My miscarriage mattered. All miscarriages matter.

Statistically, I was “due” for a miscarriage. It happens to one in four women in Australia. But after three healthy, complication-free pregnancies, I never considered miscarriage to be a real threat. I had conceived naturally and with ease and felt very “compatible” with pregnancy. Foolishly, I didn’t think it would happen to me.

The conception of our fourth baby took a long time. Not in practice, but in reaching the decision. Being one of five daughters and blessed with a rich, vibrant and noisy family life, I yearned for a big family, but my husband needed some convincing. After a yearlong discussion of “should we or shouldn’t we?” we decided to roll the dice one more time. And to my delight it rolled in our favour.

My initial excitement at the possibly of a pregnancy was tempered by the imminent death of a close family member. In a collision of emotions, I delayed testing to give space to my grief. I couldn’t celebrate one new life while mourning another.

Just beneath my grief lay a thin layer of hope. My body gave me early signs of pregnancy but I waited until after the funeral to do a test. We went to yum cha with the kids for mothers’ day and then I felt ready to receive a gift of my own. My heart beat a little faster as I saw the second line emerge; faint as it was, it offered me the softest glimpse of happiness in a long while. We were going to have another baby. I was elated.

The following day, buoyed by the little life budding inside me, I went for a run. It was a glorious morning and the autumn hues were magnificent. The trees gracefully shed their leaves, performing a picturesque striptease. I smiled as I ran; believing I was running towards happiness.

But happiness was fleeting and within 24 hours I traded optimism for anguish. The spotting on my knickers was the first sign. While I had never experienced it before, I was not alarmed. I searched Internet boards to allay my concerns. Forums and chat rooms offered hope. Spotting was common. Even bleeding during the early weeks of pregnancy was common. There was nothing to worry about unless it got heavier.

But it did get heavier. And more painful. But it wasn’t going to result in a miscarriage. This wouldn’t happen. It couldn’t.

In a fraught attempt to defy gravity I lay down on the sofa for two hours in the middle of the day – not daring to move – believing if I remained horizontal and could not feel the blood seeping out of me, it was not real.

Only it was real. When I stood up and felt the resulting seepage, my whole body shook in fear. The cramping, described on the internet as similar to “period pain”, was nothing like menstrual cramping. It was sharp and mercilessly stabbed at my sides, and my heart. But still, I held onto hope.

By the end of the day my hope had all but disappeared. My husband watched on helpless as I sobbed on the toilet. He saw my naked anguish, which was raw and abrupt. Each time I passed pregnancy tissue, the remains of my hope were shed too.

I was losing my baby. I was losing a life I loved. Like most women, I had calculated the baby’s due date, mentally rearranged the kids’ bedrooms and jumped ahead to the baby’s birth. At six weeks gestation it was only the size of my pinky’s fingernail, but I loved each and every one of those precious cells. I cried most of the night, in a restless, anguished sleep with my hand over my hollow tummy, powerless over my own body.

I went to the doctors the following day to confirm the inevitable. She offered veiled hope and referred me to radiology for an ultrasound.

As I lay on my back, covered in the cold gel, I stared at the black and white monitor and my heart ached. Hot, silent tears fell down my cheeks as the sonographer prodded and probed searching for a gestational sack that had already passed. Unable to sight it she performed a painful internal ultrasound. “I’m sorry to say there is nothing there. It looks like a complete miscarriage,” she said, as she had likely said it many times before.

Like most mothers the guilt rose within me and the self-interrogation began. Was I responsible? Was it my age? Why hadn’t I taken folate? Was it linked to my stress levels? But, no, my GP assured me it was nothing I had done, or not done. It was just a standard miscarriage. Only there was nothing standard about it. I plunged into raw, primal grief. I was not only mourning the loss of a pregnancy; in my eyes, we had lost a baby, a toddler, a child, and a life. And the loss penetrated my every cell.

Later that day as I lay on the couch, unable to process my grief, something lovely happened. My four-year-old quietly lifted my blanket, lay down with me and placed her head on my chest. She didn’t say a word (outrageously rare for her) as I stroked her hair, softly and solemnly. Within minutes she was asleep; a child who hadn’t fallen asleep on me since she was a baby. I listened to her rhythmic breathing, in time with my own, and watched her chest rise and fall. And in that moment I have never been happier and sadder in my life. It struck me that love can hurt as much as it can elate. And that grief and joy are powerfully linked.

In the space of just one week I had lost two lives that meant the world to me. My heart – heavy from the loss of a relationship I had enjoyed for almost 40 years – collapsed with the loss of a relationship just six weeks old, but with the promise of a lifetime of joy. I wanted to run away from the grief. I wanted to go to bed and sleep until the sadness evaporated. But loss demands to be felt. You can’t run from grief and you can’t hide. And the only way out (of grief) is through.

What I discovered in the weeks that followed is that pregnancy loss is a deeply personal, solitary and lonely grief. My loss was classified as an early miscarriage. But whether you lose a baby at six weeks or 12 weeks, the outcome is the same and the grief is profound. And whether you miscarry during your first pregnancy, or your fourth pregnancy, the pain is raw and healing takes time. Because all miscarriages matter.

They all matter.

* First published on news.com.au

Have you experienced pregnancy loss? How did you cope? Please share your experience below to acknowledge that all miscarriages matter and you are not alone in your grief.

Why you don’t need to “fix” your shy child & 4 ways to help them

If you have a child is reserved, and perhaps a little timid, there’s a good chance they’ve been described as shy. Shyness is a term often used to describe quieter children and, rather unfortunately, it seems to come with a negative inference. But here’s the thing: shyness in children is NOT a character flaw and it is not something that needs to be “fixed.”

My first-born daughter, Miss A, was a clingy toddler and experienced intense separation anxiety. At first I thought it would pass but it escalated. At home she followed me around like a shadow, and outside the home she would refuse to unleash her grip on my legs. Socialising with friends and their children only heightened her anxiety, and mine. If I left her side for a minute it caused her great distress. I looked on enviably as the other mums sat sipping cups of tea, chatting amongst themselves as their children played happily, without their involvement.

The playground was also hard. I watched the other kids confidently navigate the playground whilst my daughter cowered between my legs. She wouldn’t participate unless I participated too. I must have looked like a helicopter parent to onlookers but the truth was I wanted to be sitting on the park bench watching, not plunging down slippery dips! Ever wondered where my blog got its name???

At the age of two, Miss A had excellent language skills but she wouldn’t speak to anyone outside the family. I expressed my concerns to the maternal health worker and she told me to readjust my expectations. I realised that I had been expecting my daughter to behave according to how I did as a child; extroverted, sociable and confident. Instead of trying to change my daughter’s behaviour I worked with her to build her confidence. I wanted her to feel more comfortable in social situations and so I adopted a gentle, supportive approach and altered my expectations. My role was to love and extend her, not to change her.

By the time she started kinder she was able to separate more easily from me, with the help of her furry friend, but she remained an observer. She was happy but unable to join in the group activities, preferring her own company and independent play. She once asked me how to make friends. That she wanted to initiate friendships with others was a big step, but it also broke my heart a little that she didn’t know how. Around this time I enrolled Miss A in a music and ballet class, and that’s when her self-confidence began to soar. Through creative expression she found a confidence that has slowly and steadily grown.

Miss A is about to finish Semester One of her first year at school. The past six months of Prep have been wonderful and she has moved from an observer to a participator. One of my proudest moments this year was her first “Share and Learn” session (Show and Tell in old school terms). That she was able address a classroom of 24 kids and 1 adult was a significant milestone and I will forever remember the sparkle in her eyes when she came home from school that day and enthusiastically relayed her experience. She remains on the quieter side in class (partly because she’s so focussed, thankfully not taking after her mama!) but she has a tacit confidence that will enable her to embrace all experiences fully. I couldn’t be prouder of my little girl.

What helps children the most is to know that their parents accept them as they are and have confidence that they will be fine.

If you have a slow-to-warm child, here are four ways you can support them:

  1. Readjust your expectations

Naturally, as parents, we want our children to be happy. We like to see them playing happily with other kids, confidently participating in group activities, able to speak with adults, shine brightly. But every child is unique and a confidence that grows quietly and confidently is often a confidence that will prevail. I think that slow-to-warm = slow and steady. If you’re outgoing and sociable, and your child is not, don’t push them to be like you. Embrace their individuality and enjoy watching them grow.

  1. Shyness is not a character flaw

Shyness is temperament, not a fault. Many people don’t understand shyness and equate being shy with having a problem. They think a shy child must suffer from poor self-image. This is quite untrue. Many shy children have a solid sense of self and purpose and tend to be attentive listeners, exuding a warm presence without saying a word. We need all types of personalities and temperaments in this world, and quiet, slow-to-warm people are an important, and indeed essential, part of that mix!

  1. Don’t apologise for them

There is no need to say apologetically, “She’s a shy child,” especially in front of your little one. Be conscious of the language you use. There is nothing wrong, and a lot right, with being shy. Kids who continually hear they are shy often feel they are doing something wrong, particularly if they sense that their parents want them to act in a way that is very different from what feels comfortable. When children are labelled shy it can lead embarrassment or, worse, shame. Remember, labels are for jars not people.

  1. Accept and support

Recognise that you are blessed with a sensitive, caring, gentle child who is slow to warm up to strangers, approaches social relationships cautiously, but generally seems happy. Embrace your quiet child and be gentle. Not every child needs to be gregarious. What helps children the most is to know that their parents accept them as they are and have confidence that they will be fine.

Do you have a shy child? What has been your experience? Any advice you can share?

If you like this post, join me on Facebook for more snippets and community discussion :-)

* Some parts of this story first appeared in an edition of Melbourne’s Child.

How do you know when your family is complete?

Some say you just ‘know’ when you’re done having babies. “This shop is closed!” is a refrain echoed by many friends who seem utterly convinced that the childbearing chapter of their lives is over. Conversely, some women say they “know” in no uncertain terms that they’re NOT done having babies. And then there are the fence sitters, a little like me. They can’t say they’re done, but they can’t say they’re not done either. So, how do you know when you’re really, truly done? Is there a perfect number?

Having had three healthy babies, I feel overwhelmingly grateful and blessed, but I can’t say I am done DONE. Some days I definitely think I could be done. Why would I want to add another monster to the brood? Raising kids is definitely NOT all rainbows and daisy chains! But other days, even amid the chaos, mess, and meltdowns, I feel a deep longing to add another little person into our noisy lives. I come from a large family (of five daughters). My childhood was vibrant, lively and noisy. I loved the diversity and the energy in our household. My mum had five and that’s a huge jump from three, so four seems like a lovely compromise, and I have a thing for even numbers. So much “neater” than odd numbers!

I also have a weakness for babies. I just love them and wish the baby stage didn’t disappear so fast. They are intoxicating and I am a bit addicted to them. My husband reminds me that just as puppies grow up to be full-sized animals, babies get bigger too, and their needs grow bigger too (and expensive!) To add another member to the family would require a bigger car, a bigger washing machine, a bigger income and a bigger house! And really, how many years can you survive being tired?! I knew after my second child she would not be my last. I was completely certain that we were not done. After my third I felt complete but not certain. My husband was eager to get the snip but I just couldn’t sign that permission slip. Even though there are times I think we are done, and biologically my baby producing viability is declining rapidly, I prefer leaving the door slightly ajar. Is your door still ajar? If so, you may be still entertaining the idea thinking of adding to your family. Here are 5 signs you are not done having babies

  1. You can’t part with the baby stuff

Plenty of parents are swift to pack up their baby gear and head straight to the nearest charity shop or kids’ market when they outgrow the need for all the STUFF. Others, like me, hoard boxes and boxes of kids’ clothes, wraps, soft toys and nursery décor “just in case.” Recently my youngest got her first big girl bed. My husband asked if we should give it to someone else. But the clever man thought better of it and placed it in the shed, just in case. If you have a stash of “just in case” baby items that you can’t bear to part with you might not be done after all.

  1. You don’t remember the bad stuff

Do you remember the swollen veins, back pain, heartburn, nausea, and a catalogue of pregnancy symptoms that lasted almost a year? What about contractions, crowning and post labour stitches that left you to sore to sit? No? How about the bone crushing fatigue and cracked nipples? If this doesn’t sound familiar, along with the “not-so -fun” moments of infant-hood you might not be done having babies after all! Amnesia is probably a legal defence for having more babies. You just seem to blank out all the bad stuff.

  1. You keep the name in the vault

Plenty of people have a few baby names up their sleeves, “just in case.” If you really don’t to disclose your names from your list, then you’re probably not done having kids. I have a few more girls’ names that I just adore.

  1. You swoon over babies and preggy bellies

Hands down this is me. I get preggy envy and grab any chance to hold a newborn baby. I love baby stuff and regularly find myself in the baby section of a department store admiring the little onesies and bonds jumpsuits. If you find yourself fantasising over being pregnant again and having a baby grow inside you, then you’re probably not entirely done.

  1. You just “know”

Your gut tells you it, your heart tells you it, your body even tells you it. You are just not done. Perhaps it’s just one more roll of the dice and you’ve gotta do it… I don’t know if it is as simple as going with your gut. What happens when your gut is conflicted or in contrast to your partner’s wishes? I don’t know if it’s entirely right to be led by your heart without any consideration to your head. Finances and practicalities surely need to be considered too. My “baby” is now three and I think we are probably done, but I am not ruling it out entirely. Never say never…

GIVEAWAY UP FOR GRABS

I may, or may not, be done having babies but I still need a fab bag to carry around everyone’s stuff. And this bag is a beauty.

This stylish and functional BabyMel change bag up for grabs for one lucky reader. It’s light, practical and looks fabulous. Simply comment below and answer this question: Do you know if you’re done/not done having babies? How do you know? Terms and Conditions:

  1. Answer the competition question below in the comments section.
  2. Like the NASD Facebook page.
  3. One entry per person.
  4. Open to Australian residents only.

The giveaway will close at midnight on 24 June 2015. 
This is a game of skill. The winner will be awarded a BabyMel bag on the strength of their answer and will be announced on the NASD FB page on 25 June. Even if you’re not in it to win it, please comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

*Article first published on Essential Baby

How to ice a cake in fondant: The beginners guide.

If you loved playing with clay or playdough as a kid, you’ll love decorating with fondant as a grown up! You can roll it, cut it, dye it, and form it into just about any shape. And it’s perfect for creating fancy kids’ birthday cakes. Fondant is fun! It’s not without its pressure points but the key is to enjoy the process and get your kids involved. I’ll show you how to decorate with fondant for beginners. But be warned, fondant is addictive. Once you start decorating with this gorgeous icing, you won’t look back. (more…)

How to create fun and fabulous photos

When I was 15 I did work experience at a trendy photography studio in inner Melbourne. The studio was surrounded by fashion boutiques and I confess I was more interested in the retail offerings than taking photos. At Uni, I dabbled in a few photography subjects and enjoyed the magic of processing film in a dark room and seeing my photos come to life in front of my eyes. It was cool. And then, in my 30’s, digital photography took off and it has changed the amateur and professional photography landscape.  Photography used to be an expensive hobby. Today, however, you can take as many photos of your baby crawling as you please, because storing them on digital memory cards costs next to nothing. (more…)

Fussy eaters: How to avoid food fights with your kids

I am thrilled to bring you this guest post by Jessica Donovan from Energetic Mama. Jessica is passionate about educating parents on nourishing their children with real food, helping to boost their health and heal naturally.  It was 6pm on a weeknight. I had been in the kitchen from the moment we got home from school. It wasn’t intentional but I am sure you understand how easily the kitchen can swallow you up as soon as you set foot in it. So I had emptied lunch boxes, unpacked the dishwasher, done a load of dishes and because the kids were happily playing I took the opportunity to pack tomorrows lunches and get started on dinner. Well the next minute it was dinner time and I simply asked Mr 7 to feed the dog and Miss 5 to set the table. (more…)

Wordless Wednesday: Simple pleasures

It never ceases to amaze me how little kids need to be happy. They find entertainment climbing trees, picking up millipedes and going on nature trails. Most of us are guilty of having far more toys and gadgets than our children need. More often, it’s the simplest things that amuse them the most. Of course, a childhood is not all chasing butterflies and making daisy chains, but isn’t it lovely when it is this pure and uncomplicated.

Presenting: Simply Bubbles…

Bubbles are guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s dial. What other simple pleasures do your kids love? Don’t forget to follow me on instagram for more pics of fun and frivolity!