Ellie, Jane, Sam
“I won the game and I’ve never played Risk since and I refuse to.”
Ellie says enduring her pregnancy with Ada is the bravest thing she’s ever done.
“If you define a real kind of hero action as being someone putting their own health aside in order to save someone else’s life, that is literally what I did when I was pregnant with Ada,” she says.
This was not an unplanned pregnancy.
“We wanted to have a baby… I was really enjoying your kids and Julie’s kids and I always wanted to be a mum.”
Ellie was in her late twenties and the time felt right. She had reservations about how she’d cope—“but I didn’t expect it would go that badly”.
In the second month of trying, Ellie did a pregnancy test. Pre-natal depression hit the moment she saw it was positive, and got progressively worse.
I ask about her reaction to not being pregnant the previous month. “I was relieved,” she recalls.
“I almost said to Rob, ‘That’s a bit of a worry, maybe we shouldn’t try again’.”
* * *
Rob supported Ellie completely throughout the pregnancy. He didn’t try to rationalise away her anxiety, he didn’t burden her with his own fears, he just helped her however he possibly could.
“He went with me to all of the medical appointments and he was my rock, in any doctors’ appointments—he would stay calm and rational and he could question anything.
“I asked him to do all the reading,” she says. “He read everything because I couldn’t read it, I couldn’t face it, and then he told me what I had to know in small bits of information and that managed the sense of feeling overwhelmed.”
Ellie felt like she was trapped on an unstoppable train she couldn’t get off, she says. It was horrifying.
“The only way I could manage it was really in these tiny baby steps, taking it literally one day at a time and getting through one day, and he helped me do that.”
It didn’t help that she was nauseous most of the time, iron deficient, and underweight.
“When you’re on the floor feeling like you’re going to puke your guts up all day, it’s hard to be in a happy frame anyway, so that just made it way more difficult to deal with the mental stuff.”
* * *
Ellie thought about abortion most days.
A psychiatrist told her she had medical grounds for one, and because they hadn’t announced the pregnancy, she wouldn’t even have to explain what had happened.
“Mum and Rob were saying, ‘You know you could do this and we will support you,’ and they would have supported me one hundred per cent.
“I got a leaflet about it, and I was on the floor, sobbing, and I wanted to die.
“But I couldn’t do it. I’d been to an eight week scan, I’d seen the heartbeat, and I knew that it wasn’t that I didn’t want a baby, it was that I didn’t want to be pregnant.
“I knew that if I did it, once all that hormonal stuff had gone and I was in my right mind again, I would never, ever forgive myself, I knew that I had to continue cos I wasn’t rational.”
She realised just how irrational she was being when she caught herself wishing she had cancer instead because, “there’s a medical legitimacy about being upset about cancer, whereas there isn’t about pregnancy”.
“When I heard myself say that—‘I wish I had a terminal illness instead of being pregnant’—I went, ‘Right, this is obviously not rational at all at any level. I can’t choose to end a pregnancy based on irrational thoughts’.”
She did Rob proud.
We talk about how long nine months can be.
“Oh my God. You know you’ve got that stretching out ahead of you… and then not knowing how I’d cope with a baby, so not even knowing if I’d be better then.”
The fact people associate pregnancy with joy made it particularly difficult.
“The whole ‘pregnancy isn’t an illness’—that pisses me off,” she says.
“You have all the symptoms that an ill person has and yet you’re told, ‘no, just get on with it’. That attitude was one of the most difficult ones to deal with.”
If more people had acknowledged how difficult it could be, she might not have struggled with quite as much guilt over not feeling happy, which is why she talks about it now, she says.
The psychiatrist Ellie saw prescribed anti-depressants, which at least evened out her mood.
“I was always anti-medication, because I always felt that I could deal without it and I felt that was a point of pride—that I didn’t need the medication—which I can see now is really silly.
“There’s nothing wrong with going, ‘I need this to cope’, and it was desperation; it was literally take the tablets or kill myself, so I took the tablets.”
* * *
“I think I was just hurting so much I couldn’t identify where the pain was coming from anymore.”
The idea of returning to an abusive relationship to avoid regret strikes me as darkly ironic, but that’s what Jane did.
There was no need to move possessions—Brian hadn’t let her take anything when she left—so she simply walked back in.
She could tell he was surprised to see her. Then she noticed lipstick on his shirt.
“He was like, ‘Oh, it must have pressed against a chair’.
“I knew then,” Jane says. “My heart was hardening. I realised then he had the leopard spots and he would never change, and never want to.”
Even so, she didn’t leave immediately.
* * *
“I remember hurting all the time… it was emotional, in my chest, and I remember one day hurting so much that I went out to the kitchen. And I had pondered on killing myself a few times, quite a few times.”
The thing that stopped her was always thinking about how upset and confused her family would be.
“Because no one understood what was going on, nobody knew. He was such a charismatic fun-loving person socially.
“Anyway, I finally realised the only way I could do it was to do it quickly and severely and finally, and that was to cut my throat so that there was no chance of recovery. It got to the point that it actually brought me such great joy and release, the idea of being dead, the idea of ending all of this.
“I walked out in the hallway, I walked into the kitchen, I put my hand in the drawer, and I was fumbling around for the biggest, sharpest knife and this image came up in front of me and it was just like, ‘Dammit, I can’t see, where’s this knife?’
“I was getting so frustrated, because I couldn’t find this knife and I was so desperate and it was going to be now that I was going to kill myself, and it was an image of me being in a coffin and it being lowered into the ground, and all my friends and family standing around and bawling their eyes out, and Brian being there, crying, and everyone giving him sympathy.
“And I just thought, ‘Dammit! I can’t give that bastard the satisfaction of crying over my grave’.”
The image saved her life and in a strange way, gave her courage.
“It helped me to take small steps to keep going through life.”
Jane, wasn’t at all religious, yet she attributed the experience to God.
“For a few months I’d been crying out to God and begging God for help,” she explains. “I thought God must have shown me that sign, because I’m not normally a person who has images or hears voices or anything like that.”
She left Brian soon after; this time, for good.
* * *
At the same time, her interest in God grew.
“I started praying to God and going, ‘What do I do from here? I don’t know who I am or that I’m worthy of being here.’
“I was studying massage at the time, and I was coming up to an anatomy and physiology exam, and my head was so scrambled with everything that had been happening, I couldn’t concentrate or retain anything, and for some reason, Scott kept coming to mind.
Scott was a nurse she’d met through Brian by the side of a cycle race once.
“He gave a sarcastic looking smirk… my first impression of Scott was wanting to slap him across the face, and the only reason I ever spoke to him again was so that he wouldn’t have the satisfaction of knowing he’d got up my nose.
“I just thought, why would God—if this was God—put him in my mind? He was friends with Brian, and he was too obnoxious, and where on earth would I find out where to find him, and why would I anyway?
“Anyway, after the second or third time I thought, ‘Well, God—I think it was God—got me out of the last thing, maybe this is something’.”
She looked him up in the phonebook and gave him a call. “I was so embarrassed. I said, ‘You can laugh at me and hang up the phone if you want, but I need some help. I’m studying for an anatomy and physiology exam and for some reason you keep coming to mind—can you help me?’”
He knew who she was immediately, even though they’d only met twice. “I don’t know if you want to write this bit, but he said he remembered me because I used to have a cute butt and wear almost see-through pants! That didn’t come out for a long time, until we were dating, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they weren’t see-through, they were just really worn because Brian wouldn’t let me buy any other pants!’ Anyway, apparently that was appealing. I was size six at the time.”
Scott rocked up that day with a great big pile of nursing books and helped Jane to study. Thanks to him, she passed her exam.
As they got to know each other, she realised Scott, who was a Christian, was praying for her. He later admitted he’d had “the whole church” praying for her at one stage, which would explain why, when she first went along, complete strangers seemed to know who she was.
* * *
The Christian thing took time. “There were times when I really prayed for God to help me and he did—there were prayers so clearly answered.
“But as the night would fall and I had insomnia and everything else… it was like the darkness pulling me back into a very deep, dark hole and it was just, it was such a struggle to keep taking those steps forward towards the light.
“With all I knew and all I’d grown up with and experienced, it was still familiar and it was still me, so it was just a really, really hard struggle from there on for a while.”
Meanwhile, her friendship with Scott developed. He was part of a group that went camping, hiking and mountain biking, and he’d often invite her along.
At some point, she realised she was falling in love with him.
“I was actually really cranky with God,” Jane says.
“I went, ‘God, I don’t want to fall for anybody else, I don’t want to go through that, I am so satisfied with having a relationship with you’. And I was actually pissed off… ‘Don’t let me go through this, don’t let me hurt,’ so it was a real step of faith and an enormous amount of trust in God to be able to love someone again.”
* * *
I like researching things and learning about things, but I don’t necessarily like educational pedagogy because, who gives a shit?”
I ask Sam if he’s up for telling me the hardest thing he’s been through. “I don’t know. The end of Sydney was a hard time… It was a weird time,” he says.
I remember now, he went there after a rough break-up, ostensibly to turn the Arts degree he got in Hobart into a teaching degree. He didn’t do much study, but he was involved in a study—he ended up smoking so much pot that he joined a clinical trial on its effects.
Smoking pot was just a way of perpetually putting things off, he says. “It wasn’t any fun, it was just.. I don’t know.”
He wanted to escape uni, but he didn’t want to drop out, so he stopped going to classes, stopped handing in assignments, and waited for them to kick him out.
“Yeah, I don’t know what I was doing, just going crazy, I think.”
I remember the smoking upset Anita, and ask whether he stopped because he’d started seeing her.
It wasn’t just for her, he says, though she was part of it. Also, he hasn’t completely stopped.
“I still do sometimes, but not like it was before. Not as a crutch like it was, just for fun sometimes, and that’s all right, I think.”
* * *
One of the biggest differences between Sam and Anita is that she doesn’t really like socialising with lots of people, and is “deliberately” pessimistic, he says.
“I’m a little bit stressy about some things, but she’s really quite stressy about a lot of things, and sometimes assumes the worst possible outcome.
“I try to have a positive attitude about things and, you know, consider the best case scenario, and she’s the opposite to that.
“I think she said once, which makes no sense to me, ‘I like to imagine—say we’re going out to a restaurant—it’s not going to be good, it’s going to be a crap restaurant, it’s going to be really disappointing’.
“And I say, ‘I just think it’s going to be good, why would you say it’s going to be crap?’—I don’t even know if it was a restaurant, it’s just an example—and she said, ‘I like to assume the worst so that I’m pleasantly surprised’ whereas, I don’t know, I don’t see any point to that.
“It’s just a bit sort of negative. But anyway, that’s different.
“About the stressy thing, I get stressed about some things,” he admits. “If I check my uni email, for example, I do get a bit of a racing… I find it quite stressful.” I wait for more examples but no, that seems to be all that Sam can think of right now.
Then he tells me about something he doesn’t stress about and in fact really likes. I mentioned it earlier but it bears repeating: “I love going to a party where I don’t really know anyone there.”
My initial response is shock, then I remember who I’m talking to.
Yeah, but can’t you understand why other people find it hard? I ask.
“No, because it’s easy!”
Incredibly, once Ada was born, Ellie’s depression “switched off”.
“It was almost instant: I’m not pregnant. Thank God I’m not pregnant anymore.
“I was so tired, she was born at like 2am. I’d been induced—you know what that’s like—I was exhausted.
“I just wanted to sleep, and they would not let me sleep because I was very close to haemorrhaging… they nearly took me to theatre, they had to stitch me up and I was just lying there going, ‘I just want you all to get out’—but I didn’t sleep that night.”
I ask how she thinks Rob survived the preceding nine months. By being a robot? “That’s Rob’s normal state,” Ellie says. “He shut off emotionally.”
But then I remember how scared he was for her. “Yeah, but he could never let it overwhelm him because I was the one being overwhelmed.
“He could acknowledge that he was scared and he was out of his depth, but he had to hold it together for me because if he hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t be here. And he knew that, so I think he just shut it off as much as he could.”
I suggest Ellie is being braver still to contemplate a second pregnancy, knowing what could happen.
“I know—eyes wide open,” she says. “But even if I think it will happen again, I don’t think it will happen in the same way because I’ve got a reminder every day with Ada, of the amazing outcome.
“I didn’t know that you could love someone like that and now I know. And I think that that’ll help; it won’t stop it, but it will help.”
* * *
I’m surprised to hear Ellie has never actually had a typical anxiety “attack”.
“You know, what you read about with the not being able to breathe, that whole physical process I’ve not had, no, and yet I would say I’m always operating in a heightened state of anxiety. It’s exhausting. There’s always that track going on in my mind over-thinking things or thinking I’m doing something wrong or over-analysing.”
Can she rationalise her way out? “I can try and it can work for a few seconds—‘Calm down, stop being silly’—but it always kind of creeps back.”
I wonder whether being a mum has made Ellie more anxious, or less.
Neither, she says, it’s just different.
“I read this quote before I was even pregnant that when you have a child it’s like your heart is walking around outside your body. And it is like that for me.
“The absolute worst thing that could happen for me is for something bad to happen to her, and that is sometimes out of my control.
“I used to be really scared of dying; I’d lie awake at night. I remember being the age of twelve when it first happened, and I’d lie awake at night petrified of death, and now the only reason I’d be scared to die is it would mean leaving her. I’m not scared of death itself anymore because she would still be existing.”
I ask what it is about death that frightened her so much. It wasn’t nothingness, she says, but non-existence.
“It’s the fact that I am stopping existing… I’m going to know in the lead-up, and I know that one day I’m not going to exist at any level.” Come to think of it, it does still scare her.
“But I think because Ada’s a part of me and I know she’s going to exist beyond that, it’s not as scary now,” she says.
“I know my consciousness isn’t in her, but because I think she’s better than me, I’ve created something better than me; that’s comforting.”
I ask how Rob losing his faith in Christianity affected Ellie.
She says she always wanted to believe in a God, especially because of her fear of death, but deep down, she never really did.
“Rob knew that when we got together—and he knew I was open to it; I wasn’t at all putting down Christianity, and I’d never been that way, so he didn’t see it as being a problem for us to be together.
“When he decided that wasn’t for him… it was partly a relief, because I was like, I can let go of it; if you’re letting go of it, I can let go of it.
“It is confusing to me, but he was never really a strong Christian from when I met him. We didn’t go to church; if I ever said, ‘We don’t really pray together, we don’t read the bible,’ it was me bringing it up, it wasn’t him. So in that way, not a lot has changed.
“I tried. I tried the religious route, it didn’t work. I’ll never say there is no God because to me you can’t prove that there isn’t one, so I think I’ve just got to accept it. That goes against my anxious nature; I’m not big on accepting things, but with that particular big issue, I think I’m okay with going, I don’t know, I can’t know.”
I imagine a God who, despite making us, doesn’t care to speak—to know us, or be known—and ask Ellie what gives her comfort.
“The people that I love… my family and my really close friends. Rob, my parents, Ada; mostly Ada, these days.” Her love for Ada would keep her going through anything, she says.
Jane and Scott got married in 2004. The proposal, she says, was a surprise. “Because I’d come out of such a bad financial situation with Brian and walked away from everything and even had a debt still for things that I didn’t have… I felt that I didn’t have anything to even offer in a marriage.
“But I decided that I loved him that much that I couldn’t let him go to someone else, so I either had to make the decision to love and keep him and have a relationship with him or just to walk away and be able to step back and watch him fall in love with someone else.
“I got to the two-year point in the relationship and decided that in another six months’ time if he hadn’t proposed to me then, I would propose to him and if he said ‘no’ I would just walk away and be okay with that—not really, but deal with that. Anyway, I think within a month he proposed to me.
“We went to one of our favourite waterholes on the Gold Coast… We were going swimming and it’s freezing cold up there and he said, ‘Okay we’ll count to three and we’ll dive in’.
“I dived in, eels and all—there were eels in there.” She wasn’t impressed to see Scott still standing by the edge. “I didn’t know he was actually tucking the ring in behind his pants to dive in to swim across to propose to me.”
It was so cold that when they climbed onto a rock and he proposed, Jane was physically speechless. “He proposed to me and I was shaking so much I couldn’t actually say y-y-y-yes.”
* * *
Three years into their marriage, Jane went to Cambodia for three-and-a-half months to do her final field placement.
She went with a fellow social worker and with the support of a Christian organisation. They identified a strong need to develop basic counselling skills among local counsellors.
“Over there, you don’t necessarily need a degree to be a social worker; you’re just hired into the role as a general person and then that’s what you do, so there’s not a lot of skills provided. But there’s not a lot of options. So our role was more or less delivering basic counselling skills and techniques, so training the trainers.”
I ask what kind of mistakes people were making before they received training. Some were telling clients how they should be feeling, rather than accepting their experiences, others weren’t really listening, partly because they were so uncomfortable with what they were hearing—especially when it involved horrors like child trafficking.
Their work was deeply appreciated and rewarding. A couple of times Jane told Scott, “If you were here I probably wouldn’t come back”, but he wasn’t, so she did.
* * *
Jane’s husband is no stranger to trauma. Through his work as a paramedic, he’s involved in the most traumatic moments in people’s lives on a regular basis. His idea of an emergency is very different to your idea of an emergency. If you don’t believe me, consider “the Bamix incident”.
It happened while the family was interstate visiting Jane’s mother, who was seriously ill. It was the end of a long, draining day, and Jane was pureeing some food while Scott was out with the kids.
“I was so exhausted I wasn’t thinking straight… I went to grab a spoon and the draw was empty. I was just juggling too many things and without thinking I used my finger. My other hand was still on the button.”
The Bamix went off.
“There was blood all up the walls, over the floor, through all the food. I’m sitting there, trying to grab something to stop the blood. There were no tissues, there was no cloth anywhere. Anyway, I finally got Scott on the phone.
She told him she’d just chopped her finger off (only a slight exaggeration) and that he had to come back. His response was, “Really?”.
“I don’t know if he hurried or not; he came back in the door… I’m still trying to hold my finger and it’s throbbing it’s so painful and I’m not breathing properly, and he just says, ‘Jane, cut it out, breathe properly; take a breath, I’m not going to look at it till you breathe properly’.
“I’m like, ‘It’s really hurting’, he’s like, ‘I’m sure it is, but I’m not going to look at it till you’re breathing properly’ and I showed him and he wanted to touch it and I’m like ‘No, don’t touch it!’ I could already see it parting, I said, ‘You need to get me to the hospital!’
“He’s like, ‘Hang on, let me decide that… Let me assess it, and until you calm down, I won’t’.”
After taking a look, Scott agreed they should go to the hospital, but not before feeding the kids. Jane was incredulous. After what felt like hours, they arrived at the hospital.
“When we got there they took one look at me and said, ‘We think we need a wheelchair for you, you’re looking really pale, are you okay?’ and ‘How come it took so long for you to get here?’,” Jane says.
Luckily for Scott, she’s laughing as she tells the story, and can see the incident from his perspective too.
“I think the thing that upset him the most is I said, ‘You have to hurry, I’ve chopped my finger off!’ and he’s like, ‘The amount of people that say they’ve chopped their finger off and you get there and they haven’t,’ and the other thing is, ‘Nobody’s ever died from a chopped-off finger’.”
Yes, she was in pain, but no, “he didn’t see it as an emergency”.
* * *
About eight years before Jane and Scott moved to Tasmania, they came here for a holiday.
They returned to the Gold Coast and told all of their friends they were going to move to Tasmania, and they meant it. “But we had some family circumstances come up that really needed our support,” Jane says, and they forgot about their plans.
“It wasn’t till I was at home on maternity leave and James was six months old that I sat there and thought, why are we doing this? This was never where we wanted to be, and how are we supposed to ever teach our children to strive for their dreams if we can’t?
“So I said to Scott, ‘Why aren’t we following our dream?’
“Two weeks later he came home from work and said, ‘Oh, I’ve applied for Tasmania’.”
I suddenly remember I haven’t seen Sam since he and Anita got engaged and congratulate him. He proposed on their eight year anniversary.
“Yeah, no, I had been thinking about it for a while, but it’s a funny thing because it’s not going to change anything, you know what I mean, it’s just something you do.
“I had been planning it for a while but only in a kind of back-of-my-mind kind of thing, really.”
According to Anita, he didn’t actually ask, just held up the ring and shrugged in a very Sam kind of way.
“Well, yeah. You don’t need to speak, it’s pretty obvious.
“But I did ask her, when she prompted me, and that was fine.”
Anita’s also told me that Sam isn’t having a best man or any groomsmen, because he has far too many to choose from, and that he’s already invited half of Hobart to the reception. Everyone’s going to be there, from the casual staff at the bottle shop to Sam and Anita’s plumber. I think about the number of friends he’s likely to make and invite between now and January. This is going to be huge.
* * *
Sam’s parents are high achievers. His Dad went straight into academia after finishing honours in law and became Dean of the faculty at the age of thirty-one.
His mum studied psychology, has “been in the bureaucracy forever”, and was some kind of high-up director for a while.
“They never applied any pressure,” Sam says. “Maybe things would be different if they had but I don’t know, you can’t force those things.”
I ask if he wishes he’d been more studious.
“Yeah, well I wish that I had so I’d be finished with it now and getting on with things, because I’m still trying to just struggle through it. Whereas if I’d just applied myself for a solid four years or whatever it is, I’d be done by now.”
I realise the question I should have asked is whether he regrets his time at university.
“Yeah, I mean I sort of wish I hadn’t studied any of it in a way. Mainly the reason I want to finish it is I’ve started it already and I’ve got a big HECS debt, that sort of stuff. But definitely with the first time round with an Arts degree, I just did because it seemed like, not the easiest option but maybe the best fit for me, but for no other reason than to get a degree. A bit of paper. And I wish I hadn’t done that.
“I’m not exactly a go-getter,” Sam says. “I like to coast along. “But I tell you, I think I live a pretty comfortable life for someone who’s not a go-getter.”
This is largely thanks to Anita, he notes.
Sam and Anita live in a beautiful old house which they’ve painstakingly renovated with her parents’ help over several years. “I have worked hard, but I’ve worked the least out of everyone,” he admits.
He’s not quite as slack as he used to be, though.
“I think sometimes I do make more of an effort to get on with things. I wouldn’t have been doing uni at all if I hadn’t been able to do that.
“And I couldn’t have popped that question. Because it’s just easy to keep coasting along and things could have just kept going the way they were, forever, really.
“So maybe that’s something I’ve changed.”
* * *
Sam admits he’s kind of sentimental. He wouldn’t want to throw out any of his old toys and recently bought a Beatrix Potter book from an op-shop because he’d lost his childhood copy and wants his kids to have it one day.
“Now I’m getting clucky for you to have babies!” I say—out loud, apparently.
“No, not yet,” he says hurriedly.
Poor Sam, but I can’t help it—I ask if he’s excited by the prospect.
“Yep,” he says, not looking the least bit excited.
Is he impatient?
“Nup. Not really,” he says, not looking the least bit impatient.
Later, he says that when he does have kids, he will tell them to “just do whatever they want”.
“You know what I mean. No one ever told me that… I always thought you had to finish high school and then go to uni and then do a job, but you don’t.”
* * *
Sam isn’t ambitious, and why would he be? He doesn’t have any great worries or fears; he lives in a nice part of the world, in a nice house, with a very nice girl. If he has any regrets it’s starting a university degree, but he doesn’t let it get him down. He enjoys making friends and making them laugh, and making good food and eating it, and does all these things well.
I wonder if he ever worries or thinks about death. “No, I never think about that stuff,” he says. “If there is something to fear it’s a drawn-out, painful death, but the actual act itself, it’s just a fact of life.”
Sam says there are other places in the world he’d love to live in for a year or two, but he wouldn’t want to settle down anywhere but Tasmania.
“I think I would like to live here forever.”