Friday, 28 November 2014

Breast intentions

I breast-feed because I can. I didn't really make a conscious choice to do it with my elder daughter - I just thought I'd give it a try and then, if it worked, keep it up for as long as I could. I fed her for 13 months (I never gave her a bottle, not even of expressed milk) until, one evening at bedtime, she turned her nose up at my nipple and we silently agree to call it a day.

Four years on, I am exclusively breast-feeding my 3-month-old baby daughter and it is a very different experience.

My younger daughter has a tongue-tie, which made it hard for her to latch on when she was newborn and left me feeling very sore for the first 6-8 weeks. I showed the fissure down one side of my left nipple to the community midwife: "Well, it's not bleeding" she said, cheerfully. "Try putting some milk on it and letting it air-dry. Feed through the pain - if you can manage six weeks, you can do a year!" I fed through the toe-curling, breath-holding pain and applied lots of lanolin until, eventually, there was some relief.

Although her technique has improved since then, she is still a sloppy feeder, especially when she is tired or fractious. This makes me apprehensive about feeding in public. We can't be as discreet as I'd like because she latches on and off and often gets distracted, so stops to look around at interesting things. We both prefer the comfort of feeding at home on a nice pillow.

I'm hungry almost all of the time (how can it be that I *only* need an extra 400 calories per day?) and no-one else can do the feeds for me. I often end up feeding her at mealtimes, balancing the feeding pillow on my knees at the table whilst we all eat together as a family. I've thought about expressing milk to give to her in a bottle but it wouldn't save me time or energy so I don't. Besides, I spent hours expressing and freezing depressingly small volumes of milk for my elder daughter only to throw it all away when she was a year old because we had no use for it.

My favourite feeds of the day are the first morning feed and the post-bath feed. My baby is usually happy and contented at these times of day and I usually do the feeds snuggled in bed with both of my girls. There's something very special about having that quiet time with the pair of them at either end of a busy day.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Keeping the conversation going

Over the past week or two, I have had a few opportunities to talk about my family, my pregnancies and my experience of stillbirth and bereavement stress. I am grateful for each and every one of these opportunities because talking about it reminds me how lucky I am, how far I have come and how much I can do to help others understand.

Thank you to the friend who has a shared and, in my opinion, greater experience of baby loss. It is always comforting to speak to someone else who has been 'pregnant again' and who understands the unspeakable weight of anxiety at a time that should be filled with joy. The long wait for your baby to be born safely and delivered breathing into your arms is difficult to navigate and so difficult for those who haven't lived through it to understand.

Thank you to the Willow Tree Centre for the invitation to attend your 10th anniversary celebration. I enjoyed speaking about how bereavement counselling helped me to deal with Monty's death and how I found the strength for a third pregnancy. I am brave because you helped me to rebuild myself.

Thank you to the friend who shared her experience of being pregnant again after miscarriage. I know what it feels like to no longer be able to hide the bump and to have to make small-talk with well-meaning friends, colleagues and strangers. I found it very hard to talk about my third pregnancy; to hear others tell me that it would all be okay this time around. I felt confused, anxious and very grateful for the increased support offered by my community midwife and the hospital consultant. Those who cannot listen to your fears cannot empathise. Find someone who can.

Thank you to the friend who asked me how old Monty would be. It was his second anniversary just a few weeks ago. I can't imagine what life would be like with a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and a newborn! It was nice to re-live his story, to talk about what happened and to remember the positive stillbirth experience that we were so fortunate to have. I feel privileged to live at a time when stillbirth is not brushed under the carpet, when my son does not have to be a skeleton in our family closet.

It is important to keep these conversations going. I strongly believe that no-one should have to live through baby loss and bereavement alone. If those of us who are bereaved parents keep talking about it, the taboo will be broken.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The greatest gift

I consider the most precious and special gifts that we have given to our children to be their names. Their names are the most intimate and personal gifts and they will keep them forever.

We thought long and hard, before they were born, about what to call our babies. I bought a name dictionary, thinking that we'd end up with a long, long-list to whittle down. As it turns out, my husband and I have similar tastes and, once we'd agreed a few ground rules, we discovered just five girls' names and about a dozen boys' names were on our shortlist.

For our elder daughter, we quickly agreed on names. Her first name means 'shining light'; her middle name is her grandmother's and great-great-grandmother's name. Her name is traditional, feminine and can be shortened if she likes (although we don't shorten it at home). It suited her as a baby and it will grow with her as she becomes an adult. I think she likes it: she certainly seems proud of her name and is quick to correct people who pronounce it wrongly (which happens quite often in the local accent)!

Naming our younger daughter was similarly easy. We reviewed the original shortlist and discounted all three names on it! I suggested another traditional girls' name, which means 'beautiful rose' and my husband liked it. Again, it can be shortened (we sometimes do) and it should suit her at all ages. We then chose a middle name from my side of the family - a name that has been passed down through the maternal line for generations.

Our son's name was much harder to choose. There were several boys' names that we liked but none was the perfect name. However, following our 12-week scan, a silly joke at home resulted in the bump being known as 'Monty' - a name that was not on our original shortlist. When our son was born, it seemed only right that, having called the bump 'Monty' for 22 weeks, this should his name. It is a fitting choice, since it means 'of the mountains' and I discovered that I was pregnant with him whilst we were on holiday in the Lake District.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Water Babies

I have blogged about swimming before. It is essential that my children learn to swim because my parents live near the sea and we often go on holiday to places that have a swimming pool. However, swimming is not a sport or recreation that I particularly enjoy and I do not feel comfortable in water so it is not a skill that I can teach them.

My elder daughter has been taking swimming lessons at the local leisure centre for about a year now and recently received her 5m certificate: she swam the width of the pool unaided on her front and her back. This is a huge achievement and I am so proud. She has previously received other badges and certificates for water confidence and water safety but this is her first distance award. She has been able to 'swim' (i.e. do the correct arm and leg movements and propel herself through the water) for several months but the limiting factor has been breathing - she keeps her face in the water so can only go as far as she can hold her breath! However, she is now mastering the art of lifting her head to breathe, without putting her feet on the bottom of the pool.

Originally, I told her that she only had to take lessons until she could swim from one side of the pool to the other. Swimming isn't her favourite sport - she much prefers gymnastics - but she seems to be more interested now that she can do it, so I'm going to keep paying for lessons until she says she wants to stop. The more confident and strong a swimmer she becomes, the better.

My younger daughter is also making strides in the water, namely at bath time. We were prepared for her to scream through her first bath but she loved it. The evening bath sees her relax and unwind and give out smiles to every member of the family. She feels at home in the warm water, in her bath chair, so we let her have a nice long soak each evening. She only complains when we take her out to get her dried and ready for bed. I think perhaps she is a water baby and I am considering signing her up for swimming lessons sooner rather than later.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Wish you were here...

It has been two years since you were born 'sleeping'.
[I don't like that phrase because it's not as if you could have woken up...]

Somehow, it seems that this second anniversary is harder than the first. It feels lonelier. Almost as if we should have 'moved on'...
but I could never leave you behind.

I remember the quiet of the delivery room and the midwife's kind words as clearly as if it were yesterday. If I close my eyes, I can see you, wrapped up cosily in the moses basket, wearing a little blue hat. You looked peaceful and, at first glance, it did look like you were asleep but you weren't - you were perfectly still.

How things have changed since then. I have been broken and become stronger. We have tried to come to terms with and understand your loss. You now have a younger sister, who is 10 weeks old. Your elder sister has started school. She asks about you often and wishes you were here because she likes being a big sister.

With you and your sisters, our family is complete. Your photograph is framed alongside theirs and I look at your image every day. I wonder what you would look like at two years old. What games would you play? Which words would you be able to say? What would be your favourite thing to eat? Would you cuddle up to me like your sisters do, or wriggle to get free and refuse my kisses?

I've been capturing my grief in photographs over the past month. Although I may appear healed on the outside, I am still very broken in places inside. I feel your loss as keenly today as I did two years ago.

I love you, Monty. I miss you.
I wish you were still here.
In many ways, I think you still are...