Today is Mother’s Day, a day when the focus is rightly on us mums. A day when we hear how much we are loved and appreciated by our children, a day for smiles and lots of love. The tender mome…
Today is Mother’s Day, a day when the focus is rightly on us mums. A day when we hear how much we are loved and appreciated by our children, a day for smiles and lots of love. The tender moments of watching your children express their love for you is so heart-warming and priceless, but what about mummies like me where there’s someone missing?
I’m fortunate to have a second child so I still get my fix of scrummy cuddles, cute slobbery kisses and breakfast in bed – which I have to share with said child because she’s a hobbit and needs 4 breakfasts and couldn’t bear to watch me eat something in peace and by myself.
But as I sit up in bed to be presented with my lovely card and lovingly prepared food there’s a sadness that lingers, dwells in the background, mixes with the air into a bittersweet perfume. ‘There should be two little girls with me now’ float around me dripping with my tears as I smile at my family trying and succeeding to make me know how proud they are of me.
Part of me can’t let the sadness wash over me, can’t tap into the grief to let it out and ease the pressure for a bit. I want to be normal today! I want to just be happy and smothered in love today. I don’t want to be sad and angry about what life has dealt me and robbed me of… but how to I do that without pretending Evie didn’t exist or denying that however I dress it up today is hard because I have to stare in the face the fact that one of my children has died?
- Be kind to yourself. Take things slow today and at your own pace. If you’re loss is recent then today is going to be horrible – there’s no other way of saying it. But today will pass, you will survive it and you will get through this time. For those of us a little further down the line and who have other children then it’s a mixed one -the bittersweet joy of having someone calling you mummy and saying how much they love you but the shadow of what would have been haunts the day. Don’t criticise yourself and feel guilty for feeling happy or despair for feeling deeply sad. Try to think about how you are feeling today and think what if my best friend said these things? What would I say to comfort her? Then try to say it to yourself.
- Do what feels right, not what you ‘should’ do. There’s so much hype around today – expectations society, the media and marketing put on us on how this day should look. An Instagram picture-perfect Mother’s day is unobtainable for most families let alone a family that has suffered a devastating loss. The tea spills, the kids scream and fight and the beautiful Sunday lunch at local restaurant experience has only served as a powerful contraceptive to everyone else in the vicinity. There’s no ‘right’ way to celebrate being a mum; if you want to do it quietly then do it! You want to shout from the roof tops about your children – all of your children, then do it! Putting extra pressure on yourself to act/perform a certain way when you are already in an emotional place just makes today a day to dread.
- Express yourself. If at all possible share how you are feeling with your partner, mum, friend – anyone who is close to you. Just saying it how it is can be very freeing, especially on a day like today where there’s lots of mixed emotions. They say a problem shared is a problem halved. Well grief isn’t a ‘problem’ but it does weigh us down, so sharing it with someone does lighten the load for a while – which can’t be a bad thing. Expressing how you really feel can be very freeing – you don;t have to put that smile mask on and pretend everything’s fine when it’s not. Try and see what happens!
- Be in the moment. When you lose a baby you feel like you will never smile again. Never laugh, feel joy, feel ok and feel happy. And for a time that may be true but as you get more accustomed to your grief then you realise that you can feel those wonderful emotions alongside your sadness. It’s a weird balance but you get used to it bit by bit. Something that my Evie has taught me is to be in the moment. To treasure the precious times for what they are. Not letting my mind be distracted, learning to turn off the internal monologue that continually says – this is sad, why me?, why is vie not here, this is horrible, I want to be normal, this is sad, why me? – you get the point. By tuning into what’s happening right now in front of you means you can truly experience life not watch it. In a way, see it that you don’t want to waste the life you’ve been given that was denied to your baby. Revel in the moment and see what beauty comes of it.
- Feel the love. You are a brilliant mum!!! Feel it, let yourself feel it and let yourself be pampered and doted on for the day! If you are anything like me you spend most of your time flitting between thinking you are a horrible mum for wanting to put nail varnish on, by yourself, let it dry and it not smudge; and then thinking you are not doing a good enough job because the other day your child picked their nose, you yelled, they cried and the neighbour you were talking to slinked back to their house, eyes widening with what looked suspiciously like judgment. But you know, all of that doesn’t leave much space for thinking and feeling that – you know what?… despite it all I’m doing my best, my child is loved and that’s enough – that’s more than enough. So FEEL THE LOVE TODAY. You’ve earned it!
Until next time do what it takes to find your smile again.
Listening is loving
Maybe I’ve been afraid of life and through Evie’s death I’m learning to live it.
Those who fear death, fear life
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ace Centre – http://www.ace-chippingnorton.co.uk/family-centre/
If your child is over 7 and you wish to attend please contact Lydia.
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.
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.
Until next time, do what you can to find your smile again.
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.
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
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.
I shall light one for my daughter Evelyn xx
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.
Reminding us everything lays dormant for a time,
where growing and rejuvenation occurs out of sight.
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.