I love the water! The picture above shows my favourite place to immerse myself. Its the Ocean Baths in Newcastle on a particularly stormy day. Actually on this day the baths were closed.
I learned to swim there. My older siblings, already well able to swim, belonged to Newcastle swimming club and would compete each weekend while I was instructed in the art of swimming.My Dad, a wonderful photographer, took a picture of my graduation to floating on my back! It was on a slide and shows a curly haired about 4 year old me in my “bubble” red and blue swimmer, eyes clenched, mouth shut as if my jaw was wired,little stubby arms out, chubby body stretched, achieving what had, until that moment been impossible! I remember feeling such a grown up girl being able to achieve such a tremendous level of aqua competency!
I love the bracing chill of the water,even on the coldest days and the feeling of complete freedom as all my bits are able to move without interruption for as long as I want them to. Gravity weighs me down on land. I love the water!
Recently I have been a regular participant in aqua therapy courtesy of my dodgy knees. Sadly I can only stay in the water for 30 minutes, the water being heated, to avoid keeling over! But I have come to love that too , the water, not the prospect of keeling over and it softens me up for the necessary agony of the exercise and physiotherapy that follows ,all in the hope of being well and truly ready and able for my first knee replacement in April. Another story!
This week, a friend from my in patient two weeks was at my session. She is a gentle, softly spoken woman who dislocated her shoulder in a fall. Her name is Rosemary. She was talking to the supervisor and I could not help hearing the conversation. She was weeping while speaking and the supervisor was so very attentive to her. I was drawn into her story because of my own.
Her granddaughter, “I was present at her birth. Her Mother invited me to be there, it was just amazing”, was at that moment, “Its happening now” giving birth to her first child, Rosemary’s first great grandchild. Tragically the little boy had died in utero.
Familiar words came out of the mouths of both the women “you would wonder how that could happen these days” and “my daughter is pregnant with her first child, I will have to ring her up when I finish here” from the supervisor. “I don’t know what to say, I am so sad.” I could not help it and I went up to Rosemary and apologised for interrupting and said to her “it happened to me four times and then we got our beautiful Joseph”and we hugged each other in the pool.
What could be a source of hope for Rosemary, her daughter and her grand daughter is how much things have changed and how much the loss is recognised as a real and life long ache, never to be dismissed by well intentioned (but so ignorant) words like “it’s nature’s way of taking care of its own” or “you are young, you can have another one”or even “I baptised you baby”. Those last words were said to me in 1980 by a woman I had known all my life, a devout, good Catholic woman who was the midwife at the birth of my first unknown stillborn daughter (27 weeks gestation) . I am sure she truly believed they would bring me comfort, and to this day I respect her faith, but it was the first time in my adult life that I realised that the “Institution” was not capable of compassion! That thought was reinforced when,the equally well intentioned, equally good Parish Priest comforted me outside the first Sunday Mass I went to after getting out of hospital and said “You, know Louise, you are lucky your baby didn’t get to 28 weeks because you would have had to have a funeral then. At least you were spared that!”
I found out six weeks later that I had given birth to a daughter and over the next couple of years I gave birth to three more greatly loved and longed for daughters. At the time of the anticipated birth of the last one, I was greeted in the labor ward by a spiffing looking young fellow who was a medical student.He came to ask me if I would mind if he was present during my labor and the birth “I have to witness a birth” he chirped! “Well you won’t be watching this one!” I was able to reply. Maybe he should have – maybe I could have said yes. It would certainly have given him a different perspective on the whole thing! The next day, returned to the post natal ward, surrounded by mothers feeding their babies at regular intervals, a woman with a clip board appeared at the end of my bed. “Good morning Mrs. Roach. I am from the nursing mothers association and I am wondering if you intend to breast feed your baby?” I was in a state of shock. “Um, my baby died” I managed to get out, at which point her clip board went limp, as did her shoulders, her entire body and she burst into tears at the foot of the bed! It would never happen now – I HOPE!
It was that “Last One” that healed me really. I had been given no information about any of the babies except that they were girls and no reason could be found for their deaths in utero. I was waiting for labor to begin and I asked the midwife (no doctor was present for any of the births – just afterwards) if she thought I might be able to see the baby. She had a lovely conversation with me and assured me that if the doctor thought it was alright for me to do that, if there were no serious abnormalities or disfigurations, she was sure it would be ok. And so it happened.
The doctor arrived, after she was born. “I understand you would like to see your baby” he said and he went over to where she had been placed. “I think it will be a good thing” he said and he brought her over to me. My one regret is that I did not hold her but the dignity with which he held her remains with me today (30 years plus later) and I have never forgotten his words. He said “Louise, this baby is as much your child as any of your children at home. She had the same potential, the same capacity to love and be loved as any of them. She is your child and you love her as much as you love the children who are yours at home” and I looked at her and what I saw was absolute perfection.
She fitted perfectly in the palm of his hand. Her tiny, tiny ear shell like in its perfection. Translucent! Her little closed eyes and her tiny feet – slightly bigger than my little fingernail. I have never been able to look at tiny baby feet pins, or even decorations on christening cakes without remembering all of my little unknown loves!
I had been anxious about how I would feel when I saw her and what astounded me was rather than sadness, or anger, or desperation, I felt absolute peace and completion.The doctor’s words had helped of course, but there was something else. Her life and the lives of my “Other Three” had been confirmed and affirmed and that confirmation and that affirmation remains. If there is one thing I wish I could do, it is to go to their place of rest and to sit in peace, but as I type this on my front verandah on a gorgeous November day, overlooking the agapanthus that are about to burst into bloom, looking up to see the foliage on the frangipani trees, hearing the birds and feeling the gentle breeze, I am sitting with them, loving and holding each one of them. I did not name any of them but the girl’s name we had chosen at the time of the first pregnancy was Rebecca – they each remain Rebecca to me. The boy’s name we had chosen at the time, was Joseph.
When approaching the age of 35, I became pregnant for the 8th time I was able to approach it with a degree of ambivalence that may have shocked some. Which ever way it went, I knew the process, or so I thought! For the last 9 weeks of the pregnancy I was hospitalised as a “geriatric, gestational diabetic mother”. I was allowed home for weekends once I learned how to self inject my insulin. I nearly went insane in the hospital in spite of my private room and when it was decided to induce me at 39 weeks, I went through the most interfered with, undignified experience of my life and the child refused to cooperate so I had the epidural,having been assured I would be awake for the birth. He refused to leave his in utero home and I had to be knocked out for the cesarian!
Once he was born, he was placed in his father’s arms where he remained for about an hour and a half establishing a bond so great it is awesome! It has only just occurred to me how isolated my husband had been in the loss of our daughters. Blokes. being blokes didn’t talk about that stuff, nor were they invited into the process. Thank goodness that too has changed.
I did not see the baby until he was about 4 hours old. I could not believe he had arrived and he had arrived safely. I used to worry about my children not realising how it is possible to love them equally and individually and so I tell them. “Patricia, you made me a mother. Ken, you made me special”, having tipped the scales at 11lbs 13ozs, “Megan, you made me beautiful” and I was a bit of a stunner – 26 at the height of my “beauty” “and Joseph, you made me happy”. They continue to do so, every day!
I will never forget my conversation with Rosemary in the pool. I think of my grand daughter, Gabrielle, just 18, finished school and about to embark on life’s big adventure. I was present at her birth -so was my mother, four generations of females in the birthing suite. I cannot protect her from what life will throw her, nor can I make sure life only throws her wonder and awe! But I am certain, knowing what I know of the gene pool from which she comes, she will find wonder and awe in those desperate,sad times, enough to sustain her ( and all my grandchildren) to be able to thrive.