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MESSAGES FROM WITHINFinding Meaning in Your Life Experiences
By Kathleen O'Malley
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 Kathleen O'Malley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn the Beginning ...
As I approached the final chapters of this book, I was able to better understand my beginning. It became clear that no part of my journey has been without purpose. It then felt important to share the details of my earliest history. That is when this chapter was born.
The circumstances of my own birth were far from ideal. As a result, I was raised by my grandparents on a tiny island in the Caribbean Sea, known as Anguilla. It is an island of fascinating beginnings with many cultural influences. Today, it remains a British territory with queen-appointed representatives.
In the early 1950's, my grandmother left her home in search of work and simply to have a better life. Anguilla, as modest as the lifestyle still is, had been experiencing poor economic times. My grandmother, Beatrice Virginia Harrigan-Hodge, was unmarried and had one young daughter who she left in the care of her mother. It is common throughout the Caribbean for grandparents to assume full-time responsibility of grandchildren, while parents work to provide for the family.
My grandmother traveled by boat to the island of Curacao (pronounced kyur uh sow), and this is where she met my grandfather. The island of Curacao is said to have been discovered by Spanish settlers in the 1400's and was called "Corazon" which is translated in English as the word, "heart." This fiery, adventurous Caribbean woman with beautiful, dark velvet skin was also described as a firm, but loving mother. Together, she and my grandfather had eight additional children. My mother was the second child born to them. She had a brother who was eleven months older. She had a younger brother born in January of one year and twin sisters born in December of that same year.
My grandfather, Joseph McKinley Webster, was a spiritually gifted man with a gentle presence and quiet disposition. I only remember him as a fisherman. I recently learned that in earlier times, he had been a Marshal who was able to calmly mediate challenging situations. People would often respond to his soft, gentle voice. He had also been born on the island of Anguilla, to an Irish father and a Caribbean mother. So, it is fantastically remarkable to learn that he met and fell in love with my grandmother on the island that was once known as heart.
While in Curacao, my grandfather worked at an oil refinery. My mom once shared a story of how his multi-race background served him well when there was a racially motivated uprising at the refinery. Many of the workers were injured, but my grandfather had escaped without a single scratch because the Europeans thought he was one of them and the dark-complected people knew he had a Caribbean mother.
My grandparents returned to Anguilla with four children all under the age of four and this is where they lived the duration of their lives. My grandmother, fondly known by many as Mama, was known for her welcoming smile and her hospitality. In addition to caring for her children and mothering many others, she worked the ground, growing much of their own food and also raising various animals, including goats and sheep. She was also known as the "neighborhood doctor." She could find the right blend of bushes and herbs to remedy any illness or pain. Then at night, she sewed and mended garments for other islanders.
My mom would sit at my grandmother's feet and read to her by lamplight as she sewed. At my grandmother's request, my mom would read passages from the Book of Matthew. Just days after my mom shared this, I discovered through a friend's email that it is in Matthew, Chapter 7, verse 7 that reads, "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you"—the spiritual principles that have shaped much of my life.
Most Anguillans completed their schooling by the age of thirteen during this time. My mom left home at the age of sixteen. She found work in cleaning houses on the neighboring island of Saint Martin-Sint Maarten. This very unique island, shared by two nations, is where I was born. Two-thirds of the island is owned by France. The Dutch side is governed by the Netherland Antilles. I was born on the French side.
My mom turned eighteen just two weeks before I was born. No one knew of her pregnancy until she was about nine months along. Shortly after my birth, my grandparents took me into their care. A little over a year later, my mom married a different man who I eventually came to know as my dad. I have never referred to him as a stepdad. He is the only father I have ever known. He did not step in for anyone. Together, they moved to St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.
My mom made short trips back and forth to see me and returned to Anguilla to give birth to my sister who is two and a half years younger. Then, at the age of four and a half, I was relocated to St. Thomas. I was told that this move was not only difficult for me, but also for my grandparents. While many of my summers were spent back in Anguilla, St. Thomas became my new home.
I always had difficulty with goodbyes, but never thought about how this aspect of my childhood affected me until my own daughter turned four. It was only then that I realized how difficult it must have been for a four and a half year old to be taken away from the only home she knew.
When I first learned of my history, it also disturbed me that I had been separated from my mother shortly after birth. I now see that she made the best possible decision for me. I recognize that I needed to spend my early years with my grandparents. I see their influence in the person I am today, my grandmother's love for the earth and her nurturing ways and my grandfather's gentle presence and desire for peaceful resolutions. There were also lessons I needed to learn from my mom and my dad, so my time with them was equally as important. It is also my rich and varied heritage that helps me to easily embrace the differences in others.
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Life's Messages: Take notice of how your world has unfolded. Recognize the significance of your heritage and early relationships. See how key persons have either led you closer to or away from your truest self.
Chapter TwoExpecting a Miracle
Author's Note: If you are grieving a recent loss, feel free at anytime to skip to the Life message at the end of this and any chapter. My intention with this chapter is to show you where I have been, so that you may see how my path has unfolded.
About two years ago, a dear friend introduced me to a book by Robert Lee Camp called "Cards of your Destiny." This fascinating book proposes that my birth card is the Queen of Hearts. It is referred to as the 'Loving Mother' card. It is the card of Mother Teresa, a woman I deeply respect. It also happens to be the birth card of my maternal grandmother who raised nine of her own children and cared for me and many others. So, it would seem that my destiny would be one of loving and nurturing children. Yet, this path has not been seamless.
The following poem captures how I felt in the days after the birth and death of our second daughter. Life seemed to go on for everyone else, but me. My husband found solace in continuing to see patients at our chiropractic wellness center. For me, the world seemed forever changed and I struggled to re-enter it.
The world seems different
at least that's how it appears
or maybe I now see more clearly.
Not only does sunlight seem brighter
but it also feels just a little bit warmer
or maybe I now feel more deeply.
Soft whispers echo louder
and at times, silence seems
or maybe I now listen more
The world has changed for me
but not for everyone else.
It seems a bit unfair
or maybe that's just how it's
meant to be.
The world seems different
but maybe it's the same world
and I ...
am a much different me.
"It looks like we're going to lose the battle with this one. I'm sorry." Those were the attending obstetrician's exact words. Those were the words that echoed as I spiraled into an unknown world filled with darkness. I was immediately immersed into what seemed like a dense fog. This was June 10, 2006. Our daughter, Jade Morgan, was born prematurely and lived just 1 hour 40 minutes. An ultrasound one week earlier had been normal and there were no apparent concerns. The only "explanation" for our pregnancy loss was spontaneous preterm labor.
That exact moment has replayed in my mind many times. It is a memory that cannot be erased. I remember looking down at my hands and gliding my thumbs along my fingers. I was so numb and needed to know that I could still feel something other than the piercing in my heart. Anything. My tears fell silently. In that moment, I really didn't know what to pray for...or what to hope for. Never before had I felt so powerless. I knew that she had come too soon ... too soon to be able to stay.
How could this really be happening? We had conceived even after making the decision to wait a few months before trying again. There had been two early miscarriages within the previous 6 months, one occurring only 6 weeks prior to suspecting this pregnancy. So, this was a much welcomed surprise.
Journal entry dated February 14, 2006...............Happy Valentine's Day! I'm pregnant again. I admit I'm a little scared given the previous miscarriages. I'm doing my best to let go, have faith and truly believe what is meant to be will be. This has to be the right time. Especially, since we had planned on waiting a few months before trying again. What a wonderful surprise. This is really a blessing ... one of life's miracles.
Seven weeks into this pregnancy, I began experiencing intense morning sickness. I welcomed this as a sign that my body was producing enough hormones to support the pregnancy and that this time everything would be fine. A week later I began to experience light spotting. A visit to my obstetrician's office revealed that my pregnancy hormone levels were still increasing normally. Another week later, I was admitted with moderate bleeding. An ultrasound detected a strong heart beat and determined that I was measuring at about 9 weeks gestation. I was released the following morning after being diagnosed with a subchorionic bleed and told that there was a 50% chance of miscarriage until the end of the first trimester.
After hearing this, I pleaded with God. I said, "If you are going to take this baby from me, please do it now." So when I was well into the second trimester, I was certain that this baby was mine to keep. I was told many times that some women have unexplained bleeding throughout their entire pregnancy and everything is fine.
At times, I wish that I hadn't been so docile. I did not ask if anything could be done. I did not yell. I did not scream. I did not tell them that I believed in miracles, if only they would try to save my baby. The attending obstetrician had explained that they didn't intubate before 24 weeks because the lungs were not developed enough. So, I just had to accept that there was no chance. No hope. Nothing.
Jade's arms and hands moved immediately after birth, but the nurse said it was just a reflex. Each time she listened and heard a heartbeat, I wondered just maybe they would re-consider and try to prolong her life. I was not able to consider the quality of her life. I couldn't imagine what my tomorrow would look like without her. How was I going tell everyone that my baby had died? One of my dearest friends was pregnant at the same time. Our due dates were only a month apart. How would I tell her?
At first I wasn't sure if I should hold our daughter. I knew I wanted to see her, but I did not know if I could hold her close and then let her go. A wonderful nurse didn't even ask, she just placed her in my arms and said "she is still your daughter." I will forever be grateful to her.
Journal entry dated September 3, 2006...................My dearest Jade, I held you, but still wonder if I held you long enough. I tried to memorize you, but I'm not sure if I concentrated hard enough. I told you that I loved you, but wonder if you felt my grief more than my love? Should I have prayed for a miracle or did I give up too soon? How could I have not realized I was in labor until it was too late? I didn't know what to pray for, so I didn't. Please forgive me. Please forgive me. I am thankful for the precious time your daddy and I had with you. I am thankful we gave you the name intended for you. I am thankful that we had you baptized. I am thankful that I held you as your daddy leaned over and kissed you. I am thankful that we have a picture of you. I am thankful that we met you even though we had to say good-bye so soon. I will love you always. I will never forget you. When people ask about our children, we will say we've had two beautiful daughters. One was taken too soon, but loved no less.
You lived, you were born and
Still your story seems so
My precious Jade, my precious
How could I ever forget?
You are my child today,
tomorrow and forever after.
I am grateful for that brief moment
I did not know that photographs would be taken. My initial thought was that a photo would be a painful reminder, so I chose not to accept any pictures when I first left the hospital. Less than a month later, the memory of her face began to fade. I called to see if I they had kept her pictures, which they had. I didn't want to wait to receive it in the mail, so I drove to the hospital to pick it up as soon as it was available. I appreciated that I could see her face again although it did re-awaken the intensity of the pain.
We held a private service and burial. The arrangements were made by other members of our family. She was buried alongside her great grandmother and a baby cousin who had passed 12 years earlier. I didn't journal on this day, so most of the details escape me. There are only two distinct memories. I recall having a sensation of floating as I made my way through the cemetery. I was not medicated, but felt as though my shadow was present in place of me. The other was a thought ... that I had never before seen a casket that small.
In the days that followed, I did take comfort in knowing that so many people held us in their thoughts and prayers. My mom, mother-in-law and an aunt wrote beautiful poems that touched me deeply. Someone wrote in a card that they believed our baby girl was "a little angel in the presence of God." I held on to these words with such might.
I love you, Mom and Dad so much; I need you both to know.
I wanted to stay with you, but in God's plan, I had to go.
I know that I am in your hearts, your love for me unending.
And here in heaven I can feel
the hugs and kisses you are sending.
We'll always have our moment, when dad
gently kissed my face.
And mom, the love I felt within your arms,
will never ever be replaced.
You'll feel me in a gentle breeze
I'll let you know when I am near.
So don't be sad, I'm happy here,
Where children laugh and love and play.
I'm Reagan's little Angel now.
I'll help to keep her safe from harm.
She'll hear me say "watch out for that."
I'll be her special heart alarm.
There is no pain or sadness here,
the angels all play with me.
We learn to fly on tiny wings
And Jesus holds us on his knee
So raise your eyes and smile each day
And when you smile just know
That every time you think of me,
My tiny wings will grow.
I was not alone in that horrible darkness. This was the first time I had ever seen my husband cry. His world was also spinning like never before. Yet, I felt very alone. I have a memory of him holding me, but I could not feel him. We both expressed how grateful we were for having each other and our then two-year old. Still, our loss threatened to tear us apart. I wanted to remember, while he wanted to forget. It took healing and combined effort for us to find each other again. We didn't realize it at the time, but we each had to heal in our own way.
There had been much anger and guilt in the months that followed. Most of this anger was directed at the obstetrician who had followed me through this pregnancy. Given my prior history, it was recommended that I use an obstetrician rather than a midwife. This seemed logical.
Excerpted from MESSAGES FROM WITHIN by Kathleen O'Malley Copyright © 2012 by Kathleen O'Malley. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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