The Power of Stepping Away

It’s ironic, that in the middle of writing an essay for uni about psychological distress in the legal industry, I was experiencing, (whilst pretending I wasn’t), burn out. In fact, I laughed, at all 3 medical practitioners who told me in the space of a week that I had it. I said to each of them ‘that’s not even a thing’.

In October, I was recovering from a medical procedure. The recovery was supposed to be five days. Four weeks later I was still struggling to get up and function.

It initially creeped up slowly and then took hold in a debilitating way. I became exceptionally tired and thirsty beyond control. The effort to participate in conversation was more than I could handle some days. But I kept going, not believing this thing was real even though it had me in its firm grip.

Gradually I realised I had become an angry, agitated and unpleasant human being. I put on a brave face in public, at work, at uni but at home I realised I disliked myself a lot.

Burn out sapped the joy from my soul. It made even the smallest thing feel monumental. Catching up with friends now made me exhausted even when I saw it written down in my calendar days in advance. So, I isolated. I have successfully turned myself into the opposite of who I am; from an extrovert I became an introvert. Then I felt guilty so I planned a huge party at Christmas time. I figured all these people, my friends, I could bring them together, spend some time with them and then I wouldn’t be expected to socialise for a while.

It was epic. I had a great time, enjoyed myself, went through the motions and then fell in an exponential heap. For two weeks I was overcome with physical symptoms that either disabled me from eating to vomiting or terrifying chest pain. I had tests and scans and they were all clear.

The verdict … burn out! Again!! I was advised to quit my job immediately or take a solid leave of absence. I didn’t.

I was committed to my work. I was committed to my uni, to my family, to my life. I wasn’t a quitter. People called me a super mum so I must be. I was so wrong.

During this three month period I had a lot of heavy personal ‘stuff’ going on. Stuff that is beyond my control but weighed heavily. So I completely ignored by burn out and tried to pick myself up and go back to work.

You’d think I’d scale back my commitments but it’s seems I’m not that smart, I did the opposite. During this time I was accepted to sit as an advocate for NSW Health (Pain Management Committee). In my first meeting I was nominated to sit on the Executive Board, I accepted. I then decided to enrol in a full time load at uni and change my degree to a double degree……. yes I know…… I’m crazy!!

All the while this thing called burn out plagued me. I lost my fitness as the mere effort to get to the gym let alone complete a basic workout became too much. With the loss of my fitness came my pain again. Chronic pain needs a fine balance. It does not take to stress lightly. I began getting debilitating migraines and my pain was so severe I had a period where I barely slept over a period of two weeks.

I disliked the person I had become with so much ferocity that I knew I was overdue for intervention. My sister told me that I could keep whinging about it and stay where I was or I could address the issues and move on. It was obvious and finally I listened.

I’ve recently made some very big changes to my life in order to bring back my joy.

I was able to swim everyday this week and try and regain control over my pain. My fatigue and anxiety will take much longer to realign but it’s a start in the right direction. I know I will eventually and slowly ease my way back into my social circle but I’m guarded; of judgement and I-told-you-so!

I am a person who functions at full throttle most of the time and when the wheels start to fall off I hit the turbo button to enable me to decompress from all the emotional noise happening in my life. It’s just what I do. This time though, I was unprepared for the baggage I was carrying heavily from my surroundings.

I am now aware of two other women who I admire deeply in our community who are both recovering from burn out. It was only when I spoke to them both that I had the insight to accept my reality. I wrote this blog today not for me (although writing it lessens my burden). I don’t need sympathy or empathy or a pat on the back, what I want is for society to acknowledge that there are a lot of us out there experiencing burn out. It’s real!

As society has evolved it forgot to realise that women cannot do it all. We bloody try!!! But we cannot. It is impossible to sustain a life juggling child rearing, marriage, work, study, social, home making and all the other stuff we just do. It is absolutely bloody okay to ask for help, to pay for help or cry for help.

We now have a nanny. She looks after my children after school, she cleans, she washes up those really awful bento lunch boxes every afternoon, she folds and irons my washing, she cooks dinner, she ensures my children are showered and ready for bed so I get to spend time with them, she’s awesome and I need her.

This is the power of stepping away, of taking action. Don’t pretend to be superhuman my darlings, because it’s not real. Accept who you are, do not compare yourself to anyone or anything and love that version of you fiercely.

8 Years on; The Flowers

Day 7: Memory

As I take some today to sit quietly and remember the lead up to the night that our hearts were broken forever, the pit in my stomach churns.

I relive the days in November 2011 every year from early in the month when it all started to go wrong. When the universe took control of the two tiny humans growing within me and set our fate. I never really had control and none of us actually do but we hope that the decisions we made in the lead up to these tragic events are the right ones. I gave up feeling guilty many years ago when I learnt that nothing I did or didn’t do would’ve saved my daughter. Letting go of that guilt was hard, harder than you’d imagine. As a mother it’s our instinct to protect our babies even when at times life doesn’t enable us to.

Eight years ago yesterday we brought two tiny little girls into the world. Much too soon but nonetheless with as much excitement as any other delivery. The elation at being parents to identical twin girls was like feeling your heart explode out of your chest with all the happiness you have in your body.

It’s all the hopes and dreams for those little girls that will never be, which is equally a loss we all carry. There is no single day that I don’t honestly look at Lucia and imagine Charlize right beside her holding her hand. It’s the days when she sits in the playground all alone waiting for her friends that breaks my heart the most because how can I not think “She should have her forever friend by her side.”

Eight years ago tonight at 10.55pm we lost our daughter. I recall every tiny detail of that day. All the things I should’ve done, all the things I wish I’d done and everything in between.

When you birth a baby your surroundings nearly instantly become a florist. You are inundated with flowers like you wouldn’t believe. Our first bouquet of flowers arrived on Wednesday 16th November 2011. We had woken up exhausted with grief and with little strength to realise our nightmare was no dream but our new reality. It was perfectly beautiful and there was no other like it. The card said “Congratulations on the arrival of your twin daughters Charlize and Lucia.”  Every single other bouquet that arrived used the words “sorry for your loss”. The congratulations were no longer and the condolences came in abundance.

Today, our home is filled with flowers. It was the first year since we lost Charlize that due to the drought conditions we could not get Lisianthus. My girls were worried it would upset me. It didn’t. The lisianthus will return again and today marks a new milestone in our grief journey of new flowers. Our home is filled with beautiful flowers and our lives have been filled with deep kindness and love from all around us. The love has filtered in far and wide and every year on this terribly hard day I take a moment and tell Charlize that this is because of her.

Darling girl, you have touched lives of strangers, of friends, of family all around us. You have made our lives richer from learning the harsh realities of grief but more importantly you’ve taught us healing and strength. To live a life of sadness is to not be living in my eyes. I live my life at full speed. I want to learn all the things. I want to try all the things. I want to absorb joy. I want to live a full life so your brother and sisters will live a full life and so that they will too be surrounded by kindness and love. I do it all for you Charlize and for Lucia and for Indiana and for Orlando.

Where there is joy, there is love.

Where there is love, there is warmth.

Where there is warmth, there is kindness.

Where there is mother nature, there are butterflies.

Where there are butterflies, you will be.

Fly free today my darling, for every part of you is entwined deep within my heart.

I love you, I love you, I love you. Happy 8th Birthday my sweet angel.

Love Mummy xx

The aftermath of rump steak

Okay so I’m pretty sure my day was worse than yours. I’ve learnt a few things recently and I’m going to share them with you.

Late last year we decided to do an extension on our house by converting our huge garage to a kids lounge area, two bedrooms, an office and a laundry/mudroom. The builder gave us two days notice before his arrival so in our haste we dumped every single thing in that garage into our triple bay shed. There was no order, we just dumped crap anywhere we found space. Our shed is like a really bad obstacle course. We talked about cleaning it out but it’s so bloody hot in summer we are waiting for cooler weather. Anyway, this random act played in our favour last night.

After feeding rump steak to our dog Caramello and our kitten Pickles, I later let them both inside. Pickles sleeps in the laundry because he’s a kitten and he’s a little bit annoyingly playful.

Caramello used to sleep on the end of my bed. Last night I got into bed and she was sprawled our at the end of my bed when she farted. It was seriously rotten. I considered booting her outside but couldn’t be bothered getting up again.

I fell asleep and woke when the sun came up. She was gone from the end of my bed and was on the carpet. She never does this. I put her outside and wandered into the girls rooms to be startled by a rather horrendous smell.

Dog shit! Not any dog shit but sloppy dog shit. All over the carpet in two bedrooms and she had kindly stepped in it and walked it on just about every tile in our house. As an afterthought she needed to clean her bum so she then slid her bum on my bedroom carpet. Her skid marks are clearly marked on my beige carpet.

After realising I had no rubber gloves I put a plastic bag on my hand to get the vomit worthy task done.

The kids were nearly vomiting!! Imagine how I was feeling!!!

After two hours of bleach, detol and any thing I could find to get rid of the smell the kids were ready for school.

We all jump in the car which was parked beside the shed. I put the car in reverse and I see it. Our shed doors were open and I knew that we had been broken into in an instant.

I jumped out of the car and I screamed ‘Fuck’ rather loudly before keeling over into hysteric laughter. My children looked on with concern that finally their mother had lost the plot.

Although the thieving criminals had damaged every single shed door by trying to get in, they only seemed to get away with a couple of push bikes. I laughed harder when I realised in the dark of night our shed would’ve been an obstacle course from hell. Our chaos worked to our benefit this time.

I got the kids to school and sat down for a coffee as I called carpet cleaners. When I was told two weeks wait I did what any normal person would do, I cried. The man arranged for my carpets to be cleaned at 11am today.

As I sit in my nice clean house tonight with the dog outside looking at me with sad eyes (and I looking back without an absolute ounce of guilt) and busted locks on my shed doors, my front gate now locked with chains and padlocks to deter the criminals, I know that feeding my dog rump steak was clearly my weakest moment.

Happy Wednesday Friends and thanks for the overflowing love you rained on me since I posted last night. Xxx

The 100th Day

I felt a bit of pressure when I woke today because it’s the 100th Happy day! My son insisted we take some ‘interesting’ photos because it’s such a special day. So he followed me around and we giggled as I posed. If you were driving past I hope you had a laugh.

To be honest, when I started this project I wasn’t entirely certain I’d finish it. Now all I’ve heard from people is can I please keep going. I still haven’t decided!!

After my ‘Fuck It’ Day yesterday I decided to look back and see what has happened in the past 100 days and how many of them have actually been ‘happy’. I’m impressed! It seems I only had three pretty shitty days and two of them were sadness for the loss other people have endured.

I’m going to share a message I received this week from a friend of mine. I’m sharing it, not so you can agree and tell me how amazing I am (because let’s be honest, I already know this). I’m sharing because this message hasn’t left me.

Your kindness and compassion, and courage continually astounds and inspires me. You carry a grief that will never leave but you are so able to see happiness in everything,

and be there completely for others. Just incredible.

You see, continually through our lives if we listen and slow down we can learn more about ourselves. I don’t see myself as courageous and I doubt I ever will. I see myself like you and the next person. I’m just me, taking it one day at a time and winging it.

I have suffered a loss. A deep, gaping pain in my body that sometimes doesn’t make me feel whole. I will always search for her; in the sunshine, in the rain, the butterflies and in my imagination. I imagine her often skipping alongside her sisters and brother. Our fourth wheel. I sometimes watch Lucia’s every movement and wonder if she would move the same as her. I will always search for her because she should be right here with us and it’s not fair that she isn’t.

My friend is right though, and I guess it’s something I just do without thinking. I do try to find the happiness in everything. The 100 Happy Days proved that to me in abundance. What use am I as a mother, sister, daughter, friend if I’m wallowing in my sadness. Sadness and grief is exhausting. It is dark. It is deep. It is all consuming. It isn’t living for me. (This is purely my opinion from my own experience and not a judgement of anyone else).

When something shit happens, I’m a talker. You will hear about it so I have shared the burden. It reduces that dark heaviness from my soul. It helps me to see there is always light and there is always happiness and that’s what living is about. I also feel as a society on social media we only share the amazing. If we share more of the ‘Fuck It’ days people won’t feel such a pressure to be a ‘perfect’ person. Because let’s be honest, that’s not real.

We are here only once. We don’t know at what point our light will go out and I want to enjoy every single moment. I want my children to remember even on the toughest of days, in the face of our deepest sadness we grew, we learnt and we could smile. I want my children to know the most important part of life is people. It’s family and it’s friend and it’s time. We are juggling a series of glass and plastic balls. We want to know which ones we can’t drop and which ones will bounce.

As I looked around today, I saw and felt those things that make me the happiest. I love walking barefoot around our yard to connect with nature. I love to sit quietly on my own somewhere on our property and listen and look at the beauty of nature. It makes you appreciate it more. It makes you connect. I watched a flock of birds fly in formation. I saw our resident Heron make his way into our pool area (probably to shit all over it again since we just cleaned it). I watched the naughty triplet goats try and escape from their own. I could breathe in the scent of my neighbours fire, the gum leaves, the freshness of the country.

My children, my husband, my family, my dear supportive circle of friends, my village, my yoga, my cooking, my garden, my home. All of these things, they have my heart. They make me happy.

Fuck It!

Some days should start with a warning. Our alarms should go off and they should say “Be warned today is a Shit Magnet type of Day”.

I woke up this morning with a little persons elbow wedged into the mid section of my back and another little persons whole head on top of my face. I was wedged in the middle of MY bed. I squinted into the daylight starting to edge it’s way into my window and thought I’d rest my eyes a little longer in an effort to hopefully not wake the girls.

When I opened my eyes again it was to my son yelling “Mum, oh my god aren’t you going to get up, we are going to miss the bus”.

I clearly rested my eyes a little too long.

I jumped up as my son picked up our very unwell dog to put her outside to do a wee. As I wandered into the kitchen to put the kettle on I heard the girls screaming and hitting eachother and my son yelling “MUMMMMMM, ALL OF THE GOATS ARE OUT”.

At that moment I knew today was going to be a shit fight.

The only way to lure Mummy goat and her triplet kids back into their pen was with food. I grabbed a feed bucket and made my way slowly towards the goat pen to find every single bloody animal on our property had got out and were feasting on numerous parts of my gardens. There were four goats nibbling on my vegetable garden, nine ducks burying their dirty faces into the ground making holes every where and thirty chickens just making a big bloody mess.

I got to the pen with the entire farm yard following in a line behind me, eager to eat clearly. It would’ve been funny and a picture moment if it wasn’t my actual life at 7.15am in the morning. I found the reason for the escapees, the latch I’ve been asking my darling husband to fix had actually snapped off. After securing the gate with some straps I walked leisurely down the hill to the sound of banshees in my house.

“She took my slinky”. Dude, you don’t even like the bloody slinky who gives a shit.

“He just pulled the arm off my doll”. Honey, that doll looked freaky the day you got it. The arm adds to her crazy face.

“I want some Milkies”. Shit. Seriously is this even my life.

Please note these were responses in my head, rather than to my beautiful children. My youngest daughter has recently repeatedly asked me if I’d benefit from some meditation because Mrs T suggests meditation when we are frustrated at school. Oh honey, Mrs T is a genius but there’s not enough meditation in the world to help with my frustration when your sister punches your brother in the head after he’s repeatedly poked her for fifteen minutes straight. It takes all the maturity I can muster for me not to high five your sister. Instead I have to think of “consequences”.

After definitely, without a doubt, missing the bus (which I really wanted them to catch so I wouldn’t have to rush to my appointment), I drove them to school. I decided I’d be happy to be a bit late to my appointment because I needed coffee.

I managed somehow to get to my physiotherapy appointment on time. I love my physio. She’s such a lovely lady but the torture she inflicts on me often brings a tear to my eye. I grit my teeth as she continually tells me this is good pain. My torture session finished today and I made my way back into town to have coffee with a friend. It was so nice to sit still for a whole 45 mins and breathe.

I say goodbye to my friends and get in the car to drive 12 minutes in the opposite direction to another appointment. My phone does this thing when I’m driving where it won’t ring or send me messages so I’m not distracted. It waits until I’m out of the car and then it continually distracts me.

I arrived at my new appointment and sit down and my phone beeps at the same time I’m called in. I politely sit down and just quickly check my messages. SEVEN missed calls on my phone in 12 minutes. The message starts and of course it’s on speaker and it’s our school principal notifying me to call the school as not one but two of my children are in sick bay.

I couldn’t hold it in, I said it aloud “Fuck”.

Lucky this was my psychologist appointment and by this stage she was trying terribly hard not to laugh. After I told the school to tell my son with a sore knee to suck it up and go back to class and if it was really that sore I’d be there in an hour.

The first words she says to me is “So, life hasn’t settled down for you then”.

I sat and looked at her for about a minute and laughed, then I cried. Then I swore a few times and then I don’t know how she does it but she made me feel normal. Seriously, I want to be one of those parents who has never heard of a paediatrician. I want to be a parent whose kids have never had a sick day this year. I get excited if all three kids do a whole five days and I’m not called to the school. I’d rather be called to the school to hear one of them did something naughty…actually no I wouldn’t.

But, I’m not that parent. I had shitty pregnancies and delivered premature babies and with premature babies comes health complications and in our case grief. Grief comes with prematurity, not always, but in our case it does. Throw in a big car accident and shit gets even worse. PTSD also comes with prematurity and with a big shitty car accident and I’m not afraid to say I have it, nor I am ashamed to talk about it. If we all talk about these things a bit more it makes them less scary and a more normalised part of trauma that we can share with eachother and help eachother. Not that I need to justify my reasons for seeing a psychologist, but this is one of them. Without seeing this amazing woman I wouldn’t be the mum, wife or friend I try to be each and every day. I wouldn’t have the energy to advocate for my children, I wouldn’t have the fire and determination to find solutions to their problems. I would fall into a heap and I would be no use to anyone.

Last week my eight year old had a seizure at school and went blue again. This week, twice already, my six year old has been sent home with such chronic pain and fatigue that she can hardly walk. Today, my 11 year old who I told to suck it up, well that poor kid has somehow managed to hurt his patellar and can’t walk real well. This is my life. It’s a comedy show really because if I’m not laughing at the ridiculous nature of it all, well, I think I’d be an alcoholic! Lucky I don’t really drink ….just sometimes, coffee is my favourite.

So, as I sit here with my steaming cup of tea and my chocolate tart I look around and smile.

Today was a shit of a day. But I still managed to julienne my carrots and cucumber, prepare the rice and marinade the chicken, ready to roll sushi with those little humans I created, with that guy that I love, who lives here sometimes.

Until tomorrow x

Her first ‘Medallion Day’

Strap in, this is going to be a long one.

When the twins were born and we subsequently lost Charlize, I made a conscious effort not to look towards the future. Sounds hard doesn’t it?  I was protecting myself. I was terrified to build a connection with this tiny, fragile human who relied on me every minute of every day to make the right decisions for her. To keep her alive. The fact is, you have to connect.

When she wrapped her entire tiny hand around my little finger, my whole body tingled from her touch. When she opened one of her eyes for the first time and gazed at me, her soul bore into mine. When she squealed like a kitten because she was in pain, because she was scared, because she was alone, because she missed her twin, my heart broke. Our connection was vital to her survival and mine.

But still I tried not to look forward to when she would crawl, walk, go to preschool, go to school, because what if she never did those things. My heart hurt. So instead, I embraced each day slowly and one at a time, a total blessing. Slowly she reached her milestones and we celebrated them loudly because at times it was a miracle she did them.

One day, all of the sudden, I was dressing her in a school uniform and sending her into the arms of the most nurturing teacher for five whole days a week.

Today, six months after starting school I sat next to my husband in the school hall. Both of us excited for Lucia. Both of us unbelievably happy that we all made it here, smiling, healthy, happy and full of love.

Lucia received her first medallion for ‘Positive Behaviour for Learning’. When they called her name her little face lit up (even if they did pronounce it wrong). As I shakily pinned her medallion on her collar her teacher said to me “Savour this moment”. I replied “Oh, I am” and I really did.

I didn’t cry because there was nothing to be sad about. Even when I was sat back down and stared into her beaming little face standing up on stage and my mind flashed to the months she spent in hospital, to how very unwell she was, to those moments when we really didn’t think she’d survive, to those moments of utter triumph when she learnt how to breathe on her own, when we finally took her home and as we watched this little flower of ours bloom into the most amazing little girl.

Dearest Lucia, today is a defining moment in your life, a day when you realise your kind natured personality, your beautiful manners, your curious mind and your infectious warmth all come together to reiterate how very amazing you are. I know that you are only one of many who received an award today but, no one has travelled your path. Your life journey started out a tumultuous road and the road ahead is now a smooth one.

You my darling, are a fire cracker. Keep being YOU. Always remember where you started and how far you’ve come and how much we love you and that you can do anything you put your mind to (as you’ve already shown us a million times before).

We love you more than anyone in this world. We love you so much and so hard that sometimes it hurts. When I look at you and my eyes fill with tears, I am not sad, I am overwhelmed with emotion at who you are.

You are the final branch on our family tree and we are so proud of you.

Keep smiling beautiful girl and enjoy “Medallion Day”.

Day 33: 100 Happy Days Project

On New Years Eve every year I write myself a list. A list of things we want to do as a family, a list of things we need or want to do to our home and a list of things just for me. It’s a type of goal setting I guess.

This year I decided I wanted to try as many new things as I could but they had to be meaningful and they had to bring me joy.

Earlier in the year I went to a workshop on working with clay. I found it so soothing, creating such an element of slowness that I organised a private lesson for the children and I. It was even more than I expected. It was total bliss and I loved how all my creations turned out.

A few months later I learnt macrame. I was delighted that I created a beautiful pot hanger. It reminded me a lot of crocheting but without the hook. I loved the result.

Today I did a crochet workshop. I know how to crochet because my Mum taught me and then Nanna taught me to correct my errors along the way. I made a beautiful bag today. Sitting quietly sipping tea, eating cheese and crackers and relaxing in the warmth of the sunshine for three hours with a crochet hook in my hand was bliss.

I didn’t realise when I gave myself this goal for the year how happy it would make me and how special some of the connections I’m making with other local women have become.

The art of working with our hands gives us a specific purpose. An end goal. But it gives us connections with other creatives, other humans who encourage each other along, who talk about life’s journey and give each other advice for that journey. To sit and create, to eat, to drink, to talk, to be silent, to watch, to listen, to smile, to laugh and to be happy.

This is exactly how life is supposed to be.

Day 32/100 Happy Days

I feel like I should elaborate slightly on my Happy Days project on my blog a little more…..

In all the ‘glow’ that’s apparently radiating from me, although I’ve felt calm, Happy and relaxed, I have felt unbelievably fatigued.

Our bodies are just like plants. We need food, water, sunshine, rain, nurture and love to thrive and sometimes we even need fertiliser.

After making so many changes I was surprised my fatigue wasn’t lifting. It felt heavy and a little disturbing at times. I knew I’d need to get up out of bed but I lacked any sort of energy to move. I’d have eight solid hours sleep and wake up feeling like I’d not even slept.

I suspected something was amiss. After seventeen years of not having a thyroid I knew my signs pretty well but if my levels were too low I’d get very specific symptoms but that hadn’t happened.

Turns out my thyroid indicators were severely amiss. My fertiliser needed some serious topping up.

Last night I had the worst sleep I’ve had in ages, totalling around 4.5 hours and somehow I woke up wide eyed and full of energy. The fertiliser was seeping deep into my metabolism literally filling my depleted bucket. Yah!

What a perfect way to start my 32nd Happy day.

It was freezing when I finally emerged from the cocoon of my warm bed. I slipped on my unicorn slippers and pressed that magic button which turned our house from six degrees to twenty degrees.

I boiled the kettle and sat on the lounge listening to nature awakening. I made a cup of tea and poked my head outside into the freezing cold and perched on my bench and watched the sun rise over the top of my autumn trees. I sipped my tea and warmed my hands. Big Red started his crowing and Olaf happily joined in. I felt so immensely grateful to be awake enjoying the peace and delight of a new day.

After school drop off was complete I was lucky enough to spend the morning at yoga with two beautiful friends. We stretched and breathed our way through a routine that will make us all hurt in places tomorrow we never dreamt of.

I had lunch with my dear friend Donna. We ventured into Bangalow and explored as many coffee and food stops as possible. This woman came into my life last year and we bonded. That sounds like such a wank doesn’t it? But seriously it’s like we’ve known each other our whole lives. We could talk the whole day long and not be tired of each other and we laugh. We laugh so much. Donna makes my heart warm. I get excited when I know I get to spend time with her. Our friendship is relaxed and easy. Nothing is a trouble and my children are head over heels in love with her. In fact, Indiana has been known to lose her mind if I’ve promised a visit to Donna’s and we change plans. Actually, Donna got quite upset when our boys were put on different tennis teams this term. She wasn’t upset for them, she was upset for us. The coach found this highly amusing.

After a fabulous day with Donna I got home to see our poor goat Mint, was still pregnant. I walked into her pen and she didn’t even bother getting up. The effort is too much for her now. We are certain she has twins in there but I worry there could be triplets. I found a spot in the hay next to her and stroked her chin and her belly. The kids were wriggling around under the warmth of my hand. I told Mint that I understood. I too know the effort to carry two babies. I too know the fatigue. I told her that today is the first of June and she was actually due in May. I sensed a slight irritation when I mentioned that. I’m pretty certain if she could talk she would’ve said ‘Seriously woman, my udder is the size of a bucket, these babies are sapping all my goodness, my teats are now hanging down to my knees, my back is aching so much I can hardly get up and my vagina is now hanging outside of my body in a rather unfashionable way. Don’t you think I want these kids out yesterday.’ I figured if I gave her a brush down, some fresh water and a biscuit of hay she would like me a little more.

I noticed our mother hen and her five chicks being stalked by our dog. The hen would herd her babes under a bush and then run at the dog and peck her in the face. I couldn’t help but laugh. The dog decided basking in the sun would be more pleasurable.

I found my afternoon spot on the lounge in the sun and pulled out my knitting.

Soon my cherubs will be home and the house will be full of chatter and food as we settle in for our Friday Night Roast and Movie Night.

What isn’t there to be happy about?

Xx

Why didn’t I do this sooner?

Last month when I was told to make some drastic changes to slow down I dug in my heels. I struggled to make those final decisions to pause everything I needed to be doing and just stop.

It took nearly two weeks before I finally relented under a whole lot of pressure.

I woke up one morning and looked in the mirror and was frightened by what I saw. My face was drawn and my eyes were dull with huge dark gaping circles around them. My ribs were too visible and I know everything about me screamed ‘run down’.

Then the physical symptoms got worse. I wasn’t sleeping, I was irritable, agitated, had a persistent pain in my chest (the pneumonia probably didn’t help) and my hands shook all of the time.

It turns out I was, okay I AM, suffering from PTSD. I laughed when they told me that. They told me I had an irregular heart rhythm and an eptopic heart beat and it was triggered by stress and anxiety. I laughed again.

I laughed because I realised what they were saying was real and if I didn’t laugh I might cry for a whole week. Everything had become difficult. Mothering, making lunches, eating, sleeping, conversing, having a shower. I was sapped dry. The accident had taken its toll on my body and soul.

It has been a month since I’ve become a ‘Lady of Leisure’. Apparently it suits me. That’s what people are telling me anyway.

Today I noticed my eyes are no longer dull and those circles are barely visible. I have energy again and I find joy in everything, okay maybe not everything but most things. My hands don’t shake so much and I’m learning to breathe.

A few weeks ago I had a massive panic attack whilst driving on the M1. Not an ideal situation but I was aware enough to see the signs. I initially struggled to see the trigger until I looked in my rear vision mirror and noticed a rather large truck travelling behind me.

I was strong enough not to fall apart. I talked myself through it knowing I was in control and we were all safe and very close to exiting the freeway. A month ago I would’ve coped very differently. I wouldn’t have coped. I would’ve been distraught and it would’ve taken days to recover.

Today I walked up to my vegetable garden and sat and watched everything around me. The excitement that surged inside me when I saw a ladybird was quite funny. Finally they are back to eat the bugs who torture my sweet potato leaves. I noticed the Gladioli bulbs have just started emerging from the dirt so the bees should come visiting soon too.

I watched two of our hens fly and climb higher and higher in our pine tree until you could no longer see them. I watched our new goats introduce themselves to our darling Daisy Goat. Basil the Buck got a little to upfront and personal with her and I saw parts of Basil I wish I hadn’t. Then they all found a big pile of weeds and started chewing them to the ground. How lovely.

I noticed the red and brown onions I had planted as seeds last month have finally poked their little heads through the ground. This is my third attempt at onions so I’m pretty happy.

As I sat and watched and pottered in my garden I knew that I should’ve listened to my body better. My body loves this. It loves to be still. To see, to hear, to touch and absorb all. Our bodies don’t thrive in chaos, it’s too much for them.

I initially thought I would hate being without a job or study full time. I was so wrong. I wish I had done this sooner. I feel so lucky to be here every afternoon when my cherubs get off the bus and have afternoon tea all set up for them.

To be ready to give and receive those warm hugs. To be ready to have their excitement or sadness of the day listened to. To have a calm afternoon transition into a calm bedtime because I’m no longer in a rush.

I feel so lucky (and happy).

Why didn’t I do this sooner?

All because of her

2nd May 2018, 9.13am. 6 years and nearly six months since she died.

I sat on the lounge closest to the back door so my body was drenched in sunlight. I had decided to wear something comfortable; my gray loose fitting pants, a singlet top and a nice soft loose jumper. I had my cup of tea sitting on the coffee table beside me and a glass of water. I made sure I’d eaten a big bowl of porridge beforehand so I didn’t need to stop to eat. The box of tissues were ready beside me. I had my phone on silent and turned on the answering machine on the home phone. I wasn’t going to be disturbed until I had done this.

At 7.55am this morning, I had opened the front door to walk the children to the bus stop and there was a package sitting against the door. I looked at the sender and my heart broke.

I stood at the bus stop with the children like it was any other day. But it wasn’t. I kissed them and cuddled them a little too hard as I put them on the bus. I watched the bus drive off much longer than I needed to. I was dreading picking up that package. I knew the minute I opened it life would stand still and it would take me back to a place in such detail that I was frightened to go there.

I stalled. I fed all the animals, slowly. Talking to them and petting them longer than normal. I sat with our goat Mint who is heavily pregnant with twins. I told her that I understood what it feels like to grow two babies. To be so tired and emotional you struggle to draw breath. I gave her belly a rub and was delighted to see the twins wriggling around inside of her.

I ventured up to my vegetable garden. A place of peace and calm for me. I sat on my bench seat and admired the wonder in front of me. I pondered what the next few hours were going to be like for me. I watered my garden gently and lovingly and realised I had grit my teeth so hard my jaw was aching. It was time.

I stood under a hot shower and then dressed in my comfortable clothes. I knew I’d be sitting on that lounge for a while and wouldn’t want to move until I was done.

The packaging was easy to open and the reams of paper were organised in to perfect bundles with cover pages identifying my name, Lucia’s name and Charlize’s name.

Seeing her name in print “Charlize Ersilia Stephens” made me smile. I said it aloud as I stroked my finger over the words.

I read in great detail the events that took place from the moment I entered the hospital at 8 weeks and 2 days pregnant, right up until after Lucia was finally discharged from hospital three months after the girls were born.

I was admitted to hospital on Thursday 10th November 2011. The twins were born on Monday 14th November 2011.

Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS) was diagnosed as Stage one on the Thursday. On the Monday it was stage three. It was a race against time to get our girls out of my belly and detach them from the placenta which should’ve been nourishing their little bodies. Instead that placenta was plagued with TTTS. It was killing them.

The pathology results that came back on my placenta show certainty of the severity which was TTTS. In fact, it details the disproportion of blood vessels which is so extreme it is a wonder that Lucia survived those last few days in-utero. Her little heart was under so much pressure it was noted that my cesarean was due to a catastrophic event. She was already in heart failure.

During those days that the TTTS rapidly moved from Stage one to Stage three our girls were subjected to absolute terror and torment inside my belly. Charlize’s blood pressure dropped dangerously low then escalated dangerously high. Her entire body was under extreme stress. When she was born she was floppy, she was severely anaemic and she was critically unwell.

I read Charlize’s medical file with my heart in my throat the entire time. Hoping beyond hope that the outcome would look different. That I’d realise this was a terrible nightmare that I’d finally wake up from. Tears streamed down my face and my eyes blurred as I shoved them out of the way so I could keep reading. These are all things I didn’t know. I didn’t know how sick she was from the moment she was born. I didn’t know her organs were already affected by the TTTS and may never recover. I read the medical jargon that described those last hours where I was standing beside her willing her to fight until I realised she had been fighting for so much longer than a few hours.

As I read it was like a slow motion movie played inside my head and my heart ached. I remembered the sounds of all the machines pushing oxygen into her lungs, watching her chest rise and fall in sync with the machines. I remembered the hushed voices of the staff as they tried every single thing they could to change this. I read those words and I remembered hearing them like it wasn’t real. “I have explained to Saxon and Christine that Charlize is dying.”

Those words…

Charlize is dying.

Removing life support.

A priest is coming in to baptise her.

Would you like to hold her?

Seeing it in the doctors handwriting makes it real. I know it’s real though because it happened to me. To us. To her. Buy why?

I have asked this question for six and a half long years.

Six months after she died a psychologist I was “encouraged” to see told me there was discussion about a contaminated blood transfusion which caused her death. For six years I have harbored a deep sadness that those people who cared so lovingly for my daughters may have been at fault. This was never the case. The relief I feel knowing solidly that this is untrue is like a giant weight has been lifted from me. My shoulders feel lighter, the burden has gone and my heart doesn’t hurt so much.

The final notes in Charlize’s file are written with emotion and love. Charlize died of invasive sepsis. Somehow in her 32 hours of life the medical paraphernalia that was used to save her life, caused an infection and took her life. Her tiny body, only weighing 749 grams, had no immune system to fight it. The infection was too strong for her because she had been fighting to survive for a long time. Our darling girl was tired. Because she fought so hard to survive it most likely saved Lucia’s life. It may surprise many to see me write that I believe divine intervention enabled Charlize to become an angel. The best place for my daughter is in my arms as a healthy and vivacious little person. Had she survived her life would not have been that. Her injuries and illness were complex.

I removed my glasses and wiped the tears from the lenses. I got up off the lounge and I sank to my knees. With the sun warming my face I sobbed. Deep, heart wrenching the sobs. Sobs that I’ve kept in my heart for six years. I cried for losing her. For blaming myself. For blaming the hospital. I cried because of the anger I’ve held for so long. I cried for the psychologist who made insinuations to a fragile, grief stricken mother that caused years of guilt. An emotion that’s plagued me with such ferocity. I thought for years the sepsis came from me. I cried so I could forgive myself. I cried because I was so exhausted from crying. I cried all the stages of grief all over again.

I forced myself to get up off the floor. At least to stop the dog licking the heartbreak from all over my face. I boiled the kettle, washed my face, made a cup of tea and sat down to read Lucia’s file.

Instead of the devastation that was Charlize’s story, Lucia’s file reads of a determined and feisty baby girl with an immense desire to survive. I smiled and laughed as I read Lucia’s file. The nurses made notes continually in her file like this: Baby girl, pink in colour, settled, calm. Cranky when handled. Active when touched.

When Lucia was described as pink, Charlize was described as pale. Pink is life. Pale is not.

When Lucia was described as active when touched and cranky when handled, Charlize was described as floppy, non-responsive to touch. Active is life. Non-responsive is not.

I spent the next few hours reading through the file of the pink, active, cranky little girl whose personality blossomed in the three months she spent in Intensive care. I read and I remembered her intense determination to breathe on her own, often even pulling her oxygen off her face or her IV out of her arm or leg. She was ferocious and her will to survive was obvious.

The sun began to hide behind the clouds and the lounge room grew dark and cool. My body felt lighter. My mind felt clearer and my heart a little less broken.

I will never get over losing her. I will always look at Lucia and wish that Charlize was physically beside her but now I know her story better I feel honoured that we got 32 hours with her. We were blessed to get that. She fought long and hard to be born live and for that I’m forever grateful.

In losing her, we have discovered so much more. Grief does something to you on a deeper level that is indescribable but it stretches you. It encourages you from the cocoon you were existing, to a life you never imagined.

In losing her, we left the city and found the country. We have a connection with the land we never knew existed. The land that gives me great pleasure and calm in placing my hands in it and watching it grow and thrive.

In losing her, we have a connection to a community. We didn’t even know what community was until we found the country and what a blessing it is. This community, the one who never walked beside us when we lost her, have embraced us so deeply that we feel cocooned by their love, support and friendship. They are our family, because of her.

In losing her we live a richer life. We see things clearer and we hear things better. We love abundantly.

All because of her.