Monday, 20 August 2007

Long time no post

"You have two eyes to see with, you have two ears to hear,
you have one mouth to speak with and one small nose right here.
Your feet are down below, your hair is up above,
you have two arms to hold me, and I have you to love."
This is a song on one of the "Sing and Sign" DVDs that Janel loves watching, and the last line always makes me cry. I'm never sure whether I'm crying because I love Janel, or because I miss Zoe, but I cry everytime.

Not much of a post, but its better than the "This post intentionally left blank" that I was planning... :-)

Monday, 16 July 2007

Goodbyes - a retrospective...

We've been in South Africa over a week now, and this is the first chance that I've had to catch up with myself, blogging wise...

Nicole has started her temporary post at Rondebosch Boys' High School (althought they're angling for it to become longer term or even permanent), which means that I am a stay-at-home dad for the immediate future. So far (two days in) it has gone well, and I feel that I have been able to entertain Janel and accomplish what I need to, most of the time. Having said that, the time does race by and before you know it, it is lunchtime and then Mommy's home!! I've been really worried that I won't know what to do with her/how to keep her entertained/make sure that her development is being aided correctly/etc, etc, etc, but so far at least, so good.

On the job hunt front, things are not so positive - I have contacted a couple of agencies by email, but without much response to be honest. I know that I need to follow them up by phone and personal contact, but there isn't really the time for a consolidated effort at the moment. We're looking at daycare options, and if we find something that we like, and can get Janel settled, then I will be able to give the issue my full attention. Going back into some form of education does, however, seem to be a viable alternative - my sister-in-law runs an extra Maths lesson tutoring service, and is keen to see it expand into other areas, which is quite an exciting option. I hadn't thought that I wanted to go that route, but now it feels like a possibility.

I hate having options :-)

Saturday, 30 June 2007

Moving - Parts 2 and 3

Well, the house is packed up, cleaned up and handed over to the letting agent - an exhausting weekend/week.

Nicole has been a star, working most of the past week to get things ready for the move, organising with charities to come and collect the surplus "goods and chattels". On Thursday the packers from the shipping company came and packed away all the things we were shipping home and took away our car - apparantly they did sterling work. By the time the weekend came it was just a matter of getting rid of the stuff that we couldn't give away and cleaning the flat - "just"? It was rather disappointing how little the various charities were able to take away, so we ended up throwing away some perfectly good stuff, although most of the stuff we were able to unload at various charity shops on the way to the dump. Part 2 over...

Then it was time to vacuum the carpets, wash the walls, touch up the paintwork, wash all the windows (inside and out), steam clean the carpets, scrub the sinks & mop the floors - all to make sure we got our deposit back (which we'll need to pay the moving company!!). Thank goodnes my folks were able to come up for the weekend, to help with the moving and cleaning, but almost as importantly, to look after Janel while we worked. The agent was due to arrive at 4pm, and by 4.15, Nicole was fuming - I was able to escape with the final load for the dump, but fortunately for the agent, she arrived soon after I left, gave the place the once over and confirmed that everything was in order.

We left a lot of memories in that flat - we moved in there soon after we found out Nicole was pregnant with Janel (the thought of climbing two flights of stairs to the flat above the vicarage while pregnant being too much to contemplate), and it has housed us through happy, exhausted and distraught times. Janel took her first steps there, said her first words there, Zoe was concieved there. We learned of my Grandma's death there, and gathered there to try and listen in on her funeral via Skype. It was our place of refuge in the days after Zoe died, when the sun shone and our world seemed to have ended. We grew tomatoes (by the bucketload) and butternut there, mielies that stood tall but never produced fruit, sage that sounded like a good idea, but never got used, cucumbers that were huge, but too bitter. It was our first family home. Part 3 was over...

So now we trust that the container will make it past the coast of Devon and safely to Cape Town, that we haven't packed anything we'll need in the next 4 weeks, and haven't thrown anything away we should have packed. On to part 4

Monday, 25 June 2007

Moving - Part 1

And so it begins - the great re-location to Cape Town.

Yesterday, we packed up the things that we will be taking with us on the plane - that we will need over the next week and a half, and for the first 4 weeks or so in SA. Quite a challenge, packing for work and leisure, summer and winter, and in just 20 kgs!! Fortunately Janel gets a full 20kg to herself this time, as she is travelling as a child (i.e. getting her own seat) rather than as an infant (i.e. travelling on our laps).

At the same time we have begun putting things in bags/boxes so that they are ready for the movers to come and pack on Thursday. And throwing out junk, of which there is far, FAR too much, and giving things away to charity and friends. All rather exhausting really.

We've relocated to the house of some friends who are away on holiday, and are staying on the second floor, so are having to be much more organised with ourselves, as climbing two flights of stairs to fetch the wallet/dummy/book/etc that you've forgotten is task that my body is very unused to!!

By contrast, on Saturday, we had one of the nicest days we have had in a long, long time - we'd orgainised a farewell event, which was going to be a picnic in the park, but some friends offered us the use of thier place for a BBQ, so we took them up on it and were very glad that we did, as it was a stereotypical British summer day, with some rather hefty showers. It was such a relaxed day - with people coming and going, bringing FAR too much food, mixing and chatting and playing with Janel. Just the way that I had imagined it!!

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Starting all over again...

And so the journey begins again...

We spoke in counselling last night about the feeling of being stuck in a place, of not feeling able to move forward in my grief, of still being in this place of non-specific anger and irritability with the world that I was two weeks ago. We then spoke about how being stuck can be a self-protective measure, as allowing yourself to get stuck in a comfortable place (or more comfortable than some of the alternatives) means that you no longer need risk facing the pain, anger, grief, whatever that moving on might mean you have to face. But all this is marvelously vague, and I need a little more direction, so I'm to start at the beginning again.

When Zoe died, Nicole took it very hard, and while I was able to grieve with her to a point, I also took on the role of protective husband, provider of needs. This was, perhaps, a necessary thing, to allow Nicole the time and space to grieve as she needed to without worrying about mundane details like where food was coming from. Necessary for me too, a protective measure from the intensity of the emotion of those first few days. And it has served its purpose - Nicole has, with the help of wonderful friends in both growth-groups, fellow bloggers and the denizens of the SANDS forum, been able to process much of the grief and anger and is taking steps down the road to wholeness again. I have remained in my role of protector and provider, which does not allow much space for my own grieving - I have not demanded it, nor, if I'm honest, even sought it terribly hard, once again a way of protecting myself. And yet, as Ali pointed out, in the long term, what is now a protection, will ultimately be the death of me, what I pass of as gallant and heroic, will one day destroy that which I hope to save - to be the husband and father that I desire to be, I must care for and nurture myself as much as I do those I love.

So I go back to the beginning - to try and relive (to some measure or other) the days after Zoe was taken away, the feelings and emotions, the stresses and anxieties. Much of this won't be published here, but I hope to be able to post some of what I learn, if nothing else.

Wish me luck

Monday, 4 June 2007

Do I care if he knows?

Today I got an email from one of the people at the meeting I was attending when I heard the news about Zoe - I replied saying that I was heading home to South Africa and he wished me well, ending off with the words "Hope all is well with the new addition". I didn't say much as I left the meeting that awful day so long ago and just the other day, although I had assumed that the expression on my face would have told a story, but it's clear that he thinks all is well.

How should I respond? Should I respond at all? Do I care if he knows? Do I know if he cares? What's the point in telling someone that I will never meet again of this tragedy - it will just upset him, and for no reason? What can he possibly say in response that will mean anything? And yet, I want him to know - I want everyone to know. Partly because this is something that everyone ought to know about because it is now such a huge part of who I am, what makes me be the way that I am at the moment, but also because I just don't want to have to deal with the awkward phase of someone learning about all of this for the first time and feeling bad and not knowing what to say and saying something trite or meaningless and feeling bad about that and having to manage their feelings as well as my own and all of everything...

This is one of the things that I fear most about going home, having to deal with people not knowing and with people knowing but seeing us for the first time - by now, the people we actually have relationships with all know what we've been through, whether they have dealt with it or not, spoken to us about it or not, so you don't actually have to mention it - a bit like the elephant in the room. But in South Africa, no one (apart from family and close friends) knows, and we'll meet and they'll be happy and we will be sad and they'll say why and we'll tell them and rinse and repeat. I was wondering what (if anything) I'd tell a prospective employer about all of this, because I know it's affecting my work, but when/how do you even bring something like that up?

This is why, when people ask me if I'm excited to be going home, I say I just want it to be over now...

Thursday, 31 May 2007

Independance Day

I just realised that my final day here at the College will be the 4th of July which is the U.S. Independance Day!!

Kind of appropriate :-)


Edited to Add:
Actually, the thought of all that freedom is a little disconcerting - I've been at the College for over 7 years now, albeit in different roles, but it has been a very comfortable time for me, and the thought of not having a job to go to is rather scary. Also, because I have a very broad work experience, there are lots and lots of potential oppurtunities open to me, and it is hard to focus any job-hunt. My time with my "careers advisor" has been frustrating is this respect, as I don't really know what it is that I want to be doing medium to long term, which means that he doesn't really know how to help me get there (can't help me).

I do know that I don't want to go back into teaching (althought working in an educational environment is not out of the question), and that I would like to be able to continue working with computers in some capacity, but beyond that it isn't really clear at all. I know that I haven't really had the time or energy to commit to a proper job search of late, and am planning to make some time in the near future, but it is all rather frustrating/scary.

I have been all too lucky in my career so far, and have more or less fallen into very nice jobs (or, I suppose, putting it another way, God had been looking out for me) - but I don't want to have to rely on that when we get home.

Anyway, I'm supposed to be at work, working, but it is *very* quiet!!


Monday, 21 May 2007

Angry day

Today's an angry day... It's not that often that my emotions surface in such a way that I can't put them to one side and get on with life if needs be, but today is one of those days. I'm angry...

I don't really know why - it was an OK weekend, we went to the aquarium, Nellie ate and slept fairly well, as did we, Nicole and I both seem to have a touch of a cold just at the moment, but for some reason, I'm really irritable this morning. One of our suppliers has delayed work on a project that was due to start today - by three weeks - and only informed us late on Friday night. That just started my day off badly and it hasn't got better. Everything is annoying me and I don't care about anybody's problems, I just wish they would leave me alone, I wish I was stopping work tomorrow instead of six weeks time.

Grumpy Graeme...

Friday, 18 May 2007

Vision casting

Well, after missing (completely forgetting about) last week's meeting with the careers advisor, I managed to be organised enough this time around. We talked about my life so far, and the jobs I'd had, and then he talked about the sort of possiblities that might be open to me with the experience I have had so far. He's worked with the biggest and the best, so his horizons are much larger than mine have ever been, and when he started talking about how I could be Chief Technology Officer at British Telecom, I wanted to shout "Whoa Nelly - this is me we're talking about, not some ubermench".

But that is one of his things, that many people (and especially Christians) tend to sell themselves short all the time, by not daring to imagine what might be end up settling for something merely "acceptable" in the name of humility. I know that I do this all the time - "I'm not good enough for this, that or the next thing" - and I think working with Tim will be good for me in that area for certain. I just hope that I have the time before we head home to work through my assorted issues...

I have homework to do which I haven't started yet, so perhaps I had better do so?

Monday, 14 May 2007

Autopsy results

As I had sort of expected, there was no obvious cause for Zoe's death - although there was a surprise in the blood-work that they did on Nicole after Zoe was delivered. She may be positive for antiphospholipid syndrome - one of the blood conditions that I have been monitored for the last 3 or 4 years as St George's (the one that predisposes me toward clotting). For us both to have it is unusual, to say the least. The consultant said that, while this was not a cause per se, in cases where the mother has this syndrome, there is an increased incidence of cases of stillbirth. She was quick to emphasise that, even if this was the case and we had known about it beforehand, there was nothing to say that things wouldn't have happened in the same way. Even if we had induced Zoe earlier and she had been delivered safely, there was nothing to say that she would have survuived. It's pointless playing the "if" game in any event - there are too many...

I found it really odd to think that Nicole and I might have this same unusual blood condition, and even though I knew it was impossible, I felt fleetingly responsible for what had happened to Zoe. They had to re-do the test, as the pregnancy could have caused a false positive, so Nicole sat and waited for hours while I went to work. Another three weeks to wait now before we'll know, one way or 'tuther.

On the way back to the College, I stopped in at St Margeret's church, in the grounds of Westminster Abbey, where I would quite often come at lunchtime to be quiet and talk to God, but I found I couldn't sit still and grew quickly agitated and angry and left again.

Work was a mixture of a welcome distraction (we had visitors that needed to be introduced to the work of the department) and a pain in the whatsit - I don't think I accomplished a great deal. Tomorrow will be the seventh aniversary of the day that I started at the College - as a proper employee, not in the kitchen, and I'm marking the occasion by going to the all-you-can eat Chinese buffet to stuff myself.

The diet starts the day after tomorrow.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

So quickly forgotten?

St Thomas' (the hospital where both Janel and Zoe were delivered) organises a memorial service twice a year, for parents who have lost children there, and we'd been invited to today's service. We'd not been very organised, as we'd only managed to find babysitters at the last minute, so had not RSVP'd and sent the name of our child ahead like they asked us to. So when we arrived, we weren't on the list!!

No problem, they said, we'll just add your child's name - what is it?

Janel Broster-Masureik we said...

It was only when we were filling in a card to be tied to a "tree of life" by the alter that we realised that we'd given the wrong name. As if we only had one daughter's name to give.

So we started the service in tears. And cried most of the way through it. The service itself was a hymn, a few prayers, some poems, a short address, silence to remember, lighting of candles, some more prayers and another song. Fairly bland, non-controversial, to allow those of all faiths and none to commemorate their loved ones. This one poem hit me the hardest:

Cold Saturday

I wrote, Your name in the damp sand
Using the toe of my boot
Then stood watching
The sea nudge it away

I shouted, Your name to the sky
While the wind knifed my body
But the vast beach deadened the sound.
Then - because you will never know
And I had to tell someone -
I yelled, To the whole great emptiness
That I loved you, loved you, Loved you -

If anyone saw a fat woman
In suede boots, eyes puffy from crying
Walking blindly by the sea
Shouting I love you at the screaming gulls
Thank you for ignoring me

Anne Lewis-Smith

I had a good (nay, great) friend in Cape Town that tried to commit suicide. Part of the therapy that followed involved shouting - and so we used to go down to the sea near Hout Bay, find a cove where we could be alone, and shout at the waves. In her case, this was a lot about releasing the anger, but there was a freedom in being able to shout your heart out, knowing that no-one else could hear. I feel that I would shout a great deal if I had the space to do so, the confidence that I would be ignored. A lot of the time my grief, when I have the space to express it, is wordless, and this makes it hard, when people ask how I'm doing, to know how to respond.

Tomorrow we meet the consultant for a review of the autopsy results. I really don't know whether I want there to be a reason or not - if no reason has been discovered, then it means that no one (neither the doctors nor ourselves) is to blame for Zoe's death, no one could have done something different to prevent it; but at the same time, we will always wonder "Why?", and when we fall pregnant again, we will worry the whole time. If there is a reason, then the opposite is true, we will have a name to put on this and will be fore-warned for the next time, but the question of whether we or the medical team could have done something that would have saved her will linger. All in all, not a happy place to be. We did have the option of not having an autopsy at all, but I think that would have been even worse than either of the two options above - just an emptiness, a vacuum.

Also tomorrow, my next session of counselling - after last week where I took a side road down other personal issues, we return to Zoe, so I'm not expecting to enjoy it, but it is the only real outlet I have at the moment, so I need to take advantage of it while we're still in London.

Time for Nellie to have her bedtime story...

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

What was I thinking?

I completely forgot about an appointment I'd made for this evening - to see someone who was going to help me with the job hunt back home. The College has appointed my successor now, so it really means that there is no going back for me. This guy is a management consultant who does careers advice in his free time because he enjoys it, and I just completely forgot about it. I feel really bad about wasting his time, especially because he'd doing me a favour. We've rescheduled for next week, and I really hope I don't mess this one up too...

I'm not the most organised person at the best of times, and when I'm stressed, its even worse than usual - fortunately work is fairly demand driven at the moment, so I don't need to be organised, just respond to whoever is shouting loudest at that point in time. The one thing that does need care and attention is the handover notes for Richard (my replacement), so of course, those have yet to be done - although I did make a start today.

I got a bit of a shock when I arrived home - I'd forgotten that Nicole was babysitting Ella this afternoon, so when I walked in, our (Zoe's) moses basket had been set up and there was a baby inside. For a fraction of a second, I did a double-take and then remembered what was happening.

Just for a fraction...

Not much to say

I'm finding it hard to express how I'm feeling at the moment - this week's counselling session is on Thursday thanks to the Bank Holiday this Monday, and that may well release something - or rather, help me to find the words to express what it is that I am feeling.

If someone asks me what I am feeling, very often I have nothing to say - no words will come that even remotely fit, and it is like a clamp has shut itself across my throat. This is when a skilled counsellor/listener is so useful - they ask questions which help you start talking, and once I start talking, I find that the words come so much easier.

It is the starting of things that I find so hard.

Like this blog :-)

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Bereavement Counselling

I started bereavement counselling at the church on Monday evening - I am aware that I am far too good at "coping" with things like this, especially when there are people that need to be cared for, and so the counselling will give me a structured time to explore my grief, to get things started before we go home so that when we do get there are are busy with setting up our new lives and all that that entails, it will not easily be set aside...

When I started this blog, and sat down to write the first post, I wrote the following and then stopped:

I have to confess that both pregnancies were rather surreal experiences for me - this was something that was happening to Nicole, not me, and although I could walk alongside her and be a support to her, it was not *my* experience. I never really felt that I bonded with either Janel or Zoe in utero, certainly when Janel was born, I felt completely unprepared to be a father. That's not to say I was disinterested - at least I hope not - but just that it all felt separate from me. I never felt the urge to communicate with the babies in the way that some parents describe, although I did make more of an effort with Zoe than I had with Janel.
I stopped, because I really didn't know where to go from there or why I had typed it or what relevance it had to Zoe or my grieving for her. On Monday, after talking through a bunch of different things, we ended up with me in tears being able to name the fact that I never *knew* Zoe as the most pressing source of my grief at the moment.

With most people, when they die, you grieve because you have lost something or you miss something because they have gone. I grieve at the moment because I never had that thing in the first place.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Remembering Zoe

This is a post I made on a message board that I belong to, a few days after Zoe was delivered - I'm not sure I can bring myself to re-word it... I will add more posts soon enough, but this will do for starters...

How quickly everything changes.

There I was on Friday, sitting in a meeting with colleagues from other related bodies, drinking coffee and chatting about the impending birth of our second daughter. My wife was 37 weeks pregnant, having survived two scares during the time first when she was sent to hospital with suspected heart/circulation problems at 24 weeks, and then when she started having contractions at 33 weeks while I was home in South Africa. Our first child had been born at 33 weeks and had assorted complications as a result, although she is now a beautiful, healthy toddler (thank God), so we had been really worried that there would be problems this time round as well.

We set ourselves the goal of getting to 37 weeks, because then Pixie could have the water birth that she'd been dreaming of, and had been mightily relieved when that milestone had been reached on the Wednesday. Doubly so, because the baby had moved on Monday, and we were worried that it was now lying transverse, which would have meant that we would have had to have had a C-section instead of a natural birth. The midwife couldn't be sure by feeling, so Pixie had been to the hospital for a scan, and everything had been good - the head was down, the spine in the correct orientation, a good heartbeat. Things were looking up. Pixie was feeling big and sore, and we joked that it would be a good thing if she could be born this weekend, as my mother was on holiday the next week, but my father would only be on holiday the week after, so she (my mom) would be free to come and stay with us to help look after us, our toddler and the new bairn.

On Thursday evening, Pixie mentioned that she couldn't remember feeling the baby move that day, so I said that she should call the doctor if she was worried. She said she'd think about it and we went to sleep.

But back to Friday - there were several mothers amongst the group, and they all assured me that second pregnancies were MUCH easier than first time around. "Like shelling peas from a pod" one lady said. The meeting started, and we got lost in the details of what tactics were best to get Councils and Committees to give out money for unglamorous projects like upgrading switches and firewalls. Lunchtime came and there was a call on my mobile (always by my side after the 33 week scare):

"Where are you?"
"Still at the meeting - how are you doing?"
"I'm at the hospital"
"They can't find a heartbeat"

I'm surprised I didn't knock anyone down as I ran from the building to the bus stop. It was the most frustrating journey down Regent Street, with Westminster Palace in view (we were booked into St Thomas', just across the Thames), and traffic going nowhere. When I got there, it took me some time to find the right reception area to go to, and then (being British) I had to wait my turn to be seen and told where my wife was. The consultant arrived shortly after I did and confirmed what we feared the most - our baby was dead, there was no heartbeat to be found.

We left to collect our daughter from her daycare and to call our parents. And to weep.

We went in the next morning (my parents came up to babysit) and had a frustrating wait while the NHS deigned to notice our existence. From then on, however, the care we received was excellent. Pixie's waters were broken and contractions began. It is Nature's ultimate act of cruelty, to make a mother go through labour when there is nothing to look forward to at the end of it all. Fortunately, the mothers had been right, the labour was much easier, and, because we no longer had to worry about the health of the baby , we had access to stronger painkillers. Five hours in total and there she was...

She looked exactly like her big sister did at birth - uncannily so. She weighed 2.78kg (6lb 2oz) and was 52cm long. She has blue eyes, curly ginger-blond hair and is perfect in every way. The midwife left her with us and we held her close and wept some more. Our pastor and his wife came and prayed with us, blessed and named her. Zoe means "life" apparantly - not that I'd been aware of that when we'd settled on the name, not that it makes a difference - the name fitted her when we saw her, and Zoe she is and will be forever.

And then you leave her, and go back to a house that should contain four of you and only has three. And hold your daughter, who should be enough and just isn't anymore. And weep without really knowing who you're crying for. And think about going back to the mundane world of work and friends and wonder if you'll ever be able to face them again.

The autopsy will be happening today or tomorrow, but they won't have the final results for 6 to 8 weeks - but the initial results don't look too promising, and we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility that there will be no answers. About 5 babies for every thousand live births die without any apparant reason - sort of like cot death I suppose. In some ways, that would actually be easier to deal with, no way to blame ourselves (if only we'd gone for the scan on Thurs instead of waiting) or anyone else (why didn't they pick up that something was wrong). We could blame God I suppose, since He's supposed to be in charge of our lives. Why He would let her survuive the first scares only to take her away at the last minute makes no sense to me, but then very little relating to God does at the moment.

And there it is - two days from heartbeat to dead.

Go hug your kids now.