And then there was three! Learning to trust again

We are proud to announce the safe arrival of Florence Iris Eliza Berry, born 4th May 2017. She is perfect and we are so in love with our tiny bundle of joy!

Having taken a break from my blog to have another baby I wanted to fill you in on the last year. I decided that rather than throw myself into blogging while pregnant I would focus on just living it. Life is busy when you’re increasingly pregnant with a nearly full-time job and a four year old; however now the time has come to talk some more.

It was not an easy decision to get pregnant again. I had endured a very difficult pregnancy with Poppy in a time of immense anxiety and stress so I wasn’t in any hurry to go back there. But the truth I started to understand was that I could not go back to that time. I could only go forward and carve a new pregnancy which, although deeply informed by my previous experiences, would be new and special in its own right. I had done so much grief work and physio that my mind and body were not going to be in any better shape for the journey ahead so we took the plunge down the rabbit hole once more.

On the whole the pregnancy was smooth and I was surprised at how little anxiety I felt compared to Poppy’s pregnancy. It seems the intervening years had helped me regain some sense of calm in the sea of fear and risk that I now see as a normal part of having children. Sadly for me having a baby is not a purely joyful time, it brings up memories, regrets, sadnesses and pain that I have to deal with anew. The end of the pregnancy did have a big challenge in the form of gestational diabetes which was a real curved ball for me and made me feel like I would not ever have a stress-free or pain-free time having children… unfortunately I was proved right with Florence’s delivery.

I have to have c-sections now – a legacy of losing Evelyn to shoulder dystocia. I could give birth naturally but the anxiety of the risk of it happening again would be prohibitive so major abdominal surgery it is. I was so afraid of the spinal procedure to get you ready for having the baby and sadly it was horrible – they took 5 attempts to get the spinal block in, we were one more failed attempt from me having to have a general and not see her being born. They final got it in and I was able to hear to most beautiful sound in the world – the cry of my new baby daughter bellowing out across the room as she took her first gulps of air and glimpsed through tiny eyes her mummy and daddy. It was magical and amazing and everything I’d hoped for. She was mine, we had done it. I’d grown a human and kept her safe and alive, who was now in my arms weeing on me! #Motherhoodgoals

However, I then felt pain that couldn’t be controlled and I was forced to have a general the finish the c-section. This had several consequences for me. It meant I came round hours later in excruciating pain, barely able to acknowledge my baby let alone care for her or feed her. The next day I contracted two very severe and painful complications, which rendered me in so much pain that I couldn’t talk or move, oh or care for my baby. Finally, I was treated poorly by the staff on a busy night shift who didn’t diagnose me for hours, got me high on morphine but didn’t address my complications and separated me from my baby who I couldn’t look after anyway. My husband had to care for her while I writhed around in pain for hours until finally everything was brought under control 30 hours after the birth of my daughter. My care once I was brought back up to my own room which we had to beg for was fantastic but up until then the combination of pain and poor care was horrific.

All of this has left me with more feelings of anger, hurt, sadness and failure that I really wanted to avoid with my last foray into having children.

I don’t think I’ve fully processed what I think and feel about it all but it does give me a heavy heart that for me it seems in different ways having children has been quite frankly shit. Don’t get me wrong, I love Evelyn, Poppy and Florence with all my heart but when your pregnancies and births read like a horror story of death, anxiety, missed precious time, oh… and lot and lots of pain with them all, forgive me when I don’t gush about it. I’ve noticed I don’t even refer to Florence’s arrival as her birth – I call it her delivery. I can’t safely birth my children so I have to defer to medical professionals to remove them from me. I know I need to change this view as it robs me of the right to say I gave birth to my children but it’s very difficult for me to conquer.

This brings me to the idea of trust. We trust in ‘mother nature’, whoever this chick is, to guide our bodies through pregnancy and childbirth, and most of the time this works. Our bodies instinctively know what to do and hormones – the amazing and powerful chemicals that course through our veins – turn cells into a baby and helped our bodies birth that baby, giving life.

But for me I lost trust in my body when Evelyn died. The process of her being born is what killed her – how can that be? She was just trying to be born like everyone else and yet in trying to start her life, it ended.

For mothers like me, your baby lived in your body, grew and formed. If you had a pregnancy loss it means the baby probably died in your body too. It’s hard to trust your body again in any way when it was supposed to produce and protect life and instead it was where death occurred or where a traumatic birth led to death. How many deaths of a loved one occur in your own body? What a bizarre and life-altering experience to go through.

What I want to say to myself and to any other mothers out there, like me, struggling with traumatic births and neonatal death, stillbirths, pregnancy loss, and difficult births where the baby lived, is this:

Please know that your body wanted this for you too. She was rooting for you, hoping with you and doing everything she knew how to do to protect this baby with you. She grieves too. It is not your fault. Do not turn your anger and pain inward to punish yourselves, despite the temptation. We mothers, strong and courageous, can destroy ourselves with the strength of our belief that the buck stops with us; if no other cause is found then it remains as our fault our baby died or had a traumatic birth. Let us turn our self-inflicted conviction from a life sentence of failure and guilt to a life-long journey of acceptance that we are not to blame.

So as I look forward now to family life with two children here to care for and one to remember, I need to heed my own words and internalise what I find so hard – my mental wellbeing is paramount to my own purpose, my children’s and my family’s. Ultimately, it does not do to dwell on how they entered this world but that they did at all and they are here with us in spirit or in body. There is a time to think on it and process, grieve and be in the depth of our sorrow and there is a time for joy and celebration, gratefulness and forgiveness of apparent failure. Maybe one day I can write that I have achieved this state of mind, but I think the reality is that I will strive each day to make the choice on how to spend my time either grieving, laughing, quiet reflection or loud joy.

 

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

xx

Oxfordshire Sands Memorial Service 4th Dec 2016

The festive season can be a tough time for us bereaved parents. Whether you have living children or not, if this is your first Christmas without your baby or your 10th, it can be a heady mixture of extreme emotions and feelings. I think it’s a time of year when pressing into the bereaved community can really help us get through. Whether that’s reaching out online, attending a befreinding group or a fellow bereaved parent, it can help to off-load to someone who ‘knows what you mean’.

We are fortunate in Oxfordshire to have a very active Sands group and yesterday was the annual Oxfordshire Sands Memorial Service held at St Anthony of Padua church, Oxford. The service has meant a lot to me over the past 5 years as we went to the first one just over a month after losing Evie. This year I was honoured to write and read out something of my personal experience. For those of you who weren’t able to be there, here’s the speech I read out:

My name is Lydia and I have two children – Evelyn and Poppy and one on the way. But my first daughter Evie died just after she was born.

I’m sick of saying that. Of not having a ‘normal’ how many children do you have conversation with strangers. I’m sick of gauging the other person, the situation, how much time I have to decide how I answer that innocuous ice-breaker question. I’m sick of saying “Evie would have been” – she would have not long turned five by the way, I’m sick of it but I’ll keep saying it. I’m sick of my story, that this is true, I don’t want any of this to be true.

I’m so angry that she died. I’m so sad she’s not here.

But despite what happened I am a mum. I may not have all my children with me in person, but they are with me in spirit, in my heart. I am still a mum.

Just a normal mum, doing normal mum things like getting exasperated at having to explain again why an octopus doesn’t have hair and why we can’t touch gorillas; just a normal mum laughing when my child makes a funny face, bursting with love when they utter those beautifully sweet words ‘I love you’. I am not a superhero, I’m not wise beyond my years, I’m not special, I’m just a mum. An ordinary mum who suffered an extraordinary loss.

A loss of such magnitude it rocked me to my core, made me question everything about myself, the world, God, everything. A loss of such depths that I still cannot fathom how far it stretches. A loss that made me feel such sorrow that I thought I would never smile or laugh again. A loss that I did not chose.

But now, now I have a choice. I can choose how this story ends. I can choose to see the beauty in the pain, to see the love in the grief, to see my daughter and not her death. I do not believe it happened for a reason, I do not believe some thing’s just aren’t meant to be, I no longer believe Evelyn dying was a cosmic fail solely of my doing, a teaching tool for a bad pupil of life. I do not believe she died so I could learn things, but I do believe I learned things because she died.

It’s my choice how to live in this post-apocalyptic world with no Evelyn in it. What kind of mother am I in the wake of my initiation into motherhood?

I am a mum who is proud of all her children and proudly speaks their names.

I am a mum who gives everything I have for my beloveds.

I am a mum who loves fiercely and unconditionally.

I am a lioness.

I am a mum who knows what it is to truly put myself second to the needs of my baby, and for that still not to be enough to save her.

I am a mum who feels the heavy heart of grief wash over me in waves that threaten to overwhelm.

I am a mum who surprises myself with my hidden strength when tested beyond my limit.

I am a mum who cares for her living child with a reverence at the simple beauty of a life.

They say that a baby being born is an everyday miracle and they are right. It happens all around the world, every minute of every day and yet each time a healthy living baby is born it is indeed a miracle. One I marvel at and feel bitterly denied in equal measure. But I can choose to let the bitterness take hold, let the anger colour my mood, let my dismay at the ridiculous random nature of Evelyn’s death taint my appreciation for life; let her death ruin my life. Life that she was cruelly denied.

Instead I choose love. Grief is love with nowhere to go. Love brought me to this place of sadness and it also brought me to a place of such joy. I have learned they can live side by side; my heart is big enough to contain them both. We never get over the death of our babies; we just get better at living with it. We accommodate the scar, get used to the limp and we are forever changed. But we can choose how we interpret our loss, we can choose how is defines us.

That is what I learned because Evelyn Kay Rose Berry was born and died on the 27th October 2011, and I’ll never get sick of saying that.

Oxfordshire Sands logo

For more information about Oxfordshire Sands and the incredible work they do please visit their website: http://www.oxfordshiresands.org.uk/ and follow them on facebook page .

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

Lydia

x

Mother’s Day – 5 things to get you through

Today is Mother’s Day, a day when the focus is rightly on us mums. A day when we hear how much we are loved and appreciated by our children, a day for smiles and lots of love. The tender moments of watching your children express their love for you is so heart-warming and priceless, but what about mummies like me where there’s someone missing?

I’m fortunate to have a second child so I still get my fix of scrummy cuddles, cute slobbery kisses and breakfast in bed – which I have to share with said child because she’s a hobbit and needs 4 breakfasts and couldn’t bear to watch me eat something in peace and by myself.

But as I sit up in bed to be presented with my lovely card and lovingly prepared food there’s a sadness that lingers, dwells in the background, mixes with the air into a bittersweet perfume. ‘There should be two little girls with me now’ float around me dripping with my tears as I smile at my family trying and succeeding to make me know how proud they are of me.

Part of me can’t let the sadness wash over me, can’t tap into the grief to let it out and ease the pressure for a bit. I want to be normal today! I want to just be happy and smothered in love today. I don’t want to be sad and angry about what life has dealt me and robbed me of… but how to I do that without pretending Evie didn’t exist or denying that however I dress it up today is hard because I have to stare in the face the fact that one of my children has died?
  1. Be kind to yourself. Take things slow today and at your own pace. If you’re loss is recent then today is going to be horrible – there’s no other way of saying it. But today will pass, you will survive it and you will get through this time. For those of us a little further down the line and who have other children then it’s a mixed one -the bittersweet joy of having someone calling you mummy and saying how much they love you but the shadow of what would have been haunts the day. Don’t criticise yourself and feel guilty for feeling happy or despair for feeling deeply sad. Try to think about how you are feeling today and think what if my best friend said these things? What would I say to comfort her? Then try to say it to yourself.
  2. Do what feels right, not what you ‘should’ do. There’s so much hype around today – expectations society, the media and marketing put on us on how this day should look. An Instagram picture-perfect Mother’s day is unobtainable for most families let alone a family that has suffered a devastating loss. The tea spills, the kids scream and fight and the beautiful Sunday lunch at local restaurant experience has only served as a powerful contraceptive to everyone else in the vicinity. There’s no ‘right’ way to celebrate being a mum; if you want to do it quietly then do it! You want to shout from the roof tops about your children – all of your children, then do it! Putting extra pressure on yourself to act/perform a certain way when you are already in an emotional place just makes today a day to dread.
  3. Express yourself. If at all possible share how you are feeling with your partner, mum, friend – anyone who is close to you. Just saying it how it is can be very freeing, especially on a day like today where there’s lots of mixed emotions. They say a problem shared is a problem halved. Well grief isn’t a ‘problem’ but it does weigh us down, so sharing it with someone does lighten the load for a while – which can’t be a bad thing. Expressing how you really feel can be very freeing – you don;t have to put that smile mask on and pretend everything’s fine when it’s not. Try and see what happens!
  4. Be in the moment. When you lose a baby you feel like you will never smile again. Never laugh, feel joy, feel ok and feel happy. And for a time that may be true but as you get more accustomed to your grief then you realise that you can feel those wonderful emotions alongside your sadness. It’s a weird balance but you get used to it bit by bit. Something that my Evie has taught me is to be in the moment. To treasure the precious times for what they are. Not letting my mind be distracted, learning to turn off the internal monologue that continually says – this is sad, why me?, why is vie not here, this is horrible, I want to be normal, this is sad, why me? – you get the point. By tuning into what’s happening right now in front of you means you can truly experience life not watch it. In a way, see it that you don’t want to waste the life you’ve been given that was denied to your baby. Revel in the moment and see what beauty comes of it.
  5. Feel the love. You are a brilliant mum!!! Feel it, let yourself feel it and let yourself be pampered and doted on for the day! If you are anything like me you spend most of your time flitting between thinking you are a horrible mum for wanting to put nail varnish on, by yourself, let it dry and it not smudge; and then thinking you are not doing a good enough job because the other day your child picked their nose, you yelled, they cried and the neighbour you were talking to slinked back to their house, eyes widening with what looked suspiciously like judgment. But you know, all of that doesn’t leave much space for thinking and feeling that – you know what?… despite it all I’m doing my best, my child is loved and that’s enough – that’s more than enough. So FEEL THE LOVE TODAY. You’ve earned it!

Until next time do what it takes to find your smile again.

Lydia

x

 

Listening is loving

 

Maybe I’ve been afraid of life and through Evie’s death I’m learning to live it.

Those who fear death, fear life

Bearing the scars – life after loss

In a parallel universe, I would have just sent off the forms for our choices of schools for Evelyn. In this universe, a silent pang of sadness fills the void where her life would have been. I see the shadows of how I should be living my life all around me; they haunt my dreams by night and follow me by day. And yet I continue, I go forward, I will and I must #lifeafterloss #joyafterloss

Milestones are a standard joy for any parent – first smile; first attempt to crawl; first word; birthdays; first day at school; first car; wedding day. There are many and we revel in celebrating them – as we should. Milestones for me with my first daughter read a little differently – first time I felt her kick; first labour experience; first time I saw and held a dead baby; first funeral I’ve planned; first anniversary of her death: my first baby.

There is so much sorrow intertwined with the birth and death of my first child that I could get stuck in that place, unable to see the joy in life. And believe me I have been in that place; but slowly and deliberately I have travelled to a more balanced place where joy and sorrow reside side by side in my heart. I still cry regularly but the depths are easier and quicker to climb out of now – I suppose I have worn a path out of the valley, well-trodden with my frequent visits. But I can also stop in the park with my Poppy on the way to nursery, as I did this morning, and listen to the birds with her. Dancing our way up the path to their morning birdsong. Savouring the small joys all around me with my precious second daughter is Evelyn’s gift to us both. Out of my sorrow has come a deeper appreciation for life and an urgency not to waste a moment of it. I think it has made be a better mummy; my pain has been transformed into a fierce love for the gift of life.

I do want to say though that this all sounds great, and it is, but is was a rough journey getting here. I want to be real with you all so let’s go back a bit…

Following Evie’s death life felt distorted and out of proportion, it felt incredible and not in a good way, it felt incredulous and basically like a film. It did not feel real and nor did I, I did not recognise the landscape of my existence and to be frank I felt like a caricature of myself. A ridiculous parody of what I should have been, what I should have had. An uncomfortable reality for someone who had always strived to match the perfection in her head – this was about as far from it as I could get.

Having been reasonably slim I now lugged around an extra goodness know how many pounds, my postpartum body felt like one of those fat suits people wear on TV to look like sumo wrestlers. Having tried to embrace my changing shape during my first pregnancy, I believed the trade of figure for baby was a worthy sacrifice. Weight had been an issue for me for years and so to gain so much was, psychologically, for me a very big deal. I was severely (in my mind) overweight with no baby to explain my curves. I felt cheated of my perfectly good excuse for why I’d let myself go.

Matt and I before we got married and had children
Matt and I before we got married and had children

Indeed, a few months after our loss, some friends hired a log cabin for a weekend break and generously invited us along, a small gesture of kindness that was gratefully received. One evening while we all sat in the hot tub, I very self-consciously surveyed my friends’ carefree, slim bodies and was dismayed at the disparity when I cast an eye downwards. Meekly I said that I felt like a caricature of myself and my friend said, “but I just think of you as you”. I took that with the gentle spirit with which it was said, that I was not seen as any different in the eyes of those who cared about me.

In my head I was a leper now, a social outcast, destined to join a travelling freak show and be wheeled out 3 times a day to be ogled at by curious members of the public who wanted the chance to be up close to … what? A grieving mother, a baby killer, my mauled body a satisfyingly gruesome visual memorandum that babies die? Yeah it doesn’t sound real to me either when I say it like that… it doesn’t feel real, still doesn’t, er have I said that already?

Inside and out I didn’t recognise myself; it was disconcerting and shattered my self-confidence and self-belief. I felt ship-wrecked and the task of piecing myself back together was overwhelming at first. Something that helped was challenging thoughts I privately thought to be true. For years I had staunchly thought people would think I was lazy, ugly, out of control, unemployable and ultimately unlovable if I was overweight. But by challenging that thought with reality I realised none of my friends or family stopped loving me after I had gained weight and I have successfully had 3 jobs since Evie’s death so my skills clearly outweigh my appearance. SO conclusion…I’m just nuts! No really, the truth is that bearing these physical scars has taught me such an invaluable life lesson that I have solely Evelyn to thank for it. She has helped me learn what I could not by my self – beauty is on the inside; people don’t judge me half as harshly as I judge myself and people love me for who I am not what I look like. No small list of things to get into my think skull.

I feel like both physically and mentally, visibly and invisibly I bear the scars of the past 4 years. The fresh wounds have scabbed and scarred, the searing pain has dulled to an occasional throb but the scars remain. A permanent reminder of my experience, my life journey and my daughter. I’ve had a rough couple of years but if I can see the beauty in a sunny day; the joy in getting ‘Rainbow Dash'(my little pony for those of you not in the know) for Christmas; the delight in a good book; the delicious aroma of a Sunday roast then I think I’ll be ok. For the small joys are balm for my soul indeed.

My sister and I on my 30th birthday party
My sister and I on my 30th birthday party

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

Lydia x

We’ve got a baby, now what?

My secret mantra throughout my second pregnancy was, ‘If we get a baby, then…’, but I never thought about what I would do if we did actually get a baby here safe and sound.

We’ve just celebrated our third Christmas with our darling second daughter Poppy and it was magical. She got to grips with the idea of leaving food and drink out for Father Christmas and the reindeer; in the morning delighted to see  the remnants of the pit-stop snack, hastily gobbled by the famished St Nick on his toy round – he has a busy night mummy, she expertly explained. She also had her first stab at a Christmas list, which was not so successful and probably due to me not prepping her properly on what you ask for. She adamantly asked for a pretend biscuit and pretend statue …what goes on in their little minds?! Needless to say we didn’t bring up the Christmas list much, in the hope that we would not be required to purchased these mystical items, and luckily she’s clearly a little too young to grasp the significance of the said list.

However, our biggest anticipated highlight was the Christmas-Morning-Wake-Up. We had spent ages explaining to her how it all works, you know – that the big FC would bring a stocking and leave it at the end of her bed. In the morning, probably early, she would wake to hear the crinkle of presents in the stocking, rustling as she stretched out her foot towards the end of the bed. She would be overcome with excitement that HE had been, grab the stocking and rush into mummy and daddy’s bedroom. Waking us up with excited cries of I wonder what’s inside? , we would then bring her into our bed and she would open the lovely presents. A wonderful picture postcard day of Christmas family gorgeousness would then ensue.

So… the reality is we wake up before her at 8am and we lay there in anticipation of the gasp and thud of feet. Instead, she wonders in around 8:10am … so has Father Christmas been?  Poppy says no I don’t think he’s been yet. Masking the panic in his voice daddy tries to solve the mystery of the missing stocking by taking Poppy back into her room to discover it, in plain sight, on the end of her bed, untouched and unnoticed by Poppy who is still fervently insisting he hasn’t been yet!

No doubt though, this year, being 2 days shy of her 4th birthday, she will understand it all, in much more dedicated detail; carefully crafting the definitive present list and waking at stupid-o-clock, unable to stay asleep any longer for the excitement of the day.

Snow picture!
Snow patrol!

It’s these precious memory-making moments and hilarity of everyday life with a child that make it all worth it. The hope I would one day have these delicate and private times of family life that I share with my husband kept me going when the fear of losing another baby threatened to overwhelm me. It’s not grand or glamorous, it’s not harmonious or straightforward but it’s real life – Poppy’s life – that I get to share it and being her mummy: her guide to this life, is amazing.

And when I say amazing, as a bereaved parent, I mean every. single. syllable. I’m constantly aware of how lucky I am to have Poppy at all and that my life can be richer because of her presence. But do you know what? it makes me fearful too – it makes me wince when I think about getting what I planned when it comes to having children. It’s scary to want something, someone so badly, when you have done that already and they have died, the chance of that happiness snatched away so cruelly. It makes you fearful to be that hopeful, to plan, to dare to want a family with a certain number of children (always knowing there’s one more unseen).

I remember clearly that first night with Poppy. I was physically exhausted from having a c-section (major abdominal surgery is no picnic!) and mentally fried from the relief that we had faced our fear and gone through another birth but this time safely. I was shell-shocked, laying there next to this most welcome arrival, wishing with every fibre of my being: please don’t want anything from me and bless her she didn’t, she just stared at her fragile mummy and then slept.

I was a wreak, not being able to process the enormity of what we had achieved – the safe gestation and delivery of our second daughter, but also the fact that now I really was a mummy to a living baby who needed me. Those first few hours, days, weeks and months were such a vulnerable time for me. Veins coursing with hormones, body recovering from major surgery and a difficult pregnancy, sleep deprivation, desperately attempting to breastfeed were overwhelming to my senses. I felt the heavy burden of Poppy’s well-being resting on my shoulders, feeling like I had to pump her heart with my hand to keep her from dying too, to keep her here with me, in the physical world.

I confess I hate to think of the fragility of her and me in that time. I felt so excruciatingly vulnerable and ill-equipped. For someone like me who prides herself on being in control and knowledgable, it was a difficult time of having the most precious person in the world to look after but no manual. If I’m honest the experience and manner of Evelyn’s death had ripped my self-esteem to shreds and so I believed listening to my ‘motherly’ instincts was unreliable. Looking back now I imagine many first time mums feel as I did and that it wasn’t particular to me to find the first months of parenthood fraught, stressful and to be endured.

For me, one of the profound and long lasting effects of this experience of loosing Evie and then having Poppy soon afterwards, is that it’s rather put me off the whole baby thing. Now this, I realise is sacrilege! How can I say it’s put me off? The one thing I wanted in this world, was taken from me and then given, the gift I have that I can even have babies when others can’t and I’m saying I’m not sure about having any more. Well I’m probably just being really selfish but if I’m really honest it feels like babies are my cryptonite. I am crippled when they come near but am drawn to them in equal measure.

Babies are my cryptonite

Despite my darker moments when first having Poppy, I enjoyed my maternity leave immensely, really trying to live in the moment and soak up every morsel of my little darling. But even now the thought of going through another difficult pregnancy like Poppy’s or the risk of something happening to the baby, feels like to high a price to pay right now. I feel like I’m re-building my life after Armageddon and I don’t like the thought of another air raid bombing everything I fought so hard to repair. But really I suppose all I’m saying is: I’m afraid. I’m afraid to love someone again so much that I couldn’t bear to lose them, I’m afraid to put myself in what felt like a very compromised position of leaving the fate of my unborn baby to fate/destiny/insert appropriate deity here. I’m afraid to claim happiness, exquisite happiness of another child because the more you have the more you have to lose. I’m sure I will feel stronger in time to face this fear and claim my stake of joy, just watch me…I’ll get there.

The path bereaved parents must tread is a balance between hope and fear, sanity and off-the-scale anxiety. You have to learn to live again in a risky world with the right amount of fear that still allows you to live, not just survive, and be fulfilled – not an easy task.

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

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