Australia has a new Prime Minister! Tony Abbott.
Love him or hate him, (and judging by the comments on facebook, a lot of people hate him!) the Australian people made it pretty clear that they wanted a change of government. The massive swings to the Coalition and the drop of support for the Greens is, in my view, less about policy and more a reflection of the fact that Australians want their government to govern, rather than to spend their time trying to appease the Greens and a couple of key Independents, just so they can remain in office.
It’s been a week of new beginnings in my house too. I started a new job last Monday, the day after Father’s Day. The start date was significant for me, because earlier in the year we were expecting a baby, our little boy Alexander, lost to us at four months, back in March. His due date was officially August 31, but as both my little girls arrived the day after their due date, I was expecting him on September 1, Father’s Day.
Those of you who regularly read my blog will know that Alexander was not the first baby I’ve lost. He was my 9th pregnancy and I have two children. From past experience, I know the weeks surrounding the due date are always tough. Even if my mind doesn’t consciously remember, my body does. In the weeks before the due date, I will suddenly start having dreams about pregnancy or breast feeding or trying to hold a baby that keeps slipping out of my arms. Once I dreamed that the baby was actually still alive when it was taken away. Sometimes, in a strange moment of physical de ja vu, I will experience the sensations of being pregnant , in the way that those who have lost an arm or a leg can experience phantom sensations or pain.
So when I was offered a job starting the day after my baby would have been born, I knew I needed to seize my chance to have a new beginning. It wasn’t an easy week. There were times when I would have liked to curl up in a ball and cry my eyes out. Thankfully, I have one or two friends who remembered, and who phoned or messaged me in the past few weeks to say they were thinking of me. At times, my head was completely back in March. But I was also pathetically grateful to have something meaningful to do this week. Starting a radio show the week before a federal election is an opportunity I could never take for granted.
It wasn’t a coincidence that on my first day in the job, I sat down to talk face-to-face with an Iranian Christian assylum seeker who came to Australia (shock horror!) by boat from Jakarta. And yes, he drove to the studio on the M4, which might explain the terrible traffic that day. 😉
My Mum’s family came to Australia by boat. Rev Ridgeway Newland, his second wife and eight children arrived on the Sir Charles Forbes back in 1839. They were congregationalists, fleeing religious persecution in England and wanting to start a new church in Australia. My Dad’s family came by boat too. They migrated to Tasmania in the years after the Second World War because my grandfather had itchy feet and couldn’t settle back into life in post-war Edinburgh.
I am so grateful to my ancestors, who risked everything when they boarded a boat and travelled half-way around the world to give a better life to their children.
Sometimes you just need a new beginning… Whether you’re an Iranian Christian whose home has been raided, a traumatised soldier, a marginalised Reverend… or even a grieving Mum.
The Australian people chose a new PM on the weekend. Even though I don’t agree with all Tony Abbott’s policies, I’m willing to give the guy a chance.
Maybe it’s just time for a new beginning…
When I was in primary school, a friend gave me an autograph book. I thought it was great fun to get all my friends and family to sign it and write a little message. Most of them were silly rhymes or jokes, but there was one message I still remember. It was from my Dad. He wrote, “To my second red-headed daughter and nicest Christmas present I’ve ever had. Love Dad.” He was referring to the fact that I came home from hospital on Christmas Day.
Something about those words from my father spoke very powerfully into my young heart.
I still find it hard to understand exactly why that message was so precious to me.
Maybe it was simply because they were words of affirmation that were written down for me to keep.
Written words endure. They carry the weight of intention. We know that the person wrote them deliberately, so they somehow mean more. We have evidence of being loved, special, cherished.
Perhaps it was the idea of being somebody’s gift that resonated with me. And not just any gift, but a Christmas gift! To a child, Christmas presents are really exciting. And not just any old Christmas gift, but the nicest one ever? Really? Could that be true?
My Dad is very much a present person. He would always buy extravagant gifts for all of us, but especially for my Mum. Each birthday and Christmas she was showered with expensive lingerie and nice perfume or dresses that cost a week’s wages, even when we couldn’t afford it. Then she would model the new clothes and we would all join in with admiring comments, while Dad said something appreciative like, “Whackydoo!” From his actions, it was clear Dad thought that presents were important. Gift giving is definitely one of his ‘love languages’. So being called a present by my Dad was a poignant expression of love.
The idea that children are a gift is not a new one.
It dates back to ancient times. The Hebrew Scriptures say, “Children are a gift from the Lord. They are a reward from him.” Harsh words for anyone going through recurrent miscarriage or infertility, but the part about children being a gift, that bit I can relate to.
Last year on my birthday I unexpectedly discovered I was pregnant.
My one-year-old had just weaned herself and we had plans to go out with friends for karaoke, so for the first time in almost two years I was looking forward to having a few drinks and letting my hair down. I also knew it was technically possible, but extremely unlikely, that I could have fallen pregnant recently. Just to rule it out, I did a pregnancy test. I almost passed out when I saw a feint line appear in the positive window.
For so many women, seeing that line would have been a source of joy – a gift, even. But for me, pregnancy is scary. I’ve been pregnant nine times and have two children. I’ve had far more sad endings than happy ones and some of my experiences have been unusually traumatic. So when I found out I was pregnant, the overwhelming emotion was one of fear and anxiety, of feeling incredibly vulnerable, while still wanting to be hopeful.
At the time, I didn’t tell my family – I didn’t want them to be anxious for the next twelve weeks. So I kept my feelings to myself and went about my day as if nothing had happened. I had lunch with my parents, I went out as planned but drank mineral water – (not what you need for karaoke!) – and I made a passable show of trying to be relaxed, while on the inside I was stressing about how I would get my hands on the specialist medications I needed before the looming Christmas break.
In spite of my worries, the pregnancy went smoothly. At thirteen weeks, we had a very thorough scan in which we were told that the pregnancy could now be considered low risk. I started to believe we were having another baby. I started to change my plans for the New Year and make new ones around the baby. I started picturing my family with three kids and wondering how on earth I would get dinner cooked every evening with my husband on night shift and a toddler and a newborn hanging off me. I started telling my friends we were expecting again. Then at a routine check-up, just before sixteen weeks, there was no heartbeat. Later that night, I was giving birth. And for a few minutes, there was a tiny, purple, perfect little boy, wrapped up in a blanket on my bed. And then he was gone.
“I lost a baby.”
So here’s the thing. I don’t want Alexander’s life just to be an accident. A mistake. A regret.
When I think or speak of Alexander, I think or speak of loss. But when I think or speak of my other, living, children, I think of them as a gift. When really the only difference is the amount of time I got to keep them for. If Caillie or Molly died tomorrow, I hope that I would still consider their lives to have been a gift to me. So I hope that one day I can see Alexander like that too; as a precious gift, not just as a loss, because every baby deserves to loved, special, cherished.
Right now, it still hurts too much, but one day I hope I can write:
“To Alexander, my second son and the best birthday present I ever had…”
On Thursday March 14, we said goodbye to our tiny 15 week son, Alexander.
A routine check-up with our obstetrician on Wednesday revealed his little heart had stopped beating.
I delivered him in the wee hours of Thursday morning. He looked as though he had simply fallen asleep.
Birdy wept when I told her that her baby brother had died in Mummy’s tummy.
She drew Alexander asleep in his basket surrounded by twinkling stars. She told me each star represents the love of one of his brothers and sisters, which will shine on him forever.
There are no words to express our sadness.
Alexander Macdonald Roe.
We will always love you xxx
It’s been nearly nine months since I put pen to paper. Or fingers to keyboard.
I just wasn’t able to write during the last 9 months.
Initially it was because of the morning sickness. I was just so sick every night that as soon as Birdy was in bed, I passed out from exhaustion. If I didn’t go to sleep, I started vomiting.
Then as the pregnancy progressed further, (we got through the dreaded 12 week ultrasound without any bad news!), we started to wonder if maybe this pregnancy would actually result in a baby! But I still didn’t really dare to hope. And I just couldn’t bring myself to write about it. What if I wrote about the pregnancy and then something went wrong? Then I would have to write about that too.
So I stayed quiet. At least on this blog. I kept thinking that when the time was right, I’d start writing again. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. After sharing so much of my last 6 failed pregnancies, I decided to keep this one to myself. It was like there was just too much at stake. Too much going on emotionally. And if I can’t share openly what I’m really going through, then why write anything at all? If a blog is going to be anything, it should at least be personal. And real.
So here we are now. At the end of a three-and-a-half-year heartache and the beginning of a whole new little miracle.
Molly Jean Macdonald Roe was born on November 21 at 8.40pm after a fantastic birth. I looked at her in amazement. “You’re real,” I said as I held her in my arms for the first time. “And you’re alive. And you’re perfect.”
But more about the birth later.
For now, we’re just all enjoying the fact that she’s here.
And that she’s real. And she’s alive. And she’s perfect.
We’ve been doing a bit of a spring clean this week. Well more of a re-organise than a spring clean, but somewhere in the process Birdy’s cot got dissembled and packed away.
I would have thought that packing up the cot would have been an emotional time for me, especially as we spent most of 2008 and 2009, as well as a few months of 2010 being pregnant and hoping for another baby. I would have thought that I would have just taken a moment to observe the end of an era. But it was really quite pragmatic. One day I came home from work and the baby gate was taken down. Another day I noticed a kiddy lock was missing from the kitchen cupboard. Then it only seemed a small step to pack up the cot to make room for a new toy shelf. Some time soon the nappy change table will make it’s way out to the shed.
So now, although we’d still like more kids, we are looking forward at a future as an only child family.
I know that for some people the concept of a one-child family isn’t such a big deal, but I was raised as one of four siblings and would never have planned to have an only child. Even though my mum was an only child and I have several close friends who are only children, the stereotypes persist. There’s this idea that only children are spoilt rotten, grow up too fast and don’t know how to relate to other kids. Part of the problem is with the language. Only child sounds so negative and inadequate. It’s like when people ask how many children I have and I find myself saying, “Just one.” Just. In French and Italian they say “unique child”. It sounds so much more positive and special.
In fact, research from the UK shows that only children are happier than their counterparts with siblings. There’s some evidence that only children are more motivated to achieve, have higher self-esteem and better relationships with their parents because they don’t have to compete for their attention.
Like most only children, Birdy is self-assured at speaking with adults. She’s also good at entertaining herself and has a vivid imagination. She’s also developing a great ability to make friends. Again, the research supports this. Some studies have shown that only children are actually conditioned to be outgoing because they have to win over their friends, rather than just relying on siblings for company. Birdy has recently made close friends with a much older girl at church, who also happens to be an only child. I think in some unspoken way, this friendship seems to be modeled on a “big sister/little sister” pattern of relating. But still, how many three-year-olds can confidently and independently make friends with an eight year old?
But there are down sides. Without fail, every single one of her friends and cousins has a younger brother or sister. On nearly every play-date there are moments when she is left out as siblings naturally fall into play with each other. After those times, she will usually ask me for a baby brother or sister which is hard to take. Some research also shows that only children can have trouble fitting into groups, and tend to dominate. They can also become aggressive as they struggle with introvert or extrovert tendencies. (An only child has to be both introvert and extrovert depending on the context.) But as long as they’re not overprotected, which is a natural trap for parents of only children, they should grow up to be confident, independent and motivated to achieve.
Whether we like it or not, only child families are becoming more common. There are 20 million only child families in America today and China has millions of them. In spite of all the talk of “Little Emperors” the Chinese experience has shown that, in general, they have turned out to be very well-adjusted adults. There’s one other major fringe benefit to growing up as an only child: peace. Studies have shown that only-children’s recollections of childhood are overwhelmingly peaceful. I’m sure their parents appreciate that too.
Do you have an only child? Or did you grow up as one? How did it affect your personality and social skills? Is there any truth to the stereotypes of only children as spoilt? Would you be happy to have an only-child family?