But I liked the old me

One of the grief cliches that I’ve found to be true is the idea of feeling like a completely different person after the loss. The sense of life being forever demarcated by the event into a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. I keep looking back at photos of myself from ‘before’ and just wishing so much that I could go back to being my happy, optimistic self. The me that was looking forward to the future. 

This picture is from our wedding day, I was in the early weeks of pregnancy here but did not yet know.  

If I could pick one day of my life to be my Groundhog Day, this would be it. It was the happiest day, filled with love and laughter. I would live it over and over again if I could. 

During pregnancy I was obsessed with taking ‘bump’ pics and I have loads in various states of undress! This is the last one I took that’s suitable for the Internet! It’s me at around 36 weeks.    

If I look a little smug it’s because I was! I absolutely loved my bump and being pregnant! I loved as my bump got bigger that people would look at me and smile as I walked down the street. After having fertility problems (I keep meaning to write our story on the about page but haven’t managed to face this yet), being pregnant made me feel like such a normal and productive member of society! I couldn’t believe that I had everything I’d ever wanted. When I put relationships on hold to do my doctorate I worried that I wouldn’t meet anyone or have a family. Now I had the job I loved, plus an amazing husband and a baby on the way. The three best words I ever heard my husband say were not ‘I love you’ but the words ‘my pregnant wife’. I honestly never thought I’d be someone’s pregnant wife. I melted every time I heard those words. 

I have had lots of other ambitions in my life but I have always wanted to be a mother. I’m not sure if being diagnosed with gynae issues in my teens had an impact on this. I was told at the time I would likely need fertility treatment if I wanted to have children in the future. Maybe it was being told it might be difficult that made me really want children or maybe I was just a naturally maternal person I don’t know but compared to my friends I was always baby obsessed! It took a while to get my career sorted and of course to meet the perfect daddy to my babies but when I discovered I was pregnant at 31 life seemed to be perfectly on track. Hence the smug. 

I know lots of people choose not to have children and I certainly don’t think that reproducing should be the sole purpose of anyone’s life. I’m trying to tell myself that my life still has meaning now without Isobel but I’m really struggling to believe that. I still have Simon, family, friends and my career. It’s what I had before I fell pregnant and it was enough then. It’s not enough anymore though. If I’m honest, I really feel like my life is ruined. I don’t feel suicidal but I certainly do have thoughts that life is not worth living. (I have no plans to act on this and am aware that I would need to seek help if this ever changed). 

  
I don’t want this to be the rest of my life. I don’t want a life without Isobel. It is too sad, too painful and too much effort for no reward. 

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A Day of Hope

  

August 19th is Project Heal’s Day of Hope. You can read the details on the site but basically it’s about making and hanging a flag both to commemorate your baby and to raise awareness of infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss. 

A friend had pointed me to Project Heal soon after Isobel was born. I loved the idea of making something for Isobel every year and having another special day to remember her in a positive way, so I decided to take part. Of course I left it to the last minute to make something and having little creativity, my flag reflected more love than it did artistic talent! It’s all about the process I told myself as I put on my mellow birthing playlist and lit a candle. 

  
Initially I debated using the bib that was part of the set of clothes Isobel was dressed in as part of the flag. When it came to it though, I didn’t want to cut up the bib, or anything of hers. Maybe another year. My flag was pretty simple as I couldn’t face anything too complicated or challenging just now. Maybe by next year I’ll have learned to sew!

   

It was lovely to see on the event Facebook page all the flags made by mummies and other family members all over the world but sad too to witness so many grieving families! 

As far as the ‘hope’ from the Day of Hope goes, if only that was as easy to create as a flag! At the moment I don’t even know what to be hopeful for. I know no amount of hope can bring Isobel back and right now that’s all I want. According to Wikipedia, hope is “an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes… to expect with confidence…to cherish a desire with anticipation”. I can safely say that none of my present thoughts or feelings fit that definition.  As a typically optimistic person it never crossed my mind that anything would go wrong with my pregnancy. I wonder if I will ever be naively optimistic again. The last thing I ‘expected with confidence’ was my baby. The last desire I ‘cherished with anticipation’ was my desire to be a mother, to have a family. The listed opposites of hope – dejection, hopelessness and despair are much more in keeping with my present mental state.

If I could even hope that one day I’ll be happy again that would be progress, but it’s just so hard to imagine now. Hoping to be happy again seems just as impossible as hoping that I can go back in time and keep my baby alive.  

I wish I could fast forward the grieving process, even as part of me knows (fears?) it will never be over. I wish I could have a glimpse of the future me that will be making Isobel’s flag next year, in five years, in 10 years. Will that me be happy? Will she be hopeful? I want to hope so. Maybe really hoping is too much just now so wanting to hope will do… 

  
An elephant for Mummy, Daddy and Isobel. 

 

Wanting 

   
I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby. 
Continue to infinity… 

I’m a survivor

  
Since having Isobel, I’ve had a bit of a love/hate/hate/hate relationship with my body. On the love side I’m so grateful that I was able to conceive naturally after being told this wasn’t possible, and I know that my body nurtured and nourished Isobel through a very healthy pregnancy to full term and a good weight. To my knowledge so far (we’re still awaiting postmortem results) Isobel was perfectly developed and formed. So by 39 weeks I was impressed with my body’s capabilities. But then of course Isobel’s little heart stopped and I can’t help but blame something in my body for failing her, and me, at the final hurdle. Hence the hate. I’ve written before how I also find it really hard to accept my stretch marks, excess weight and saggy belly without having a living baby to show for them. When out in public I have wanted to wear a sign or a tshirt saying “I have just had a baby but she died” to explain my rounded tummy in the absence of a pram to explain it for me. My old clothes still don’t fit and I’m forced to keep wearing maternity jeans as I can’t afford new clothes until my husband and I are back on full pay. So hate hate hate…

Trying to be proactive about the things I could change in the face of all I can’t, I have been doing the Couch to 5k training plan again. I did this last year and got quite in to running, doing my first and last 10k race when I was 7 weeks pregnant. This time I have found getting out and running a little to be so helpful to my mental state. Physical exhaustion feels so much better than the mental exhaustion that accompanies grief. There is a river with a tow path near our house – imagining walks there with a pram was one of the reasons we chose our house. Instead I go there alone and walk/run, dragging my grief instead of pushing a pram and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve now shed a tear along that path. I’ve come to love the swan family with the two little grey fluffy cygnets and if I don’t see them in the river I get very disappointed! 

Today I was due to run for 25 minutes, the longest to date being 20 minutes. My husband was doing the 5k Parkrun so I screwed my courage to the sticking place, got my trainers on and joined him. I honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to finish the 5k but when I managed to run for 2k before stopping, a determination to cross the finish line came over me! I didn’t care if I was last by a mile, I was going to do it. I had to walk a few times when I was completely exhausted but I slowly but surely finished the 5k in 38 minutes. I wasn’t even last! 

I cried once – when Destiny’s Child Survivor came on my ‘You can do it’ playlist. (Other similarly themed tracks are Kelly Clarkson What doesn’t kill you, Kanye West Stronger and Emimem Lose Yourself). I think listening to the lyrics about surviving and keeping going, I had a moment of being so sad that I was having to work so hard right now just to survive my life. I’d quite happily go back to my previous charmed life where I didn’t have to be a ‘survivor’ or at least the things that I had to survive were so minor and trivial! I’m getting used to having little tearful moments in public now and I really don’t care. I don’t think other people notice half of what goes on around them and even if they did it’s the least of my worries what they think of me. Why I can’t apply this logic to what they think of my belly is beyond me however. 

After the Parkrun I felt the best that I have done in the seven weeks and two days since learning that Isobel was gone. I sang in the shower! I updated my Facebook status for the first time since she died and got a ton of likes for my small achievement. Pity likes I call them but I appreciate them none the less! My better mood has persisted relatively well through the day. Endorphins I guess, as well as the psychological sense of achievement. 

  
I am pretty sure I’ll never be BeyoncĂ©, but maybe with a little effort I can get back to accepting and appreciating my body. I think that would be a pretty amazing achievement. 

My Husband the Hulk

  For my husband, among the whole range of horrible emotions in the wake of Isobel’s death, anger has been the predominant force. 

Simon is angry with society, who do not pay enough attention to stillbirth. He rants about the amount of money spent in Northern Ireland on the pointless sectarian conflict when it could be invested in research and health care for pregnant women. He’s angry with the medical profession who do not have enough awareness or knowledge of the warning signs. Simon is angry with the welfare system which has forced him to return to work before he feels ready, as the statutory sick pay is woefully inadequate. He is angry with the very idea of religion, and with the people who speak of his daughter being in a better place than with her loving parents. He is angry with his mother who does not mention our loss and instead sends us pictures and videos of things like dogs swimming to cheer us up. He is angry with friends who have not visited. He is angry with Arsenal who let him down by losing the first game of the season. In addition to all these targets of his rage, at times, Simon is angry with me. 

This evening, after his first full day back at work, Simon came home tired, upset and in need of some TLC. Unfortunately I had plans with friends that had been made a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t been out of the house all day and with Simon at work, was really looking forward to seeing my friends. Maybe I should have cancelled my plans and stayed at home with him but at the time it felt that what I needed to do for my own wellbeing was to go. I was also conscious that my friends would worry about me if I cancelled at such short notice, not to mention that one friend was already on her way to pick me up. Off I went, with Simon in what can only be described as a ‘huff’ and refusing to kiss me goodbye!

Fast forward a few hours and now I’m home, having not really enjoyed the evening anyway with part of my mind at home with my cross husband. I found Simon in Isobel’s room, curled up with the blankets that wrapped our baby during her brief time with us. He told me he doesn’t want to speak to me and asked me to leave the room. I know that he is hurting and he needs me right now and I know that underneath he wants me too, but his anger makes him push me away. It is the most ironic and unhelpful of coping responses. 

Nothing makes me feel so alone like Simon being annoyed with me. I have reached for my phone to ring my mum or a friend but I can’t (won’t?) talk to anyone because I don’t want them to think badly of him for how he is dealing with his grief. I sit alone and think of the relationships that disintegrate following the loss of a child and I worry that Isobel’s loss will shatter us rather than strengthen us. This feels too much to cope with for a couple in our first year of marriage. Another ‘should’ to add to the list, we should be enjoying our honeymoon period not drowning in our grief – dragging each other further down rather than supporting each other to float. I’m aware that I’m catastrophising; one arguement does not a divorce make. (What do you call an arguement when no voices have been raised or harsh words spoken?!). However for the first time since we met, I can imagine how this could develop, I can imagine a future when we are not together, and that scares me more than anything has scared me since this whole nightmare began. The thought of losing Simon after losing Isobel, well, I can’t even finish that sentence. 

I know that while Simon directs anger all around, at everyone and everything, really he is only angry at one fact: Isobel died. He is angry because he wanted her, because he loved her and because she is not here. So I will try not to take it personally, I will try not to retaliate and I will resist being pushed away when the anger comes for me. I will remember how amazing Simon was from the moment we heard that Isobel’s heart had stopped, how he helped me through labour, how he held our little girl and looked at her with such love, how proud I was when he spoke so beautifully at her funeral, how he has held me so tightly every time I’ve cried. 

I will remember that I love him and remind him that he loves me and I will hope that that will be enough. 

Childless Mother and Football Widow

My husband is a massive Arsenal fan. Like obsessed. He used to read an Arsenal podcast to the bump almost every day, so much of what Isobel heard her daddy speak was of keepers, defensive midfielders, formations and transfer gossip. Simon also watches every football game available, regardless of who is playing. Hence I have lost him this weekend (the start of the Premier League season) to the TV and iPad (yes he will watch two games simultaneously!) and my football widow status in addition to my childless mother status has left me feeling lonely. Normally I’d make plans with friends but those who have been around have been going out drinking continuing the wedding celebrations I wrote about yesterday and I can’t face bars or pubs right now. 

So this weekend I’ve been occupying myself, reading mostly, but today I can’t stop looking at pictures of Isobel and watching the videos we made in her company. I see her face, even on my iPhone screen, and my fingers itch to be able to stroke her, my arms ache to feel her weight, my chest is heavy with an unnatural lightness. The absence of Isobel is a physical presence, so wrong and so alien. How can I not be pregnant anymore and yet also not have my baby to nurse? My body doesn’t understand. 

The pictures I have capture the only facial expression of my daughters that I will ever see. There should be so many more pictures, years and decades worth; different places, different times, different clothes – a baby, a toddler, a little girl, a teenager, a young woman, a woman grown. These pictures (four days, one outfit, one location) are all I have and I resent that fact, even as I am so grateful for them. I cannot stare at her here in real life, so I will stare at her picture. 

My beautiful baby girl.  

 

Smile (Though Your Heart is Aching)

  Yesterday was my oldest friend’s wedding day. Unlike the wedding of a random relative or acquaintance which I can sometimes dread, the wedding of a really close friend, whose family I know well, attended by my other close friends, is always an event I really look forward to and cherish. In all my visions of yesterday’s event, Simon and I would be proudly showing off our baba who would be around six weeks old. I was hoping to be breast feeding so was planning on having the baby with us. I had excitedly discussed this with the brides cousin, due the week before me, who I’d met up with a few times during our pregnancies. Like all our hopes and plans, the vision of the wedding was another one that went to hell. Instead, my friend’s wedding day marked six weeks since my baby girl was born asleep and what should have been a joyous celebration became a challenge, a day to be gotten through, endured in the spirit of being there for my friend. 

Crowds, noise, small talk, sympathy, babies, religion, and even being away from home are all things I’m struggling with right now, so the combination of all these while putting on my happy face made yesterday one of the hardest days since Isobel died. While part of me was excited to see my friend on her special day, to celebrate her love with marriage and to spend time with my close friends, the more dominant part of me was filled with anticipatory anxiety and overthinking how I should ‘be’ on the day. Too sad and I would kill the vibe for everyone, people might think I shouldn’t have come. Too happy and people might think I wasn’t mourning for my baby, that I’m heartless. The fact that I was even stressed about this frustrated me greatly, this is not my personality, I am not a worrier, I don’t usually care so much what other people might think. The new me is not to my liking.  

I survived the day as I knew I would. There were some lovely moments like seeing my beautiful friend in her wedding dress for the first time, watching the happy couple exchange vows and laughing during the speeches (sometimes at, sometimes with, the speakers!). There were a lot of nothing moments, where I was disconnected, numb, not really present. And there were some very painful and tough moments. Seeing the bride’s cousin with her little baby, just a week older than Isobel should be was very upsetting, the starkest of reminders of how my arms too should be filled with a sleepy milk drunk baby. I also had a wobble seeing another cousin who was heavily pregnant. I’m ashamed to remember how rude I was, failing to greet her and staring at the ground as my friend asked her how she was keeping. I teared up a number of times when family members of the bride offered sympathy for our loss but really appreciated that they made the effort to do so on their day of celebration. I think the worst part however was watching a little girl on the dancefloor with her mother. The little girl was about four years old and she looked so like her mum. I can’t believe I don’t get to see what Isobel would have looked like as she grew. At every celebration for the rest of my life, there will be a little girl missing. It just feels too much to bear. 

Talking, smiling and laughing with our friends all day was beyond exhausting. Just after the couple had their first dance Simon and I looked at each other with the general consensus that it was time to go home. When we got in to the car both of us started to cry. I felt so sorry for us. Why did we have to be the couple leaving because we were grief stricken? Why were we not inside enjoying the party or at least leaving because we were exhausted due to night feeds and nappy changes? I am so bitter about the unfairness of life. I had the thought that our friends were probably glad when we left because they could properly begin to enjoy themselves. I know that is rubbish – that these type of thoughts even come in to my head annoys me so much. We spent the car journey home tearfully debating the point of life. My longstanding conclusion is that there is no point. And yet I will continue to live, in the faint hope that somehow in the future I will feel like there is a point to being here. I will smile, though my heart is aching, and maybe someday it will be a real smile and the ache won’t be so heavy. Hope. A tiny ounce of hope. 

For Nothing

  I’ve had a really hard evening. Crying so much that I vomit is a whole new experience for me. It started with trying on a dress for my friend’s wedding this Friday. I know I shouldn’t expect to have my figure back to normal less than six weeks after having a baby but it still annoyed me that the dress I planned to wear is too tight. I then made the colossal mistake of trying some jeans on and things went to hell! I’m sure if I had Isobel here, alive, I would still be a little wistful for my pre-pregnancy figure but the fact that I have this excess 21 lbs of saggy flabby tummy and no beautiful baby to show for it really killed me tonight. 

It made me think of every day of those 39 weeks and three days: how almost every moment of every day revolved around my baby – every time I forced myself to make healthy food choices (bag after bag of spinach as I’m vegetarian), every time I said no to caffeine or alcohol, every time I suffered a headache without taking painkillers and the worst sinus infection with no antibiotics, every time the fish oil in my pregnacare vitamin repeated on me and the taste of fish as a vegetarian made me nauseous, every time I lay awake tormented with insomnia, every time I waddled to the toilet, the endless hours spent online researching the best baby monitor, or how to ensure successful breastfeeding, the two sets of antenatal classes that we did, the third trimester fatigue and swollen feet, the stretch marks, the aforementioned saggy tummy, every pain ache and sacrifice, and how it was ALL FOR NOTHING. 

Nothing to show for it. Nada. Zero, zilch, zip. Aside of course from a broken heart and an emerging post-traumatic stress disorder. 

I know you could say I did have something to show for it. I did have a perfectly formed 7lb2, 55 cm long little girl. I did get to hold her and stroke her and wrap her long fingers around mine. I know at other times I’ve felt and will feel again that my pregnancy was a joyous gift and be glad to have had it, even if that’s all I got. But tonight that doesn’t feel true. Tonight I feel like I’ve been robbed, that I’ve been subject to the cruelest joke in the history of humankind. That 40 of my weeks were wasted…for nothing. 

Starting with Goodbye

I want to write this blog for me, for sorting thoughts, easing feelings and hopefully for healing – although I must say the idea of ever being healed seems ridiculous right now. I don’t feel ready to write about the happy times through pregnancy, the trauma of losing my baby or the experience of giving birth to a beautiful, perfectly formed but deafeningly silent, baby girl. So I’m starting with goodbye, with an ending, with a funeral.

Isobel Olivia’s little life was celebrated and her body laid to rest on 30th June 2015. This was the date that Simon and I, our family and friends had been eagerly awaiting for months – her due date. How do you begin to comprehend having a funeral for your daughter who had so so little time to live?

We decided to have a Humanist funeral, neither Simon or I were religious before Isobel died and we have no inclination to clutch to delusions now, as comforting as they may be. No doubt I’ll rant about the religious platitudes we’ve suffered another time! Noel the celebrant spoke of how our only immortality is the influence we have on others, and the memories we leave in the hearts of people who love us. This to me is so much more profound than imagining a fairy tale world of happily ever after with a god who took us away from our loved ones in the first place! We wanted to emphasise the happiness that Isobel’s existence had brought us and the love that had already grown around our precious baby though she hadn’t yet been born, I think Noel did this perfectly. The poems we chose were heartbreakingly perfect.

  

We also had music – Blur’s ‘Tender’for the entrance, Ed Sheeran’s ‘Photograph’ for the reflection and ‘Angels’ by The XX for the exit. Angels was our wedding entrance song, when baby was there but keeping her little presence a joyous secret. Photograph had been whirling in my head since finding out Isobel would be stillborn and the words were almost perfect. Tender was suggested by Isobel’s auntie and was so apt.

In a bizarre way I enjoyed Isobel’s funeral. I’m sure enjoyed isn’t the right word. It was beautiful, the sentiment was perfect and I appreciated that so many of our family and friends gathered to show us support but also how Isobel had touched their lives and how many people cared she was gone.  Her little coffin was the smallest I’ve ever seen and the saddest thing in the world. Seeing it lowered to the ground was so painful I felt like I would vomit and the sound of the roses being thrown down to it is a sound I can’t imagine I will ever forget. And still as Simon held me I continued to breathe and my heart kept beating, like living was easy. What could have caused Isobel’s heart to stop when mine beats happily, even when I’m in agony, even when I don’t want it to beat anymore?