Three of us waited in the dark with anticipation. It was our first official meeting with the newest member of our family. As the ultrasound operator went through the standard procedure of squirting chilly gel on to my belly, I felt my breathing contract. After a short time of gazing at the screen we waited for her interpretation. She asked if we were sure of our dates. I replied yes, 13 weeks. As she worked quietly we sensed her concern. She then explained she could see a healthy placenta and an underdeveloped embryo with no heartbeat. I felt a sinking feeling within. However my attention was quickly reverted to my three year old son Finn, who needed a simple explanation.
Afterwards we walked back through the corridors. Steve’s arm was around my waist, the comfort helped me gain strength to explain to Finn that the tiny baby in Mummys tummy was like a seed and this one just hadn’t grown properly. I was no stranger to grief, having lost four members of my family in my adult life, (as well as my gorgeous cat one month previously). The writing and saying of eulogies and helping to organise funerals had somehow become a forte. In comparison, I felt like this was small stuff. I can handle this, I thought as I began to put on my well used armour.
Within the week, the first day of Spring arrived and I said goodbye to the beautiful sunflower full of life force in our veggie garden. I remember feeling the very opposite of Spring as we drove to the hospital for the simple operation – a dilation and curette to remove the contents of my uterus. The clinical environment caused me to turn on my calm and control button. In the pre-theatre room I remember a nurse asking all the general questions: name, date of birth, doctor and then to confirm, whispered “a missed abortion”. Having been warned of the inappropriate medical term by the doctor I still felt belittled by the nurse’s whispered approach. It was evidence to me of our societys ‘hush, hush’ response and lack of understanding of miscarriage and all that surrounds it. When I went back to the ward I remember Steve was in a flighty, panic mode. While he was darting around the hospital with Finn, he somehow lost my wedding ring. I said, “It’s OK honey, it will turn up,” and by some sheer miracle he found it in the grate of the lift. Phewww!!
As the operation was late in the day I opted to stay the night. I was surrounded by several older ladies in very bad health; one coughing up blood during the night and a girl with severe epilepsy who expressed the fact that she could never have kids. I thought how fortunate I was; what I was going through was nothing.
As several weeks passed, I started to feel unsettled and questioned the process as being purely biological. I became mindful that I was being very rational and this thought-focused approach was keeping me from facing the fragile, hidden place within which needed healing. At my check-up with the gynecologist, it was suggested that I might benefit from some counseling. I found the counsellor’s approach very soothing and felt comfortable with her. She helped me access and acknowledge my own feelings of loss. She reminded me that I had lost a baby as well as my hopes and dreams for the future and that for a considerable amount of time I had nurtured my own health and taken care of myself to benefit my baby. Through this process I was able to tap into my sadness. As Steve Biddulph said in his book, The Secret of Happy Children, “The changes which go with sadness help us to release the pain and so to make new contact with people and move on to new life.”
It was great to discuss my personal, eclectic faith and how I seemed to be searching for some spiritual understanding and acceptance of miscarriage. I have always had a visual and creative part to my nature and a strong interest in symbolism, so together we devised an idea to have a ritual honouring of this time in our lives and of the little soul who visited us for a brief time. Although at first unsure of how I would get the idea into reality, I had a good feeling this would resonate with my psyche. Three months after our experience the ceremony became a reality.
The night before the ceremony my friend Rhondda came over and together we prepared a small parcel for each of the guests. Inside we placed some of the original sunflower seeds which Finn and I had collected from the dried sunflower in our veggie garden. Rhondda folded seeds in white paper embossed with butterflies. We tied them with green embroidery ribbon and a dried sunflower petal.
I decided to resurrect an ivy hoop from our wedding and wrap fresh ivy from the garden around it. We entwined white and pink rose buds amongst the green signifying my belief our baby was a girl. I used three silver heart charms, a small bell, an Austrian crystal, some antique green beads, white stones tied on with pink wire and a little bell to complete the decorations. In the middle I placed an image of a swaddled baby surrounded by a mandala. On the morning we placed the garland in the centre of the group on the ground and it made a beautiful focal point.
We chose an outdoor setting and decided on early morning before people went to work. It needed to be somewhere where noise would not interfere. We chose a lovely spot under a Sycamore Fig Tree at Mt Coot-tha Gardens. To evoke a sacred space before everyone arrived, I lit some special Japanese incense. We opened the ceremony with an introduction by Trish, my counsellor and gave a brief description regarding the need to honour our experience and share it with those close to us.
Rhondda read a poem by Leunig about the hearts’ harvest. We played a special and simple piece of music by Xavier Rudd called ‘Partnership’. As it was playing I walked around the circle and handed each person a parcel of seeds. At the completion of the song, I explained what was inside the parcel and how it related to our story. Although Finn wasn’t there with us that morning I felt his involvement through the seed story. Steve and I spoke a beautiful poem directly to our baby and the following prayer read by a friend.
We struggle, we grow weary, we grow tired.
We are exhausted, we are distressed, we despair.
We give up, we fall down, we let go.
We cry. We are empty, we grow calm, we are ready
We wait quietly.
A small, shy truth arrives.
Arrives from without and within us.
Arrives and is born. Simple, steady, clear.
Like a mirror, like a bell, like a flame, like rain in summer
A precious truth arrives and is born within us. Within our emptiness.
We accept it, we observe it, we absorb it.
We surrender to our bare truth.
We are nourished, we are changed.
We are blessed. We rise up.
For this we give thanks.
We concluded with a beautiful Tibetan Buddhist body prayer, which I enjoy doing at yoga. Fran, my yoga teacher lead everyone through a series of flowing arm movements. The prayer invokes the yang chi of the sky and the yin chi of the earth to combine and unite through the heart and send out blessings of love and compassion. It was a lovely way to give those attending something to participate in.
Looking back now I am happy to have chosen this space as I have gone there on many occasions to photograph children and babies. The children often seem in good spirits and the photos have turned beautifully. Having the ceremony at the fig tree allowed me a peaceful place to remember and to enjoy my memories.
On reflection the ceremony gave me a reason to transform my thoughts and put them to some meaningful and purposeful outcome. The beauty was, as I opened up to my painful emotions the result was a process of letting go in an event of gratitude and grace.
So as the annual clock has ticked by to the following Spring, I can joyously say I’m in tune with the growth and abundance that the season brings this time around. I’m pregnant again, and am starting to feel the little baby move within me. It has taken a lot to learn, we can never really guarantee what life is going to throw our way. However I feel contentment knowing that when we have the courage to visit that hidden place, we can come full circle. I am often reminded of the awe of life. Especially the value of every pregnancy and healthy baby that makes it to our world. It is like finding my wedding ring – a sheer miracle!
Biddulph,Steve.(2000) The Secret of Happy Children.Harper
> Noring,Beth.(2002) The Stone Baby.Lothian Books:Melbourne.
> Leunig,Michael.(2004) When I Talk to You – A Cartoonist Talks to
> God.Harper Collins:Australia.