to collect Nellie this afternoon, I found myself wondering what the point to life is. I feel so empty and adrift, and nothing seems to have any meaning. Before Nellie was born life seemed to be exactly as the old cliche portrays it - dig a ditch to earn the money to buy the food to give you the strength to dig a ditch.... Surely there must be more to life than this, especially as a spirit-filled Christian, right? Then Nellie was born, and I found a new reason for living. While work still had little meaning, caring for Nellie was the most amazing and incredible (and frustrating and exhausting!) experience.

Now, with Zoe gone, I'm back in that place, wondering what the point to life is. There must be more to life than merely waking up to repeat the same old monotony of working, eating and sleeping. Life has lost all colour and joy, and the only reason I get out of bed at all is because that's what I'm supposed to do - get up, have a shower, eat, brush my teeth, get dressed... but for what? I've lost all vision and sense of purpose. My purpose at this point in time was supposed to be nurturing Zoe, and now that's gone. What is left in its place?

I know this is normal, so there's no need to worry about my mental state of health. I know this will pass and I'll rediscover the joy of life. Right now though, there seems no point to anything. I eat because food is put in front of me. I get dressed because someone tells me to. I'm exhausted, but I seem to lie awake for hours at night unable to relax enough to sleep.

With Qohelet's author I find myself crying, "Meaningless, meaningless, ... utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." (Eccl 1:2) Let's hope this phase doesn't last too long...

WABbing and TABbing

WAB was a term that someone came up with while I was at school, but I can't remember who. It stands for 'Work Avoidance Behaviour'. For me, it was weeding the lawn when I should have been studying for exams, or reading a book when I should have been doing homework.

Today I'm TABbing - Thinking Avoidance Behaviour - keeping busy so I don't spend too much time thinking. Since I have nothing to read (and the library is closed on Wednesdays - bad timing!), there's nothing on telly, Nellie is at Ashley's and Graeme is asleep, I've been web browsing. And I came across an interesting meme - it's a Google search in which you type in [your name] wants, or [your name] needs, etc, and then make a note of the first 10 lines that appear. So here're my ridiculously mindless ones....

Nicole needs:
  • a boob job (hmm... not sure I agree)
  • no food when she can shop till she drops (that would take me about 15 minutes at the moment)
  • a leg tanner (which I really do - I'm pastey white...)
  • a drink
  • sugar
  • help with her attention span
  • to stop staying up so late (how did they know?????)
  • some kissing lessons (?!)
  • protection (from...??)
  • a band! (I'm all in favour of this one!)

Nicole wants:

  • to be like Paris (I definitely don't!)
  • a dog (I definitely do! and a cat!)
  • government laywers out (of what?)
  • JLo's bum (hmm... possibly)
  • kids (yes please!)
  • to look her best at her funeral (morbid!)
  • our readers to know that what Miss America does day to day is not all glitz and glamour (smile and nod, just smile and nod)
  • people to know they have not been brainwashed by their parents
  • a hero to idolise
  • to do more romantic things

Nicole can:

  • help (with what?)
  • grieve in peace
  • speak with living animals as well as beloved pets who have passed into spirit (ahh, no, I don't think so...)
  • almost touch the money
  • do Chubby Bunny (I can, but I'm not going to post any photos to prove it!)
  • also speak a little German (only a very little!!)
  • do it all with apparent ease, from singing to dancing to acting (Well, I don't know about the acting, but I can sing and dance)
  • help you clear your clutter, transform your space, and get organized, for good (but only if I'm in the mood)
  • certainly excel in both fields, whether making conversation or listening (someone out there knows me too well!)
  • have a key role in this learning process by helping to provide the most up to date information about site characterisation approaches (I wish I knew what this meant!)

Nicole can't:

  • get over how hot Orlando's been looking recently (hmm... no comment)
  • make this stuff up (oh, watch me!)
  • get over it
  • believe it
  • even name the Vice President or Speaker of the House (heck! I've been out of the country for 7 years... I'm lucky I can still name the president!!)
  • be moved to the Bahamas
  • quite pick out a bikini that actually fits (nothing quite covers the stretch marks...)
  • quit eating (all too true where chocolate is concerned, I'm afraid...)
  • stand up, but looks great in 00 pants [trousers, if you're British]
  • find you anymore (what an odd song title!)

So, some mindless fun for those who need the distraction... now I'm off in search of some more chocolate and a nice mug of tea, and maybe some of Mommy's rusks, and Lizzie's brownines, and then I suppose I'd better have some fruit, and then maybe I'd better finish off the ....

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

She's gone

The service this morning was beautiful. I cried all the way through, as did Graeme. I still can't believe that I will never hold my little girl again, that she's really gone now. I can't believe that this happened to us.

Roll on heaven, when I will see her again!

We have taped the service, mainly for family who couldn't attend. Once we have a copy we'll try to upload it so anyone who would like to can see the service, but as it's pretty long (half an hour or so) I'm not sure we'll be able to.

We want to thank everyone who has donated to Tommy's Baby Charity in memory of Zoe, either through the link we posted previously, or today at the service. Your generous donations total around £850 so far. Our prayer is that this money will spare at least one couple the agony we have gone through - if our sorrow means that others are spared, then at least some good will have come of this tragedy.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Like, DUH!

On my way home tonight from dropping my mom off, it struck me that sometimes I can be really dense! Like, DUH! dense....

This Good Friday there's another person I have a connection with... Jesus' mother! Having lost Zoe, whom I hardly knew, I can barely begin to imagine what Mary would have gone through - raising her firstborn, seeing him mature and grow into a man, spending 30 plus years loving him, and then have to watch him being tortured and killed... believing he was DEAD for 3 days.... I can't even begin to imagine her personal hell that first Good Friday!!

Somehow, that puts my suffering into some sort of perspective.

Alternative versions

An old school friend posted an alternative version of Ps 121, for those who are interested.

Good Friday

So today is the remembrance of Jesus' crucifixion and death... the reason that we have hope is because he went into the depths of hell for our sake, was abandoned by his Father for our sake...

This year it has a new dimension for me. The Father lost his son... God knows the hell of losing a child and being 'left behind'. And he knows the joy of being reunited with that child and never being separated from him again. This is my hope this Easter... that because of Easter and Ascension Day, I will be reunited with my child too, and that we will never be parted again. I'm just not sure how I'm going to handle the time lag between my personal Good Friday and Ascension Day.

People around us keep commenting on how strong I'm being, how brave. A lot of what they see is me in ostrich mode - when I've buried my head in a book, or TV, or anything else I can think about. Escapism has its place. For one thing, it gives the mourner breathing space so as not to be overwhelmed by grief. I worry though that I'm spending too much time avoiding and not enough time 'being' with my grief.

When I'm being an ostrich, I can almost believe that I was never pregnant, that Zoe never was, and that life is just how it was 9 months ago. It's like this has happened to someone else, not me, and I'm just an observer. There's a distance between me and my feelings.

But then, as soon as I stop being busy or stop hiding, the pain and desolation hits me again. In those moments I think that if I can just say out loud often enough how wrong this is, someone will hear me and come and fix it; someone will knock on the door and tell me there's been a dreadful mistake, and the baby I gave birth to is alive; someone will have faith enough to raise Zoe back to life. But I know that's not going to happen, and I'm still not sure how I'm going to move forward from here.

I'm not about to slash my wrists or jump in front of a truck or take enough tablets to sleep the eternal sleep (although I'm so tired right now that the last one does sound appealing), so I guess I must be coping okay. I guess that's what people mean when they say how strong I am, or how brave I am. I just don't see it myself. I don't feel strong, or brave. Quite the opposite - I just want to run away from all this and hide - and I do run away and hide, quite a lot...

Which makes what Jesus did even more incredible. He faced worse than this - he knew what lay before him. Yet, instead of running away and hiding (which is what I would have done), he faced it, accepted it, and moved through it - right through to the other side of death. That's strength and bravery. What I do is merely coping, and hardly that. But I have to believe that, as Tony Campolo's preaching competitor said, 'It's Friday, but Sunday's coming!'

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


On Sunday we went to church. We purposely arrived late and sat right at the back so that we wouldn't have to talk to people for a while. It was an all-age service, which meant the kids were in for the entire service. That was okay, as I don't think I would've wanted Nellie to be out of sight in the creche (plus one of us would have had to have been with her because she still doesn't settle there without us...).

The sermon was good - all about what it means for Jesus to be king - nothing too emotional. I found the worship really tough - not because I couldn't acknowledge God as all-powerful king, but because doing so means letting go of Zoe in some ways. Graeme didn't manage to engage at all with any of it as he was running around after Nellie. Tea after the service was ok. Mostly people were lovely - neither too caught up in their own grief nor too distant from ours. There were a few people who kept their distance that we had hoped would say something, but there was only one person whose expression of grief I felt I had to manage. The rest were just amazing.

So, all in all, a tough morning, but not a bad one. At least now we've seen a chunk of the church members, which should make the Easter service easier, and should make the funeral easier too, as it won't be the first time we're seeing people. One milestone (if you can call it that) down...

Another milestone was going to meet Ella. She's gorgeous - looks just like her parents! (But if you know her parents you know there's no way she could be anything but gorgeous as they are both very good-looking people!) Seeing her was a lot easier than either of us expected it to be. We had thought we would need to weep, but that wasn't the case. For me, there were only one or two moments where I felt a pang (and caught myself thinking about how I wasn't going to have that problem/ feeling/ bond for at least another year), but nothing overwhelming, thank God. Having a cuddle was very special - there is something so incredible, so holy, about newborns.... I don't know if you truly appreciate that when it's your child. I think you're just too tired and wrung out. I certainly wasn't as aware of it with Nellie, or with Zoe, as I was with Ella. Odd. Anyway, we were really able to celebrate her, and celebrate with her parents, and that was very special too.

It felt odd being the experienced ones though and seeing them struggle with all the issues that first-time parents have (sleep??? what's that??? when will my milk come in?? is she feeding enough?? why won't she stop crying?? how do you hold her??... etc, etc, etc). I can remember how out of my depth I felt, and it was great to be able to reassure them both that while this first week is tough, things get progressively easier.

On the Nellie front, things have been up and down. After we got the news about Ella on Saturday, and had spent the rest of the day feeling devastated, Nellie was extremely anxious on Sunday. Fortunately, she had a really good day with the child minder on Monday, so was much happier last night and again today.

I can't remember whether I've blogged that she's started eating raisins (finally!! some fruit that she really enjoys - she's gone off whole pieces of any other fruit, and isn't wild about pureed fruit either anymore). Needless to say, in an effort to get fruit into her, she's now got a runny tummy.... hmm. Maybe Mommy is getting over-excited about the raisins.

She also said another word the other day - yodit - meaning yoghurt. So cute! She's learnt to make the sign for 'more', which means that we have another way of checking if she's still hungry towards the end of mealtimes. And she's started trying to communicate to us when she's done a poo!! She's also starting to learn the sign for 'nappy', which will help with this. Potty training here we come... in a little while. Let's get through the funeral first, then we'll hang on a bit longer for the warmer weather to become more predictable before we venture forth into this next phase of toddlerhood.

So - there are things still worth celebrating, even in the midst of all the pain and confusion, and we're trying to keep focussed on those things when we can. It helps with the pain; makes it slightly more bearable.
Tomorrow my mom arrives from SA, after about 25 hours of travel. (The cheapest flights always go via, via, via... with lay overs of several hours between connections.) It's going to be FANTASTIC having her here with us, but she's going to be too exhausted to think for a day or two I suspect! Funny how, even now as an adult, when things go wrong, all I want is my Mommy!!

Monday, April 02, 2007

'Glory Baby' by Watermark

This song was sent to us by a friend who lost her baby many years ago...

Glory Baby,
You slipped away
As fast as we could say baby, baby
You were growing, what happened?
Dear, You disappeared on us baby, baby
Heaven will hold you before we do
Heaven will keep you safe
Until we're home with you
Until we're home with you

We miss you everyday
Miss you in every way
But we know there's a day
When we will hold you, we will hold you
And you'll kiss our tears away
When we're home to stay
We can't wait for the day
When we will see you, we will see you
But baby let sweet Jesus hold you
Til mom and dad can hold you
You'll just have heaven before we do
You'll just have heaven before we do

Sweet little baby, it's hard to understand it
Cause we are hurting, we are hurting
But there is healing
And we know we're stronger people
Through the growing and in knowing
All things work together for our good
And God works his purposes
Just like he said he would
Just like he said he would


I can't imagine Heaven's lullabies
And what they must sound like
But I will rest in knowing
Heaven is your home
And it's all you'll ever know
All you'll ever know


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Teach a child...

I went to one of those old-fashioned girls' high schools where tradition was a big deal. At the start and end of every term our headmistress would read Ps 121. Ever since Zoe's birth, I've had bits of it running through my mind.

The old adage about 'teach a child the way to go and when he is grown he will not depart from it' has apparently worked with me. The words of all the praise and worship songs from the '80's and early '90's when I was at school are the only ones I can remember - the new stuff (which I thought I valued more because they were more expressive) I just can't remember; either the tunes or the words!

Anyway, this evening, I found myself praying the bits of Ps 121 that I could remember over Janel as I put her to bed, so I thought I'd look it up and read it again. I know that God watches over us; I know that He is here in the midst of our suffering; I know that (despite how things look) He loves us. On reading it again, it seems so appropriate that I thought I'd share it here.

Ps 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills -
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip -
He who watches over you will not slumber;
Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you -
The Lord is your shade upon your right hand;
The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from harm -
He will watch over your life;
The Lord will watch over your coming and going
Both now and forever more.