There is an overwhelming abundance of information online about permaculture, but relatively little of it is specifically about New Zealand. This page is an effort to highlight New Zealander specific resources.
The strength (and weakness) of permaculture is that it is many things to many people. Ask any two people “what is permaculture?” and I can almost guarantee that you’ll get two different answers. At its heart permaculture is design language based on an evolving set of ethics and principles which help us work in harmony with the natural systems of our world.
My favourite way to think of permaculture goes like this: if being indigenous means to be “of a place”, then permaculture is a toolkit which helps the non-indigenous begin to relearn what it means to be “of a place”.
Things to be added: https://www.facebook.com/TheForestGardeners/
Permaculture in New Zealand – PiNZ is the primary permaculture organisation in New Zealand. They organise the yearly hui, certify designers and manage a website which lists events
PiNZ on Facebook – A very active community, lots of chat and some technical permaculture discussion.
Because there are so few books specifically about New Zealand, below are the books I’ve read and recommend for beginners:
An Earth Users Guide to Permaculture – An Australian based book which walks you through the process of designing a property step by step. You can read through the entire book in an afternoon, though it will take longer if you do the exercises as intended.
At Home with Holistic Management – Holistic Management is the decision making framework that permaculture forgot to include. Originally designed to help farmers manage pastureland, this book focuses on how it can be used to help organise a family or run a small business.
Easy, inspiring reads:
Miraculous Abundance – Wonderful story of a French couple starting a permaculture farm. Easy and fun read but also lots of great ideas and practical thoughts on what it takes to make a commercial permaculture farm work.
Paradise Lot – An inspiring story of two American friends creating a permaculture paradise on a tenth of an acre.
Books I haven’t read, but others often recommend for beginners:
Most of the information available on Syntropic Agroforestry is in Portuguese. In late-2018 English language content slowly became more widely available. I’m attempting to collect all of the English language resources in one easy to access location.
Multi-strata agroforestry, agrofloresta and successional agroforestry are terms often used interchangeably with Syntropic Agroforestry. However Syntropic Agroforestry is being used to specifically refer to the philosophy and practices developed by Ernst Götsch in Brazil.
Individual videos are collected in my YouTube playlist. If you are having trouble understanding, the closed captioning can help (click the [cc] button in the video toolbar). Below are other playlists and a handful of the best resources I’ve found.
A few years ago, a friend gave us a (please note the singular form) shark’s fin melon. Also known as Cucurbita ficifolia,fig-leaf gourd, Malabar gourd, pie melon and Thai marrow.
We must admit to not eating it. Instead, it sat rather sadly in the laundry until we threw it into the compost. There it lingered for well over a year until earthworks moved the compost pile – and a mound of the surrounding soil – to the top of the paddock closest to the house. Over the summer, that patch of living ground was entirely ignored – we didn’t water it, no food, no attention – but when Autumn 2018 rolled around we discovered a bounty of 40ish melons.
After being harvested, the majority of those 40ish melons sat on the deck on the cottage, where Adam and I spent 8 months while the big house was renovated. One by one, as they began to decompose, I tossed them onto the bank. Side note, I remain faintly concerned that Adam’s Mum and Dad (Pam and Brett), who now live in the cottage, will wake up one day to discover pie melons trying to get into their house.
And so Autumn 2019 rolls around and it would appear that we missed a few of those indomitable melons in last year’s harvest. Wandering down amongst a sea of large cucurbit leaves we literally tripped over them…Easily 120, likely more, to be honest we lost count.
A friend sold a few at the local farmers market but most have been consumed by friends’ very large pet pigs, just up the road. Although, this time, we did eat a few ourselves but somewhat unfortunately the harvest coincided with our experimenting with a very low carb way of eating, and low carb they are not! Still, this land seems determined to grow gloriously abundant free food for us, so we will continue to let them do their in the paddock and hedge rows.
I (Tink) have been meaning to post regularly here for ages. Ages. But I keep getting stuck writing an update, trying to summarise what we’ve been up to for the last few years. I don’t like having our life at Peka Peka shared solely on Instagram and Facebook (as convenient as it is) so I’ve decided to start again here, with a few words, and a few photos each day. And in the the meantime, what have we been up too? Well, we built a cottage (or more accurately our wonderful team of architects and builders did), moved into it while the big house was renovated, moved back into the big house, Adam’s Mum and Dad moved up from Blenheim and into the cottage and gradually, with the earthworks complete, we’ve been chipping away at the garden. We’ve also dipped our feet into the waters of running workshops here and at some stage in the next year or so, we’ll turn our attention to the 10 acres of paddock running across the hill.
In early May I turn forty-seven years old. Which at times, I find almost unbelievable because there are many moments in which I feel as uncertain and ungainly as I did at fourteen. Which, in fact, makes total sense because at forty-seven I’m as hormonally challenged as I was in 1986. Yep. Let that sink in. At forty-seven my hormones are as out of balance as they were when I was a spotty, moody, sometimes-really-unpleasant-to-be-around, teenager. Why? Perimenopause.
Perimenopause. Let’s say that again because it’s so unfamiliar to most people that my writing app tells me it’s not a real word.
Perimenopause, the stage all women go through, generally between their early forties and early fifties. These sometimes crazy-making years riding the hormonal rollercoaster which precede menopause and mark the end of a woman’s reproductive stage.
I continue to be astonished, ASTONISHED, by how little this is acknowledged or talked about. Here I am, in my fifth decade as a female human being and before I stumbled across perimenopause, while doing some health research four years ago, I had no idea that I would experience a second major hormonal transition in my life.
We hurtle into our teenage years with some anticipation of ‘hormonal stuff’. Our parents, caregivers and teachers are under no illusion that this period is challenging for the adolescent and the people around her. So why don’t we do that for perimenopausal women? We’re left to suddenly find ourselves in this unanticipated territory of mood and sleep disruption, short term memory issues, foggy brains, irregular menstrual cycles, heavy periods, migraines, digestive issues, low libido, weight gain, vaginal dryness and bloating, amongst other symptoms. We’re expected to continue moving at full tilt, all the while juggling careers and families, without any awareness or support. The people around us wonder what on earth is up with the sometimes crazy middle aged women in their lives, without understanding that their hormones are out of balance and it has a major physiological, psychological and often spiritual impact.
My perimenopause started in my early forties and was exacerbated by a series of miscarriages and the subsequent stress of these and other significant life events. Over the last several years I’ve come to understand how complex and extraordinary our endocrine system is. It’s tempting (but impossible) to tease out which symptoms are due to prolonged stress and which would have occurred regardless. It’s also a moot point because it’s just not that simple. For starters, pregnenolone – the master hormone for our sex hormones progesterone, estrogen and testosterone – is produced by the adrenal gland. The prolonged stress of our far-too-normal overwhelming lives, has a significant effect on our adrenal system and consequently how much pregnenolone is available for the necessary balance of sex hormones. In short, for most women in their middle age, life is chronically stressful.
So what can we do about it? How can we support each other and ourselves through this major hormonal transition? Well, quite a few things actually.
We need to talk about it, especially since our medical system certainly doesn’t.It seems to me that one of the unhelpful consequences of the tiny nuclear families so many of us live in, is that we’re missing the wise grandmothers and aunties who can say to us, “Oh sweetheart, this is normal, I’ve been through it. I know how hard it can be, here’s something that will help.” In my experience, talking about this stage in my life with close friends, family and a knowledgeable and supportive health practitioner has made a huge difference. Understanding that this is natural and normal and that I am not in fact going crazy, has helped helped a great deal.
On a very practical level, what continues to be of quite remarkable help, is an awareness of those things that support me in managing my version of perimenopause. I’ve learned the hard way – as have many women – that while caffeine and sugar (dark chocolate, sigh) provide me with an immediate and glorious fix to my fatigue and low mood, the pay off is not worth it. These things stress my adrenals further, create even more imbalance and do not make for a happy Tink (or husband, for that matter). I’ve learned that stress makes perimenopause worse and so finally, after years of not really committing to it, I’ve found that a daily practice of yoga and meditation has a disproportionally positive effect on my mind and body. And finally (because I could go on but should get off my soap box), sleep. Nothing seems to knock me off my perch more than bad sleep, I’ve learned that having a light and early dinner in order to not overtax my digestive system, getting off my computer or phone by 9pm, in bed by 10pm and a short breathing exercise to relax my nervous system, are key ingredients for a decent sleep.
There is so much to say about this but in this instance, I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to finish what has turned out to be an emotional plea to really just talk about this stuff with a shameless sales pitch. In navigating my way through chronic illness, adrenal overload and perimenopause over the last several years, I’ve seen a number of practitioners. My GP is very good, but he’s heavily time constrained by a system that is fundamentally not suited to treating chronic illness or, in the case of perimenopause, responding to something that is not a pathology but still requires support. However, recently I’ve been working with (i.e. as a client) and for (i.e. writing social media content as a way of continuing my herbal medicine study) a Kapiti based naturopath and medical herbalist. Her name is Daisy Wood (her real name not a perfect brand name!) and she is specialising in perimenopause.
Daisy is at the tail end of perimenopause herself and the majority of her clients are women navigating their way through this phase of life. She is highly motivated, passionate, very thorough and kind. I haven’t delved into it here, but there are herbs that have been used by wise women (and indeed male healers) for thousands of years in the West and East to support perimenopause and menopause.Daisy works with these herbs in addition to nutrition and other lifestyle factors. If you’re sceptical about naturopathy and herbal medicine, let me just add that my GP has prescribed the same herbs Daisy works with. If you live in Kāpiti, or the Wellington region, you can obviously go and see her, but she also has an excellent private Facebook group called First Flush where she very regularly posts material on perimenopause and converses with her community. Her posts on Instagram and Facebook are information rich and easy to read. If you want to learn more about perimenopause and find support for it, then my recommendation of her is wholehearted.
If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the pre-fix “inter” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be. If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too.
When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist. Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is here and mind is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here- time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat.
Everything coexists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to be inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper, is because everything else is. Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without “non-paper elements” like mind, logger, sunshine, and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as his sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.
Thích Nhất Hạnh, excerpt from Teach Breathe Learn by Meena Srinivasan
Dennis Stanton was my 9th grade math teacher. Sitting in class on that first day of high school I was having a hard time reconciling the last two years of stories with the reality of what was standing in front of me. This monster of Soquel High School was a short, round, blonde man who appeared to have more in common with a teddy bear than the demon I had been led to expect.
Over the next weeks I learned to hate him. He issued lunch time detentions for being late, for getting answers wrong on homework. He mocked students, threw chalk, raged at laziness and carelessness. One by one he drove the kids from his class who didn’t want to work. I had a mixed past with math and I think it was only pride which kept me from fleeing his class.
But then this magical thing happened. Once all of the kids who wouldn’t work were gone, he softened into the most inspiring teacher I ever had. He told stories, encouraged us, pushed us, accepted nothing but the best we had to offer.
Today in a workshop I was asked to name a mentor and tell a story about why they were important to me. From out of nowhere came Mr. Stanton’s name and with it a flood of memories.
He taught me that people can be more than one thing. That a monster can also be a teddy bear. That a “jerk” can also be inspiring. He shared his life with us, unapologetically and without consideration for appropriateness. He treated us like adults who were worthy of both his scorn and his respect.
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how my time in the film industry effected (and continues to effect) me. It’s been pointed out to me repeatedly that I haven’t done much that’s “productive” since I left. Mostly I’m just fine with that, but I’ve known for a while that there’s more to the story. With a jolt the other day, I realised that part of what has followed me from Weta is a belief that work is futile. That it doesn’t matter how hard I work. That no matter how much effort I put in, no matter how much I prepare, no matter how clever I am, it will come to nothing. Regardless of what I do, forces of chaos, insurmountably greater than me, will prevail.
Right now, I can go back to Mr. Stanton and remember that he was the first person in my life who taught me that it mattered how hard I worked. It wasn’t a lesson I wanted to learn then, and it’s not a lesson I want to re-learn now, but I will.
So thank you Mr. Stanton, all those miles and years away. I hope you’re well and I hope that kids are still learning to believe in themselves because of you.
October 2018 about thirty people convened on Scott Hall’s Gabalah Farm for a workshop on Syntropic Agriculture (Agrofloresta). The workshop was led by Namastê Messerschmidt.
Below are my notes in case they are useful to anyone else. I wasn’t trying to record everything, this is just anything which caught my attention in the moment. Some is quite mundane, some very specific and lacking context, and some of it greatly helped my understanding of Syntropic methods and principals.
It’s quite likely that I’ve understood things incompletely and may have worded them poorly.
When doing high apical cut on Eucalypts sometimes they resprout from the bottom. They’ve found that if you leave about 5 branches at the top that is enough to stop it resprouting at the base.
In arid/temperate climates you can use cactus or agave as alternative to banana (for chop and drop with lots of internal moisture).
Stratification is not height or longevity based, there are high strata short plants (eg. kale). If the plant is from a system with less resources (arid, cold, poor soil etc) than the entire system might be shorter.
Stratification is based on light requirements when the plant is mature (eg. a high strata plant will be tolerate additional shade for the first part of its life).
Corn and okra are emergent. Tomatoes and kale are high.
If they need full sun they are emergent. If they get sunburned they aren’t.
Broad, dark green leaves are an indication of lower layers.
The best way to know a plant is to live with it. Just like our mother, she can cut her hair or change clothes and we still know her.
From an ecological point of view you could have all four strata in a single organism. However to provide enough space for each layer, the high and emergent layers end up very tall and hard/dangerous to work with. In general they have found it is better to mix emergent and medium (or high and low) cropping species in a single row so your crops stay closer to the ground. You can have non-crop biomass emergent species mixed in as well.
You need 1-1.5m between the top of one strata and the bottom of the next. So if you have low strata to 2m then the bottom of your high strata can’t begin until 3.5m.
With these height requirements you can’t have high/emergent tree rows at 5m because you create too much shade. They’ve found it works well to alternate high/low rows with emergent/medium rows. That way there are 10m between your big trees.
When pruning you must respect strata and relationships between species. For example, if you prune a high species lower than a medium species it won’t thrive.
For simplicity of management it is best to have only one species of each strata in a single row.
What is going to make organic matter in short to long term?
What to harvest when?
Respect stratification and lifecycle
Management considerations per species.
How to sell harvests
Plant sizes and spacing
Type of organic matter (eg. tilth, what can germinate)
Slope, sun & row orientation
Machine or human labour resources
Respect the vocation of the land/climate/season (grow what will thrive)
Protection from animals
Start planning from the species which will remain in the system the longest (not counting biomass species) and work down through species that will be shorter lived.
Start planting from the biggest to the smallest, with seeds coming after seedlings and grafted plants. Idea is to make the most mess early so as few species as possible are disturbed by later planting.
Put grafting wound facing away from sun.
When planting trees cut off half of every leaf (in their experience this works better than cutting off every other leaf). Cut off all fruit/flowers for first two years to give tree a chance to establish. Grafted trees think they are older than they actually are and so you need to hold them back as producing even a few fruit takes a lot of effort for a young tree.
When planting root crops (cassava, taro, ginger etc) larger roots will produce larger crops because they have more stored energy to get started with.
Young, or sun sensitive plants, are more easily damaged by the afternoon sun. You can angle cuttings towards the west so less surface area is exposed to afternoon sun.
Don’t cut ginger for planting, break it with your fingers. Let the wound heal for about 5 days. Keeps it safer from infection. Not critical.
Grasses have all the same strata considerations (emergent, high, medium low).
Rule of thumb is that it takes 3m of grass to feed 1m of bed.
A consortium is an organism. If you introduce a new species mid-cycle their observation is that it won’t thrive. In order to introduce new species you either harvest the entire organism or create a “pulse” by heavily pruning everything in the row.
The boundaries between organisms aren’t distinct. A row is an organism, the inter-rows form an organism, the inter-rows plus the adjacent tree rows for an organism.
General recommendation was to treat the inter-rows as an organism and the tree rows as an organism.
When learning start small, 1sqm is great. Working first with short lived plants gives you lots of iterations to learn fairly quickly.
Plants will influence other plants in a radius equal to their height. So if you have a row senescent trees that are 10m tall, they will be slowing down the growth of other plants within a 10m radius.
In three sisters you strip the corn of leaves once the cob is fully formed (but not dried). This stops it sending senescence messages to other plants.
General rule is don’t plant a seed deeper than 4x it’s size. Shallower is better than too deep. Corn is an exception and can be planted deep and makes it stronger. Also can plant three corns together in same hole (like onions) with wider spacing for 20% shade.
Cannot cover grass seed with any organic matter or won’t germinate.
Building bamboo is typically high strata so could build a consortium with an emergent.
Every plant has a growth curve (x axis is time, y axis is biomass production). You want to prune as soon as the rate of biomass production starts dropping off. See photo for how senescence works with this.
They have observed that when planting lots of seeds at once, plants thrive. Plants seem to cooperate to make sure that a few thrive. Ernst says plant 100 seeds if you want one tree.
Seeds adapt to their environment, seedlings can struggle to adapt to the change after transplanting.
Make a slurry and dip tree seedlings into it to help with establishment. Use rock dust, ash or clay or whatever you have and is appropriate for that plant.
Horticulture beds do best on east side, so develop system with new beds being added to the east of what’s established.(Wonder if that’s the same in cooler climates?)
Bird seed can be a way to get untreated seeds.
They’ve observed that putting pruned organic matter on top of grass weeds doesn’t kill them, it makes them stronger. By pruning you are making light and then feeding them.
Prune biggest trees first. If you damage the smaller trees you still have options for how you prune.
On living wood, always use machete to cut in an upward angle (in the direction the plant fibres have grown). This creates a much cleaner cut then cutting downwards.
On dead wood, if you are holding the base of a limb, you chop in a downwards motion with the machete (same principal as above). It’s less effort this ways.
Coppice on an angle, with cut surface facing south or east to minimise sun damage.
Diversity in organic material is important. More species is better.
They have observed that wood chip doesn’t create the same crumbly, black soil that diverse organic matter does. The finer “tilth” does make planting/sowing easier so sometimes is worth it.
When laying logs on soil it is important to cover them with organic matter or they seem to dry out and mummify rather the decompose.
When pruning citrus don’t prune a little off the tip of a branch, instead prune it back to just after a branch which can take over growth in the direction you want.
When creating a pulse any herbaceous plants which have completed their lifecycle (eg. flowering) can be cut because it won’t resprout. Then roots stay to nurture soil.
Producing some crops (seeds, fruit) will create a senescence effect. But it’s worth it if you want the crop.
You can’t compromise on organic matter. If you don’t have it you must grow it first.
Don’t sharpen the first third of your machete. Too easy to hurt yourself if your hand slips. Don’t use a machete two handed because if your blade side hand slips off you can cut yourself badly.
Trees don’t mind being pruned or even removed if it is in the best interests of the organism. Namaste said that we couldn’t think of trees like people (but I’m not sure that we are much different in this regard).
Once you have started a pulse you want to get everything planted fairly quickly so it can form an organism. Ideally you’d have it all done within a week.
Ernst says planting is 5% of the work, management is 95%.
Animals generally aren’t used within Syntropic systems. However some people were designing Syntropic systems specifically for chickens and egg production.
Nut crops and clear ground for harvesting. Perhaps grass rows next to trees? What about other plants within the tree row? Could you have berries which produce at a time that you could mow them after fruiting to harvest nuts?
Trade offs on deciding which ways rows face? Lower latitudes? Colder climates? Wind? Slope?
Would love more information on Syntropic chicken designs?
How Ernst’s daughter felled the tree, with deep V cut?
No mention of windbreaks which is unusual in tree systems. Is that because the entire system works as a windbreak?
When pulsing a row to introduce a new species I’m unclear if coppicing the biomass species is sufficient to introduce new species? Or if you have to coppice “everything in the organism” (which wouldn’t work well with grafted trees).
I started writing this two nights ago, on the eve of a full moon, as the rest of the house was quiet, even the Guinea fowl. Last night, I was supposed to go to a gathering of wonderful women but I found myself too raw to be with people I didn’t know, so instead I continued writing. By the time I finished, I wasn’t at all sure what I’d do with these words. This is intensely personal, The thought of people I don’t know reading this makes me feel very vulnerable, but actually there are some things I really need my friends (and by friends, I mean my actual friends not just those slightly random people who’ve friended me on FB but I’ve never met) to know and maybe this will end up being read by, and resonate with, other women who’ve shared a similar experience.
We don’t usually have chocolate cake and ice-cream in the house but yesterday we had a special occasion, today there are leftovers and tonight I’m eating – without really tasting, fully aware that I’m self-medicating with food – my second bowl of chocolate cake and ice-cream.
A couple of hours ago, one of my close friends told me, with thanks to a sperm donor, she is pregnant. This evening, as she sat in front of the fire chatting excitedly to my husband about the amazing story of how quickly and easily she became pregnant, I stood in the kitchen out of sight, tears silently rolling down my cheeks as I cooked dinner. How could I possibly let her know that I found listening to this wonderful news almost unbearable? How could I tell her that this pregnancy, triggered in me a wave of grief so embodied it made my chest ache?
Last week I listened to a podcast entitled “Getting Grief Right‘ with grief counsellor Patrick O’Malley. He talked about the disservice that has been done by the dominance of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief and how there is in fact no one roadmap for grief. He went on to say that after decades of working with people who are grieving, it has become clear to him that one of the most important things people need is the opportunity to share their story and for it to be witnessed. People who are grieving need empathy, real empathy, which is actually much harder than it sounds (I know this from being on the giving end as much as the receiving one) because basically it means being able to be fully present for someone without giving advice or making well-intentioned comments designed to try and make the person feel different.
Over the last four years, when I’ve talked about the miscarriages nearly everyone has responded with undeniably well intentioned comments which are intended to shift the way I feel. For example ‘At least you know you can get pregnant’ or the variation ‘At least you know what it’s like to get pregnant’, then there’s ‘So many women go through this and go on to have a healthy baby, this will happen for you’, or ‘You just have to trust your body’s wisdom to have miscarried for a reason’, or ‘You’re still not too old’.
Even more challenging I think, has been when I’ve shared the decision to not continue trying and my process of making my peace with that decision and then having someone say ‘Oh that’s when it will happen for you, just stop trying and relax and you’ll get pregnant.’ I know they’re only trying to make me feel better, but essentially what this person is doing is disagreeing with me – I’m saying I’m not going to have a baby and they’re telling me I probably will.
Hardest yet, I think, has been this. A while ago I ran into a distant friend who is an older Mum to a new baby. She told me she was ‘shattered’ and went on to say that she wasn’t sure she’d recommend motherhood. She seemed to not entirely be joking, but I mostly took it as being something a wickedly sleep deprived new Mum might say. However within half an hour, she’d sent a follow up message saying that she knows babies is a sensitive topic for me, so she mostly wants to hide from me, but in this instance didn’t and said what she’d said because she didn’t know what else to say. Again, I have no doubt at all that she meant well and that she was exhausted but it had the opposite effect of making me feel better.
Four years ago I lost three babies, all less than eight weeks old, within six months. It is only recently I’ve been able to refer to them as babies rather than ‘miscarriages’. I am still grieving, although now not so much for them — as I consciously made time and created space to grieve after each miscarriage — but for me. For the loss of something I really, REALLY, really wanted and felt, deep in my soul, was a part of my future. I am now grieving for the loss of an opportunity to feel a baby grow inside me and to be a Mum to a tiny human Adam and I created together.
I’ve just turned forty five. I’ve been unwell for the last four years. Losing those babies knocked the stuffing out of me. A whole bunch of tests later it would seem that a considerable amount of stuffing had been knocked out of me before I got pregnant. After years of prolonged stress, I was, the doctor assumes, adrenally fatigued before I conceived. Four years later I feel infinitely better, but it’s anticipated that I’ll need another two years to fully recover. My child bearing window is rapidly closing (if it hasn’t already). I would really love to have a baby but to be perfectly honest, right now it feels like a choice between me and a baby. At the moment, even a few days of insufficient sleep sets me back and while it seems that nothing is guaranteed with motherhood, I’ve yet to meet a mum who doesn’t suffer through months or years of sleep deprivation.
To add another layer to this story, I was, as a psychologist once said, a parentified child. I’ve spent a lot of my life being a mother to my alcohol dependent mother. I was still doing that, in many respects, when I got pregnant. It was only when I moved Mum into dementia care a couple of years ago that my whole body heaved a sigh of relief and I felt that weight of responsibility lift. So while it might seem to some people reading this that I’m being selfish choosing my health and vitality over a baby, the decision follows decades of putting someone else’s wellbeing ahead of my own. However this layer doesn’t diminish the grief I feel for the loss of mothering my own baby and it is a grief which is impossible to avoid because I’m surrounded by friends who are mothers of young children or babies or who are mamas-to-be.
I read this to Adam last night and he gently reminded me that I need to ask for what I need, not just for what I don’t need. So here goes. I need my friends to know that I love you and love spending time with you but sometimes it’s just too hard to go to your children’s birthday parties or your baby showers. I love hearing about your children and sometimes it would mean a lot if you would stop and acknowledge that I lost mine. Pause for a moment and say ‘I’m so sorry Tink, sometimes it must be really hard to hear me talk about my children all the time.’
I wish I’d had more time with my Dad to talk to him about his experience as a doctor. I have a deep interest in healing and I remember one of the few things he said about his life as a surgeon was that one of the great failings of Western medicine is it’s non-acceptance of death. In 2013, in June, then September and then again in December I lost a baby. Now I’m coming to terms with the loss of my dream of being a mother. Friends, wherever you are but particularly those of you I see more often, I need you to witness that grief and if you can, when you can, I would be so very grateful if you could hold a bit of space for it.