A story about Jill

There are some students (and classes) that you can not wait to get rid of. You do everything in your power to never teach them again…. And then you get them for three years in a row.

Then there are other students who mean something to you and you have a soft spot for. I had the biggest soft spot for a student called Jill. I became a year advisor and she was one of my little munchkins, I never actually taught her.

My first memory of Jill was when school had just started for the year. She was wearing a uniform that the school gave her, but her hem was not sewn up and embarrassingly long. I had to work out a way to get it sewn up. I never thought that would be part of my job description. Couldn’t she just get it done at home? I had to teach all day so there was no way I could do it myself. I used safety clips to temporarily pin it up and eventually convinced an extremely kind SASS staff member to sew it for me. Jill was happy.

She used to chat to me all the time in the playground, before she realised it was not cool to talk to teachers. “I’m moving in a few weeks. I’m going to have to change schools. They have found a unit for us.” Us was her family, her mum and younger siblings. They, I assumed, was a government department, or maybe a charity organisation. “That’s great, but we will miss you,” I replied. 

She kept coming to school every day. She never moved. She was friendly and smart. She won an award at presentation day. After some initial teething problems, she made lots of friends.

She was rarely in school uniform though. The school had provided uniforms, but Jill would not always go home to the same place every night and they would get misplaced. There was a very strict uniform policy and enforcing it was by far my least favourite thing as a year advisor. If a student was out of uniform they got a uniform pass, that is, if they had a note from a parent, otherwise they had to pick up litter.

Jill would refuse to pick up litter, once I forced her to do it during roll call time when there was no other students in the playground. It was horrible. She would never have a note from home. We made a deal, she would come to me in the morning and I would write her a uniform pass, no questions asked. She came almost every day, that is until she stopped caring.

Jill had many problems at school. I had no training to be a year advisor, apart from one day of professional development that taught be almost nothing. I did not know what to do with her. Most of her problems got dealt with by the higher powers in the school. I just tried to be a friendly face that she could talk to.

She would often complain she was hungry. The school did give lunch money in emergencies but it was a pain to organise. Sometimes I didn’t have the time, because I had a million other things to do, I just gave her my own money. I would then feel guilty because I knew this was absolutely not allowed under any circumstances.

I wanted more than anything to see Jill finish Year 12 and to congratulate her at the ceremony. I thought education could change her life. She only made it until the beginning of Year 10. She told me she was pregnant. She got kicked out of home. She stopped coming to school.

She returned one day, not to go to class, but to organise a place for her at some sort of alternative learning centre. She was too young to drop out of school. She appeared stoned. “I had a chicken pie for breakfast,”she told me. “It was so good, my baby loved it.” She pulled up her top and asked me if I could notice her bump. I stared awkwardly. I could not notice anything. I had never seen a pregnant bump before. I wasn’t even confident she was pregnant.

Since that day I have not seen Jill again. I never found out if she was really pregnant. I never heard if she had a baby. I don’t know what happened to her. I just hope she is OK.

Obviously Jill is not her real name.

Flower Sustayable Me

Feature Mum Friday: Therese

Hi, I’m Therese.

Thanks Sustayable Me for inviting me to be in your fabulous Feature Mum Friday.

I’m a mother, wife, teacher, creative gentle explorer.  I take life seriously but try to have fun along the way. It is the mother role I take most seriously, perhaps too seriously.  I am worried I’m going to screw my kids up and if I don’t screw them up I’m worried they will die, or both.  Why do I think like this?  I’m not entirely sure.  I’m just a naturally anxious person?  Or whether it is because my first experience with motherhood was blotted with trauma, pain and loss.

You see I am mum to three children but when I am asked I say I have two kids.  The pain of remembering and explaining is too much.  I have two boys, Dezzy is almost 5 and Jason is three.  They are about 18 months apart.

Ten years ago I also had a tiny, perfect baby girl, Sigourney.  She was born with trisomy 18. A genetic ‘incompatible’ with life.  She went undiagnosed through my pregnancy, I had declined genetic testing thinking that the testing was only for Down Syndrome (trisomy 21).  I wish I had done the testing.  It would have empowered my husband and I to make more informed decisions.  I think we perhaps would have carried on with the pregnancy but birthed her the way I had planned as a natural water birth at home.  She most likely would have been stillborn if left be born this way and it would have been the best and most peaceful life and death for her.  Unfortunately, we didn’t know the little one growing inside me had trisomy 18 so we carried on with my pregnancy excitedly preparing ourselves and our home for a baby.

I had a terrible gut feeling that my midwife wasn’t right and swapped midwives at about 35 weeks.   Chris was beautiful, caring, sensitive and had excellent knowledge and skills.  She was concerned that baby was small for dates so suggested that I could go along for an ultrasound.  She encouraged me to be mindful about my choice because it could change the direction of our story.

I went for the ultrasound at around 36 weeks.  The sonographer quickly grew quiet, little beads of sweat forming on his forehead.  It was not good.  He put his hands gently on mine and looked me in the eye.  He said baby wasn’t growing well, she was well below the 5th percentile and that placental flow wasn’t right, baby would need to come out soon if she was to survive.  He called my midwife. Told me to go home and have a cup of tea, she would come over as soon as she could.  I called my husband Jeremy.

I don’t remember how I drove home that day.  I was in a panic, frozen in fear. At home we decided that we would go to hospital.  We packed our bags.  Had a quick Thai takeaway dinner and headed to Waitakere Hospital.  They didn’t really want us there.  At about midnight they decided that the baby I was carrying was definably too small to be delivered in their hospital so they sent us to Auckland Hospital.  They were going to send me in an ambulance but after much negotiating Chris managed to convince them that she could be trusted to take us in her car.  They seemed worried that we might take things into our own hands and not front up to the hospital.

Finally arriving in Chris’s Combi at Auckland hospital  we eventually meet an Obstetrician who is willing to make a decision.  Baby is too small to survive a vaginal birth, we need to have a C-section and we need to do it now.  I was so scared.  For me for our baby.

The C-section hurt like hell.  It wasn’t right.  She came out.  She was so tiny.  She wasn’t right.  Didn’t make a sound.  She was alive.

They took her away.  Stitched me up.  Jeremy was asked to go with baby.  I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t want him to leave me.  Stay.  Go.  Be with her.  Stay. I don’t remember.  Blank.  Blackout.

I had to learn to express.  I signed something saying they were allowed to give her formula.  I don’t remember.  My husband says do we want that?  No we don’t.  I say no we don’t.  The registrar tells me I am being irresponsible.  I cannot breast feed my baby.  I stay up all night squeezing milk from my breasts into tiny syringes. I proved her wrong.

About 12 hours after her birth the geneticists and paediatricians come.  Talk to us.  Their words swim over me I don’t understand, I’m floating, not really there.  She will die.  Days, weeks, maybe months.  She will die.  Jeremy doesn’t believe them.  Refused to believe them.

We fight for her.  I don’t leave her side.  We aren’t offered infant CPR training like the other parents of tiny babies in NICU.  If our little one stopped breathing we were meant to let her go.  Watch her die.

Ten days later we take her home.  We tube fed her to start with.  She wasn’t strong or coordinated enough to breast feed.  Eventually we worked out a system where we could use a supplementally nursing system with my breast milk which was pretty close to breast-feeding but less tiring for Sigourney.  This felt better.  She was feeding herself, keeping herself alive.  I wasn’t force feeding her, keeping her alive when she shouldn’t be.  She fed, she would often choke, stop breathing, scream, dark yellow eyes, pain and shock, she  looked like she had died.  Floppy, pale, grey, lifeless.  Then she would gasp and come back to life.  Over and Over again.  Pain.  Morphine. Pain. She lived for four months.  It was torture.  For her, for me, for my husband.  For my mum who came over to help.  For Jeremy’s mum.  For my good friend Jo who gave herself to us and Siggy.

Feature Mum Friday
Siggy, six weeks old

She died, it was horrible, I held her.  I will never be the same again.  I want to forget. It didn’t happen.  Too much pain.  It is not fair. Life isn’t fair.  I didn’t know.  I know now.

In the year before Siggy and after I had a bit of a roller coaster with lots of momentous experiences started a new career,  got married, became a foster mum to 16 year old girl, became pregnant, moved from Tasmanian to NZ following my husband’s work, had a baby, sick baby, baby died, separated from my husband.

I think the fact that Siggy’s birth and death was in the middle of all these other significant events made it even more traumatic for me.  After her death I spun into a deep, dark depression, lost in the world, angry and full of anxiety.  It has been a long road trying to recover from that.  Eventually my husband and I grew back together as we both healed.  It took me six years to be ready to try for another baby.  I thought I never would be ready.  And it is true, I’m not ready, I’m not good enough, I’m not brave enough, the world isn’t safe enough.  But yet, here I am, a mother to two beautiful boys who I live for.  That is who I am.  A very long introduction.  But how else am I to introduce myself?

What does a typical Friday look like?

There is a saying that children are not empty vessels to filled.  But I kind of think they are.  Not to be filled with knowledge and facts but to be filled with love and sensory experiences which will make them who they are.  I try to fill my boys lives with rich experiences in the bush, at the beach, parks, rivers, swimming, jumping, riding, wrestling.  Fill them up with fun, challenging, risky stuff.  Let them explore, be wild, be free.  I really like this quote:

‘The best thing we can do to support learning in children (or adults for that matter) is to provide as many diverse, visceral experiences as possible. When it comes to formal education, then, building a strong foundation for creativity in students involves broadening the types of experiences we provide them with. The more children see, hear and experience, the more they will expand their senses of possibility, the more elements of reality they have in their repertoire, the more productive their imaginations can be. The more energetic and lively children’s imaginations, the more facts in their minds will find themselves in new combinations.’  (cited in Cultivating Curiosity, Ostroff, 2016)

That is what I try to do with our Fridays and every other day I am with my boys.

Feature Mum Friday
Therese and Jason

What is the best thing about becoming a mum?

Seeing the world again through the eyes of a child.  Their sense of wonder and curiosity is beautiful.  I love to see their joy.

What can you do to get a giggle out of your children?

My boys laugh easily and often.  Dezzy even laughs in his sleep.  I don’t think I make them laugh, they make each other laugh and find things that they see and hear around them amusing especially words like bottom, fart and poo.

What is the biggest challenge at the moment

I am struggling with depression and anxiety.  I am never good enough.  I find it hard to just be in the moment with my boys, anxiety haunts me and tries to steal away the joy of the moment.

How do you handle the days/times when nothing goes right?

I drink.  It is not good.  I know.  I’m trying to stop.  Trying to use a healthy alternative like mindfulness, breathing, and exercise.  I’m working on it.

And I scream.  I haven’t  done it often, only twice really, but I really scream.  Not at the boys.  At the world.  Like a wild animal who has lost its baby.  I scream.  It scared the boys.  I don’t want to do it again.  I pat my puppy.  She is 9 months old.  She has been the best therapy.

What do you miss most about your life before children?

Sleep and time to myself to do nothing.

Do you have any words of wisdom for new mums?

Do it your way!

Feature Mum Friday
Dezzy and Jason

Thank you Therese, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing your story.

If you would like to be a Feature Mum please email me. jane@sustayableme.com