Monday, November 26, 2007

Joy follows despair

Watching her son seek out puddles, it is impossible for Jane Hansen to allow herself to feel unmitigated joy as the shadow of grief is never far away.

The former television journalist and foreign correspondent who has travelled the world reporting from war zones across the globe admits the last seven years of her life have left her feeling “war weary and that’s not from war zones”.

While visiting her parents at their Caloundra home, Jane, a resident of Sydney, talked about her new book Three Seasons, which chronicles her rise up the competitive ladder of her career to her nightmarish, and ultimately bittersweet, journey to motherhood.

After five years of pregnancies, Jane and her husband Andrew Fisher had lost one child through miscarriage, another, Thomas, who was stillborn and a third, Jackson, who died at eight-and-a-half months after an heroic struggle to survive the complications of being born 14 weeks premature.

Samuel, now two-and-a-half, is the miracle the couple waited for, and while he has brought them infinite joy, the grief and guilt of Thomas and Jackson will not wrest itself free from Jane’s psyche.

“I can just sit for hours and watch Samuel,” Jane, 42, said. “He is a great time-waster in that regard. He has just started to really talk, too. But for every milestone he reaches, I can’t help but think that Jackson didn’t reach that milestone.

“I think about Jackson every day and I know I will do that for the rest of my life. It’s coming up to what would have been his fourth birthday and I wonder how something can hurt so much for so long.

“But I keep telling myself you have to find a life that’s worth living and lived well. I have to keep reminding myself that he fought hard for life. I have a life and I have to live it and honour him. That said I will always feel ripped off.”

Three Seasons is uncompromisingly honest. Jane talks about her decision to delay starting a family with Andrew because the excitement of a career she worked so hard for was too delicious a temptation.

She found herself in the middle of military coups and wandered war zones, dodging bombs and landmines, never thinking becoming a mother would one day become the greatest challenge of her life.

When she found herself pregnant while covering the allied invasion of Afghanistan, Jane knew her life was about to change, but could never have guessed how. Ten weeks later she miscarried.

Seven months down the track and Jane again found herself pregnant. It was just 19 weeks later that Andrew and Jane were organising a funeral for Thomas who was stillborn.

When she was 22 weeks pregnant with Jackson the following year, Jane was diagnosed as having an “incompetent cervix” and began a new roller coaster of emotion.

Despite the further complication of a ruptured membrane at 26 weeks, Jane’s Christmas miracle stayed in the comfort of the womb until December 13 and the first time she was able to hold him was Christmas Eve, 2003.

Because he was 14 weeks premature, weighing a mere 958 grams, Jackson was born with under-developed lungs.

“I’m feeling very sad today that my body let you down and you found yourself out in the world far too soon,” Jane wrote in a dairy she kept for her son.

Jackson fought hard and clung to life, eventually improving enough to be allowed home with his parents in April. But the joy was short-lived and within weeks, the fragile baby was back in hospital.

When he died in August, Jackson had been at home for just six weeks. The rest of his life was a struggle to breathe and grow. His parents, touched by their angel, would never again be the same.

“I could taste the bitterness in my soul,” Jane wrote in Three Seasons and, later on in the book admitted to having “a morbid fear of being bitter and angry”.

But aware that age and time were against them, the couple was determined to have a family and within four months, Jane found she was again pregnant.
“Some days it was very hard,” she wrote in Three Seasons.

“I still mourned Jackson so intensely and the pregnancy hormones made me teary. I had hope though.”

At 17 weeks, Jane was pulled out of the hustle and bustle of life and confined to bed for the safety of the baby. Samuel was born at full term, in July, 2005 a healthy, robust 3.2 kilograms.

While she revels in joy and wonderment at being a mother to Samuel, Jane said she still struggles daily with her grief for Jackson and her guilt.

“When a child dies, at a gut instinct level, you blame yourself and wonder what you could have done differently,” she said.

“Most of us think we have some control over our body, but you don’t. Your body can let you down. I will always feel guilt about my body. So much conspired against Jackson. It’s just so unfair.

“Every aspect of your life falls apart when a child dies and then you have to put it all back together again. When I think of the changes, that’s when I kind of feel weary.

“And I have plenty of regrets but it serves no purpose beating yourself up about it. I have beaten myself up for the last couple of years because guilt is such an integral part of grief. I am so sick of doing that but I still have the ’what ifs’.

“You have to make a decision to stop thinking like that at some point. I have been down that path and it only makes me more sad. At some point you have to accept it or you will go mad.”

Despite dealing with the competing emotions of grief and joy, Jane said she felt compelled to write her book, squeezing in the work between Samuel’s naps.

“In my dark days I read a lot and I got the best advice and insight from people who had written their journeys about their grief,” Jane recalled.

“I think people feel they have to go underground with their grief because other people get weary of it. Closure is for other people. But sometimes you need to know what other people have gone through.

“There are no solutions to these things; it’s just a case of accepting it slowly.

“I am still bitter and angry but I need to work through it and I am giving myself time.

“That said though, I laugh every day when I look at Sam. I can just sit and watch him for hours.”


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