UK First Innovative new support playgroup for Bereaved Parents in jeopardy due to Children Centre Cuts in Oxfordshire

The future of an innovative new playgroup to support parents who have lost a baby at any time during pregnancy or around birth looks uncertain due to budget cuts for children’s centres. The group is the first of its kind in the UK and was set up by local woman Lydia Berry last year in David Cameron’s constituency. The group faces being shut down as the Ace Centre in Chipping Norton who host the group are threatened with closure in the wake of Oxfordshire County Council’s budget cuts to family services.

The first session of 2016 will be held at the Ace Centre in Chipping Norton, starting on Saturday 5th March. The playgroup is specifically for bereaved parents who also have children between the ages of 0 and 7. Lydia lost her first daughter Evelyn shortly after birth in 2011 and has been working with the Ace Centre to set up the much needed play session.

The idea behind the new playgroup is to recognise that when parents lose a baby, raising older, surviving or subsequent children can be a unique challenge. Parents supporting each other can be a great help because sharing from real experiences is a powerful comfort. The group also seeks to plug the substantial gap in professional support for bereaved parents around the country.

The sessions will be a safe space where parents can feel comfortable and able to talk about their loss or just watch their other children play. The aim for the group is making connections with others facing similar challenges, which can help ease the burden of caring for young children whilst grieving.

The Rainbow group sessions will be held in the main hall of the Ace Centre with plenty of toys and activities for the children to enjoy as well as healthy snacks, while parents can have a cup of tea and socialise with others in a similar situation.

Lydia said, “Losing Evelyn was the single most traumatic experience of my life and I found having my second daughter a year later a difficult adjustment. I often struggled to grieve and also be a mum to a living child. The support from others who have been through similar experiences has been a lifeline so I’m really excited to start the second year of these special play sessions. I want to thank the Ace Centre for giving me such great support and facilitating this support playgroup. They have encouraged me to speak out on behalf of bereaved parents, giving me the confidence to help others in need of a kind ear. It is a travesty that they face an uncertain future due to short-sighted cuts to services in the community.’

Helen Ruff, Head of the Ace Centre said, “We are happy to be hosting the support playgroup as we think this meets a real need in our area for those who face the tough challenge of parenting while coming to terms with terrible loss. We believe bereaved parents are often a silent group in the community, as they must carry on functioning for their other children while grieving in private. We are thrilled that the idea was suggested by one of the mums who regularly uses our facilities.”

The new playgroup will be held on select dates throughout the year: 10.30 – 12.30 on Saturday 5th March, 30th April, 4th June, 6th August, 24th Sept, 19st Nov 2016.

For more information contact Lydia Berry: oxfordshirerainbows@gmail.com

Ace Centre – http://www.ace-chippingnorton.co.uk/family-centre/

If your child is over 7 and you wish to attend please contact Lydia.

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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

Baby Loss Awareness Week 9th – 15th October

Baby Loss Awareness Week

Baby Loss Awareness Week 9th-15th October

Throughout the week bereaved parents, family members and friends can commemorate the all-too-brief lives of their babies, knowing that thousands of other families elsewhere in the world will be doing the same.  The week also provides a crucial opportunity for people to talk openly about the subject of and raise awareness of baby loss.

The week ends with Baby Loss Awareness Day on 15th October.  October 15th is recognised as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day across the world. On this day, many choose to take part in the global ‘Wave of Light’ – a global event to remember all the babies that have died during pregnancy, at, during or after birth.  Simply light a candle at 7pm and leave it burning for at least 1 hour.  This can be done individually or in a group, at home or in a communal space. Wherever you do this, you will be uniting with others across the world in honour of those babies who lit up our lives for such a short time.

Baby Loss Awareness week

Heart of light
Heart of light

#Babyloss

I am the 1 in 4
I am the 1 in 4

I shall light one for my daughter Evelyn xx

Our darling Evelyn
Our darling Evelyn

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

First comes love, then comes marriage and then comes a baby in a baby carriage. Part 2

Matt and I on our wedding day, 5th December 2009
Matt and I on our wedding day, 5th December 2009

It was a glorious summer as we embraced our new-found status as expectant parents. We fell into an easy routine of me taking to my bed in the evenings in our rented terraced house in Bournville, Birmingham, and Matt studying. The previous September he had enrolled at Birmingham City University to complete a PGCE, with the view to becoming a secondary school music teacher. It would be a realisation of his dream to work in music, albeit not as a hot producer or singer/songwriter in a London studio, but it would be in the right direction and would be using his music degree more directly than his previous recruitment job.

I think we both felt quite settled in our new and emerging roles. Matt was changing career, enjoying his studies and doing extremely well despite the challenges that teenage school children create. He also made some friends that are still dear to him now, one of whom has just got married. We attended the nuptials with our second child in tow. I too was changing career – from PR to PA and from wife to mother, I was as thrilled at the text book pregnancy I was having as I was at settling into my new job – both fitted like a glove.

Arriving for the wedding
Arriving for the wedding

Having put our life plan into action we set about planning to move back to sleepy Chipping Norton, where I grew up. My family moved there when I was 7 and it has been a permanent fixture in my life ever since. I met Matt at the secondary school there, I had many friends still living in the area and Matt’s family lived 7 miles away in an even sleepier town called Charlbury. It was the perfect place to bring up children, a reasonably rural, small Cotswold town with both sets of grandparents on our doorstep and a comforting familiarity that would allow me to focus on learning how to raise my child. It fit the ideals we both had for our child or children to be brought up with a sense of family and place in the local community. It was in many ways an idyllic place to grow up compared to the suburbs of a big town or city we thought; as country bumpkins ourselves we had nothing to compare to apart from our time spent studying and living in Birmingham and the experience had left us cold to anonymous city living.

My parents owned a large town house in the centre of the town; it was an unusual set-up with a furniture shop at the front and the family home occupying the rest of the building above and behind it. The easiest access to our front door was through the shop which was piled high with beautifully crafted and accordingly priced oak and pine furniture, decorated with trendy shabby chic knick-knacks strategically placed to catch the eye of passing custom. The shopkeeper had run the business for many years and was a well-known, well-loved face in the local community; through the week he would host a stream of regular chats with townspeople who did not come for his wooden delights but for his delightful company. His distinctive laugh ringing out perhaps more often than his till but his popularity and solid client base kept him securely ensconced on the High Street, between two large branches of national banking chains.

When my parents found out I was pregnant and the initial excitement had been replaced by even more excited planning and organising, they agreed we could rent the apartment which was the top part of their house. It sat above the shop and looked out over the centre of the town. For a nosy-parker like myself it was heaven to sit in the large open-plan living/dining/kitchen, peer through the old windows into the bustling streets below and people watch.

The apartment was in the oldest and original part of the building which was Georgian. It had been added to over the years resulting in a rabbit warren of rooms and passages spread over 4 floors. It was quirky to say the least with charming time-worn wooden windows and archways. As a teenager it was fantastic fun to bring friends round after school and see them flounder with the layout, throwing their hands in the air declaring they were lost. I was the eldest of four children so we relished the room we had in this house compared to our previous 3 bedroom semi-detached estate house. In the town house we had the luxury of a room each and no less than three bathrooms to use between six of us. It is a house that had been moulded by us over the years through adolescence and now as I turn thirty this year it has seen the joys and heartaches of my twenties too. Our fingerprints are evident in the structural changes to the property, which allowed us to make the most of the higgledy-piggledy arrangement of the floors. In short, it was a delight to return to my family home to start my own family and thinking of the months ahead I was nothing but thankful to have my mum downstairs from me, on hand for any baby emergency.

The apartment was already being let so the soonest we could make the move was in July, I was due on November 7th, my mum’s birthday, so we had plenty of time to settle in before the arrival of bubba. The only stressful part of the move was that I couldn’t very easily commute from Chipping Norton to central Birmingham every day for the rest of my pregnancy so we had to come up with an interim solution. Matt had finished his PGCE by the summer and gained an outstanding first, I was so proud of his achievement as was he. However, the reality of finding a music teaching position in Oxfordshire or surrounding counties in what is traditionally a small department proved futile and he scampered to find a job in recruitment to ensure he could provide for wife and child. With dragging feet he found one helping people claiming job-seekers allowance find work; it was hard and largely unrewarding but it paid the bills and was stable.

With Matt settling into his new job I still needed to work until my maternity leave which started when I was 27 weeks pregnant; including unspent annual leave, it was the earliest it could start so I had to stay in Birmingham for a month while Matt lived and worked in Oxfordshire. A dear friend from my university days and her lovely husband hosted me and I was truly spoiled by their generosity throughout my stay. I had home-cooked meals and was allowed free reign on the TV channels while they went about their business in the evenings after work. My evenings were spent leisurely resting up and ended with a nightly phone call from Matt to say goodnight to me and bump.

Happily pregnant at my friend's house in Birmingham
Happily pregnant at my friend’s house in Birmingham

We’d swap stories from our day and wove our ideas for the baby room decorations and favourite baby names into such a rich tapestry it was hard to see where we ended and it began. Each time we had a thought or hope for our baby, our new life, we would delicately stitch a little more into the fabric each day. The cloth grew larger and more intricate as the months went by just as our baby developed and grew. I had a day by day pregnancy book that I poured over, in awe of the female body and what it could achieve. I hungrily read ahead wishing the time away until I could meet Bubba Berry and at the same time trying to savour every part of this fabulous process. I was, quite frankly, nauseatingly happy and content with my situation and would gladly tell anyone that would listen; indeed, if I had been asked I could have seen myself on some pregnancy advert quite blissfully demonstrating the benefits of some cream or other for mums-to-be. Yes, I was that into it.

16 weeks pregnant with my mum on my sister's wedding day
16 weeks pregnant with my mum on my sister’s wedding day

The final few months of my pregnancy were spent answering the phones for my brother-in-law’s company and stockpiling cooked meals in preparation for a time when cooking would be the last thing on our minds and require more focus than our tired minds would allow. I absolutely embraced impending motherhood and tried to morph into a domestic, maternal goddess who knew her way round the kitchen and the cleaning equipment – and more importantly revelled in her status of home queen. I think I was trying to fit that image I’d seen promoted in TV, fiction, facebook, instagram and pinterest of the yummy mummy – informed yet fun, inventive and proud. Sadly now I do tend to feel much more of a fraud if I’m honest, perhaps I’m not so much a natural nest builder. But there we were drifting, lounging on the raft of pregnancy, floating along being carried by our optimism and anticipation, little did we know we were careering towards a waterfall of epic proportions…

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

Lydia

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