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

So where did it all start? First comes love, then comes marriage and then comes a baby in a baby carriage. Part 1

So where did it all start?

Having been focused on getting my career started after leaving university and being newly married, I didn’t have much time or inclination to think about having children.

My sister had a son and being an aunty was quite enough for me.  So for someone like me that was not really inclined towards babies, this had definite contraceptive properties. I was content with my life as it was 1+1 = 2 and I was in no hurry to make it = 3.

I was still thrilled to say ‘husband’ not ‘boyfriend’ and tried to get it into conversations as often as I could. My husband (see what I did there?) Matt, and I had met at school, he was 16 and I was 17 – yes I wooed a younger man. We had been together for 7 years when we got married near our Cotswold home in a hotel. A beautiful grapevine, from which the hotel took its name, ran the length of the ceremony room where we lovingly said our vows in front of all our friends and family.

We were excited about all life had to offer and the wind felt full of potential and opportunity. Sorry that sounded a bit Jane Austen or something, but it was true. We both had new jobs – our first ‘proper’ jobs – and we were using all our energy to navigate the choppy waters of the ‘world of work’. I found it hard not to take everything personally and would often get my knickers in a twist about small and sometimes insignificant episodes at work. The idea that I had done something wrong or didn’t understand something was clearly shameful and obviously any criticism was tantamount to a dismissal and would surely indicate my last day in the job. (oh my stupid brain!)

My perfectionism frequently got the better of me in those first few year of work, but now I must say that with my new perspective on what really matters I am somewhat more relaxed about work. While still seeing it as important (clearly) I can just separate myself from it better and be more matter of fact about the task in hand. Any way back to neurotic Lydia… I loved being a working gal with my cute office clothes and heels, going to after-work events and mingling, I mean networking, with other young professionals. It suited my love of conversation and mildly flirtatious nature, I thought I’d made a grand choice in PR as a career and enjoyed the writing challenges it gave me. So we were two Oxfordshire newly-weds living in Birmingham making our first forays into work, owning a car and generally doing grown up stuff.

So far so good.


 

Baby in a baby carriage
Baby in a baby carriage

In the summer before we had our first foray into parenthood, we decided that it was a journey we wanted to undertake.

I was unhappy in my PR job (shock I know) and wanted a change. Living in Birmingham meant we missed our families in Oxfordshire so with a little one on the way moving back home felt right. It was the next chapter and we were excited and giddy at the thought.

We were blissfully naïve to the consequences of our innocent choice to start a family. I had spent my youth taking every precaution not to get pregnant and surely now we had made the decision to have a baby it would happen very quickly, wasn’t that how it worked? I’m sure this notion of getting pregnant being easy came from secondary school where us girls were taught that if you did not actively prevent pregnancy it would definitely happen. So now as a responsible adult it surely couldn’t be simpler, you chose to start a family and it happened.

For us, thank goodness, it was rather simple; it took 6 months to conceive each of our girls. However, I must at this point just say that since losing Evie we have meet many people who have lost their babies, some of whom getting pregnant in itself was a cause of grief. It has taught me that having children is not a right; it is not deserved by some and not by others, the biological mysteries of who can and cannot is beyond all of us, in spite of scientific advances.

So we put our plan into action and life become fuller; indeed, I became increasingly large with expectation literally and figuratively. I had a new job as a PA and found out I was pregnant the week after joining the company – not ideal but I embraced the change in pace and growing belly. I was nauseous for 3 months straight and only emerged from tiredness and the toilet bowl at around 14 weeks, I was round but not obviously pregnant and I felt that cliché glow of a mum-to-be. I really did feel I was carrying a VIP, well a VILP – very important little person – and I proudly stroked my tummy, discussing the latest pregnancy factoid I’d learnt as if I alone had discovered the miracle of childbearing and as a leading expert was duty bound to share the secrets.

I realise now that I approached this pregnancy – my first – as if it were a module at university. I studied hard and felt calm and confident, reassured by my knowledge of what was happening to my body. I had mastered the process and therefore was in control of it. I was convinced knowing the theory was enough to pass the practical with flying colours. I felt entitled to this little baby, it was mine and it was an absolute certainty that I would meet them and look after them in 9 months time. Pre- and post natal issues and labour difficulties were for other people; faceless people I didn’t know who lived far away. They were not for the likes of me – (special people who get what they want, perfectly as they planned it). Oh how that thought makes me chuckle now, chuckle in a 1950s cartoon villain kind of way that is.

To be continued…

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

Lydia

x

The art of convalescing

I had an overwhelming need to convalesce in the very old-fashioned sense.

I need to retreat into myself, my family and home to lick my wounds and slowly regain my health and mind. I spent just over 4 months at home after Evelyn died but I can’t really tell you what I did for most of that time. I clung to Matt up until Christmas as he was off on compassionate leave, I helped my brother-in-law with his business accounts and answering the phone; but other than that I can’t really recall. I felt physically possessed by my grief, riddled with it and desired nothing more than to be in intensive care with experts handling my fragile state. It does sounds rather melodramatic but I really did feel winded by the trauma of what had happened, it was so at odds with my expectation that I reeled from this sudden change in direction for some time.

Me as a 19th century woman convalescing
Me as a 19th century woman convalescing

Having said that, I did try to push myself back into the real world at the start of the New Year by joining two recruitment companies with the aim of getting a full-time job…it didn’t go well. To begin with, sitting on the bus ride over was agonising due to my enduring injuries sustained during the delivery. This vein continued when I blubbed like a baby (kind of no pun intended) when I explained why I was looking for a job to the bewildered but kind recruitment lady, who sympathetically suggested I stay home, try to get pregnant again and put this working nonsense behind me. Not wholly helpful but I took the caring intention behind her words and cancelled my other interview that day and spent it with my aunt instead.

This period of my life was a strange twilight zone where new events and experiences came thick and fast and as an extended family we all entered the kind of trance-like acceptance that this crazy was the new norm. My visit to my aunts after the fateful recruitment meeting is a prime example where my aunt comforted me and then asked if I wanted to have a walk down to the funeral home because she needed to sort out some details of my Nan’s funeral. “Of course”, I replied, “why not, I need some fresh air,” as if this were an everyday occurrence and there was nothing distressing at all about my morning so far and that fact that my nan had just died and would be lying dead behind a wall metres from me at the funeral home.

…And so life continued in this vein for what felt like the whole of 2012, ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ by Lemony Snicket was starting to feel autobiographical rather than fictional if I’m honest.

Sleep

Something that people may not realise when someone grieves intensely is the lack of sleep or disrupted sleep that often comes hand in hand with it. It takes that peace that allows you to sleep soundly at night; and of course everything is worse at night – it’s dark, quiet and there are fewer distractions from your thoughts. I can remember all to clearly crying my eyes out sat in the dark of my living room looking out the window at 2 -3 -4 am pleading for the pain to subside enough for welcome sleep to envelope me. Sometimes it did and others it seemed to elude me.

Insomnia or troubled sleep adds to the sense of living in some twilight parallel universe because you permanently feel like a zombie living off adrenaline. You’re energy feels thin and insubstantial – you have no reserves or resources to draw upon, you are spent in your primal desire to survive but surviving means somehow bearing the awful pain that greets your every waking moment.So sleep then is your relief…if you can get any.

For me sleeping was a small mercy because I did not dream about what had happened; my brain protected me from reliving it while I slept. I believe in total I have had 3 dreams about Evie since she died and I am someone who has vivid, detailed dreams that I can recall in the morning with clarity, so I was so grateful to have peace when I slept. I know, however, this is not the case for many.

Why convalescing? Because it means:

to become healthy and strong again slowly over time after illness, weakness, or injury.

Latin convalēscere to grow fully strong, equivalent to con- con-+ valēscere to grow strong ( val (ēre) to be well + -escere -esce )

Synonyms: ambulatory; coming back; healing; mending; rallyinggaining strengthgetting bettersgetting over somethingpast crisis; recovering; recuperating; rejuvenating; restored.

References: dictionary.reference.com ; merriam-webster.com ; thesaurus.com

 

Lack of sleep can:

  1. slow down your thought processes
  2. Impair your memory
  3. Make learning difficult
  4. Slow down reaction times
  5. alter your mood significantly – make you irritable, angry and may lessen your ability to cope with stress.

According to the NSF, the “walking tired” are more likely to sit and seethe in traffic jams and quarrel with other people. Sleep-deprived people polled by the NSF were also less likely than those who sleep well to exercise, eat healthfully, have sex, and engage in leisure activities because of sleepiness.

“Over time, impaired memory, mood, and other functions become a chronic way of life,” says Siebern. “In the long term, this can affect your job or relationships.”

Chronic sleepiness puts you at greater risk for depression. They are so closely linked that sleep specialists aren’t always sure which came first in their patients. “Sleep and mood affect each other,” says Verceles. “It’s not uncommon for people who don’t get enough sleep to be depressed or for people who are depressed to not sleep well enough.”  Reference: www.webmd.com

So now you can see why we all go loopy for a while when our baby dies. Please share you’re thoughts and experiences of needing to convalesce or the lack of sleep – this is not discussed and should be.

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

Lydia x

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

x

So… what happened? How did Evelyn die?

Ok – deep breath – I think I’m ready now to tell you about what happened, to explain why I’m so traumatised and why I’m writing at all…

Indeed, the house felt pregnant just as we were and one evening as I lay in bed recovering from the flu; which I had not been able to shake for two weeks, there was an excitement in the air as I called to Matt to come to our bedroom. I had rolled over in bed and mid roll I had felt a pop and then liquid, nervously I suggested that my waters had broken. I had a rush of adrenaline as I started to try and wrap my head around the fact that the mystically adventure of childbirth was beginning. The only way I can describe it is that my mind just cleared and I became very focused on my mission: Mission Baby. I knew I would be up all night so stayed in bed to get what rest I could, I recalled what I had read – that this stage could take hours and having been ill I wanted to conserve my energy.

Matt flitted around excitedly like a moth to light, fussing over me, checking then rechecking the hospital bag, that was his job and he took it very seriously. Another job he took up with extreme vigour was putting in the car seat. He spent goodness knows how long out in the car, in the dark, trying to fit the thing and conquered it just as I was starting to really find out the difference between Braxton Hicks tightenings and real contractions – am I right ladies? Slowly but surely the contractions started to come on stronger and more regularly; in fact I know this for a fact because Matt had downloaded a labour app and was helping my time each contraction and length of time between them – what a modern father. Actually it was really useful because when we decided to call the midwife unit again and they asked about the contractions, we could describe with twentieth century accuracy their development over the hours.

One vivid memory I have as we left for the hospital was the excitement, the expectation, the anticipation… the hope. As my mum and step dad waved us off it was all very civil and tame – a big hug and a ‘see you on the other side-esque’ farewell. We fully expecting to see them in the morning with a baby. The chilly October night air did little to quell our delight that the wait was finally nearly over and after a very uncomfortable but thankfully short drive we arrived at the birthing unit of our little town…

Now I can literally feel my fingers slowing down as I type this, my pulse is quickening as we draw near to the trauma. By writing this story I cannot pretend it is a story, a fiction, I cannot rely on one of my scripts to get me through. I feel like I am going back there, going through it again as I lay down the sentences, words and letters that spell out our disaster. Dare I go on to tell the details that few people have heard first hand – the long version that is, the uncut visceral version that means you can see me at my most vulnerable? I’ll just tell myself, “For Evie, my Evie”. If one person can be helped to feel not alone in their grief it is worth it, through gritted teeth I will tell you what happened.

After a routine labour, textbook progression to full dilation and pushing baby down – their words, not mine – it was time to see our little girl. I was in the birthing pool so they moved me around to get into better positions for baby to crown. Suddenly the midwife’s voice changed and she became very firm, concise and serious, “get out the pool now”, she said with a telling urgency. I complied unquestioningly asking for help to get me out of the pool with essentially my baby’s head between my legs (you get the picture). Then things moved very fast. It was clear she was not coming out easily and there was a rush to ease her stuck shoulders. All I am going to say is that they had to perform several, increasingly invasive manoeuvres on me to try and dislodge her and allow her to be born. The pain of limbs being grabbed and pushed beyond their normal limits, helped to stretch by hormones, an episiotomy with no pain relief and the echoes of my cries as several people rushed in to work on me is an experience branded on my mind forever.

The indelible ink of those moments are not images as such, my eyes tightly screwed up in horror meant most of the memories run deep in my muscles, the dark depths of my mind’s eye rather than in Technicolor, although no less vivid. Images, however, are all my husband has of those excruciating moments that determined our daughter’s life. He bravely held my hand and silently stifled his tears as his world fell apart literally before his eyes. It pains me to think of how he suffered, actually without sounding melodramatic it hurts my very soul to think how he suffered, how I suffered and how our darling girl suffered. Oh this is tougher than I thought to put down in words…

When the rush of relief swept over me, signalling they had finally got Evelyn out, it had been seven long minutes. The seven longest minutes of my life, too long, but long enough to destroy my daughter’s chance of a life. I just can’t believe it, I cannot believe I’m recounting an experience that is mine and not someone else’s… please let this be someone else’s story.

She was rushed away to waiting doctors out of my line of sight. Then, before I could comprehend what had happen she was taken out of the room to a waiting ambulance, I saw the side of her face and head. Incidentally it was the last time I saw her alive.

I was left lying there in shock, numb from the head down crying and looking between Matt and one of the midwives for reassurance that would never come. The midwives and other medical staff agreed that I could wait to be stitched up and that we could follow Evelyn in another ambulance to the large hospital 20 miles away.

The journey is the longest, most terrible I have ever endured. I started praying out loud and didn’t stop through the endless minutes and miles to the hospital as we traced the path our daughter had already taken. I remember at one point the midwife who accompanied us lamenting, “the power of prayer!”. I was doing the only thing I could for my family, crying out, pleading for my daughter’s safety and for peace, neither of which ever came.

We finally arrived at the hospital and the waiting staff opened the doors of the ambulance. This is the point when my husband says he knew she was dead because they did not say anything to us as they wheeled me out on the bed; they did not say she was critical and they would take us to her now, they did not say she was ok but poorly: they said nothing. In a cold, anonymous corridor a doctor crouched down beside me and before she could wipe the tears to speak I asked her, “she’s dead isn’t she?”. A silent nod confirmed my worst fear and I crumpled into my hands as the tears began to flow uncontrollably, my life energy flowing out of me with each hot teardrop.

I literally feel hot and close to tears just writing this, but I must write it, I must try to make sense of it, I have so many hurts and regrets about the hours after we were told she had died. The shock drew over me like a veil; I could not take anything in. I could not look at my daughter as she was placed in my husband’s heavy arms, I could not accept what I was seeing – a beautiful bundle of joy, but lifeless and still.

My mum and brother had followed us to the hospital and all I can remember is my mum sobbing, “I’m so sorry, I’m so, so sorry”. She asked what we had called our daughter, and without discussion we both agreed ‘Evelyn’, which means life and wished for child and she really was.

We were led to a private room where we stayed for the rest of the day. Slowly the rest of our immediate families joined us in our sorrow and to see Evelyn. It again was one of many perverse parodies of what we all should have been doing on the day she was born. We should have been showing her off, instead we struggled to be in the same room as her.

The first time we were along with her, just us three was to dress her in our clothes we had lovingly picked for her first day. Bizarrely for a few moments I enjoyed the decision making of choosing the clothes, rummaging through the carefully prepared hospital bag for the perfect outfit. A brief glimpse of what might have been. The saddest part for me about dressing our daughter is that we couldn’t do it. Every time we tried to touch her or thought we saw her head move we were frightened and confused that she may have made those movements herself. Like some horror show she was not dead, instead I was terrified she was hovering between life and death and would suddenly open her eyes or something equally disturbing. It was hugely distressing. In the end we asked the midwife to help us but she did it quickly so I never got to see my baby’s body in full.

This is where I get very upset, so many regrets pile up and threaten to overwhelm me and my memories of my child. In all we didn’t spend much time with her at all probably 40 minutes and after we left the hospital that day we never saw her again. I discuss this in my post “The conversation of Death” that I just wish someone would have gently shown us there was nothing to be afraid of, helped us to calm down and study our precious one, that she was not a dreadful character but our daughter, a human being to be explored and considered with dignity. I do not think I showed her the respect she deserved, that I should have shown her as her mum. I am so mortified that my shock prevented me from spending quality time with my daughter. I feel robbed of those moments that I can never reclaim, salvaging what I can from the wreckage is all I can do now; picking over these bones hurts and subsequently I do not do it often.

Even over three years later I cannot shake the sense of deep shame I carry for how I could not look at her when she was brought into us after we arrived at the hospital. I could not hold her or appreciate her. I could not touch her or take her in. I am so sorry. I am so sorry I could not look at you properly, as a mother should, and say you were mine. I regret that those precious hours were stolen from me by my shock.

I don’t know about you but I need a drink!

So until next time do what you can to find your smile

Lydia x

Our darling Evelyn
Our darling Evelyn