The Sisterhood of the Travelling Jacket: Heather

Monday, 6 October 2014
Heather copy
Photography: Marlene

On 12 November 2013, I stood alone our Istanbul home holding a positive pregnancy test. Hubby was away in Athens for a job interview. So I held my tummy and cried tears of joy for the bundle of joy that I never thought I wanted. Now that she (yes, she) was here, I knew I wanted her. Badly.

I called William to break the news, and he was stunned with joy. Not surprising since he'd always bugged me about having a baby. And I always told him that it wasn't time yet, because we moved our lives around the world every couple of years and bringing up a child like this was too unstable. Selfishly, I also enjoyed my life too much to want the responsibility of having someone so small and tiny depend on me for the rest of my life.
Over the next few days, I told my family over FaceTime and a close friend the news. Everyone rejoiced. They were excited about how beautiful our child would be, and how at the ripe old age of 34, it was time that I got pregnant. I started to write love letter to my baby since William wasn’t home for us to hold hands and chat the nights away.

When he got back, I was pampered like a princess and wasn't allowed to lift a finger in the house. Also because I felt really, really bad most of the time. There was even a point when I almost fainted from a sharp pain in my abdomen in the streets. I put it down to stress because it was yet another a transition point in our lives when we were due to leave Istanbul and we were preparing to pack up our things to be moved to Athens. The plan was for us to go back to Malaysia in about three weeks and stay for a whole month of rest and relaxation, and finally head to Athens in January to start our new lives. These details serve to explain why I didn't go to see a doctor yet. Our health insurance had just been cancelled, and I decided that instead of going to a random Turkish doctor (whom I had heard so many horror stories about), I'd wait till we got back to Malaysia before doing a proper check up.

The pain started getting from bad to worst. I started bleeding slightly as well. After asking around, friends and the internet said that it was normal. I wanted to believe them. And so I did.

Then on 21 November 2013, the moving company came to our house to pack up our things. Halfway through, when I went to the toilet, there was intense bleeding. At this point, I knew for sure it had to be a miscarriage. But being the stupid and stubborn person that I am, I was determined to let the movers finish their work, and told myself, if it happens, then it's meant to be and there's nothing I can do anyway. I told William, and he insisted we had to see a doctor. I agreed, but said it could wait till tomorrow.

The next day, he went off to the American Hospital nearby to get an appointment and run some errands. In the hour that he was gone, I had collapsed in the bathroom, and when he got back, he found me unconscious and soaking wet. He pulled me up and proceeded to get me to the hospital, which is a 5-minute walk from my home. It took us almost twenty minutes because I could hardly stand. For the first time in my life, I knew what it meant by seeing stars. When I could actually open my eyes, things were a blur and all I saw was whiteness and blinking stars. I no longer felt any pain. According to William, I was deathly white. 

When we arrived at the hospital, the doctor did a quick check-up and found that my abdomen was filled with blood from hemorrhage and that my left fallopian tube had ruptured. I had an ectopic pregnancy. He extracted a huge blob of blood, which I saw briefly and assumed it was my poor little baby that had gotten stuck in the wrong place. The doctor said I required immediate operation to remove my tube and stop the hemorrhaging. 
Before being wheeled into the emergency room, I heard him telling William that the operation would cost seven thousand euros and that they needed us to pay before starting the operation since we didn't have any health insurance. At the same time, he stated very simply that if I did not have the operation immediately, I would die. At this point, I lost consciousness and was vaguely aware of being pushed around in a wheelchair.

I awoke for a bit when the anesthesiologists asked if I ate anything. I still wonder why I needed anesthesia, since I didn't feel any pain at all. In fact, I just wanted them to leave me alone. I just wanted to close my eyes and enjoy the blissful, painless and light feeling of letting go. Just letting go. 

The next thing I know, I woke up as I was being wheeled back to my room. William was there and he was crying so hard. The operation had lasted almost three hours. He held me in his arms and he couldn't stop crying. I cried too, but more because he looked so sad and worried. He told me that he had run to the bank in the rain to withdraw the money for the hospital and when he got back, started placing calls to our parents to tell them what had happened. Then he paced up and down, all alone, not knowing if I was okay, not knowing if I would survive. The doctor hadn’t given him much hope because he said it was very serious, and that the hemorrhaging had gone on for too long. I felt so much pain and sadness that he had to go through all that alone, while all I had felt the entire time was this blissful floating feeling. So I held him tight, telling him, I was okay. I was alive.

Lying on my hospital bed, I FaceTimed my family and told them I was fine. I was alive. And can you believe they made us pay 7000 euros in cash before they would operate on me? Boy, was I going to enjoy my first class private room with wifi. The most expensive stay I'd ever paid for. I laughed. They laughed. I could see the relief in their eyes. I was fine. I also emailed a few friends who I was supposed to meet up for a mini farewell to tell them what happened, and that I couldn't make it, but not to worry, I was fine. I was alive. It was all good. 
The rest of the time that we were in Istanbul as I was recuperating, friends came to visit. I told them the story. Everyone said I should have gone to a doctor before. I said yes I know, I'm so stupid! I told them the story of the money. They were shocked. And we laughed about my first class room. I told them how lucky I was to have gotten there in time and how I thanked god that the bank was still open and we had the cash to pay for my life. Thank god. I'm fine. 

I hobbled around, a lot of the pain coming from the operation wounds, but also intense pain from my back because of the fall when I collapsed. But it was all good. I'm alive. I was fine.

Then we went back to Malaysia, and I was starting to feel the physical effects of the operation more and more. So I lay around a lot, enjoying being waited on hand and foot. The whole family was back together, and we enjoyed Christmas and ushered in 2014 happily. I was really, really fine.

And then we made our move to Athens officially in January. Physically, I had completely recovered, save for some yoga poses that I couldn't do because of the twinges of pain that I still felt in my spine and abdomen. And so I skipped them whilst doing my practice. But other than that, I was like new.  

I was so fine that when talking with daddy, mummy and William one day, I laughingly recounted how William was such a darling and cooked the most delicious meals for me 'the time I thought I was pregnant'. They all looked at me, stunned and speechless for a moment. Then daddy said, 'but you WERE pregnant!' Oh yeah, I was. 

Fast forward to July 2014. I've been sofa-ridden for the past 6 months. I've done a lot of traveling - back to Malaysia for three weeks in March, then Santorini, Istanbul and Paris.  Some friends have come to visit. I’ve played tour guide. I’m smiling, laughing, making conversations, functioning. But alone, I haven't been able to summon the energy to make friends or carve out a normal daily life in my new city. I can't be bothered to respond to emails or messages. I feel this melancholic sadness inside. I put it up to occupational hazards of the expat wife, where relocation displaces you, and you feel like you're alone in the world.

But this wasn't like anything I'd ever felt before. I binge to fill the emptiness. Purge to regain control. I don't sleep well. William is worried because he senses the brittleness in me, but there is nothing he can do. To stop him from worrying, I put on a brave face, smile, and say, I'm fine, baby, I'm fine. But the minute he steps out of the door, I take my place on the sofa, put on one TV series after the other and drown out the misery in my head. I pile the coffee table with chips and sticks and bread and peanut butter and fruit and I eat and eat and eat. I move only to hug the toilet bowl to throw it all back out. Then I eat again. As I do this, I scream at myself in my head. I love food. I love my body. This is bad. Why am I doing this? 

These acts make me worse. Alone, I just cry and cry. And I rage at times. What is happening? I want help, so I tell William about the bulimia, and he makes me promise him I'll stop. I say yes. But I still can't stop eating. I do, however, stop myself from throwing up. Sometimes. 

There are days when I get a wind of energy. So I go to yoga. I meditate. I do the work of Byron Katie. I pray. I smile. I write affirmations. I listen to self-help podcasts. Eckart Tolle, Jeff Foster, Katie, Oprah, they're all my new best friends. But inside I'm still a mess. 

And so I end up back on my sofa. Drowning in mindless sound. Suffocating from the food in my throat. 
I beat myself up because I have so much to be grateful for. Who am I to feel this way when so many other people have more serious problems in life? I have everything I want. I'm fine! What is wrong with me? Just snap out of it. 

And one day, it all comes to a head. I come across a random self-help image on the internet that mourned the loss of her ectopic baby. And I unravel. I curl up in a ball and heaving sobs leave my body. I'm knocked by a pain I have never felt before. It reaches out from the depths of my soul. I'm so so sorry. I never said goodbye to you properly. You were here, and you were gone. And I never said goodbye. You were real and I pretended you weren't. My little darling that I didn't want. My little darling that I wanted so bad. My little darling that I never got to see. A part of me. Gone.

And at this point of writing, I'm unraveling again. 

And this story will end abruptly because I don't know how this will turn out.

But the first step is done. Nine months after I picked up the pregnancy test and smiled, I'm finally acknowledging that I, Heather Mahi, lost my unborn baby. 

--

It’s now been more than a month since I wrote the above. Little did I know as I cried myself to bed, holding on to William for dear life, that night of nightmarish darkness was my turning point. 

I woke up feeling lighter. The days passed by with more ease and the melancholy lifted. My eating habits went back to normal. A peace settled in my heart. And with the wisdom that comes from hindsight, I thought I could end this story with some lessons I will always take with me.  

#1: You deserve to feel what you feel
I never mourned the loss of my baby because I felt like I didn’t deserve to. What with all the mothers in the world who lost their grown children, to babies who were miscarried at 8 months. What right did I have to be in mourning over an ectopic pregnancy? When I didn’t even hear her heartbeat? When I only had her for a few weeks? When I didn’t even know enough to get a check-up in the first place? 

I realize now that you can never compare yourself or your experience with anyone else. No one has more or less right to feel what they feel. Your life is yours and your journey unique. And it deserves to be celebrated or mourned with abandon. 

#2: You come first
Many women I know put other people first. We go through our whole lives trying to please our parents, friends, teachers, bosses, boyfriends, husbands and children. Trying, trying, trying and always seem to be failing. Right after coming out of the operation, and seeing the relieved faces of my husband and family that I was alive, I remember having the epiphany that all I had to do to please my loved ones was just to “BE”. That if I died, they would mourn the loss of ME. So all I had to do was BE ME.

But in the days that followed, I forgot that flash of inspiration and went back to trying again. Trying to reassure, trying to please, trying to be strong because I thought that it was what they wanted me to be. And that was where I lost myself again.

I now know from the bottom of my heart that putting your own needs above others does not make you selfish. In fact, it opens you up to more love and compassion because you get to let everyone else off the hook for your own well-being. 

#3: Everyone is different
One thing that brought me down when I was going through this were clich├ęd one-liners that well-meaning and loving friends said, like “don’t worry, I have a cousin/ friend/ sister/ colleague who went through the same thing and she got pregnant again very quickly after and now they have one/ two/ three/ twenty children”. 

I used to do the same when speaking to loved ones who were going through trauma in their lives: be it abuse, singledom, divorce, sickness, depression, job loss. I’ve hurried to reassure them that it’s going to be fine because X,Y and Z went through it and so you can too. 

I realize now that all they needed was a listening ear to hear their own personal, unique path. 

#4: There are no could’ve, would’ve or should’ves
I’ve learnt lessons, but right at this very moment, I don’t regret anything at all. I know that I did my best the way I knew how. Sure I could’ve healed faster, and would’ve been happier and should’ve done some things better. But if I didn’t go through these months of darkness, I wouldn’t learn that eating disorders stem from something deeper than just wanting a perfect body, I wouldn’t feel the depths of my husband’s love and compassion for me, I wouldn’t know that death does not feel scary, and I wouldn’t appreciate just how precious and fragile and special every single life is. 

Sure, I’d still have 7000€ in my bank account if I went for the check-up that I should have had in the first place, but I wouldn’t have had this humbling and painful yet supremely beautiful experience that I can now look back upon with a smile. It’s a story that I can tell you now, and it’s a story I can tell to hopefully my future children. 

After all, isn’t life but beautiful chapters woven into a book? 

Heather also blogs at Heatherifications.

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12 comments:

  1. Such a touching story and how terrible to have an ectopic pregnancy which almost took your life. Thinking of you x

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  2. I never knew. :( But I'm so so glad you're fine & living your life to the fullest today Heather.

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  3. Marlene, this project has been incredible (went back to read the posts) - and these women (yes and you!!) are so strong and so brave. Sending good wishes :)

    S in HK

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  4. So sorry you had to go through that Heather. Hope all is well with you now xx adreanna

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  5. You need time to mourn your loss. I hope you come through this soon. Much love xx.

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  6. I can't imagine what you went & are still going through. We, as women rarely put ourselves first & this just goes to show that we should! We are brave & strong but we should also learn to be a teeny bit selfish every now & again! How brave of you to confess how you dealt with this too & it sounds like you found the project just as cathartic as I did! Big Hugs! Ax

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  7. Gosh, I am crying so much. I had an ectopic pregnancy in 2008 and I very nearly lost my life too. I remember the pain and the feeling of drifting away that you talked of. At one point it was like i wasn't even there. I never mourned the loss of my little one either. Unlike you, I never knew I was pregnant until the night it ruptured and we had to call 999. I had, however, been to the dr and to A&E and both had sent me away saying they'd run some checks the next week. I knew something was horribly wrong and I fekt like nobody would take me seriously.

    I sincerely hope you are able to move on and whether you do or don't get your wish of having children, at least you have your husband and you're there for each other. The whole experience brought us closer together - my husband cried for a long time afterwards as he was so frightened that he nearly lost me.

    Huge hugs to you,

    Lynne xx

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  8. I've never had to go through the trauma that you had but your story still resonated with me as to a certain degree as you sound like me with your "it will be okay and to make sure everyone else is sorted and okay first". It makes you realise that sometimes it necessary to put yourself first and that people need and love you. You have a wonderful husband and I'm sure you will have a beautiful child one day.

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  9. This moved me so much, my heart goes out to you. I lost my third baby due to placenta abruption when I was 23 weeks pregnant and my husband was also told I might not make it. I had a 3 year old and 1 year old at the time so I was very much like you, just getting on with it, but there were times when I wondered if I'd really dealt with it properly. Time really does help, everyone said it to me and it didn't mean much at the time, but it's true. Take care of yourself.
    Abbi x

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  10. I haven't been able to comment on every one's shared story... but I just wanted to say, Marlene, this project is amazing...
    To read each story... resonates within me how beautiful, fragile, triumphant life is.

    To Heather: I agreed on all your points esp. that every person is different and everyone has their way to experience/pave their own path. I hope that peace is continuing to help with the healing process...

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  11. Sending you all love and gratitude for having the courage to let others know that we are all in this together.

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