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.