Tuesday 29 August 2017

Turbulence Part 9: Selkies and Selfies

It was time to get back onto a plane and prepare myself for take off…

The longer I didn’t play music, the more self-doubt seeped into my psyche.
What if I could never get my voice back again?
How would I ever be able to perform in front of people again?
Our internal narratives are usually cruel and rarely constructive. Tentatively, I began to take off on a new flight of my musical self and discovered that music was not lost to me, rather it was my confidence that had been shattered. What I needed to do was just start, right there from my place of weakness and allow myself to learn how to play again while giving myself permission to fail and (in the words of Bob Dylan) “keep on keeping on”. Ability can be retrained and re learned and deeply frustrating as it was to have to start again, it was not going to be impossible to gain back physical strength and control enough to play and sing. I just had to make myself begin.

Like my re-beginning to walk, it was a slow process. My back was still so weak that at first I couldn’t even hold my guitars let alone play them. I started with my lightweight ukulele, then little by little began to play the bigger instruments, initially for only five minutes at a time before my back muscles would twinge and begin to spasm. It was hard to imagine that I'd ever be gig fit again but, as with everything over time, (and with lots of physio) I became stronger. 

Bill and I decided to reinvest finance I’d set aside for the cancelled EP I’d been due to record at the time of my accident, into to creating our own home recording studio. So we did. The studio became both a lifeline and a sanctuary. In those precious moments when our daughter was asleep and we were actually awake and lucid enough to engage, we started working on tracks and it was during these times that I began to take ownership of myself as a singer songwriter again.

Before my fall in Italy, I’d been working on a collaborative project with my friend, Gill Stevens, who had introduced me to the selkie (magical seal people) mythology of Orkneys.  Little had I known then how central a role the selkie story was to play in the coming months and years. I now revisited the songs I’d last been working on and in doing so walked back into in the skin of the selkie. There in the ancient legends of her mythology I found a resonance with my own story. The power of the artistic muse is a most mysterious and fragile entity. It is unique to each of us. Every artist will have their own way of describing the creative process but the key word here is 'create', to make a new energy and to inhabit that journey of discovery and imagination. I was profoundly moved by revisiting words I had penned prior to the last nine months and how they now had deep and powerful relevance.

I’d written Selkie’s Song before my accident. It was based on the female selkie legends and the lyric describes a selkie woman's struggle with her identity when her seal skin is stolen from her, leaving her trapped in human form unable to transform and return to her ocean home. The words I’d written so many months before, took on a whole new meaning. 

 “This skin it won’t fit like it used to
These bones they don’t hold it so well
In too many ways I’m a stranger
And it’s a stranger who warms you right now”

Her restlessness and longing to feel comfortable in her own skin now resonated deeply with my own struggles of trying to rebuild my battered body. This song was no longer just describing an imaginary character it was now also a personal song about me.  

As I read and researched the folklore, I found that many myths focussed on the selkie trying to reclaim her stolen skin so that she could return to her first love, the ocean. In some stories this meant that she had to abandon her human husband and children on land. In other stories her children couldn’t survive on land and had to be returned to the ocean while she was left stranded without them. I began to see her as the outsider, the refugee in spirit and circumstance, the mother in the wrong body struggling to find her place in this world. The selkie became an extension of me, but she was also the version of me who didn’t recover. She allowed me to explore my “What if ?” In the narrative that I reconstructed, Selkie's troubled mind led her to the point of falling back into the ocean to return home, but this event created a devastating ending for everyone else around her. 

The muse didn’t stop at my personal trauma. Selkie became my way of dealing with all the other external turbulence that had been happening around me. During my pregnancy and the subsequent few years, several of my closest friends had faced the heartbreak of miscarriages... We experienced multiple tragic losses of friends and family both through natural causes and suicide... Relationships and marriages broke down around us…Globally the wars in Gaza and Syria and the outrageous killings of so many innocent young civilians, the endless rise in refugees of war, economic and ecological circumstance, all played heavily in my heart and mind. While I sought to process all these events of the world around me, I found that Selkie became a vehicle to filter my lamentations and the many themes of refugees, loss, depression, grief, fragile sanity and unstable circumstance found their way into the lyrics.

I wondered if it was all too dark, but then reminded myself that much folklore is very dark as it is rooted in the plight of humanity. I just needed to be brave enough to stay the path that the muse was taking me. Stories are an innate part of human existence. The stories of our own lives intersect, ebb, flow, decline and rebuild.  I interpreted Selkie’s story in the world around me, I saw her reflection in my own struggles and in the hardship of my friends. She was both ancient history’s legend and 21st century’s reality and I soon found that I was working on a full concept album.

As I’m writing my story again, I realise I’ve already been telling it in different ways over the last five years, through our post birth debrief and the written account for the investigation as well as my counselling sessions and many conversations with friends and family. In each successive retelling, I’ve been able to look back with a greater objective clarity and a gradually lessening fear of the pain inherent within. The emotional retelling through the medium of the selkie and her re-imagined story in my album was totally different. I was able to pour all of my pain, trauma and heartache into the songs and music I was creating. It was nonlinear and raw and operated outside of cerebral analysis. Once again art was offering me a lifeline of survival and healing. I would not have been able to make any of my story public as I am doing now with these blog posts, without having first gone through all of these previous retellings.

Bill and I took two years to record the album slowly chipping away track by track. In the second year I redid all of my vocals as I’d finally regained strength and found my voice (and tuning) again. 

Sadly, just as my health began to improve, Bill’s began to decline and yet another kind of shake up was on its way. 

Stone's Throw, Lament Of The Selkie is available on Bandcamp 

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Turbulence Part 8: Replay and Rebuild

Post crash  - finding the black box flight recording and replaying it - What went wrong and how had this been allowed to happen? The path to recovery had to be met on every level and it had many potholes.

The replaying

“I think I need to talk to someone.”

Bill looked up from his coffee. He’d heard from my tone that I was saying something big.  

“I think I need some counselling, to talk to someone about everything that’s happened, so that we can make the complaint, I just can’t go there again and write it all.”

My health visitor had suggested that we attend an official birth debrief with a consulting midwife at the hospital. Both Bill and I welcomed this, we had so many unresolved questions. During the debrief, the consulting midwife handling my case became more and more concerned about aspects of my experiences as we relayed them. At the end of our session she strongly urged us to make a formal complaint so that there could be an official investigation into my care. I agreed that this could be a good thing to do, both for myself and future patients and told her that I’d be in touch, but as the months went on I found that I couldn’t easily talk or write about my trauma and I needed to put it all down in detail in order to lodge the complaint.

I stalled for six months.

How could I walk back into that time and relive each and every moment that had been so torturous and brought me to the point at which I’d broken both mentally and physically?  

Then, on Easter Sunday 2013, (full of chocolate) I suddenly found myself online searching for trauma counselling. As I’d put our daughter down for her nap, the niggling inner voice had come at me again saying, “You have to write about what happened, or you’ll never make that complaint.” I realised at that moment the only way I would be able to revisit what had happened, would be if I got professional help. I booked myself 6 sessions with a counsellor who specialised in trauma in order to help create a game plan to deal with all that had happened. Talking to a professional listener is always a good thing to do. I wrote my story for the first time as a part of those sessions.

The complaint went through in detail (along with recognition of great work from some key medical staff) and although many of the issues were never fully dealt with, the ward midwife who had so mishandled my situation was put on a monitoring system as a result of the investigation, it was not the first complaint lodged against her.

The Rebuilding

My physio sessions continued over the next year. 
I started my own baby steps of walking again without crutches. 
First milestone was to make it down to the end of our street.
The next was around the block and then around the bigger block, until finally the day came when I was strong enough to physically walk to the park on my own!
My daughter and I were learning to move and grow in physical strength together at the same pace. She brought (and still brings me) so much joy. I was awed at her being and revelled in her tenacity for life. She gave me new eyes, new insight and a new focus. I watched her determination to master each of her new milestones. She was definitely a major player in my recovery process. As she loved and needed me, she also filled me with new purpose, kept me busy and meant that I had no choice but to throw myself back into engaging with life.

I must admit however, that at the same time as I was awed with my new sense of purpose and the wonder that is my daughter, the trouble and turbulence of loss began to rattle and shake me while I struggled to rebuild myself. This time the loss centred on my identity as I tried to figure out who and where I was in the new version of me as a mum.

I think that on some level, every new mother has to face these questions of how to come to terms with their post baby body and their new baby filled life?

One of the big questions that played over and over was how could I become Rachel, "The Singer Songwriter" again? That person on a stage in a kooky hat and steam-punk dress playing those songs, seemed so alien and far away now. The lady who would walk into an unknown room, in an unknown city, in an unknown country and sing a capella bringing a rowdy crowd into stillness, she was not this unfamiliar person, called mum. This new version of myself couldn’t even fit into any of those gig clothes, let alone stay awake long enough play a set!

I was huge. I tried not to beat myself up about it, (I mean what else is there to do when you’re house bound, recovering from injuries and growing a baby, but to eat cake?!) but after pregnancy and the birth trauma I found that I didn’t recognise myself either physically or internally. My scar was a daily reminder of all I’d been through. It was a physical jagged line reflecting back the lines that my mind and body had crossed. Having such limited mobility for all those months as well as the invasive surgery had meant that my muscles had atrophied. My core muscles weren’t even strong enough for me to hold my notes in tune when I sang, let alone strum my guitar. I was stripped of music and my ability to make it from within.

This was hard.

Music was and is so much a part of me.

Identity can be a devious thing. We all fill our minds with tricks, devices and props to ease ourselves though our days. We are what we do. We kid ourselves that what we can do will build our importance. We torment ourselves over our physical appearance and our self confidence rises and falls in relation to what we tell ourselves and how we perceive ourselves. At that moment I didn’t have the ability (or time) to do much of anything that I’d being used to doing previously. My body didn’t do or look anything like that of my previous self. The rebuilding here took a lot of self compassion to accept who I was right in that moment. Sometimes I succeeded and sometimes I failed. There were days when dredging through everything was too much. The mud and muck of my circumstances clung thick and fast in a smothering blanket of dark thought. Some days I wallowed under the covers of self pity, other days it wasn’t so much wallowing, it was just too much effort to lift the weight of those heavy sheets and the best I could do was simply try to come up for air and catch my breath, but having a baby meant I didn’t have time to stay there long. In those times I think an instinctive primal ‘mum type wiring’ kicked in as I knew I needed to take the focus off myself and get busy keeping my focus on caring for my daughter.

Through it all I realised that it was going to be a long time before I was going to be able to find the singer songwriter again and that when I did, she would be a whole new entity, as the scars of these experiences had and were changing me.

Monday 21 August 2017

Turbulence Part 7: Debris

As far as a landing goes it was more like a series of crash landings with bits of the plane falling off at every impact. It was full of confusion. Were we airbourne? Were we on the ground? Where is the plane? There I sat unable to move with the remains of the fuselage scattered around me unrecognisable as a plane, just as my life was unrecognisable from 9 months previous… 
Would we be able to find and gather all the pieces to put back together to build something that was once again recognizable, or did we need to start again from scratch?

As I’m writing my story, I am aware of so many other stories of huge suffering around me.
There are people in my life who have been through horrific chemo and radiotherapy that has savaged them to the point of a living death existence while they endure it. There are dear friends of mine who have lost their partners and/or their children. There are those living with chronic physical pain or tormenting psychological illness on a daily basis. There are a few whose bodies and minds have been violated by the criminal actions of others. I hear my own words in the context of everything else and know that all I went through, is just life. None of us makes it out unscathed. We all have to find ways of getting up and beginning again when that rug is pulled out from beneath us and we crash and burn. This is hard. 

It was heart breaking and defeating to be back in hospital.  Although my objective self knew I needed to be there, my subjective self felt like I was in prison. In retrospect I find myself thinking about torture techniques and how repeated physical and emotional pain are used to break a person.  Of course I don’t compare what happened to me as equal to what survivors of torture have experienced, but I do feel a small amount of heightened insight as to the breaking of a soul in that way.
Add to the mix: The trauma of my fall, Bill’s near death experience, months of physical pain from my injuries, months of sleep deprivation, the epic and traumatic events of birthing and haemorrhaging, necessary but excruciating physical pain inflicted by staff with no warning or worse a false statement of “this procedure will just feel a little bit uncomfortable” constant noise and bright neon lights of a hospital environment, building work outside my room and drills sounding non stop through the daytime, a continuing cocktail of drugs, claustrophobic spaces of an MRI scan, the underlying undiagnosed medical conditions that had been ignored and dismissed as nothing important and finally listening to the sound of a few gossiping staff members making negative uninformed and disparaging comments outside my door.  All this, compounded by my own sense of grief that I was unable to properly care for my newborn child, had added up to bring me to breaking point.

Nobody knew why I had lost my memory in those moments. It might have been any number of medical symptoms from anaemia to TIA, or it might have been a psychological disassociating PTSD type of response to my trauma or just sheer fatigue so great that my mind couldn’t function, but for me experiencing those episodes of confusion and memory loss was the moment that I realised I was really very broken. Something inside had snapped both physically and psychologically. There was talk of brain scans, but in the end the consultants decided against it.

My bladder was stretched and distended and retaining disturbing amounts of fluid so the catheter went back in and then a few days later a system of monitoring began. The problem was, the hospital was so understaffed that there was nobody available who was qualified to operate a bladder scanner once the scanner finally had been located. I won’t go into the gory details of how we had to measure in the end except to say it was what they described as the old fashioned way… It is likely that I’d experienced bladder trauma from the impact of my falling and that this was part of my on going back pain but that in between my hospital admission in Italy and my re admission in the UK, there was a lot that didn’t get checked out. 

My haemoglobin levels had dropped significantly below 7 and I was finally given a blood transfusion. As I felt the cold new blood travelling through my body I wondered who this blood had previously been travelling in. I contemplated the fact that my story had intersected with complete strangers who would never know how much I valued their choice to offer something so vital in donating their blood. During the second unit I suddenly found that I began to feel more human, but then sadly almost as soon as I’d received the blood transfusion, my blood pressure soared and I developed postpartum preeclampsia. The Drs wondered if the blood loss from my haemorrhage had been masking that condition all along. Again I experienced the NHS stretched beyond what it could handle, as during the night, the staff were busy with an emergency situation and were unable to administer my medication.

We decided that one of the best things for me to do would be to try and get some sleep. This meant that Bill took our daughter back home with him for the nights I was re-admitted and she spent the days with me. The majority of staff were supportive of this decision but there were a few who felt differently and made it known to me, voicing their opinion both to my face and discussing me outside my room. New mums need support, not disapproving judgement. I knew they were afraid that I wouldn’t bond with our daughter. I already felt a terrible amount of personal emotional guilt about this, not being well enough to properly care for my own daughter, but knew that it really was the most helpful scenario to choose.  I also knew in myself that I already was as bonded as I possibly could be and that if I was going to have a fighting chance of getting well enough to function, then I needed to sleep. I believed that our daughter would feel more secure being cared for in the evening by her dad who she already knew and trusted as well as my mum who had who was on hand at that time, than by a member of staff who was a stranger.

I finally retuned home with beta-blockers and a truckload of extra iron tablets and visits from breastfeeding consultants. 

In the days that followed there was suddenly a lot of concern from visiting support team about our daughter not gaining enough weight as it transpired my milk wasn’t producing the fats/ nutrients needed. It had taken two full weeks for my milk to come in at all. At the time I could still barely walk (or do anything much physically, even changing a nappy was sending my muscles into spasm) but I found breastfeeding was something I could at least try to do. It was toe curlingly painful for many weeks, but I think I’d got so used to everything being so painful that I didn’t really question it. I don’t think I really knew how ill I’d been, or was, while I was going through everything. I had to top up every feed with formula for a few weeks but eventually we settled on continuing with a mixed feeding pattern 75 % me 25 % formula. It worked well and thankfully our baby was healthy and thriving.

I wasn’t depressed, but I was utterly and totally broken. I was starting from ground zero in every sense. I felt my life was a post apocalyptic wasteland of the person that I’d known. Anxiety and panic attacks visited me daily for many months and were often triggered by lack of natural light or lack of windows, anything that reminded me of the hospital lighting. Neon supermarkets were particularly awful.

I wandered through the debris of my broken self and very slowly began to rebuild.

Saturday 19 August 2017

Turbulence Part 6: Crash Landing

Turbulence can be disturbing not only because of the physical experience of dropping through the sky but because you cannot anticipate it, you cannot brace yourself for it. The seat belt lights ping and a calm voice announces “We are experiencing some turbulence, please remain seated with your seat belt fastened at all times as the flight may be a little bumpy for while.” But turbulence is nothing compared to the landing, which is apparently the riskiest part of flying. According to Boeing statistical studies, 16% of fatal accidents occur during takeoff and initial climb, while 29% occur during approach and landing. So, after many hours of anticipation on the long haul flight you prepare yourself for the big descent but again the voice sounds over the tannoy saying “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Due to heavy weather conditions we have been placed in a holding pattern circling the runway before descent...”
Just when I thought we might be coming into land with my whole birthing experience we were put into an decreasing flight pattern with continuing turbulence and an emergency crash landing...

After 4 days of pre birth trauma followed by the major postpartum haemorhage at delivery, I was not given a blood transfusion as my haemoglobin level was on the borderline of 7 and the Dr’s wanted to see if I would cope without one.

The circling begins

Day 5:
My right leg had lost further mobility during labour and we discovered it lacked normal feeling when I had an ice test the next morning. I needed an MRI scan. This meant undoing the metal beading from my stitches around my C-section scar and then re-stitching my scar. I also had to have a drain removed from my wound in order to undergo the scan. I was told to expect a little discomfort at its removal. This was not a correct description so I was unable to brace myself and mentally prepare. Slowly dragging a skewer out of your insides without any form of pain relief is the best description of what it felt like. Bill could hear me shrieking from the other room.

I blacked out during the MRI scan so it had to be halted half way through. (MRI result: aside from discovering I also had a degenerative disc and slipped, tilted vertebrae, was that my daughter had been pushing on the nerves at the top of my leg during labour causing bruising and numbness)

I developed an infection, spiked a fever and became covered in rashes and enormous blisters in an allergic reaction to the plasters I was given around my wound.

Day 6:
My back muscles were too weak and spasming for me to really hold my baby, let alone change her or feed her and I kept having reactions to the various painkillers (we found out later this was most likely a bi-product of my anaemia) I experienced reoccurring dizziness, so was also feeling scared to hold her in case I dropped her during a dizzy spell. I felt an inconvenience to the staff constantly pressing the button for assistance for everything, (even though that is what they were there to do.)

My body was too weak for my milk to come in properly so we had to top up and supplement with formula. I tried very hard to take in the information that the midwives and breast-feeding support offered.

My catheter was taken out.  (Too early it would later transpire…)

Day 7:
I had a run in with a midwife who thought I was exaggerating and being a hypochondriac when I said I was worried because it felt like my bladder was about to burst through my scar. She told me that was perfectly normal and just my wound, so I believed her. I later heard her gossiping and discussing me negatively in the corridors. (Bill heard also) It was very distressing.

I just needed to leave.

I was desperate to go home. I asked the midwife if there was a still a medical reason that I couldn’t go home at that point and said that I would stay if there was one but if not I would like to be discharged.

I felt that if I could just go home, I’d be able to breathe out and begin to get better. After all, having raised my health concern issues, the midwife in charge of me hadn’t seemed to take them seriously, so I just figured it was all part of the process and normal to be feeling the way I was feeling.

I was discharged with antibiotics and huge amounts of iron tablets.
I got home... coming into land...

Our baby daughter was safe and beautiful.

Bill and friends were around to help.

I had 24 hours at home and finally after a visit from a community midwife, I went to sleep.

I’d hardly slept for months.
Since my fall I hadn’t been able to lie down without pain, so my nights were spent propped up with pillows all around me and I’d only been getting three to a maximum four hours sleep. During the week of labour and post the birth I’d had much less per night.
I was utterly and totally exhausted.

I slept.


I woke up several hours later in my bed and felt contractions.

I saw Bill in the doorway, holding a child.

“Who’s that?” I asked feeling confused.

Bill became arrested in the moment and waited for my next words.

I carried on, feeling the afterbirth contractions and said something like

“The baby will be coming soon now.”

Bill began to look alarmed. 

“Rach?” he said.

Then, as he began to ask me some questions,

I realised that I couldn’t remember.

I had no idea what had happened or that I’d already had our baby.

It was another of the most terrifying moments I’ve ever experienced.

My reality was not reality.

I felt a thousand things at once, questions, confusion and fear all pounding, "What happens if I can't remember?" My brain clawed its way forward, in an effort to make sense of what was happening. In my minds eye I saw electricity sparks trying to connect as I searched for the pathways that would connect my memory and find the huge chunk that was missing. This lasted about five minutes, but it felt much longer.

Somehow, I found my way back. 


How could I not know my own child?

I woke up disorientated and confused for a second time again later that day but the effects only lasted one minute that time. A wave of dizzy, tingling, terror flooded my whole being.
My bladder still felt like it was going to burst though my scar. I could feel the weight of it.

The anxiety kept building.

My mind and body filled with dread as Bill phoned our DR who then called for a first response team and an ambulance to take me back into hospital.... this time our steadfast and unfaltering friend Becky was literally left holding our baby... 

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Turbulence Part 5: No, I'm Not Gonna Lay Down And Die

It seems a huge failing in my mind that we humans haven’t evolved to make the childbearing feat of endurance easier on ourselves by now. The fragility of the birthing process is terrifying. No matter of the details, any woman who has given birth is heroic in my opinion. As I write about what happened next, I am aware that in spite of all that I went through, I am so very fortunate. I am forever grateful for the medical staff and the work they did. I survived. My child also survived. I have friends who would love to have children but the circumstances of their lives have made this impossible. I have friends whose beautiful, precious children didn’t survive.

Sometimes life just is unrelentingly hard and cruel. We will all face unquantifiable hardship and pain at some point, as the words of the late Robert Fisher of Willard Grant Conspiracy Theory say in his Suffering Song :

“Suffering's gonna come
It's as old as the world
It's as old as the world
Suffering's gonna come to everyone, someday"

Nobody knew if my injuries would impact my ability to give birth. My antenatal physio had advised me that I should try to avoid C- section as it would cause further injury to the already damaged area of my hips and pelvis and further exacerbate my recovery process. A consultant informed us that he felt I would be ok to have a natural birth also. Retrospectively it seems insane that I didn’t just opt to have an elective section however, we wanted to trust the advice we were given, we wanted to hope. So we decided that we’d at least try for a natural birth, with the option of intervention if needed.

The outcome…

After a week of complicated labour (including back to back labour / 2 failed inductions/ failed epidural as I bled into the line/ physical pain beyond anything I can find words to describe/ the baby’s heart rate going down and many more struggles and complications along the way, our daughter was finally delivered, 15 days after her due date by emergency caesarean section.

Then I suffered a major post partum haemorrhage.

“There’s a lot of fluid, she’s losing a lot of fluid,” I heard urgency in the tone of the surgeon’s voice.
It was moments after my daughter was pulled from me. I had just found myself incredulous that she was 9lbs10! The nurse carried our not so tiny newborn over to me and I desperately wanted to hold her but suddenly I found I was shaking uncontrollably. I looked at Bill and asked him to hold her instead. I knew that something was going very badly wrong. Lying fully conscious on the operating table I experienced a violent physical turbulence as my body lurched and shuddered, while I bled out.

There have been many moments in my life when a work of art has reached into my consciousness and helped me to survive my brief stint here on this planet. A few months earlier when I was awake at 3am in an Italian hospital bed following my fall, I had one of these moments. I remember reaching for my iPod and putting on Abigail Washburn’s City of Refuge album. It was just what I needed to hear. The music transported me to another place that was beautiful, uplifting, comforting and a much needed, distraction. As track 3 'Bring Me My Queen' began to play the tears rolled down my face- it felt so affirming and spiritual, like a sort of prayer calling to the deep parts of myself, to awaken and just bring me my own queen and I'd be able to do what I needed to do and find the strength to travel and make it back home to Wales the next day. The morning light dawned through a gap in the curtains in sync with the words of the final track to Abigail Washburn’s old folk Americana "Day Is A Breaking In My Soul.' 

Here on the delivery table I was about to experience another such moment and I will forever be grateful to the kind and compassionate human who made that happen. My anaesthetist, stood up and left my side to speak with the Drs and see what was going on. He had a worried look on his face when he returned. Earlier in the birthing room, during my failed inductions we’d had a brief chat about music and musical tastes. He’d commented that he’d really liked the playlist of music that we’d put on in there. Now in an act of inspired human kindness he asked, “Would you like to listen to some music? I have Beth Orton on my phone,”
“Yes.” I nodded.
I hadn’t told him how much I loved Beth Orton.
I gripped his hand as lightheaded panic and fear flooded my mind. He played “Sugar Boy” a song where Beth is sarcastically telling her lover that “…it’s all over now…” I know, initially that sounds like the worst possible thing to hear, but it wasn’t at all. It was in fact the very best thing for my panicked mind and heart to hear right at that moment as Beth continued defiantly singing a repeated chorus of,

“Do you want me to lay down and die for you?
Well I'm not gonna lay down and die,
No I'm not gonna lay down and die,
Oh no I won't lay down and die,
Never gonna lay down and die…”

I looked across at Bill holding our daughter. She was alert and calm, eyes wide, looking around at everything. I knew that I would be ok. This was just turbulence, the flight was not going down that day. I felt the hands of my surgeon working to stop the bleed.
Beth continued to sing…

“Oh no I'm never gonna lay down and die for you,
Oh no I'm never gonna lay down and die for you,
I'm never gonna lay down and die.

Several hours later in the recovery ward, my daughter was finally placed on my chest.
She was still so alert and curious. She gave me a good long stare with a look that seemed to be sizing me up.

I felt relief.

I’d made it to the finish line.

Or so I thought.

Monday 14 August 2017

Turbulence Part 4: A Very Pregnant Pause

Trauma is a complex state. The definitions of trauma relate to both physical injury and personal distress. Alongside the tangible physical trauma, my fall in Italy left had me with another scar. This scar etched itself across my mind as a loop. Over and over again I witnessed the smack of my skin and bone hitting the ground. I saw myself falling when I closed my eyes, or when I was mid conversation, or while watching TV. These flashbacks lasted intensely for many months and are occasionally still present to this day.

Lately I have come to perceive emotional suffering and trauma as a type of self-portrait. How we are broken and exactly what breaks us, is intrinsically unique to who we are, where we have come from, our nature, our nurture, our responses, our choices, the things we do, the things that are done to us and the things that happen around us. The self-portrait of my own pain reveals as much (if not more) to me about my humanity, my values, my desires and my needs, as any success, conquest, joy or satisfaction. From the moment we are born we live our lives in transit, dealing with the pain of one loss after another. Loss has been a big underlying narrative of all the music and art I’ve made as a kind of grappling with the eternal question of “How to live with this continual cycle of loss?”

Suddenly I was in the middle of a new paradigm of loss.

I’d lost the full use of my legs. Bill, an artist, had lost the use of his right hand. Our bodies had been partially snatched from us. Neither of us knew if our limbs would make full physical recovery at that stage. I weighed it all up with the relief that on the other hand, we hadn’t lost our daughter. Other friends dear to me had experienced that loss, I mourned for their losses as I clung to my lifeline of growing the child inside me. There were also the smaller losses, the loss of the new EP I’d been preparing, the gigs I’d booked in, a collaborative music project I’d been working on. The body snatchers had not been altogether unsuccessful. We were still here, but not as the people we were. Normal service was put on hold. Our dreams and hopes of home births and ‘blooming’ third trimesters were literally snatched from beneath us. The rest of the world steamed ahead regardless, leaving us trailing behind with crutches and slings. I was left with a single purpose of growing our baby. On the good days I focussed on deliberately trying to take each moment and hour and day at a time, sometimes I surprised myself in being successful at this, a lot of times I wasn’t. The bad days were full of frustration and disappointment. People rallied around us and we felt held by their tangible support. Visits from my great friend and cello playing band member Rosy who was 8 weeks further along in her own pregnancy helped me hold onto my sanity. When the world does not stop for the lame and the infirm or even glance back, how quickly your place on this planet becomes colder, harder, lonelier and that term ‘a friend in need’ really begins to mean something. Thankfully we had (and still have) some amazing friends who took time out to walk with us.

My muscles stayed locked in cramps and spasm. I developed SPD painful ligament condition, and then several other complications that had nothing to do with my injuries, just tough, grim pregnancy related things, (bizarrely including carpel tunnel syndrome in my wrists, I had no idea this could be pregnancy related but it really is!)  Once a week I attended hydrotherapy sessions, enjoying a temporary weightlessness as I floated in the warm water and eventually I was given a wheelchair from my physio which meant I could get taken out of the house more easily. People stared at us at the supermarket. We made for an unusual sight! Bill with one arm in a sling pushing me with my huge pregnant bump along in the wheelchair. Suddenly the world was a place that I could barely access and even with help and the external aid of a wheelchair, I could not reach or see simple things like the eggs on a shelf at the supermarket.
It was eye opening. I understood just how much as an able bodied person I had always taken for granted. 

I learned. 

I learned that you just have to find a way to get on with life. I remember giving myself a stern talking to one evening along the lines of “for goodness sake, people far less able than you find ways of doing things” Desperate times need desperate measures – or very creative ones and we began to create our new paradigm of coping. It made me laugh as we settled into the breakfast routine. Bill would use his left hand to put toast in the toaster I would then spread the butter and jam and pour the coffee after he’d boiled the kettle and brought it to the table (as the finer knife skills and pouring boiling liquid was proving beyond the capabilities of his left hand at that time) We were living in survival mode through a very pregnant pause, waiting for our daughter to arrive.  Bill, ever resourceful taught himself to draw with his left hand so that he could carry on the art projects in primary schools and youth prison service he had on at the time and we muddled along as best as we could.

Unfortunately however if I go back to my initial flight analogy (from a few posts back) all that we had just experienced was only the first turbulent shake up the second much harder drop was still to come. We were in it for the long haul…

Sunday 13 August 2017

Turbulence Part 3… Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Turbulence Part 3…  Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Watching old scifi is a bit of a favourite pastime in the Taylor-Beales household. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (both the 1956 and 1968 versions) has often been our choice of late night viewing. The story centres on an alien invasion. The aliens take over the bodies of people while they sleep at night turning them into “pod people” devoid of human emotion. To avoid this terrible fate, the humans have to keep awake at all times. It was a longstanding joke that when Bill and I were driving home extra late from a gig we’d turn to each other saying “Keep Awake!!” (in an attempt at a Donald Sutherland impression.) 

Two weeks after my fall in Italy, Bill was booked in to have major reconstruction surgery in his right hand. He’d been suffering as a result of a misdiagnosis for the last 18 months with a very painful injury that had left his one of his bones unattached to the ligaments. The operation was all meant to be routine. The hospital was to call me when everything was completed and our lovely friend Becky would be able to pick Bill up and bring him home. 8 hours later we still hadn’t had the phone call. I rang the hospital and was told to ring back in an hour. I rang back when I finally got through to the ward a staff member on the other end sounded strangely anxious. She said that she “… couldn’t give me details on the phone” but urged me to “Get to the hospital ASAP.”

Visiting hours had long since passed but Becky and I were mistaken for inpatients. My muscles were locked in deep cramps and spasm at that point and all I could do was literally inch my way forward using the crutches I’d been given. Becky’s wrists were also in bandages due to RSI. It was both surreal and comical being overtaken by elderly patients using zimmer frames as we shuffled at a snail’s pace along the corridors.

Bill wasn’t in the recovery room. A nurse greeted us, with the words “We’re monitoring him, we’ve got to make sure that he stays awake.”

It turned out that he’d suffered an almost fatal reaction to the morphine and had gone into what they call “respiratory depression” meaning his breathing was slowing to the point that his vital organs were beginning to shut down. It had taken two doctors and three nurses, several hours to bring him back around. Bill regained consciousness as he was having his face literally slapped to wake him up and keep him awake, while being slowly being given an antidote to the morphine, (meaning he had no pain relief after his major surgery.) He remembers seeing one of the nurses crying and watched her being escorted over to the corner of the room.  He later realised that she was crying because she’d thought he was going to die. We were ushered into the side room and I was shaken by the fact that he looked like death. The last time I’d seen someone with that translucent skin colour, was our friend Rob, in the days just before he’d died. Bill could hardly talk, we just had to try and keep him awake… we weren’t even sure if he could really hear us as he lay there attached to the multiple machines monitoring his vitals, when suddenly he whispered something in a hoarse thin voice. I leaned in close on my crutches to hear him. He was making a joke…

“It’s like the Body Snatchers… I must not fall asleep.” was the one thing he managed to say that evening.

That night I lay awake in a state of shock. In the past 2 weeks I had come face to face with my biggest fears. The fear I’d experienced that I might have killed our unborn daughter still haunted me. The reality that I’d also almost lost my husband was overwhelming. I was indescribably grateful they were both alive and completely shaken by how close I’d come to losing them. I cried a lot. I was still exhausted from the efforts of the epic journey it had been to get back to the UK. I was barely sleeping as the pain from my injuries kept me awake.

My nerves were shattered.

When Bill was finally discharged, he was still fragile, in a lot of pain form the surgery and obviously unable to use his right hand.

Our amazing friends Pete and Becky moved in and became our carers for the next few weeks. We will be forever thankful for the support of such friends.

Friday 11 August 2017

Turbulence Part 2: The Falling

To Fall: “A sudden uncontrollable descent”…

On the 6th of May 2012, when I was approximately 24 weeks pregnant, I fell off a 1.5 metre high stage and landed onto marble flooring, while I was on a short three date tour in Italy.

It was nobody’s fault, just an accident and life changing as it has been, I often remind myself that it could have been much worse. There have been ongoing physical issues that I have learned to live with and I lost full mobility for a season, but I am fortunate that the mobility loss has not been permanent. Most of all to put everything into perspective, I did not lose my child.

Pregnancy had been harsh up to that point (like it is for so many women). Morning sickness had started pretty much from the moment I realised I was pregnant while on tour in Sardinia in December 2011. I remember one night somebody commented that I was “ lost in thought, in a world of my own.” At that specific moment I’d been musing over the fact that I suspected I was most likely ‘with child’ (and feeling slightly guilty about all the wine I’d consumed during those days.) At 14 weeks, I performed a Radio Wales live session that had previously been booked in. I had to inform the host Alan Thompson that due to being pregnant I might need to throw up in between songs. The kind producer Llinos brought me in a bucket just in case I needed it. (I did throw up- but fortunately made it to the loos and not the bucket!) The sickness carried on for a full 20 weeks.

One night during that time, I had a very instructive dream. I dreamt that I was trying to park our transporter van, but it suddenly had a mind of its own and was driving in reverse every time I tried to move forward. I became very annoyed with it and began shouting “Just drive forward, why won’t you drive?!” Suddenly as I was still dreaming, my dream explained itself to me (something that has never happened before). I heard myself telling me “ You’re having a dream, the van in this dream is your body and now that you are pregnant you have become a passenger to your body. You’re just going to have to let go and let it do what it needs to do.”  Probably the best advice I’ve ever given myself! From then on in, I endeavoured to let myself be a passenger to my body as it got on with the job of growing a baby! I tried to brace myself as much as I could for the long haul.

In my minds eye now I see air pockets swelling as the first blow of turbulence is poised ready to strike.

24 weeks. It was the last day of my brief set of gig dates in Italy. I climbed the steps up onto the high stage at the venue in Centallo to get ready to sound check. My bump was huge (I’d been massive from very early on and people were already thinking I must have been due imminently) Earlier that afternoon I had looked down at the stage area with an ariel view from the high balcony seats above and remember thinking  “You really don’t want to fall off that stage, it’s so high.” (Uh huh, yep that’s right, I thought those exact words.) I toyed with the idea of getting someone to help me up the stairs and onto the stage as the position of the stairs meant that I would have to climb over a bit of equipment but I decided that if I was careful and took my time, I’d be fine. In the days that followed I made a pact with myself to always listen to my instincts in the future.

The venue was an old cinema, converted into a multi purpose arts centre. There was a huge screen and beautiful visuals being projected as we set up for sound check.

I took each step with care and reached the top feeling momentarily smug that danger had been averted. Somebody from the floor asked me a question and I turned to answer, at that moment the lights that were being checked, changed stetting and flashed in my eyes. I turned back to walk to my spot for sound check, stepping confidently onto what I thought was floor. It was nothing but shadow. Probably it was the light still in my eyes, or my bump being too big to see my footing, or both but I stepped down onto nothing. The drop was sudden but long enough for me to let out “oh Shit” and I twisted round quickly so as not to land on my bump. I heard a Mexican style wave of voices “shit, shit, shit, fuck” from the folks around me. My musical travelling companion Dylan told me that he’ll not forget the sound my body made as it smacked the ground. There was no give. I landed on my hip and lower back. Pins and needles emanated from my spine into my legs and followed by a temporary numbness. My first thought as I lay there on the ground, “ this is bad” my first words “ bambino” in Italian (technically should have been bambina). I struggled to sit up, just to prove to myself that I could still move, the pain was beginning to burn. The ambulance arrived and I was stretchered out. They couldn’t find my baby’s heartbeat. One of the ambulance crew held my hand and they searched again and again, time blurred and faltered as I waited and hoped and finally after what seemed like several lifetimes they found her heartbeat.

Indescribable relief.
I had not killed my baby.
No matter what kind reasoning anyone had said or offered me in those moments that was all that I could think.

The season of turbulence had well and truly begun… my injuries and severely limited mobility that lasted throughout pregnancy and beyond, was the first shake up. Two weeks later Bill nearly lost his life during his major hand reconstruction surgery...

Thursday 10 August 2017

Turbulence, Part 1 : The Long Haul Flight

Yesterday I found myself writing just over 7000 words unpacking events of the last 5 years. I've decided to put them up here as a series of blog posts over the next few days or so... 

Turbulence…. Part 1 The Long Haul Flight

Ever since I can remember, long haul flights between the UK to Australia have been part of my norm. (I shudder to think of my carbon footprint.) My earliest flying memories are aged five, though I’d already migrated twice before that. This was the third migration back to Western Australia via Darwin for my Uncle's wedding. The journey was long. My 6 month baby brother had whooping cough and understandably my mum was very concerned (My poor mum was on her own with us 3 on a long haul flight while my dad had work to finish and was joining us weeks later). It was back in the days of smoking on planes and I don’t think this was helping the situation. At some point during the flight my three-year old brother and I got to visit the cockpit and see the pilots flying (something that would never happen these days but this was 1983). I was even given the pilot’s hat to wear for a moment. Mostly I remember thinking that there were a lot of controls and it all looked complicated and that the pilot (or co-pilot not sure which) had a very loud voice.

Turbulence came hand in hand with every flight I made and I was always very nonchalant about it, shrugging it off as just part of the ride that I knew would soon pass. I didn’t experience severe turbulence until my early twenties. Although I’ve been subsequently assured that we were unlikely to have been in any real danger, it was frankly terrifying. The plane shuddered and bumped and buffeted, and then came the moment when we dropped and then dropped again. The second drop I counted the seconds as I felt my stomach lurch. Drinks were thrown up into the air and spilled… one, two, three, four… still dropping, five… people were shrieking in fear… six, seven… the refreshment trolley was rolling up and down the aisle. I lost count of the seconds after that, maybe there was more, maybe that was the end. It was long enough for me to think “Ok this is it, we’re going down” and my brain to replay all the previously stored info about the brace position. We’d already had drama earlier in the flight during take off. It was on of those rare times when plane wasn’t full. During take off large amounts of condensation from the air con system (I think) caused water to be poured on to passengers in unfortunate seats, who screamed, unbuckled and legged it down the aisles to vacant seats, while the stewards and stewardesses urged everyone to please stay seated and keep your seatbelts on during take off.
Turbulence continued for some time after that, though none as severe as the previous drop but eventually in due course some hours later, we landed.

Earlier this week as Bill and I and our 4yr old daughter were driving on the M25, I had the memory of that flight and the realisation that turbulent is the word I would use to describe our lives these last five years. Of course turmoil and turbulent troubles are everywhere for everyone. So much about this world seems rattled to the point of imminent collapse in these times when facing Brexit, climate change, the heated threats of the likes of Trump and Jong-un…and all the chaos and pain, the wars the unending cycle of disruptive events that lead to “entropy and atrophy” as Jaspar Fforde  once described it… but this particular turbulence that I was drawing a parallel to was more about specific circumstances of our lives.

We have been buffeted and shaken and all that we thought was secure has been thrown up in the air as we found ourselves without home and searching for work these last months. But this week has brought about circumstances that have given us a glimmer of hope that just maybe at some point soon we might be coming in to land…. (more on that later)

It’s hard to describe the process that led us to this place. For me there’s a clear moment, a clear line drawn in the sands of time that began this particular season of turbulence, (there have of course been many other turbulent seasons previously and there will be many more to follow- that’s life as they say.)

In my mind the specific moment that ushered in this season, was my fall. Falling from stage 24 weeks pregnant in rural Italy while on tour. I wrote a little about that previously, but not much. Mostly at that time I was in survival mode, trying to focus on getting through, getting the baby born… but I find that I’m ready to speak about those events more fully now. Enough time has passed to allow me to be open about the impact and the unravelling that happened as a result of that event.