Tuesday, 15 September 2015

9 years on.

So it's heading on to 9 years on since I lost my baby girl. It's been a hefty 6 years since I last wrote on this blog. Well I'm not really a blogger in truth. 3 years after losing Alex I felt I had something to say that might help others and 6 years later, I feel that urge again. Anyone who knows me knows that this is a good time to get a cuppa! I don't do “brief” :)

I'm having a bad day today. I'm remembering how happy and carefree I was 9 years ago and the blissful ignorance I had of what was to come. I was excited that my baby would finally be here soon and feeling a little impatient for her to make her arrival! These memories are still so painful 9 years on. They come in waves and just drown you. Again, I'm wondering what life would be like....what life should have been like...what I should be doing now. I don't want to think about ordering flowers for a grave yet again. I want a pink, sparkly, girly party with an over excited 9 year old telling us what she wants for her birthday and being annoyed by her little brothers. It hurts more than I can ever put into words and I know I have a good few days of this ahead. Of guilt, of pain and of what if's.

So all this is no different to previous years and no different to the battles each of us who have lost someone too soon faces. Except this year, for me it actually is. On this bad day, I'm consciously reaching into my toolbox I've built up over the last 9 years and pulling out all the things that I know will get me through. I know this will pass. I'm writing this blog. I have plans to keep busy as well as have time to keep still. I know my little ones will bring me smiles. I know spending time with friends and those who I love will help. I know that helping and accepting help from others who have been through the same will soften the pain a bit. I know by mid next week I will feel a rush of relief. I know all this because I kind of feel like an old hand at it now. I'm giving myself a break, feeling that hurt that I know has to be felt, safe in the knowledge that it will pass. It doesn't hurt any less, but it feels like an old friend that although is painful to spend time with, actually helps me to once again feel close to my daughter.

It can safely be said by every parent who has lost a baby that this never goes away, but things have shifted for me over the last couple of years. I read something a while ago that really saddened me. It was a post from a parent who had lost a baby asking if it ever gets any easier? Reply after reply came from bereaved parents basically saying “no” and it struck me that I had recently been making choices that DID make it easier for me. I almost hadn't even been doing these things consciously in relation to easing my grief as such, but actually the upshot is I am happy, content and feel like I am living a full life with a future I am excited for. I didn't feel able to reply to the post at the time, going against the grain of the thread and possibly getting shot down. Perhaps people would think if I suggested that things can get easier as I feel they have for me this year, then that might mean that I loved my baby less!? That her little life wasn't as precious to me. And there in is the struggle. Nothing could be further from the truth!

After losing Alex, I pretty much shut myself away. I gave up my job that didn't feel right anymore and ran a website from home in memory of my daughter, embarking on the terrifying journey of trying for another baby. Cutting a very long story short, I now have 2 amazing boys who have in no small way, healed my heart a little. But that of course isn't it entirely. You can't ever replace a lost child and everyone's journey is unique. In truth, this was right for me. I needed that time to build up my toolbox and try to find a way forward with my so called “new normal”. There came my first blog three years on talking about this new normal that all us parents who have lost a baby have to come to terms with.

Everything started to slowly change again for me a couple of years ago when I suddenly started doing things I would never ever dream of doing before. I made a decision that I didn't want to be shut away from the world any more and started saying yes to things. The first thing I did was say yes to Mel Scott when she asked me if I was free to talk to student midwives about Alexandra on her study day. Now this was not something I by any means did well!! In fact I was a shaking, crying, snotty mess and do wonder what on earth she and others must have thought of me that first time we met. But I did it...and I was mindful to try to be kind to myself afterwards..which then meant I felt a little bit more able to say yes to the next thing I wouldn't have dreamt of doing beforehand. Over the last couple of years, I gave up the website that was no longer helping my family, I started up a local branch of Mel's charity to help other bereaved parents in the area (meeting inspirational friends), I got the tattoo's I had been thinking about for 8 years, I started Taekwondo which has lead to other fitness things and lots of lovely new friends and I took up a degree in Graphic Design inspired by the work I have done previously in memory of Alex. I've signed up for runs and walks I would never have thought I could do, including running away from zombies and walking 35 miles!
Don't get me wrong here, Alex's daddy can tell you I still have suffered terrible bouts of anxiety, uncertainty and not feeling worthy (and still regularly do!) None of the above has come by easily, but my mindset has shifted and I will keep pushing, because I now also know that feeling of accomplishment that comes even after the worse set backs. I no longer want to accept the life I thought I was destined for when my baby died. I instead choose to live life fully whilst continuing to honour her memory.

Last year I shakily made the choice that I wasn't going to shut myself away for Alex's anniversary and with lots of support did a Taekwondo grading instead. Wow, what a difference! I felt like I'd really done something that would make her proud of me. Did it still hurt as much? YES! But was it any easier? YES! Because mingled in with all that hurt, pain and should have beens, was that great feeling of accomplishment when I received my shiny new belt! :)

To some reading this, this is no new thing. I have been so inspired over the last couple of years by others who perhaps have come to this realisation of choice in less than the 9 years it's taken me!! We are all different and there will be some reading this thinking what rubbish! But for me personally, it's a bit of a revelation which was why I wanted to write about it. I don't do it very often, but I know that part of my toolbox includes occasionally getting all my feelings down. In this scary world of grief that we are thrown into when we hear those devastating words that our baby's heart no longer beats, some of us shut ourselves away from the world and think that although we may have some happiness again, we just have to accept that the pain will never get any easier and that this is our life now. To those reading this that feel this way, the truth is that we have choices in the way that we grieve and the futures that we make. You may need to take that time to be shut away for a while too like I did. There's certainly no right or wrong and those early days, weeks, months and years even are so incredibly hard. You're in fact doing great just getting up on some days! You may not know it consciously, but you are actually already building your own coping toolbox and have been from the very start.

This is the most accurate description of grief I have ever seen, but whilst we have no control over many things, I truly believe that in time things CAN get easier and that we really do have a CHOICE in how we hold onto our grief and build our futures with our babies still firmly in our hearts.

These are a few realisations / snippets of advice from others that have helped me so much:
  • Consciously start reaching for those coping tools you have gathered when you need them.
  • Allow the painful times in when they come, but also know that they will pass.
  • Be kind to yourself. Always.
  • Accept and seek help when you need it.
  • Surround yourself with people who believe in you.
  • Keep doing those little things to make your baby proud of you and allow yourself to smile.
  • Know that allowing happiness and enjoying life does not mean you love your baby any less.
  • When you're ready, sign up to something that scares you!
  • Be extra kind to yourself if things don't go well to start with, you still did so well to try.
  • Keep pushing forward and keep going!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Three years on...by Alexandra Grace's Mummy x

I'm writing this blog three years to the day after losing my beautiful baby girl Alexandra Grace. This was the day three years ago we heard that her heart had stopped beating. Tomorrow she would be born silently into the world.

A question that I often get asked is “does it ever get any easier?” For me, the answer to this question is just as much yes as it is no. I'd like to share my own personal experience as a mummy to a stillborn baby and hope that this helps others in some way. Some things you may relate to, others you may not as we are all different, but for me......

Coming home from the hospital without my baby was just the hardest thing I will ever have to do in my whole life. We had spent months planning, getting everything ready and talking endlessly about what our little baby would be like and what kind of parents we would make.Our house that should have been filled with new baby noises, was instead filled with a deafening silence. My body still thought I had a baby to care for. My milk came in to feed her, my arms ached to hold her, but instead we had her funeral to plan.

Just 2 days before, my husband and I had hugged each other excitedly as my first contractions began and said “we are finally going to meet our baby”. I remember this like so many other things so clearly & I hope that one day these memories will make me smile. I still have quite a way to go to get to that place. It still rips my heart out thinking about how happy we were & how perfect our life was then.

It takes just one minute for your world to be torn apart. Just one minute and a few words. All of a sudden, everything that you once knew and believed in comes crashing down around you. The world all of a sudden seems like a dangerous and dark place. The utter shock, despair and disbelief is indescribable. I can not count the times I uttered the words “I just can't believe it” & have to say I still can't to this day. Those very early days, weeks and months seemed so long, but looking back passed by in such a blur.

I always imagined grief to consist of lots of crying and feelings of loss. Whilst of course this is part of it, no one could have prepared me for the other feelings that go hand in hand:

Numbness – Sometimes, not being able to cry or feel anything at all.

Guilt – Why could I not protect my own baby? Did she suffer whilst inside me and I didn't even know? Could I have done something to change what happened?

Regret – Why didn't I get myself to the hospital when I first thought there was something wrong? Why oh why did I not spend every minute I possibly could with my daughter when I had the chance? Why did I not take lots of photos, why did I not hold her for as long as I could?

Jealousy – Why me? Why us? Why our little girl? Why does everyone else get to bring their baby home & I can't? (I now know very well this is not the case, but this is how I felt) I did not for one minute wish what had happened to us onto others, but just wanted to be them. To be carefree with my little girl in my arms.

Anger – At the whole world. How could it still be turning when my baby had died? & more to the point, how can a perfectly healthy baby just die for no reason?

Loneliness – There is nothing lonelier than grief. I am extremely lucky with the support I have received from family & friends and I know that others do not have this support. The truth is though that no one can help. Although they feel pain too, no one can fully understand the depth or despair that is felt & how your life will never ever be the same again as a parent to a lost child, unless they have been through the same.

Re-living – re-living & feeling every moment as if it were happening again & again.

Longing – For Alex. To hold her. To hear her cry. To see her eyes open. To get to know her. To do all the things I should have been doing.

Longing – For the old me. The old carefree me that believed that everything always turned out ok in the end.

These feelings are so intense and still can be to this day. Time will never erase them. I know that now and most days accept that they are a part of me and always will be. I would say the only feeling there that has changed over these three years is the jealousy. I now feel pure fear when I hear of another persons pregnancy or see a pregnant woman and just inwardly hope with all my heart that everything will be ok for them.

Another of the hardest things is eventually having to return back to the real world constantly swinging between all these feelings. I remember how easy it was when someone asked how I was, just to say “ok” & to force a smile on my face when really inside I was dying. How could I possibly explain and there is nothing that can be said or done to make it better or easier, so most of the time I just said “ok thanks” and carried on. I remember returning to work and just crying inbetween all of my appointments for months. All of my thoughts were of Alexandra. I felt like I was living a lie trying to be as I was before and that my life would never ever return to any kind of normality again. I could not stand seeing pregnant women and children. It tore my heart apart thinking how my life should be and I still to this day can not get past the feeling that I let my beautiful daughter down so badly.

We did a lot of things in those early days to grasp at some kind of hope for the future. All things that are stressful in themselves & are “not advised” in early grief. We moved house, we got married (a wonderful day), we used all our wedding money to start up Alexandra's Angel Gifts and we became pregnant with Alexandra's little brother. I wont go into that here, as that's a whole new blog getting through another pregnancy, but all of these things did help us. Although extremely hard, they did give us hope and they gave us something else to think about, although in reality, nothing at all can take the pain & all those feelings described above away. It was still with me everyday & I still felt that I was living a lie as inside I was crumbling away. Some people believe that a new baby will heal all, but that is simply not possible. You can never replace a life that once was, no matter what happiness comes into you life afterwards.

It's a difficult thing grieving for a daughter that you did not see physically alive. When you lose an older relative or friend, the memories of times together and being able to talk about that person and what they were like eventually brings you some comfort and smiles amongst the grief (although of course, I am not suggesting others grief is any less, just a little different). All we can do is wonder and imagine. Some people may think that this is easier, to not have known her before losing her. I would give anything to have this knowledge. To have seen her with her eyes open & to have got to know her personality. Alexandra was our first baby and I look at her little brother and see all the amazing things that he does and still can not begin to comprehend the magnitude of what we have lost and it sometimes leaves me feeling completely bewildered and almost as though I am watching it happen to someone else through someone else's eyes. It can't have happened to us. It only happens to other people.

But gradually and so gradually that I did not even notice to begin with, I did start to feel “normal”. But not normal in the old me kind of way, but more of the new me. The new me that accepts that I will never get the old me back. That accepts that I will never have a carefree pregnancy or parenthood ever. That accepts that a normal part of my life each day now is to grieve for my little girl & always will be. I still cry most days for Alexandra, but this is normal & just part of my life now. I also have happy times in that same day where I smile and laugh and feel genuinely happy. I did not think this possible in those early days, but it really is.

So what has my little girl taught me:

  • That I do not just need to grieve for the death of my daughter, although this is hard enough, but also for the part of me that is lost with her.

  • That time is NOT a healer when you have lost a child. BUT, although on bad days the feelings are just a intense as the early days, the bad days do eventually get further apart and the days inbetween are easier.

  • That I am a better person and parent having had Alexandra touch my life.

  • That I can do many things that I never even imagined before.

  • The kindness & thoughtfulness of people, even strangers, has at times completely blown us away.

  • That I have amazing family and friends that I am truly grateful for.

  • That I need to treasure every moment that I have here, as it really can all come crashing down at any moment.

  • That I am not afraid to die when it is my time, because I will then be with my daughter.

  • That despite the pain and sadness, happiness is truly possible after such tragedy.

I wish with all my heart that Alexandra was with me now. I wish so much that instead of sitting here writing this, that I was baking her a 3rd Birthday cake and getting everything ready for her party. That goes without saying. But, if I had a choice as to whether to have lived my life without her being with me for those precious 9 months and to not to feel this pain, or to go through all of this again with her a part of me, I would not hesitate to choose my daughter every time.

I love you forever my beautiful little girl xxx