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