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

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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

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

x

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain

It's not why me? but why not me?
A hard question to ask.

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.

Lydia x

So… what happened? How did Evelyn die?

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

Lydia x

Our darling Evelyn
Our darling Evelyn

Application to fully fledged motherhood – denied

Before losing Evelyn I would have said my rock-bottom was my parents’ divorce, taking exams or breaking up with a teenage crush that had rendered me heart-broken and I would have meant it from the very bottom of my broken heart. Such was my perspective that any one of those experiences would have definitely been in my top 10 worst-moments-of-all-time lists that we all mentally store. Truly the hours I agonised over upsets, results, arguments, my appearance, my weight, whether people loved or even liked me, now seem so insignificant. Yet at the time if I had been told that I would have felt the keen sting of those patronising words; feeling belittled and humiliated by my silly, inconsequential angst that did not feature on anyone’s compassion radar but my own.

This is how it is.

In each of our own lives we have a compass which navigates us through our personal waters, clear skies and squalls. It is finely tuned to our past experiences, personality, perception of the world and our place in it. The same event could happen to a hundred people and a hundred different accounts would be generated. We travel through our lives and this world alone, alone with our version of it at least. Our account of what happened and why, with our own adaptations, edits and renderings, is what helps us translate what happens out there into something meaningful inside. It is how we make sense of the world around us, it’s what makes us human and I am no different. In a cosmic nutshell, I am just trying to make my way, trying to make an impression, trying to love and be loved in return … hang on, that may be a quote from Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful.

So when my daughter died in the very moments I was bringing her into this world, birth and death mingled disgustingly close, beginning and end intertwined in some ghastly dance that she and I were forced to partake. We swayed and twirled, I waltzed into blind pain and agony and she pirouetted into death. The grotesque raw nature of dying was unceremoniously revealed to my husband and I like a Tim Burton movie. In gothic Victoriana scenes our beloved daughter, our firstborn, was deprived of oxygen at the point of being born and those beautifully formed muscles, organs and tissue filled with toxic gas. The horror of those moments, those visceral bonds of mother and child being ripped, torn and shredded will haunt me for the rest of my life.

If I can, I will tell you what happened; just give me some time.

The unscrupulous lens of Death makes things very clear and definite, it is ruthless in its ability to sift through the grit and leave behind only the most salient and significant parts of us; only our core necessary soul remains. Our fundamental substance is left, vulnerable to the cold, dark world like a climber exposed on a snowy mountain side, clinging on for dear life.

Life.

We cannot have it without its counterpart, we cannot be, cannot exist if there isn’t a time when we do not. It is how it has always been and always will be. We appear as a brief extra on the film set of the epic story of the world. Death humbles you into submission, shakes you up and alters you, puts you in your place and never lets you forget it.

When you have seen death it imprints on your mind indelible sights, sounds and smells that fuse to you like a watermark. It is always there in the background and colours everything with its undeniable shadow. It moulded to my DNA and gave me a very real sense of ‘before’ and ‘after’. In this post-apocalyptic landscape of my life, I was hollowed out – a husk – and I had to learn to live, not again, as this implies I could pick up where I left off, but rather anew. Anew in the sense that my past life seemed totally destroyed, nothing left from the furnace but ashes, nothing but fragments too fragile to use in the rebuilding. So I forged new scaffolding and structures on which to pin my delicate and frail existence. I lived in the refugee camp on which stood my former life and I looked out on the desolate scene of chaos and aid workers.

Losing my baby made me feel totally hopeless, razed to the ground – I was obliterated. I had no idea so much of my identity was wrapped around my daughter’s small new-born hand. When I lost her I felt like I lost myself completely, I was extinguished, damaged beyond all recognition, ruins where smart buildings once should. Was anything salvageable? Was the wreckage of my life repairable? The day I lost my baby I truly believed the answer was no.

I know so far it all seems very bleak and rather hopeless and I suppose, from my own point of view that was true for the first year or so. I felt so involved in my own grief that I couldn’t really function on many levels – I could just about care enough to cook and clean occasionally, but really I was existing. I turned my focus inwards and dwelt there in the pain of losing my baby.

It is easy to overlook the hopes, dreams, plans parents have for their child and their life together, they are as lost as the child themselves. The devastation of an abrupt full stop to their story as a family is like a head on collision, the inertia of the life you were living is brought to a sudden and cruel halt. In car accidents the most damage is done when the organs in the body keep travelling in the body and hit bone, it takes time for the body to settle back internally and it will always bear the scars of those injuries.

At first, probably due to my disproportionate sense of self-importance, I felt this car crash was personal, it was a hit taken out on me to teach me a lesson in humility, a lesson I never learned well. How foolish was I to think I could have a healthy baby and a lovely birth? Stupid, silly me! I felt mocked by fate/ God/ destiny – insert appropriate Deity or supernatural power – and so I carried around with me a deep sense of rejection. My application to graduate to fully fledged motherhood had been denied for reasons unknown to me, the ink of the big red rubber stamp still not dry glared up at me. What was wrong with my mothering skills? Why had I had the reward of pregnancy taken from me, stolen from me? Why had I been taken off the production line of procreation and thrown in the reject bin?

So here’s where I apologise to my friends and family, an explanation is owed for why I was so self-absorbed, unable to retain information and repeatedly failed to ask after your day. I was consumed with deep and mysterious questions about the big stuff – why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people? Etc. And believe me grappling with these tough issues is no easy feat. If scholars, philosophers and spiritual leaders cannot fathom or explain the reason for life being cruel then really what chance did I have! But I gave it a good go, devoting myself to the cause for a long time. I didn’t remember what my friends were doing or keep up with the ins and outs of my sister’s second pregnancy; I found it hard to support my mum when her mum died a month or so after Evelyn and I pretty much cut myself off from everyone but my husband.

In short, I had basically checked out of life for a while believing it would be no great loss to anyone really.

I now know that is a lie.

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

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