Monday, 30 December 2013

So this is Christmas, and what have you done?

One morning in early December, I came downstairs and found my daughter drawing on pieces of note-paper with crayons and putting square-shaped stickers in the top right-hand corner of each piece of paper, as stamps. When I asked her what she was making, without looking up she said "Get better cards for the children in wheelchairs." I felt humbled that she was thinking of others less fortunate than herself and wanting to do something to make them feel better.

Over recent weeks, she has become more aware of illness and misfortune. Firstly, 'Grandma Avis' took a nasty fall and is in hospital with a head injury and a broken pelvis. We sent chocolates and a card to cheer her up. Then, the babysitter (who used to be at our daughter's key-worker at nursery) changed jobs in order to help her mother, who has early-onset dementia. I explained to my daughter that her favourite teacher was leaving to help look after her mummy who forgets things - not just 'where did I put my shoes?' but really important stuff, like to go to the doctor or take her medicine. My daughter wanted to give her some chocolates too, so we did. Finally, my daughter fell off a chair in the kitchen and banged her head on the tiled floor. Although she seemed alright that evening, the next day she was very tired and vomited. So, I took her to the GP to be checked over and he sent us to the Children's Hospital A&E for a proper assessment. We were there for 3 hours before being sent home with a leaflet about things to monitor in children who have experienced minor head injuries.

These events seem to have had an effect on my daughter. As a compassionate child who spends a lot of time involved in nurturing role-play (doctors and nurses, teachers, mummies and babies, etc), she has taken all of these recent experiences on board and included them in her play. I also think they led to her request to give presents to the children in the hospital.

I telephoned the hospital to ask if they (a) would accept gifts and (b) what they needed/would find useful. They said plastic toys would be best, or those that can be easily cleaned, and they are short of toys for babies and young toddlers. So, we went shopping. We bought four presents: a set of stacking cups; stacking rings; a set of plastic jungle animals; and a box of wooden jigsaws. We wrapped them in Christmas paper and labelled them (I wrote on the gift-tags in pencil, stating the contents and the age-range for the toy). My daughter then made a card for the children using foam Christmas stickers and her crayons.

Together with Daddy, we dropped the presents down at the hospital reception desk. I feel so proud of my daughter for wanting to help others and for choosing nice presents for the poorly children. She has earned a petal for her 'wow flower' and, hopefully, made some other children's Christmas a little happier.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time

We woke up at 7.15am to a cry of "Santa's been!" and spent the next half an hour all snuggled up together in bed whilst our daughter opened her stocking presents. She was delighted to receive chocolate coins, stickers and scented colouring pens among other things.

There was a moment of panic/doubt: "...but where's my doll's cot?"

We came downstairs to find that Santa had delivered - the doll's cot was waiting inside the new circus playtent and next to all the other presents.

We passed a long, quiet morning, opening presents and taking time to play with each one before we opened the next. We love the shopping basket game and the post office counter. A box of Lego, a Leap Pad writing toy and a Hello Kitty dressing gown were also quick to receive 'favourite' status.

With the lamb in the slow cooker, we went out for a little stroll. 

We had a snack of cheese and crackers, Twiglets and mini cheddars, chocolate coins and melon. 

We Facetimed all the grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins to wish them a Merry Christmas and thank them for our presents.

We watched two films and enjoyed our Christmas dinner.

All in all, a very relaxed Christmas at home - just the 'three' of us.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The night before Christmas...

One of the nice things about having children is that you get to develop your own routines, rituals and traditions. This is the first year that our daughter (three-and-a-half years old) has understood a bit of what Christmas is about and we have the opportunity to celebrate in our new old-fashioned way.

Tonight, we had fish pie for dinner. It's a nod to my Cornish heritage - one day later than Tom Bawcock's Eve and with no fish-heads in sight but a fish pie nonetheless. After dinner, we encouraged our daughter to have an early bath and put her pyjamas on so that she could come back downstairs to open the Christmas Eve box.

The box contained everything we needed for a 'perfect' Christmas Eve:
  • Christmas DVD ('Father Christmas' by Raymond Briggs)
  • Christmas story (The Night Before Christmas) to read in bed
  • Christmas stocking to hang by the fire
  • A carrot for Rudolph and a mince pie for Santa
  • Snacks and treats to eat whilst watching the DVD
  • Magic dust to sprinkle outside, so that Santa knows where to deliver the presents!

We watched the DVD and ate our snacks; sprinkled the dust and laid out the carrot and mince pie on a plate; hung the stocking and read the Christmas story.

All we have to do now is go to sleep and wait until tomorrow morning, hoping that we've been good enough all year to have made it onto the 'nice list'...

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Home-made Christmas gifts

This year, my daughter made Christmas tree pictures for her grandparents and great-grandparents.

Materials:
6" x 6" ready-made canvases (4 for £4!)
ready-mixed poster paints
fluffy pipe-cleaners
lollipop sticks
cotton wool balls
glitter glue pens / glitter and glue

We used a lollipop stick to print tree trunks and a giant, fluffy pipe-cleaner to make branches and leaves.




Once dry, they were finished off with glitter glue baubles and a yellow/gold glitter star at the top!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

It was the worst of times...

This time last year, I was newly bereaved. I was depressed. Not on medication but I felt like a zombie - just going through the motions of life.

Having lost my second baby, I felt as though the ground had fallen away under my feet. I thought I had let everyone down by not providing the longed-for child. I was convinced it would turn out to be my fault and had no idea how I would live with myself.

I felt I was letting my daughter down because I was unable to give her the attention she needed. She was two-and-a-half years old and confused. Why were her parents both at home? Why was mummy crying? Why were grandparents coming to stay? Where was the baby?

I thought I was the world's worst mother. Not only had my son died inside me, without me knowing (where was my 'instinct'? why didn't I notice something was wrong?) but I felt unable to function as a mother for my daughter. I didn't want to play or sing or laugh - I just wanted to curl up on the sofa and hold her close. I managed to take her to nursery, to gymnastics, to singing group but I couldn't join in with any of these activities. We had started potty-training but I had to put it on hold because I just couldn't cope.

One year on, I am feeling a lot better: I am looking forward to Christmas and have planned some family holidays for next year. I can smile, laugh, join in and have fun. There are still days when I wonder about my parenting ability but now they are fewer and farther between. I am no longer depressed, although symptoms of my bereavement stress remain. I'm nearing the end of my bereavement counselling and feel as if some of the weight of my loss has been lifted.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Guest post: Should have been...

This is a guest post written by my husband:

It should have been our son Monty's first birthday today.

We should have been watching his big sister "help" him open his presents, wondering with a smile how much worse it was going to be at Christmas, just a couple of weeks away.

We should have been wondering, one year in, if we were going to stick with two children, or try for the third one we'd always held as a possibility.

Instead, it's a year since we released Chinese lanterns into the sky to say goodbye to our stillborn baby. He came six weeks early, perfectly formed but small, too small. A common viral infection, picked up at the wrong time, damaged the placenta enough so that it couldn't support him as he grew. We had no idea anything was wrong until he had already died. The virus usually has no symptoms in healthy adults, certainly not anything distinct from the normal symptoms of early pregnancy, and is carried by a large proportion of the population. There was nothing anyone could have done.

We didn't find any of this out until three doubt- and guilt-filled months later. In this respect we are luckier, for want of a better term, than many parents of stillborn children, who never find out why their babies died or, worse, find out that they were in some way responsible. We also didn't have to spend months at a hospital bedside watching our tiny child struggle and fail to survive. In the awful club of bereaved parents, we're by no means the worst off.

I have learnt more about grief than I ever hoped to. I have learnt the uselessness of the one question everybody asks: "Is there anything I can do?". This is unanswerable - the only thing a grieving parent wants is not to be one, and nobody can deliver that. Far better to ask something that does not transfer a burden of having to think of an answer beyond yes or no: "would you like to come out for a drink / coffee / over for dinner?".

I have learnt that grief has physical symptoms as well as the more expected mental ones. We have both had the worst year, in terms of health, of our adult lives, and were told to expect as much.

We talk about Monty frequently, even with our daughter when she wants to, which is quite often. The raw wound has now become scar tissue - it no longer automatically hurts to probe it, but occasionally some circumstance or thought can slip through. On my cycle route to work I have a choice - I can ride past the hospital where his post mortem was carried out, or past his funeral home. A few months ago, I saw the converted estate car that is used for baby funerals pulling out. I gasped out loud in sadness and sympathy. Seventeen babies are stillborn or die shortly after birth every day in this country. The Maple Suite at Southmead Hospital, where Monty was born, is more or less continually in use.

I have learnt what my wife and daughter really mean to me: everything. Losing Monty put out the light at the centre of our family for a time. The three of us have worked hard together, and it is coming back. I cannot imagine dealing with a situation like this without these two amazing ladies by my side. Monty will always be a part of us, and we will never forget him. If we have another child, it will be our third.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Deafening Silence

A short film about stillbirth through the eyes of the mother has been made by Abigail's Footsteps.

My experience wasn't quite like this but it was similar.

If things had gone to plan, tomorrow would be Monty's first birthday.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Schrodinger's baby

Trying to conceive feels like being in limbo: always 'maybe-pregnant' but never certain until a period comes or two lines appear in a window on a little white stick.

I am highly aware of my cycle even though I'm not counting days, taking my temperature or peeing on ovulation sticks. I am careful about what I eat and drink. I take folic acid to carefully nourish the tiny embryo that might implant and grow. I know when my period is due and each month I hold my breath and cross my fingers that it won't come.

But it does. And it catches me out.

I had vowed not to go back on the Pill after my daughter was born but, following Monty's stillbirth, it was recommended by the family-planning nurse as a way of giving myself the emotional space to grieve. However, since I stopped taking it, in the Summer, my 'cycle' has been irregular. Three times now, my period has been late enough that I've dared to believe that I might be pregnant... but I'm not.

I feel like the butt of some cruel biological joke: I lost my much-wanted second baby at 34 weeks' pregnant and now I don't even know if/when I'm ovulating!

My mind is filled with trepidatious hope - "maybe this month?" - alongside fear and anxiety about how I would react if I were to fall pregnant. It's all I can do to try not to let this take over my life.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The baby-sitters club

Twice now, I have enlisted the help of a babysitter to look after my three-year-old for an evening when my husband has been away with work. Unlike our sisters, who live close to our parents, we don't have family on hand to help us out so we don't get out much on 'dates' and rely on each other to 'babysit' our daughter when the other needs/wants to go out. The only times we get family babysitting are when the grandparents come to stay. However, now that our daughter is three, I've felt the time has come to find a reliable babysitter who can help out sometimes.

The first time, I wanted to go to bereavement support group. It only meets once a month and I'd missed a couple of meetings due to other commitments, so I really wanted to attend. I dithered and deliberated - should I just stay at home, should I ask one of our parents to come and stay, or should I take the plunge and get a babysitter? In the end, I checked with my daughter if she would be OK with one of her friend's mummies coming to look after her and she said 'yes', so I put a call out to my antenatal group and one of them agreed to babysit.

The second time, I decided to try something a bit different. I didn't want to 'take advantage' of my friend's kindness by asking her again (especially as I've not yet had a chance to return the favour), so I asked the staff at my daughter's nursery for advice on where to find good babysitters. They said that they are all available for babysitting in the evenings and weekends, so I asked one of them to help me out.

Whilst leaving my daughter with someone else feels strange, I think it has worked the two times we've tried it because I've chosen people who my daughter knows well; people with whom she has spent a lot of time. She has enjoyed the change of routine (both times, she had an early bath and was allowed to 'stay up' a little longer than normal to see the babysitter) and behaved very well in terms of going to bed and staying in bed nicely. I'm proud of how well she has accepted being looked after by someone else and been comfortable with Mummy and Daddy both being out. She asked a few questions about exactly when I would be coming back and I had to promise to go in to her room to give her a kiss when I got home.

Aside from some anxiety on my part, the babysitting experiment has gone smoothly and my daughter has asked when she can be babysat again!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Toy story

With Christmas approaching and the playroom looking increasingly messy, I decided to undertake a toy audit and clear out some things that are never or seldom played with!

I made some notes as I went along and found that our daughter's toys fall into several categories:
  • construction (eg Lego)
  • soft and plushy
  • dolls (including pushchair, bottles and bedding)
  • role-play (such as pretend food, cash register, telephone and dressing-up box)
  • vehicles (including a train set)
  • outdoor games (balls, beanbags, hula-hoop, skipping rope, etc)
  • hobby horse
  • jigsaws
  • robots
  • a family of mice living in a kettle!
  • finger/hand puppets
  • cotton reels and beads and threading string
  • plastic model animals
  • Mr Potato Head
  • arts and crafts materials (including play-dough)
  • musical instruments
  • card games (Top Trumps, Snap, Happy Families)
  • old-fashioned wooden (dominoes, marble run, a yo-yo and a spinner)
  • board games 
  • slinky spring
  • a 'grabber' shark-on-a-stick

Itemising it like this reinforces what I already knew - she has TOO MANY TOYS!!!

I've listed some items that she has outgrown or not played with for ages on a local website to see if I can re-home them but the majority of toys have remained in the playroom.

I try to make sure that my daughter has a range of toys to play with but she has far too many. I accept most of the responsibility for this - we can afford to buy her pretty much anything she wants and we buy things throughout the year as her interests change and develop. Our generosity is compounded by the grandparents, great-grandparents and aunts/uncles who send an abundance of toys and sweets and clothes on birthdays and at Christmas. Not to mention, the extras she gets when we visit them or they come to stay with us. 

We have been discussing what to get our daughter for Christmas. There is only one thing she wants - a doll's cot - and my sister has bought that for her. I've picked up a few stocking-fillers but we don't know what to do about her 'main' present. On the one hand, I feel that we should buy something 'big' because we are her parents but, on the other hand, she will get so much stuff from others will she actually notice if we hold onto our money? By not spending now, we could afford to take her on a day-trip sometime next year or buy membership for the zoo or the aquarium.

I do feel better for having cleared out and tidied up the playroom. There is far less clutter and the toys that remain have been organised and can be seen more easily. Perhaps she will play with more of them more often now? If not, we'll be having another clear-out before her next birthday...

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Holding on vs. letting go

I've kept almost all of the baby paraphernalia. The equipment and bedding we used for our daughter is carefully packed away in the loft, along with the majority of the clothes and shoes that she has outgrown (obviously, any badly stained or damaged items have been thrown out or recycled). Two boxes of baby toys are up there as well.

It's all waiting for another baby to come along and make use of it.

However, the older our daughter gets and the more time passes by, the more stuff she outgrows and the less space we have in which to accumulate hand-me-downs.

So, I'm faced with a decision: how much do I keep and how much do I sell or give away?

Getting rid of baby items leaves me feeling guilty. Does selling or re-gifting the good-quality stuff mean I'm giving up on the desire for another child?

The other day, I realised that a new baby may not want to play with the same set of toys as his/her older sister; that he/she would develop a unique set of tastes, interests and preferences. A new child would also be given toys and books of his/her own and not be confined to our daughter's cast-offs.

By holding on to toys that my daughter has outgrown I am holding on to the hope that one day our family will grow but I am not necessarily saving us money and I'm definitely not saving us space.

It makes sense to keep the baby equipment, the bedding and the clothes but I should probably look through the toys and only keep those that are in good condition and which have the widest appeal. Somehow, I need to dissociate my emotions and focus on the practicality of this task.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Always a sister

Your sister wants to know where you are.

She thinks you might be in the sky.

She wants to build a rocket so that we can come to find you.

She doesn't understand why you won't come back to us and why we don't come to get you.

She worries that you are alone and lonely.

She misses you and says that she feels sad.

She asked me if you gave her the bear before you died.

She is a wonderful big sister. She thinks about you often and wishes you were here.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

It's not your birthday

Monty,

Today is your anniversary. One year has passed since you were born. Yet, it's not your birthday. Not to me. You weren't due until December - my Christmas baby! Instead, your early arrival was artificially induced because you had already left my world.

This photograph of us together is so special. I could be watching you sleep but I am not - I am meeting you for the first and last time.


Mine was the voice you heard. Mine was the love you felt. Mine was the strength you used to grow but it wasn't enough.

I wonder what life would be like if you were still here?

love
Mummy
xxx

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Remember, remember...

Your sister remembers you. At least, she remembers that you grew inside mummy's tummy.

She remembers looking forward to your arrival and being confused when we told her that you wouldn't be coming home, after all.

She looks at your photograph. She holds your toy bear.

She asks questions about where you are and if you will ever come back.

She talks about you at nursery. Yesterday, her friends shared their stories of lost pets and grandparents.

She is proud to be your big sister.

I think she remembers that nearly one year has passed.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey

We are in the throes of Autumn: the temperature has dropped, the wind and rain have arrived and there are leaves everywhere!

We have installed the frame for a hedgehog house in our garden but no matter how many leaves and sticks we pile onto it, they rot down, leaving gaps and we need to collect more. At the moment, it looks too sparsely covered for a hedgehog to want to move in. At least we have an excuse to pull on our wellies, grab a trug and head outside for a walk!

It is cold and I've adopted my Winter coat. I have moved into my vest (and I won't take it off until Spring); my hair has lost all its Summer highlights; and my skin has dried out - no amount of hand cream or facial moisturiser can restore its normal balance. I have bought woolly leggings and fleece-lined boots to adapt my dresses for the new season.

Soon, Hallowe'en and Bonfire Night will be upon us. Two festivals that I have always disliked and which, from now on, will remind me of the week in which I lost my precious son.

The clocks have reverted to GMT and, as we head into the Winter darkness, I can feel my mood lowering. The next few weeks will be filled with sad memories. I hope I will find a hint of optimism. I wonder whether I will enjoy Christmas, this year? A Christmas that should have seen my daughter playing playing with her brother and their new toys...

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Rambling on

Before we had children, we used to do a lot of walking. We would go out for an 8-9 mile ramble most weekends and spend our holidays in the Lake District and other national parks. Since becoming parents, opportunities for long-distance walking have been limited. However, now that our daughter is three-and-a-half years old, her stamina is improving and she's becoming more interested in spending time outdoors.

Her first 'walk', when she was about 18-months old, was a half-mile stroll around a neighbouring farm track. Since then, she's increased her range to about two miles. I packed the pushchair away at Easter this year and we've been encouraging her to walk as much as possible over the summer. She now expects to walk when we leave the house and knows that she won't be carried very far, if at all.

Today, we completed a three-mile walk, of which our daughter walked about two miles, over difficult and muddy terrain. We followed the Frome Valley Walkway to Huckford Quarry. There were two steep inclines to climb and a couple of very slippery sections to navigate. We were all in wellies, rather than walking boots, but our daughter kept her cool even on the trickiest bits of the walk. She only asked to be carried when she genuinely got tired. (Naturally, this was at the furthest point from home...)

The weather looked inclement but it only rained very lightly for a few minutes just after we set off. We chatted all the way round, held hands, got muddy and saw a train go over the tall bridge.

Today's adventure has inspired us to start rambling again, as a family. We're planning to go out next weekend, weather-depending, to Berkeley Castle for a walk through the Deer Park, stopping for lunch at a local pub.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Don't look back

This time last year, I was counting down the days to maternity leave. I was looking forward to spending a month relaxing and getting ready for the arrival of my second child. I knew that I wouldn't return to the job I was leaving but I didn't know that I wouldn't spend a year at home with my new baby.

Both times I have gone on maternity leave, I have left my job behind and not looked back.

Before my daughter was born, I was head of a small team. The workload was busy and responsive, which meant that no two days were the same. Whilst I liked the variety and the responsibility, I was bogged down with work-baggage and unable to 'switch off' when I got home. I didn't acknowledge how unhappy I was until I stood on the platform at the train station on my last day before maternity leave and breathed a sigh of relief.

I worked full-time until I was 38 weeks pregnant, using the odd day of annual leave or working from home to ease the commuting burden. Almost every day I spent in the office in the month before going on maternity leave, I had ended up silently crying in a toilet cubicle - tears of frustration, anger and despair. I liked the people I worked with but spending time at home with my daughter made me realise that I didn't want to return to that job or work so far away from where we live. So, nine months into my maternity leave, I applied for a new role in a new organisation, closer to home, and was offered the job. I resigned just before I was due to return to work and 'worked' my notice using the holiday I'd accrued on maternity leave. I didn't even go back to clear my desk.

Unfortunately, the new job didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. On paper it looked good: it fitted my skills and should have provided a development opportunity but it turned into a project management role, which I found dissatisfying and frustrating. Again, my colleagues were lovely but the organisation was going through massive change. We faced an uncertain future: the team was being transferred into a new company and I was worried about redundancy. So, I spent most of my second pregnancy applying for jobs. It was a very stressful time. There were more tears in office toilets and at home. I ended up going on leave early when, at 34 weeks pregnant, I found out that my baby had died.

As it turned out, I was offered a new job the same weekend that Monty was stillborn - an email was waiting in my inbox when I returned home from the hospital. It's funny how, in the midst of darkness, there can be a small glimmer of light. My employer was very understanding of my situation and held my role until I was ready to return to work, which I did after five months on maternity leave.

By rights, I should still be on maternity leave and starting to think about my baby's first birthday and my return to work. I'm not. But at least I'm now in a job that I enjoy and which suits me much better.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Wave of light


Always loved, never forgotten

(Baby Loss Awareness Day, 15 October 2013)

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Good mental health

Since World Mental Health Day falls in Baby Loss Awareness Week, I guess I might as well write about my mental health since my baby loss:

When I found out that my baby had died I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The sonographer and doctor told me that they couldn't find a heartbeat. I just kept thinking 'well, keep looking!' and 'why is nobody panicking?'. They offered me a cup of tea. I asked them to phone my husband. I screamed and cried.

That was just the start of my year of mental anguish.

The first few days and weeks passed in a blur. Time went wrong - too slow and too fast at the same time. I lost track of the days and weeks. I couldn't remember anything about anything. There were so many decisions to be made: about post mortem and tests; about funeral arrangements; about how and where and when to seek help. There was too much information and too little advice. I couldn't sleep. I cried and felt sick.

I lost my appetite. I couldn't make decisions - not even about simple things, like what to wear (answer: nothing fits, so maternity clothes or pyjamas?). I had to keep going for my daughter's sake and my husband's but for a long time, I just went through the motions of daily life. I felt depressed but everyone said it was early days and I should 'give it time'.

I felt that it was my fault. I worried about everything and nothing. I could think of little else than the baby I never brought home. I thought it must have been because I would have been a rubbish mum to two children - he must have 'known' and bailed out.

I blamed myself for his death. I scrutinised my pregnancy. I relived the last few days, looking for clues and missed signs that something was wrong. I hoped it wasn't my fault because I didn't think I could live with myself if it was but I couldn't see any other answer. The safest place for a baby should be inside his mother but, for my son, even that was not safe enough.

It took 14 weeks to find an answer, to know why my son died. Fourteen weeks that I spent hating myself and wondering how I could ever climb out of the black hole I was in.

Christmas was hard. Monty had been due just a few weeks beforehand. I just couldn't join in with the celebrations. On Christmas Day, I found out that a friend was pregnant and I cried. I told my husband that I thought I was broken and could never be fixed. That was the point at which I decided to get help.

When I asked for it, help came in spades; from the friend who counselled me over coffee to the physiotherapist who mended my divarication; from the GP who gave me sound advice to the SANDS bereavement support group; from friends and family who listened to my employer who made my return to work as easy as it could be.

I took 5 months off work but still felt fragile when I returned. It has taken almost a year to start to feel enjoyment in the things I used to love, like my singing. I have had to absolve myself of responsibilities and commitments beyond the most important and to ask people not to rely on me like they used to. I just don't know if tomorrow will be a good or a bad day.

There are fewer bad days now but they still occur. I still don't sleep well. I feel anxious a lot of the time. My self-confidence and self-esteem are low but improving.

I know I have come a long way since Monty died and was born but I still have a long way to go along my bereavement journey. We are approaching his anniversary and I can feel myself winding up to it. I still cry at night sometimes. Anything can set me off. I feel a mixture of fear and happiness when people tell me they are expecting.

To the outside world, I look normal. I eat, shower, get dressed, leave the house and have a routine. I take my daughter to nursery and extra-curricular activities. I go to work. I do all these things because I am a wife, a mother, alive. Because life carries on.

I have learned a lot since I lost my son. I have learned about life, about love, about myself. I want something positive to come out of my experience, even if I just approach life differently.

I never realised that bereavement stress was a mental illness. I do now.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

1/6205

This time last year, I was 31 weeks pregnant, in full-swing rehearsal for the LABBS Convention in Telford, and blissfully unaware that my baby wasn't going to make it.

Since then, 6205 babies have been stillborn or died shortly after birth in the UK. Monty is one of them.

This week (9-15 October 2013) is baby loss awareness week. I have bought a commemorative pin and, in the run-up to Monty's anniversary, I will be trying to raise awareness and break the silence and taboo surrounding stillbirth.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Orchard Harvest Day

Today, we celebrated Orchard Harvest Day at Winterbourne Medieval Barn - about as Westcountry as an event could be!


There was Morris dancing, a horse-pulled cider press, Gloucester Old Spot piglets, owls and falcons, stationary steam engines and country games. We splatted a rat (and won 20p), threw bean bags through holes in a board (and won another 20p), then lost our winning streak and failed miserably at skittles.

There were various local foods to eat and buy, including honey and wild game, beer and fruit juices. Our daughter had an ice cream and we tried the cider (optional lemonade top-up for the ladies but we turned that down and drank it neat). Lots of people queued up for the lamb burgers, hot dogs and egg and bacon rolls. The home-made cakes looked delicious!

There were Christmas decorations to buy, made from wood and felted wool. We watched the wood-turner make a little mushroom and bought some venison. The hurdle-fence-maker was there with his willow sticks and there were jewellery and toiletry items for sale too.

It was a very family-orientated day out: many people were there with children and dogs. We bumped into some of our friends and neighbours (some of whom were involved in the Morris dancing display).

To add to the rural experience, we cycled there from home (my first bike ride in over a year). The sun shone and a good time was had by all.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Education, education, education

We are choosing schools for our daughter. Well, in as much as we have a choice: we have to complete an application, listing three schools in order of preference, by the middle of January; we then wait until April to receive a letter offering us a place at (*fingers crossed*) one of those schools. It should be straightforward but I feel a huge sense of responsibility. I feel that we really must get it right but I'm not entirely sure what 'right' means.

There are three schools within walking distance of the house, so I am confident that these will be the three schools listed on our application. They all have 'good' Ofsted ratings and 75-80% of children who attend achieve KS2 in maths and english. This creates a fairly level playing field against which we must measure other factors. We have signed up to open days to get a feel for each institution. I'm looking at the work displayed on the walls in corridors to see what the older children have been learning. I'm asking about school meals provision and whether or not they employ a buddy system to help the younger children settle in. I'm looking at the quality of the outdoor play areas and asking how often the children are encouraged to play outside. I want to know which musical and sporting activities are on offer.

I want to find an environment that is conducive to learning. Of course, I want my daughter to do well at school but I mostly want her to be encouraged. I want her natural curiosity to be nurtured. I want her to be given opportunities to find out about a range of things, so that she can develop her own interests. I want the learning environment to be supportive. I want the children to learn how to be good citizens and how to behave respectfully towards themselves and each other. How do you measure these things?

I also need to find good quality out of hours care. My husband works full-time and I'm expected to return to my normal contracted hours (0.8FTE) at some point next year. Whilst I'm hoping to spread my hours across five days and be able to get home to pick my daughter up from school, at the very least she will need to attend a breakfast club. For all three schools, the breakfast club is on-site. However, the situation is different for after-school care: for one school, it is on-site; for another, it is in the building next-door; for the third, it is off-site - someone from the club collects the children and walks them there after the school bell rings. I am not keen on this last option.

I'm hoping that I will get a 'feeling' about each school that enables me to prioritise one over another. It will no doubt be a combination of factors and a weighing-up of pros and cons that leads me to a rank order. The decision ultimately rests with the Council, so I will have to keep my fingers crossed that we are offered a place at our preferred school - whichever that is.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The blame game

I have been seeing a bereavement counsellor. A friend told me to go. She said I needed help, although I thought I was doing OK on my own. Anyway, I took her advice and I think it is helping. We have dealt with a range of emotions associated with bereavement: grief, depression, anger, guilt and shame. For the most part, I have been able to engage fully with the counselling process. I have cried lots of tears, admitted things I wouldn't say out loud in any other circumstance and done my homework.

Until this week...

This week's assignment is either to work through some grieving activities or to consider who I blame for Monty's death.

I've already done the former: I made a memory box; I wear a necklace that I bought in his memory; I wrote him a poem; I raised money for Southmead hospital maternity unit and Bristol SANDS; and Monty has an entry in the hospital chapel's book of remembrance. I look at his photo on the windowsill and I think about him all the time. It's the latter that bothers me because I don't hold anyone responsible for what happened. I can't list the people I think played a part in the loss of my baby or draw a pie chart apportioning blame because I don't think it happened like that.

The truth of the matter is that I picked up a virus. CMV is asymptomatic in adults and most people come into contact with it at some point in their lives. I could have caught it anywhere, from anyone. Unfortunately, I caught it at the wrong time - in the first trimester. It infected the placenta and my baby. The combination of these two things meant that the placenta failed and my son couldn't get enough food or oxygen. Even if I had been referred to the hospital sooner and delivered earlier, he probably wouldn't have survived because of the congenital infection and his smallness.

All the healthcare professionals were kind, helpful and supportive. They couldn't have spotted the problem any earlier because I was considered to be 'low risk' and all the scans and tests indicated normal development. I didn't know I was ill, I just felt tired, and I felt my baby move right up until the day I was told he had no heartbeat. I don't believe it was fate or God's will and suggestions along these lines challenge my 'beliefs'. If 'anyone' is to blame, it is Mother Nature but she's not a real person.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Wishin' and hopin'

My daughter seems keen for a sibling. She is a bit confused, though, and thinks that any future baby we may conceive will be Monty. I've tried to explain that Monty won't come back and that it would be a different baby, a new one. "A sister baby?" Maybe.

We talk about babies quite often. Many of my daughter's friends have younger brothers or sisters. Most of my friends from antenatal group have gone on to have second children. I had thought that I would be one of the first to 'complete' my family but now it seems I will be the last. I know it is neither a competition nor a race but I am beginning to wonder if/when we might be blessed with another baby.

I have kept all the baby clothes, equipment and books that I bought for my daughter. They were stored neatly in plastic crates in a cupboard in the spare room but, since Monty died, I have moved them up into the attic. I can't have them staring at me, reminding me of the baby I've lost and putting unspoken pressure on me to conceive again.

If we are to have another baby, I need serendipity. I can't try too hard - not like I did when I tried to conceive Monty. I desperately want my daughter to have a sibling to grow up with but I'm scared to make an emotional investment in a child that might never be.

I never thought that my second pregnancy would be my last and I would dearly love to be pregnant again and have another baby. So, I wish and hope that, one day, we will be lucky.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Pet project

My daughter has just asked me to get her a pet. Actually, she told me that she 'needs pets' and that I should get 'three rabbits and a cage with a door and some hay'! I've told her that we'll talk about it on another day and not just before bedtime.

I grew up with pets: dogs, cats, birds, fish and hamsters - quite a menagerie! 

My first pet was a rescue cat that we took as a kitten when I was 3 years old. He was a marmalade tabby called Benny (because I had a 'thing' for Benny the Ball from "Top Cat" and the woolly-hatted character Benny from "Crossroads"!) and he was my playmate until my sister was old enough to join in. He liked being dressed up, being pushed around in my dolls' pram and sleeping in my bed. I loved that cat. When he went missing for three days (accidentally locked in the neighbours' garage whilst they were away), I was devastated and told anyone who would listen that I had lost my 'brother'. My mother spent a lot of time explaining that I was actually talking about a cat! Benny got run over by cars on at least three occasions - including once by my Dad! When he reached 10 years old, he started to have 'funny turns' and he died unexpectedly one night. My Dad thinks he ate something bad from the bins. I was inconsolable.

My next cat, Felix, was black and the cleverest cat I have known. He had been run over by a car and taken to the vet by a passer-by but no-one had claimed him. I happened to visit the vet surgery with my youth group and persuaded my Dad to let me adopt the cat. (We're suckers for a sob story, especially when it involves an animal...) Felix was brilliant. He walked with a sashay because of his broken pelvis but could open doors with his paws. He would hide in dark places and jump out to surprise us as we walked past. He became jealous of my boyfriend (now husband) and would climb into bed between us when I visited home in the university holidays! Felix lived until the ripe old age of 15 but pined away after my parents' other cat died.

My third cat was Simba. A huge, hulking great brown tabby that my husband and I adopted from the RSPCA. He had been found as a stray and was about 6 years old. No-one else wanted to adopt him because he was 'too old' but he was perfect for us. Simba came to live with us when I was writing up my thesis. He would sleep for most of the morning, then we'd have lunch together. In the afternoons, we'd sit on the sofa and watch "Fifteen to One" and "Countdown". Years later, Simba reinforced the same routine when I was on maternity leave! He was independent and very affectionate. I didn't notice how much he was ageing and was very sad the day I came home from work to find him permanently 'asleep' in his favourite spot in the conservatory.

My husband isn't keen to get another pet. He loved Simba but didn't grow up with animals so isn't very fond of having them around the house. He is right about the responsibility involved and how much they can tie you down. We travel a lot because our families don't live close by and we both work, so there are long periods in the day when any pet would be on its own. All good reasons to think twice. However, I think it's good for children to have pets. I think it teaches them to be kind and caring, to be nice to animals, and to take responsibility for another living thing.

So, where does that leave us with our daughter's request? 

Well, I think we'll have to say no (for now). I might suggest that we borrow some books from the library, on occasion, to learn about different animals and we might offer to look after someone else's pet whilst they're on holiday. We will wait for our daughter to ask us again because we know that she will. We will ask her to give us a presentation on what's involved in looking after a pet and who will be responsible for its welfare. (OK, I know that it will end up being me but I think we ought to go through the process of making her think it will be her!) We will think about it. 

One day, we will say 'yes' and I can just imagine how her face will light up when we do!

Monday, 9 September 2013

This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you...

When I was at primary school, we had to say prayers three times a day. It was a Catholic school, so prayer-time was compulsory. We said them at morning assembly, before lunch and before going home.

In Class 3 (when we were 7-8 years old), our teacher would allow the students to include a prayer or blessing of their own at home-time. We had to take turns. She would go round the classroom, choosing three or four students a day. Normally, it was something childish and simple, along the lines of "Dear Lord, please look after my puppy who has hurt his paw" or "Dear Lord, please let it be sunny tomorrow so I can ride my bike".

One day, one of the girls in my class said a prayer that started the teacher crying:

"Dear Lord, please look after mummy's baby, who was stillborn."

The teacher asked her what the baby was called.

"Vincent"

We were all sent home.

I didn't understand.

I asked my mother about it whilst she cooked dinner. She said that it was very sad because the baby had died. I was confused - the baby had been born hadn't it? My mother tried to explain how some babies die before they are born and, when that happens, we say there are stillborn. I still didn't understand. In my world, it wasn't possible for something to die before it had lived; if it was born, it was born! In my head, the word 'stillborn' didn't mean 'born still, unbreathing and unmoving' it meant 'yet he was born'.

Nearly 30 years on, I remember that day. I remember the girl. I remember her brother's name: Vincent.

Nearly 30 years on, I am still confused.

Since my son was stillborn, I have thought a lot about Vincent and his mummy and his sisters and brother.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The times they are a changin'

This time next year our daughter will start school (in fact, the application system comes online next week) and I want to make every day of this last precious pre-school year count.

I want to enjoy every minute of our time as a family unit before my daughter starts to pay more attention to her friends than her parents. I want to maximise our mummy-daughter time and use my non-work days to have fun and learn together. We enjoy reading books and I'm hoping that my daughter will be able to recognise a few words before she starts school. We like doing jigsaw puzzles, building with Lego, threading and playing with the marble run - activities that I hope will help her with maths and problem-solving. We also like arts and crafts. Mostly, this involves splurging glue and paint onto card but I have noticed a recent change in my daughter's find motor skills which enables her to colour more carefully with a crayon and use stencils. I want more days of getting messy and giggling and watching our favourite film (Kung Fu Panda). I also want us to get out of doors more, now that we have practised walking and mostly got our daughter out of the habit of asking to be carried all the time. There are playgrounds, petting-farms and nature walks close to where we live.

But our daughter has already started growing up and becoming her own person:

She has 'graduated' in her two hobbies, from participating with me alongside to going in on her own with the other children and teachers whilst I watch with the other parents from another room. She feels very grown-up, especially in gym class because the children now wear leotards! I feel proud to watch her holding her own in a group, paying attention to the teachers and joining in properly. At the same time, I feel a bit left out... part of me would like to be joining in too.

Her friends have started to influence her behaviour. She has picked up a few phrases from nursery, including 'OMG!' and 'I love it, I love it, I don't care' (which is apparently a song lyric). She often says she wants to visit or stay over at her friends' houses but the thought of letting her go off with someone else's parents without me is, quite frankly, terrifying! (Don't get me wrong, her two best friends at nursery seem like nice girls and their parents are pleasant enough to speak to at home-time but I don't actually know them.)

So, I have one more year to try to teach her how to be a good friend, how to play nicely with her peers, how to tell the bullies to leave her alone, how to listen carefully to teachers, how to try to do her best, why she shouldn't go with strangers, and how her mummy and daddy will always love her more than anyone else in the whole wide world.

I don't know how much she will remember about her pre-school years but I want her to have a sense that they were an enjoyable time, filled with fun and laughter and love.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Looking back...

This photo was taken one year ago. It is the last photo my husband took of me pregnant with Monty (at 25 weeks).

I can hardly believe how much things have changed since then.

I miss him so much.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Day out review: Westonbirt Arboretum

We have been to Westonbirt Arboretum a couple of times but, on our most recent visit, we decided to buy annual membership. It's not so much that we're really in to trees, more that it is a good walk and a very interactive family day out. Take wellies and wet wipes and prepare to get dirty - you can become one with nature at Westonbirt!

We built a wooden house...

climbed trees...

and collected woodland debris to make a tree collage when we got home.

We also climbed wooden structures, saw a wooden Gromit carved from a tree trunk, and learned that all trees have names. We pretended to be trolls and goats on the troll bridge and had a picnic on the grass. The highlight was seeing our final Gromit - we have now completed the Gromit Unleashed trail and spotted all 80 Gromit statues!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Take one!

Yesterday, I took my daughter to the cinema for the first time. A friend had suggested meeting up for lunch and a film with our two girls (aged four and three) and, despite being nervous, I agreed. I needn't have worried - both girls sat through a two course lunch and Monsters University with no trouble!

My Dad used to take us to the cinema, when we were children, as an occasional treat. I remember him taking me to see The Jungle Book and Return To Oz at the little cinema in Falmouth, where I grew up. When that cinema closed, Dad took me to Camborne watch The Living Daylights - we comprised two-thirds of the audience for the matinee screening! When my sister was old enough to come too, our poor Dad sat through The Care Bears Movie and My Little Pony: The Movie. Thank goodness kids' films have got better since then!

My daughter was very excited to do something as grown-up as going to the cinema. I bought her some popcorn and a drink and she sat very nicely in her seat munching away through the trailers and preview short film. She sat in her own seat for about half of the film and on my knee or my friend's knee for the rest. Despite being 'afraid' of monsters, she enjoyed the film and told me afterwards that her favourite bit was the scaring bit! Her favourite monster was 'the one with no eyes' (I'm not sure which one that was...) but she didn't like 'the spotty one' because he was too scary.

All in all, the cinema trip was a success and I awarded my daughter a petal for her 'wow flower' (our motivational alternative to a sticker chart). She told Daddy all about it when she got home and has asked to go again. We've told her that a trip to the cinema is just the sort of treat she might choose when her wow flower is complete with petals. I hope she keeps that in mind - we saw a trailer for Turbo and I really want to take her to see it!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The missing link

Sometimes, I read Jennie's blog at edspire.com and this post really struck a chord with me.

To the outside world, we are a 'normal' family of three: Mummy, Daddy, Daughter. However, there is someone missing. Someone who was born but never lived. Someone we can never replace. We know that he should be with us but there are times when even I 'forget' that three should be four.

Within the family, we talk about Monty quite openly. With strangers, it doesn't seem right. Yet, there are many times when I want to remind the world that he did exist, inside me, for 34 weeks. He was born, he was named, he was photographed. He is my daughter's younger brother and she is a big sister, not an only child.

Except, that's not what you see. You don't see the hole in our lives.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Day out review: Peppa Pig World

I always knew that our trip to PPW would go one of two ways: either our daughter would LOVE it as much as she loves watching PP on DVD and fully immerse herself in the experience; or we would have the worst family day out EVER and wish we'd saved ourselves £50 and stayed at home. As we travelled down the M4 and A346 towards Paulton Park, I kept my fingers crossed for the former but, as luck would have it, we got the latter.

Everyone I know who has taken their children (of approximately my daughter's age) to PPW has said it is fantastic and had a wonderful time. However, three factors got in the way of us having a great time:
  1. Daughter fell asleep in the car 20 minutes before we got there and woke up in a bad mood
  2. It took us longer than anticipated to drive there
  3. It rained
On paper, the theme park looks great. There are seven PP-themed rides to go on, you can visit Peppa's house, there is a large indoor soft-play, an outdoor water-park for splashing around in, an outdoor playground, and plenty of PP merchandise to purchase. 

We started with a ride on Grandad Pig's train. Our daughter got a bit frustrated waiting in the queue (although, we didn't have to wait that long) but enjoyed the ride once she was on it. Twice around the track wasn't enough for her but we persuaded her to do something else and then come back for another ride later.

We got ice cream (despite the rain) and queued up for Miss Rabbit's Helicopter Ride. We had to wait over half an hour for this one and our daughter spent the whole of that time whinging about how she only wanted to ride on a red helicopter. So much so that, when we eventually got to the front of the queue, we had to let another family go in front of us so that we could ride in a red helicopter! The ride was pretty good and our daughter enjoyed it. Again, she didn't want to get off but wanted another go.

Then, she insisted on going back on Grandad Pig's train, so we queued up for that again.

Next, we went on Daddy Pig's car ride. (More waiting in line, listening to our daughter going on about what colour vehicle we might get. I started to lose my cool...) She enjoyed 'steering' the car around the track and pointing out all the models of PP and her friends as we went round.

Finally, Daddy and Daughter queued up for George's Dinosaur ride, which looked to me like the best ride in the park. Our daughter's face lit up as they rode around the track and, once more, she didn't want to get off at the end!

Having been in the park for 3 hours by this point, I needed some caffeine, so we got ourselves some tea/coffee at Daddy Pig's Big Tummy Cafe. Disappointingly, there was only outside seating (not great in the rain) and our daughter needed a wee, which meant that my tea was not very hot by the time I got to drink it. 

Next door to the cafe was the soft-play, so we went in there for half an hour. To be honest, our daughter would have been happy if we'd only visited the soft-play and not bothered with any of the rides! It was awesome as soft-play areas go and all the kids in there were having a great time. She didn't want to leave but it was starting to get late.

We concluded our visit with a look around the gift shop and bought the obligatory fridge magnet for our collection as well as Peppa's tell-the-time magnetic clock sticker thing (now stuck on our freezer door). As the rain had dried up and it was 5pm, we had a very quick play in the outdoor playground and then headed back to the car.

We were exhausted by the end of our visit. PPW really didn't get us on a good day, which was a shame, but we learnt a few valuable lessons:
  1. Our daughter hates queueing
  2. Peppa Pig looks weird in 3D!
  3. We should wait at least two years before attempting another theme park day out
  4. In two years' time, we should allow more time at the theme park to be able to see/do everything (we missed loads of stuff, including all the attractions in Paulton's Park itself)

Friday, 16 August 2013

Book reviews: Dr Seuss

We are reading and re-reading three great Dr Seuss books at the moment:

I am delighted to have introduced my daughter to one of my childhood favourites: "Hooper Humperdink...? NOT HIM!" I am especially pleased because we are actually reading the very copy I owned as a child (although at some point, my sister wrote her name inside it)! The cover and pages have become separated but all pages are there - not bad for a 30-year-old tome.

The opening lines are: 'I'm going to have a party but I don't think that I'll ask Hooper Humperdink.' The narrator goes on to name all his/her friends (from A-Z) until everyone has been invited to the party. Everyone, that is, except Hooper. 'That Humperdink! I don't know why, but somehow I don't like that guy.'

What I really liked about the book when I was small is that it is full of exotic names that I had never heard before. It's also nicely illustrated, with Hooper and his sausage dog in the bottom corner of every page watching all the other children heading towards the party. I love the rhyming and the tension - will Hooper get to the party or not?

Well, it does have a happy ending - 'A party big and good as this is too good for anyone to miss! And so, you know, I sort of think... I WILL ask Hooper Humperdink!'

We have also been reading the seasonal favourite: "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" Having had a bad start (my daughter got scared by the Grinch film at Christmas) she has adopted this story as her new favourite and wants us to read it at every bedtime.

Although quite a long bedtime story, the rhyming pattern is easy to read and the story flows nicely. We like the way some of the rhymes are forced (such as 'chimbley' to rhyme with 'nimbly' and 'mouses' to rhyme with 'houses') and we like the naughtiness of the Grinch in his bid to steal Christmas.

Of course, it has a happy ending and the Whos' Christmas is not spoiled and we all learn an important moral lesson about the true meaning of Christmas. (Yeah, right! Come December, I bet my daughter will ask for presents!)

Finally, we have to finish off with "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish".

It's not really a story, more a collection of nonsense rhymes - some of which are really quite tricky to read out loud! My daughter has memorised most of it and thinks it's funny when I trip over the words. (My nemesis is the one about the Nook, with the punchline 'what good to a Nook is a hook cook book?') We like the pictures and the silly made-up creatures. I think my daughter would like to have a Zans for cans...

I think that the rhyming and meter of these books makes them perfect for sharing with young children. My daughter can easily remember the stories/poems and has even started to 'read' them to herself (by turning the pages, pointing to pictures and words, and reciting the rhymes from memory). We love reading them with her and I can see them playing a prominent role in our reading list for years to come.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Ursa major

Six bears were knitted to raise funds for Bristol SANDS:


Six bears were sold but people wanted more!

Notes and coins were thrust into my hands.
Requests were made for particular colours.

I knitted two dozen bears (some of them are pictured below) and raised over £100 to say 'thank you' to those who have helped me.



Saturday, 10 August 2013

In sickness and in health

Back in the mists of time, sometime BC (before children), I was hardly ever ill. I might, perhaps, have caught one cold per year and shaken it off within a couple of days.

Now, it seems there is always one infection or another doing the rounds. Approximately once a month, new germs enter the house and move between us, from host to host, until we are all unwell. For weeks. We live in a vicious cycle of incubation, symptoms, grumpiness, recovery, waiting for the next ailment to strike...

I have concluded that toddlers are petri-dishes! They do all the things you shouldn't if you're trying to stay well: they don't wash their hands properly; they share cutlery and crockery; they suck their thumbs; they make physical contact with each other; and they don't put their hands over their mouths when they cough or sneeze. Not that I'm suggesting that all the bacteria and viruses coming our way hail from my daughter's nursery but many of them do. My heart sinks when I see a sign on the door which reads "we have confirmed cases of..." Usually, it is sickness and diarrhoea or chicken pox; recently, it was the more exotic-sounding impetigo.

In the past week, we have hosted three pathogens. The first was a tummy bug which, thankfully, my husband kept to himself. The cold virus and bacterial conjunctivitis have been more liberally shared, however. We may even have passed 'sticky-eye' to Grandad. As I type, I am blinking through one runny eye and my throat feels raw, so I can't even enjoy a nice cup of tea!

Eventually, I guess, this phase will pass and I will once again be able to go longer than a lunar cycle without feeling under the weather. In the meantime, at least I've got my boiled water and cottonwool..

Friday, 9 August 2013

What did you do today?

Whenever we do something different or exciting, or visit somewhere new without Daddy, I get my daughter to make a story-board so that, when he gets home from work, she can tell him all about our adventures.

I let her lead on the creation of the board. I keep pictures cut out from magazines in an old biscuit tin and we use these to tell the story. We also add sparkles, stickers and craft bits as she sees fit.

For example, here is the one that we made after our visit to Windmill Hill City Farm:


It's supposed to be a map of the farm. The 'Tiger-Gromit' statue is in the middle, surrounded by the animals and plants that we saw. The trees had knitted flowers strung in their branches (represented by the sparkles on a strand of wool) and we stopped for a drink in the cafe.

I think it helps to build her memory and it's a fun way to reinforce learning. It's also nice to hear her describe, in her own words, what we have done and to see what she thinks was important about her day.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Outside looking in...

Since my son was stillborn, many people have told me about their own baby losses. I am surprised at the number of people I am acquainted with who have suffered the miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or cot death of their babies. They have chosen to share their experiences with me because I, too, have lost a baby.

I look at other mothers in a different way now: I wonder what sadnesses they are hiding.

When I see other people's photographs of their toddlers meeting a brother or sister for the first time, I feel both happy and regretful.

When friends announce pregnancy news after the first scan, I hold my breath and hope that their baby will make it.

Overwhelmed and amazed by the strength of love I feel for my daughter, I am floored by the sense of loss I feel for the son I never got to know.

I never knew that motherhood could feel joyful and so intensely painful at the same time...

Saturday, 3 August 2013

How many children do you have?

By its virtue, this question is only ever asked by people who don't know me. Usually, it is asked innocently, perhaps by another parent at the park or by someone I'm meeting at work for the first time, but I have to think carefully about how to answer and it always makes me feel uncomfortable.

The easiest response is "I have a daughter." This is completely true and doesn't tend to lead to further questions except, perhaps, about how old she is.

Sometimes, though, the question is slightly different, which means that my stock answer doesn't quite fit. For example, when I was with my daughter at the hairdresser's, the new stylist asked me "Do you have just the one?" and "Would you like to have any more?" I didn't tell her about Monty and just said "Yeah, it would be nice..."

A friend of mine tells people she has three children because that is how many grew up - she doesn't mention the baby who died shortly after birth. I understand her approach. The number of babies I've had differs from the number of children I have, too. The answer isn't wrong, it just isn't wholly right.

In reality, the answer doesn't matter. People who ask are only making conversation. They don't want to know about our tragedy and it would feel awkward to tell strangers about something so personal. It's just that an uneasy feeling is left behind - a sense that I'm doing my son an injustice by not talking about him as freely as I talk about his big sister.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The flip side

Following on from my previous post, I ought to write about about how I deal with my daughter when she is the one not playing nicely. She has a tendency to 'protect' her toys if friends come to our house for a play-date and will sometimes fight to keep possession of a new or interesting toy when we are out. We encourage our daughter to share and take turns but she doesn't always find it easy - mummy and daddy can usually be trusted to give things back; friends and cousins may have other ideas. She has been known to prise a favourite toy from another child's hands. Cue plenty of tears (on both sides)!

When I collected my daughter from nursery the other day, she was very upset but the staff didn't know why. They had been getting the children ready to play outside but my daughter had lain on her tummy in the reading corner and cried. She wouldn't tell them what was wrong and cried for me. In the car on the way home, she said she had made her friend cry by playing too rough in the garden earlier in the day. I asked if she had apologised and she said no. So, I told her that she should say sorry to her friend the next time she saw her.

Later, my husband got the full story - our daughter had pushed her friend off a trike because she had wanted to ride it herself. Clearly, this is unacceptable behaviour. We were duly unimpressed and told her that she hadn't treated her friend kindly. Pushing is not nice and her friend could have been hurt. We reminded her that she doesn't like it when other children push her and said that she must apologise to her friend. Our daughter was downbeat right up until bedtime; she understood that she had done wrong and she felt bad.

Under normal circumstances, if my daughter is not playing nicely with her friends, I give her a warning or two and, if there is no improvement in behaviour, I make her sit on my knee or take her to another room/away from the play-zone and I talk to her about what she has done. I get down to her level, so we are face to face, explain what she did wrong and ask her how she thinks she made the other child(ren) feel. We then discuss how she might make it better. I try to lead her to the answer so that she 'comes up' with the solution on her own. For example, if she has not shared properly or taken a toy, she should give it to the other child and wait her turn before she can play with it.

So, how did my daughter decide to make her friend feel better? She made her a card and asked me to write inside it: 'I'm sorry for trying to push you off the bike. I made a card to make you feel happy.'

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Play nicely!

What do you do when you find out that your child has been hurt by another child at nursery and spent time crying for you whilst you were at work? Apart from feel guilty, that is...

My daughter is well-settled at nursery and has made lots of friends. She is a popular girl who likes to join in with most of the games and activities on offer but there have been a couple of incidents which have upset her.

The first one was about a year ago but in my daughter's mind it was quite recent: one of the bigger boys pushed her over in the nursery garden. She wasn't hurt but she cried because it was unprovoked and she didn't expect him to play rough. She still talks about it when she feels upset. "Johnny pushed me." At the time, I asked her what she did about it. She said she cried and a grown-up came. I told her that if he tried to push her again, she should tell him not to because it's not nice. I also told her that she should tell one of the grown-ups. I explained that it would not be OK to hit him back. We don't hit - it's not friendly. The 'problem' resolved itself when Johnny then moved up to pre-school. My daughter didn't have any more trouble. Well, that was until she joined the pre-school class, where there are more children and the games can be rougher.

In the past month, one child took my daughter's hairband and snapped it into pieces in front of her, and another child tried to bite her! On both occasions, the offending child was reprimanded, made to sit out from the group with a grown-up to talk about what they did wrong and how it made my daughter feel, and had to apologise to her. The boy who broke the hairband bought my daughter a replacement - as close a match as his mummy could find - and my daughter says he is her friend again. So, that is nice.

The nursery nurses are very good at spotting when things are about to go bad and intervening but there will always be the odd incident that goes unnoticed. I accept this and support the nursery's approach to discipline. I always talk to my daughter about her day at nursery and I try to empathise if she tells me that some of her friends didn't play nicely. I ask her to describe what happened, how it made her feel, what action she took and what happened to the other child(ren). I praise her if she told a grown-up and stood up for herself by telling the other child to stop being unfriendly. I give her a cuddle and reassure her that it will be better tomorrow.

Of course, nursery isn't the only place where children play rough and fall out with each other. It can happens anywhere - with siblings/cousins, on play-dates, at the park/soft-play etc. I try to give my daughter space to deal with a problem on her own and only step in if necessary. I don't want to take away her confidence to stand up for herself but there are boundaries - it is not acceptable to repeat the bad behaviour, for example by hitting back.

I know that some of my advice has sunk in and that she has learned by observing the discipline procedures that nursery staff employ. My daughter knows that the best course of action is to get help from a grown-up and not to brawl with another child who has done something unkind to her. I'm hoping that this will stand her in good stead when she goes to school in just over a year's time and there will be more and bigger children to contend with.

Monday, 22 July 2013

See you in September

We are on the cusp of the Summer holidays. Last week saw the end of term for the toddler groups we attend: pre-gym sessions and Three-Four Time classes will not resume until September. How will we fill the void?

I understand why toddler activities are aligned with the school calendar but it does present me with something of a problem. I am not used to the school academic year because my daughter is not yet old enough to go to school (and I am planning to take full advantage of the opportunity to spend one more year going on holiday out of season and visiting attractions and parks during term-time) and our jobs are not linked with the school timetable.

It has rather crept up on me and I am now faced with the prospect of six long weeks with no organised entertainment or routine on my 'mummy days'! I'm not very good at thinking on my feet and I find it hard to entertain my toddler all day by myself, so I'll have to plan some days out and/or activities that we can do with our friends. The trick is to think of things that: (1) can be adapted if the weather is poor, (2) don't cost much money, and (3) are local or easy to get to.

At least we are lucky in Bristol, there are some free-entry museums and lots of parks/playgrounds and, of course, this year there is the Gromit Unleashed trail. An artificial beach (glorified sandpit) has been installed in the centre of Yate for the Summer, complete with deck-chairs, inflatable palm trees and buckets and spades. We spent two hours there last Sunday before the shops opened! We also have some good libraries and soft-play centres that help to pass an hour or two.

I'm also hoping to meet up with some friends from further afield and do a couple of day-trips: Dyrham Park and Westonbirt Arboretum (they have a Gromit!) are on my agenda.

Many of our friends have paddling pools and trampolines, so we can always do play-dates at home. We have just bought some glitter paint, so we could do craft activities on rainy days. I also have a couple of U-certificate films on the digi-box for bored afternoons - we could do cinema role-play!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Weather or not

I feel I need to record, for posterity, the fact that we have had nearly three weeks of hot, sunny weather! According to the media, we are in the grip of a heatwave.

In all honesty, it is too hot for me. I like warm and sunny but I tend to melt above 24-degrees and I'm so fair-skinned I have to wear lots of sun cream, put on a hat, and keep in the shade. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate the nice weather, I do - I just appreciate it from indoors with a window open.

The last time I can remember us having weather like this was the year my daughter was born. I remember weeks of stripping down to underwear for sticky breast-feeds, when the heat of the day continued into the night and skin-to-skin contact made us irritable. We stayed indoors because I was afraid to take her outside during the day. We spent long afternoons in the lounge with the curtains drawn, watching the World Cup matches and stages of the Tour de France on the TV.

This year, it is better. Although we are both irritable when we get too hot, at least we can cool off by dipping in the paddling pool, having a water-fight and eating ice pops. On my non-working days, we try to have a lunchtime siesta and stay indoors between 11am and 3pm. "Kung Fu Panda" is our film of choice for matinee entertainment.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Sounding it out

Our daughter loves books, stories, songs and rhymes. We have read to her since she was a few months old, when I introduced a bedtime story routine to put a short break between her supper feed and falling to sleep. Over the past three years, we have developed quite an elaborate bedtime routine: Daddy reads three bedtime stories - two in 'story corner' and one with our daughter tucked up in bed - then he tells her a 'pretend' story (i.e. one that he has made up) and she reciprocates with her own pretend story (always beginning 'once upon a time' and ending 'the end')!

We read stories during the daytime too and I point to the words as we read along. Our daughter can confidently recite the alphabet (although at one point, she thought that 'LMNOP' was a single letter - thanks alphabet song!) but doesn't recognise any words. We have tried to encourage her to recognise letter patterns but not made much progress. Often she will guess when I ask her 'which word says X' and just point at any word on the page.

So, approximately one year before she is due to start school, I have begun to think about 'teaching' her to read. There is no requirement for our daughter to be able read before she starts school but she is bright and I want to take advantage of her thirst for learning and discovery. They will not do any formal reading or writing instruction at nursery during her pre-school year (the staff tell me that the best preparation for school is simply to teach my daughter how to dress/undress herself and to be confident about going to the toilet), so if I want to develop my daughter's literacy skills, I'll have to do it at home. However, I don't want to inadvertently take steps that will hinder her reading progress once she starts school.

A friend of mine blogged about learning to read (her post can be found here). I too learned to read before I started school but I have no idea how. I must have learned to sight-read. My mother was a full-time SAHM and she spent time looking at books and manipulating letters and words with me. She tells me that I could solve simple crosswords aged 4 and I remember playing a game in which I had to match up words and pictures. I was ahead of my peers, completing the school's reading programme by age 6 - three years earlier than expected!

My sister-in-law is a primary school teacher and taught reception class for several years. She is well-versed in phonics and has recommended it to me as a method for teaching the ability to read. I have bought some story books (by Read Write Inc) but I'm trepidatious for a couple of reasons:
  1. I don't know when to start - I don't want to be a pushy mummy and put my daughter off reading!
  2. I have no experience of using phonics
  3. English is not a phonic language
  4. I'm not a teacher, so I don't really know how to teach someone a skill I take for granted
Thankfully, the books come with an instruction manual for parents/teachers, so I guess my first step should be to read the books myself. Then, I think it's a case of waiting for the right opportunity to introduce her to them and make a start on giving her a skill for life.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Laugh, and the world laughs with you

As laughter reverberated around the car, a tear pricked my eye. Not just because I was laughing hard but because I realised someone was missing.

My path to motherhood began with the aspiration for a noisy household. To hear the clattering of feet on floorboards and mischievous giggling in the playroom. To spend evenings cooking and supervising homework at the kitchen table, then eating a family meal and exchanging stories of how our days have been. To be busy with the traffic of little people, then teenagers, then grown-up children...

Last night, the car was full of people and singing - children making up nonsense songs with the real words substituted with gobbledegook! It was funny. We laughed all the way home and, as I listened to my daughter and my nephew having fun and making each other laugh, I realised that this is what I have always wanted...

A family with one child is quieter.

Friday, 12 July 2013

The final frontier

Our daughter has been out of nappies during daylight hours for about four months now but we have one aspect of potty-training left to accomplish - night-time dryness.

The past few weeks, we have noticed that the overnight nappy (pull-up style) is dry more often than it is wet. Perhaps she holds on all night and sometimes does a wee in it when she wakes up? Certainly, most mornings she will sit on the potty first thing and do a nice big wee! So, we have started to talk about leaving off the night-time nappy and putting the potty in her bedroom when she goes to bed.

On the few occasions we have put the potty in her bedroom, our daughter has got up and done a wee in it. Whether this was during the night or in the morning, I'm not sure but she definitely has the ability to use it by herself. I am confident that, when she decides she's ready to leave off the bedtime nappy, she'll be able to use the potty by herself in the night if she needs to.

I have bought some large incontinence pads for her bed, to put between the mattress and sheet, so that any accidents she may have are easier and quicker to clean up. (This approach yielded dividends recently, when she had a sickness and diarrhoea bug...!)

At the moment, I feel very relaxed about night-time training. I don't feel under any pressure to get my daughter to leave the nappy off and would rather she got a good night's sleep than was disturbed by bed-wetting or worrying about bed-wetting. So, I'm going to wait for her to suggest that we take the plunge.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Four-letter word

Why do I feel the need to apologise for working part-time? I recently attended a meeting in London and was doing a bit of networking over lunch. Exchanging details with someone, I said "I only work three days a week."

There it was. It just popped out! That four-letter word which belittles the effort I put in to managing my work-life balance - 'only'.

Lots of my colleagues work part-time, as do many of my friends. Other people I know take advantage of flexible working arrangements, for example working 9-day fortnights or compressed hours. Not all of the people I know who deviate from the 'normal' Mon-Fri, 9-5 routine have children but many of them do.

If I'm honest, I can't see myself working full-time for a long time to come. Indeed, I may never work full-time again! Whilst working part-time makes it more difficult for me to pursue meaningful career progression, it does afford me the opportunity to make the most of my daughter's childhood. I therefore hope to continue in part-time employment for the foreseeable future, perhaps changing my work pattern or hours when my daughter starts school.

It's high time I stopped apologising to the world for not working full-time. I'm not a superwoman - I can't juggle my home commitments and work responsibilities in a 5:2 ratio and I don't want to either!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Day out review: Bristol Zoo

My husband took the day off work and we went to Bristol Zoo Gardens for a family day out.

It was a lovely sunny day (and one of the hottest this year) and we arrived late morning. The car park was full, so we had to park on a side street nearby, but we had bought our tickets online the previous evening, which saved us some queueing at the entrance.

There are lots of animals at the zoo but, today, our daughter wasn't interested in any of them! We saw the lions, monkeys, penguins, seals, lemurs, pygmy hippos, okapis and meerkats but she refused to go into the Butterfly House and intensely disliked Bug World! She enjoyed pretending to be a joey in a kangaroo's pouch and stood behind the lion board for a photo but was mostly intent on going to the playground and splashing in the fountain.



The featured DinoZoo exhibition around the gardens terrified our daughter! After the Tyrannosaurus rex 'roared' at her, she wouldn't go near any of the other models. A nice zoo guide gave her a sticker and tried to convince her that the dinosaurs weren't scary but she was put off! The large bird-like one was the only one she 'liked' and she certainly didn't want Daddy to get too close!



We missed loads of stuff because our daughter was in a grumpy mood (probably heat-induced). So, we cut our losses and bailed out after about 3 hours. I had been considering buying annual membership for the zoo but, given the success of this visit, I think it might be better postponed until next year, by which time our daughter might appreciate the opportunity to see wild animals a bit more.

Before heading home, we took the opportunity of being in Clifton to spot a few Gromits and have a drink at the Avon Gorge Hotel's White Lion Bar!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

That which we call a rose


After Monty's stillbirth, a friend sent us a gift - a rose bush dedicated to his memory. It has just come into flower and it is beautiful.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Gromit unleashed!

We love Wallace and Gromit. The short films are delightfully British in humour and production and they are often my daughter's first choice when we ask her if she wants to watch a film. So, it is very exciting for us that a Gromit treasure hunt is taking place in and around Bristol this summer.

It's an art exhibition (installation, rather) and aims to raise funds for The Grand Appeal, Bristol Children's Hospital's charity.

Daddy and daughter saw a few Gromits newly installed before the Treasure Hunt was officially launched:

Having 'befriended' Gromit Unleashed on Facebook and downloaded the Detect-o-Gromit app, I know what we're going to be doing for the next couple of weekends!

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Sometimes I feel like I can't even sing

I have lost count of the number of times I've been told that I look well, but appearances can be deceiving. There is inner turmoil that many people could not imagine or understand.

The past few weeks, I have been close to tears and not for any particular reason I can fathom. I think it's just another stage of grief but it's frustrating: perhaps I haven't made as much progress as I'd thought?

I have been told that, with time, the pain will become less raw and I will have days where every conscious thought isn't about Monty; that I will feel guilty when I realise a whole day has passed without making a note of his existence and passing. I'm not there yet. I'm not even close. I live his loss every day. I dream about it at night. He is with me at all times - sometimes I think I can feel him near me but I'm unable to grasp hold.

I feel incredibly tired. The weight of suppressed emotion is wearing me down. I fall to sleep easily at night but often wake in the early hours from dreams filled with anxiety. It takes ages to drift off again...

It is eight months since I found out my son had died. Eight months since I heard those words: "There's something we need to tell you about your baby..." Eight months since the scream ripped out from my core. Eight months since the silence of the hospital room swallowed me up whilst inside my head the voices were shouting "Do something!" Eight months since the doctor 'phoned my husband to ask him to come to the hospital and eight months since I told him that our baby had no heartbeat and would be stillborn.

It is eight months since my life fell apart.