Sunday, 30 December 2012

After The Storm

A friend told me this story shortly after my son died. I don't know who wrote it but it has provided some comfort and perspective. I read it as a message of hope...

When a devastating storm comes, an area is often completely laid waste. There may be a warning, but even then, the intensity of the storm often takes everyone by surprise. Nothing can stand in the pathway of the storm, and everything that was held sacred or precious may be lost or ruined. Trees are uprooted, buildings are wrecked, possessions can be swept away; the landscape looks completely unrecognisable. Those who live there can choose to stay, to try and protect what they hold dear from the storm, or can go whilst the storm is at its fiercest and return afterwards to assess what happened. Whatever they do, they cannot prevent damage.

But given time, the devastation seems to settle. Where the ground was ravaged and empty, new plants start to grow. Often these are plants which would never have been able to grow before the devastation of the storm because the older plants were too well established. Some of the wrecks and ruins are removed, others may be left as a reminder or memorial to what happened. Parts of the wreckage may be used to build new and different buildings, possessions are repaired or replaced.

And some time down the line, though a stranger may look at an area and not realise the utter devastation that occurred there previously, those who live there, and lived through the storm will know that the area has been shaped to be what it is because of what happened during and After the Storm.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Christmas: past, present and future

Nine years ago, in memory of our grandma, my sister and I started a Christmas tradition: the exchange of baubles. Grandma had a small, artificial Christmas tree, which she decorated with coloured fairy lights and tinsel. She also had a collection of mis-matched ornaments that she had accumulated over the years. I have some of them on my tree now. There were always two pots of sweets under the tree - one for me and one for my sister. Grandma would buy us a present each to open on Christmas Day and a dozen or so small presents (crayons, hair clips, puzzle books etc), which she would hide around her house for us to find on a Boxing Day treasure hunt. After she died, my sister and I wanted to continue the childhood magic of grandma's Christmas, so we decided that each year we would buy each other a Christmas decoration.

We have now extended the tradition to our children. I buy a bauble for each of my nephews and my daughter receives a bauble from each of her aunties. The idea is that each child will have a unique set of Christmas decorations to take with them when they have grown up and leave home. This year, my daughter received a fuzzy seal pup, a rag-doll angel and a wooden Santa.

I also buy a bauble each year for my daughter. The year she was born, I ordered a glass bauble with a Christmas tree inside, personalised with her name and birth year. It's too precious to put on the tree at the moment, in case it gets knocked off and broken. When she's older, I will give it to her. I'm hoping she'll take good care of it and put it on her own tree. This Christmas, I gave her a little snow globe.

This year, I ordered another personalised bauble, in memory of my son. I thought about buying a glass one but I decided against that because I wanted to put it on the tree and not worry about it breaking. So, I bought a silver one, with his name and birth year engraved onto it. It has taken pride of place, high up on my tree, alongside a similar ornament, engraved with his sister's name and birth year. I like being able to see my children's baubles together on the tree.

Christmas is normally one of my favourite seasons but this year I haven't felt like celebrating. We have had a nice time with family but it was not the Christmas I had planned. However, continuing the bauble exchange has reminded me how lucky I am to have close family and to be able to pass new traditions on in memory of those who cannot be with us.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Physical recovery

Today, I had a follow-up appointment with the physiotherapist. My divarication is improving - there is now only a 2-3cm gap across my abdomen, so the exercises are working! I have to keep up the regime, include two new exercises twice a day and go back for another assessment in January. Further good news is that I don't have to wear the tubi-grip support as often - only on days when I'm particularly active. I'm also allowed to do some very gentle swimming (breast-stroke only) and some symmetrical yoga poses or breathing exercises. So, our Sunday morning family trip to the leisure centre can include all three of us getting into the pool, rather than mummy watching from the viewing gallery.

Yesterday, I went to see my GP. I thought it would be a good idea to talk to her, as I hadn't met her before and I'm going to need her help over the coming weeks and months. She was very supportive and understanding. She advised me to get in touch with the local SANDS support group and to make sure that I get out of the house to see people every day. We agreed that I should concentrate on my physical recovery and I'm going back to see her again in a month's time. My emotional recovery will take much longer but we're working on that...

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Mum's the word

I am so grateful to our family and friends who have donated funds to the Mum's the Word appeal in memory of Monty. Together, we have raised over £700 (not including the gift aid!) and there's more to come as we have a promise of sponsorship from someone who is running the London Marathon in 2013. I am proud that we will have a hot air balloon dedicated to Monty's memory on the hospital's fundraising wall.

We feel so grateful for the kind and tender care we received when we found out that our baby had died and would be stillborn. All the midwives, doctors, and hospital staff made us as comfortable as they could and were sensitive to our feelings, needs and wishes. I can look back and remember the very special (albeit heart-breaking) experience of giving birth to my precious son and am glad to have received such excellent care.

I hope that our contribution will go some way to helping ensure that high-quality care will continue to be provided to other mothers, babies and families at Southmead Hospital...

...and, perhaps, one day, we will be lucky enough to receive their care again?

Friday, 14 December 2012

A Dancing Star

A friend shared her story with me and gave me a book that had provided her with comfort and strength. The book is called "A Dancing Star". It is an anthology of quotations: 'inspirations to guide and heal'. It is a welcome gift.

Having looked through it only once, so far, I have already found words that help to assign context and meaning to my grief. I am not the first person to have loved and lost. I will not be the last.

These two thoughts have helped me today:

"Life is not the way it's supposed to be. It's the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference."
Virginia Slater

"Truly, it is in the darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us."
Meister Eckhart

This book will be my handbag companion for some time to come...

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Festival of light

We have invited family and friends to join us today in remembering our baby boy. Since they are geographically dispersed and the weather is not great at this time of year, we have decided not to ask people to travel to Bristol for a remembrance event. However, we want to mark the date on which we were hoping to welcome Monty to the world and give those who care about us and have been affected by his loss an opportunity to say their own goodbye or prayer for him.

So, we're holding a Festival of Light this evening. We will be lighting candles and, if the weather permits, we will send up a few Chinese lanterns. Our friends and family will join us, from wherever they are across the UK and overseas, in lighting candles and spending a few minutes thinking of baby Monty.

I'll be thinking of my delight at discovering I was pregnant again, the plans I had made for another year on maternity leave, how my daughter practised at being a big sister, and how I was looking forward to being a mum of two. Although we never had the chance to develop a postnatal mother-son bond, Monty and I did a lot together in the 34 weeks that we co-existed. We climbed Skiddaw, rode on a Ferris Wheel, visited Weston-super-Mare, performed at Proms in the Meadow, competed at LABBS Convention, applied for several jobs (and got one!), and enjoyed a lot of cake! Monty would have recognised our voices and felt us stroke him through my bump. We have special memories of those 34 weeks that we can share as a family.

I will treasure the keepsakes in Monty's memory box and look at his photo on the windowsill. I will be reminded of him each time I look in the mirror and see my heart pendant. I physically carried him with me for nearly eight months and will carry his memory with me forever...

Monday, 10 December 2012

I'll get by with a little help from my friends

Since Monty died, I've been given information about SANDS and the contact number for the local support group. I've received lots of cards, letters, emails and texts from friends. I have also been approached by people I don't know very well (such as, mums from toddler groups we attend) who know that I have lost my baby and who want to help in some way, even if just by going for a coffee.

I am lucky to have so many people who care about me and such a big support network and have decided that I need to start taking up some of these offers of help.

It can be hard to ask people to listen, when what I need to talk about is so sad, but I'm finding it very helpful to talk to friends (in particular, other mums) on a one-to-one basis. Some people have a similar experience to share, others have a different experience of loss and can empathise. In almost every case, I have found that it makes it easier to understand that my experience of grief is not unique and that I will, in time, start to feel better.

I'm on maternity leave from work at the moment and my daughter goes to nursery on three days of the week. I've got too much time to myself, which just gives me room to think too much, and I need to make sure that I spend some time every day in the company of others. Grown-up conversation is welcome and, on the days that I do have my daughter at home with me, it's good to meet up with other people who have toddlers for a play date.

I am determined to get back to my singing but I've been so tired in the evenings that I only made it to one half of a rehearsal in the past month (and I realised, when I got there, that I couldn't remember how any of the songs go!). It's the Christmas party on Thursday and I'm going to make a special effort to be there so that I can spend time with my friends before we break for the Christmas/New Year holiday.

I know that I'll never get over the loss of my baby (and why would I want to?) but I also know that, with a little help from my friends, I can regain some happiness, grow stronger and enjoy my "new normal" in a positive way.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Silent baby

I cannot begin to describe the loss
Of a baby born asleep.
I cannot begin to describe the pain;
All I can do is weep.
The silence of a delivery room that
Should have been filled with joy,
The silence of a mother who has
Delivered a silent boy.

A dim-lit room, an empty womb,
The quiet tears that flow.
A baby, washed and dressed, whom
The world will never know.

When I wake up in the morning and
Then begin to cry
It's with sadness at remembering that
You are not nearby.
I sleep beside your memory box with
Precious items few:
Mementoes of the too-short time
I got to spend with you.

You died inside so quietly,
My body let you go,
But my heart will always love you,
Dear child I'll never know.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Proud mummy!

After blogging recently about my sadness, it's nice to have something lovely to write about. Two things happened this week that made me smile :-)

Firstly, my daughter had her first 'school photos' taken. I've never had professional photos taken of her but nursery arranged for a photographer to come and take pictures of all the children. We don't have much success in keeping our daughter still enough to take the best shots, so I was interested to see how well these would come out. They are beautiful!

My daughter can be quite shy with other people, even those she knows reasonably well, and you can tell from a couple of the proof images that she wasn't entirely certain what was going on. She did tell us that "the dog sniffed my toes!" - I think the photographer had some toys and props to keep the children interested in having their photos taken.

So, now the tough choice is: of the eight photos on the proof sheet (four different images, each in colour and black and white), which do we buy? We have chosen one that we think best captures her smile (although none of them properly portray her cheeky nature) and will order enough copies to give to her grandparents and great-grandparents, as well as keeping one for ourselves. I did consider buying the CD of digital images but my husband wasn't keen on that idea.

Secondly, I spoke to my daugher's Key Worker at nursery about her development and learning. We were supposed to have attended parents' evening at the beginning of November but it was too soon after Monty was born, so we postponed. The good news is that she is happy and settled! She is bright and polite; she joins in with all the activities they offer and plays nicely with the other children.

I brought home her learning journal to show my husband. It has some lovely photos and observations of things she's involved with at nursery and I like having this glimpse into her independent life. It's strange to get a fly-on-the-wall perspective of your own child and what they are like in your absence!

All in all, I'm a very proud mummy. She is doing well at nursery and seems to cope well with new experiences even in our absence. I am pleased that she is turning out to be bright and confident and look forward to seeing how much further she has grown and developed by the time she has her next school photos taken and the next parents' evening comes around!

Monday, 3 December 2012

One month on

This seems to have been the longest month of my life. Hours and days have elongated yet the weeks have passed quickly. How can one whole month have passed already since Monty was born?

It's hard to describe how I feel. I mourn the intimacy of maternal love for the baby growing inside and the lost potential of a life that never came to be. I am exhausted from lack of sleep and the effort required to get through each day. I feel incredibly sad and burdened by the thought that I have let everybody down.

The chaplain told me that it is perfectly normal for mothers to feel it is their fault when a baby dies. I have replayed over and over in my head the hours between my last midwife appointment and the scan at the hospital, looking for a missed signal that would have told me something was so terribly wrong. I feel I have failed as a mother in not being able to save my son, although medical advisors have said that, in all likelihood, no action on my part would or could have changed the outcome.

We are waiting for the results of the tests carried out postnatally on me and Monty and the results of the post mortem. We will be called back to the hospital to meet one of the consultants to go through all the results but have been told that, in the majority of cases, they are unable to determine the cause of death. It is important for us to understand if there was an identifiable reason for the loss of our baby and to consider the possibility of maybe trying for another child at some point in the future.

The world continues about its business but my life has been turned inside out. Plans, hopes and dreams have been shattered - the rug has been pulled from under my feet. I have never before felt so uncertain about my future. In a practical sense, we can continue where we left off but I know there will always be something missing and the unspoken, unanswered question - what if? When people ask me how I'm doing, my first answer is usually "OK" but friends who probe deeper and ask the right questions soon find out that I'm bewildered, confused, cast adrift, tearful...

Someone said to me "It's as if your life is a beautiful glass vase on a windowsill. One day, when the window is open, a breeze blows your vase onto the floor and it smashes into pieces. You collect up as many pieces as you can find but even if you try to glue them back together, there will be some pieces missing and it will never look the same again. So, melt the glass and make a new vase which, although different to the first one, can be equally beautiful."