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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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

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

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