Annual Oxfordshire Sands Baby Remembrance Service 2017

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Once again we gathered together in Oxford for the annual Oxfordshire Sands memorial service to remember our babies and share the comfort that a common loss can bring. It was a beautiful service led so gently and with such compassion as always by Phil Sutton.

Here are the words I shared at today’s service, they are a very raw and honest account of where I’m at right now and I hope that by sharing it will bring comfort to those who feel alone with their feelings and circumstance right now.

6 years ago on the 27th October 2011 Evelyn Kay Rose Berry was born at 11:54am. 55 minutes later she died, being held by staff at the JR, while we, her parents, were being rushed to her in an ambulance. After a textbook labour both her shoulders got stuck and they wrestled for 7 long minutes to free her. When she was born she was limp, unresponsive and silent. She never cried or opened her eyes, never moved of her own accord outside of the womb. She was whisked away to a waiting ambulance and driven 20 miles from Chipping Norton to Oxford where she died. When we arrived at the hospital I asked a doctor if she was dead and she knelt beside me with tears streaming down her face, confirming that she had passed away. They brought her straight to us, a perfect bundle of joy, except she was dead. And from that point to this day so is a part of me.

That forensic description of what happened to my darling Evelyn, my firstborn, my daughter, tells you in a few words what happened. What it does not tell you is how it felt to go through that experience and how it still feels 6 years on. I have just been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and post-natal depression. I have these conditions because what I went through was so deeply shocking and profound that I am struggling to come to terms with it. You see the stark reality for parents like us is that we have physically suffered, witnessed things, experienced emotions on such an extreme level that most cannot comprehend what it is to lose a baby. The reality for many of us is an excruciating daily existence that makes us even question whether continuing to live is a viable option considering the physical pain our grief gives us.

For me the truth of losing Evelyn in such traumatic circumstances doesn’t look pretty. My sleep has been greatly affected since and I can still find getting a good night’s sleep elusive. I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks and can find myself debilitated by a crippling sense of fear when nothing dangerous is near. I have flashbacks and feel like my memories are of the present not 6 years in the past. I feel afraid a lot. When I hear something awful has happened to someone else it can make me fear the same will happen to me, again. It makes me physically sick when I cry so hard in my yearning to hold my baby and struggle to make sense of what has happened. It makes me hate my body for its inability to keep Evie safe; it betrayed me. It makes me second guess myself, who I am, my parenting style and denies me peace with a constant monologue in my mind that berates me, criticizes me and tells me I’m a failure. It makes me wish I’d never had children and yet love them all so intently that my confusion that I can think these opposites sends me into a low mood instantly. It makes me wary of new people and prevents me from making much needed mummy friends and contradicts my naturally sociable personality.

Bit of a grim read but I don’t want to hide the truth any more. I ask myself, ‘who am I being brave for?’ Sometimes I want to give up, the fight is too hard. I am not equipped for the daily battle for my mental health and for my family’s wellbeing. Putting on a brave face and functioning appeases those around us – they can comfort themselves in thinking we’re ok now. They just want us to be ok. But what happens when 6 years or 10 or 30 years on, you’re still not ok? There is a basic need for us all to function and find for ourselves a new normal, we need it for our own sanity. But what happens when you do all of that and you’re still not ok?

We don’t need to be brave anymore. This is why I have confessed to you my troubles. It’s ok to be overwhelmed and traumatized and affected and changed. We have all been through extreme life-changing experiences. No-one is equipped to deal with these things by themselves. It’s ok to reach out and ask for help from professionals as well as friends and family. It’s ok not to cope and need support however long ago you lost your precious baby. It is by being honest, by leaning into the pain that we walk through the tunnel towards healing. When we are in the middle of the tunnel, the darkest part, we must go forward towards the light on the other side where there is the promise to find a peace with our past so that it does not dictate our futures. It is a promise that I am having to believe blind right now, for I am in the middle of the tunnel, I am in the dark night of the soul and if you are here with me, be comforted in knowing you are not alone. We have all been where you are now and we will not abandon you to the abyss but walk beside you on your journey of grief.

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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