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.


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.