The unspoken tragedy of stillbirth; a male perspective

It was around 9:30am and I was walking on air, down the hill from the Whittington hospital in London, sunshine and snow flakes falling like confetti – a bright day – snow flakes should have been improbable but this morning was pure magic.  A small photograph in my bag of a baby (a girl unknown to me at the time).  The image measured her at around 3cm, in truth she was hardly recognisable as a baby, but I had been shown where to look on the image. I had absolute joy in my heart at the creation of this being.  I went to work that day straight from the appointment, I still had the scan photo in my bag and could not resist sharing it with my colleagues, beaming and smiling.

Weeks quickly passed and all rather uneventfully.  We were busy caring for each other. I was probably a somewhat doting father to be, ensuring the expectant mother’s fatigue levels were managed, attending to craving needs, learning about the right foods to eat, what to do and what not to do, attending all the appointments and visits; I was very involved. We had the pregnancy books that described what was happening week by week and we kind of had a schedule to read together each week.  It was a lovely time.

As the weeks passed we named our child Serena, we knew it was a girl from a follow-up scan and wanted to be able to prepare for her.  She was growing nicely. At some point, I can’t recall exactly when, the first flutter of butterfly wings were felt in my partner’s belly.  I could feel them too, “Simon” my partner would say, “come and touch them she is fluttering.”  She would guide my hand onto the right spot, I would wait very still, all concentration focused on the feelings in my fingers, waiting, for something, then, the flutter, a movement, wonderful!

As she grew butterfly flutters turned to somersaults and massive contortions of flesh as elbows and knees protruded and moved. Serena would respond to sounds, voices, even my voice!  I had a song I would sing, I would press my head onto the belly and sing:

If you go down in the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise
If you go down in the woods today you’d better go in disguise
For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain
Because today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic

Every Teddy Bear who’s been good is sure of a treat today
There’s lots of marvellous things to eat and wonderful games to play
Beneath the trees where nobody sees they’ll hide and seek as long as they please
That’s the way the Teddy Bears have their picnic
Picnic time for Teddy Bears
The little Teddy Bears are having a lovely time today
Watch them, catch them unawares and see them picnic on their holiday
See them gaily gad about
They love to play and shout
They never have any cares

At six o’clock their Mummies and Daddies will take them home to bed
‘Cause they’re tired little Teddy Bears
If you go down in the woods today you better not go alone
It’s lovely down in the woods today but saver to stay at home
For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain
Because today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic

Henry Hall

I did not know the lyrics, I learnt them for her, for my baby girl.

The second trimester passed, and we were into the third.  We had moved house and began to setup home for Serena.  We had been to various baby swap events, had a nice cot, some clothes, and other items.  We had moved into a lovely little apartment overlooking the docklands of London, it had a river view, big floor to ceiling windows that caught the evening sunset over the water, fantastic.

I think there was a really hot Sunday and we spent the day preparing, I painted up the baby cot with some new varnish. The next day my brother came to visit for dinner. He lived far but was in London for business on the Monday.  My wife had told me that Serena’s normal morning exercise routine – summersault, kicks  and elbow gouges – was absent that day. We ate curry, I cooked it, I like cooking and spent hours making the curry, freshly ground spices and slow cooked.  After dinner Serena was still strangely quiet.  My heart felt assurances turned to some slight anxiety.   We decided to go to the hospital to have things checked.

We attended the royal London hospital this time, I had a friend who was a midwife there. However, it’s choice was just governed by location really and my friend was not working that day.  A kindly midwife lay my partner down on a bed, wheeled in a heart rate monitor machine.  It had chords leading to big suckers that fitted onto my partners big belly.  The midwife was young, short bobbed hair, slightly blonde ginger and freckled, jolly and very nice.

She connected the machine up and played with some of the buttons and dials on the machine, I held my wife’s hand and squeezed, looked at her and smiled for reassurances, telling myself and her that this was all fine.  We all just waited for the thud, thud ,thud of the heartbeat.   Hear it comes, I thought.  The mid-wife began to adjust the suckers, took them off, reapplied.  I squeezed my partners hand again, my partner said, “Simon, its all okay isn’t it?”  I nodded, “It will be fine”.  Inside I was beginning to panic. Seconds dragged out like minutes. The midwife began to move the suckers again, she looked more desperate. Her face began to redden, I will never forget the redness of her face and the flustered movements – she knew. Everything was now running in slow motion.

After seconds, maybe a minute, who knows, she said, “I’ll get another machine this one is not working.”  She hurried off.  We waited as she wheeled in another machine. I can’t recall if at this point she was joined by a colleague, but the atmosphere was changing.  She hooked up a fresh machine, and nothing.  They exchanged glances, I knew too, we knew.  A doctor appeared, a little Indian, maybe she had been there a while, I don’t know. Time just hung.  My partner was just calling out, “Simon, its  all right? Isn’t it, Simon, Simon…Simon”.   I felt helpless, I could do nothing.  They had drawn the curtain, around the bed, the doctor said that they needed to check fully but they could not find a heart beat and the baby was likely dead.

-x-

This has been something I have wanted to write for a while, it’s been over 10 years since this happened. Attending a funeral yesterday strengthened my resolve to finally write this. It brought back memories of that little coffin in an empty chapel, just me, my partner, her sister, a christian monk and a little plain wooden coffin.   I hope that writing it down and putting it out to the world gives another kind of closure, the pain is still there, I can still cry about this and that’s fine, it’s human. Getting over something does not mean that the painful memories turn to rainbows and sunshine, but it does mean that I accept and understand the nature of life and events, that I understand and feel a communion with humanity. I feel humbled by events, like a stone washed up in the sea that has lost its hardness, it’s all part of being alive.

Still birth is quite common – 3,600 deaths per year in the UK, one for every 200 pregnancy.  Its not something discussed or considered until is happened.  It’s an utter tragedy. Apart from the trauma of the death itself, there is the carrying of the dead baby for a few days while the labour is induced, then the giving birth of a dead baby that follows. In the UK we have the issue of organising both a birth and death certificate, then a funeral with a coffin that is painfully tiny.  What follows is a looking for answers,’ what did we do wrong?’

For anyone that has been through this or is going through this – you are not alone.  Be strong, its hard.  Time can heal this. We don’t know the full journey of our lives, we don’t know how things will be in future, so have hope as things can improve (Living free; shedding the good and bad labels).

For us, in true Hollywood style we got a happy ending.   Two years later we had Lara – our little lion as she was always so big and strong – and three years after that we had Jay – our peaceful zen master.  The tragedy was all part of our journey into parenthood.   Tragedy can happen.  I don’t for a second assume that the story of life is complete.  Life can change in a heartbeat, so I just try to savour the moments that I have, enjoy the company of those I love and give out love.  The truth is that everything passes and all things have an end. That’s the life we live.  I take from all of this a greater intensity within the transient moments of life (Freud’s requiem and the joy of transience) and my children have the absolute adoration and love of their father.

Everything flows and nothing stays.
Everything flows and nothing abides.
Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.
Everything flows; nothing remains.
All is flux, nothing is stationary.
All is flux, nothing stays still.
All flows, nothing stays.

Various versions of a quote from Heraclitus of Ephesus, 500 bc

Love and peace.

And this, for me, is forever Serena’s song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZANKFxrcKU

Terrorism and trees

If a tree falls in a forest, and there is no one to  hear it, does it make a sound?

I am pretty sure trees fall quite often,  yet it is not something that I worry about.    But, what would happen if a tree falling – like terrorism – were reported across every news outlet constantly for days and days?  Imagine if we walked into stores and instead of terrorism, we saw newspapers depicting falling trees – the devastation caused,  interviews with survivors and witnesses and experts discussing all the potential ways that trees could fall in future.   We would probably become quite concerned about the issue.

This is exactly what happens with the media whenever something ‘news worthy’  occurs.

Recently, in the UK we suffered a terrorist attack.  In truth it was quite minor with a handful of deaths.   Now, I am in no way am I dismissing the trauma to those concerned but we need to keep this event in perspective.

The reality check

In 2015, Europe suffered 175  fatalities from terrorism [1].  In 2015 Europe suffered 26,000 road traffic fatalities [2].   Furthermore, according to research published in the Lancet it takes 29 minutes for 175 children to die from malnutrition in this world [3]  – that’s 10 seconds per child death.

The media is responsible for propagating the irrational fear of terrorist  attacks.  The reality is that the world faces far greater problems.  So please,  let’s keep perspective. Even in the face  of the hysterical  publicity of events  that, in reality,  are not a major risk.

What concerns me

I vow to continue my life without fear of terrorism,  however I do also vow to something to help poverty in this world.  Something that kills far more people than terrorism.

Sources

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/transport/road_safety/specialist/statistics_en

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22935692

[3] http://ec.europa.eu/transport/road_safety/sites/roadsafety/files/pdf/observatory/trends_figures.pdf

Child friendly meditation

My children – a boy of 6 and a girl of 9 years – are fairly typical and struggle with finding calm space in the maelstrom of their lives.  But, I want them to be able to take timeout from their engagement with activities.  In truth,  some of their activities can become so all consuming and they lose all mindfulness to the world outside. How then can I get them to develop moments of stillness? How can I give them tools for dealing with the intensity of life?  My plan is to find a child friendly meditation for us to practice together.

Don’t misunderstand me, I think concentration is good, but the right type of concentration. Concentration that is aware and importantly under control. My kids though, especially with technology, often lose control of themselves and get absorbed.

The plan

Now, around two years ago I had the pleasure of attending a mindfulness evening with the super human monks of Plum Village.  The evening involved, mindful orange eating and various physical activities, but what I really took home and practiced was a trade mark song of theirs; breathing in and breathing out.

Breathing in, breathing out.
Breathing in, breathing out.
I am fresh as the dew.
I am solid as a mountain.
I am firm as the earth.
I am free.

Breathing in, breathing out.
I am water reflecting
What is real, what is true,
And I feel there is space
Deep inside of me.
I am free, I am free, I am free.

The monastics of Plum Village

Its something so simple. I use this song myself to find space when I am lost in thought. In my life the demands and stresses of events often derail and then blow me around. Like being hit by a storm, I get swept away before eventually landing and finding that moment of calmness to practice some grounding and recenter myself.  But, during that grounding, I feel like a beginner practitioner again and I need something simple This song provides that simplicity.

And, I think it could also work for my children.  Why?

  1. It is simple.
  2. It has hand gestures which they will enjoy learning.
  3. It has a song which encourage participation.
  4. It is short and therefore a suitable introduction.

So, I plan to practice this every day with them and see where it leads.

The wow moment from knocking down walls

The ground falls away beneath your feet leaving you feeling suspended in open space, weightless, boundless, light, optimistic and free. A wow moment.

A wow moment is that feeling when something shifts in my world; much like a wall collapsing to reveal something more spacious.  The sudden loss of some constraining boundary feels vast and boundless.  It is very hard to describe the experience itself beyond a sudden sense of freedom and expansiveness.

So what triggers these moments?

I consume a good many spiritual teachings from Buddhist monks, more mainstream spiritual teachers and other sources including academic sociology, philosophy and psychology.  In addition to studying, I also ‘try’ to practice a life of mindfulness; a life without too much intellectualisation.  But, these two activities:  study and mindfulness, seem to oppose one another.

If the aim is to be mindful, ‘why do I consume written or spoken material?’ Rather than simply experiencing and being present? Isn’t the study like ‘reading about living rather than experiencing living?’  or like ‘reading about swimming without actually swimming?’  Well, I don’t find that so, and here is why.

For one, I find studying very calming. It is also an inspiration for my future experiential practices.  It gives me more motivation to return to some practice with fresh vigor.  However, I also find that reading or listening has the capability of inducing one of these wow moments.  For example, I might find myself listening to a spiritual lecture and at some point the teaching might say something that breaks down a wall that was constraining my thinking.  The studying brings about a shift in my world and in my consciousness.

Often I cannot articulate precisely the notion that has caused the shift. However the feeling is quite a strong, “ooh, wow, yes” followed by an opening.   The wow moment is this very liberating feeling; a lightening of some load; a realisation. It’s an amazing experience and one that keeps me returning to study.

That’s not to say that I have not also had these wow moments during meditation or mindful activity. But, I do believe that studying also has the capacity to open my mind to some shift in my being too.

Sharing the wow

And this is why I continue to listen, to read and to learn.  It’s an utter pleasure to think that at times, perhaps, me passing on some of what I have read or experienced could bring about a ‘wow’ moment for others; not from some conceit but as an act of loving kindness.

May you all find and enjoy your ‘wow’ moments, whenever and wherever you find them.

Peace and love.

wow moments - AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

The fertilizer of our lives; Who ordered this truckload of dung?

Two neighbours both moved into gorgeous country houses adjacent to a popular walk and bridleway.  It was a lovely environment. Open feilds, a sea view, pretty trees and cute wildlife. After a few days they began to notice that walking horses would foul the pathway outside their respective homes.

Over time, one of the neighbours found it hard to make friends and people often avoided him.  Whereas the other neighbour was popular and had no problem making friends.

Furthermore, the already popular neighbour began to grow his garden and soon his garden was producing lots of beautiful produce.  So much that he left it in crates on the path for the local walkers to help themselves.

The unpopular neighbour began asking people what he was doing wrong, but they would cut short the conversations, often curling their noses while walking away.

What was he doing wrong?


The answer: He was collecting the dung from the path and putting it into his pocket. He had no idea what to do with it and would often carry it for too long. Furthermore, in his attempt to avoid the dung, he would complain to people passing, cautioning them and sometimes even accusing them of fouling the pathway.

The other, wiser neighbour, was simply using the dung to fertilise his garden.


What do we carrying around that makes us stink?  Do you carry your complaints? Your grumbles? Your injustices? Do they make you unpleasant to be around?

Wouldn’t it be wiser to use the events of our lives to fertilize the garden of our being?

We can transform the bad in our lives and even grow from it. 


Credit for this story goes to Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Brahm (who ordered this truckload of dung) and Chogyam Trungpa (The manure of life and the field of Bodhi).


Peace and love

 

 

 

 

 

Acceptance like a Zen master; Is that so

There was a Zen master who lived a peaceful, illuminated life of acceptance.   He was a source of wisdom for the local community.  Within the community, there was a respected family with one daughter of 18 years age.

The daughter was pregnant and soon her belly became too large to conceal.  Her enraged father demanded to know who was responsible.  Initially the daughter resisted telling but eventually in tears muttered the name of the Zen master.  The father stormed to the house of the Zen master and confronted him, “You have fathered a child with my young daughter, you swine!”  The Zen master replied “Is that so”.

Her baby was born a few weeks later; a healthy boy.  Her father immediately took the child and gave it to the Zen master shouting, ‘Here! it’s your child! you look after it”. The Zen master replied, “Is that so”.

A year later the daughter confessed to her family that the father was actually a handsome young man who worked at the local baker store.  The father returned to the Zen master, he explained the huge error.  The Zen master replied, “Is that so” and handed the baby back to the father.


The Zen master was able to accept all manner of circumstance without feeling a need for complaint or objection.  Can we do the same?


I try to remember this story throughout the challenges of life.  Sometimes facing a situation, an attack in words, or some other circumstance.  I try to find the space to stop and say “is that so” and in doing so try to avoid the need to complain or wish otherwise.

A word of caution, however, some people will react with more hostility if you speak, “is that so”.  So I often find its better to just think it without muttering the words.

 

 

 

Enjoying the honey in the midst of adversity

This is the fourth tale in a series of classic old stories I am posting throughout December, told pretty much as they have been for generations.


Many years ago,  a wise man encountered a hungry tiger while walking through the jungle back to his village. The man immediately began to run and the tiger gave chase.

After a few steps, he recalled a dried up well which was quite fortunately just a few steps further down the path.  He sprinted for the well and quickly dived into it.

However, as he was falling downward he heard a hiss.  Alarmed he quickly reached out a hand and grabbed at the sides of the well.  Luckily his had caught an overgrowing root and he was able to stop his fall.

He looked downwards and saw a huge hungry snake at the bottom of the dried up well. He looked up and saw the tiger peering over the edge of the well.  He hung for a minute or two before his situation got worse.  A small rat appeared from a hole in the wall of the well and it began to chew at the root.

The root soon began to fray.

Meanwhile, the tiger was reaching into the well.  In doing so, its feet were pushing against a nearby tree for purchase. causing it to sway.  The swaying motion of the tree caused a drop of honey to fall down the well from an overhanging bee hive.

The snake continued to hiss, the tiger continued to push, the mouse kept chewing through the root, the tree kept swaying and the beehive kept dripping honey into the well.

The man extended his tongue and caught some honey.

mmmm, honey”, he thought.


Life can throw us so much adversity.   Can you still enjoy the drops of honey that fall even during adversity?

Two monks carrying a burden

An older and a younger monk are walking back to their monastery when they notice a young woman passed out in the middle of a busy road.

The older monk tries to rouse her without response, before finally picking her up and carrying her from the road to safety.  He manages to wake her and set her safely on her way.  The younger monk is shocked and could not believe what he had seen happen.

They walk in silence for an hour, two hours, three then four before finally the younger monk can no longer suppress his feelings and says “You should not have picked up that girl, we are not allowed to handle women.”  The other monk responds, “are you still carrying her? I put her down hours ago.”


What burden do you carry in the mind long after it ceased to exist?

Enter Zen from there; A simple Zen story of how to find peace

A learning student of Zen practice was out for a stroll with a more experienced teacher. They walked through the mountains near their accommodation.  Majestic views, a cool evening, everything so calm, truly a blissful environment to walk.

After some time the student said to his friend, “I am trying to find Zen* but I keep thinking about where best to begin and how to do it”.

They continue walking for a few minutes. The student, lost now in further worry, begins to think his friend might not have heard the remark.  He opens his mouth to speak again when his teacher comments. “Do you hear the steam? Enter Zen from there.”

The student listens for a minute or two, paying attention until he eventually hears the sound of a distant stream.  “Satori”** He realised something he could not express.

They continue walking and for the first time the student experiences all there is around him.  After some time however, his mind intrudes upon this peace.  He asks his teacher, “What would you have said if I could not hear the stream? If I heard or saw something else?” 

His teacher responds, “Enter Zen from there.”


We can choose to enter mindful alertness and find peace at any time using anything. I find myself guilty of demanding the ‘right’ circumstances sometimes.  But, we can instead just choose to be alert and alive to the unfolding moments.  Don’t let the mind make excuses or conjure layers of complexity.

We can enter Zen from anywhere!


*Zen – Something words cannot describe, but perhaps the state of completeness with the universe, mindfulness, alertness, presence.

**Satori – A sudden realisation or enlightenment.

zenmountainquote

Sign posts to the moon

A young spiritual learner was out for a walk with a wise old master and his dog. The evening was peaceful and cool. They walked in silence.

After some time the novice says to the wise master, “I have been learning various spiritual teachings on meditation and mindfulness”.

The master nods his head.

The novice then confesses that he has recently become lost with meditation.  That the more he studies, the more lost he becomes.  The various teachings say different things.  So  now, he does not know what to do anymore.

“Wise master”, he asks.  “Do I look at the tip of my nose? or do I close my eyes? do I sit or stand? please tell me which approach is best and end this confusion”.

The master smiles. He the points to the moon and commands his dog to look at the moon. The dog simply stares at his pointing finger.

The master then explains, “Words are conceptualisation and are merely pointers to something beyond; do not focus on the pointing fingers or you will never find the moon”.

 

-x-

“All words about spiritual values are just hints. Don’t hold onto the words as if they are realities. They are hints, almost the way I can point to the moon with my finger – but don’t catch hold of my finger. My finger is not the moon. Although my finger was pointing to the moon, it was only a hint.”

Zarathustra: A God That Can Dance

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Toshidama Gallery