parents

This story is the definition of resilience.

losing a child
What every parent fears most is losing a child.

Next February, it will be twenty years since I became a mother for the first time.

I was 25 and living in Newcastle, far from home and newly married to an unpredictably violent man.  He hit me. Often. It hurt. Every time. He was 6ft 4″. I am 5ft 2″. He was cruel and I was suffering from an appalling lack of self-esteem.

It was a match made in hell.  I had been fired from my radio job at the time because it was apparently uncool to be a female breakfast radio personality with a pregnant belly. (It’s okay. I later sued the radio station and I won.)

Just before my daughter’s birth, I went into her room where everything was shiny and new.  I had been in there hundreds of times, but on this day in particular, it stuck me that a baby was never going to sleep in that room.

But I brushed the thought aside thinking all new mothers have weird thoughts like that…

I went into labour on her due date. It was long. It was painful. I started feeling like something was very wrong, so I asked for the doctor on duty to come to check things over.

I was in a midwife attending birthing program. The midwife kept telling me everything was fine.  I kept telling her everything was not.  Finally the doctor came. He checked me over.  He patted me on the head and told me how I was feeling was something all new mothers felt and that I was fine. I told him I wasn’t and neither was the baby. And he walked out anyway.

Later when the foreboding feelings and the pain got much worse, I screamed at the nurse to get the doctor again and when he came back I told him in no uncertain terms that I wanted the baby out NOW because something was very wrong.  He warned me that I would have to leave the birth room and go to a more traditional medical focused room. I didn’t care. I had to get her out.

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As they were getting ready to use surgical equipment to get her out, I pushed hard and there she was.  She was blue, which was very bad.  The doctor yelled at me to push harder again to get the baby out completely. I did that.  And then the doctor smashed his hand into the red emergency button behind me to get intensive care staff to come.

She couldn’t breath. They intubated her and pushed air into her lungs.

losing a child
Melissa Collins

I could hear them talking to her, willing her to breathe, to wake up, to come alive, to live.  She did nothing.  She was floppy and weak.  Amongst all that noise, she didn’t cry.

I never heard her cry. The intensive care staff arrived and she was whisked away.

As soon as I could I went to see her. It was a scary sight. She had tubes everywhere and lines running across her body for monitoring and drug delivery.  The lines were fixed to her skin by the same tape athlete’s use for taping injuries.

The smell of it reminds me of her. I smile when I smell it now.

The next day I was told she was brain dead, that she wouldn’t survive longer than a month if that, and that if she did survive beyond a month,  she would be a vegetable for however long she lived.

She never came home. She died in my arms later that morning.  I had asked the staff to remove all life support paraphernalia so she could have a dignified, cuddled death and so that I could carry her and hold her close to me. We took her outside so she could feel the sun and smell eucalyptus trees and feel the fresh air on her skin.

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As her breathing became shallower and more labored, I asked the medical staff to leave us alone with her.  And then when it got really quiet, I held her close and made a promise that I whispered in her ear. I told her that whatever happened in my life from that moment on, I would do whatever I could to be a better person for having known her, and that if I ever got to see her again, I hoped that she would be proud of me and the choices I might make about myself and life and living because she came and because she went.

I could tell you about the anger and the fury and the white hot rage that followed, or how I was tortured by the unfairness of it all.  I could mention wanting to be dead – not because I was suicidal, but because as her mother I had no other way of knowing if she was alright and it was my job to care for her but I couldn’t go where she went.  I could tell you about the blame and the hatred, the sorrow and the guilt.  I could tell you about how I stayed away from medical practitioners until the last month of my next pregnancy because each doctor I interviewed, bar the last one, wanted to cut me open or drug me up to make the next baby’s delivery ‘safe’ and how I wouldn’t and didn’t let that happen.

resiliance
This is resilience.

To me, resilience is knowing that it would take me years to heal my heart after her death, and that even while knowing that, I still got up each day and breathed in and out, waded through the crushing grief as I held my next baby closer and loved him deeper and more sweetly because she had been here.  He was born one year and one week later.  Every breath he took was one more she never would.  He was so precious and sacred to me because of her.

To me resilience is knowing that true joy is found in the little daily things you look for and not waiting around for the big things to hit you with happiness.

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Resilience is knowing that love never dies, never ends, is always present and even if it’s just an intellectual understanding on many days in a row, it’s still known somewhere inside.  For in her death, I had to find a way to live.  Resilience is living when you would rather completely give up. I will not stop going deeper to the softness that exists in my heart and in my soul.  She gave me that.

Resilience is knowing that there are no victims, that a choice can be made at any time and that its okay if you go down in a heap by choice and its okay if you rise up a little at a time by choice.  Bad things happen to everybody. It’s what you do with yourself in the aftermath that reveals who you are.

Resilience is knowing with deep certainty, that while I only got to hold my daughter for two days in my arms she is in my heart for a life time, just as real as my three living sons and just as significant.

If my daughter had not come and gone the way she did, I don’t think I would have had the courage to leave my violent husband once and for all. I would not have become the kind of mother I became.  I most certainly would not have the depth of love, compassion and understanding for others that I do, nor would I know the deliciousness of the little things in the ways that I do. The gifts of her beingness are life long and profound – the smell of flowers on my morning walks, coffee, tea, afternoon sleeps and the delicious smiles from my sons.  When I reach out to another in their tough times, Jorgia’s gift to the other and to me is that when I say I know how you feel, we both know I mean it.  There’s such grace in that.  The subtle joy of a gentle hand hold of a lover who thinks I’m awesome.  No man ever hit me again after she died and it’s inconceivable that it would happen again.

I care more deeply about myself and my impact on the lives of others than I ever could have, when I was the woman I was before Jorgia came and went. Because when she died, I did too.  I had too. I’m so grateful for that.

That is resilience.

I don’t wish for anyone to go through the intensity of the death of a child in order to experience my kinds of benefits, but if in reading my story you go home and hug your children harder,  or tell other loved ones how grateful you are for them in your life; or if you smell flowers on your walks; or you turn off the television and go for a walk in the sunshine.  Maybe you might find one great thing to say to  someone you don’t know and they smile, or if you finally cut yourself some slack and give into the notion that being human means you’re a clumsy egg and you do okay anyway, then there’s some gifts from Jorgia that keep on giving isn’t it?  And then maybe it wasn’t all in vain after all.

Melissa Collins is a freelance voice over artist, content writer, radio presenter and producer in South East Qld. To stay sane in a crazy busy world, you’ll find Melissa in a hot Bikram Yoga studio most afternoons. She loves to write and which in turn helps friends and clients find ways to express themselves in meaningful ways.

Have you ever experienced a loss? How did you deal with the pain?

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