We had walked down the aisle of our church many times, including on our wedding day. Today wasn’t such a fun walk. Instead of my husband waiting for me at the end of the aisle, it was a tiny white coffin with our baby inside.
Again, we were surrounded by a huge support network of friends and family. So many people had been touched by Cody’s birth and death. Strangely, the midwife who had been present at his birth was one of those in attendance. Stranger still, we had invited her to come. We hadn’t yet come to terms with the full extent of Cody’s negligent care, so her presence there on the day was a positive thing for us at the time. We felt a sense of connection to her. I will write more about this, and my journey to forgiveness, in a later post. Today I write about Cody.
This is one of the songs that we had at Cody’s funeral service and I am still moved to tears when I listen to it. Not just because it reminds me of my little boy, but also because it gives me hope.
We held the funeral service at our church “home”, a place where we felt very comfortable. It was the church I’d grown up in, the church we’d gotten married in, and the church we had attended together for many years. The people there were like our extended family, and together we had experienced great joy, community and fun. What we didn’t realise was that holding the service there was going to attach a memory to that special place that was darker and more sombre than what we were familiar with.
I still remember the day, some weeks or months later, as we walked into that church building, and noticed immediately that the song being sung was one of the songs that had been sung at Cody’s funeral. The juxtaposition of memories of both great joy and deep sorrow in the one building added a complexity to our experience of attending church services there in the months to come.
Hold me close, Let Your love surround me
Bring me near, Draw me to Your side.
And as I wait I’ll rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You, Your Spirit leads me on
In the power of Your love.
During the service, our ‘big’ boy, Travis, was free to wander and play. The service was for him too. And he chose to spend most of the time playing with his little matchbox cars, driving them all around on the floor underneath the coffin, and up over the wheels of the coffin trolley. The idea of him playing with his brother did not escape unnoticed. It was the closest they would ever come to connecting, other than the time Travis dropped cracker crumbs over the body of his brother, during our time together after Cody died.
Geoff and I both spoke at the funeral. I did not believe it was possible to have such a thick veil of tears blocking my vision throughout the whole ordeal, making it almost impossible to read the words. Windscreen wipers would have come in handy!
I remember an older lady coming up to me outside the church after the service. She said that she had felt unable to cope with coming inside, having had one of her babies die many years earlier (she was now a grandmother), but she had a message for me, wanting me to know that “Time does heal”. I found it hard to believe, being as she was still, after all these years, unable to attend the funeral of another baby. Strangely, though, I did find her words comforting at the time. Perhaps because I knew her as a lovely lady who lived a great life, and so I knew it may be possible for me to do the same.
We made our way to “Babyland” at a beautifully landscaped cemetery near our home, for the burial of our son. It was a short, simple, and very, very sad service. Thankfully we had someone pre-arranged to care for Travis during all of this, because we were, for the most part, completely incapable of functioning. We did, however, manage to have some time at the grave side with him, to scatter rose petals on the coffin and “say goodbye” (I couldn’t say those words though – it was too soon).
A dear friend sang the simple song, “Jesus Loves Me”, without accompaniment, as the coffin was lowered into the ground. I think the pictures say it all.
One of the hidden heartaches of the funeral was the presence of cabbage leaves in my bra, in an effort to dry up the milk that was pooling there, waiting for a baby to feed. I was developing mastitis, because I had no baby. My body was telling me in every way that I had just given birth, but my baby was in the ground and my arms were empty.
Fortunately, there were arms around me. Arms that held me up when I couldn’t stand. Arms of love, compassion and support. Arms that carried us along in those early days. I am forever thankful for my grieving, loving family and friends – “God with skin on“.
Cody died the day he was born. Nine hours isn’t much time to spend on earth. I’m glad he was born alive though and I’m glad I got to hold him. I wish desperately that I had been allowed to feed him and still find it incredulous that I wasn’t, but at least I got to see into his eyes.
It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul and it did feel like that. But for those who sadly never get to see the eyes of their little one, the parents whose baby dies before taking the first breath, I’m sure there is a soul connection of a different kind. In fact, I believe there is, or can be, a deep connection with a baby while they are still in utero. We may never be able to understand each other’s pain and loss, but I want to honour those who have suffered the death of their child at any age, either in utero or much, much later.
I don’t remember much of what happened between the time I was informed of Cody’s death at the end of his helicopter journey, and us arriving at the big children’s hospital about two hours later. I don’t remember who drive. I think we briefly stopped at our house on the way.
I DO remember the wheelchair journey from the car up to the “Grace Ward”. It didn’t feel like grace to have our baby taken from us so soon. But there were hints of it.
One sprinkling of grace was the midwife, Karen, who had come out with the NETS Team. The one who had held my baby while he died. Her shift had finished hours earlier, but she waited for us.
She, the one who had held our son as he breathed his final breath, wanted to hold us.
We wept. Oh, how we wept.
And then came the moment I did not want to face. I could not believe it was true. I didn’t want to believe it was true. But what I was about to face was an unmistakable, inescapable reality, whether I wanted to believe it or not.
They ushered us into a small, dimly lit room with wood panelling on the walls, and a sofa against one wall. We waited there, to be reunited with (the body of) our son.
They wheeled him in, in one of those plastic bassinets hospitals are so fond of. He was wrapped in blankets, and dressed in nice clothes, which was of some comfort. The plastic bassinet wasn’t so nice. I wish someone had carried him in to us, and placed him in our arms.
I held back from touching him. If I touched his cold skin, it would be true.
But they had done a remarkably kind thing and kept him warm for us. Strange to think that he was given better, more attentive care after his death, than in the first two hours of his life. He was warmer now than he was when he was alive.
Yet I still couldn’t touch him. Even if his skin was warm, I knew that it was his body in the room with us, not HIM. Not Cody. It was his shell, and I needed time to prepare myself to hold him.
Geoff went first. Oh, how thankful I was for his courage and strength throughout all of this. I fear I depended on it too much. I didn’t expect it but I certainly appreciated it.
I had to be encouraged to hold him. It certainly wasn’t something I’d planned to do when I woke up that morning. Actually, thinking about it, I hadn’t woken up that morning. I hadn’t slept since Friday night. I had gone into labour on Saturday night before going to sleep, and it was now Sunday afternoon. I don’t think it was my exhaustion that had me falling apart at the seams though. It was my dead baby, the one I loved whose body was about to be placed in my arms.
It was the strangest thing to hold him and I was tentative in my touch at first, yet once I took hold of him, I did not want to let him go.
After awhile they let our big boy in to see his baby brother. This was absolutely gut wrenching. It was certainly NOT the “hello” we had anticipated between two brothers. Travis was 21 months old, and already he was facing the death of a sibling. He had no idea of the hugeness of it all though. He poked him, cuddled him, and ate crackers while we posed for the type of family portrait we had never anticipated. The one with Mum, Dad, and two kids. One alive and munching crackers. The other, dead.
Our parents came, too. I felt their love. And also their pain. It was hurting them, too. They were still coming to terms with being grandparents, and yet here they were saying goodbye to a grandchild. Their strength and support in the midst of their own grief was a tower of strength to us. I imagine they cared for Travis for the rest of our time at the hospital. Or maybe they drove him home. My mind and heart were in that little room with the ugly wood veneer panelling.
My beautiful, desperately desired, much loved baby was gone.
The reality of it was sinking in. Through tear-filled eyes we gazed at each other in disbelief. Through our fingertips we felt his body going cold.
The staff were again so amazing. They cut off a lock of his hair. They helped us get hand and footprints of our baby. They pretended not to notice that we were finding it hard to stretch out his fingers for the handprint because his poor little body was succumbing to the hard realities of death.
It was time to go.
And yet I didn’t want to.
I couldn’t bare the thought of walking out that door without my baby.
Geoff felt a strong desire to leave, as Cody’s cold, hard body was becoming a stark reminder that this awful nightmare was, in fact, reality.
As much as I had found it so hard to hold him at the beginning, I found it almost impossible to let him go at the end.
It pains me deeply even now, after seventeen years, to think of it.
Cody Luke Ahern.
Born: 1st October 1995, 3.40am at Camden District Hospital Died: 1st October 1995, 12.39pm at Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Sydney
Our only child so far who has ever had a ride in a helicopter.
Days 2 – 4
I have to lump these days all together because they are a blur. Not because it has been seventeen years, but because I was in a state of shock. These are the things I remember.
The dark solitude of night time when all was still and quiet, and there was no distraction from my pain. Oh how physical is the grief when a baby dies.
My breasts were engorged with milk yet I had no baby to feed.
My eyes were overflowing with tears from a well I thought may never run dry.
My arms were desperately aching to hold my baby.
I was bleeding, in more ways than one. It was as though my whole body was weeping for the one who was gone.
A house filled to overflowing with friends and family who loved us.
People arriving with flowers, sympathy cards and toilet paper.
My friend Bonnie, rescuing me from the one phone call I’d so bravely tried to make to the funeral agency. The only words I got out were “Our baby died….” before collapsing in a heap, thankful for a friend standing by my side. She also accompanied us to meet with the funeral agency to make arrangements for the Thing we didn’t want to do.
My friend Pateenah, somehow managing to visit us and show such compassion, leaving her newborn at home so that I wouldn’t be confronted with seeing him.
My friend Jane who lovingly sewed a beautiful little outfit for Cody to be buried in.
Our extended families somehow managing to rise above their own despair to be a tower of strength and support for us in uncountable, immeasurable ways.
Our church family and other friends gathering around us with such love and compassion, and doing a house and yard blitz while we left the house to make funeral arrangements.
We felt carried. We somehow floated through those days in a state of shock and despair and oblivion to the practicalities of life. Other people just did it all. I don’t remember changing a nappy for the first two weeks. I’m sure someone did. Probably Geoff.
Ah yes, Geoff. Thank you for being my rock during those early days. Without you I think I would still be in that ugly little wood panelled room clutching on to the body of my second born son.
The longings, expectations, hope and excitement surrounding the pregnancy and birth of our precious second son were similar to that of most expectant parents:
Parents envisage who the child might look like and whether it will be a boy or a girl.
There may be a baby shower or blessingway.
There are discussions (and perhaps arguments!) about baby names.
Baby clothes are purchased.
Dreams are dreamt of all sorts of possibilities for this precious little life in the days, months and years ahead…..
For some of us, sadly, what we end up with is death.
It is the furthest thing from the mind of most expectant parents. “Do you want a boy or a girl?” we are asked. “Oh, so long as it’s healthy”. No one thinks to say, “Oh, so long as it lives.” The truth is, in our modern, westernised society, the majority of babies DO live. This is a great thing! But it also sets us up for the shock of our life when the opposite happens.
We expect: “Congratulations! It’s a girl!”
We get: “I’m sorry. Your baby is dead.”
In my previous post, I wanted to celebrate the life and existence of Cody Luke, because he did live. Not for long. And it certainly wasn’t an easy nine hours for him. Or us. But live he did. Both before he was born, and for a short time afterwards.
The headstone on his grave reads:
Nine months to know you
Nine hours to be with you
A lifetime to miss you
Eternity to be together
When he died, we received many many cards of sympathy, one of which congratulated us on his birth. I must admit I would never think of sending such a card, but the truth is, it really blessed us! It was an acknowledgement of his life when what we were facing was his death.
Here is the story of his transition from the womb, to our arms, to the neonatal ward and a helicopter, and then to the grave.
Early Hours After The Birth
When I was pregnant with Cody (precious memories, those ones!), I was declared to be “low risk” and “perfectly suited” to a Birth Centre delivery. How quickly those predictions can change, like the toss of a coin, or flick of a light switch.
Cody’s triumphant moment of entry to the big wide world was accompanied by a strange sound. A kind of thud. It was the sound of his ruptured umbilical cord dropping to the floor (I was standing up). It was so random and unexpected that even the midwife didn’t notice and we had to bring it to her attention. (This was the first of her many mistakes.)
One of the failings of the Birth Centre where Cody was born was that, if a delivery occurred during the night, there would be only one midwife in the entire unit and no one else would be called in to assist at the moment of birth. One midwife can only observe and deal with so much. (This is one policy we fought hard to have changed after Cody died.)
When we brought the ruptured umbilical cord to our midwife’s attention and she noticed the large volume of blood on the floor (sorry, this might be a messy blog post!), she suddenly started barking orders at my husband, Geoff, instructing him on how to provide medical care for his baby while she attended to me. Mistake number two. Unless the birth had occurred out in the bush or some such, she should never have expected the father of the baby to carry out any medical procedures on his own baby.
She did not call for help from any of the trained staff that were readily available in the delivery suite upstairs, or in the postnatal or antenatal wards. Pressing the buzzer that was attached to the belt of her pants, or pushing the emergency buzzer on the wall was a simple thing to do, really. Yet she didn’t do it. Not at the moment of birth, nor at any stage during the next two hours. Mistake number three.
She busied herself massaging my abdomen, fearing that the massive blood loss indicated a haemorrhage. Meanwhile she shot rapid instructions at my husband, telling him where to find the resuscitation equipment in the bedside table and how to use it, to enhance our son’s oxygen intake. (He was breathing but needed help.) When she glanced over to see if he was doing it correctly, she seemed quite angry, and raced over there showing him how to press the oxygen mask down over Cody’s nose and mouth to force air entry into his lungs, rather than just holding the mask above his face as my husband had been doing. Mistake number four.
It was this act of forced air entry, without having first cleared his upper airways of possible meconium, that was ultimately a major contributor to Cody’s death. And it was Geoff’s participation in this act, following the exact instructions of the midwife, that has caused him so much distress over the years, due to strong feelings of guilt. Even if guilt is completely unfounded and illogical to an outsider, it can eat someone up from the inside, displacing logic and rationality, and in their wake leaving fear, regret, shame and despair. I feel so sad that he still blames himself for following the instructions of the midwife, trusting in her competence and instructions, and blaming himself for not somehow knowing better than a midwife with 25 years of experience.
……. Pause to collect myself and settle my shaking fingers ……
After awhile, Cody was given to me with the excited proclamation that he was a massive 5150 grams (11 pounds 6 ounces). It seemed that the midwife was very proud of our successful and comparatively simple birth process, considering his size! I felt quite proud too!
As she handed him to me, she commented that he was a bit cold and needed to warm up a bit, so she wrapped us both in a warmed blanket with skin to skin contact, and made me a cup of tea! She then left us to relax and enjoy our new baby. Mistake number five. A baby who is born in anything less than normal circumstances needs careful monitoring. This cannot be done from a separate room, relying on inexperienced parental observations only.
I was oblivious as to what was “normal” for a newborn, because I slept through the first hour of my first son’s life (in fact, I also slept for the fifteen minutes between the delivery of his head and the rest of him!). So to me, the fact that Cody was pale, whimpering occasionally, and very floppy, was not as much of an alarm bell as it should have been. When my third son was born 11 months later I suddenly realised what a healthy newborn looks like! Cody did NOT look healthy.
The midwife came back into the room once or twice to check up on us. I informed her that he was quite floppy in my arms and just grunted if I tried to move him or scoop his legs back into my embrace, because they kept flopping down. Our midwife simply gave me a freshly warmed blanket and another cup of tea. Was she British perhaps? No, a cup of tea really doesn’t fix everything!
She said that he would have to be taken to the intensive care nursery at some stage because he was over 10 pounds and asked us what we wanted to do about that. We deferred the decision back to her, saying that she could decide because she was the midwife, but that if it was important for his health then of course we wanted him to go now. She declared that it was “A silly hospital rule” and left him with us.
After quite awhile, she took Cody from my arms to perform the Apgar tests, which should be done at 1 minute and 5 minutes after delivery. This had obviously not been possible, due to the fact that he was having air pumped into his lungs at that time, and the midwife was busy with me. When the Apgar results were written in his notes, it was stated that they were in fact performed at 1 minute and 5 minutes, which they were not. He was also given a rating of 8 out of 10 for his 1 minute Apgar, and 9 out of 10 for his 5 minute Apgar. She rated him 2 out of 2 for “respiratory”, even though he was being given oxygen at the time the tests were supposedly carried out! I’ve lost count of the number of mistakes.
At the time of performing the Apgar tests, the midwife called us over to the bed and specifically pointed out the “signs of respiratory distress” present in our baby. She showed us his chest recession and the nostril flaring and the grunting sound he was making with every breath, as he struggled to get enough air to survive.
She gave Cody back to me for some more “bonding time”, and again removed herself from the room. I will not bother trying to keep count of her mistakes.
During this time, as day was now dawning, Geoff began making what should have been excited phone calls, but they were tinged with a sense of tension, using words such as, “He is apparently a little bit stressed from the delivery” and “Please pray”.
After awhile, the midwife returned to our room, felt Cody’s skin and decided that he was still a bit cool and needed to be helped along a little bit. She took Cody from me and I decided to have a much-needed shower. My wonderful husband helped to clean me up, which took quite awhile, due to the messy nature of the delivery and the length of time since. It felt good to be clean!
I needed some supplies from the car, so Geoff went out to get them, surprisingly discovering our midwife outside smoking a cigarette and writing up Cody’s medical notes (one long entry of what she could remember from the last two hours since he was born)!! Geoff asked her where our baby was, assuming he was in the intensive care nursery upstairs, but she replied, “Oh no, he’s in the utilities room.” Up the hallway. Alone.
Geoff was shocked! He quickly came back inside to where I was waiting for him, gave me my things, and then went to get Cody from where he had been left ….. alone ….. under the warming trolley, surrounded not by professionals or loving parents, but by empty urinals and other medical equipment.
Geoff, with his heart full of love for his son, asked if he could carry Cody up to the nursery, rather than having him wheeled along in a trolley, and the first thing he did was to bring him to me so I could see him once more.
Okay, now this is very hard to write, but write it I must. When I saw Cody I was shocked. He looked…. grey. His mouth was sort of hanging open, as he gasped for intermittent breaths. It seemed very odd to me, and I commented on it to Geoff. We were both VERY concerned by this time, and very angry that he had been left alone.
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
As we made our way to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, with Geoff holding Cody, he mentioned to the midwife on more than one occasion that Cody seemed to be “gasping for breath”, to which she replied glibly, “Oh you’d be a bit stressed too, if you’d just been born”…. ????
Upon entry to NICU, the midwife did something that she had only done a couple of times in the past hours. She laid him down, fully removed his blanket covering and actually looked intently at him.
“OH MY GOD! HE’S NOT BREATHING!!!!”
Those words haunted me for years to come.
The staff at NICU were absolutely and completely amazing. They literally RAN to Cody’s aid. With lightning speed they had his blood tested, and his poor body prodded and poked and hooked up to life support equipment. They immediately summonsed the on-call paediatrician, whose Sunday morning plans no longer mattered. A life was at stake.
Upon arrival to NICU the fantastic paediatrician immediately set to work. The first words I heard him utter were, “WHO THE HELL DID THESE APGARS??!” He was looking at a baby in full respiratory arrest, with blood tests that were incompatible with life, and he was reading test results that showed he had scored 2 out of 2 for the respiratory part of the Apgar test. He later told us that the only rational reason he could think of for the inconsistency was a rare medical condition that can cause a respiratory shut down after two hours. But this was not the case.
The next few hours are a bit of a blur. I remember asking for a lady from our church who I knew worked at the hospital as a midwife, and she was thankfully just coming on for a shift. She came straight to us and was literally a tower of strength for which I am still thoroughly thankful. I remember telling her a bit of the story, and mentioning something about the broken umbilical cord, which really shocked her! There had been nothing written in Cody’s notes about this very important fact. She rushed down to the birthing unit and discovered (in the rubbish bin!) the discarded cord, which she retrieved and sent away for pathological testing.
….. Pause Breathe Cry …..
I remember a blur of people coming and going. Friends. Family. Medical staff. I remember the paediatrician asking if we wanted to have our baby baptised, the suggestion of which made me angry. Or perhaps shocked. I was in such denial at the reality of what was going on, and this suggestion was like a slap in the face, trying to wake me up. I did not want to be woken.
We were informed that Cody would need to be airlifted to the major children’s hospital in Sydney, and that the Newborn Emergency Transport Service (NETS) team would soon be arriving by helicopter. Reality was beginning to sink in.
Airlifted to the Children’s Hospital
The team that came to help our baby were so wonderful. They were competent and professional, which helped us trust them, and compassionate, which helped us feel cared for. The nurse, whose name was Karen, was particularly supportive to us.
I was surprised how long it took them to do their thing. I thought they would rush in, grab him on a trolley, and rush back out the door to the helipad. It took almost over five hours for them to stabilise him enough for transport!
I remember being informed that by this stage, with his blood levels severely acidotic after extensive oxygen deprivation, if he lived (IF??!), he would almost certainly be severely brain damaged and require major ongoing medical care for his entire life. Again, I was angry at the assumption that this somehow seemed to diminish his worth! I told everyone that I would love him, no matter what, and do whatever it took to care for him. Of course I would have preferred that “healthy baby” we all wish for, but I knew that I could and would love my baby in any condition. I just wanted him to live.
The thought that he might not live was still far, far from my mind.
Thank God for the numbing benefits of shock!
We had to make a very, very difficult decision regarding his helicopter trip to the hospital. The number of staff required to provide his care during transportation meant that there was only one spare seat on the helicopter. This meant that only Geoff or I could accompany him. At this stage we did not think we could cope with being apart, so we decided to travel together by car to the hospital, desperately needing each other’s support to get through this. I still regret that choice to this day.
When Cody was finally prepared for transportation, we were able to say goodbye to him. It was gut wrenching to see him with so many cords attached to his (not so little) body. I managed to stand up to get closer to him, and said the words I didn’t want to say: “Good bye Cody. I love you.” I still assumed that I would see him soon. Now some may think it is my wishful imagination, but I am absolutely sure he opened his eyes just a little bit at that time. It was the last time I would be able to look into those deep, beautiful, soulful eyes.
I felt so connected to him in that moment, as though all the life-giving cords, the resuscitation equipment, and medical teams were not even in the room.
Time stood still.
The Final Moments
We prepared ourselves to leave for the Sydney Children’s Hospital at Camperdown, but before we were able to depart we received the phone call that no parent EVER wants to receive.
“I am so sorry. We have done all that we can do. Cody suffered seven more cardiac arrests during the twelve minute flight. We are keeping him alive artificially and need to know what you want us to do.”
It was my husband that took the call and gave them permission to turn off Cody’s life support. If it had been me, I may never have been able to make that choice. When I allow myself to think of it, I still feel a deep, deep sadness that I was not with my son when he died. That I did not have the courage to go in that helicopter with him, so that he could die in my arms.
The midwife who had come with the NETS Team was called Karen and she had been so lovely to us, so it was a small consolation to know that she held Cody in her arms while the life support cords were removed, and she poured into him some of the love that I desperately wanted to give, as he breathed his final breath.
I’ve left the photos until last, because they may be upsetting to some people.
My next posts will talk about the early days of grief, forgiveness, and life after loss. They may be awhile in coming!
Once upon a time there was a girl. She dreamed of being a mum when she grew up, and never doubted that her dream would come true. She eventually fell in love, got married and after a few years they decided to start a family. They dreamed of many children, born close in age so they could grow up as friends, but when at first no babies came along she began to wonder if her dreams would come to nought.
Eventually they were delighted to discover that they were in fact going to have their first baby, and the dream that had been but a flickering hope, began to grow into a solid reality. Their firstborn son, Travis, decided that he liked life in the womb and seemed to have no intentions of departing, even in spite of a major car accident. He was eventually enticed, with the help of much medical intervention and many, many hours of labour to depart his warm and cozy home, and begin his life in the big wide world.
His birth was certainly not the natural one they had hoped for, but nonetheless they were ecstatic to welcome their not-so-little one into their loving arms, and so their life as a family of three took its next step.
In keeping with their desire for a large family with children close in age, they were soon pregnant again and once more were beyond ecstatic at the thought of expanding their brood. The positive pregnancy test was kept in a special box, along with other treasures for safe keeping. Big brother loved to cuddle his mum’s tummy and talk to the baby. They took photos of different places they went as a little family of 3.5 people.
Filled with desire for a more natural birth this time, they attended a local birth centre where the lovely midwives provided personal, professional, womanly care and attention. They felt particularly comfortable with one midwife who soon became their favourite, and they hoped that she would be the one to attend the birth of their much-wanted baby.
At 41 weeks gestation, during an ultrasound, it was accidentally discovered that this baby was also a boy. They were so excited that their firstborn son was going to have a little brother. From that moment on, they always called him Cody and he became a very real part of their family, especially for Travis, who even learned to say his name, and used to kiss his mummy’s tummy all the time and say, “Cody“.
The news was kept secret, except for one little slip up to a dear friend who had just given birth to her second son. It was so exciting to think that they were going to have little boys born just two weeks apart, especially because 21 months earlier they had both had boys born three weeks apart.
This baby, it seemed, also preferred life inside the safety of the womb. Much gentle and natural coaxing was undertaken to encourage this little one to take the journey, but it seemed to be in vain. Another induction was reluctantly booked in, but fortunately labour began in the nick of time and the excited call would soon be made to the Birth Centre advising that the birth was imminent.
The parents held off until midnight before making the call, knowing that their favourite midwife would be starting her shift at that time. It was a dream come true to have this woman as the birth attendant for the delivery of this longed-for child.
Care was arranged for Travis, and the parents drove excitedly to the Birth Centre. It was warm, cozy, friendly, and everything they had hoped for. The labour too, was a beautiful experience and the parents felt so supported by the midwife in their quest to bring this child into the world using only natural means.
After a brief three hour labour, the baby made his appearance, weighing in at a hefty 11 pounds 6 ounces. Their dream had come true! A natural birth without intervention, in the Birth Centre, with their favourite midwife. What a contrast to their first, lengthy, induced, medicalised birth!
The parents were absolutely thrilled to welcome their little boy into their arms at last, naming him Cody Luke.
Cody: of Irish/Gaelic origin, meaning “helper”
Luke: of Roman origin, meaning “light” or “giver of light”
Cody Luke. A dream come true. They thanked God for his life, talked to him, stroked his face, and made lots of joyous phone calls (at 4am!!). His mum sang him a special song that she had made up. They eagerly anticipated that beautiful moment when they would be able to introduce Cody to his big brother. Happy happy times!
WARNING: To those with serious housework phobias, the below post may cause permanent psychological trauma.
When I was a girl, I dreamed of being a mum. I used to draw pictures of what my house would look like, right down to the picket fence, the horse stables and paddocks, the pot plants in the house….. I was am a dreamer!
Eventually I grew up and my dream of being a mum came true. I was going to be the best mum EVER. Sorry to all you other wannabes, but this one is mine. I’ve got it nailed, okay?
Alright, maybe not, but I certainly had the passion for it. Surely no one else loved their children as much as ME.
When I first got married and my husband was studying part time as well as working (hmmmmm, some things never change!), I used to dust the architraves. Do you even know what they are? 🙂 I probably only do because my father was a builder, so for those who don’t know, they’re the little strips of wood that go across the tops of window and door frames. Whilst we’re at it, I used to dust the skirtings (the strips of wood that cover the join between the floor and the wall). And yes, the louvres on the wardrobe doors got a good go over, too. Every. single. week! These days I’m lucky to dust, well, anything!
All this to say that my heart was truly in my home. My home was my castle. And when children came along, I was going to be Mum of the Year. Every single year.
Sadly, I don’t think I’m worthy of the prize. Not because I’m not good enough, but because, somewhere along the journey, I started to lose my way. My focus. Life got hard, and I got distracted.
My move to unschooling, and then radical unschooling, has really helped me to find a much better way of being with my kids. But my focus on hearth and home was sorely lacking. I love to go out and about having adventures with the kids, but when it comes down to being a home maker, I was sorely lacking! I think it’s partly because I’m an extrovert and also an ideas person, so I tend to be either out and about …. or at home, with my head in a book or computer, reading, learning and discovering.
Years ago I read a book called The Myth of the Perfect Mother, which talks about four “Green Focus Areas” involved in mothering: Tasks, Relationships, Ideas and Strategies, and how understanding them can help free us from “mother guilt”. We are each strongest in one of these (our personal Green Focus area) and usually have another focus area that is somewhat strong (our Yellow Focus area). Together, they form our Green Light Profile. We obviously also have a Red Light Profile, but if we can find ways of adding a bit of green to our red area, it helps it not to be so… well, RED! For example, a mother whose green light is tasks and whose red light is relationships might choose to look for things they can DO while spending time with their children (eg. crocheting while watching a movie, or doing projects together etc).
I used to think I was purely a relationships focussed person, but after reading this book I realised I am also very strong in the “ideas” area; hence why I often had my head in a book for hours or days on end as a child, and still do today (although my “book” is often a computer now). So for me, my profile is:
GREEN FOCUS AREA: Relationships and Ideas (hence why I love spending time with family and friends, and also reading and learning online and in books)
RED LIGHT AREA: Tasks!
What is housework? Tasks! I seriously get bored with it! I cope better if I’m doing tasks with one of my kids, or if I can listen to an audio book or at least lose myself in my thoughts, whilst completing a task. Whenever we move house, my poor husband keeps finding me reading the newspapers I’m meant to be packing our crockery in!
I tend to live my life in a kerfuffle, busily doing anything and everything outside of the home, or having fun with my children, or visiting with friends, or reading and writing myself into a stupor.
All of that is WAY more exciting than housework, yes?
What I had forgotten was that putting effort into my house helps to create a home. Home isn’t just about having great conversations with the kids, taking them to cool events and activities, or researching better ways of living and doing things, although for me those things will always be WAY funner than housework! It is also about putting effort into creating a warm and welcome space for our family to relax, connect and enjoy ourselves. It is about creating food to enjoy together. It is about me being unhurried so that my children sense my availability. It is, sadly, also about housework. 🙁
There! I said it! I’ve finally admitted that when I don’t fold the washing until it is a momentous mountain we can’t see over, people feel a wee bit frustrated (alright, MASSIVELY frustrated) because they can’t find the missing t-shirt, or undies, or that sock down the crack of the lounge, and they waste a lot of time searching for the all-elusive article. And also, there are rapidly reducing options of somewhere to sit! Although unfolded washing does in a way add another layer of padding, albeit a bit bumpy! (And yes, I know they could fold the washing, but that is the subject for another post!). I’ve realised that when I don’t plan what we’re going to eat for dinner until, well, dinner time, dinner usually doesn’t happen, or it is so late that everyone’s given up and helped themselves to other food and eaten alone. (Yes, I know they could do the cooking, but you also know that’s the subject for another post!) When the house looks really uncared for, my children can feel uncared for, too. When I remember that caring for my house is another way of caring for my family (relationships), or listen to a podcast whilst cleaning and tidying (ideas), it adds a whole lot of “green” to my red light (tasks). And trust, me, tasks like housework need to be a LOT more interesting for me to find the momentum to do it, or at least do more than start it! 🙂
I realised I need to “come home”. To regain my focus on hearth and home, as an act of love for my family, which also creates a space that welcomes friend and neighbour, because there is more likely to be a washing-free lounge to sit on (and trust me, it is VERY embarrassing to realise your male visitor is sitting on a pile of your undies!), space to make and enjoy a cup of tea, and a prepared meal ready to offer the unexpected visitor (or one’s own children).
There is obviously a balance here, and what we each need to learn is often different to our neighbour. One lady we lived next door to was SUCH an early bird with her housework and getting the washing on the line, that the only way I was ever able to beat her was to hang it out the night before and have a 12 hour headstart! So yes, some mums needs to lighten up on the housework, and simply play more with their kids. Others of us need to remember that we’re NOT kids (although we still REALLY like to play!) and we need to rise to the occasion, taking responsibility for creating the home that symbolises our heart for our family.
I recently heard the term “house blessing” in reference to house work. And that’s what I want to do: to start seeing that the practical aspects of being a full-time mum are important, too, not just the relational aspects. And in fact, by putting effort into running our home more efficiently and creating a more ordered, beautiful space, I am blessing my family. I am helping to create that warm and welcome space that invites them, too, to “come home”.
What about you? What is your green light? What is your red light, and how can you make it greener?
DISCLAIMER: It is quite possible that some of us may actually be allergic to housework, and if so, paying a house cleaner also adds LOTS of green to the red area of housework 🙂
It’s funny the things people say when they find out your eighteen year old son is about to purchase his first motor bike. “Did you let him?” is one that comes to mind. The comment itself is something that is foreign to the way I think. I didn’t “let” him, because it wasn’t something he needed permission to do. He is, by all intents and purposes, legally an adult. I didn’t attempt to forbid him from buying one; nor was he given “permission”. It was a decision he made, and talked to us about. He told us his reasons for wanting one, including fun of course, but also the fact that it is a much more economical way to get around than his car (which he will be keeping and using sometimes too – when it’s not at the mechanics!) I reminded him that my first boyfriend had died in a motorbike accident, so I was painfully aware of the risks, and he respects that it is a “big thing” for me. We have also already buried one son, and really have no desire to bury another.
Whilst there are certainly inherent dangers in motor bike riding (as there are with many things), I bet you didn’t know that you’re about 21 times more likely to sustain a serious injury from riding a horse! (According to figures from Stoke Mandeville Hospital.) I guess I’d better re-think my daughter’s horse riding lessons! Not. Life is risky. From the moment of conception right through til the oldest person ever to have lived, we are surrounded by risk and the possibility of hurt or injury. Better to live a fully, happy life, than live in fear of what might happen. I’m not talking about ridiculous risks here of course, and it is good to be aware of ways in which we can increase our likelihood of being safe.
We discussed some safety issues, and he has shared some of what he learned in his rider training course. I was actually quite impressed with the information he’d been given, and his preparedness for riding as safely as possible. And I admired the way that he had specifically asked the instructor for some advice for his first trip on the bike: a three hour drive that would take him through unfamiliar streets in the largest city in Australia, and then along a long stretch of freeway, which is notorious for trucks and cars whizzing past.
He seems to have a good understanding of the dangers and the need for wise riding, coupled with confidence, excitement, and a love of the adrenaline rush he knew he’d get from riding. When he returned home from that first trip, detouring past most of his friends houses on the way home to show off his new pride and joy, I asked him how it had gone. He said it was “SO different to driving a car… you feel so much more ALIVE somehow; it’s so awesome!” I managed to have a laugh about how I hope he STAYS alive, but basically, it was so wonderful to see his enthusiasm, and to know that he is following his heart. Yes, MY heart wants to jump up into my mouth occasionally, but for the most part I am choosing to trust, and to enjoy his joy! It feels good to support him in his passion, just as it feels good when people support me in mine. And yes, I know all too well that sometimes bad things happen to good people, but I think there is more than one way to interpret that. Sometimes the “bad thing” is having a parent who doesn’t support or encourage you, who reacts out of fear instead of hope. And that’s a bad thing no matter what.
Instead, I choose the goodness of trust, hope, faith, support, connection and encouragement.
You know the saying, “Where did the time go?” When did my first tiny (or not so tiny!) baby become a man with a car licence, a serious girlfriend, and facial hair? Wasn’t it only yesterday that I was gazing into those newborn eyes and comparing our features in the mirror, in absolute awe that this little being was my flesh and blood? Wasn’t it only yesterday that he took his first teetering steps, holding on to a postage cylinder thinking that it was something that would keep him on his feet, not realising it wasn’t attached to anything? Wasn’t it only yesterday that he said “I wuv you Mummy” for the first time?
I am so incredibly happy that we made the decision to pull our two eldest children out of school, and that the younger two have never been. I am so thankful for the time that we have been able to spend together; that I have been here to wipe snotty noses, dry tears, laugh at jokes, and reminisce together rather than have to ask “What did you do at school today?”
But how am I using the time that we have together? It is so easy for the days to drift along, and to be gone like sand blowing away in the breeze. It is so easy to get caught up in the daily stuff of life, that we forget to really LIVE our lives to the full.
I recently saw an ENORMOUS sand timer, and I thought, “I want one of those!” I guess my desire symbolised the fact that right now, with my oldest on the cusp of adulthood, I want time to s l o w d o w n……. But alas, as the saying goes, “Time waits for no man”.
So my motto for this year is Carpe Diem – seize the day! Make the most of the moments. And my reason for this is that the sands of time are beginning to rush through the hourglass and this phase of life is beginning to draw to a close: that of having all four of our children at home together. My oldest child is now 18 and working full time, with a serious girlfriend taking up much of his time and attention. This is a good thing, of course! But it reminds me that life as we know it, with our children under our wings, is changing. I delight in what lies ahead, but I also intensely treasure these moments in the here and now.
I have on my bookshelf the highly acclaimed book The Power of Now. I also have the audio version of it. So really, I have no excuse for not having read it yet! I guess it just hasn’t been enough of a priority for me. It has been overshadowed by the other stuff of life. And that’s how it goes with most things really. I’m a full-on IDEAS person. Actually fleshing out those ideas, bringing them into our daily lives as things we actually DO is not such a strength for me. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve started my other blog, Unshackled Adventures, where I can chronicle some of the things we do. Because it’s not enough to DREAM of doing things. It means little or nothing if those dreams aren’t actualised.
I do love to dream! And I believe that the dreaming is essential to the doing. But the doing is also essential to the dreaming. DO THE DREAM!
From what I understand, one of the secrets to “living in the now” is fully immersing myself in this moment. Feeling the sensations in my surroundings, allowing my senses to come alive, and really engaging in life to the full, right here right now. It’s not living in this moment whilst dreaming of the next.
Sandra Dodd’s “Do It!” page about unschooling really spoke to me recently, and I strongly advise all unschoolers, and in fact all parents, to read it. Today. And…. to do it! As I wrote in my last post we just don’t know how long we have with our children. Why waste one minute of it!
One of the challenges in our family is that until recently we had three, yes three, shift workers in our family of 6 people. This made for almost non-existent shared family dinners, because it is extremely rare to have everyone home in the house at dinner time on the same night. So because there was usually at least one or two people not present, I started to get out of the habit of preparing a proper sit down family meal. Then it became a habit for us not to eat together, so that on the nights when we actually were all home I wasn’t thinking ahead about planning for a shared meal, and one or both of the teens would end up going off to do something with friends. We gradually became quite disconnected as a family unit, and whilst I’d been blaming it on the broad ages of the children, the older two becoming more and more independent, and the fact that there was so often one to three people not present in the evening, I began to slowly realise that it was also partly my fault. As the home maker, I had let that shared family meal slip away. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that family meals should be compulsory or a meaningless habit, particularly for home ed families that spend a lot of time together anyway. There are many ways to connect as a family and this is only one of them. But I realised that for us, with the older teens gradually spending more and more time with friends, the shared family dinner is something that brings us together, something that represents home as a warm and welcoming place, something that invites them to the table and invites them to family life. So I decided that I needed to make the preparation and presentation of the family meal a habit again.
I also realised that, with our family calendar on the fridge, it is usually possible to find one meal time in the week when no one is working, and I decided to make that a special family meal, whether it be brunch, lunch or dinner. This week, that happened to be tonight. It took effort to protect that time. There was talk of extra children sleeping over, or for a couple of our children to go elsewhere, but I decided to prioritise our family time together. And it was wonderful. This is the second week in a row now when we have planned for and achieved a special shared meal. I know that for most families this is common place, but for us, having everyone in the house at the same time to share in a meal is something worth CELEBRATING! So we helped prepare for the meal together, we put flowers on the table, music on the stereo, we shared delicious food together, laughed and chatted, cleaned up together, and then a few of us enjoyed a couple of games of Hearts (a card game). Is it showing off to say that I got a “slam”? 🙂 I am so glad we did this, and I hope to make it a regular event, but not so regular that it loses its specialness. Whilst we don’t have the privilege of eating together most nights, it is nice compensation to make it a bit special when we do. And I’m hoping that it establishes a habit that can continue even after the nest starts to empty, because once a week or so is quite sustainable I think!
I have many other ideas for ways that I hope to live by the motto of Carpe Diem this year; this is just one.
What about you? What will you do to seize the day, capture the moment, and create special memories with your family? What will you do to make the most of this day and the time you have together with your family?
The brief, WAY-too-short amount of time I got to spend with my second son before he died.
The springboard from which would come my determination to hold my children close. To make the most of each moment.
Those brief nine hours had a far-reaching effect that I don’t think I’ll ever be fully aware of (in both my own life, and that of others too, I’m sure). The impact of those few short hours showed up in all sorts of areas of my life, such as my absolute determination to breastfeed my third son, in spite of five bouts of mastitis in 8 weeks, intense pain & discomfort & details I won’t go into here! and numerous other challenges including my personal lactation consultant eventually suggesting that maybe I was one of the few that might not be able to feed my baby. Talk about a red flag to a bull! There is no way THAT was going to happen this time. I had fed my first son for only 1 week, after having all sorts of issues and a clinic nurse who handed me a packet of formula instead of the support and help I needed. And then I never got to feed my second son during his short nine hours, in spite of me saying I desperately wanted to. So NOTHING was going to stop me this time around. And it didn’t. 🙂
Later, at the end of a four year court case, those nine hours would be the impetus for us moving to live in a Christian Community to try to work through a few (well, maybe a lot of) faith issues we were struggling with. And this in turn affected our decision to live where we do today, which has affected who we spend our time with, who our closest friends are, and the friendships our children have formed.
Then in a roundabout way the impact of those 9 hours would also be part of the catalyst for bringing my children home from school; a decision that has enabled me to have many more moments with my children than I could possibly have had if they had been at school five days a week; a decision that has given me ….. time.
I still often get waylaid by the ordinary everyday pressures that are part of the stuff of life. Well, alright, I OFTEN get waylaid. But underneath it all is a current that sometimes becomes a raging force in my life. An undercurrent that reminds me of the frailty of human existence, the uncertainty of what tomorrow might hold, the undeniable reality that shit happens to us all at one time or another, and only we get to choose whether to allow it to become into a festering quagmire for us to wallow in, or a fertile meadow filled with unexpected wild flowers, bursting forth from the soil.
So you see, nine hours is more than just “nine hours”. One nine hour time period can have ripples that scatter far and wide. And in that nine hours there are many, many moments. Moments filled with choice and opportunity.
We can choose to hate, or to love.
To hold on to our pain and the desire that someone should “pay”, or to forgive.
To hold on to resentment, or let go and live freely.
To wallow in self pity, or take off that heavy sack and lift our face to the sun.
To look for the worst, or the best.
To be distracted by the stuff of life, or engage deeply with our loved ones.
To rush frantically, or to stop and smell the roses along the way.
To act mindlessly, or mindfully.
To disconnect, or connect.
To stress, or to breathe.
To seek power, or partnership.
To be boring, or to play.
To treat a child with harshness, or kindness.
To listen with one ear, or two.
To merely glance at our child, or to gaze with love into the window of their soul.
What I would give to have nine more hours with my second son, Cody! Even just one more moment where he opened his eyes and looked at me.
What about you? If you could only have nine more hours with your child, what would you do? How would you treat them? What would you most treasure?
What will you do with the next nine hours of your life?
We’ve just returned from such an amazing, wonderful adventure! First, we enjoyed a MUCH needed holiday break at beautiful Rainbow Bay on the Gold Coast. The people who were in the unit we’d booked prior to our arrival had requested to stay an extra few days, so we were moved to a different unit from the one we’d booked. As we walked in to the unit, we just kept walking…. and walking…. and walking! There were absolutely massive, beautiful living spaces including two kitchens, plus there were 4 bedrooms & 3 bathrooms, and all up there was pretty much 360 degree views since we had the entire floor to ourselves!!! We quickly checked to make sure that we were in the right unit, and were delighted to find out we were – for no extra cost! What a blessing! After having so much stress & busyness over the past few months, with Geoff working multiple jobs and studying his masters at the same time, it was such a blessing to be upgraded to such a beautiful place. And for no extra money!
A progression of photos showing about half of the view of the ocean from different windows in the unit (beautiful!). I wish I could have taken a video from one side all the way around to the back of the unit – a full 360 degrees! On most days we were treated to a performance by whales on their journey south.
One day Geoff took D & M to Australia Zoo, mostly because of M’s absolute passion for all things “animal” and also because of the hero status she ascribes to Bindi Irwin. She didn’t get to meet her, but hopes to be able to one day!
Our other big day out was when we all went to Movie World (half price tickets made it even more awesome!).
The kids all had different favourite rides, which, of course, had to be ridden over and over and over again! I’m sure I got queasy before anyone else – and I only went on the little kid stuff LOL!
FUN ON THE ROAD
Life is about the journey, right? We love road trips! We often listen to audio books together, and just enjoy the time, stopping at various places to discover new things and enjoy some fun together. Not that it’s perfect of course. Life never is!
One of the big reasons we discovered beautiful Rainbow Bay was because Travis and Brady knew it was a great spot to surf, with about three or four awesome breaks all within easy walking distance (and all VERY close to our awesome unit!). But alas, the swell was not our friend, and for our ENTIRE holiday of two weeks there was barely a wave in sight! Seriously, on most days it was like Pacific Lake, not Pacific Ocean! Anyway, out of sheer determination, the boys did attempt to catch a few little waves on most days. Here they are at D-Bar. See the HUGE waves?
So there you have a very LONG blog post outlining a little bit of our holiday to the Gold Coast, and some of the fun we had along the way. We felt very blessed and privileged to have such a wonderful holiday in such a gorgeous part of the world. It was a fantastic opportunity to reconnect as a family in the midst of a hectic crazy year!