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



Little miss perfect

The experience of losing my daughter has emphasised a trait I already had – perpetual introspection.

I always thought I knew who I was and where my place was in the world.

I thought I had a plan, a good plan, and I stuck to it. I have always done things the “right” way – the tick list of accomplishments ran: school, A levels, university; meet boy at 16, marry him at 23; get a job, support myself, have hobbies, friends and family… tick, tick tick. I never stepped out of line; not really, I tried to convey an appearance that I was perfect or at least trying very hard to be. And you can’t criticise a girl if she’s trying – right?

My self portrait
My self portrait

I had set my life up on the grand illusion that I was in control, of everything. I could make a plan and make it come true – I was my own fairy godmother and I was proud of that. I was proud to be able to hold my own in a room full of strangers, striking up a conversation with the ease of what I hoped was someone much older and wiser than me.

Overall though, I led a very sheltered life and had not really experienced much tragedy, on the scale of human suffering out of 10 I’d say it peaked at a 3.7.  I merrily trundled along, I played my part well like a character in the play of my life, a play in which I directed, narrated and starred; yet for all my control I felt out of control most of the time.

Like my own puppet, I was both in the drama and watching the drama unfold; I watched myself in real-time and gave myself constant critiques, put-downs, evaluations, appraisals. I always analysed what I had said, not said, done, not done and how I appeared to others. Was I good enough? I must be good enough, but I don’t know how much that is and I don’t know what I should use as a guide.

My plumb line to measure up to was in negative contrast, rather than what I wanted to be it was a guide of what I definitely did NOT want to be – “stay away from being like that”; “you don’t want to end up like that do you?”; “why can’t you be more self-controlled?”; “you don’t want to appear out of control, fat and lazy do you?”… And so it went on, and on, and on.

My outer confidence was masking a much more self-deprecating, self-conscious girl trying to be a grown up but always feeling like a failure to achieve this image in my head. One of the main problems was that the image keep changing, morphing into a new picture of perfection every time I achieved something. In this way I was never counting my achievements, they passed in the blink of an eye, I missed them because I never stopped to look at them and cherish the hard work I’d put it.

Instead I always looked beyond into the distance, to the next horizon and challenge to keep myself motivated and not become complacent. A never ending treadmill of self-dissatisfaction and loathing was my norm, my constant and (I thought) my friend. I thought it was my ally to getting on in life. It constantly left me feeling low and under appreciated but it also spurred me on and that was a good thing, that’s how I got people to love me – surely?

Now all of this, I hope, sounds insightful and self-aware but in truth it has taken more hours of introspection and heart-ache than I ever wanted to donate to the cause of understanding myself better.

They say ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ and I’m sure there are other equally flippant adages I could whip out at this point that share the same sentiment. But they don’t really mean anything, I mean really mean something, until you go through something so life-altering and devastating that you can see where they might apply. By that point, of course, you are so far beyond the comfort of a few dry words that their meaning is useless anyway. For me, the rock-bottom, worst thing that ever happened was my baby daughter dying.

There I said it, no varnish, no fireworks or clash of symbols, just the solitary fact in a few words that is so mortifying, so disgusting an idea that its simplicity belies the full impact it has on me every time I say it. By saying it out loud it means it is true, it means it happened and not to a fictional person or someone in the newspaper – it happened to me. Little ‘ol me, who thought she was quite important in her own little world but was rather ordinary, like we all are really. Saying my baby died means that I know it to be true, even though every fibre of my being screams for it to be a lie, a grand conspiracy of mistaken identity.

In fact what I’d like – other than the obvious of Evie being alive and well and with me – is a scenario I like to indulge on occasion, I’ll share it with you now.

Many years from now I will be contacted by Davina McCall or Nicky Campbell from the ITV show ‘Long Lost Family’ saying my daughter would like to get in touch and find out why I gave her up all those years ago. Or in years to come a mysterious stranger will give me a plain brown envelope with details that will lead me on a quest to find my long lost daughter. In both cases she didn’t die but was taken from me at birth and now lives a life unknown to me until now. We will cry and hug and speak our disbelief but we will be made whole again, the injustice will be righted and all will be well…

Then I wake up and the yearning for that alternate life withdraws into the misty cloud of sleepy dreaming and I am left with the harsh truth.

A girl can dream, huh?

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