I had an overwhelming need to convalesce in the very old-fashioned sense.
I need to retreat into myself, my family and home to lick my wounds and slowly regain my health and mind. I spent just over 4 months at home after Evelyn died but I can’t really tell you what I did for most of that time. I clung to Matt up until Christmas as he was off on compassionate leave, I helped my brother-in-law with his business accounts and answering the phone; but other than that I can’t really recall. I felt physically possessed by my grief, riddled with it and desired nothing more than to be in intensive care with experts handling my fragile state. It does sounds rather melodramatic but I really did feel winded by the trauma of what had happened, it was so at odds with my expectation that I reeled from this sudden change in direction for some time.
Having said that, I did try to push myself back into the real world at the start of the New Year by joining two recruitment companies with the aim of getting a full-time job…it didn’t go well. To begin with, sitting on the bus ride over was agonising due to my enduring injuries sustained during the delivery. This vein continued when I blubbed like a baby (kind of no pun intended) when I explained why I was looking for a job to the bewildered but kind recruitment lady, who sympathetically suggested I stay home, try to get pregnant again and put this working nonsense behind me. Not wholly helpful but I took the caring intention behind her words and cancelled my other interview that day and spent it with my aunt instead.
This period of my life was a strange twilight zone where new events and experiences came thick and fast and as an extended family we all entered the kind of trance-like acceptance that this crazy was the new norm. My visit to my aunts after the fateful recruitment meeting is a prime example where my aunt comforted me and then asked if I wanted to have a walk down to the funeral home because she needed to sort out some details of my Nan’s funeral. “Of course”, I replied, “why not, I need some fresh air,” as if this were an everyday occurrence and there was nothing distressing at all about my morning so far and that fact that my nan had just died and would be lying dead behind a wall metres from me at the funeral home.
…And so life continued in this vein for what felt like the whole of 2012, ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ by Lemony Snicket was starting to feel autobiographical rather than fictional if I’m honest.
Something that people may not realise when someone grieves intensely is the lack of sleep or disrupted sleep that often comes hand in hand with it. It takes that peace that allows you to sleep soundly at night; and of course everything is worse at night – it’s dark, quiet and there are fewer distractions from your thoughts. I can remember all to clearly crying my eyes out sat in the dark of my living room looking out the window at 2 -3 -4 am pleading for the pain to subside enough for welcome sleep to envelope me. Sometimes it did and others it seemed to elude me.
Insomnia or troubled sleep adds to the sense of living in some twilight parallel universe because you permanently feel like a zombie living off adrenaline. You’re energy feels thin and insubstantial – you have no reserves or resources to draw upon, you are spent in your primal desire to survive but surviving means somehow bearing the awful pain that greets your every waking moment.So sleep then is your relief…if you can get any.
For me sleeping was a small mercy because I did not dream about what had happened; my brain protected me from reliving it while I slept. I believe in total I have had 3 dreams about Evie since she died and I am someone who has vivid, detailed dreams that I can recall in the morning with clarity, so I was so grateful to have peace when I slept. I know, however, this is not the case for many.
Why convalescing? Because it means:
to become healthy and strong again slowly over time after illness, weakness, or injury.
alter your mood significantly – make you irritable, angry and may lessen your ability to cope with stress.
According to the NSF, the “walking tired” are more likely to sit and seethe in traffic jams and quarrel with other people. Sleep-deprived people polled by the NSF were also less likely than those who sleep well to exercise, eat healthfully, have sex, and engage in leisure activities because of sleepiness.
“Over time, impaired memory, mood, and other functions become a chronic way of life,” says Siebern. “In the long term, this can affect your job or relationships.”
Chronic sleepiness puts you at greater risk for depression. They are so closely linked that sleep specialists aren’t always sure which came first in their patients. “Sleep and mood affect each other,” says Verceles. “It’s not uncommon for people who don’t get enough sleep to be depressed or for people who are depressed to not sleep well enough.” Reference: www.webmd.com
So now you can see why we all go loopy for a while when our baby dies. Please share you’re thoughts and experiences of needing to convalesce or the lack of sleep – this is not discussed and should be.
Until next time, do what you can to find your smile again.
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
Now this post is not one I could have written just after having lost Evie. In fact it’s been formulating for a bout the past year and to fruition in these lines. Would love your thoughts on this…
We have one of those very trendy shabby chic shops near our house, in amongst the rustic old-looking new photo frames and trinkets you don’t need but really want to arrange effortlessly about your house, there’s a faux old wooden sign with the slogan – “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” How fantastically sentimental and glib I would have thought a year or two ago. Life cannot be summed up in clever puns and one-liners – maybe that should be put on an over-priced wooden sign and sold to people who want to appear witty…and breathe Lydia.
Now, having just got quite cross about this sign and its attempts to explain the human condition, I have to be honest and admit that it does rather coin a notion I had been circling for a while. The awareness that I am not exempt from life’s blows resonates with me the most – I’ve finally got it! I am no more entitled to a life free from pain, suffering, poverty or hardship than anyone else; why shouldn’t I have lost my baby, someone’s gotta, people have to die some time. It is not why me? but rather why not me?
Life is unfair which is true enough but it is much easier to say when a healthy dollop of loveliness has been portioned on your plate. Just because I had had a terrifying loss does not mean I could not suffer something similar in the future but in equal measures is the likelihood of it not happening again. This fragile balance of worrying about the unknown and not letting it stop you from living is a hard one to master.
This conclusion – thanks I thought it was rather profound too – did not come to me suddenly but rather gradually over the last few years. Before all this I think I was quite normal in my perception of the risks of stepping outside my front door, driving a car and flying on an aeroplane. I did not fear bad things happening to me other than in a general vague sort of way that was very manageable. I was able to remain level-headed in the face of other people’s misfortune, I was not superstitious and didn’t really believe in tempting fate.
However, as you might imagine everything really did frighten me for a long time after Evelyn died, I felt very exposed and fearful that every terrible thing in the world was lining up to happen to me next. The sad thing was that for a while they did. Over the next year my family and I suffered a string of losses and ill health, like we were in ancient Egypt and the plagues just kept coming. I used to be comforted by statistics, safely believing I would remain on the right side of them, but when you have been the 1 in 200 (not random but the actual statistic I made true when I lost Evelyn due to shoulder dystocia) you do rather feel singled out.
Have you ever felt like this? Singled out and punished or made an example of? The loss I suffered was obviously so personal it was easy to see it as personal – as in personally done against me; when the reality is that it was not. It was ‘one of those things’ (HATE THAT PHRASE) but it’s true. My daughter died due to geometry and well, the perils of childbirth – it seems so stupid and senseless that our human sense of justice just can’t stands it.
When I hear of about unusual types of deaths (not often I’ll admit) I always think I’d be so annoyed if I died like that. For example, I’d be very annoyed if is was Debby Mills-Newbroughton, 99 years old. She was killed as she crossed the road. She was to turn 100 the next day but, crossing the road with her daughter to go to her own birthday party, her wheel chair was hit by the truck delivering her birthday cake. (Taken from a list of unusual deaths in USA).
Humans are meant to die of noble, noteworthy and meaningful causes not by trying to be born or from walking across the road. But we do. The manner of someone’s death seems linked to the value of their life – if we can be wiped out easily like ants then we’re no better than ants, surely?
Well, I don’t think this is true – do you?
It was hard not to think like that when Evie died, it was so against the natural order of things that I felt justified in my outrage at God, fate, the universe etc for taking her away. One of the hardest aspects of my daughter’s death I am coming to terms with is to see it that she died and wasn’t killed. she was not taken from me by some evil being or horrendous plot and my body did not kill her in the act of giving life.
Some days I’m better at it than others.
Until next time, do what you can to find your smile again.
Ok – deep breath – I think I’m ready now to tell you about what happened, to explain why I’m so traumatised and why I’m writing at all…
Indeed, the house felt pregnant just as we were and one evening as I lay in bed recovering from the flu; which I had not been able to shake for two weeks, there was an excitement in the air as I called to Matt to come to our bedroom. I had rolled over in bed and mid roll I had felt a pop and then liquid, nervously I suggested that my waters had broken. I had a rush of adrenaline as I started to try and wrap my head around the fact that the mystically adventure of childbirth was beginning. The only way I can describe it is that my mind just cleared and I became very focused on my mission: Mission Baby. I knew I would be up all night so stayed in bed to get what rest I could, I recalled what I had read – that this stage could take hours and having been ill I wanted to conserve my energy.
Matt flitted around excitedly like a moth to light, fussing over me, checking then rechecking the hospital bag, that was his job and he took it very seriously. Another job he took up with extreme vigour was putting in the car seat. He spent goodness knows how long out in the car, in the dark, trying to fit the thing and conquered it just as I was starting to really find out the difference between Braxton Hicks tightenings and real contractions – am I right ladies? Slowly but surely the contractions started to come on stronger and more regularly; in fact I know this for a fact because Matt had downloaded a labour app and was helping my time each contraction and length of time between them – what a modern father. Actually it was really useful because when we decided to call the midwife unit again and they asked about the contractions, we could describe with twentieth century accuracy their development over the hours.
One vivid memory I have as we left for the hospital was the excitement, the expectation, the anticipation… the hope. As my mum and step dad waved us off it was all very civil and tame – a big hug and a ‘see you on the other side-esque’ farewell. We fully expecting to see them in the morning with a baby. The chilly October night air did little to quell our delight that the wait was finally nearly over and after a very uncomfortable but thankfully short drive we arrived at the birthing unit of our little town…
Now I can literally feel my fingers slowing down as I type this, my pulse is quickening as we draw near to the trauma. By writing this story I cannot pretend it is a story, a fiction, I cannot rely on one of my scripts to get me through. I feel like I am going back there, going through it again as I lay down the sentences, words and letters that spell out our disaster. Dare I go on to tell the details that few people have heard first hand – the long version that is, the uncut visceral version that means you can see me at my most vulnerable? I’ll just tell myself, “For Evie, my Evie”. If one person can be helped to feel not alone in their grief it is worth it, through gritted teeth I will tell you what happened.
After a routine labour, textbook progression to full dilation and pushing baby down – their words, not mine – it was time to see our little girl. I was in the birthing pool so they moved me around to get into better positions for baby to crown. Suddenly the midwife’s voice changed and she became very firm, concise and serious, “get out the pool now”, she said with a telling urgency. I complied unquestioningly asking for help to get me out of the pool with essentially my baby’s head between my legs (you get the picture). Then things moved very fast. It was clear she was not coming out easily and there was a rush to ease her stuck shoulders. All I am going to say is that they had to perform several, increasingly invasive manoeuvres on me to try and dislodge her and allow her to be born. The pain of limbs being grabbed and pushed beyond their normal limits, helped to stretch by hormones, an episiotomy with no pain relief and the echoes of my cries as several people rushed in to work on me is an experience branded on my mind forever.
The indelible ink of those moments are not images as such, my eyes tightly screwed up in horror meant most of the memories run deep in my muscles, the dark depths of my mind’s eye rather than in Technicolor, although no less vivid. Images, however, are all my husband has of those excruciating moments that determined our daughter’s life. He bravely held my hand and silently stifled his tears as his world fell apart literally before his eyes. It pains me to think of how he suffered, actually without sounding melodramatic it hurts my very soul to think how he suffered, how I suffered and how our darling girl suffered. Oh this is tougher than I thought to put down in words…
When the rush of relief swept over me, signalling they had finally got Evelyn out, it had been seven long minutes. The seven longest minutes of my life, too long, but long enough to destroy my daughter’s chance of a life. I just can’t believe it, I cannot believe I’m recounting an experience that is mine and not someone else’s… please let this be someone else’s story.
She was rushed away to waiting doctors out of my line of sight. Then, before I could comprehend what had happen she was taken out of the room to a waiting ambulance, I saw the side of her face and head. Incidentally it was the last time I saw her alive.
I was left lying there in shock, numb from the head down crying and looking between Matt and one of the midwives for reassurance that would never come. The midwives and other medical staff agreed that I could wait to be stitched up and that we could follow Evelyn in another ambulance to the large hospital 20 miles away.
The journey is the longest, most terrible I have ever endured. I started praying out loud and didn’t stop through the endless minutes and miles to the hospital as we traced the path our daughter had already taken. I remember at one point the midwife who accompanied us lamenting, “the power of prayer!”. I was doing the only thing I could for my family, crying out, pleading for my daughter’s safety and for peace, neither of which ever came.
We finally arrived at the hospital and the waiting staff opened the doors of the ambulance. This is the point when my husband says he knew she was dead because they did not say anything to us as they wheeled me out on the bed; they did not say she was critical and they would take us to her now, they did not say she was ok but poorly: they said nothing. In a cold, anonymous corridor a doctor crouched down beside me and before she could wipe the tears to speak I asked her, “she’s dead isn’t she?”. A silent nod confirmed my worst fear and I crumpled into my hands as the tears began to flow uncontrollably, my life energy flowing out of me with each hot teardrop.
I literally feel hot and close to tears just writing this, but I must write it, I must try to make sense of it, I have so many hurts and regrets about the hours after we were told she had died. The shock drew over me like a veil; I could not take anything in. I could not look at my daughter as she was placed in my husband’s heavy arms, I could not accept what I was seeing – a beautiful bundle of joy, but lifeless and still.
My mum and brother had followed us to the hospital and all I can remember is my mum sobbing, “I’m so sorry, I’m so, so sorry”. She asked what we had called our daughter, and without discussion we both agreed ‘Evelyn’, which means life and wished for child and she really was.
We were led to a private room where we stayed for the rest of the day. Slowly the rest of our immediate families joined us in our sorrow and to see Evelyn. It again was one of many perverse parodies of what we all should have been doing on the day she was born. We should have been showing her off, instead we struggled to be in the same room as her.
The first time we were along with her, just us three was to dress her in our clothes we had lovingly picked for her first day. Bizarrely for a few moments I enjoyed the decision making of choosing the clothes, rummaging through the carefully prepared hospital bag for the perfect outfit. A brief glimpse of what might have been. The saddest part for me about dressing our daughter is that we couldn’t do it. Every time we tried to touch her or thought we saw her head move we were frightened and confused that she may have made those movements herself. Like some horror show she was not dead, instead I was terrified she was hovering between life and death and would suddenly open her eyes or something equally disturbing. It was hugely distressing. In the end we asked the midwife to help us but she did it quickly so I never got to see my baby’s body in full.
This is where I get very upset, so many regrets pile up and threaten to overwhelm me and my memories of my child. In all we didn’t spend much time with her at all probably 40 minutes and after we left the hospital that day we never saw her again. I discuss this in my post “The conversation of Death” that I just wish someone would have gently shown us there was nothing to be afraid of, helped us to calm down and study our precious one, that she was not a dreadful character but our daughter, a human being to be explored and considered with dignity. I do not think I showed her the respect she deserved, that I should have shown her as her mum. I am so mortified that my shock prevented me from spending quality time with my daughter. I feel robbed of those moments that I can never reclaim, salvaging what I can from the wreckage is all I can do now; picking over these bones hurts and subsequently I do not do it often.
Even over three years later I cannot shake the sense of deep shame I carry for how I could not look at her when she was brought into us after we arrived at the hospital. I could not hold her or appreciate her. I could not touch her or take her in. I am so sorry. I am so sorry I could not look at you properly, as a mother should, and say you were mine. I regret that those precious hours were stolen from me by my shock.
I don’t know about you but I need a drink!
So until next time do what you can to find your smile