Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Building a new me

This past week or so, I've taken a few steps towards rebuilding my life:

I have made a decision about when to return to work. This will be a big and important step on my road to recovery. The past four months, I have felt safe at home or in the company of my mummy friends. Returning to work will put me back out there in the real world. Hopefully, it will provide a much-needed distraction and a focus for my mind. I'm still working out the details with my GP and HR colleagues but I know that, albeit a daunting prospect, going back to work in a few weeks' time will be good for me.

Yesterday, I had a girly day. This is not something that I do often. I went to the Clinique counter in Boots and had a make-up consultation. If I am returning to work, I want to make an effort. However, not routinely being a make-up wearer (in fact, I can't remember the last time I put any on!), I asked for something natural-looking and easy to apply. After an hour, I came away looking like someone who cares about their appearance. I purchased a clutch of cosmetics: tinted moisturiser, eyeshadow crayon, concealer, lipstick crayon and mascara. The challenge now is to practise making myself up without looking like I've been made up!

I went to M&S for a bra fitting. The last time I went was after Monty was born, when I needed something supportive. However, I have lost weight since then (not surprising, really). The bra-fitting lady asked me to try about a dozen different bras before she could work out my size. Then she helped me to pick a style. I guess it comes with age and the ravages of two pregnancies but my underwear is not what it used to be. I used to buy pretty things in nice colours with lace; matching sets; underwear that wanted to be seen. Now it's all about squashing things down, flattening out bumps and hoiking things up! "Scoop and lift!" the bra-fitter said. I bought items with structural integrity. They keep bits of my body in the correct position and make the clothes I wear on top look like they fit better. My new underwear does not want to be seen. It is functional and, once I'm packed into it, comfortable.
(Sorry, husband!)

Standing semi-naked in a changing room clad with mirrors, it is hard to escape the details of one's body. For the first time in a long time, I was forced to take a long, hard look at myself and I didn't really like what I saw. So, another step on the journey to my new self is to get into better shape. I started a Pilates class last week. I don't yet know whether or not it is enjoyable. It is certainly difficult and requires a great deal of concentration. The breathing feels wrong but I know the exercises are strengthening my core muscles. I have decided to start swimming too. My husband and daughter swim every Sunday, so I'm going to make a habit of going with them. It's low impact but it will tone my arms and my tummy.

Next steps will include an eye test, a dentist appointment and a hair cut.

I'm getting ready to emerge from my chrysalis...

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Rewarding success

Well, the success chart and reward bag strategy appears to be working! My daughter has now achieved several of her potty-training-related objectives and earned the (surprise) contents of the reward bag on five occasions. We are consolidating her learning, making sure that she continues to carry out achieved activities once she has received her reward.

A few more new objectives have been added and I have made another run to the toy shop.

We have also made advances towards removing nappies. One of her new objectives is to wear big girl pants when she is at home after being at nursery. She's had a few goes at this, will happily use the potty and has even volunteered to sit on the toilet a couple of times!

I think we still have a long way to go but I'm pleased with the progress she has made. Perhaps she'll be dry through the day by her birthday...?

Thursday, 21 February 2013

We're all going on a summer holiday

Well, two holidays actually!

The first is a few days in Devon with my sister and her family. We were supposed to go away with them last year but my husband's change of job altered our plans. So, this is our postponed Autumn break. We've booked a 3-bedroom holiday house in Brixham - two doubles (one for each couple) and a twin room for the elder two cousins. The baby will sleep in a travel cot with my sister and her husband. It has taken a bit of organising because we're not going for a full week (and some holiday companies are funny about renting out houses for short breaks, even off-season) but it should all be sorted now. The house has a lovely big garden for the children to play in and the local area has plenty to do: beaches, zoo, nauticalia, shops, restaurants, pubs. Even if the weather isn't great, we should be alright.

For our second holiday, we have chosen to go back to Bluestone in Wales. We went last year just after our daughter's birthday. We thought it would be our only holiday as a threesome (at that time, I was newly pregnant with our second baby). We had a fabulous time, swimming and softplay every day and the weather was great! Without building our hopes too high, we are looking forward to a repeat performance. We've booked a cottage this time, rather than a lodge, to be closer to the 'village'. Our deal includes a family breakfast every day and a daily packed lunch for our daughter. We are going the week before her birthday, so Bluestone will book-end her third year nicely!

We have been very lucky to have been invited to go on holiday or stay with several of our family and friends. It is nice that people want to look after us and cheer us up after everything that has happened. Perhaps the second half of the year will see us taking up some of their offers?

Monday, 18 February 2013

I can never thank you enough

I feel deeply indebted to so many people who have been there for us over the past few months but I will never be able to write enough cards or buy enough gifts to return all the kindnesses extended to us. This is my attempt to express my gratitude:

To all the nurses, doctors and hospital staff at Southmead, thank you for treating us so tenderly and compassionately. Thank you for your advice, sympathy and kind words. Thank you for the medication that took away some of the physical pain. Thank you for giving us time together. Thank you for giving us time with our baby after he was born. Thank you for a positive birth experience that we can treasure.

To the community midwives, health visitor, my GP and the physiotherapist, thank you all for your help on my road to recovery.

To the Registrar, thank you for registering my son as a real person and for giving me a copy of his stillbirth certificate. I know this is your job but you validated my son's existence and I am grateful.

To the medical examiner and research lab staff, thank you for looking after my son with respectful care. Thank you for investigating thoroughly and finding an answer. Please use the results to try to prevent this happening to another family.

To the chaplains, thank you for not trying to calm me in the throes of my grief. Thank you for making arrangements and explaining processes. Thank you for putting us in control of the funeral service and for allowing visitations at the chapel of rest. Thank you for recording Monty in the hospital's book of remembrance.

To our family, thank you for your love and support. Thank you for rallying round, for feeding us, and for looking after our daughter. Thank you for listening, crying and smiling. Thank you for visiting our son in the chapel of rest and for keeping photographs of him.

To my mother, thank you for being there at Monty's birth. I'm sorry that the only grandchild whose birth you have witnessed was stillborn. Thank you for washing and dressing him and for helping the midwife to take handprints and footprints and a few locks of his hair for us to keep. Thank you for helping to write the order of service for Monty's funeral. Thank you for doing things I could not.

To our extended circle of friends, thank you for the cards, letters, texts, gifts and flowers. Thank you for the phone calls. Thank you for all the cups of tea, the cake, the playdates. Thank you for being here and for listening and talking. Thank you for sharing your stories with me.

To everyone who donated money to the Mum's the Word appeal in Monty's memory. Together, we have raised over £700 (plus gift aid) and we have a balloon dedicated to Monty on the fundraising wall.

To all participants of the Festival of Light, thank you for lighting candles and lanterns in memory of our son on his due date. It was a special night. One that I will remember forever.

To the people whose names I don't know but who see us each week at toddler groups, thank you for your sympathy. To you, I am 'the lady whose baby died', I can see that in your eyes but I thank you for not avoiding me and for not asking questions. To the one lady who gave me her phone number and an offer of coffee, thank you.

To colleagues, thank you for the flowers and cards. Thank you for offering support. Thank you for not putting pressure on us to return to work.

To the Government, advisors and policy-makers, thank you for providing maternity leave and statutory pay to enable me to take the time I need to recover from my son's stillbirth.

To SANDS, I am grateful to the people who established you, although I wish there was no need for you to exist. Thank you for empathy and good advice. To the Bristol SANDS Bereavement Support Group, thank you for listening and understanding.

To my husband, thank you for everything. Thank you for the gift of Monty and for helping me deliver him. Thank you for taking beautiful photographs of him for us to treasure. Thank you for holding me tight and for sharing and wiping away my tears. Thank you for all your support, for being strong, for keeping me grounded. Thank you for loving me. I love you too.

To my daughter, thank you for lighting up my life. I love you so much.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

If I had known, would it have made a difference?

There is a temptation, now that I know what caused Monty's death, to investigate the current state of scientific research into the links between viral infection and stillbirth. Somewhat ironically, the virus in question (human cytomegalovirus) is one that I spent six months studying during my biochemistry degree, although I was investigating it for reasons unrelated to pregnancy.

I don't plan to research very deeply, as I believe nothing could have prevented what happened to us - I was just unfortunate to pick up the virus in the early weeks of my pregnancy. However, it is interesting to know that CMV is beginning to be recognised as a potential cause of stillbirth: Pregnancy and cytomegalovirus

I never expected my baby to be stillborn. No-one does. If I had known about the risks associated with CMV infection, would it have made a difference? I don't know but I don't think so.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Brokenhearted

Today, by rights, you should be 8 weeks old.

Today, fourteen weeks after the last time I heard your heartbeat and felt you moving inside me, I went back to the hospital to find out why you died.

It seems I picked up a viral infection in early pregnancy. A virus that is carried by the majority of the population and which causes asymptomatic infection in most adults. A virus that is not routinely tested for in antenatal bloodwork and which cannot be treated or avoided. A virus which took hold in the placenta and prevented you from growing.

I am so sorry that there was nothing I could have done to save you. There is nothing anyone could have done to save you. There was no sign to suggest anything was wrong until it was too late...

******

Even before your big sister was born, you were on my mind. I knew I wanted children: more than one. You were an idea long before you became a reality. I planned you. I wanted you. You were conceived on purpose. You would have been loved but I never had a chance to show you how much.

I lost you and now I am lost without you. You are the hole in my heart that will never heal.

My precious baby boy.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

I'm not sick but I'm not well

I'm in a state of anxiety.
I can't rest my mind.
It's exhausting.
At least I can sleep at night now.

This morning I was in a deep sleep when my daughter woke me up. Every morning, when her 'gro-clock' changes colour, she pads across the landing, opens the door to our bedroom and climbs into my side of the bed for a snuggle. I enjoy a few minutes of holding a wriggly toddler (she's always been wriggly, that's why we called her 'the wriggler' before she was born...) before she decides which of us has to get up and make her breakfast. This morning it was my turn.

One of the things I was looking forward to was lazy weekend mornings in bed. All four of us. Me, nursing the baby; my husband reading stories or watching something on iPlayer with our daughter.

As I cuddle my daughter each morning, I feel so grateful to have her and so sad that I don't have her brother. I start every day tired and sad. It's exhausting.

I'm still on maternity leave (not sick leave) and am waiting for test results before I decide when to return to the office. I don't know how I will feel after we've seen the consultant next week. Do I want to know if there is a reason why Monty died? Will it help to have my questions answered? Am I strong enough to hear the answers if they are there?

I can't summon the energy to do things that I used to love. Will I ever find the strength to sing again? Why can't I bring myself to cast on stitches for the cardigan I started making for myself before I knew I was pregnant? Will I wear it once it is finished or will it just remind me of what should have been?

I can't shift this cold. Together with the pregnancy-related rhinitis, I don't think I've been able to breathe clearly for about a year now. I'm taking multi-vitamins to boost my immune system.

I worry about the impact of my anxiety and grief on my family, particularly my daughter. I decided weeks ago that I didn't want to be a sad mummy. Yet, I spent most of yesterday afternoon close to tears. A few trickled out as we sat on the sofa together, watching "Wallace and Gromit".

Bereavement: it's exhausting.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Why today?

Why, today, do I feel so sad? Why do the tears flow so readily? Yesterday, I was fine.

Why, today, do I feel emptiness where you used to be?

I've been thinking and talking about you a lot. I miss you. I want you back.

Tonight, I will talk about you and think about you some more, in the company of other people who are in this club that no-one wants to join.

Our one night was special. Precious. Too short. It's all I have of you and I clutch it tightly.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Charting success

This weekend, my daughter and I made a potty training success chart. [We had made a good start on potty training in October but it was put on hold after Monty died and we've only recently started to try again.] The novelty of earning a sticker for sitting on the potty seems to have worn off and my daughter has been reluctant to wear her pants, preferring to stay in nappies. Whilst I'm fine with taking things slowly, I know that she can use the potty (because she did it quite happily in potty training sessions last year) so I decided that a new approach was required.

I sat down with my daughter and explained that we were going to make a success chart. We set and agreed five objectives:

  • I can tell mummy/daddy when I have done a poo
  • I can wash my hands with soap and water
  • I can take my pants down and sit on the potty
  • I can tell mummy/daddy when I need to do a wee
  • I can wipe myself with paper (from front to back) 

I know she can perform two of these activities competently; two, she has done previously, but not recently; one she can't do yet but I'd like to work on.

The chart has five rows (one for each objective) and five columns. Each time my daughter achieves an objective she earns a sticker, which goes on the chart. When she gets five stickers for one objective (i.e. five stickers in a row), she is allowed the contents of her 'reward bag'. I bought half a dozen new toys in the sale at the local toy shop and have put one inside the bag as an incentive to earn stickers.

The success chart has been pinned to the wall in my daughter's room. The reward bag is hanging on the back of her bedroom door in plain sight. I talked her through how the system would work. Then, I got her to explain the system to daddy, so I could gauge her level of understanding, and it seems she has a pretty good grasp.

In two days, she has earned six stickers - two for wiping herself during a nappy change (wee only!) and four for washing her hands. So, one more sticker for hand-washing and she'll get the reward! I've spoken to the staff at her nursery about the success chart and given them a copy of the objectives, so she can try to earn some stickers whilst she's in their care.

We're staying in nappies at the moment and focusing on the activities she can do easily. I'm hoping that early success will encourage her to work on the trickier objectives. Once we have mastered these skills, we can make another chart to work towards moving out of nappies and into her big girl pants. Fingers crossed the approach will work!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Thinking of Monty

It has been three months since I found out Monty had died. In two days' time, it will be three months since he was born. Later this month, I will return to the hospital to see my obstetric consultant and receive the results of the postnatal tests and post mortem. I really don't know what to expect and I feel more and more anxious the closer it gets.

I've been feeling low again this week and I've been thinking about Monty a lot. I don't know if that's because these dates are hanging over me? Perhaps it's because of all the baby-related news I've heard? Maybe it's because a friend of a friend organised a candle-lighting to remember her baby? It could be because the next Sands bereavement support meeting is next week and I'm building myself up for it.

Whatever the reason, he's been on my mind and I'm missing him.