It’s amazing to think that 2004 was 10 years ago.
In that year Tony Blair was Prime minister, the Olympics were held in Athens and the actor Christopher Reeve died. It was also the year that I set off with my husband for a slightly delayed ‘gap year’. First travelling to Uganda, to work as a doctor and nurse (sticking with the stereotypes) in a small clinic in the capital Kampala.
We then worked in Gisborne General for a couple of months, before travelling around New Zealand. As we loaded our backpacks for the journey home we heard news of the devastating Indian Ocean earthquake that rocked Indonesia and the world. The ensuing Tsunami was of incomprehensible magnitude, killing over a quarter of a million people.
On the final leg of our trip, we experienced some of the sights, smells and tastes of Australia and Thailand. When we alighted the plane in London, we were greeted by UK officials checking that no one on board had been in Thailand on Boxing Day. It was a stark reminder that while we were exploring and enjoying life, for many the world had changed immeasurably and forever.
Within a year, our own lives experienced a tectonic shift with catastrophic consequences. On 12th October 2005, our son was born limp and not breathing, leaving him with severe brain damage (Cerebral Palsy).
My heart broke, my emotions raged, my God seemed silent and my world began shrinking.
Eight years later I continue to feel as though I live in the aftermath of that day, with his growing body showing the life-long consequences of being starved of oxygen.
My life is unrecognisable from the dreams I once had, with the challenges of each day greater than I ever imagined.
At times, I feel I am held in the shadow lands of another world unknown to many; with my precious, beautiful, little boy and the relentless, persistent burden of loving and caring for him.
I am on a journey and road most people are sheltered from and oblivious to. It is as though I now travel through life carrying a permanent backpack.
Some people don’t notice my burden while others look the other way by saying,
He’s such a happy boy; isn’t he lovely?
Then there are friends who think they know exactly what my rucksack contains and what it is like to carry it.
But they are mistaken.
This backpack is unique to me and mothers like me.
The weight of this backpack I carry changes.
When I go to the park it is loaded down with the disappointment of not getting to enjoy the slide; when at the beach it’s sadness at missing out on the ice cream.
When holding my son I’m weighed down with the grief of knowing he cannot see my face or hold me in return.
My backpack contains the pain of my own missed dreams and never hearing my son say ‘Mum’. During days with nieces and nephews, it digs into my shoulders and throbs with the ache of fantasies about what could have been.
On days out I’m crippled by places that are inaccessible and facilities that are inadequate. Every day my rucksack is plagued with sleep deprivation, the heavy labour of lifting and doing everything and anything my son requires.
With time and training, I carry my backpack a little more easily. I regularly examine its contents and make sure there isn’t anything in there I can’t remove. Yet there are days it is heavy and cumbersome, making life feel broken and shackled.
But I have hope. There is hope that comes from the beauty of a mosaic, created out of shattered tiles. I hope that as I piece together the shattered elements of my life and dreams, they can be fashioned into something more elegant and beautiful than their broken parts.
My memoir, The Skies I’m Under, about becoming a mum, having my world turned upside down and piece life back together is out now on Amazon.