Finding your smile again

You have taught me the beauty in the sunshine

Shown me the delicate secrets of the midnight hour

You have revealed the wonders of a bird’s song

And the majesty of a wiggling worm
You have made it clear that life is a precious gift not to squander
Among the dismal heap of tears laughter echoes
Lydia Berry, written Christmas Eve 2014

There’s a beautifully illustrated children’s book Poppy and I stumbled across in the library called Augustus and His Smile  by Catherine Rayner. It follows the simple story of a tiger trying to find his smile again and is well worth a read with your little ones. He finds his joy in the little things and the free things . The patter of the rain; the birdsong in the trees; a heavenward gaze to the stars. All these things are timeless, peace-giving and cosmically bigger than us.

Learning to smile again
Learning to smile again

I too, through the experience of losing my first child in such a traumatic and dramatic way, have taken solace over the last five years in nature, in the quiet, in the beautiful landscape of my local Cotswolds. It calms me to focus on the detail of the clouds being blown by the wind across the brown and green fields or to witness the majesty of sunlight shafts filtering down through the haze to the ground. I see Evelyn in the gentle flutter of a butterfly or tiny bird which I tell myself is her reassuring me she’s ok; I find peace in the memorising pattern of a flower’s petals and delight in watching the meandering trickle of a stream.

Feeling connected to the earth somehow makes me feel connected to that perennial motherhood that I now belong to. I feel I wear the guise of mummy awkwardly after such a horrific graduation and it’s ill-fitting mantle troubles me that I could not assume my new role with the ease I was expecting. I was brutally forced into a motherhood of pain and loss right at the moment of triumph when my baby should have entered the world being joy and tears of happiness. I have not gotten peace yet with how I first become a mother.

A smooth and bright cape of Super-Mum was hanging ready for me to lift down and don proudly – I am Evelyn’s mother, fierce for my child. For me, I felt this was trampled on, destroyed and in its place a lumpy, ugly garbage bag was tied around my neck as I gazed upon her lifeless body for the first time. The first time I ever properly saw her, she took no breath, made no cry and did not open her eyes to look at her mummy. I had to live with the exposure to baby loss and the raw grief consumed me like the grim reaper’s cloak.

I have fought very hard to regain any sense of peace in my mind and to regain a sense of a new normal, for the former status quo can never be recovered. I am still trying to pick over my first experience of birth to find any joy, any goodness or wonder; anything I can cling onto to say proudly that I brought Evelyn into this world. To separate her from the manner of her death is a constant struggle. Both her shoulders became severally suck when she was crowning and she was unable to be born for 7 long minutes. My body, in the act of giving her life, prevented it. It is a sick irony that has no meaning I can fathom and yet I feel it hangs over me, a black mark against my motherhood credentials. It goes directly against nature so I try to forge the link back to make myself feel less of a killer and take my rightful place as a proud mummy to two daughters. I’ll get there…

How and where do you find joy? It’s important to find out for your own well-being, despite the struggles and our experiences, our guilt and our loss, parents like us deserve peace and happiness as much as anyone else. I found this interesting article you might like to to consider when thinking about what does make you happy. We can feel out of practice when we have been sad for so long.

Check out: Psychology Today: what’s your joy

Until next time, do what you can to find your smile again. (And now you know where I got my inspiration from for this sign-off!)

Lydia x

Evie’s garden

First anniversary

Evie’s garden

A sanctuary instead of a bleak graveside –

changing over time to our needs.

A silent witness to our grief.

Watered with a million tears, it repays our sorrow with spring buds and bursts of colour.

Pink heather in bloom 2015

Reminding us everything lays dormant for a time,

where growing and rejuvenation occurs out of sight.

Purple star

Easily mistaken for a wasteland.

In the blink of an eye – a life time for some – life sprouts forth,

injecting the air with purples, yellows, pinks and blues like sprightly statues of youth and vigour.

Stoutly refusing to give in to the rain and wind that occasionally pounds the English countryside where my baby lies.

Daffodils

Poppy at Evie's garden eating the strawberries that grow there
Poppy at Evie’s garden eating the strawberries that grow there

Consequences of losing a child – have I changed?

This is something I got obsessed with – how I’d changed or not because of what happened was a constant newsreel in my head. Every decision about jobs, reactions to family and in particular the parenting of my second daughter has been scrutinised as part of my ritual need to see proof of the awful consequences of Evie dying.

Something that unfolds over time are the multitude of consequences of losing my first child. Many are obvious but many more are often only really apparent as the months and years march on.

  • Having our second daughter so soon after our first
  • Having a c-section with our second pregnancy rather than natural
  • Withdrawing from our social lives
  • Going on antidepressants
  • Countless sleepless nights
  • A general  feeling of “everything is out to get me” and anxiety

These are some of the consequences of losing Evie. They are a mixture of negative, necessary and inevitable consequences of such a bereavement and not all of them are long-lasting or permanent, I can see that now. It’s the permanent ones that interest me the most, as they will be the permanent mark on my life that show how I’ve altered as a result of losing my first baby.

I do feel at times like I’m playing make-believe

I do feel at times like I’m playing make-believe, that this title of mummy is temporary and when the grown ups come back I’ll have to take off the heels that are too big and set aside the dressing up clothes of parents to rejoin the ranks of the immature. I don’t feel qualified to do this children malarkey and in some ways that is a good thing because it keeps me on my toes and fresh to adapting my parenting style to be to best I possibly can.

However I also feel like this parenting gig is temporary because I know the harsh reality of how precious life is, how short and how easily it can be lost. There is a big part of me that still thinks – “how long will I get to keep Poppy for?” “how long can the dream last?”. I still think it could all be taken away, she could die and I be back with nothing again. Just because I’ve had an awful thing happen once doesn’t mean it can’t happen again. I shouldn’t be so presumptuous to assume I can have what I want when it comes to having children. For those of us who live this reality of having our worst fear actually happen to us, we know how perpetual fear and anxiety of potential bad things happening to our children takes its toll on our souls and state of mind.

When Poppy was first-born I genuinely thought to keep her here it was my job to be close at all times and some how keep her heart pumping and her lungs breathing. It was exhausting. As the months have turned to years and she has proven she can stay alive I have slowly relaxed… slowly. I believed that if I stayed vigilant, alert and anticipated any and every potential illness, accident, bump and cough I was doing my duty to protect from harm my living child as I couldn’t with my first.

The truth is that you can never do it enough – and it doesn’t work. They still get ill, fall over, get hit by another child and bang into tables despite your best efforts. The best we can do is find a balance between our heightened sense of anxiety about our children’s health and well-being and a “normal” amount of worry. We have to tell ourselves we know the likelihood of them catching meningitis is small so don’t spend time every day worrying but make sure you know the signs. Remind ourselves we know they will very likely fall over when they are learning to walk, put pillows down, be with them and rub any bumped knees – they will be alright.

One consequence many bereavement parents find hard is that you cannot say to us: “don’t worry they will be fine, nothing is going to happen to them. This pregnancy will be fine, it’s not going to happen to you. It’s such a small statistic so don’t worry”. We have seen that the worst can happen, pregnancies can be fine and then not: we have been that statistic.We are very hard to comfort in the respect and have to manage a much bigger slice of fear than others might.

Surprisingly I believe there is one way my altered self is better now than if I hadn’t lost Evie – I do not take my second daughter for granted, not one bit. I marvel alongside her when it rains and stand awestruck at the magic of bubbles just as she does; I laugh at Bagheera’s head ringing when Baloo shouts for him at close range in the Jungle Book (a current favourite film) and learn the words to The Gruffalo’s Child slower than her sharp young mind.

I wonder at her development as the months progress and she masters the shapes and sounds of words and the art of stringing them together to be understood. Her indignation as another child pushes her and her effortless ability to forget how that felt when pushing others, both amuses and angers me as I educate her on the need to be gentle and kind. I hold close to my heart the knowledge of how fortunate I am to be doing this at all, how privileged to be responsible for bring up this beautiful child in this imperfect world.

I have a respect for my daughter that gives her a voice and right to her own feelings; I try to teach her emotional intelligence not just counting and animal noises but words like angry, sad, happy and I’m full. I love how opinionated she is and assertive, I’m excited to see how her fledgling personality and character traits will thrive and develop as she grows. I will enjoy her like I cannot enjoy my first and not get caught up on a mark on the carpet or whether the washing is put away. I will devote myself to her for both her and my own sake. I will take an interest in her in all things. I will soak her up like warm summer rays, take her in like nourishing broth and drench myself in her like an exquisite perfume.

The daughter that lived

Until she is fully grown and can possibly understand such things, I do not know if she will grasp how much she has inspired me to embrace life without Evelyn. She is my motivation to carve out the best life I can for her, myself and for my family. She makes me strive higher, work harder, moan less, understand more, and generally pushes me to achieve what I am capable of, an ability I thought I had lost. She has reignited a lust for life that I thought had been extinguished. A heavy burden indeed for such small shoulders but I hope she will understand it is more a gift she has given me purely by being here and there is nothing she must actively do that will ease my sorrows and patch me up. Her existence is enough to cheer and soothe me and I sincerely hope I do not make her feel under pressure to live up to my expectations of the “daughter that lived”.

You see these are my worries: that the ultimate consequence of Evelyn dying is a warped parenting full of pressures and expectations that are harmful or damaging to my second daughter. My sister told me that after she had her second child she realised that with your first you don’t know what you should be worried about so you worry about everything and with your second you don’t have time to worry about anything other than the stuff you know you should worry about. I can see the logic in her wisdom but for me it is not really applicable, if anything, worrying about my second supersedes my worries for my first. Nothing can hurt my first, I can do nothing more but there are many, many things that could go wrong with my second, too many possibilities for harm by others or by my hand that if I’m not careful it will paralyse me.

I remember one example of trying to balance my gratitude that Poppy is here at all and trying to be a balanced parent who doesn’t let her get away with everything. One day I shouted – yes I know it’s awful – but she was driving me mad by not listening and generally being a nuisance while I was trying to cook tea. I had banished her to the living room in a desperate attempt to continue the cooking – and an even more desperate attempt to ignore the judgement in my head that I was winning worst mum of the year hands down – when she came back in. She climbed up onto her kitchen stool, sidled up to me, leaned in and told me she loved me. In that instance my heart melted, all my frustration from the day vanished and I realised she loved me unconditionally. She didn’t care that I had been cross, she didn’t judge me or think I was a bad mother who couldn’t teach her to be a model two-year old (they exist, don’t they?); all she cared about was that I was hers, I was her mummy, that was enough.

Seeing me through her eyes was inspiring, it stopped me in my tracks and it dawned on me I needed to bank this moment in my memory for future reference when I was having a bad day and thought everything was wrong. This fleeting mystical moment would be my proof of everything that was right with me and my daughter, my ‘little treasure’ as I tenderly call her, my little beacon of light in the darkness of the past few years.

Keeping a constant check on whether my decisions, reactions, instructions and example for my living child are balanced is a tiring occupation but I do feel it has largely paid off. I do not think I am over protective above and beyond a normal parent, I think I am sufficiently laid back that she can explore and find her own way without me hovering over like a helicopter, nor do I think I stifle her or express over the top fears about the world around her (in fact sometimes Poppy having a bit more of a health fear for the world around her wouldn’t go amiss!).

SO I guess what I’m saying is that despite my tendency to doubt my own abilities and my battle for sanity since losing Evie, when I really think about it, I do believe I am doing a good job parenting my second daughter in the way I believe is right. Even saying that out loud is a huge achievement and one not lost on me.

Until next time… do what you can to find your smile

Lydia

x

My little treasure
My little treasure

You were mine

Evie

We spent so many happy hours choosing our daughter’s name and it feels so unfair to not be able to say her name every day, all day as we would if she were here. In these pages I have used her name liberally – Evelyn, Evie, to try to even the score, bump up the number of times her precious name is mentioned. I like to think that every time someone reads her name here it is another brick in her memorial, another link to this world, something to root her here.

To help me make her real in the months after she died, to tell myself she was here and she was mine, I wrote down everything I could think of that made her exist. I’d like to share my list with you:

Evie 2

Evie – the facts that make you real

  1. You lived for 38 week and 3 days inside me and 55 minutes in the world.
  2. You liked to kick every evening when daddy was home from work. But every time daddy tried to have a feel you’d stop! But daddy did feel you lots of times too.
  3. You liked music, daddy would play Coldplay’s ‘fix you’ and you would try to kick the phone away.
  4. In your 20 week scan picture you wouldn’t show us your face, you peered over your shoulder like a Hollywood movie star denying your fans a picture.
  5. You didn’t cause much discomfort to mummy, other than your feet in my ribs on the right-hand side!
  6. You always stayed in a good place for labour in the final few weeks.
  7. You grew really well and were a good weight – 7lbs 8oz.
  8. You had beautiful long limbs and big feet!
  9. You have the colour of daddy’s hair and my waviness.
  10. You have the shape of daddy’s eyes and ears.
  11. You have mummy’s nose, cheekbones and chin.
  12. You were cold and limp.
  13. You were injured on your head and bruised on your nose.
  14. You were stuck too long and didn’t get oxygen.
  15. You never opened your eyes.
  16. You never cried.
  17. You didn’t see your mummy or daddy.
  18. You died in a hospital 20 miles from home.
  19. You never saw your home, your bedroom, your clothes and toys.
  20. You aren’t here now.
  21. You are buried under a beautiful garden.

Evie 1

I also wrote down everything that made me really her mum. This was particularly important before we had our second daughter as I was a childless parent until 14 months later we plunged once again into parenthood. Again I’d like to share it:

How am I a Parent?

  • I love Evie with my whole being, unconditionally, an all-consuming love of a mum
  • I gave birth to Evie, let them do what they needed to get her out no matter what the cost to myself.
  • I carried her for 38 weeks and 3 days. Nurturing her, talking, singing to her.
  • I passed our love of music to her because she would kick when she heard certain songs.
  • I felt her kicks and moved her around so I could be more comfy.
  • I bought Evie everything she needed to live comfortably with us.
  • We named you Evelyn Kay Rose –  you are named after your two grandmas – each of your middle names.
  • I had hopes and dreams for Evie, what she would become.
  • I had hopes and dreams of what we would do together as a family.
  • I thought about how I would raise Evie
  • I hoped this journey to bring a new life into this world would make us better people
  • I wanted to devote myself to Evie and what she wanted and needed.
  • I wanted a family and family life.
  • I planned to have a baby, I was so happy to be having a girl – I knew we were having a girl.
  • We keep her memory alive through donations, Evie’s garden and displaying her pictures.

And now…

  • We talk about Evie to our second daughter Poppy. She knows your picture and helps us take care of your garden – she eats the strawberries we grow there!
Evie and Poppy - my precious girls x
Evie and Poppy – my precious girls x

Until next time, do what you can to find your smile again.

Lydia

x

The pursuit of Happiness: Grievers guide

When we have such a enormous dollop of grief to deal with it can often feel like you will never be happy again – never see the silly side of life or be able to smile and seem carefree. For a while this may indeed be true, but you have to cling onto the hope that you will, one day, feel better and you will be able to smile again and enjoy life – this new life.

But getting back to when things are much harder… Being and feeling happy when you also feel so sad is intolerable. Your mind cannot compute how you can hold such despair, sadness, anger and hopelessness in one hand and laugh or feel joy in the other. It is a skill in its own right. Never before (potentially) have we had to do this – carry the weight of grief and continue with our every day lives where funny things happen, joy is given by one of your living children or a work colleague or something on the tv. Some of the main questions we have are:

  • How can I laugh when my baby has died?
  • Does this mean I don’t care about my baby?
  • Will other people think I don’t care or have ‘gotten over it’?
  • How can I be a good parent/human being if I laugh when something so tragic has happened?

And the answers are:

  • Because it was funny! You have a sense of humour that has not been lost in the fire (as it were) you are still you and certain things will make you laugh. It’s good to laugh – makes you feel good and gets the endorphins coursing through our veins – much needed at times of deep sorrow.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY you are NOT laughing at the fact your baby died. and no one will think you are; it is a given that you care deeply for your baby. Laughing at something and your baby dying are separate things and this will take time to get used to, you will get there. You can see it in terms of your baby would want you to feel joy – like they felt when they were with you, warm, no cares in the world – loved. They would want that for you and you should want that for yourself.
  • OK firstly – who care what anyone else thinks? They haven’t got a clue what you are going through and have no right to judge, so screw them. If they are true friends they will not judge you but support you (and probably laugh along with you). But, if you’re like me… I do care what other people think about my love for Evie. I can’t demonstrate it like I can for my other daughter – it is evident I love her by the way I care for her every day. But with Evie how can I show my love? Well by grieving – crying alot, declaring my love for her on facebook, in texts, on my blog, helping other to come to terms with their own grief…but mainly it is hidden. It’s in my heart and it resides in a very personal and private space. And that can be hurtful and upsetting that we cannot outwardly demonstrate our love for our baby without it being a ‘down’ emotion – sadness/anger/despair/depression. Our great challenge as bereaved parents it to demonstrate our love in positive ways – ideas on a postcard please!
  • COMPASSION – is the buzzword here. Ask yourself, what will it achieve if I beat myself up about laughing or feeling happy? It will make you feel guilty, low, worthless and undermine your self-esteem – and what’s the good in that? Be kind to yourself and forgive any ‘sins’ as you might see them. Your worth as a human and as a parent are NOT linked to whether you laugh of not, how well you cope with your loss and how well you outwardly or inwardly grieve your baby.
The pursuit of happiness starts from the inside out.
The pursuit of happiness starts from the inside out.

Perhaps when you start to emerge from the fog of grief (this can be a different length of time for each of us) and you can say you feel a little more clear-headed and ‘normal’ then it may be time to ask yourself this question:

Who is in charge of my happiness?

The perhaps not so obvious answer is: YOU.

You are in charge of your own happiness

This is something I find very difficult to fathom. I think for a few years I wanted someone else to take responsibility for it – it was too hard. By deciding it was my family, my husband, my friends’ job to make me happy it meant I could blame someone else when I was not happy or content, thin enough, successful enough. To admit and accept I am my own master of my own happiness is a whole lot of grown up that I’m not sure I’m ready for.

I think this is especially pertinent to bereaved parents of babies. We rail at the pure injustice of what has happen – and someone has to pay! Sometimes we direct our focus on the NHS, care givers, friends who weren’t ‘there’ for us, parents who didn’t understand us or said the wrong things, partners who didn’t get our demonstrations of grief, and if in doubt you always focus blame on yourself.

This is sometimes a very necessary short-term phase that we have to go to – we are dealing with some big stuff here and it takes time to work it out – how do I function and lead a fulfilling life after the death of my baby? This is no small question.

The problem arises when this short-term strategy becomes habit and part of your ‘new normal’ (I’ll talk about this in another post). We can actually start to become the main obstacle in our own happiness which is good for no-one.

There’s a great article on Psychology Today which talks about why we don’t let ourselves be happy. They list 5 main reasons:

  1. It disrupts our sense of identity
  2. It challenges our defences
  3. It causes us anxiety
  4. It stirs up guilt
  5. It forces us to face pain

Each one on the list resonates with me and here’s how:

  1. Having Evie and my grief for her death is a part of my identity now. Being Evie’s mummy is very positive and should be part of who I am now but the mechanisms and strategies I developed to help me grieve may have welded to me and harming rather than helping me. But they feel like they are a part of who I am and I feel like my identity has been battered over the last few years – who am I now? I a huge question I’ve asked myself (I’ll talk about that in another blog post). So it feels scary to shrug off what appears to be a part of me.
  2. I had developed defences through my life to cope with situations and people, which is entirely normal. Losing Evie made those defences kick-in in the extreme – my need for control and protecting my own vulnerability from people who may say something that upsets me. But these defences could now be becoming detrimental to my happiness rather than helping me survive…something to think about.
  3. If I let go and enjoy myself, it feels like I’m leaving myself more vulnerable to hurt, loss, and disappointment. If I have more happiness because I’m more fulfilled then I have more to lose. It’s very scary when you have already lost so much.
  4. Feeling happy now can make me feel guilty that I’m not where I was 2/3 years ago. If I cling to those sad times I feel I’m closer to Evie, in those sad times I was closer to her in chronological time but I need to get my head around being close to her now in other ways. It’s difficult to see the time your baby was physically here and with you slipping away – you feel distant from them. I do still feel close to her but just not in time but that’s ok, just.
  5. Being happy now in the present is such a contrast to the sorrow I felt in the first months and year when Evie died that actually feeling an extreme high of happiness can be a stark contrast to that sad time and make me feel upset. It’s upsetting to remember when I was so sad and hopeless and to see the difference in me now can actually be really hard to see. As the article infers feeling more of anything means you feel everything more. You feel your pain of loss but you can also feel joy; trying to block out pain blocks out all emotions not just to difficult ones. I want to try and be brave to face my pain so I can feel joy too. Now what tends to often happen is we have a lovely day with Poppy and family and then in the evening I may have a cry because it emphasises that Evie wasn’t there to share it and I wasn’t able to enjoy these moments with her – it still is heartbreaking.

For the full article please read: Psychology Today: 5 reasons we don’t let ourselves be happy

As ever I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and find out how you’ve deal with these issues, please ‘like’ and comment.

Until next time, do what you can to find your smile again

Lydia

x

And the Nobel Peace Prize goes to… how to stayed married when you lose a baby

Loosing a baby is a very harsh lesson in perspective. It really levels the playing field in terms of what is important and what just isn’t. When you can say ‘well it’s not as bad as my baby dying’ then everything falls into place…or does it?

I know I’ve just said that experiencing such a tragedy makes you really not sweat the small stuff but I must admit there were many times when the little things were all I could think of.

My pregnancy with my second daughter was a contradiction of not being able to see anything but the bigger picture and focusing on tiny annoyances.

The pregnancy was tough for many reasons:

  • my body had not recovered from the deliver of Evie and getting pregnant only six months after meant the hormones coursing through my veins played havoc on my stretching muscles.
  • It was a constant battle to keep me mobile and independent. By the time I got to 19 weeks I started having physio at the same hospital where Evie died. The almost weekly trips to have painful muscle massage to help me walk for the rest of the week were exhausting.
  • Trying to control my anxiety was also a constant battle. Managing my fear of losing this baby and trying to function threatened to bubble up and drown me at any moment.
  • I was trying to hold down the new job I had got at the University of Oxford, do my share of the housework, cooking, oh and appear sane and not let on that I was going mad.

SO… quite a list really!

I often found the enormity of the ‘big picture’ just too damn scary, the realities of death and the genuine possibility of babies dying was overwhelming. So in a way the ‘little things’, like whether my blessed husband had put the towels back properly in the bathroom, became much more of a priority. It was easier to be swept up into petty arguments to distract from the grim reaper permanently sat in the corner of the room.

Big picture

I’m sure you’ll agree the whys and the wherefores of how much cleaning each person has done that week are insignificant in the scheme of things, especially when compared to – is this as bad as Evie dying? Honestly though, I really do think it morphed into a competition between my husband and I to see who could be the most tired or hard done by. We irritated each other frequently in our independent struggles to keep going. I think I nearly drove my other half mad by rearranging the fresh washing he had spent half an hour laying out. This was exacerbated because increasingly he had to take on the lion’s share of household tasks as I drew nearer my due date. He also had to navigate my Jekyll and Hyde mood swings which would give UN Peace Keepers a run for their money – (I blame the hormones, oh and the huge stress I was under). So part diplomat, part housemaid = being my husband in 2012, and was a feat worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize – God bless my husband.

People don’t talk about the strain losing a baby puts on a healthy relationship

It was a very intense time with reality and our senses in a constantly heightened state. Our nerves were raw and frazzled and we had little reserves or resources to cope with the little curved balls life always throws at you (parking tickets, dropped jars of jam, bad driving of others – you get the picture). It felt more like a haunted house ride with one fright or scare after another or Total Wipeout (naff TV show with obstacles presented by Richard Hammond). Life had gone from feeling reasonably easy and straightforward – a ramble through country lanes if you will – to full on attempting to summit Mount Everest.

Now for the pseudo – psychology – wisdom according to me…

Within a healthy relationship there is a normal ebb and flow where each person needs to take from the other and both are happy to give to the other. This flow of support from one to the other and back again can be for small and big things, for example:

  1. Man reassuring woman regularly that she’s beautiful no matter her size and woman supporting man through applying for a new job.
  2. Woman putting man’s clothes away that have been there all week and man taking out the bins weekly.

In scenario 1. He may be annoyed that she doesn’t seem to hear him when he tells her she’s gorgeous but he loves her so will tell her as many times as she needs. She knows he’s shy about talking about himself and his achievements but he wants the job so she’ll talk interview tips with him and say how proud she is of him until he feels ready for it.

In scenario 2. Both parties are compromising to help the other and get the chores done. She doesn’t like doing the smelly kitchen bin so he does it. He’s often deals with work calls in the evening so doesn’t get chance to tidy and she is happy to help keep the bedroom tidy for both their ease.

In both scenarios neither partner feels compromised and both feel their efforts are appreciated, recognised and add to the overall well being of the household. Crucially neither feel taken for granted.


 

When a baby dies there are huge discrepancies between what each person needs at any one time in order to survive the day, moreover asking for what you need becomes ten million times harder.

So you’ve got two people who were very happy, felt equal and valued in their relationship who experience a trauma that tears at the very fabric of that well stitched union. Both want to take support from the other without being able to return the favour – something’s got to give.

Relationships can feel like a tug of war
Relationships can feel like a tug of war
For us, initially I was very needy both physically and emotionally. I was a support leech; you would offer it, I’d take it, and I wouldn’t be able to give you anything in return. But perhaps more significantly, after the first 2 years when my physical needs lessened, I still felt the dire need for emotional support and that it was my husband’s job to give it to me. I didn’t realise it but I believed he owed me. He owed me for suffering the physical trauma of our daughter’s birth and getting off without a visible scratch. I weighed our suffering and ruled my was more/worse and so he had to make up for this huge injustice and inequality of pain.

In essence my daughter’s death created an imbalance between us – a black hole that threatened to drag us down. There isn’t a statistic on how many relationships in the UK breakdown after the loss of a baby but it doesn’t surprise me. The strain can be intolerable at times and take you to breaking point. The long-term effect of me believing that my husband had the responsibility of making me feel better about what happened could easily have spelled disaster but it is not all doom and gloom.

Grace – sometimes it’s all you can have for yourself, your partner, your relationship.

This is what I think grace means:

Grace is the free and unlimited favour given to someone regardless of whether you feel they deserve it. It means forgiving and understanding someone when they cannot necessarily see the consequences of their own words and actions on you or others. You can also demonstrate grace towards yourself.

I truly believe this is what saved us – grace.

We needed it in spades but by hanging on in there when it was really tough, by remembering why we ever loved each other and holding on to the belief that we were stronger than this trauma helped us muddle through the darkest time of our lives and our relationship. We did not want our daughter’s death to come between us and destroy all the good between us.

The most difficult thing to tolerate is each person grieving differently and not understanding the other person’s demonstrations of grief. This is where grace can be a light in a dark place.

If you are reading this and feel you can relate to anything I have said, remember this:

You are not alone in your grief, you will survive this time, you only have to be good enough and try your best – it is all anyone can ask of us and the most we can asked of ourselves.

Relationships are so private and unique to each pair of individuals but I wanted to share what needs to be talked about so we can support each and not feel alone. I’d love to hear your comments if you feel the same.

Until next time, do what you can to find your smile.

Lydia

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The day after… the aftermath

The beginning of the rest of my life
The beginning of the rest of my life

The day after I stood looking out of the bedroom window at the clear blue, crisp late autumn day, my favourite kind – how has this happened, how was I here and not pregnant? Everything looked so serene, a beautiful day; it should have been my second with my beautiful baby. We had slept in my brother’s bedroom as we were too much in shock to enter our apartment. The fear of the day had followed us home and we were afraid to go back into our house, which hadn’t been told that the plan had gone awry. It was just as we had left it the night before, full of hope and excitement, full. To go back would emphasis our lack of full arms and highlight our hearts full of loss.

We were required to return to the hospital to been seen by a queue of doctors, midwives, chaplains and lastly a registrar. It was exhausting for us both. I just remember lying on a hospital bed in a side room, hurting from head to toe inside and out, with the chaplain telling Matt that he had to look after me and think about being off work to take care of me. My dear husband lent against the windowsill, sunlight streaming past his hunched shoulders, the weight of the world settling on them. As this experienced man spoke, as he had done this many times before I suppose, there was a tangible sense of Matt taking on the manly mantle of caring for his distressed and hurting wife. He was not asked how he was, it didn’t seem important, he must turn his attention to me in full and ‘be there for me’ in the days and months ahead. Poor thing, poor us.

Neither of us were in much of a state to care for the other and so began the months of swapping between being career and cared for. Sometimes our roles would fluctuate throughout the day and other it seemed an endless stretch of me being cared for, I just needed so much. I was a leech sucking on the goodness of anyone who got near enough – offer any morsel of kindness and I’d eat you out of house and home. I was so needy and it felt strange to be so reliant on others but I had no choice, the delivery was traumatic to my body and I had trouble walking, sitting, standing – everything really except lying down, as long as it was on my side. My once stubborn, independent streak had been worn down and I was forced to submit to my need for intensive support to move around the house and look after myself. I hated it! I was so vulnerable physically and in so much pain and discomfort it took its toll on my state of mind and lead me to some dark places I can tell you.

For a long time when I thought of what had happen to me that day to get Evelyn out I felt assaulted, man-handled and abused. At the time I really was secondary to Evelyn and getting her out, I was happy to let them do what they needed to. I’d never truly been in a position of genuinely putting someone else ahead of myself. I know you change when you find out you are pregnant – you immediately have to adapt your life, what you can eat and drink, to ensure the wellbeing of the little one growing inside, but this was off the chain (to quote Hot Fuzz, an excellent film by the way). Looking back it was a very humbling experience and a sense that has stayed with me ever since of how much unconditional love owns you, compels you and brings out the best in you. I was at my best that fateful day, it was my most unselfish and perhaps my finest motherly act, to not fight them as they tried to loosen Evelyn’s shoulders enabling her to be born.

Until next time, do what you can to find your smile again

Lydia

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