On the Eve of a New Year

 
2015 began on a beach in Thailand. I was newly married, 14 weeks pregnant and three weeks in to the most amazing honeymoon. Simon and I danced and watched the fireworks over the Gulf of  Thailand at midnight and reflected on the easy perfection that was our life. Though we were sad to be going home in a week, we were excited about starting married life and the adventures to come. I can’t remember that perfectly happy time now without feeling sad. More than anything I want to be that person on the beach whose life had fallen perfectly in to place, who expected nothing but lovely things in the year to come. 

It goes without saying that 2015 has been the worst year of my life but it’s not that simple. January to June 24th was a contented, exciting time. Yes there was fear about labour, nervousness about the challenge of motherhood and an occasional qualm about saying goodbye to our relationship as just a couple but there were perfect scans, the wonder of baby kicks, the overwhelming love for this growing person, the loveliest shopping trips and the joy of every conversation about our baby and our family. These beautiful times outweighed any concerns I had, and the promise was of even more wonder and joy to come. June 24th to now has however been bad enough to overshadow everything positive that came before. I still cannot comprehend how I am finishing the year this way: heartbroken, feeling like an empty shell of a person, and with a life that looks like a life from the outside but feels like an unendurable endurance test from the inside.

A friend sent me this article for a new perspective on my worst year ever. When I read the sentence “I believe 2015 was not your worst year, but possibly your greatest” I almost threw the iPad across the room, but I read on and it clarified: “Your Year of Greatest Strength. Your Year of Greatest Faith. Your Year of Greatest Hope. Your Year of Greatest Patience. Your Year of Greatest Risk. Your Year of Greatest Determination. Your Year of Greatest Courage.” I can absolutely relate to that. If all I can say at the end of 2015 is that I’m still here, still holding on, still hoping that I can rebuild myself, my life, my marriage, then maybe that is success and achievement enough. I would add also that 2015 has been my year of greatest support from other people – family, friends and the wonderful online community of bereaved parents. I know without those people I would be in a much worse state than I am. 

As 2015 gives way to 2016, I am under no illusions that the challenges are behind me. The wait to see if our second baby will live or die is agonising. I feel the existence of parallel worlds so keenly, sliding doors, Shroedinger’s cat. It feels like what happens next will ‘make or break’ the rest of my life. The not knowing, the uncertainty, is almost paralysing. The thought that we could be adding a second baby’s name to Isobel’s headstone is unbearable. 

  Meanwhile I have my grief for Isobel. Am I grieving sufficiently? I am never sure. The process has been so complicated by the new pregnancy. I am dreading the day in January when my Facebook ‘on this day’ reminder will bring up our joyful pregnancy announcement and random pregnancy related posts from then until the most awful announcement on June 26th. Each month of the coming year will bring reminders of ‘this time last year’: when we moved house to prepare for the baby, when we changed my beloved convertible Beetle for a family car, when we had our babymoon, when I finished work on maternity leave. Then there will be Isobel’s first birthday/anniversary to plan and prepare for. No doubt it would be easier to face if I’m holding our rainbow baby. How will I ever survive if this baby doesn’t? 

Sharing or Over Sharing? 

  
Since losing Isobel, I’ve struggled with how much to share on Facebook about my experience of loss and my grief over time. The old me used to update my FB status quite regularly, but I tended to keep it lighthearted, funny or things I thought were interesting. I used to ridicule those I felt ‘over shared’ about their personal lives, mental health or whatever drama was currently happening. I thought it was attention seeking and a bit embarrassing to be honest. So I’ve been conflicted. Part of me wants to share frequently thoughts or feelings about Isobel because she is usually what is on my mind! But I haven’t wanted others to judge me the way I may have judged people in the past. 

What usually sways me to post something is a reminder of how people just don’t understand the loss of a baby. I consider myself reasonably emotionally literate and unlike some other people I do think I can use words to express some of how I am feeling. Because of this, I think maybe sharing my feelings, in moderation, can help people to understand what I’m going through. This helps them to support me. But also hopefully to support others in their lives who are facing the same challenges but who maybe don’t or can’t speak out. 

Looking at my Facebook page I can see it’s clear that I had a child who died but she’s not all I post about. I hope that I’ve managed an acceptable balance and that when I do write about Isobel people aren’t thinking “oh for gods sake here she goes again!”

I shared the following thoughts on Christmas yesterday and was really touched by the public and private messages I received which made me feel like my vulnerability was a good thing. 

Christmas Without 

Somewhere inside, I remember that Christmas is a lovely time of year but it doesn’t feel that way to me this year. It’s the first Christmas in my privileged life where no amount of money could buy me the only thing I want.  

Family time is a painful reminder that there is a six month old baby missing from our family. Celebrations should be about a first Christmas as our own family, the first of many to come. Instead nothing feels worth celebrating. Our Christmas tree should have ‘First Christmas in 2015’ ornaments instead of those in memory of a baby who is gone. Santa should be coming to our house for the first time, instead we have donated the cutest baby girl present to charity. We will be putting a wreath on our child’s grave on Christmas Eve instead of reading The Night Before Christmas to a sleepy baba. My Facebook page will be filled with little ones dressed in their gorgeous Christmas outfits, pictures and moments that we will never get to experience with our first born. Isobel’s first ever half birthday on Boxing Day will be a heartbreaking day of absence. The sixth 26th without her, my worst day of each month. 

This Christmas, I will give and receive presents, eat my body weight in chocolate and watch cheesy TV in the company of those I love, but it will be done with a fractured and aching heart that doesn’t want to be there. It will be done with a mind that is thinking of Isobel in every second and of all the other babies who should be in the midst of happy families this Christmas. Isabella, Daire, Eden, Luke, Max, all the SANDS and Feileacain babies I have come to know, as well as the little lives who passed unnamed but just as mourned. Christmas will be done with a body that is completely exhausted from six gruelling months where every little thing I do is so so hard.

Remembering Isobel this Christmas is heavy and painful. The only thing I can imagine being worse, is that others will not remember her, that people will ignore that I had my first child in 2015, that she changed my life and that she is forever part of my family. Her absence means I need her existence to be acknowledged even more than if she were here. I always worry about seeming attention seeking but I hope this and similar Facebook posts are taken in the spirit of a grieving mother needing reassurance that her precious baby will not be forgotten. Words or gestures that remind us that Isobel is present in the minds of others mean everything to us. 

To those with their babies or children safely with them, I hope that reflections on the loss of a child are not too anxiety provoking and rather act as a reminder of how fortunate you are, even as your little ones are challenging or demanding! To those who are walking the path of child loss, I am with you, I am remembering, I will never forget.

Missing my person 

  

I started watching the first episode of the new season of Grey’s Anatomy tonight. Everything was fine until Jackson appeared and someone mentioned April, then it hit me like a truck – I remembered. I suddenly remembered watching the storyline where April and Jackson find out at a routine scan that their baby has a condition incompatible with life and decide to induce birth knowing the little one won’t survive (recap here). 

I was pregnant at the time of watching it. I remember Simon and I debating about whether to watch it but we’d already had our 20 week scan and our baby was perfect and I still lived in the world where bad things didn’t happen to me. So we watched, hearts aching for the characters but smug in our certainty that our baby would live. We watched as they said goodbye to their baby and we watched as their relationship fell apart in the aftermath. I remember judging how they were coping with it, criticising April for not letting Jackson support her emotionally, and being annoyed with Jackson for letting April push him away. What the fuck did I know? Judging these characters for their imperfect coping with the loss of their precious baby from my sanctimonious sofa with my healthy baby kicking inside me. 

In that split second tonight when remembering all of this, I fell apart. It was too much to bear that I’d watched that storyline for entertainment value, never imagining that I would live the nightmare of saying goodbye to my baby. It was too overwhelming that there had once been a me with pity but no understanding for those who had lost their child. I was unable to process the irrational thought that watching such horror while pregnant myself was surely just asking for trouble. I cried. Although I’ve cried at Grey’s Anatomy before, the crying tonight was nothing like those enjoyably gentle and connected tears of empathy when watching something sad. This was selfish, pitiful, heart broken crying for myself alone. These tears were about missing Isobel and all the parts of me that went with her. They were about facing a life where part of your heart and soul is irrevocably absent. They were about the fact that life is so hard now and nothing is simple. They were about having a problem that nothing and no one can ever ever fix. They were also about the fear that this worst loss imaginable could actually happen to us again. 

When I break like this I feel so angry with everyone too. I start to rage that my friends aren’t supportive enough or my family haven’t been in touch.  It’s like Isobel left this void and I both expect others to fill it and get annoyed with them that they can’t fill it. They can’t even touch it. How could they even attempt to? I compose angry messages in my head telling people how bad things are and asking for more support but the truth is I don’t even know what I want them to do differently. No one can really help because all I want is Isobel. I *may* have thrown my phone against the wall! I want to throw myself against a wall. I want to hurt myself. I want to hurt someone else. I want to kill someone. How is it possible to feel so sad and so angry and not actually explode with the force of it all? 

I have since calmed down, or been calmed down. Simon may feel helpless when I’m like this but his arms and his chest, his hold, his smell, his warmth will always eventually settle me. I feel so bad for the little bubs growing within. What a toxic cortisol filled body they are being nourished by. Isobel swam in perfectly contented bliss for much of her 39 weeks. This little one has barely known a moment of peace. Time to stop writing and do some abdominal breathing!  

To Dopple or Not To Dopple?! 

  
For the past month or so I’ve been debating whether or not to buy a Doppler to listen to the baby’s heartbeat at home. 

On one hand, I think it could be helpful reassurance when I’m worrying that the baby has died again! My scans are every Monday and I tend to feel reassured until Wednesday, or Thursday if it’s a good week! However by Thursday I’m convinced that the baby is dead, I feel ‘different’, that the sounds of my tummy rumbling sound different, that going to the toilet feels different, that my sore tummy is the first sign of miscarriage starting! In an ideal world if I could use the Doppler on a Thursday, be reassured that the baby is still alive, and then chill out until my next scan on Monday, then the Doppler would be a great idea. 

However I know it’s not that simple. Firstly not being medically trained, what if I can’t find the heartbeat? My consultant said that often the doctors get called to do scans when heartbeats can’t be found on Dopplers because of the baby’s position. If I failed to find the heartbeat would I end up running to the hospital all the time in a complete panic, maybe for no reason? What if the ability to check on the baby became a compulsion in response to my anxious thoughts, and I end up checking multiple times a day because the brief reassurance actually feeds my anxiety? I’ve also read about people being reassured about reduced movements by getting the heartbeat on Dopplers when their babies actually were in distress and they should have gone to hospital. 

Each time I’ve really considered what’s best for my mental health, I’ve decided not to get one. However in the middle of Wednesday or Thursday night I still find myself wishing desperately that I had one. 

I found out a couple of weeks ago that my placenta is anterior this time, this means that I am likely not to feel the baby move as early as I would otherwise, and the movements won’t feel as strong to me as they would if the placenta wasn’t in the way! This was really disappointing as I was counting down the weeks until I could feel the baby move and hoping that the baby would be very active to reassure me. I read some posts on a few forums about having an anterior placenta and some people don’t get strong consistent movement until after 30 weeks! The idea of that really freaked me out and made up my mind on the Doppler question. I decided to get one! 

I ordered the Hi Bebe BT200 LCD Doppler from a seller on eBay just yesterday and it’s already arrived for me to collect in my local Argos store! I’m going to give it a go tonight and try not to worry if I can’t find the heartbeat! I will bring it to my appointment on Monday and ask the midwife to show me the best way to use it. She’ll probably give out to me because I did already ask the doctor and she advised me not to get a Doppler but clearly I didn’t listen! I’m hoping it will help, but if it’s making my anxiety worse hopefully I will have enough insight to see that and get rid of it!! 

For anyone who has had a baby after loss, did you use a Doppler? Why or why not? Very interested in opinions on this! xx