And then there was three! Learning to trust again

We are proud to announce the safe arrival of Florence Iris Eliza Berry, born 4th May 2017. She is perfect and we are so in love with our tiny bundle of joy!

Having taken a break from my blog to have another baby I wanted to fill you in on the last year. I decided that rather than throw myself into blogging while pregnant I would focus on just living it. Life is busy when you’re increasingly pregnant with a nearly full-time job and a four year old; however now the time has come to talk some more.

It was not an easy decision to get pregnant again. I had endured a very difficult pregnancy with Poppy in a time of immense anxiety and stress so I wasn’t in any hurry to go back there. But the truth I started to understand was that I could not go back to that time. I could only go forward and carve a new pregnancy which, although deeply informed by my previous experiences, would be new and special in its own right. I had done so much grief work and physio that my mind and body were not going to be in any better shape for the journey ahead so we took the plunge down the rabbit hole once more.

On the whole the pregnancy was smooth and I was surprised at how little anxiety I felt compared to Poppy’s pregnancy. It seems the intervening years had helped me regain some sense of calm in the sea of fear and risk that I now see as a normal part of having children. Sadly for me having a baby is not a purely joyful time, it brings up memories, regrets, sadnesses and pain that I have to deal with anew. The end of the pregnancy did have a big challenge in the form of gestational diabetes which was a real curved ball for me and made me feel like I would not ever have a stress-free or pain-free time having children… unfortunately I was proved right with Florence’s delivery.

I have to have c-sections now – a legacy of losing Evelyn to shoulder dystocia. I could give birth naturally but the anxiety of the risk of it happening again would be prohibitive so major abdominal surgery it is. I was so afraid of the spinal procedure to get you ready for having the baby and sadly it was horrible – they took 5 attempts to get the spinal block in, we were one more failed attempt from me having to have a general and not see her being born. They final got it in and I was able to hear to most beautiful sound in the world – the cry of my new baby daughter bellowing out across the room as she took her first gulps of air and glimpsed through tiny eyes her mummy and daddy. It was magical and amazing and everything I’d hoped for. She was mine, we had done it. I’d grown a human and kept her safe and alive, who was now in my arms weeing on me! #Motherhoodgoals

However, I then felt pain that couldn’t be controlled and I was forced to have a general the finish the c-section. This had several consequences for me. It meant I came round hours later in excruciating pain, barely able to acknowledge my baby let alone care for her or feed her. The next day I contracted two very severe and painful complications, which rendered me in so much pain that I couldn’t talk or move, oh or care for my baby. Finally, I was treated poorly by the staff on a busy night shift who didn’t diagnose me for hours, got me high on morphine but didn’t address my complications and separated me from my baby who I couldn’t look after anyway. My husband had to care for her while I writhed around in pain for hours until finally everything was brought under control 30 hours after the birth of my daughter. My care once I was brought back up to my own room which we had to beg for was fantastic but up until then the combination of pain and poor care was horrific.

All of this has left me with more feelings of anger, hurt, sadness and failure that I really wanted to avoid with my last foray into having children.

I don’t think I’ve fully processed what I think and feel about it all but it does give me a heavy heart that for me it seems in different ways having children has been quite frankly shit. Don’t get me wrong, I love Evelyn, Poppy and Florence with all my heart but when your pregnancies and births read like a horror story of death, anxiety, missed precious time, oh… and lot and lots of pain with them all, forgive me when I don’t gush about it. I’ve noticed I don’t even refer to Florence’s arrival as her birth – I call it her delivery. I can’t safely birth my children so I have to defer to medical professionals to remove them from me. I know I need to change this view as it robs me of the right to say I gave birth to my children but it’s very difficult for me to conquer.

This brings me to the idea of trust. We trust in ‘mother nature’, whoever this chick is, to guide our bodies through pregnancy and childbirth, and most of the time this works. Our bodies instinctively know what to do and hormones – the amazing and powerful chemicals that course through our veins – turn cells into a baby and helped our bodies birth that baby, giving life.

But for me I lost trust in my body when Evelyn died. The process of her being born is what killed her – how can that be? She was just trying to be born like everyone else and yet in trying to start her life, it ended.

For mothers like me, your baby lived in your body, grew and formed. If you had a pregnancy loss it means the baby probably died in your body too. It’s hard to trust your body again in any way when it was supposed to produce and protect life and instead it was where death occurred or where a traumatic birth led to death. How many deaths of a loved one occur in your own body? What a bizarre and life-altering experience to go through.

What I want to say to myself and to any other mothers out there, like me, struggling with traumatic births and neonatal death, stillbirths, pregnancy loss, and difficult births where the baby lived, is this:

Please know that your body wanted this for you too. She was rooting for you, hoping with you and doing everything she knew how to do to protect this baby with you. She grieves too. It is not your fault. Do not turn your anger and pain inward to punish yourselves, despite the temptation. We mothers, strong and courageous, can destroy ourselves with the strength of our belief that the buck stops with us; if no other cause is found then it remains as our fault our baby died or had a traumatic birth. Let us turn our self-inflicted conviction from a life sentence of failure and guilt to a life-long journey of acceptance that we are not to blame.

So as I look forward now to family life with two children here to care for and one to remember, I need to heed my own words and internalise what I find so hard – my mental wellbeing is paramount to my own purpose, my children’s and my family’s. Ultimately, it does not do to dwell on how they entered this world but that they did at all and they are here with us in spirit or in body. There is a time to think on it and process, grieve and be in the depth of our sorrow and there is a time for joy and celebration, gratefulness and forgiveness of apparent failure. Maybe one day I can write that I have achieved this state of mind, but I think the reality is that I will strive each day to make the choice on how to spend my time either grieving, laughing, quiet reflection or loud joy.

 

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

xx

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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

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

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

x

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.

Lydia

x