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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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

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The incredible kindness of others

Sometimes saying thank you is the last thing that trips off the tongue – especially if you are or were like me someone who grieved so hard I couldn’t see past it to the people who were helping me.

Despite my recoil from this world into the cocoon of my apartment in my parents’ house I have to tell of the amazing kindness of those closest to me that ultimately saved me. Every person helped in a different way, some of those ways I could see and understand at the time and others it’s only after looking back that I can appreciate their support and what they did for me.

What is clear to me is the unfailing love of family and friends, the unwavering support from those who hold you dear and tight when there is nothing else to be done is the silver lining to this tale.I don’t know if I can ever say thank you enough, but I’ll try by at least detailing a few key people’s efforts here.

My mum was a rock that I clung to in the storm. She held Evie when I could not and took on the grandma duty of taking hand and foot prints for us, alongside Evie’s other nanna. She guided me through the difficult decisions of planning the funeral, took the burden of worry away about what was going to happen to me – I just had to exist and do the next thing she told me was on the agenda. I mean who wants to plan their baby’s funeral? Well, me if someone’s got to do – I’m her mum; but I needed my mum to hold me through it all too and she did so splendidly. She held me and talked nonsense with me to calm me down after a breakdown a few days after Evelyn died which resulted in having to be injected with a strong dose of Diazepam.

I often recall something my mum told me on the day of Evelyn’s funeral, she said, “remember this day will pass, it will not last for ever and you will live through this day”, words I clung to through the second hardest day of my life and for many months to come.

She listened when I questioned everything and offered her thoughts and opinions, and even though she thinks very differently to me she was most gentle.

Thank you x

A hug says a thousand words
A hug says a thousand words

My sister, Rebekah, despite being pregnant herself, was devoted to me and helped me with the distressing physical trials of losing a baby. When my milk came in with no hungry mouth to feed she helped me to stop the leaking milk with such care and compassion, the memory of which will stay with me for the rest of my life.

She somehow put aside her own challenges connected with her pregnancy to be my comforter and confidant. She put herself in my shoes and understood the pain as if she had lost a baby – she had lost a baby, her niece. To this day she is my best friend and supporter. I feel welded to her through our experiences of motherhood – neither have been easy – and feel eternally grateful and proud to call her my sister.

Thank you x

My friends Nicola and Katie were wonderful and were by no means the only friends that saw me through the most grave of times, but I wanted to send them a special squeeze. They would bring me and Matt cooked meals, listen to my endless tears and heartache and just hold me when no words would do. They have continued to be dear friends and are active in Poppy’s life too, which I love. Despite distance and busy lives of their own they have put me first on more occasions than I dare to remember…

Thank you xx

And finally to my dear husband Matt, who was unfailing in his love towards me. I truly felt his unconditional love for me during that awful time and I am grateful to him for supporting me in my worst moments. He saw me at my rock bottom, no veneer or cover up, he saw me at my most raw and most vulnerable and treated me with such tender kindness, it moves me to tears to remember. He effectively became my carer in the final months of Poppy’s pregnancy, such were my mobility issues. The toll of the physical damage done when they delivered Evie and the subsequent close pregnancy was a hefty price to pay for our dear girls – a price we both paid in different ways. Matt took it all on his shoulders, bearing the burden with a quiet stoicism that was admirable.

We got swept up in our mad fleeting obsessions that consumed us in the first months like buying coal and kindling to have endless open fires in our living room. We focused our efforts on transforming our daughter’s grave into a garden – Evie’s garden we call it. It now serves as the euphemism for her grave and most of our family and friends have adopted this way of describing her resting place. Buying plants and researching gardening methods, planning what would flower when and how to care for the plants kept us going through that first bleak winter without her.

He is my soul mate – we are forever entwined by our experiences – he makes me strong and allows me to blossom…

Thank you x

There were also the times that a complete stranger’s kindness helped me get through the day. To break the relentless battle between being honest to that so trivial question which serves as a greeting, “how are you?” Matt and I developed our own call and response. We’d ask each other how we were and each reply – “shit, you?” it felt so good to say the truth. Once I was asked this in a local supermarket at the checkout and I bravely said, not aggressively but plainly, “actually no I’m not having a good morning” and the lady behind the till so graciously replied, “Well sometimes we don’t, do we?” That simple exchange buoyed me up for the whole morning, the simple revelation of my turmoil in such a brief way was like taking the lid off a boiling pot to stop it running over.

The small and big kindnesses from family and friends have buoyed me up when I felt like my legs would falter, they helped me tread the water to stay alive. I have been loved fiercely, willed to continue my existence by my connections with these people who would not take quitting as an answer. I am humbled by other’s grace and understanding, humbled by their refusal to give up even when I had no fight left.

Thank you to you all and I’m sorry to pick out but a few stars but you are all very dear to me!

Until next time do what you can to find your smile – today I have found mine remembering the incredible kindness of others.

Lydia x

The conversation of death 

Bit of a heavy post today folks…

Talking about death and what happens when someone dies is not as big a part of our cultural norm as it should be and this has been on my mind for a while now so I thought I would share my thoughts with you and see what you think on the matter.

Looking at our society and culture nowadays I believe Death has been removed from our homes and our conversation. Over a century ago it was very much the norm that when someone died it would likely be at home and even more likely they were kept at the home until they were either buried or cremated.

The intimacy with death in the family setting has diminished over the last century and as a result our ability and opportunity to see death has diminished and increased our discomfort. We are not at ease with the physical presence of death. We are at a loss on how to deal with it. We don’t know how to behave around the dead.

The physical and practical tasks associated with the immediate aftermath of death are now a mystery and have donned a mystical shroud – ghostly and frightening. The dead have been transformed by the movies theatres and gruesome video games into puppets, cartoons – unreal villains, zombies and vampires. Caricatures designed to play upon our fear of dying and fear of the unknown world of the afterlife.

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Benjamin Franklin

So if death is a part of life, why isn’t it?

For me death isn’t a part of my life, I never saw any of my grandparents after they had died and haven’t lost any other significant person to me that I could visit. And then I lost Evie…

In my opinion when you also then factor in the shock of losing a baby, someone dying when they should be being born then instincts take over. Except we don’t have instincts that guide us towards this manner of death – they make us run away, as far away as possible.

For me this is a huge source of anguish and deep regret about my own reaction to my baby’s dead body. The manner of Evelyn’s death and the fact we weren’t with her when she died meant I could not take in what they were telling me – she was dead. She was then presented to us as a perfect bundle of joy; as my husband held her crying, I turned away as tears poured down my cheeks, not able to accept the news and not able to look at her. We were barely able to spend time with her and we both found the entire experience of being with her frightening.

It pains me to say but I am so ashamed of my reaction – how could I be frightened of my own daughter? How could I not face her? I’m her mother and she deserved that, she deserved my unflinching attention when meeting her for the first time. My love for her should have overrode my fear but I was not strong enough and now I don’t know what to do to allow me to feel peace about this.

There is a lot of work being done in the NHS to ensure people have a good death, experience dignified palliative care and can make choices about their own demise. But is it possible to have a good death when it comes to babies?

Is it possible to have a good death when it comes to babies?
Is it possible to have a good death when it comes to babies?

Firstly what is a good death? For the dying it would be retaining a sense of control, being treated with respect, dying with dignity intact, feeling comfort and peace and not being afraid. But what is a good death for the surviving? Having a sense that goodbyes had been said; perhaps sharing the moment of departure with their loved one; seeing their loved one during final care and then their body being treated with decorum and respect; not being afraid of what was happening and being able to spend time with their loved one after they had gone if they wishes. Is is obviously not exhaustive but it is an interesting idea to consider.

Is any of this possible for parents and their baby? The short answer is yes but it depends on the manner of the death, whether is was known in advance or was unexpected and, of course, it depends on the individual parents and their ways of dealing with loss.

For myself, I know if I had been able to spend more ‘quality time with Evelyn is would have helped me see she was gone and admire who she was physically. This is a rather unique type of death and circumstance for parents to process.Our baby has only just arrived and we are forced to say goodbye; or else they have gone before they have arrived – !?!?!?! Often our only time with our child is when they are dead.

Handling a dead body is strange, foreign and deeply disconcerting to our modern sanitised minds. We don’t get too close to the physical and practical business of preparing our loved ones after death ready for burial or cremation. There has been a cultural shift away from a hands-on, homespun cottage industry approach where the family and locals would take care of the body. It makes us believe we are not equipped to deal with death at close-hand unless we are professionals.

Now I’m not suggesting we all must prepare our dead and that to grieve properly you must. Instead, I’m suggesting that because these tasks are governed by law and are licensed, by implication we feel we should not and cannot be involved in some of those tasks. When talking about a baby’s body in particular,  I am referring to the parents washing, dressing, holding baby; taking mementos such as photos, hand and foot prints and locks of hair; and having the baby in the room with them for extended periods of time perhaps in a cold cot. When somebodies dies they cease to be our loved ones and become property of the hospital or funeral home.

This can make you feel disenfranchised – that your power over decisions has been taken away. Your choices are reduced to pre-defined tick boxes that you are guided through in a compassionate yet professional manner that allows parents time to think (as long as we get the answer later today). The preparations and organisation of laying someone to rest is a bewildering time any way and so you are more likely to rely on what you’re told, and perhaps much less likely to question.

Time is vital and cannot be reclaimed

I want bereaved parents to know what they can do with their baby in the hours and days after their baby dies. That they are in control and should be made to feel like they are indeed parents i.e. it’s their prerogative to own that baby and be deferred to on all decisions regarding their child. We do this when your child is alive and it is paramount we do it when they have died.

One way perhaps to start bringing the conversation of death into our everyday parlance is events such as a ‘Death Cafe’. At a Death Cafe people “drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. The aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.” – See more at: Death Cafe.com.

Or developing the emerging market coming from the US of ‘Death Doulas’ or ‘After Death Services’. Often women with a background in midwifery or with personal experience of tragedy, they seek to guide families through the decision and practicalities of bringing their loved one home after they have died and preparing them for burial or cremation. Helping them overcome the legal ramifications and hoops to jump as well as showing them how to handle a dead body and deal with the more visceral aspects of decomposition. For more, see a fascinating article: Who owns the dead?

 

Whatever path we take I believe the goal should be towards re-teaching the modern mind the skills of how to commune with the dead. We need to see them for what they are – not a scary army of corpses, but our nan, our dad, our sister, our son, our baby. Maybe one day I can stop beating myself up over this and focus on Evie in such a way – my dearest baby.

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

Lydia

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