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!