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.
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.
It was a glorious summer as we embraced our new-found status as expectant parents. We fell into an easy routine of me taking to my bed in the evenings in our rented terraced house in Bournville, Birmingham, and Matt studying. The previous September he had enrolled at Birmingham City University to complete a PGCE, with the view to becoming a secondary school music teacher. It would be a realisation of his dream to work in music, albeit not as a hot producer or singer/songwriter in a London studio, but it would be in the right direction and would be using his music degree more directly than his previous recruitment job.
I think we both felt quite settled in our new and emerging roles. Matt was changing career, enjoying his studies and doing extremely well despite the challenges that teenage school children create. He also made some friends that are still dear to him now, one of whom has just got married. We attended the nuptials with our second child in tow. I too was changing career – from PR to PA and from wife to mother, I was as thrilled at the text book pregnancy I was having as I was at settling into my new job – both fitted like a glove.
Having put our life plan into action we set about planning to move back to sleepy Chipping Norton, where I grew up. My family moved there when I was 7 and it has been a permanent fixture in my life ever since. I met Matt at the secondary school there, I had many friends still living in the area and Matt’s family lived 7 miles away in an even sleepier town called Charlbury. It was the perfect place to bring up children, a reasonably rural, small Cotswold town with both sets of grandparents on our doorstep and a comforting familiarity that would allow me to focus on learning how to raise my child. It fit the ideals we both had for our child or children to be brought up with a sense of family and place in the local community. It was in many ways an idyllic place to grow up compared to the suburbs of a big town or city we thought; as country bumpkins ourselves we had nothing to compare to apart from our time spent studying and living in Birmingham and the experience had left us cold to anonymous city living.
My parents owned a large town house in the centre of the town; it was an unusual set-up with a furniture shop at the front and the family home occupying the rest of the building above and behind it. The easiest access to our front door was through the shop which was piled high with beautifully crafted and accordingly priced oak and pine furniture, decorated with trendy shabby chic knick-knacks strategically placed to catch the eye of passing custom. The shopkeeper had run the business for many years and was a well-known, well-loved face in the local community; through the week he would host a stream of regular chats with townspeople who did not come for his wooden delights but for his delightful company. His distinctive laugh ringing out perhaps more often than his till but his popularity and solid client base kept him securely ensconced on the High Street, between two large branches of national banking chains.
When my parents found out I was pregnant and the initial excitement had been replaced by even more excited planning and organising, they agreed we could rent the apartment which was the top part of their house. It sat above the shop and looked out over the centre of the town. For a nosy-parker like myself it was heaven to sit in the large open-plan living/dining/kitchen, peer through the old windows into the bustling streets below and people watch.
The apartment was in the oldest and original part of the building which was Georgian. It had been added to over the years resulting in a rabbit warren of rooms and passages spread over 4 floors. It was quirky to say the least with charming time-worn wooden windows and archways. As a teenager it was fantastic fun to bring friends round after school and see them flounder with the layout, throwing their hands in the air declaring they were lost. I was the eldest of four children so we relished the room we had in this house compared to our previous 3 bedroom semi-detached estate house. In the town house we had the luxury of a room each and no less than three bathrooms to use between six of us. It is a house that had been moulded by us over the years through adolescence and now as I turn thirty this year it has seen the joys and heartaches of my twenties too. Our fingerprints are evident in the structural changes to the property, which allowed us to make the most of the higgledy-piggledy arrangement of the floors. In short, it was a delight to return to my family home to start my own family and thinking of the months ahead I was nothing but thankful to have my mum downstairs from me, on hand for any baby emergency.
The apartment was already being let so the soonest we could make the move was in July, I was due on November 7th, my mum’s birthday, so we had plenty of time to settle in before the arrival of bubba. The only stressful part of the move was that I couldn’t very easily commute from Chipping Norton to central Birmingham every day for the rest of my pregnancy so we had to come up with an interim solution. Matt had finished his PGCE by the summer and gained an outstanding first, I was so proud of his achievement as was he. However, the reality of finding a music teaching position in Oxfordshire or surrounding counties in what is traditionally a small department proved futile and he scampered to find a job in recruitment to ensure he could provide for wife and child. With dragging feet he found one helping people claiming job-seekers allowance find work; it was hard and largely unrewarding but it paid the bills and was stable.
With Matt settling into his new job I still needed to work until my maternity leave which started when I was 27 weeks pregnant; including unspent annual leave, it was the earliest it could start so I had to stay in Birmingham for a month while Matt lived and worked in Oxfordshire. A dear friend from my university days and her lovely husband hosted me and I was truly spoiled by their generosity throughout my stay. I had home-cooked meals and was allowed free reign on the TV channels while they went about their business in the evenings after work. My evenings were spent leisurely resting up and ended with a nightly phone call from Matt to say goodnight to me and bump.
We’d swap stories from our day and wove our ideas for the baby room decorations and favourite baby names into such a rich tapestry it was hard to see where we ended and it began. Each time we had a thought or hope for our baby, our new life, we would delicately stitch a little more into the fabric each day. The cloth grew larger and more intricate as the months went by just as our baby developed and grew. I had a day by day pregnancy book that I poured over, in awe of the female body and what it could achieve. I hungrily read ahead wishing the time away until I could meet Bubba Berry and at the same time trying to savour every part of this fabulous process. I was, quite frankly, nauseatingly happy and content with my situation and would gladly tell anyone that would listen; indeed, if I had been asked I could have seen myself on some pregnancy advert quite blissfully demonstrating the benefits of some cream or other for mums-to-be. Yes, I was that into it.
The final few months of my pregnancy were spent answering the phones for my brother-in-law’s company and stockpiling cooked meals in preparation for a time when cooking would be the last thing on our minds and require more focus than our tired minds would allow. I absolutely embraced impending motherhood and tried to morph into a domestic, maternal goddess who knew her way round the kitchen and the cleaning equipment – and more importantly revelled in her status of home queen. I think I was trying to fit that image I’d seen promoted in TV, fiction, facebook, instagram and pinterest of the yummy mummy – informed yet fun, inventive and proud. Sadly now I do tend to feel much more of a fraud if I’m honest, perhaps I’m not so much a natural nest builder. But there we were drifting, lounging on the raft of pregnancy, floating along being carried by our optimism and anticipation, little did we know we were careering towards a waterfall of epic proportions…
Until next time… do what you can to find your smile