The New Year is well upon me and I am deep in the throes of 2013’s first deadlines. I am committed to submitting work to CBBAG’s The Art of the Book 2013, and the deadline is looming. I completed the first book for the submission months ago, and knew I wanted to complete one or two more.
Since completing “The Voice of Silence” a few months ago, I have repeatedly stalled. I feel a great, pounding momentum rising through me, but my approach to the precipice has been dithering and fearful, building up courage to throw myself off a cliff into a deep, black, impenetrable sea of pain and sorrow. The pressure building within me, the conflict and resistance, are driven by an untold story within me whose time has come. More so, a story that refuses to remain silent. I did not know until this time that “The Voice of Silence” has a companion piece. “The Voice of Silence” is grief’s ghosts, silent and white and poignant. Now that the silent, interminable grief has been expressed in that book, the companion has come forward for its turn. And that companion piece insists on birth, yet carries sorrow on the back of its wings like a magpie. And so I have procrastinated, dithered, resisted and done no work. I have skirted, shied, resisted and done no work. I have written before about trying to bring to birth a story that was not ready to be told. And now, it is time to tell a story that will not be silenced any longer. My soul and my psyche have known that I could give birth to no other meaningful work until this piece, this story, had been told. At last, yesterday, I could stand the stalemate no longer. I reached within and found my courage to begin. This post, and perhaps the piece that is emerging from it, will very likely be raw and brutally honest. I will again cry the limitless tears there are to cry over this story. I will tremble and shake with fear and sorrow. But it will be told. And so we begin.
The piece that I am creating is a scroll. Once again constructed of layers of silk organza, this time there is no pristine and funereal white. This time, the silk is stained and rumpled. Its length will be wound onto old mill bobbins and housed in a brass-bound wooden box. And between the ethereal, aged layers of the silk will flow the words of a poem I wrote in the late 1990s. Because this book is about grief. This book is about raw, bewildered, uncomprehending and interminable pain and sorrow and loss. This book is about the death of my children.
I wrote the poem after miscarrying twins. That, in itself, is not so remarkable in the world. What was – is – remarkable is that I was miscarrying for the eleventh time.
As a young married couple, we had embarked on our dream of a family as any young couple does. With hope and starry eyes and longing and romantic visions of downy heads and dewy cheeks and plump limbs. Six months after our wedding, I miscarried for the first time. I was in the first year of my law degree. It was right in the middle of exams. I scraped through. I raised a brave jaw to the world and moved on with a heart full of hope and all the statistics for how at least one in ten pregnancies ends in miscarriage. I learned years later that it is suspected that it may be more like nine out of ten.
In the fall of that year, I once again conceived. Christmas was a secret delight of hopes and dreams. We told no one, but held the secret to our hearts and hoped. On New Year’s Eve, in the middle of a party with all our friends and miles from home, I began to bleed. It was the first of several miscarriages that occurred around that time of year and sapped all joy from the holidays.
And so, each year, at least once a year, for a decade, this scene repeated itself. As I charged through law school, as I struggled with mute and overwhelming grief in articles under the critical and unforgiving eyes of my partners. As I travelled hundreds and hundreds of business miles as a young lawyer. Miscarrying alone in a hotel room hundreds of miles from home. Sitting in an exasperated doctor’s office after my ninth miscarriage, mute with misery, while he tried to tell me it ‘must have been a mistake’. Years and years of investigations, of laparoscopies and drugs and reconstructive surgeries. And miscarriage after miscarriage. There were no answers. There was no comfort.
Yet, through it all, our longing for a family of our own shone undimmed. People shook their heads over us, they remarked about our resilience. I tried once to explain what it was really like. It wasn’t about crawling through life in perpetual pain. It was more like having the most incredibly dear person, who you love without limit, die. And then when you think you can’t stand the grief another day, that person comes back! And with them comes back all the love and the hope and the joy. Only for them to die all over again. And that kept happening. I couldn’t describe it any other way. After nine years and ten miscarriages at that time, we were both mired so deep in grief, we could hardly speak to each other.
Finally, in 1997, we were given the chance to try in vitro fertilisation. Ostensibly, this was to try to learn what was going right and what was going wrong. We were terrified but hopeful, and embarked on the regime of drugs and injections and procedures bravely. Well, I tried to be brave, but I cried every day of those injections just from the pain. I will never forget the day we arrived at the clinic for the pregnancy test. At 7:00am. To hear the nurse announce that it was positive. And then to continue carefully with the supportive drug regime, walking cat-footed, protecting my precious cargo.
At nine weeks, we were set to have our first scan. All had gone well to that point, we were eager but terrified. Returning to the clinic with our hearts in our mouths, I submitted to the scan. In the silence of the room, the technician’s words dropped like stones. They could detect no heartbeat. A howl of wildness was rising in me. We were dismissed, the failures, to stand weeping on the pavement in the pouring rain, bewildered and alone in our grief. I didn’t believe them. Nothing had changed, my body was still pregnant. The clinic was adamant and insisted I cease the supporting drugs. Against every instinct, I finally complied. Four days later, I went into a mini labour and miscarried our two children on my bathroom floor. I do not believe to this day those children were already dead before that day. I never will. I held our children in the palm of my hand and knew them and loved them as though we had shared a lifetime.
I descended into a pit of grief and depression so deep I did not believe I could ever emerge. For a year, I lay as though at the bottom of the sea, my skin grey and slick, my mind writhing in a dense fog. We could find no comfort for or with each other. I buried my grief in the roots of the roses I so loved, one for every anniversary, one for every child, and dewed their petals with my tears. It was at that time that the poem was written.
Am I dead?
It is dark
in and out.
where there was pain.
where there was joy.
I count my breaths.
as ticks of time
back from this point,
Look at my life
wrong side of glass.
all these years been
longed for child?
What is there
if there is not
longed for child?
Just death days to mark.
Yet I live.
There is light
in and out.
where there was pain.
where there was grief.
I count my breaths.
as steps to life
on from this point,
look for my life
in the eyes of my love.
There is more than
longed for child.
And I live.
© Dea Fischer 1998
A year after this loss, we were contacted by St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. They were the highly successful IVF unit of which our local clinic was an outreach. They asked us to try again. They told us they had learned so much from the first treatment that they really thought they could help us. I was difficult to convince. I was terrified. I was lost in grief. We were offered a few months of grief counselling, geared toward helping us to accept the likelihood that we would never have a child of our own. With the help of counselling, and in a more even state of mind but without hope, we agreed to try again. And so, once again, drugs and daily injections and procedures and many trips to the hospital in London. The regime was adjusted to account for what they had learned. Each stage was more successful than it had been last time. We crawled through every stage, utterly without hope. Just get through the pregnancy test. The pregnancy test was positive. Just get through today. I talked to my little pearl every day, every minute of every day, encouraging her to stay, flooding her with love. We bargained. I stonewalled. I refused to have the early scan. We bargained for a scan at ten weeks. The clinic relented. I bargained with my little pearl for her to sit up nice and proud and wave at the camera. You may imagine, I am sure, our abject terror on the day we attended the clinic for the scan. I lay rigid on the table, my eyes screwed tight and tears pouring down my face. The room was hushed while the technician operated the scan. And then, in a soft, kind voice, she said “. . . There . . . . ” and turned the screen towards us. And there, on the black screen was the unmistakable flutter of a tiny heartbeat.
Every day of my pregnancy was a bargain, just to get through that day. I could do no more than cross the days off one by one. I could not look forward. I would not look forward. In any event, steadily and by stealth, my body began to change as our child grew within me. I began to bloom. I was well. I was healthy. Life began to assume a patina of normality. I wrote every day, committing every day’s events, however tiny and insignificant, to memory in case it was the last day. I talked to my little pearl and played her music. And then, on the morning of the first day of my sixteenth week, I suddenly started to bleed.
That day is etched in my memory forever. The tense, white, silent drive to the hospital with my parents-in-law. Meeting Phil at the hospital. Another rigid, clenched, weeping scan bed. And then, to see the technician’s face relax . . . again to turn the screen towards us and show that our little pearl’s heartbeat was still strong. We learned later that I had miscarried a second tiny fetus. Nobody realised there were two . . .
The rest of my pregnancy continued on the same way, our hearts in our mouths. At five months, a large tumour was discovered in my abdomen. I spent much of the last three months of my pregnancy in hospital. I continued to count one day at a time. I prayed and I bargained and I would have hung upside down like a bat for nine months if that was what it took. But finally, we reached the point in the pregnancy where our child could survive outside the womb if she were born. Every day after that point was a blessing. Despite hospital stays, I carried her nearly to term. Because of the tumour, we were told a cesarean was required. Again, I fought medical intervention at every step. We had so much of it, I wanted to finally greet my child in the most natural way possible. I had to accept the cesarean.
On April 7 1999, at 9:22am, our beloved daughter Millie Rose was born. Words are completely inadequate to express the overwhelming emotion of that day, or the days that followed. The surgeon came to visit us late on the afternoon of Millie’s birth. She told us that it was a very lucky thing Millie was born via cesarean in the end, because she had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck twice. If I had tried to deliver her normally, the surgeon believes she would have died during the birth. At that moment, I released all I had been carrying and laid it firmly in the hands of the Greater Spirit that was so clearly guarding my little pearl. Millie Rose was born of my twelfth pregnancy.
As the days of parenthood have passed, the terror for Millie’s survival has slowly been replaced by intense joy. We have celebrated her days and her milestones. We have seen the glints of the sun on her tumbled mass of white-blonde curls like a halo, carrying the light of her siblings. We have learned not to check her breathing when she is asleep. Now, at 13 years old, the joy has been joined by a healthy dose of aggravation and we are at last a normal family. I miscarried three more times after Millie’s birth, until another two tumours finally took my ovaries and my fertility.
I believe we are given the experiences we are given for a reason. Whether it is, as some believe, to repay a karmic debt, or to fulfill our destiny, I know this valley of sorrow we travelled for so many years was for something. I have believed I would write about it one day, to provide help and support to some other poor family experiencing what we have experienced. I have a decade and more’s worth of journals to plunder for the right material. Yet, I have never been able to do it until now. I have wanted to live the joy of Millie’s childhood days unshadowed. I have not wanted to dwell on sorrow or grief, or to burden her existence with the lives of her siblings. Millie knows the story. Maybe not the details, but she knows what we went through to have her join our family. Now, as a wise, beautiful and talented high school student, I guess she is mature enough that I can trust the story to be told.
I know this is a raw story, and not the usual fare I bring forward in this blog. If you have read this far, I am honoured to have you share my story. Some stories just have to be told. And what will emerge from this telling is a piece of work I think will be one of my best. The threads of the story will be woven through it, along with the richness of experience, the veil of deep sorrow and the light of love and hope. I look forward to showing it to you. And from that work will come a greater work, and finally to fulfill my promise of help to those who suffer as we did. Thank you for helping me make the first step.