Settling In

After our first night in our empty house, things were about to get a whole lot more cluttered! With the truck arriving 30 minutes earlier than expected, I was not only without coffee making facilities, but also without a take away coffee. And it was 6.30am. Oh dear!

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We’ve never used a removalist company before, and wow! How amazing they were! Although it would have been much nicer if they’d brought me coffee!

Before we knew it, the multitudes of boxes that had surrounded us at our old house were now surrounding us at our new one! And it was only me, two kids and a dog there to unpack it. I did offer the removalists my undying love and affection if they would just stay and unpack everything for me……

Fortunately, I received offers of help from my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law, and even from a friend I’d never actually met! It was such a strange and wonderful thing to welcome her to my new home and meet her face to face at the same time. We had chatted so much online through a common interest group, and now here she was bringing me practical help and good conversation that wasn’t typed on a keyboard, although I was somewhat tempted to communicate via iPads across the kitchen bench! They were all so incredibly helpful in getting the initial unpacking of my kitchen done and helping me find a bit of floor space to walk on! They even brought coffee, which is more than I can say for the removalists. 🙂

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The joy of a drive-through coffee shop up the road! (Not sure about the straw though?)

The next day the kids and I continued unpacking and trying to make some sense of all the mess. One of the boxes Molly was particularly delighted to open was filled with board games, which proved to be a great way to connect in the midst of the chaos. The problem was that I was so incredibly tired, I kept falling asleep in between each one of my turns!

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My sleepiness was apparently a brilliant source of amusement for the kids, and they even managed to capture quite a few videos of me snoozing and then being suddenly woken by some trick of theirs!

Then, finally, at the end of the day, 48 hours after our arrival, Geoff and Brady arrived in Larry the Laser, who had done a stellar job of towing a heavily ladened trailer over 1,000 kilometres! Even Molly’s three pet mice survived the trip. AND they stayed in their cage, much to Geoff and Brady’s delight!

The human family members weren't the only ones delighted to greet Geoff and Brady upon their arrival!
The human family members weren’t the only ones delighted to greet Geoff and Brady upon their arrival!
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Our first night “together” in our new home was actually only 5/6ths of our family, with Travis having chosen to stay in Newcastle. And, to make it particularly poignant, the day Geoff and Brady arrived was Travis’ 20th Birthday! We celebrated in his absence with some take away food at the coffee table because we didn’t yet have cooking supplies set up or even a dining table!!) It was super nice to have Brady and Geoff back with us, but sad to be missing Travis. It sounds as though he had a pretty fun night with his mates though!
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Gradually, gradually, things started to look a little bit like home.
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We went op shopping for treasures and furniture
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Buying drive-through coffee on the way – of course!

One of the expected surprises at the new house was that there was a basketball hoop set up in the backyard. Molly in particular had wanted one for awhile, and there was one already there! The kids quickly discovered that our little rebounder was a lot of fun to use when shooting hoops!

It’s beginning to feel a lot like home. 🙂

Home Sweet Home

Finally, finally, after two overnight stops, we made it to the real estate agent to hand over a small fortune in exchange for a large set of keys. We were almost “home”.

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Walking through the tunnel of bushes and putting the key in the lock for the first time (once we finally worked out which one it was!) was especially exciting, because we’d never even seen the house before! (One of the challenges of an interstate move.)

We had fun exploring our new house and discovering some of its unexpected surprises (well, I don’t guess they’d be surprises if they were expected, lol).

Like laundry chutes! Heaps of fun! I'm sure the novelty will wear off, but it was fun imagining some of the things we could put down there! Fortunately for Lucy, we decided that even our little dog would be too big! ;)
Like laundry chutes! Heaps of fun! I’m sure the novelty will wear off, but it was fun imagining some of the things we could put down there! Fortunately for Lucy, we decided that even our little dog would be too big! 😉
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We found a lovely wind chime on the back deck, discovered a little “friend” in the garden that matched one of two we had back home but had inadvertently left behind, found out that the front door bell is actually an intercom system which we had quite a lot of fun with, and discovered we have a ducted vacuum system (woo hoo!).
We decided quite quickly that although rather small, we really like the backyard! It has 3 fruit trees, a gorgeous deck and plenty of room for our little dog to run around and explore. I love watching the kids being creative with photography. It was a lovely way for them to connect with and discover their new outdoor living space.
I love watching the kids being creative with photography; it was a great way for them to connect with and discover their new outdoor living space (and share it with friends – thank you social media!). We decided quite quickly that although rather small, we really like the backyard! It has 3 fruit trees, a gorgeous deck and plenty of room for our little dog to run around and explore.
It was weird but also fun to spend the first night in a completely empty house. :)
It was weird but also fun to spend the first night in a completely empty house. 🙂

Hello Victoria!

A mistake on my calendar meant I suddenly had one less day in which to get everything packed up and ready for the removalists. It was a mad scramble and very stressful and I am so thankful for my amazing family and for friends who pitched in to help!

Before we knew it, the moving trucks were parked out the front ready to load up. I hadn’t slept all night and still wasn’t ready, but managed to somehow get through it all. Poor Geoff had only had a couple of hours sleep during the night and I fortunately managed to crash out for an hour or two on a mattress on the floor of our bedroom, while the moving guys were in the house labelling everything that was to go. Fortunately they waited to label the mattress until I woke up!

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Insanity

Suddenly our big move was upon us!! Our furniture and belongings were on their way, and it was time for us to follow!! The younger kids and I headed off first, so we would be there in time to greet the truck in a couple of days. Geoff and Brady were staying behind to finish a few things and clean up, and Travis was going to be helping and preparing his own move.

And suddenly it hit me. This was really happening! I was harbouring occasional doubts and fears, but knew that this was the moment for embracing our choice and moving forward. So as we drove off and passed familiar landmarks, we called out loud goodbyes from the windows…. whilst simultaneously feeling a sense sadness in our souls. It’s amazing how excitement and sadness can dwell together.

IMG_9362First stop was my mother’s place, for an overnight stay. We were only three hours into the journey but I knew that was all I would manage the first day because I was just so tired, plus we were travelling with a dog. It was also a good opportunity to say goodbye to my Mum. The worst part about the stop was when Molly got woken up by a spider biting her! She is terrified of spiders at the best of times, so this was an incredibly challenging experience but the kids handled it well and managed to kill the spider and then came straight to me for support and help. Do you want to see it? 🙂

Mum was a generous, gracious host  – as always – and it was hard to say goodbye, knowing that we would now need to do a plane trip or a full day’s driving to be able to see her. We have also left behind our entire extended family on my side, most of whom live in the same town as my mother. It is good to know she has them nearby, but I am also painfully aware that I won’t be there. We have promised Mum that we will fly her down as often as she wants to come, so we can at least look forward to some fun adventures when she visits, and we can discover Melbourne together! Apart from that, she is an amazing long-distance Nanna, Mother and Mother-in-law, so that will help, too.

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No sooner had we left Mum’s than the rain started to pour down. Simultaneously, one of our windscreen wiper blades started to come loose. Three times I had to stop in the rain on the side of a very busy freeway with semi-trailers hurtling past at high speed, to try to fix it. Eventually, one of the clips blew off and we were totally without windscreen wipers, at which point we made a quick dash for the closest store hoping to find help. We were pretty much in the middle of nowhere and the little tiny convenience store didn’t seem at all promising when the lady behind the counter could barely understand English and did know what a “windscreen wiper blade” was. Fortunately her husband was a kind, if somewhat unusual, man, and he not only did a creative makeshift job, he didn’t charge me for his time or the blade. Good samaritans can be found in the most unexpected places!
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One thing we’re looking forward to about Melbourne is cooler weather (yes, I know, we’re strange) and we sure knew we were heading south when we stopped to let Lucy (our dog) out for a stretch and a wee at Goulburn. I realise it won’t be this cold all the time, but goodness me we were feeling it in our bones!
Declan's photo from out the car window at Goulburn (edited on Instagram)
While I was having a little sleep in the car, Declan took this amazing shot out the passenger window. I love the contrast between the black and white in the mirror and the colours behind it. We likened it to how you see the most colourful view when you look ahead rather than looking back to the past. A very pertinent thought as we embrace the upcoming changes.
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Our very blurry photo of the border crossing into Victoria. It was late, we could hardly see the sign and we were driving with another car close behind us so this was the best we could do. Not quite the spectacular grand entrance we had been hoping for, lol!
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This isn’t a border crossing photo, but it is definitely photographic evidence that we had arrived in Vic!
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Declan, Molly and I all agreed that we loved this road trip, enjoying good conversation, frivolity, great music, and awesome scenery along country roads like this one.
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For my American friends 🙂

We had one more overnight stop with our wonderful friends, the Schlosses, and got a double bonus because the lovely MacKay family from “Wheel Education” were staying there in their bus, too!

Beautiful cake made for us,by our beautiful friend
Before we could leave, we were treated to this beautiful carrot cake, lovingly made for us by Molly’s dear friend, Maddie.
Lucy was a great travelling dog!
We had been a bit worried about how Lucy would go on such a long trip, thinking she would be alert and possibly unsettled for a lot of the way…..
Sleepy dog!
But she actually did a lot of this……
Gangster Lucy
And even this! (Although if you look closely you’ll see that she’s actually QUITE alert under her gangster disguise!)

Next stop: Melbourne, and our new home!

See Ya Later NSW!

We have moved house a lot of times. We have even moved quite long distances away. But this has, by far, been the most intense move we’ve ever done. I think it was partly because

  • It was an interstate move
  • Geoff was away a lot leading up to the move
  • We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare
  • We had a LOT of stuff to move and we were paying movers to do it for us (because we literally did not have enough days between Geoff finishing up at one place of employment and starting at his next one, so it was “Bye, bye, holiday pay!!”) so we wanted to get rid of lots of stuff that we either no longer wanted or needed, and also items that were simply too old and damaged to bother paying to have moved!
  • We had quite a lot of trouble finding a house to rent
  • And last but not least, our move was coinciding with our oldest moving out on his own AND he was away on his first overseas trip to Bali for about 10 days leading up to our move!

In the final weeks before moving day, I was constantly torn between wanting to spend time with friends we were moving away from (including one who was going through a particularly difficult time) and also wanting to prepare for Travis moving out of home. I also wanted to ensure we could spend as much relaxed time with him as possible before and after his Bali trip, so we could “end on a good note”. Staying on task and putting tasks before people are not strong points for me, so it was a constant challenge; however, before we knew it the end was upon us and it was time for some farewells!

We had a night out with some of our homeschool friends. This is Molly and her friends being totally silly out on the street after dinner. It was a fun night and reminded me of how much we will miss these awesome friends!
I was driving around doing errands while Declan and Molly were at their final youth group, when I unexpectedly spotted them all walking up the street to the “Senior Citizen’s Centre, where they funnily hold the night session!). I acted like a spy, taking photos out of my window while stopped in a carpark! (They had no idea and I can honestly see a future for me as a private investigator, lol). The vibe was so fun and vibrant, it was easy for me to see why they will miss “Youthstreet” so much!
Getting fitted for reading glasses. Very exciting!
We couldn’t leave town without squeezing in an eye test for Molly (she’d been asking for awhile and had just found an optometrist she trusted and liked enough to have him test her eyes). Lo and behold she does need glasses for close up work, and they fortunately arrived the very day we were due to leave for our move!!
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We gathered with some of our dearest friends at one of our favourite hang out places, “The Croatian Club,” for a farewell complete with woodfired pizza, Polish beer, good conversation and lots of fun. We can only hope we find friends as good as these in our new location!
It was a poignant thing to go to our local Italian restaurant upon Travis' return from Bali to say, "Welcome home, happy 20th birthday for the day after we leave the State, and see ya later!" It is so weird to think that our firstborn is now officially "out on his own"! He will be missed very, very much and I am definitely not used to the idea yet!
It was a poignant thing to go to our local Italian restaurant upon Travis’ return from Bali to say, “Welcome home, happy 20th birthday for the day after we leave the State, and see ya later!” It is so weird to think that our firstborn is now officially “out on his own”! He will be missed very, very much and I am definitely not used to the idea yet!

A Change is as Good as a Holiday?

A little while ago (not very long), we were advised that the owners of our home were returning from their trip around Australia, possibly just for a few months, possibly for good. This meant we had to move out, but would potentially be able to move back in after a few months.

An idea was born.

We could head off on an adventure!

I shared the idea with Geoff, who usually takes a deeeeep preparatory breath when I start a sentence with “Hey, I’ve had an idea…..” I fully expected that he would write it off as totally crazy and that we should simply find a house to rent nearby to our current home, but he surprised me by saying words to the effect of “Why the heck not?!”

So we started dreaming.

My dreams of far-off lands like the UK, Canada and even New Zealand, quickly morphed into more realistic places such as Tasmania or Victoria (Melbourne). I clung to the Tassie idea for awhile, but soon realised it was a no go, and agreed that Melbourne was the place. With lots of extended family already living there, plus better homeschooling laws, better climate (yes, we’re strange, we like the cooler weather!) and, basically, Melbourne being a very “hip” city, it seemed like a great place to base ourselves for the next six months or so. It wasn’t quite an overseas, exotic locale and was, in fact, only one state away from home. It didn’t sound quite as glamorous as some of the other places I’d been thinking of, but it didn’t sound terrible, either! With four-sixths of Geoff’s family already living there, we had good reason to move closer to them and spend time with his half of the family, who we’ve hardly seen for the past seven or so years.

We sat with the idea for awhile and then gathered the kids to have a chat. We presented the dream and asked for their thoughts, moving into a brain storming session where no thought or idea was considered silly or wrong.

Travis thought it was a wonderful idea and said we should definitely do it, but that he wouldn’t come with us. He was almost twenty at the time, and starting to consider his options for flatting with friends, or heading north to warmer weather and bigger waves. My heart started to race at the idea that we could end up living a whole state or two apart, but reassured myself that it was “only for six months”.

Brady quickly wrote the idea off, but within about 20 minutes of conversation had totally changed his tune, and became very excited about the idea, having often thought of relocating to Melbourne himself once he moved out anyway!

The younger two had reservations but also enthusiasm about the adventure ahead, and before we knew it a mutual decision had been made and plans started to snowball, for our “6 month adventure”!

I will save you the dreary details of our hunt for a rental property (which ended in a twelve month lease, rather than six), the sorting and stashing of all our worldly goods, and so on. 🙂

I will say this, though. I have the most amazing mother on earth. I kid you not. I was really worried about telling her our idea, knowing that it would take us much further away from her. We were already three hours away, but this would be a much greater distance, and require flying rather than driving to visit. I wanted to tell her in person, so I invited her to meet me for lunch in the city, because I “had something to tell her”. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised how hard it must have been for her to hear those words, and the possibilities her imagination may well have been dredging up.

So I headed off on my 2.5 hour train trip and she drove the hour trip in to the city, and we talked. And talked. And talked. (Some things never change!)

The short story is (because trust me, if I started on the long story we’d be here all night!) she gave us her blessing to move nine hours away from her. She is a widow and could easily have wallowed in self pity, feeling upset with us for “abanding” or “deserting” her, but instead, she started to get excited about coming down for regular holidays, saying that she’d always wanted to see more of Melbourne and now she had the perfect excuse, and at our expense! She was also very diplomatic, stating that we could have announced we were moving to the other side of the earth!

I was so amazed by the way she embraced our choice, and yet she was also honest about how she would miss us being closer to her.

Before we knew it, everything was full steam ahead and life started to look a lot like this:

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Okay, so there were a few distractions along the way, like playing with bubble wrap. 🙂
... and playing with boxes
… and playing with boxes
Saying yes to helping your child make their first Halloween costume
Saying yes to helping your child make their first Halloween costume
..... and saying yes to helping one of your other kids with their Halloween costume!
….. and saying yes to helping one of your other kids with their Halloween costume!
Having birthdays .....
Having birthdays …..
..... and birthday parties
….. and birthday parties
Sending your first born off on his first overseas adventure, knowing that on his return he will have just a couple of days before moving out on his own for the first time
Sending your first born off on his first overseas adventure, knowing that on his return he will have just a couple of days before moving out on his own for the first time
..... and then dealing with the courier who ran into your son's motorbike and tried to rip you off!
….. and then dealing with the courier who ran into your son’s motorbike and tried to rip you off!
Saying yes to the kids inviting their friends over
Saying yes to the kids inviting their friends over
..... and saying yes to an electronic drum set, even though it takes hours to set up and would have to be packed up for the move in two weeks!
….. and saying yes to an electronic drum set, even though it takes hours to set up and would have to be packed up for the move in two weeks!
Spending your first supposedly uninterrupted day of packing at the roadside with your husband's broken down car
Spending your first supposedly uninterrupted day of packing at the roadside with your husband’s broken down car
..... sorting and purging, giving away and selling
….. sorting and purging, giving away and selling
..... patching up "packing injuries" and buying way too many mangoes just a few days before the big move!!
….. patching up “packing injuries” and buying way too many mangoes just a few days before the big move!!

And that’s only half of it. There were also multiple interstate business trips for Geoff, a couple of bouts of sickness for me, a vomiting child, interstate visitors (which was much more fun than the vomiting child!), and many other intermittent interruptions to the task at hand. The stress culminated in a sudden realisation, three days before the truck was due to come, that it was actually coming in two days! I had inadvertently forgotten to change the amended date in my calendar, and I suddenly had one entire less day in which to get everything finished! There are many good reasons as to why moving house rates so high on the stress scale and we were experiencing them all! But we got through it, as does everyone who experiences similar situations. And before we knew it, the time for goodbyes was upon us, but we’ll leave that post for another day……

Ode to Cody, 18 years on…..

Today would have been my second son’s 18th birthday.

Sadly, he didn’t even make it to his first one.
Nor to the anniversary of his first month,
or week,
or day.

Some would say I should be “over it” by now.
But that’s just a load of bunkum!

Cody Luke was, and is, my son.

Cody's Grave

I just haven’t had the privilege of being a face to face mum with him.
Or the privilege of creating a lifetime of memories that include him.
I haven’t had the privilege of parenting him.

I haven’t had the privilege of helping him learn to
ride a bike,
tie his shoes,
or read a book.

I haven’t had the privilege of
playing with him,
hanging out with him,
bandaging his wounds,
enjoying life with him
or even wiping his nose.

I haven’t had the privilege of watching him grow up,
or watching him spread his wings and fly.

He spread his wings and flew away a long, long time ago.
I wasn’t even with him.

And my heart is still broken.

It beats, but it is different now.
And it always will be.

Did you know that hearts go on beating when they are broken?

I have learned to live with this brick in my pocket.
And that’s okay.

This is who I am.
This is my journey.

It isn’t raw like it was in the early days.

I can now look at another baby without being blinded by tears.
I can now – almost – watch a helicopter without feeling sick.
I can live an awesome life without feeling burdened by a weight of grief.
The brick doesn’t feel so heavy anymore.
It feels familiar and simply part of me.

“Do babies grow up in heaven?” my daughter wants to know.
She thinks they probably do,
but I think maybe that’s not fair
because I want so desperately to hold my baby in my arms again.

I don’t know how things are in eternity, but I know this:
I miss my little-baby-come-big-grown-up-teenage-boy.

Whether I get to hold my baby in my arms again one day,
or whether I get to have a great big bear hug with an adult,
I know this one thing:

My faith in a life that goes beyond our final breath is my sanity in all of this.
It is the hope that has kept me …. hopeful.
It is the root of peace in my soul.

That – and the fact that I saw into his eyes.
So many do not get that beautiful privilege.

For Cody

Cody, you were so wanted.
So loved.
You are so grieved.

I still miss you!
I wonder how different life would have been if you hadn’t left so soon.

I would change so many things if I could,
hoping it might have led to a different outcome
but I would never change the decision to bring you into the world.

I like to think my experience of birth, loss and grief has made me
A better mum to your siblings,
A more compassionate person,
A voice of hope to those who suffer.

You have two other brothers and a sister now.
Only one of them met you, but they all know of you, and speak of you.
And this is such a comfort to me.

I am thankful for society’s newfound awareness of the need to
hold
grieve
photograph
and remember
our little babies who died too soon.

Today we had birthday cake in your memory.
I just wish you were here to blow out the candles.

I wonder how you would have celebrated your 18th birthday?

An 18th Birthday – Without the Birthday Boy

I woke up to this beautiful sight: my youngest one bringing me breakfast in bed (her idea) on her "big brother's" 18th Birthday
I woke up to this beautiful sight: my youngest one bringing me breakfast in bed (her idea) on her “big brother’s” 18th Birthday
Today I also had a sick girl which served as a reminder to live in the moment and be a mum to my living kids. I had walked into the lounge room and found her sitting there holding her sore throat. When I tried to take photos of the cute sad face, it turned into a bit of a giggle fest. Giggles and grief are part of the same package.
Today I also had a sick girl which served as a reminder to live in the moment and be a mum to my living kids. I had walked into the lounge room and found her sitting there holding her sore throat. When I tried to take photos of the cute sad face, it turned into a bit of a giggle fest. We also ended up having quite a few giggles throughout the day, as she was using a text-to-voice app to communicate, because her throat was sore. Anytime she wanted to speak, she would type her words into her iPod and this adult British MALE voice would speak on her behalf. It was highly amusing! **Giggles and grief are part of the same package.**
Life goes on! In the midst of a day of remembrance and reflection, there were picnic umbrellas to rescue from the storm, washing to get off the line when it rains, dishes to wash.....
Life goes on! In the midst of a day of remembrance and reflection, there was a picnic umbrella to rescue from the storm, washing to get off the line when it rained, dishes to wash….. Well, the dishes will probably still be there in the morning….
In the midst of it all, a moment to remember and reflect. Some years I spend hours of solitude doing this, other years less so. This year was one of the "less" years, but I feel like I wanted more. I am still pleased with other aspects of the day, though.
In the midst of it all, a moment to remember and reflect, to ponder, to browse through the objects that make up the entirety of his physical existence on earth. Some years I spend hours of solitude perusing his two memory boxes, other years not so much. This was one of the “not-so-much” years, but I feel like I wanted more. I am still pleased with other aspects of the day, though.
It's an odd coincidence, but only yesterday we bought a little remote control helicopter, and it just so happens that helicopters are a sensitive issue for me, being as Cody was airlifted by helicopter just before he died. Today my daughter helped to reframe the issue for me, sending me a little love note by helicopter!
It’s an odd coincidence, but only yesterday we bought a little remote control helicopter, and it just so happens that helicopters are a sensitive issue for me, being as Cody was airlifted by one just before he died. Today my daughter helped to reframe the issue for me, sending me a little love note by helicopter!
Next up was birthday cake making time! This is a tradition I started from the very first anniversary. It was cathartic (and poignant) then, and has continued to be so ever since.
Next up was birthday cake making time! This is a tradition I started from the very first anniversary. It was cathartic (and poignant) then, and has continued to be so ever since.
Next up was dinner out as a family, to "celebrate" Cody's 18th birthday. It was a strange thing to do in some ways, and highlighted the fact he wasn't with us, but it also felt good to at least do something nice. We were sad to also have our youngest son absent, because he is away on camp. Good food, good conversation and sadness all mixed up together.....
Next up was dinner out as a family, to “celebrate” Cody’s 18th birthday. It was a strange thing to do in some ways, and highlighted the fact he wasn’t with us, but it also felt good to at least do something nice. We were sad to also have our youngest son absent, because he is away on camp. Good food, good conversation and sadness all mixed up together…..
Lighting the candles on Cody's cake was surprisingly fun! Brady did a stellar job it, only to have someone fly our new remote control helicopter right above the cake, which caused the breeze from the helicopter to extinguish the candles! It was pretty funny and we all needed the laugh. More laughs were had when the family effort at blowing the candles out had far less impact that the tiny little helicopter had!
Lighting the candles on Cody’s cake was surprisingly fun! Brady did a stellar job it, only to have someone fly our new remote control helicopter right above the cake, which caused the breeze from the helicopter to extinguish the candles! It was pretty funny and we all needed the laugh. More laughs were had when the family effort at blowing the candles out had far less impact that the tiny little helicopter had!

I’ll finish off with how our night finished off: having a bit of fun with our new toy! That which was once a source of pain and despair, has today become a source of fun and laughter.

Well, a milestone has come …. and gone.
Which is pretty much how grief is, I guess.
The hard days come, but the hard days also go.
And even in the midst of sadness and grief,
there can be laughter and good times.

It is not a black and white, linear process.
It is a black, white, grey, and sometimes multi-coloured
swirling sea with patches of calm, great depths,
and sometimes wild, crashing waves.

In a way, Cody’s birth and death feel like yesterday,
and in another way it is as though it happened to someone else,
or in a different lifetime.

The end result is, the loss never goes away,
the hole is always there.
But you get used to living with it.
Like a hole in a favourite pair of jeans
The hole moves with the fabric and adds character.

You move on with life, living differently than how you did before.
Your perspective on what matters is different, for the better!
You don’t stay the same as how you were;
hopefully you become more gracious, empathic and understanding.

Pain can be a pathway to peace;
the kind of peace that is not dependent on good times,
or happy circumstances;
the kind of peace that is a constant uncurrent beneath the storms of life.

To those who grieve,
You will be okay.
I will be okay.
I AM okay.

Passing It On

I remember my father’s last Christmas well. He had terminal cancer and very little time left. The whole family gathered together and created a beautiful memory, even though he was so sick. At one stage, in spite of Dad’s deteriorating state, the inevitable game of indoor cricket took place in the lounge room, using a cricket bat and a ping pong ball. Dad had been a cricket coach in his time, and it was definitely one of his passions. He was sitting there in his wheelchair, attached to his oxygen machine, when he surprised us all by slowly getting up, hobbling over to my son and giving him a few final tidbits of cricketing wisdom. He couldn’t stand for long, but the effort and love were an incredibly beautiful thing to witness. I glanced with tear-filled eyes at my mother and husband, sharing that knowing look of awareness that this was one of those moments. A moment to treasure.

My mother is a truly amazing woman, a blessing to everyone she knows, and everyone she meets. Where she goes, the love grows. People feel cared for and special when she is around; particularly her very fortunate grandchildren. Every school holidays, when she isn’t working (yes, she’s 72 and still teaches piano and manages a music studio at her local church), she makes the nine hour trek north to my brother’s house to look after his children while the parents work. On the way, she stops in at our place (conveniently placed part way along her journey) and spends a couple of days with us. She washes dishes, folds washing, takes the younger kids to see a movie, and just enjoys spending time with us, as we do with her. She’s a very easy houseguest, fitting in with the flow of family life, and we always look forward to her visits.

I have often wondered what it would have been like if we hadn’t moved away from the home town where I grew up, and where Mum still lives. I’ve wondered what it would be like if my kids had grown up with extended family living in the same town. I know there would be wonderful things about that, but I tell you what, there are also wonderful things about being long-distance family. Phone calls, Skype, Facebook, and in particular those ‘special shared holidays’, where you really make the most of the time you have together because you haven’t grown accustomed to just always having them around. There is no room for complacency in appreciating the time together when it is something that happens less often.

We lived further away once, out in the Australian outback, and we saw our extended family even less often then. Usually once a year, sometimes twice, so the shared time together was even more special then. The hello hugs and farewells were deeply felt. It was during that time that my father passed away, and there were certainly challenges involved in being so far away during his illness, but again, I am just so thankful for the times we had together (and for his frequent flyer miles I was able to take advantage of!).

Visiting Nanna on one of our holidays when we lived far away
Visiting Nanna on one of our holidays when we lived far away

Anyway, all of that is really just a precursor to a couple of fun snapshots and videos from my mother’s most recent visit to our home! (The kids have grown up quite a lot since the above photo!) She taught my two youngest children a little hand clapping routine that her grandmother had taught her when she was a girl. She was passing it on to my kids, and whilst I don’t think they’ve quite perfected it yet, they had fun trying, and I wonder if they will one day pass it on to their grandchildren, and remember with fondness the grandmother that taught it to them.

After my mother had taught the kids her tricky hand manoeuvres, my kids had a trick or two to teach her! It was so much fun watching my 72-year-old mother keeping those neural pathways buzzing. 🙂

Family: we may not always see eye to eye, and it may not be perfect, but I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity my children have had to know their grandparents, even if from a distance, and even if for only a short time (my youngest child was only 14 months old when my father died).

If you don’t have a loving grandparent in the lives of your children, either near or far, perhaps there is a lonely older person you could adopt. There is something really beautiful about mixed age groups sharing time together.

An Imperfect Unschooling Life

So, here’s the deal. I’ve been thinking of deleting this blog, or at least taking it offline. Why? Because, well, I’m not perfect. And neither is my family.

Bet you thought we were, huh? 🙂

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© Roza | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

I mean, don’t all bloggers have this amazing, perfect, ideal life? I guess you could be forgiven for thinking they do, but in reality, what you read on anyone’s blog is only ever a fraction of that person’s life. For the most part, people write about the good stuff. The “successes”. It can be scary to put yourself out into the public eye, opening yourself up to possible judgment and scrutiny, so it can be tempting to whitewash things a little bit, or shy away from writing about the challenges. Most people don’t want to have their weaknesses or bad days recorded forever on the world wide web, especially those who write about their children.

Like other writers, I don’t want my children to feel embarrassed by me sharing stories of them having a hard time, or struggling with something. (For the record, I do ask them for permission if I write about them, and they are old enough to have a preference. When people write about their very young children, I do wonder if those children, when they are older, may regret being a “household name”, but I guess it depends what is written. I know for sure that when parents write derogatory, insulting things about their children online, it is completely inappropriate. I’m sure you know the kind of posts I’m talking about. Shooting a hole in your child’s laptop, anyone? Making them stand in the street holding an embarrassing sign? No, thank you! I respect my children way too much to write about that kind of thing publicly. Or to do it in the first place.)

Just when I was thinking, our family isn’t “perfect” enough to have an unschooling blog, I received a super encouraging message about my writing, that caused me to think that maybe there is a reason to write after all (apart from the fact that I enjoy it, of course!). Then I remembered back to a time when a homeschooling mum came up to me at an event and thanked me for writing about unschooling. At first when she said, “I read your blog post!”, I was a wee bit worried, thinking she was upset with me, because she is a strict school-at-home parent. She surprised me by sharing that she had been challenged by my post, and her parenting and approach to homeschooling would never be the same. I was humbled, and encouraged, and I decided that if just one person is encouraged by my writing, it is worth it. If just one person is inspired to consider unschooling, it is worth it. If just one person is challenged to parent more respectfully and gently, it is worth it. If just one person is encouraged by knowing that a grieving mother can live a happy life even while carrying that love scar, it is worth it.

I hope to keep it real on this blog, to share a balance of both “successes” and challenges faced by this imperfect family. I think it is better for readers to see real and imperfect families living with hope, rather than elevated, seemingly “perfect” families presenting themselves on a pedestal behind a white picket fence.

According to the Miriam Webster dictionary, imperfect can mean a number of things, including defective, but the one that most fits what I am trying to say is: “a continuing state or an incomplete action”. In the words of Sonny in the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be alright in the end… if it’s not alright, then it’s not yet the end.”

We’re not finished yet!

We don’t need to wait for tomorrow to have a better day. There are plenty more moments left today. Right now. It’s what we do with each one that matters.

And for now, I will continue writing about it.

From one imperfect (unfinished) family to another, I send out love and encouragement to keep embracing each moment, living it to the full and forgiving yourself for the moments you regret and the weaknesses you perceive, remembering that the light still shines, and another moment is ready and waiting. Not tomorrow or next week or next year, but right here, right now.

Perhaps if all of us chose just one person to encourage each day, just as someone encouraged me, a multitude of people would be inspired to continue on with their passions, knowing that they really can make a difference and be an inspiration. Even if they’re not perfect.

Message in a Parachute

You know the old “message in a bottle” scenario? Well, today I got a message by parachute. A message of love. A message I really appreciated hearing right now. I was busy in the kitchen and heard a sweet little voice from upstairs calling out, “INCOMMMIIIIINNNNNNGGGGG!!!!” I looked up and saw her toy parachute flying down from the upstairs balcony. The little parachute dude was wrapped up in a special paper blanket, sealed with many, many staples.

Mr Parachute
Mr Parachute
My "Message in a Bottle - I mean, Parachute" :)
My “Message in a Bottle – I mean, Parachute” 🙂

After opening the message and having a big squeezy hug, I was asked to wait a minute while a second message was delivered. I had a fair idea what message number two would be (can you tell we’ve done this before?). Below is the second message, together with my answer (in green).

The second message with my reply (which also had to be sent by Mr Parachute)
The second message with my reply (which also had to be sent by Mr Parachute)
Mr Parachute's Launching Pad
Mr Parachute’s Launching Pad

Isn’t it amazing how pure the love of a child can be, and how often they sense just when we need to be reminded of how loved we are? Miss 10 has so much love in her heart, and it just spills out everywhere, in little love notes, squeezy cuddles, love songs…..

I feel so blessed to be a Mum. And so thankful to my husband for working so incredibly hard to give me the privilege of being with my kids full-time, for the past twenty years.

Have you recently received a message of love, or reassurance, or encouragement that was just what you needed? And what’s more, did it come by PARACHUTE? 🙂

The First Year of Grief

Early Days

Waking up the morning after Cody’s funeral was ……. surreal.

Surely this wasn’t true.
Surely it wasn’t happening to us.
To me.
It must be someone else’s nightmare!
Head-shaking-disbelief.
Pinch-yourself-shock.

Despair.

And suddenly – the cry of a toddler hungry for Weet Bix!

Reality like a splash of icy cold water hits me in the face!

Conflicted emotions tug at my heart strings and threaten to rip them apart.
Part of me wants to lie prostrate on my baby’s grave, as close to him as possible.

Part of me can’t bear the thought of leaving my toddler and husband.
I am needed.
But I am empty.
Everything I had to give poured out of me with my tears.

But give I must.

In a robotic trance I go about my day, doing what must be done. And nothing more.

I just want to sit in utter silence, rocking back and forth,
Weeping for my wee one who is with us no more……

Remnants-of-a-short-life-unshackled

And so began day 6 of my grief walk. Sometimes it felt more like limping. Or lying down in the foetal position wishing the world would go away and leave me alone.

I honestly don’t think I changed a nappy for the first two weeks. I don’t remember cooking, or doing anything practical at all.

I just remember the tears. Waking up in the middle of the night, finding myself standing in the darkness of the kitchen, sobbing with gusto.

Other times the tears were silent, invisible even; falling within, unseen by other eyes.

I had a framed photo of my son, which I would sometimes clutch to my chest, but its hard wooden frame, cold glass and pointed edges were a stark contrast to the warm softness of a baby’s skin; a painful reminder of what I was really holding. Sometimes I would kiss the photographed image of my son’s lips, but between us was the cold, hard pane of glass. There was to be no more physical contact between me and my son. I was alone.

I vividly remember the first time it rained. I had a panicky, irrational, frantic, desperate desire to rush to the grave and rescue Cody from the falling raindrops, falling like tears upon the now sodden, muddy ground. I couldn’t bear the thought of his grave getting wet. I wanted to keep my baby dry. My tears fell like raindrops and there was no umbrella large enough to stop their wetness getting through to every part of me.

Such was the madness of maternal grief.

Til Death Do Us Part?

Grieving for a lost child, while parenting another child, and somehow navigating the tricky waters of shared parental grief, is a minefield of potential disasters. Geoff and I promised we would always be honest with each other, and refrain from the desire to “be strong”, or pretend. But we found that was easier said than done. The natural tendency, when one of us seemed to be doing “okay” and the other was falling apart, was to try to shield them from the intense emotions. That shielding could easily become a wedge that divided us. The intention was good but the outcome not always so.

I still remember the intense loneliness on Geoff’s first day back at university, three weeks after Cody died. A friend’s presence provided temporary comfort, a partial distraction from the life that lay ahead.

One of the things I learned throughout all of this was how differently men and women grieve.

I cried, I wept, I sat by the grave. I drenched my friends’ shirt sleeves with my tears. I shared numerous cuppas, walks, talks and tissues with supportive sisters. I often looked through the little collection of memorabilia from Cody’s short life and treasured every card and photo and keepsake even though they drew out my tears. I journalled my feelings, shared my thoughts, and sought comfort in the care of friends and family.

My husband’s grief was, for the most part, shut away behind his relentless effort to support me and be strong for me. When it did come out, it was often an angry grief. He yelled himself hoarse as he drove home from work, he threw things, he visited the midwife to plead desperately for answers, he shut himself away in a cave, he avoided the grave, he tried to be strong and supportive for me and yet struggled with volatile emotions that scared even him.

He didn’t get anywhere near the support from his mates as I got from my friends and family. I’m not sure whether his angry emotions scared them off, or if it’s just what blokes do? Take him out for a beer and talk about the footy.

“She’ll be right.”
“How’s the wife?”

I don’t for a moment doubt their compassion. I think they were simply products of a society that just doesn’t know how to handle male despair. I remember reading once about a primitive ritual in a far off place where a grieving man chooses a tree from the forest, and takes out his despair upon the tree with a machete, then throughout the days, months and years ahead, he visits the tree and observes its gradual healing, a symbol of that taking place within himself. I have read of cultures where men construct the coffin, often beginning with the chopping down of a tree. The physical outlet for grief, I imagine, is a significant part of their grief journey; an outlet so desperately needed for the huge emotions impossible to contain.

I think Geoff felt much more alone in his grief than I did in mine. Why is it that guys find it so much harder to show compassion towards those who are suffering? To take the time to really find out how they are going, and lend an empathic listening ear rather than a slap on the back with a beer in the hand? Why do people in general assume that a father grieving the death of a newborn doesn’t suffer as much as the mother? Why do they ask how a man how his wife is going, rather than asking him how HE is going?

Dads grieve too.

Help!

Whilst we at times tried to shield each other from our darkest days, we were also a lifeline of support from which we each gained incredible strength. We went together to a SANDS Support Group. We went together to grief counselling. We were a team. We were partners in this shared nightmare.

It was at counselling that we were challenged to consider the idea that always agreeing with each other, shielding each other, and thinking we could be each other’s “everything” was a bit “1950’s-ish” and that it was okay to be disappointed in each other, angry with each other, real with each other.

I think we’ve progressed well beyond the 50’s now. 🙂

The SANDS Support Group was certainly another lifeline, especially at first. It was amazing to walk into a room and find a group of people that had some idea of what we were going through.

Family and Friends

One thing that was strange for me was laughing. It didn’t happen much, but when laughter erupted it felt almost….inappropriate.

Our family and friends seemed to like it when we laughed or seemed happy though, because it made their job easier. Evaluations of me being “strong” were unhelpful to me, because it wasn’t always true, and I didn’t want to feel pressured to make it so.

It is hard to hang around with someone who is experiencing emotions that we deem “negative”, and who is morose a lot of the time, so I am deeply thankful for those friends who could manage it.

In fact, to be honest, I felt an incredible amount of support from my family and friends. I felt their compassion and love deeply. One or two people in particular were a strong lifeline of support for me.

There was a time, though, when I began to realise that this was really hard for them, too. We had “lost” our baby. They had lost their happy, fun-loving friends and in a way, they had lost Cody, too. It was amazing at times to visit the grave and discover that someone else had left some flowers or a toy there.

Strangers and Acquaintances

I remember walking through a shopping centre once, and feeling as though I was encased in a big glass box. People could see me, but I felt completely disconnected from my surroundings. I couldn’t believe that the world was going on around me as though ours hadn’t just ended. I was almost offended in a way, and felt like shouting out, “Do you not realise my baby just died!!!”

Everywhere I looked there were pregnant women or parents with newborns. I’m sure there hadn’t been this many previously! And whilst I could sometimes cope with it, there were other times when, seemingly out of the blue, I would burst into tears.

One day a new lady came to my women’s Bible Study group, and she had a baby boy who was about the same age as Cody would have been, which was 7 months by then. My other friend who’d had a baby 2 weeks before me, and had been an incredible support, was obviously there with her little boy too. The babies were old enough to be very cute, and everyone was laughing and enjoying these two baby boys. And I just lost it! It should have been Cody! Our two boys were going to grow up as great mates. But not any more.

There were strangers who said the most ridiculous things, such as, “You’re lucky your baby didn’t live for six months! Imagine how hard THAT would be!” or “Hmmm it’s been six weeks. You must be feeling better” or “God must have loved your baby more than you did” or “God needed another angel in heaven”. I could go on.

And then there were the strangers who gave love. Empathy. Understanding. Grace.

Pregnant!

One of our dreams had been to have a large family, with our children born closely together, so we knew that the longer time marched on, the more salt would be rubbed into our Cody wound, because we would end up having two siblings with a big age gap. Travis was 21 months old when Cody died. We decided that we didn’t want to wait too long before having another baby for Travis to play with, and for us to hold.

It was complex, though.

In no way, shape or form, did we see a subsequent child as a replacement for Cody. Such a thing would be impossible! And undesirable.

But we didn’t want to live forever with this extra wound of widely spaced children, when we had desired them close in age.

So, against advice, we went ahead with….. Well, let’s just say I was pregnant again eight weeks after Cody died!

We were absolutely ECSTATIC with the news that we were going to have a baby. In fact, we wanted it so badly that we just kept repeating the negative tests until we finally got the positive result we were looking for! I think we got 3 negative results until finally, on the fourth day, we got the result we were looking for!

Our joy and elation was tempered by our grief and sadness. It was complicated and messy. It was hard to separate the two situations when I was experiencing them simultaneously.

We were in the early stages of grief.
We were in the early stages of pregnancy.

We chose to cease attending SANDS meetings. Listening to the variety of tragic tales of things that had gone wrong and which had resulted in the death of a baby was doing my head in. I needed to do all I could to believe that this baby might actually live! Focussing on all those pregnancies that had resulted in death was not what I needed. There were also people at the meetings who minimised our loss because we already had a toddler and were now pregnant again.

It is ridiculous to try to compare losses.

One thing that was hard about our situation, in spite of the blessing of a toddler and another pregnancy, was grieving and parenting simultaneously. I didn’t hide my tears from my now two year old son, but the extent of my emotional expression was restrained somewhat by his presence.

One thing that was very difficult was his innocent assumption that this baby would die. It was all he knew. Mummy had a baby in her tummy, the baby came out, the baby died and everybody cried. A lot.

I still remember the day he said, “Mummy, when THIS baby dies and goes to heaven in a helicopter……” Sigh.

Pregnant-with-Brady-unshackled

We ended up walking the path of memories, taking him to the same hospital where Cody had been born, to visit a friend who had just had a baby boy, so that he could see what the end result was for most people. To get to the postnatal unit we had to walk right past the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where Cody had been treated. I almost vomited.

Grieving the death of one baby, whilst growing another, was complex. Conflicting.

Throughout the pregnancy, I would often place my hand on my growing womb, feeling an immense depth of love for this new baby, accompanied by a sense of guilt on Cody’s behalf. Was I betraying him? The womb which had been his but weeks ago, was now inhabited by another.

Could two babies, two pregnancies and two extremes of emotion co-exist?

I was very fortunate that we were in grief counselling throughout this first year, because I had someone who was paid to listen to me! I mean, I had my friends and family too, but they were also grieving. It was great to be able to go to our counsellor and be totally real and honest, knowing that he didn’t have an attachment to our loss. Although he did at times get very angry when we explained the circumstances of Cody’s mismanagement. One of the most beautiful times was when our counsellor lit a candle for Cody, so we could remember and honour him together.

Our plans for this pregnancy were quite different to the last one. Whilst we still thought a natural birth was absolutely desirable, we also realised that one day of natural childbirth was worth nothing in comparison to a lifetime of grief. If I had to choose between the two, it was a no-brainer.

We opted for high level medical care from an extremely experienced obstetrician who had the bedside manner of a bull but the skill of an expert. He was also very open to natural childbirth! He told me I could give birth standing on my head if I really wanted to, provided I was on the bed. That was his only stipulation. It probably had something to do with him being sixty-three years old. 🙂

The pregnancy was, as usual, uneventful. But there was no way we were going to be able to cope with 42 weeks of it this time. We pre-arranged an early delivery by induction, which I had mixed feeling about. My induction with Travis had been hell. My natural birth with Cody had been easy(ish). But both Geoff and I knew that we were going to get more and more anxious as time went on, so as soon as it was safe to deliver, we wanted that baby in our arms: warm, breathing and alive.

At 38 weeks our obstetrician agreed to an IV induction, on the condition that if labour didn’t progress we could stop the procedure, with my waters intact. Half way through the day he examined me and smugly stated that nothing was happening, as he’d expected, so we’d be turning the drip off and going home, when suddenly, as he was completing his examination, WHOOSHKA!! Amniotic fluid all over him. 🙂

A Living Baby!

Brady-is-Born1-unshackled

Brady was born on 5th September, 1996, just three weeks shy of Cody’s birthday. During the pregnancy we had been interviewed on ABC radio by Richard Glover, about the death of a baby, support systems etc. and he had asked us to ring him on air when this baby was born, which we did. So Brady’s birth was announced far and wide on ABC radio, and it was such a joy to celebrate his birth in that way!

For the labour, I had two support people in addition to Geoff. We knew that if something happened, we wanted one support person each. People said we shouldn’t even consider the possibility, that everything would be fine this time, and that nothing bad would happen. We knew better.

What had happened to us with Cody was as rare as hen’s teeth. Umbilical cords rarely break in half during delivery. Babies are rarely left to fight for breath, alone, in a storage room. A freakish thing had happened once. We knew it, or something different, could happen again.

We had been real about this with Travis too. We never said, “This baby will not die”. The last thing he needed was false hope.

He needed to know we would be okay, no matter what. And that most babies don’t die. But yes, some do.

When Brady was born, my volume of tears just about equalled the amount I had cried when Cody died, but this time they were tears of pure joy. And when Travis came in to meet his baby brother? WOW!

Brady-meets-Travis-unshackled

 

Brady-meets-Travis-2-unshackled

The day after Brady was born, he was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I was absolutely shocked! I couldn’t see a foot in front of me as we made our way to the ward. A torrent of tears was blinding my vision.

This time, however, the problems were nowhere near as serious. He simply had “blood group incompatibility” which had caused early onset jaundice. But I tell you, going to that ward was the one thing I did NOT want to do. We were surrounded by babies fighting for their life, and I had to go back to my room to rest – alone. Although it was not life or death this time, the experience of being there was really, really hard.

Brady-in-NICU-unshackled

When we took Brady home from that place, our dreams were finally coming true. Our two boys in the back seat of the car together just looked right.

Anniversary

But three weeks later we had to face an enormous hurdle. The anniversary of Cody’s birth and death. I relived every moment. Moment by moment.

This time a year ago I was drinking castor oil to try to induce labour.

This time a year ago I was shouting out from the bathroom, “If this isn’t labour I think I’m going to die!” as the castor oil did its trick and brought on sudden contractions.

This time a year ago we were ringing the Birth Centre, so excited to know that our favourite midwife had just started her shift.

And so on.

I knew I needed to go to the grave.

I felt such guilt, almost that of an adulterer, sitting at my baby’s grave, holding my new baby. I had a little chat to Cody about it which helped. But I sadly think that this guilt caused me to hold back somewhat from bonding with the beautiful gift in my arms.

Grieving and Bonding

Every time Geoff would check on Brady when he was sleeping, I fully expected to hear those fateful words, “OH MY GOD, HE’S NOT BREATHING!” Every time I would hold my breath ….. and then finally exhale it with relief when I discovered that my precious baby was, in fact, still breathing.

When I would breastfeed him and he would fall into a deep sleep, with his body limp and his arms completely floppy , I would get flashbacks to holding Cody in those first two hours, with his heavy, flaccid limbs falling away from my embrace.

This desperately wanted and loved baby slowly crept his way into the depths of my heart, and is still there now. How blessed we are to have him. And our other children.

It has been a complex thought to realise that I almost certainly would not, in normal circumstances, have fallen pregnant eight weeks after giving birth to a 5 kilogram baby! So whilst Brady is in no way at all a replacement, his life is a gift that we may otherwise not have been blessed with.

And we are so very, very thankful. He is our silver lining.