DOVE IN THE WIND PART II
There is no manual to raise a child. There is also no manual for when god forbid you lose a child. There is no set protocol of how you should react in a miscarriage and you’re stuck in a cross-section of emotional and cultural limbo. It was very much uncharted territory for my partner, our families and I. We just didn't know what to do and more importantly how to feel. In the beginning, I had selfishly resented this child then foolishly thought that because I had accepted it that I was entitled to him and now I dare mourn him because he’s gone?
That’s what you get.
I felt guilty as a woman. Despite the years of single sex education where feminism might as well have been an NCEA subject, I felt guilty because I couldn't carry out my biological duties as a woman. I felt like I had failed (the patriarchy is a cunning prick). Growing up with Christian values instilled in me from a young age, I felt the pangs of guilt for sex before marriage, conceiving out of wedlock but mostly because of the technicality that I had in fact terminated my child, even though it was to save my own life. I had once again selfishly chosen myself over my child, I felt guilty. I felt guilty because I didn’t die too.
All while carrying this emotional baggage, we still had to figure out what we were going to do with him. The Bereavement Team at Middlemore Hospital came through for us. After we’d spent time with our little human, they gave sincere apologies and then a brief overview of what to expect and the difficult decisions we were to face in the days to come, as if we hadn't faced enough already. They set us up with the non-profit charity, BabyLoss NZ, who provided us with a care package filled with trinkets, useful contacts and more advice on what to do.
The first hurdle was what to do with his tiny body. Both being from Christian backgrounds, we knew cremation was out of the question. We opted for a burial, but where? At the cemetery? In the backyard? One of the staff kindly but rather thoughtlessly suggested a pot plant. A POT PLANT. My partner and I shot her the dirtiest evils. In no fucking way was I going to bury the child I gave birth to in a pot plant to be mixed with other plebeian flora in my garden - my child deserved more than that. It is here where another conflict began. I had the audacity to mourn a child that I honestly did not want in the first place but at the same time I was not about to bury my child in a pot plant. Not today.
So we decided to bring him home for one night where family and friends filled our house. They comforted us by making food, bringing gifts of flowers, soft toys and precious Tongan ngatu. We laughed, cried and shared “what would be’s” if he had lived. Despite being in the solemn circumstances, everything felt warm. My partner and I barely slept that night and after an honest attempt of two hours of sleep, we woke up just before the dawn. We lay there in disbelief of what we were about to do that day. This wasn't supposed to be happening to us. We wrote a letter filled with love and promises, tears decorating the pages. When the sun broke, we slowly started getting ready.
Sitting up in the cold August weather on the morning of my sons burial, I arrived at the thought. What the fuck am I doing right now? I didn't want this child in the first place and now I want to throw him a grand funeral? He didn't even reach full growth. I never met him, he never lived, he wasn’t even a “full person”. These thoughts fretted through my dislocated mind. What the fuck are you doing right now? It is very much kiwi culture to avoid touchy-feely topics and we have a bad habit of brushing aside the magnitude of the effects of mental health issues which is the same for instances of miscarriages. Oh you’ve got to move on, you need to get over it (real things that real life kiwis have told me).
Having a stiff upper-lip, keep calm and get over it attitude embedded into me, I felt weak. You’re being silly, just bury him in the pot plant. Growing up in a Tongan household, I knew what the expectations were and the practices that go on, that part of me couldn't just bury him in a pot plant but the other part kept calling me laupisi. You don't do this. This is a small thing. You don't need to do this (again, real life things real Tongans had said to me). Oh the doubt. So like any other, I sought advice from the wisest of species - my mother. My 21 year old self crawled into her bed and meekly asked “Mum is this all extra?” while she cuddled me. She looked at me confused. After explaining what “being extra” meant, she stroked my back and said “No. You do what you want, what feels right.” With my fears momentarily put to a halt, I got up out of my mums bed and buried my son that day.
In the days to follow, I proceeded with great caution. I didn’t want to appear too dramatic, too sad, too depressed or too happy. I knew people would talk and judge. People did. We heard things like why did they need to have a funeral and a burial? Why did they take so much time off work? That’s a shit excuse to be away from work. We were dumbfounded because these people should show compassion and deep down I knew where they were coming from. My fears had come true. We live in a generation where perception and projection of the perfect life is everything and is amplified by social media so it’s the perfect breeding ground for emotional irrationalities to run rampant. Instead of focusing on repairing body and mind, I was constantly trying to repair image. It’s a gross feeling and leaves you feeling useless and worthless. Even as I write this, I fear an eminent troll who’s going to throw it all back into my face and say bitch, you had it coming. I already know that.
Pregnancy in itself is a huge mental commitment. The weight a miscarriage bears on your body, your mind is no different - no matter the circumstance. You have to deal with a new life forming inside that is very much apart of you. You have to deal with the uncanny attachment between unborn child and yourself then deal with the loss. It is an extremely complex and trifling experience that makes you compete in a mental olympics of blame, guilt, relief, melancholy and every other thought and feeling only women know. In sharing this story, I hope more women become comfortable with speaking up about their miscarriages. To have women see my fragmented thoughts and say hey I know what that feels like, I’ve been there too and not burden themselves with these feelings. To encourage friends and family to rally behind their wahine. Most importantly, for women to know that these feelings are valid. They are not unhealthy, extra or laupisi but are all apart of the experience.
Have I reached the nirvana like stage of acceptance? No. But I don’t think you’re really meant to anyways. This will always be a part of us and it’s folly to deny that. My mind still occasionally wanders to the dark side of my thoughts but only through talking about it, I am able to pull myself away from that danger hole while disregarding all the unnecessary shame and guilt the world will try trick you into believing.
So ladies get talking, allow yourself to heal when time permits and trust the process.