Re-triggered by the pain of a mother

There was a story which continued to come up in my news feed recently, which I continued to avoid. Moko. A little boy with a bright smiling face kept appearing in my news feed. As a kiwi living in Australia, one of the ways I keep in touch with New Zealand news is through good ol’ Facebook and by liking Stuff.co.nz, which will feed you news and soft stories from all over New Zealand. But the headlines accompanying the bright beautiful face of Moko weren’t as beautiful as his face, they inferred terror, a terrible act, so I avoided them knowing it would hurt too much. Then finally, another headline captured my attention, and I had noticed a friend saying that they were “Marching for Moko”. It mentioned that he wasn’t alone when he died, I felt trusting enough to read this one. But alas, this story, Moko’s story and fate was indeed deeply disturbing and seriously wrong. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the interview with Moko’s mother, her tear soaked face was enough.

Then, for days later I sat with this news, mothering my own 3 1/2 year old boy, trying to get through a work day without considering the brutality of a couple that beat and tortured a wee 3 year old boy, which eventually resulted in his death. Our tributes to his soul and passage from this earth are but a sad and horrible mortal consideration of what happens to us after we die. And no, I disagree, he was alone when he died.

The only way I could continue to function was to impart the knowledge that I had gained, to somewhat unsuspecting family members and friends. Nicola Dally-Paki, Moko’s mum stayed with her eldest son who was in the intensive care unit at Starship Hospital and had entrusted her children with people she thought were her friends. My husband said “Why did she leave her kids with such horrible people.” My immediate response was “Broken families, they obviously didn’t have any contact with grandparents or aunties and uncles did they?”

And this, is where this story intersects with my life, our lives as parents. In 2014 I gave birth to a baby boy. He only lived 8 days and over that time my family flew from New Zealand, Queensland and Tom’s family in Australia all came in to see him and meet him. During that time, our then 2 year old son, was cared for by all of his extended family as well as his Dad, whilst I stayed at the Royal Children’s Hospital in the accommodation for new mothers and Ronald McDonald house accommodation, so that I could be closer to my baby. The intensive care ward for babies, as I’m sure it is anywhere, is a place of uncertainty, of lives on tenterhooks, a precarious balance between life and death, and loving for all that you have, for as long as you have it. For my husband and I to know that our 2 year old son was being cared for, was heightened by the fact that we knew our baby was going to die. As we scraped together precious moments, our 2 year old was being loved by all of his aunties and uncles and grandparents.

During that week our eyes were opened. On one particular day, my sister got into a lift with 2 police officers who had also been in the Butterfly wing, the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. She remarked that they had the sternest looks on their faces, like something terrible had just happened. It sparked our imaginations, we had to admit that some of the babies on that ward were not there because of a birth defect or random fate, they were there quite possibly, because of an act of their parents and care givers.

I have no idea what the statistics are in Australia, but in New Zealand a Stuff data investigation has found at least 204 children, aged 0-14, have died as a result of neglect, abuse, or maltreatment in New Zealand since 1992. “New Zealand remains one of the most dangerous countries in the developed world in which to grow up, despite efforts from successive governments.”

My heart hurts for this mother. My mind remembers the halls of the intensive care unit and the hospital accommodation. I wish her children had gone with her. I wish that there was more whanau, more family support. I wish that this beautiful boy did not die in vain. But how do we stop this ship from sinking? What will make people stop? Would stronger sentences stop people? What is the answer? How could they do this?

march for moko

Members of the public march down Queen Street during a march to bring awareness to child abuse and family violence on May 22, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. The March for Moko was in memory of a three-year-old boy who was killed by his caregivers.
(May 21, 2016 – Source: Hannah Peters/Getty Images AsiaPac)

 

 

A system with compassion

I was reading an article just now about why parents’ post photos of their stillborn babies on Facebook. There is a part of the article that discusses that parents’ of a stillborn baby don’t leave with a birth certificate, only a death certificate. I’m not sure if this is the case in Australia or not. It reminded me of when I received Casper’s birth certificate in the mail. It had the most beautifully written warning on the back, which was so lovely I took a photo of it and sent it to my sister. I was so surprised that our system has incorporated a compassionate message such as this.

birth cert Cas

If you can’t read it, it says: “This envelope contains the birth certificate of your beloved child. You may prefer to be in the company of a family member or friend when opening and reading the contents of the envelope.”

At the time, it made me happy. I ripped it open and wanted to read it over and over. But there was an extra word on it that isn’t on my other son’s birth certificate: Deceased. I suppose if we had been lucky enough to have had him more than the time of processing to have got back a birth certificate before his death was lodged, then that word wouldn’t be there. Now even the words “your beloved child” bring tears to my eyes. Someone out there in bureaucratic-paper-land heard a story and decided to print special envelopes for people like me. I wonder how many types of government letter compassionate envelopes there are out there.

The Sadness hangover

I have a lot of blog posts buzzing around in my head, none really seem to make it online, but this one seems to come back again and again, I guess that it is the nature of the Sadness Hangover.

The Sadness Hangover has a physical feeling much the same as a hangover from alcohol. Throughout my 20’s I was quite accustomed to this feeling and would often have at least one day spent on the couch per week where I was fit for nothing, except watching TV because I was too hungover, sometimes probably still drunk. There were even family get together’s that I have shamefully attended with that horrible feeling in my stomach and my whole body feeling heavy and tired. Sometimes even my birthday.

The Sadness Hangover is, however, not induced by consuming a lot of alcohol or other substances. I named it the Sadness Hangover the first time I experienced it. It comes when you may have shared a little too much of a very sad story, or when you have had a very intense emotional sharing experience or an emotional release, or sometimes it will catch you by surprise by coming after a 3 year old child just wiped the floor with you by having tantrum.

If, like me, you rarely let yourself delve deep into emotional responses, you don’t tear up at the slightest hint of emotion and even for the saddest things that have happened in your life, you’ve probably created an AKA 47 hardened or ultra-sonic bullet-proof way of delivering the words, so that the person you just said it to gets a shock and you don’t have to go into a deeper story. Then you too probably experience the Sadness Hangover. The Sadness Hangover only comes when I don’t use the bullet proof way of saying it, when everyone around me hears my voice crack, when I open my heart up and say things that I only say to god and the universe and to lost loved ones. The Sadness Hangover comes when you repeat your personal story in detail. When you give someone the time to actually ask you questions about your experience. It comes when you take the risk of opening your heart so much that you want to spend the rest of the day sitting, doing nothing, watching TV, scrolling the social media, zoning out.

I imagine someone who has studied psychology or trauma might say that it is a symptom of Post-traumatic stress. Sensitivity, tolerance, compassion are all linked to what we have experienced and how we allow ourselves to feel what we feel. For me I have a natural protective barrier that says “I don’t want to share too much, it might make me feel something.” But as my recent experience has shown me, the Sadness Hangover is not something to be scared of. Yes I get sad, but just like the alcohol hangover, it passes. There are definitely some better times to be sad than others, it helps to not be at work that day, or not to try to have much control of a 3 year old boy. It has taught me what those words “be kind to yourself” really mean. In a practical way, the Sadness Hangover has made me attempt to reach out to myself in more physical ways when I am experiencing it. Practical things like floating in a warm pool of water, getting a massage or natural therapy, slow restorative yoga, meditating, and singing have all made me feel a lot better when a Sadness Hangover creeps up on me or I wake up with one.

The hardest thing about a Sadness Hangover is that it seems to happen quite unpredictably, as opposed to alcohol where you can almost guarantee that if you drink X number of alcoholic drinks you end up with a regular hangover. I’ve tried my best to come up with a formula that might best describe the logic in a Sadness Hangover…a futile attempt to try and understand it.

sadness hangover

Strangely enough, I have put it to the test recently and been wrong. After a long time of not sharing photos of my special person that has passed away, I finally decided to share photos of them, and to my surprise no sadness hangover. It seems that photos are immune to the formula. The Sadness Hangover mostly happens when you describe what happened, when it happened and how it made you feel. Although, I wrote a piece of writing which did exactly that, it took me back into a time and place that was most hardest place I have ever been, and whilst I thought I was feeling normal, the next day I was a box of irrational nerves, no Sadness Hangover, just a scatty wreck. Luckily I was having lunch with friends so that was a good distraction.

I feel that there is no way to wrap this up as it goes on and on. So I will leave you with a quote from Kylie Mole.

“She goes, she goes, she goes, she just goes.”