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

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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