None of us wanted to pick her up. It was too sad, too gruesome, too much. She was our little girl, but what we were getting back from the hospital would not look like that - the "remains" of a person who never was.
I had to fill out the forms. I knew she would need to be collected after the doctors had completed some tests, but I didn't know who would do it. I couldn't deal with that yet. We knew we wanted her cremated, but we had no idea how you even started to arrange that for an unborn baby. When I came home after the night of the procedure to remove our baby, I googled "fetus cremation". Nobody should ever have to look that up, or see the results. I shut down the computer and went to bed.
The next day I spoke to my father and asked him for help. He mentioned the funeral service up the road from their place, that the lady who ran it was lovely and that he would ask her if she could help. Her name was Martha-Louise, she was indeed lovely, and after listening to me stammer out a brief and I'm sure confusing explanation, she told me she would take care of it, that I didn't need to worry. Of course I did worry, but she kept her promise. She took care of everything, including us.
Nick rang me and told me the baby was "ready to be collected". Forms had been filled in, remains collected & taken to the Crematorium - I wasn't across any of that, but suddenly I was the one who needed to get her. I rang Mum and asked her to come along, I couldn't face doing it alone. And I think I had really only just started driving again, so I probably wasn't the best person to go alone and Nick couldn't get across town from work in time.
It had probably been about a month by then, maybe 6 weeks. That must be right because we had the remembrance service 6 weeks after, following a catch up with the hospital about the baby's pathology, which we couldn't have while they still held onto her. But back then time was something that stood still for me. Surviving another day was a massive challenge, so my concept of time passing is skewed. In fact, I look back on the year 2016 and don't remember much - a blur from finding out we were pregnant mid January to actually celebrating the end of that god-awful year.
Mum and I arrived at Martha Louise's Funeral Cottage - that's seriously what it's called and it is the perfect description - a lovely little cottage tucked away opposite the Auckland Domain, where Martha-Louise and her dog Stella look after dead loved ones. She was amazing, came straight out & gave me a big hug. I'd made her a batch of cookies, which was becoming therapy for me after so long of being closeted away from my kitchen. She told me off, because of course, she'd then have to eat them. She hugged Mum too and invited us in to her front sitting room. She looked at me in an open interested manner and asked me to tell her everything that had happened. I guess I had thought we'd make polite conversation, collect her in a small cardboard box and go. But instead, we stayed for a couple of hours, re-telling my horrific journey, while she asked questions and told us how awful that must have been.
Then she asked if I was ready to see the baby. She had a carrier bag with pink tissue and inside was a ceramic heart box she'd bought from Trade Aid. When you opened the heart inside was the tiniest parcel of pink tissue containing the tiniest amount of ashes. She had warned me there was only a teaspoon full. And of course, I'd worked out that a tiny human, not even half-way incubated wouldn't leave much of a footprint. So a tiny little pink parcel inside a heart, and that was our baby girl, ready to be remembered in a service that weekend.
We didn't spend a lot of time talking about how we wanted to remember our little girl, but it all seemed to come together very naturally. We wanted to have it at our home, near the bush, near nature, near us. We wanted our immediate families. We wanted Sam to be there, and his cousins. We wanted something for the kids to do to remember her (we decided on multi-coloured helium balloons to be released into the sky). We wanted a few special songs to remember her. One of us would say a quick rememberance. We didn't want readings. We didn't want prayers. We didn't want a "funeral".
The day came, and it was all exactly what it needed to be. It was a little overcast, but it didn't rain. We stood in our back yard (which isn't really a yard, it's more a deck that backs onto trees and I said my piece, we played a song (Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole). We planted a special remembrance plant for her. There were tears. Then we walked to the reserve down the road and released the balloons into the sky, watching them until they disappeared from view. Annamarie's grandmother came, battling her ill health to be there. She would be dead within a few months.
Here is what I said that day - normally if I have to speak I'll do it off-the-cuff, but this one I needed to write down:
Thank you all for coming today. It means so much to have you all here, all the people who have been with us through this journey. You have all been so unbelievably generous with your time, support and love. We are so grateful.
We are here to say goodbye to TJ, our little girl, Sam's little sister. She was a baby who was so wanted. Not just by us, but by everyone here. It was amazing to see the joy on all of your faces when we announced we were pregnant again. Well, joy mixed with sympathy for poor Annamarie who was already suffering physically.
We all had so many hopes and dreams for our little troublemaker - who she might be, what she could become, and what she woudl mean to this family. To have her taken away after all we've been through, especially Annamarie, is cruel and unfair.
But life isn't always fair, as this family knows all too well.. As much as we wanted her, baby TJ just wasn't meant to be.
Annamarie's mum says this is part of our story now. I think that's true. This is a chapter in our lives, and while it hurts, this heartbreak isn't everything. It won't define us. Our family will move forward and create new memories together, but TJ will always be with us, and she will always be a part of our story.
Goodbye little girl, we will remember you.
Because Sam and Nick sang The Rainbow Connection to my belly and we used Somewhere Over the Rainbow in the remembrance service, every time I see a rainbow I think of her, I think she's sending me a sign. I always point it out to Sam - "Look, Baby T.J sent us a rainbow!".
As for my recollection of the service - it's limited. Just the day before I had passed out (terrible cramping) and knocked my head open resulting in a black eye, a headache and another day in hospital. We had considered rescheduling the service because my unexpected hospital dash had put a spanner in the works. But in the state my body was already in, recovering from months of trauma, still carrying the remains of cancerous tissue, still nauseous... what was a little knock on the head?
All I remember is the family standing around in kind of semi-circle on our wet deck with Sam in the middle dancing around in excitement that all his favourite people were here at his house! And when Nick did his thing and tears spilled over my eyes and I looked to Sam for a hug and was denied it because he was too excited, I remember how my lovely special nephew came over to me and put his arms up. He gave me a cuddle, a sweet cuddle while he sucked his thumb as Nick spoke. At the end he looked at me and earnestly asked if it was O.K for him get down now. Bless him.
I think of my gel nails, which I had done earlier that week at Leah Light. I wanted to do something special and when you're too wrecked to do it yourself, being able to see someone else with the same standards as you is really important. It also helped that the woman looking after me was compassionate and let me tell my story. It was the first time all year I had done something beauty-related, a long stint for a beautician! I have a feeling it will become an annual tradition for me to honour her memory.
And I also think of the special remembrance plant - a pink camellia bush that my Mum and Grandma chose together. It is surrounded with rocks that I hand painted and I can see it when I look out the kitchen window. Sam and I often water T.J's special plant together. It is a comfort to have it there.
Finding the right way to remember a loved one is a personal journey, and it can be a hard one. And it's different when the person being remembered never had the chance to become a "real" person. Nobody ever met them, touched them, held them in their arms. There are no memories to cherish, no stories to share. We know people who have chosen to have a full-blown funeral for their lost one. I think that's great. I know of other people who've not wanted to do anything public, remembering them in their own way. I think that's great too. In my humble opinion, it doesn't matter what you do, as long as it's meaningful and special to you. Just don't be influenced by others opinions of what's "appropriate" and what's not. Appropriate is a dirty word when it comes to grief. "Appropriate" is measuring your loss to someone else's standard of decorum, and why should that matter?
We still have our daughters ashes. We think we know where we want to scatter them, but the time hasn't felt right yet. We're in no hurry, and we may not even go through with it. It feels like the final stage or letting go, and maybe that's not something we're quite ready for yet. It's not that I think of the ashes as "her". I look at them on the shelf, and for me it is a symbol of what she was, and what she could be - but I feel like her "essence", whatever that is, is somewhere else.
I can't remember where it came from (maybe it was the balloons) but we've always told Sam that his sister is "up in the sky", and those are the words he uses: "I'm thinking about baby TJ up in the sky Dad". I guess that has rubbed off on me, because that's how I think of her now. She came into our lives, made her mark, and then she floated away to join the rest of the stars.
So, my point, which I'm getting to in a rambling roundabout way, and I feel like I've made in a few other posts, is just to do what you feel like. Don't worry about exactly what it is or whether it's perfect. It will be what it needs to be. It will all be part of your story, and you will always remember.
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.