Seven years ago this evening I was lying, very uncomfortably, in a bed in the maternity wing of the Wellington Hospital having the first of three miscarriages. Adam’s still grumpy about the fact that the only thing they could find for me to eat was white bread and vanilla ice cream. As I lay there, ignoring the little pot of Tip Top’s finest and thin white bread which was tired enough to be curling up at the corners, a very dear friend was in a room at the other end of the ward with her brand new healthy baby. The last thing in the world I could bring myself to do was let her know I was there, miscarrying.
Every year, on the anniversaries of three babies lost – 25 June, 22 September, 31 December – both Adam and I are tender. He’s currently lying by the fire, I’m sitting here, self-medicating with dark chocolate and wondering how vulnerable I feel like being this evening. Do I want to raise the uncomfortable subject of miscarriages again? I do, because here’s the thing…we still don’t talk about them enough.
Women are left to process the grief and shame and sense of failure in losing a baby largely alone. There are myriad ways of experiencing infertility as a woman. I can’t speak to Adam’s experience, although I do know his is equally lonely and complex. Amongst all of my friends – and I am so lucky to have so many wonderful ones – there is not a single woman that I know of who shares my reality of recurrent miscarriages (and the subsequent hormonal rollercoaster) without a successful pregnancy to follow. Miscarriages without the happy ending.
We make our peace with how life turns out, don’t we. As you’ll see from the photos I post every few months of our life here at Peka Peka, it is beautiful. But it is not idyllic. Life is messy and behind the glorious images of sunsets there are trips to see Mum in dementia care, the wild ride of perimenopause (can we please talk about that too?!) and summoning the energy and enthusiasm to be a part of another conversation about the shared reality of motherhood while I sit there, very quietly, managing my grief and irrelevance. I may well have friends who read this, who have been aware of my journey over the last seven years, who can’t quite stop themselves from thinking “Jeez, is she still caught in that story? Hasn’t she finished grieving?” No. The answer is no. In the same way I still really – if not nearly so acutely or relentlessly – miss my Dad, I am still very sad we don’t have children. I wish we hadn’t lost our babies. I wish I didn’t feel so alone amidst the sea of mothers with children and their stories.
I’m posting this not because I want to check my FacebookDo tomorrow morning and see lots of notifications of comments of support. I’m posting this for two reasons. Firstly, if by any chance you share my reality and would be willing to have a conversation about it, I would truly, truly love to hear from you. Secondly, if you have experienced the grief of miscarriages, I would like to honour that grief. Whoever you are, wherever you are, in whatever situation, know that you are not alone. (P.S. Adam tells me I’m quite brave about having hard conversations and holding space for grief, so if you would like to talk, message me, I’d be honoured to hear from you.)
P.S. I wasn’t sure which photo to include, so chose the one from my library closest to the 25th of June, 2013. Adam and our fuzzles.
At the beginning of this year, I made the decision to close ElementAll. Increasingly I felt torn between channelling my energy into the development of our small regenerative farm and community, and this small clothing company. As I looked out into an increasingly unpredictable world, in which we’re all navigating the chartered territory of climate change, producing a very small range of locally produced merino garments didn’t feel like the best path for me. Then Covid-19 happened.
Thanks to several weeks of lockdown, we found ourselves with time (how privileged my husband Adam and I have been to ride out isolation in this place, in safety and comfort) to reevaluate the way we’re living our lives, to reconsider our priorities. Time and a slower pace created some key pieces of self-awareness which have shifted my relationship to ElementAll.
The first realisation was that it turns out I’m considerably more extroverted than I thought I was. Which is apparently no surprise at all to Adam, but it was to me. I’m an only child, I absolutely need time to myself, but it also would seem that I need very regular connection (in person, Zoom won’t do) with people. This is directly relevant to ElementAll, as one of my seemingly relentless struggles has been the isolation. Doing it all myself, but most importantly ‘by’ myself, has made commitment hard.
In an attempt to solve the problem of feeling isolated (at least for the next few months), we’ve set up an informal co-working space in the living room of what was, until recently, our BnB. Serendipitously, a dear friend has moved to Waikanae from Melbourne for a new job and Covid-19 means she can now work remotely two days a week. However, her scrumptious 18-month old daughter (delightfully, my goddaughter) makes doing this from home a challenge. Solution? She now comes up here. It works for her but also having the company makes a very real difference to my motivation and enthusiasm.
The second key realisation I had during lockdown was the importance of logistics in getting things done. Wonders will never cease, you say, but bear with me. Adam, an experienced manager and facilitator, observes that people generally favour one of three ways of approaching problems. The first is strategic (looks at the big picture, ‘where are we going’), the second is tactical (how to deploy resources to achieve the strategy) or the logistical (who needs to do what, when and then the actual doing). I tend to address problems strategically – looking at the big picture is my happy place – then to a lesser extent tactically. Logistics, the actual doing of the thing, is the least interesting part of the puzzle for me and consequently my weaker muscle.
Stay with me while I tangent briefly. Many years ago, in a former job as a policy analyst for the Pharmacy Guild of NZ, I spent six months working on pandemic planning for the Avian Flu. As soon as Covid-19 began to take off in Italy, my experience suggested that this could be very serious, even for New Zealand. As we moved through Level 4, I’d spend a couple of hours every day reading long-form articles from science writers and following family doctors, other scientists and experts in public health online. In addition, it turned out a friend was working as a key member of the team coordinating New Zealand’s pandemic response and we’d often talk as she walked home at the end of the day.
As I read, listened and digested a lot of information, it dawned on me that the logistical response to Covid-19 was critical. The necessary strategy was fairly clear, the tactics super important, of course, but what was absolutely essential was a well-executed logistical or operational response. No good having a tonne of PPE squirrelled away in a warehouse somewhere if it’s out of date or doesn’t reach the medical staff on the ground. No good having an apparel company if I’m not attracting customers, ordering fabric and capturing essential data in Excel spreadsheets. Understanding the importance of logistics has reframed my relationship with ElementAll, which means that instead of focusing on the big picture, I’m going to spend three months on the nuts and bolts.
The third realisation, triggered by a shift in my relationship to logistics and a growing awareness of the impacts of climate change, is that it’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by how much there is to do. I’d convinced myself that a very small sustainable clothing company was simply not enough and that it existed in competition with the regenerative work we’re slowly doing here at Living Ground. But of course, it’s not in competition, it can fit elegantly into our lives here. At this point, I honestly believe that every little bit each of us can do to make our corner of the world more sustainable (ideally regenerative) is worthwhile. We all still need good clothing.
My original intention with ElementAll was to create the most sustainable, resilient, and ethical little clothing business I could, and that hasn’t changed. The garments are still made in Wellington, by Jan and Marilyn at Stitch Products. While I dearly wish I could buy merino that was guaranteed to be New Zealand merino (NZ produced textile from NZ sheep), at this very small scale, I can’t. However, the ZQ merino I purchase from The Fabric Store is Australasian and ZQ prides itself on being the world leader in ethical wool. The Fabric Store – as ‘middle women’ (in the case of the lovely folk I deal with) – is a New Zealand owned and operated business about which I only have good things to say (click here for their statement on sustainability).
As I launch myself back into ElementAll, logistics are my priority. I’ll continue to investigate my supply chain and work to make it even more sustainable, ethical and resilient. There are new designs in the wings (long-sleeved tops just waiting for a handful of samples and some promotional photos) for both women and men. I’m excited to share the stories of some of the remarkable women who wear ElementAll.
In the meantime, I’ll sign off with a bit of house-keeping, then a thank you note. The price of ZQ fabric is higher than the premium merino I’ve used before and the margin for the Fabric Store is smaller, consequently, you’ll see there is an increase in price for the cardigans. While the tunics remain at $150, the cardigans are now $195. You will also see that the colours have been updated. The ZQ range is larger than the 11 listed on the ElementAll website, and you can find the full range of ZQ colours here – if you’d like to order a garment in one of the colours we haven’t listed, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, I’d like to say a very, very big thank you to those of you who have remained ElementAll cheerleaders. Jo, Adam, Anna, Emily, Emma, Tina, Stephanie, Ray, Kath and Vanessa. Thank you. Your support means more than I can say.
I don’t often get angry online, the mere thought of it seems fruitless and feels exhausting. But I’m having a harder and harder time keeping my silence.
Politically I’m a boring one-trick pony. The only thing I deeply care about is how we treat our planet’s ecosystems. As far as I can see, however terrible the other issues might be, everything else can wait.
That aside, this is about something else.
As a country, we just went through something amazing. For the first time in my nearly 50 years, I saw my government work through something big and hard together. A few weeks ago, a friend who was very involved in NZ’s pandemic response said that she thought the “NZ government would be kinder for years because of COVID”. Based on my experience in the crucible of the film industry, this makes instinctive sense to me. The bigger the crisis, the tighter the team afterwards (provided the crisis doesn’t blow the team apart).
As a country we pulled together, temporarily shelved our differences, and got on with what needed doing. No doubt it was an imperfect response, but it was an effective one. NZ is one of the few Western countries with a success story about how we collectively responded to COVID. For one of the few times in my life, I’m proud of how my country collectively responded to something important.
There are two basic ways we can individually and collectively act. We can be Breakers, or we can be Makers. Making is the work of life, it is what we are all capable of, and hopefully, what we all aspire to. Life, powered by the Sun, is the only force on our planet that resists entropy. For as long as the Sun heats our planet we can be Makers. In my opinion, Wise Making is the noblest of acts and is within the reach of everyone.
As a country, we just performed a collective and heroic act of Making.
I know that lockdown was somewhere between stressful and traumatic for some people, but my experience of lockdown was nearly ecstatic. Without kids and with a part-time job I could do from home, each day stretched out gloriously in front of me. But the only reason I could relax and enjoy those days was that I felt safe. I felt safe because our government seemed to be responding in a sane way.
Was the government response perfect? Of course not, but there was approximately zero chance that it would be. Even if, against all the odds, we stumbled into the “perfect response” we would have no way of knowing that.
I’m all for constructive critique. Let’s talk about how we might be able to do it better next time, but let us also honour what we just accomplished. Let us honour the people who did the work, who put our collective safety before seeing their families. Let us remember all the people who weren’t on TV who worked invisibly to put in place systems which kept us safe. Let us remember that nobody in NZ had ever done anything like this before, and while we could spend hours on Twitter comparing the details of different countries responses, they were up to their eyeballs dealing with the messy reality of actually implementing lockdown in our wonderful and deeply imperfect world.
Now, back to anger. Here’s where I’m about to throw in my towel out of disgust. Where I loudly declare that Project Humanity deserves the ignominious end which it is working so tirelessly to achieve.
At the end of this beautiful and imperfect act of collective Making, some of the leaders of our country are acting with deliberate malice to destroy what we built. Instead of blinking in astonishment at the unlikely and beautiful thing we just collectively Made, they are trying to tear it down. Instead of joining in and contributing to this act of Making, they are deriding their opponents. Instead of telling us about their vision for all the wonderful things we can Make, they are lying and manipulating facts.
And we, the punters at home, are going along with this in soul-crushing numbers. We, the ones who just got handouts to keep our households and businesses alive. We, the ones who literally don’t know a single person who died of COVID (with condolences to the friends and families of the 22 people who died of COVID in NZ). We are cheering and jeering as we tear down what we built.
What’s it going to take for us to collectively and individually realise that the only worthwhile thing we can do with our brief and precious lives … is be a Maker?