The tattoo is small, no bigger than a five-cent piece. It is a swallow, black, etched at the inside of my right wrist; wings spread wide, beak pointed like an arrow and tail trailing behind in two fluent slashes.
A surge of nausea pushes up my throat when I think of the day that I walked into the tat shop and proffered my arm to the man wielding the buzzing pen that would mingle ink with my blood. Pain is not my forte.
As I sat still as a Grecian statue, and about as white, asking for a “break” (water, barley sugar and head between knees), another guy was having a sleeve done – colourful and intricate. He chuckled as a pasty version of myself walked by, after it was all done, making a beeline for the door where I vomited on the steps. Like I said, I’m not good with pain.
I knew this, but still pressed ahead because of something so much more painful that I have recently experienced: miscarriage.
That little bird winging away from me is a gravestone, an ultrasound image, a photo album of memories yet to be made.
When a baby dies within the womb, us grieving parents have none of those tangibles, no monikers of life to cling to when the pain flares. There is no place to lay flowers, no photos to stick on the fridge, no memories to laugh at.
Tomorrow is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day – an occasion I admittedly had no knowledge of until I ‘qualified’. One in every four Australian women has lost a baby, yet we are still somewhat reticent to talk about it. I fear that the shifting morals of society are partly to blame, the contradiction of showing sympathy for one woman who miscarried at 12 weeks while another woman is encouraged to abort her baby at the same point. Society, in essence, says my baby was not even alive, and that is a hard pill to swallow.
We have lost two little ones recently. Many of you will know how difficult this path is, particularly the fear that it will happen again and again. However, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It is better to light a candle, than to curse in the darkness.”
Tomorrow night at 7pm, parents everywhere will light a candle to remember the lives of their babies cut short before their time. The hour long ‘International Wave of Light’ honours life and acknowledges the unique grief of pregnancy and infant loss.
I want to light a candle for you parents who know what I’m talking about, and are struggling.
What has helped us?
It has helped to confide in close friends, just a few, who understand and are unafraid of asking difficult questions and enduring uncomfortable silences.
It has helped to name our babies.
It has helped to acknowledge significant dates, like the days they were due to be born. I won’t share exactly how we did that, because some things are too personal for newspapers! And I guess that’s another – don’t be afraid to keep some things close to your chest.
Our faith has gained us perspective (“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes…” James 4:14) and affirmed the innate value of all life (“God created man in his own image,” Genesis 1:27).
It has helped to be gentle on ourselves and release ourselves from some responsibilities and expectations.
And, for me, it has helped to have an image imprinted on my skin in the same way that the lives of my babies will always remain imprinted on my heart.
First published in The Examiner newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday October 14, 2013.