Wave of Light Memorial Service October 2017

Sunday 15th October marked the end of Baby Loss Awareness Week. An amazing week where the topic of baby loss received great mainstream publicity. It really felt like the message for getting out there that we are not alone. This was also evident at the memorial service held at St Mary’s church in Banbury. Over 75 people came together to remember our babies and light a candle as part of the global Wave of Light. It was a very special service –  the first of its kind in Banbury. I spoke at this event what I hope was a message of hope for the future so here are my words for those of you who were unable to attend on the night.


I’m a survivor. I’m a survivor of baby loss and often I feel I wear that badge with a heavy heart. You see your world stops when you loose a baby. It slams into a wall with the full inertia of all your hopes and dreams, expectations and love you have for your baby. We loose a lot when we loose a baby.

Having children is the craziest, richest part of life. Full of highs and lows, it’s ridiculous and sublime, testing, fulfilling and purpose-giving. But for parents like us it is so much more – there is more pain, more sadness, more grief, more regret, more tragic memories, more difficult decisions regarding our babies, funerals, post mortems, spending time with them or not. We know how precious life is.

It is also less – less an entire person, the lifetime of the baby/child/adult that we lost, loss of friends, relationships, time, loss of innocence, loss of a sense of peace, loss of faith perhaps, loss of what could have been.

Those first days, weeks and months, even years can be a dark place, a lonely place, a frightening place. We gathered here today know all about those days. We recognize the weariness of those days, the longing for happier times, for joy. But we can feel robbed of turning our minds to the future when our hearts are in the past. Frozen in time, when the clocks stood still and we laid our babies to rest. The thought of turning forward, to hope, to plan, can feel like turning our backs on our babies, leaving them there as we move on. But I want to say to you today this is not true. We carry our babies in our hearts with us into the future. They are ever present, as we remember and honour them. Their future is with us and we must have a future.

When you lose a baby you do not lose the right to happiness, joy, purpose or fulfillment. Your future does not have to be ruined by your past even if your present still hurts like hell.

It is a truth for all of us here today that we can still go to lead joyful, happy, purposeful and fulfilled lives. It will take time and we survivors of baby loss will feel like it’s a fight for joy after loss. But it is possible.

I want to make you a promise today, wherever you are in your journey of grief, however long ago you lost your baby, you will find happiness and joy again. You will find hope. Fragile, wisp in the wind hope that will become stronger and clearer until you can grab hold of it to wear as armour as you forge ahead, your baby in your heart, to dare to hope for better days, a family, life again, a new normal.

#Wave of light

In the rich tapestry of life there is sadness and there is joy, there is anger, regret, excitement, anticipation. They all go hand in hand but for us, we can feel heavy and full with these emotions, thoughts and feelings.

I feel I’ve felt that full spectrum of those emotions, you see I’m now a mum looking after 2 children. Florence is only 5 months old, Poppy is nearly 5, and my oldest Evelyn would have been turning 6 at the end of this month had she lived. I’m like every other parent in the sense that I have children that I’m actively caring for and yet I am not like them. I am alone, separate, different, changed. I am a parent of a baby who died. Who has seen things, experienced and felt things, gone through things that most will never know.

So one of my fights is the joy of life with children, just as I fight to minimize the sadness. And even for parents like us there is joy to be had – not that I would have believed it for a long time after Evelyn’s death. The bittersweet quality of our lives is ever present. To begin with more bitter than sweet and we have to fight to swing that pendulum further away from the bitter and more towards the sweet. And what a fight it is. When you have had thoughts of ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t save you’ about your own child everything else can pale into insignificance. But there is still joy to be had like the wonder of nature, a rowdy football match, time with friends, a favorite film watched on repeat or a personal best at the gym; we don’t want to be robbed of that too, to loose that too.

Also I think some of being a parent after loss is having to fight for the right be a ‘normal’ parent who is tested and gets tired and gets annoyed at their children and who gets down from time to time from the daily grind of family life. It can feel complicated when you are faced with the normal challenges of parenthood when you’ve lost a baby.

For me, honesty time, I’m finding it hard having a 5 month old and a 4 year old, juggling their different needs, lack of sleep or time for myself, worrying I’m doing a good job. But for me, it’s really hard to admit to myself that I’m finding it hard. Harder to admit to others that I’m finding it hard and hardest of all to admit to you fine folk that I find it hard.

You see I don’t want to appear in any way to be ungrateful for having these children with me. I know how lucky I am to be doing this at all. I know how I longed to be looking after a baby after I lost Evelyn. I would have given anything to be up all night with a baby crying. And yet I’m finding it hard. I found our recent holiday hard – juggling a beach day with heat and a very fussy baby who wouldn’t feed well and a four year old who wanted to go rock pool exploring and got grumpy with tiredness and hunger.

But all this can reside side by side – being grateful to be a parent but finding the challenge of it difficult. Feeling excruciatingly sad that our baby died but also fantastically happy and joyful at a first word, first day of school, first dance. All this is life, real life. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed by the very thing you longed for. It’s ok to laugh and feel joy even though you lost your baby. It’s ok to embrace life and look to the future. Take you babies, nestle them safe in your hearts and look to the future and see what wonderful things come of it. We all stand together, bravely piecing our lives back together, we understand our loss, we understand our fight for joy.

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

x

 

Advertisements

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

Unflinching look at grief – the day Evie went to school

starting-school

Today is a difficult day. Today, my eldest daughter Evelyn should be going to school but she’s not. She’s not going anywhere. She’s been buried in a cemetery in Chipping Norton for nearly 5 years.

Still, she has been a constant presence in our lives, elusive and ethereal.A wisp so light and semi-transparent that dances around the periphery of my vision at all times and yet this ball of energy, this soul, carries the gravity of a planet, drawing me in, pulling me towards her trails of smoke, my hand daring to reach out and grasp her finally, only to touch nothing more than tingles of a shadow.

The yearning for my daughter, the desire to know her, feel her, experience her; to laugh with her, know her fears, learn her interests, marvel at her features, smell her skin before bedtime and a millions other ways we become experts on our children is insatiable. I am greedy, hungry for her and yet have been denied.

The milestones are always hard. Society has so neatly structured our children’s lives with markers that you cannot ignore them – they are everywhere. For me today, I feel an outsider looking in, a famished parent looking through the window with starved eyes onto a huge feast of crisp new school uniforms, obligatory pictures of  beaming smiles standing statue-straight against random doors in the house, tearful goodbyes (from the parents) at the school gates, new black shoes and colourful school bags brimming with promise and expectancy. I am Separate, Different.

Mum and daughter going to school

I have tried, quite successfully, until now, to push aside these thoughts of school, these comparisons of what would have been. I have learnt that to go down that road of wishing for the old life, wanting that previous trajectory to follow carefully and loving crafted plans is a bitter one and nothing but misery can come from it. I have learnt that I can devise new plans and carefully and loving throw out my heart into the future once more to see what wonderful things can come of it. I have learnt it and I live it… most of the time.

But today, today I must unflinchingly look once more at my grief. Unfold the memories and cry. Sob out loud my dismay, my hurt, my anger, my sadness, my love. Declaring that this sucks validates how I feel and by doing so I become less separate and different. By doing so I find a warm reception from others just like me, fellow mourners making our way through life, navigating the milestones, helping each other along the way. By doing so I also discover I am not alone and have ready comfort given by those close to me who have not lost a child. Their compassion and regard are just as valuable and reviving. For they lost Evelyn too. If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to remember and mourn a child.

So today is hard and my heart is heavy, my eyes are sore and my head is lowered but I will put one foot in front of the other.. for next year, next year I will be sat at the feast with Poppy and I can’t wait.

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

xx

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

Mother’s Day – 5 things to get you through

Today is Mother’s Day, a day when the focus is rightly on us mums. A day when we hear how much we are loved and appreciated by our children, a day for smiles and lots of love. The tender moments of watching your children express their love for you is so heart-warming and priceless, but what about mummies like me where there’s someone missing?

I’m fortunate to have a second child so I still get my fix of scrummy cuddles, cute slobbery kisses and breakfast in bed – which I have to share with said child because she’s a hobbit and needs 4 breakfasts and couldn’t bear to watch me eat something in peace and by myself.

But as I sit up in bed to be presented with my lovely card and lovingly prepared food there’s a sadness that lingers, dwells in the background, mixes with the air into a bittersweet perfume. ‘There should be two little girls with me now’ float around me dripping with my tears as I smile at my family trying and succeeding to make me know how proud they are of me.

Part of me can’t let the sadness wash over me, can’t tap into the grief to let it out and ease the pressure for a bit. I want to be normal today! I want to just be happy and smothered in love today. I don’t want to be sad and angry about what life has dealt me and robbed me of… but how to I do that without pretending Evie didn’t exist or denying that however I dress it up today is hard because I have to stare in the face the fact that one of my children has died?
  1. Be kind to yourself. Take things slow today and at your own pace. If you’re loss is recent then today is going to be horrible – there’s no other way of saying it. But today will pass, you will survive it and you will get through this time. For those of us a little further down the line and who have other children then it’s a mixed one -the bittersweet joy of having someone calling you mummy and saying how much they love you but the shadow of what would have been haunts the day. Don’t criticise yourself and feel guilty for feeling happy or despair for feeling deeply sad. Try to think about how you are feeling today and think what if my best friend said these things? What would I say to comfort her? Then try to say it to yourself.
  2. Do what feels right, not what you ‘should’ do. There’s so much hype around today – expectations society, the media and marketing put on us on how this day should look. An Instagram picture-perfect Mother’s day is unobtainable for most families let alone a family that has suffered a devastating loss. The tea spills, the kids scream and fight and the beautiful Sunday lunch at local restaurant experience has only served as a powerful contraceptive to everyone else in the vicinity. There’s no ‘right’ way to celebrate being a mum; if you want to do it quietly then do it! You want to shout from the roof tops about your children – all of your children, then do it! Putting extra pressure on yourself to act/perform a certain way when you are already in an emotional place just makes today a day to dread.
  3. Express yourself. If at all possible share how you are feeling with your partner, mum, friend – anyone who is close to you. Just saying it how it is can be very freeing, especially on a day like today where there’s lots of mixed emotions. They say a problem shared is a problem halved. Well grief isn’t a ‘problem’ but it does weigh us down, so sharing it with someone does lighten the load for a while – which can’t be a bad thing. Expressing how you really feel can be very freeing – you don;t have to put that smile mask on and pretend everything’s fine when it’s not. Try and see what happens!
  4. Be in the moment. When you lose a baby you feel like you will never smile again. Never laugh, feel joy, feel ok and feel happy. And for a time that may be true but as you get more accustomed to your grief then you realise that you can feel those wonderful emotions alongside your sadness. It’s a weird balance but you get used to it bit by bit. Something that my Evie has taught me is to be in the moment. To treasure the precious times for what they are. Not letting my mind be distracted, learning to turn off the internal monologue that continually says – this is sad, why me?, why is vie not here, this is horrible, I want to be normal, this is sad, why me? – you get the point. By tuning into what’s happening right now in front of you means you can truly experience life not watch it. In a way, see it that you don’t want to waste the life you’ve been given that was denied to your baby. Revel in the moment and see what beauty comes of it.
  5. Feel the love. You are a brilliant mum!!! Feel it, let yourself feel it and let yourself be pampered and doted on for the day! If you are anything like me you spend most of your time flitting between thinking you are a horrible mum for wanting to put nail varnish on, by yourself, let it dry and it not smudge; and then thinking you are not doing a good enough job because the other day your child picked their nose, you yelled, they cried and the neighbour you were talking to slinked back to their house, eyes widening with what looked suspiciously like judgment. But you know, all of that doesn’t leave much space for thinking and feeling that – you know what?… despite it all I’m doing my best, my child is loved and that’s enough – that’s more than enough. So FEEL THE LOVE TODAY. You’ve earned it!

Until next time do what it takes to find your smile again.

Lydia

x

 

Listening is loving

 

Maybe I’ve been afraid of life and through Evie’s death I’m learning to live it.

Those who fear death, fear life

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

Consequences of losing a child – have I changed?

This is something I got obsessed with – how I’d changed or not because of what happened was a constant newsreel in my head. Every decision about jobs, reactions to family and in particular the parenting of my second daughter has been scrutinised as part of my ritual need to see proof of the awful consequences of Evie dying.

Something that unfolds over time are the multitude of consequences of losing my first child. Many are obvious but many more are often only really apparent as the months and years march on.

  • Having our second daughter so soon after our first
  • Having a c-section with our second pregnancy rather than natural
  • Withdrawing from our social lives
  • Going on antidepressants
  • Countless sleepless nights
  • A general  feeling of “everything is out to get me” and anxiety

These are some of the consequences of losing Evie. They are a mixture of negative, necessary and inevitable consequences of such a bereavement and not all of them are long-lasting or permanent, I can see that now. It’s the permanent ones that interest me the most, as they will be the permanent mark on my life that show how I’ve altered as a result of losing my first baby.

I do feel at times like I’m playing make-believe

I do feel at times like I’m playing make-believe, that this title of mummy is temporary and when the grown ups come back I’ll have to take off the heels that are too big and set aside the dressing up clothes of parents to rejoin the ranks of the immature. I don’t feel qualified to do this children malarkey and in some ways that is a good thing because it keeps me on my toes and fresh to adapting my parenting style to be to best I possibly can.

However I also feel like this parenting gig is temporary because I know the harsh reality of how precious life is, how short and how easily it can be lost. There is a big part of me that still thinks – “how long will I get to keep Poppy for?” “how long can the dream last?”. I still think it could all be taken away, she could die and I be back with nothing again. Just because I’ve had an awful thing happen once doesn’t mean it can’t happen again. I shouldn’t be so presumptuous to assume I can have what I want when it comes to having children. For those of us who live this reality of having our worst fear actually happen to us, we know how perpetual fear and anxiety of potential bad things happening to our children takes its toll on our souls and state of mind.

When Poppy was first-born I genuinely thought to keep her here it was my job to be close at all times and some how keep her heart pumping and her lungs breathing. It was exhausting. As the months have turned to years and she has proven she can stay alive I have slowly relaxed… slowly. I believed that if I stayed vigilant, alert and anticipated any and every potential illness, accident, bump and cough I was doing my duty to protect from harm my living child as I couldn’t with my first.

The truth is that you can never do it enough – and it doesn’t work. They still get ill, fall over, get hit by another child and bang into tables despite your best efforts. The best we can do is find a balance between our heightened sense of anxiety about our children’s health and well-being and a “normal” amount of worry. We have to tell ourselves we know the likelihood of them catching meningitis is small so don’t spend time every day worrying but make sure you know the signs. Remind ourselves we know they will very likely fall over when they are learning to walk, put pillows down, be with them and rub any bumped knees – they will be alright.

One consequence many bereavement parents find hard is that you cannot say to us: “don’t worry they will be fine, nothing is going to happen to them. This pregnancy will be fine, it’s not going to happen to you. It’s such a small statistic so don’t worry”. We have seen that the worst can happen, pregnancies can be fine and then not: we have been that statistic.We are very hard to comfort in the respect and have to manage a much bigger slice of fear than others might.

Surprisingly I believe there is one way my altered self is better now than if I hadn’t lost Evie – I do not take my second daughter for granted, not one bit. I marvel alongside her when it rains and stand awestruck at the magic of bubbles just as she does; I laugh at Bagheera’s head ringing when Baloo shouts for him at close range in the Jungle Book (a current favourite film) and learn the words to The Gruffalo’s Child slower than her sharp young mind.

I wonder at her development as the months progress and she masters the shapes and sounds of words and the art of stringing them together to be understood. Her indignation as another child pushes her and her effortless ability to forget how that felt when pushing others, both amuses and angers me as I educate her on the need to be gentle and kind. I hold close to my heart the knowledge of how fortunate I am to be doing this at all, how privileged to be responsible for bring up this beautiful child in this imperfect world.

I have a respect for my daughter that gives her a voice and right to her own feelings; I try to teach her emotional intelligence not just counting and animal noises but words like angry, sad, happy and I’m full. I love how opinionated she is and assertive, I’m excited to see how her fledgling personality and character traits will thrive and develop as she grows. I will enjoy her like I cannot enjoy my first and not get caught up on a mark on the carpet or whether the washing is put away. I will devote myself to her for both her and my own sake. I will take an interest in her in all things. I will soak her up like warm summer rays, take her in like nourishing broth and drench myself in her like an exquisite perfume.

The daughter that lived

Until she is fully grown and can possibly understand such things, I do not know if she will grasp how much she has inspired me to embrace life without Evelyn. She is my motivation to carve out the best life I can for her, myself and for my family. She makes me strive higher, work harder, moan less, understand more, and generally pushes me to achieve what I am capable of, an ability I thought I had lost. She has reignited a lust for life that I thought had been extinguished. A heavy burden indeed for such small shoulders but I hope she will understand it is more a gift she has given me purely by being here and there is nothing she must actively do that will ease my sorrows and patch me up. Her existence is enough to cheer and soothe me and I sincerely hope I do not make her feel under pressure to live up to my expectations of the “daughter that lived”.

You see these are my worries: that the ultimate consequence of Evelyn dying is a warped parenting full of pressures and expectations that are harmful or damaging to my second daughter. My sister told me that after she had her second child she realised that with your first you don’t know what you should be worried about so you worry about everything and with your second you don’t have time to worry about anything other than the stuff you know you should worry about. I can see the logic in her wisdom but for me it is not really applicable, if anything, worrying about my second supersedes my worries for my first. Nothing can hurt my first, I can do nothing more but there are many, many things that could go wrong with my second, too many possibilities for harm by others or by my hand that if I’m not careful it will paralyse me.

I remember one example of trying to balance my gratitude that Poppy is here at all and trying to be a balanced parent who doesn’t let her get away with everything. One day I shouted – yes I know it’s awful – but she was driving me mad by not listening and generally being a nuisance while I was trying to cook tea. I had banished her to the living room in a desperate attempt to continue the cooking – and an even more desperate attempt to ignore the judgement in my head that I was winning worst mum of the year hands down – when she came back in. She climbed up onto her kitchen stool, sidled up to me, leaned in and told me she loved me. In that instance my heart melted, all my frustration from the day vanished and I realised she loved me unconditionally. She didn’t care that I had been cross, she didn’t judge me or think I was a bad mother who couldn’t teach her to be a model two-year old (they exist, don’t they?); all she cared about was that I was hers, I was her mummy, that was enough.

Seeing me through her eyes was inspiring, it stopped me in my tracks and it dawned on me I needed to bank this moment in my memory for future reference when I was having a bad day and thought everything was wrong. This fleeting mystical moment would be my proof of everything that was right with me and my daughter, my ‘little treasure’ as I tenderly call her, my little beacon of light in the darkness of the past few years.

Keeping a constant check on whether my decisions, reactions, instructions and example for my living child are balanced is a tiring occupation but I do feel it has largely paid off. I do not think I am over protective above and beyond a normal parent, I think I am sufficiently laid back that she can explore and find her own way without me hovering over like a helicopter, nor do I think I stifle her or express over the top fears about the world around her (in fact sometimes Poppy having a bit more of a health fear for the world around her wouldn’t go amiss!).

SO I guess what I’m saying is that despite my tendency to doubt my own abilities and my battle for sanity since losing Evie, when I really think about it, I do believe I am doing a good job parenting my second daughter in the way I believe is right. Even saying that out loud is a huge achievement and one not lost on me.

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

Lydia

x

My little treasure
My little treasure