So. Not. Impressed. With. Life.

  Sometimes when something tough happens, like my disagreement with my Dad, I’ll want to write about it. Sometimes though I feel like I can’t write, I don’t know what to say and it stops me from blogging about anything else then because there’s this big thing that I haven’t acknowledged. 

This time it’s that Simon’s mum, my mother-in-law, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. 

Writing that was hard. I have such a mix of emotions. I am so fucked off with life. I know that people get sick and people die but it’s just so much for Simon and I to have to deal with after losing Isobel and trying to manage the anxiety of this pregnancy too. Reading that sounds really selfish, like Simon’s mum being ill is all about me, about us. Of course I’m devastated for my lovely mother-in-law, the most vibrant and kind of women, so young at only 60. I’m heartbroken for Simon’s younger sister, with no relationship with her Dad and facing losing her Mum, the thought of her wedding in the future with neither parent is so sad. I’m scared for what my mother-in-law will have to face in terms of pain and disability as her body gets sicker. But as well as all that I’m angry that life couldn’t give Simon and I a year or two to grieve for Isobel and to get through this pregnancy before heaping another pile of crap all over us! I worry about the effect of another significant loss on Simon’s coping and subsequently on our relationship. 

But such is arbitrary and random life, there is no one deciding what is fair, who deserves what challenges and when. We have added it to our pile of ‘crap we have to get through’ and we’re plodding on. Plodding along surprisingly well and surprisingly together. I could/should/*will* write a whole relationship post. It hasn’t been easy but I think we’re doing a little better than we were. 
We’re waiting to see if they will offer Simon’s mum any treatment. The hope is they will offer something to extend her time with us. Meanwhile she came to a research scan I had scheduled, a project on high risk pregnancies. It was lovely that she got to see the little one. I’m 21 weeks now and all is looking good, as I write, the baby is kicking. There’s so much more I could talk about but I’ve written enough for now. 

  So that’s enough now life. No more bad news please. No more death and no more cancer. Our plates are officially full! 


Loss after Loss

 In the past I always had a good relationship with my Dad. He’s the type of parent that you felt could solve any problem. No matter what went wrong, I always knew that once I got my Dad involved it would be sorted out! The situation would either be problem solved, or there would be another way of looking at it that made it ok. 

Losing Isobel has been the first situation that my parents can’t resolve for me, either by fixing it or by changing my perspective. My Mum has responded to this with love and emotional support. My Dad however has struggled. ‘Struggled’ is me being charitable. On an emotional level my Dad has been useless – actually worse than useless, as he has actively hurt me on a number of occasions. Before I start that rant, I must say that my Dad quietly paid for Isobel’s funeral and our cemetery plot without being asked to. He helped me sort out my tax return when I couldn’t face it. He came and put a nail in the wall so we could hang a portrait we got for our wedding. If I needed something ‘done’, he would be the man to do it. If this practical support was accompanied by silence on the subject of Isobel, I think I could accept it without much upset. Unfortunately he has seen fit to express his views about the situation, all of which have been extremely hurtful to me. 

It started with him saying that Isobel “just wasn’t meant to be”. I can understand someone saying that about something that never happened, an unsuccessful job interview, putting a bid on a house that fell through or something like that. How he could think that about my perfectly grown, perfectly formed 7lb2 baby that when she died was four weeks older than my nephew (who my Dad adores) was when he was born, was beyond me. When he went on to talk about ‘fate’ I just explained that I didn’t believe in any of that and certainly there was no destiny or fate positive enough to make the experience of losing my first born daughter acceptable. 

Isobel became the elephant in the room. An unspoken change in our dynamic. When I phoned home and Dad answered, he would immediately pass the phone to Mum as if he were terrified to talk to me or ask how I was doing. Once I rang home upset and as usual he hastily got out of talking to me. Later he sent me a text with a joke about owls. I appreciated the sentiment but wondered at the emotional ability missing that he wasn’t able to text me saying “Sorry you were upset earlier, how are you doing now?” Other times he texts me about the progress of Arsenal, the football team that Simon, not me, supports. This is the sum total of most of our contact. 

When I found out I was pregnant again, I didn’t tell my parents for a time. When I told my Mum, we agreed not to tell my Dad for another couple of weeks. My Mum then told him I think when I was around 12 weeks. That was 7 weeks ago and not once has he mentioned my current pregnancy or asked me how I am feeling or coping. When I was at home over Christmas he offered me wine, when I said I wasn’t drinking he said “getting pissed” would probably do me good. It seemed like he couldn’t tolerate the thought of me being pregnant again and so was just pretending it wasn’t the case. 

All of this is nothing compared to what he came out with yesterday. It all started with the magazine below. This is the article about stillbirth that Simon and I were interviewed for in November but the magazine just came out this week.  

I brought it to show my parents, as its not available to buy in their area. My Dad declined to look at the magazine and then progressed on to a monologue about how we shouldn’t still be talking about Isobel and dwelling on it, concluding that this was unhealthy.  In his opinion, we should have drawn a line under her death and moved on by now (bear in mind it has been just over six months since Isobel died). His opinion was that the days when stillborn babies were immediately removed from parents and never spoken of again were much better. He made some horrible comments about the fact that we spent four days with Isobel before she was buried and said that he thought this was damaging for us and was probably the reason we weren’t over it yet. He talked about her and how she looked as if she was a monster, saying her face still gives him nightmares and he wishes he wasn’t forced to see her body. He couldn’t believe the magazine printed her picture, saying it would terrify people. He said she wasn’t a real person as she never lived and therefore should not be grieved. 

Where do I start with all of that?! I tried to explain that in the days people didn’t hold their babies or talk about stillbirth they were still devastated and heartbroken, just silently, and that they probably developed greater psychological difficulties as a result of the repression. I explained that I never have nightmares about Isobel’s face as its not an image I try to avoid or push away, unlike him, which is why it’s one that comes up for him unwanted. I said that it benefits Simon and I to talk about Isobel and to speak about stillbirth as it helps us to feel that her short life could still impact the world in a positive way. It felt like a pointless discussion though, where my views were not being listened to. 

  The icing on the cake was my Dad saying that if I want this baby to survive I need to eat meat, and how unhealthy it is to be a vegetarian. Clearly the implication of this is that Isobel died because I didn’t eat meat during her pregnancy. Of course I know this is complete nonsense. I eat perfectly well and my iron levels are always high. Isobel had no growth problems and all her organs were perfectly developed. She was a healthy baby, killed by a crappy placenta that stopped working. It still was so hurtful that he would blame me in that way for my baby’s death. By my Mum’s reaction it was clearly a view he had expressed to her previously. 

I held it together until I left my parents’ house and then still while I drove home. Once I got home though I was really upset. I am working so hard everyday to try and cope in healthy ways, to express my emotions, to process my feelings, to confront challenging situations – it’s exhausting. To have that criticised by one of the people who should be cheering me on, so proud that I am still functioning, was really devestating. I can tolerate the idea that Dad is grieving too and lacks the emotional literacy to communicate that, so has convinced himself that pretending she never existed is best for him and would be best for us. I just don’t know if I can forget the things he said. I feel like I’ve lost my Dad as well as losing Isobel. 

Releasing 2015 

These prompts came from a ‘Releasing 2015’ worksheet from Crazy Good Grief. It suggested reflecting on the following topics as a way of letting go of the past year and continuing in a healing direction. This is probably even duller than my other posts for others to read – it was more for me, sorry if it’s totally tedious! Feel free to borrow the questions though!

What were you blessed with in 2015?
As I’ve said before, the last six months of my pregnancy with Isobel were for the most part incredibly joyous. Of course it’s harder to think about blessings from after Isobel died.

I’m thankful that were able to have a beautiful humanist funeral for Isobel and choose somewhere picturesque for her to be buried. I’m glad that Simon shares my lack of religious belief. I can’t tolerate religion and can’t imagine being in a relationship with someone who believes in a god. I’m grateful that I have a job which allowed me to take two months maternity leave and four months sick leave on full pay, with colleagues who have been nothing but understanding and supportive.

Mostly I’ve been blessed with love and support from people. My mum and my sister have been amazing particularly, as someone who would have tended to rely on friends rather than family this has been a pleasant revelation. I have one group of best friends that I did my doctorate with thus they are all psychologists – collectively and individually they have cried with me, made me laugh and disgusted me with dirty sex talk on our what’s app group! I honestly don’t know where I’d be without them. My other group of best friends are a little less psychologically minded but they have been wonderful too, arranging afternoon teas and cinema trips and most recently and unexpectedly contributing to the cost of Isobel’s headstone. 

I wouldn’t consider Simon and I to be one of the couples that I read about who are stronger after the loss of a child. We have really struggled and still do. But I am thankful that I have an emotionally intelligent husband who is not afraid to show that he has been broken by our daughter’s death and who can talk with me about our challenges. He comes to the support group and the psychologist with me and I know not all partners are able to do that. 

My greatest blessing since losing Isobel has been falling pregnant again. It’s been so difficult and anxiety provoking that I know I haven’t been seeing it as a blessing. However if this pregnancy has a positive outcome it will be the greatest gift anyone has been given. 

What actions have you taken to promote healing?

  • Writing this blog and sharing a little on FB 
  • Seeing the psychologist in the maternity hospital 
  • Attending SANDS parent support groups
  • Connecting with other bereaved parents online
  • Participating in Capture Your Grief
  • Ways of incorporating Isobel’s memory at home – pictures, candle, decorations at Christmas 
  • Sharing with friends when struggling or if something has upset me 
  • Starting to run and do yoga again (sadly both abandoned when I found out I was pregnant)
  • Reading novels
  • Meditating (occasionally)

How did you change this year?

I’m still unfortunatly at the stage (at least I hope it’s a stage!) where all the changes I can see in myself are negative ones. I am experiencing anxiety symptoms that I’ve never felt before. I am much more judgemental and less tolerant of others – strangers and friends. I am quicker to anger and feel less in control of my actions when I’m angry. I can’t have a fight with Simon without thinking we are heading towards divorce – in fact I think pretty catastrophically about most things. I find it hard to be happy for other people especially in relation to fertility and pregnancy. I am struggling to accept my body and I take much less care of it than I used to. I sleep poorly. I’m worried about how all these changes affect my ability to be a good wife and friend, to be a good psychologist and mostly to be a good mother if I am lucky enough to get the chance to raise a baby. 

What are your strengths and greatest assets?

I think I’m quite good at accepting my emotional state for whatever it is, and for letting thoughts come and go without too much judgement. I don’t tend to dwell on guilt or self blame for Isobel’s death. 

I’ve been able to express many of my thoughts and feelings with words, either through talking to people or writing. I’m getting better at reaching out when I need help. 

I think I’ve been brave and resisted avoiding things that are hard, even visiting babies and listening to a friend talk about her labour experience. I’ve tried to participate in normal life as much as possible, to go out and see friends even when I haven’t wanted to.

I’ve faced the challenge of a new pregnancy head on and ensured I have all the right medical support which was harder than it may sound! I’ve learned to inject myself daily and am putting up with a bruised tummy in the hopes that it will help save this baby. 

How have you been able to forgive yourself, others, and your loved one this year? 

I try to practice compassion towards myself and others. If I notice myself thinking self-critical thoughts I acknowledge them but I let them go. I know that I did the best I could do and made all the best decisions I could at the time. With others I ‘choose to hear love’ when people get it wrong and remind myself of their good intentions or more recently (if I think it will be helpful) I tell them how they’ve made me feel in a non-confrontational way. It’s interesting to consider forgiving Isobel. I do think I’ve experienced thoughts of anger towards her for not being born earlier or letting me know something was wrong. As with the thoughts of blaming myself, I notice them but don’t get stuck on them. I think my natural rationality helps here, thoughts like that simply don’t make any sense.  

Are there actions/behaviours that you engaged in that were harmful or hurtful to yourself or others?

Generally I feel that my coping responses have been pretty adaptive. Since falling pregnant again though I have been really physically lazy! At the beginning I was scared to move while the pregnancy was establishing itself. Now it’s just pure laziness. I know I need to start moving again and try and get my body in the best condition possible for labour and post-baby recovery. Similarly with food I am trying to eat good food for the baby but I am eating way too much junk in addition to the good food! 

There have been a couple of times where I’ve not been proud of my actions when angry. Once I threw my phone against the wall in a momentary rage, something that was so unlike me and really took me by surprise. Another time I kicked over the clothes horse and washing! Expressing my anger in a physical way has never been my style and it’s something I don’t want to see continue. 

What do you need to release and let go of to move towards 2016? 

I know I need to let go of my fear that this baby will die and begin to attach to this pregnancy. When there is a realistic chance this baby will die though I don’t know how I can do that.

I need to let go of my cares about what other people think of my getting pregnant again so quickly and what this says about how I’m grieving for Isobel. I know that my love for Isobel will not be left behind regardless of what happens in 2016.  

I need to accept where Simon is in his grief for Isobel and that he is not able to be excited about this pregnancy either. Although I feel the same, this response in him can annoy me and I wish one of us were positive and enthusiastic but I have to accept that neither of us are just now.

I think I have to let go too of my desire to grieve perfectly, linearly and quickly and accept that my grief will be messy and there’s no way to rush it.  

So that’s it! According to Crazy Good Grief I am a beautiful healing warrior goddess. So I’m going to go with that! Love to all my fellow beautiful healing warrior goddesses x