Capture Your Grief: Day 11 – Life Is Short

Capture Your Grief: Day 11 – Life Is Short.

Isobel was born the day before my 32nd birthday. I keep wanting to say “I literally died that day” but I really hate when people use ‘literally’ so completely incorrectly so I will say “In many ways I feel like I died that day”. The last birthday I celebrated was in 2014. It hasn’t yet felt possible to celebrate another year of life and growing older, the day after commemorating the stillbirth of my daughter who didn’t even get one proper birthday.

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One of the impacts of this denial of life continuing is that I really honestly find it hard to remember what age I am, and more often than not tell people I’m 32. This is from genuine error rather than any attempt to make myself seem younger. It happened recently with a doctor who asked my date of birth, followed by my age and looked at me quizzically realising that my dates didn’t add up. It wasn’t until later I understood why he was looking at me strangely, and that he must have thought I was quite the idiot for getting my own age wrong! On many occasions I have had to count from my year of birth to correctly identify my age and even when writing this post I double checked it with Simon.

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In addition to feeling frozen in time on the cusp of 32, I somehow also feel I have aged around one hundred years in the past 28 months. I’m not sure how these two things make sense together – oh the great contradictions of grief. The person in my wedding pictures from less than three years ago feels temporally light years away while I imagine myself a kindred spirit to my 90 year old self. It really doesn’t help that I’m writing this after a particularly bad couple of weeks with Theo, very little sleep and lots of other stressors. Life is short but I feel old, heavy, tired and quite often ready for it all to be over. Life is short but still I am struggling to garner enthusiasm or excitement about much. Life is short but it feels like really hard work right now.

#captureyourgrief #stillbirth #pregnancyloss #babyloss #babylossawareness

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Capture Your Grief: Day 4 – Belonging

Capture Your Grief: Day 4 – Belonging.

I’m currently at a conference in Glasgow for work so very much in my professional role at the minute. I returned to work as a Clinical Psychologist around five months after Isobel was born. Initially I hadn’t been sure how or when I could ever return to work and was planning to take my whole maternity leave at a minimum. However after finding out I was pregnant with Theo, I knew I would go crazy without the distraction of work. I came back to my lovely, supportive, very small team honestly, telling them I needed work for my own coping purposes and that I had no idea if I would be able to actually function there. I needed to lower their expectations from the outset! Of course there were challenges, but overall I was able to resume my professional role much more successfully than I would have imagined.

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It is in work, and honestly, only in work, that I feel like the old me. That I feel like the real me. While I still struggle socially in groups of close friends, I can happily do a presentation in front of large groups of colleagues without flinching. While sometimes I have no idea how to respond to my husband, I am never lost for words to support a client’s emotional needs. While at home I flounder and stay mute when people say things that upset me or enrage me, I have no difficulties dictating to highly experienced clinicians what they need to be doing to support their clients and challenging them when they don’t follow through.

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It’s not that my clinical practice hasn’t been affected by the loss of my baby, I do believe it has. But somehow unlike the off duty me, my work self has retained a confidence and sense of competence that is long gone elsewhere.

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I have a complicated sense of belonging in the loss community, in the mummy community, with my friends, and with my family. I *know* I belong, but it doesn’t always feel true. However without a doubt Alanna the Clinical Psychologist belongs at this conference. I belong at my desk, in my office, in my hospital, seeing my clients. In some ways, work is where my happiness is the least complicated. 

Capture Your Grief: Day 3 – Meaningful Mantra

Capture Your Grief: Day 3 – Meaningful Mantra.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

I had the most wonderful pregnancy yoga teacher called Eleanor who prepared me so well for the challenges of labour with Isobel. In those months of mental and physical preparations to birth my baby, I was encouraged to lean in to discomfort, to breathe through painful moments – even to embrace them knowing they were bringing me closer to meeting my baby – and always to know that “This too shall pass”. As a first time mother I was nervous about labour, but mostly I was excited, as Eleanor had convinced me I was a birthing goddess! But then Isobel died. Facing labour knowing my baby was dead was the greatest challenge of my life and yet there was no choice but to proceed and do the only ‘normal’ motherly job I would ever get to do for my baby.

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My actual labour with Isobel was induced, short but intense. It hasn’t remained as a clear memory. The sleep deprivation, trauma and gas&air have combined to leave a fragmented narrative. Snippets of what I remember to be hell, crying, perhaps screaming, begging for an epidural and being told ‘no’ because the baby was coming too quickly and there wouldn’t be time. Tearing. But what I do remember clearly is Eleanor’s voice in my head. I remember “This too shall pass”. I remember desperately clinging to “This too shall pass” almost as if it was a physical thing I could squeeze or a stick to bite down on. “This too shall pass” was my meaningful mantra when my only other thoughts were that I was going to die, or if I didn’t die then I was going to have to see my dead baby, and not knowing which option was preferable. It’s probably a bit extreme to say that “This too shall pass” stopped me from going absolutely insane but that’s not far off how I feel.

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“This too shall pass” reflects the Eastern ethos of ‘nonattachment’. Knowing that reality is constantly changing. Engaging equally with pleasant and unpleasant experiences, aware that neither will last so welcoming them with curiosity. How often when we are in pain do we make it more intense by imagining that we are always going to feel that way? 

Capture Your Grief: Day 2 – Rise and Shine Mourning Ritual

Capture Your Grief: Day 2 – Rise and Shine Mourning Ritual.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

This prompt is about taking some time at the beginning of your day to ground yourself and set an intention for the day. For me it’s not until I’m driving to work, having dropped Theo at nursery, that I first have time to think beyond the rush of getting us up, ready and depositing Theo happily to daycare. Instead of listening to music on my commute, I’ve started listening to podcasts to expose myself to new ideas and interesting stories.

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This morning I was listening to the pretty cheesy ‘The School Of Greatness With Lewis Howes’. The subject was Kyle Maynard author of No Excuses: The True Story of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and in Life. Again cheese. But this guy who was born without arms or legs and yet played American football in high school, became a wrestler and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro clearly has more to offer than just cheesy book titles. He spoke of how his parents made a choice not to treat him as a disabled child, how they had to let him try things and fail, over and over and over again, not protecting him from the distress but actually encouraging him to continually try things they knew he could not do. He told a story of how his grandmother would make him repeatedly introduce himself to strangers in the street, explaining her view that once the stranger knew his name and heard his voice, Kyle became a person to them and not just a disability. In this way he learned to help others see beyond his limitations. Interestingly he said he feels lucky in some ways to have a disability that people can see, as so many people struggle with unseen difficulties that might not attract support from others.

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Kyle discussed one of his lowest points while climbing Kilimanjaro, where he was totally depleted, everything was going wrong and he desperately wanted to quit, but two things kept him going – firstly the memory of his grandmother who had passed away and thinking of how proud she would be of him. And secondly his trainer’s mantra: “Not dead, can’t quit”. As long as he could hear that voice in his head saying “Are you dead?!”, then he knew he was alive and had to keep going.

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Despite such an inspirational start to my day, I’ve managed to put my return to running (that I’ve been putting off for the past few weeks) off for another day, the same with my stopping eating junk food. But tomorrow is another day, and hopefully I won’t be dead so I won’t quit. I will put on my Tommy’s t-shirt and I will do that first run that I know will be the hardest and I will get my momentum going again! Not dead, can’t quit!

Capture Your Grief: Day 1 – Sunrise Blessing 

Capture Your Grief: Day 1 – Sunrise Blessing.

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I must start Capture Your Grief in the honest spirit I wish to continue and admit that I ignored my ‘sunrise’ alarm and took this picture at around 9:30am. I imagine 7:30am looked equally grey, gloomy and miserable here in Aughnacloy, Northern Ireland.

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While in some ways it’s hard to believe that this is my third year participating in Capture Your Grief, mostly I feel that I have been slogging this grief slog for decades rather than a mere 27 months. My intention for the project this year is to allow myself time to focus on Isobel, her absence and to gently prod at the edges of what remains in her place. Thinking back to last year, I have the sense that my grief was driving and motivating me to take positive action like organising the Still Parents Retreat. I was more focused on Isobel’s legacy and doing good. This year I feel much more weighed down, lethargic and apathetic about my purpose going forward. Maybe I’m stuck in a grieving rut and need a little CYG shove to move things along! As much as I am looking forward to using the prompts for my own reflection, I am looking forward to reading the experiences of others and as always being awed and inspired by the strength and love our babies leave behind.

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Capture Your Grief 2017, we’ve got this mamas! 

Returning To Work After Pregnancy Loss

A recent post on ‘1 in 160’s blog prompted me to seek out an email that I sent to my colleagues before I returned to work after having Isobel. 
I am pretty sure I never shared it here so thought it might be helpful if anyone stumbles across this before going back to work. 

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I just wanted to tell people a little about Isobel and hopefully make it a little easier for everyone in knowing how to talk about our loss (if they choose to do so). 

We found out that the baby had passed away on 24th June after going to the hospital to get checked out because I hadn’t felt her move that morning. We’ve since found out the there were clots in the placenta that stopped the oxygen flowing to her over about six hours. She herself was perfectly developed and would have been absolutely fine even the day before she died. Labour was induced and our little girl was born on 26th June 2015 at 4:26am. We named her Isobel Olivia Salter. I always wanted a little girl so I was glad to find out that she was a girl! She was 7lbs2 and very long and skinny at 55cm with big hands and feet! She had Simon’s mouth and chin but my nose! We were able to spend precious time with her before having the funeral on the 30th June, which was her due date. 

I know it’s a very hard kind of loss to understand or to try to imagine if you haven’t experienced it. People often don’t know what to say. The reality is there is no right or wrong thing to say, so don’t worry! I do very much appreciate it when people are able to acknowledge our loss in some way although I understand if someone doesn’t feel comfortable doing so. I love getting to say or hear her name, for those who are comfortable enough to ask about her or mention her by name know that it’s a lovely gift for me. I have told Isobel’s story many times, if there is something you would like to know please do ask. If I ever get tearful, please understand that you haven’t upset me by reminding me about her, I am thinking about her constantly. It’s more that I am really touched you have acknowledged her absence and helped me keep her memory alive. I always wear waterproof mascara these days just in case!! I have lots of pictures of Isobel and like any proud mummy I enjoy showing her off, if you would like to see them just ask. I won’t offer as I know people can feel differently about the pictures. I am of course a little sensitive about pregnancy and baby topics of conversation but at the same time I want to be treated as normally as possible, and to celebrate for other people too, so it’s ok to have these conversations in front of me, if I need a wee break I will take one. 

Simon and I are determined that Isobel’s little life will leave a positive legacy. We have lots of plans for raising awareness of stillbirth, prevention strategies and support for families. This is our new favourite topic of conversation, feel free to ask me about it if you want to. Two of the charities, SANDS and Tommy’s, have really helped us. No doubt I’ll be fundraising in the future and begging you all for money! 

I’m looking forward to getting back to work and seeing everyone again, thank you for reading my ramble and for your support as I settle back in. 

Oh Life

Firstly I must tell you that I shared a version of my last post on Facebook and got lots of lovely comments which helped me a little. 

But then life decided to fuck me over again with its perverse sense of humour. My oldest friend and one of my best friends is in labour this weekend and will most likely have her baby on Isobel’s birthday. Her due date was 12th July and it’s her first baby so it literally never occurred to me that this could happen! But at a review on Friday they weren’t happy with her blood pressure so they decided to induce her on Saturday and of course the induction hasn’t progressed. We haven’t heard from her since about 7pm when they were going to break her waters. It’s 22:23 now so the chances are she will have her baby on the 26th June. 

I’m finding this so hard, actually impossible, to cope with. I know in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. But I have so little of Isobel, so little that is hers. Can’t I just have one day that is only hers? From now on it will be Helen’s baby’s birthday and we will have years of birthday parties around or even on Isobel’s birthday. Please let it be a boy for a small mercy!!!! 

Oh life, you crack me up! 

“I want to write something really profound”

“I want to write something really profound” I tell my husband. What I think I mean is that I want to write something that will make people understand exactly what it’s like to have a stillborn daughter. Not just what it’s like to have found out she was dead, or what it was like to give birth to my dead baby, or what it was like to bury her; but what it is like to be the mother of a dead child every single day for two years now. And then to know that tomorrow you will still be the mother of a dead child. To know that every day that comes, for weeks, for months, for years, for the rest of your life, that you will always be the mother of a dead child. That you will forever have a break that can’t be repaired – a weight that can’t be set down, only endlessly borne. 

I want to write something that could let people see how Isobel’s death was not an event that occurred in the past  but instead is a never ending process of loss that happens to me over and over, again and again, day after day, night after night. What could I write that would explain that feeling of having left the real me in hospital on 24th June, still sitting in the scan room waiting for a doctor to come in and check on my baby? How can I describe the sense of living life and having to function while only ever being partially, superficially present? Would people be able to understand when I say that I’m so detached at times that internally I have to remind myself to join in interactions? It’s like being a cardboard cut out of a person who looks normal from the front but on closer inspection is only propped up by a flimsy piece of cardboard. Or like being a derelict building that has been covered with a fake shop front to hide the decay inside. 

I keep thinking I want to make a list of all the times I lose Isobel in a typical day, just to demonstrate the daily impact of her absence. The times my mind returns to pregnancy or the days before she died, running and rerunning scenarios where I did something different and she was saved. How I hate myself when I return to what really happened. The times I could vomit when I think of her body rotting in a coffin. The people I see in work and still now my first thought after tens of encounters is how they didn’t acknowledge her death when I came back. The colleagues who are innocently talking about what a nightmare teenage daughters are. Listening to the parents of clients talk about their mourning and grief of having a gender diverse child. The babies that are the same age as Isobel on my Facebook newsfeed that I don’t know whether to hide or not. The questions from strangers about the make up of my family. Baby girl clothes with flamingos on them. Questioning my parenting of Theo. Sometimes loving him with a desperate neediness, sometimes resenting him because he is not her. Not knowing if it’s ok to admit that or not. Feeling guilty for feeling sad around Theo. Feeling guilty for feeling happy with Theo. Being challenged by my husband about any aspect of mothering and my mind hearing “how can I trust you with Theo when you let Isobel die?”. Not trusting my instincts anymore. Never knowing where and when or how I’ll be faced with a trigger. TV, radio, books, and conversations all being laced with danger. This is a window to a typical day’s content. If I made a tally of every moment that is affected by Isobel’s death would one go past without a mark being made? 

If I said that a part of me longs to go back to the immediate aftermath of losing Isobel would people find that strange? That if I could, I would willingly revisit that raw, uncomplicated grief – a time when there were no expectations to function, and nothing to do but sit in despair and feel how close to Isobel I could be. I remember the times I screamed, the times I cried so hard I thought I would shatter and I miss that. I need it but I don’t know how to make it come back. Crying now is brief, and unsatisfying. 

I don’t know why I feel this need to try and make people understand. Who even are people? I don’t know if it would be the same if Isobel had died after living outside my body. The belief that it’s ‘worse’ to lose an older child is one I find difficult to tolerate. Maybe I feel like I need to validate my own grief? 

I like to think that all I want as I write this is to make Isobel exist in someone else’s mind for a little while, but maybe I want sympathy or just any kind of attention? What good does it do though if I were to share what I’ve written here on my Facebook page and get some ‘likes’ and comments. Realistically 90% of them would be from friends who have also lost babies who already live everything I’ve said themselves. 

How would life be different if everyone in the world could know what it is like to be the mother of a dead child? Would it make this life easier? 

I’m still debating posting this, or a version of this on my personal Facebook page so I think I’ll sleep on it! Meanwhile I’ll leave it here. My soundtrack has been Radiohead at Glastonbury (on TV). Amazing. Epic. My spiritual home. Gutted I’m not there. 

The Vessel of my Hate

I wonder if everyone has that one person, pregnant at the same time as them, the one who’s baby didn’t die, who becomes a vessel for all the anger, envy and hatred that was created from nowhere when their baby died? 

For me it’s a woman who works in the same service as me but luckily in a different building, let’s call her Laura. I used to work in Laura’s team on a Friday when I was pregnant with Isobel and she was pregnant with her son, just a few weeks behind me. Maybe I started hating her when she announced her pregnancy the week after I announced mine although I don’t remember minding about this. Maybe it was because she was so anxious about every aspect of impending motherhood and I thought she needed to chill out. It might even have been because she had a rich husband and they had just bought a house in my dream location and I was annoyed because I felt like I was smarter than her and I should be the rich one. But actually I didn’t start hating her until one of our babies died, and it wasn’t hers. 

Despite spending every Friday lunch time with Laura, having all the baby chats and making plans to hang out when on maternity leave, I didn’t hear from Laura when Isobel died. Our first encounter was about six months later at a yoga studio when I was coming out of pregnancy yoga and she was going to her first class after having her son. She was friendly but it was awkward, she was clearly shocked that I was pregnant again so soon and she didn’t know what to say about Isobel so she said nothing. When I asked about how her son was doing she lit up and said how great he was and that he was six months old now! Wow! As if I didn’t know exactly how old he was, as that was how old Isobel should be. 

I managed never to see her in work until a few weeks ago. I am in a different team now and don’t really have cause to visit my old site. But there I was sitting at a mandatory training day a few weeks ago and in walks Laura. My heart sank at first glance and then sank further as I noticed her heavily pregnant belly. My mind went on a little rant. “That fucking bitch who’s baby didn’t die is having another baby who also won’t die, and then she’ll have two babies and they’ll both be alive, and her son will have a sibling and why the fuck was it not her baby that died?!” Although I tried to avoid her at the training she came over to chat, telling me about how her son was doing and how she cries when he achieves certain milestones because she wants him to stay little. You can imagine how much that failed to make me warm to her. 

Fast forward a few weeks and I’m going on a two day training course which I’m really looking forward to, until I see Laura’s name on the delegates list. Ten people and one of them has to be her. 35 weeks pregnant and on my training course just to ruin my experience. 

Today was the first day and I arrived with a positive attitude and a plan to ignore her as much as possible. It’s all going ok, I sit away from her, catching up with another colleague from her team who I haven’t seen for a long time. We sit down to a lunch of soup, bread and cheese. Laura helps herself to some blue cheese. Someone comments that maybe she shouldn’t be eating that. She responds and I quote “I figure the baby’s well enough cooked at this stage, it’s hardly going to die on me now.” My jaw is on the floor. I am literally sitting one person away from her, did she just say the word ‘die’. I think – she’ll realise she’s referenced her baby dying in front of someone who’s baby actually died and be mortified and backtrack, but no. She continues to say how she’s eaten soft cheese all along in both of her pregnancies and never gotten listeria so why would she get it now? She goes on to say that she apparently has been diagnosed with gestational diabetes but she’s mostly ignoring that too as she doesn’t think she really has it. 

Oh Laura. How I hated you for our respective circumstances when I thought you were super conscious of me and what happened to Isobel. I imagined you couldn’t say anything to me as you maybe had survivors guilt and it was difficult to face that. That was bad enough to deal with.  

Imagine how I hate you now, when I realise that you are so blissfully thoughtless that you will talk about dead babies so casually in front of me and be blasé about risks because dead babies happen to other people, not someone like you. Imagine how it feels to know that had the circumstances been reversed I would still have that stupid innocence that you flaunt. 

Now I know that what happened to Isobel is not Laura’s fault. I know that it wasn’t a choice between her baby and mine, where someone picked her baby to live and mine to die. I even know that she’s a nice person who deserves good things. I know I don’t really hate her as a person, it’s just that I’ve projected all of my negative emotions and the poor woman has been an unlucky recepticle. But I just can’t bring myself to feel bad about how I feel about her.  As if she will give me a second thought when she goes home to eat her bloody blue cheese. As if it will matter to her when she is celebrating her son’s second birthday. As if she will be upset that I hate her when she is introducing her two children to each other and watching them form a lifelong bond. 

Tomorrow I will tell myself, “Laura, I don’t hate you, I’m just not necessarily excited about your existence!”