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.

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.