Oh Isobel. When you died, straight away I decided that I never wanted anyone to be able to say that you ruined my life; that your impact on me was overwhelmingly negative. This meant I had to try. I had to get up, get dressed, go out. I had to exercise. I had to see people. I had to write, to talk, to connect. I had to function, even when the effort level required felt like more than I could bear. Some things are easier now, some things are still hard, some are still impossibly hard. But still I am trying.
I can’t promise you that I will always appreciate the huge gift of simply being alive. I can’t promise that I will always be happy or kind or loving. I can’t promise that at any given moment, someone observing wouldn’t see me struggling, flailing, failing. But I can promise you that I will always try.
This prompt is about spreading kindness. I have been rubbish and haven’t done anything specifically to write about but I did do something a few days ago which I know my friend appreciated. NSPCC are running a fundraising promotion where you can sponsor one of the Christmas lights on Oxford Street in London. I named one for my friend’s little baby son who was lost to miscarriage and sent her the picture. Sadly her experience has been that miscarriage is even less acknowledged than stillbirth and I know it meant a lot to her that I was thinking of her little baby, that she got to see his name in print and that she can imagine a wee star named for him shining down all through the Christmas season.
So many people have been kind to me when I’ve really needed it, I feel I have so much more awareness of how to give away my love by experiencing the love that has been given to me.
I’ve written before about having thoughts of responsibility and blame for Isobel’s death that make me feel guilty. For me this adds such an extra challenging dynamic to the grief of the loss itself. The fact is that Isobel was herself a perfectly healthy baby and had I realised something was wrong, and gone to the hospital sooner, we quite possibly may have been able to save her.
I had known about kick counting during my pregnancy and had counted her kicks a number of times when I was unsure about movements before, and even gone to hospital twice with what I perceived were reduced movements only to be told everything was fine. But counting the kicks wasn’t something I did every day. I would like to think I would have noticed if her movements had reduced before she died but honestly I don’t remember the day before, and what the movements were like. Why didn’t I take just half an hour to monitor movements every day? It sounds so stupid now, but even when the doctors talked about monitoring movements no one actually said “There is a risk your baby could die”. I genuinely didn’t think healthy babies could die at 39 weeks in low risk pregnancies with no complications.
Our post-mortem showed that Isobel was starved of oxygen over a six hour period which I believe happened over night but maybe there were signs the day before that I missed. The night before, we went for a walk and I was a little sore. Instead of being concerned, I was excited, thinking this could be the start of labour. The pain didn’t progress and went away so I didn’t think any more about it. Now I’m tormented by that pain, was that the start of the placenta giving up on Isobel? What would have happened if I had gone to get checked out that night? How could my baby be struggling, suffocating, dying inside me and I didn’t know anything was wrong? How was I so neglectful? Where was my mother’s intuition?
It makes me sick that I went for lunch that next day with my NCT group. Five of the women had their babies with them and two of us were still pregnant. I held all those babies, so excited that I would be holding mine soon. How could I not have realised that she wasn’t alive? It was when I was having lunch that I started to think that I hadn’t felt any proper movements aside from the mild contractions I was having. When I got home I had a cold drink and lay down and didn’t feel anything. Even then I still wasn’t that worried because this had happened twice before and everything was fine when I went to the hospital, but I thought I better go and get checked out. Simon and I sat waiting in the hospital for two hours before we were seen. We were so unconcerned that we didn’t make a fuss about the wait, we sat there debating names and chatting as normal. How was I so naïve? I look back and I absolutely cannot understand how I was so blasé about my child’s life.
I didn’t intend this post to be a whole confessional but maybe this is something I have needed to write. I know people will say that I didn’t know any different, I had no reason to think she was going to die and maybe I couldn’t have saved her anyway if the placenta stopped working acutely. I know all these things. I have told myself all these things. But none of that changes how I feel.
In the model of psychology I practice (ACT) we try to recognise that thoughts are just stories our mind tells us. We don’t get in to debates about how true or not they are, but instead think about whether getting hooked on a particular thought or story is helpful for us and encourages us to live according to our values. I recognise that the ‘It’s my fault’ story is so unhelpful and adds unnecessary suffering to a loss that would be painful enough without these extra layers. But even as a psychologist, I just don’t know how to let this story go. 16 months on from losing Isobel, it’s the main aspect of the loss that I feel I have made absolutely zero progress in dealing with.
Our messy house, full of love, with Isobel’s pictures always present on the wall. Our messy hearts, full of love, with Isobel always present.
Kindness. A hundred little acts of kindness from lovely people reminding me that although awful things happen, there is much more good in the world than bad. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
These are just a few recent messages of support. Seeing her name is more healing than they could ever know.
Finish these five sentences…⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I wish…every day that I could go back and do something differently to save her.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I remember…thinking this can’t be real because nothing bad ever happens to me.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I could not believe…how close I was to having everything I ever wanted. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
If only… I had realised something was wrong, sooner. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I am…finding it very hard to forgive myself.
I was a lot of good and admirable things before Isobel but I wasn’t a mother. I didn’t understand the love that I would have for my baby girl, how I would do anything to protect her and how when I was no longer able to protect her in life, that I would become someone who would face anything to protect her memory, her legacy.
I have become someone who speaks publicly about the most personal of things with little hesitation. I have become someone who overshares on social media because I need to remind people that she existed and that she mattered. I have become someone who complains, about maternity care and the treatment of bereaved parents, someone who sets up focus groups and support services. I have become someone who has no difficulty with being assertive regardless of the audience. Such is the fierceness that Isobel gave me when she made me a mother.
If I could choose, there are definitely aspects of the ‘before’ me that I would like back. The easy optimism, a general compassion for myself, the (slightly increased) tolerance of others, confidence in groups/crowds, the capacity to have fun and feel joy without there always being at least a tinge of sadness and guilt. Another thing from ‘before’ that I would be over the moon to have back would be my ability to sleep well – although my nightmares have improved significantly, quietening my mind and getting to sleep is still a real challenge.
Who am I becoming? Someone who is still figuring out how to be a mother to two children with very different needs. Someone who is still hoping to regain some of her old self while retaining some of the strength that her first baby gave her. I am becoming someone who has made her daughter’s death a part of her story but not the end of it.
Someone posted Invictus during Capture Your Grief last year and I really fell in love with it. Yes it’s a little cheesy (sorry William Ernest Henley) but I love the language it uses and how powerful the words are. I have it saved as a bookmark on my safari and I read it frequently – in a very dramatic inner voice of course!
It reminds me that though I cannot choose what happens to me in my life, I can always choose how I respond to it and move forward. I do feel proud of how I have dealt with losing Isobel and how I have faced the most difficult of things with bravery and determination. Not to say I haven’t been a pathetic mess many many times too, but I know I am stronger than I could have imagined I would be. To be the captain of our own soul, what more could anyone want?
Sooooooooo relationships. I tried to write this post all day yesterday but it felt too big and all encompassing to know where to start. I would say that all of my relationships have changed, partly because I have changed since losing Isobel, but partly I think because relationships do change as we get older and become parents anyway. Some have deteriorated, some are stronger than ever. Those that have grown deeper now feel pretty indestructible which is a nice feeling. I have been pleasantly surprised by the degree of support and thoughtfulness from some people I wouldn’t necessarily have expected it from. I think going forward I would like to see my relationships get back to having a little more fun and enjoyment again.
My relationship with Simon has been through major trials since Isobel was born. There were definitely times when as much as we loved each other, I was sure we would be one of those post-baby loss divorce statistics. Of course we still could be, but now I feel much less concerned about that. I feel like now we know entirely everything about each other and have been through the very worst of times together, nothing else in the future will be as challenging. I have so much love and admiration for him, for how he loved Isobel so freely in death as in life, how he coped with losing her, how he supported me and how he never once made me feel like he held me responsible for what happened. I still don’t really understand how he doesn’t blame me. Seeing him with Theo makes my heart melt and I feel proud that I picked such an amazing father for my babies. Plus I still think he’s really hot and after almost seven years together I think that’s pretty good going!
Obviously I will never know what kind of mother I would have been had Isobel lived. I suspect though that my relationship with Theo has been massively affected by my previous loss. Instead of having infinite patience and appreciation as you might predict, I think that I have less patience with Theo than I would have expected. I get really frustrated when he cries and feel like I need to be able to make him better immediately or I just want to give
(Sorry I deleted this after posting on Instagram before posting here so the rest is screenshot of Instagram post!)
As horrible as it sounds I’m grateful that I’m not the only person whose baby died. I’m thankful that there is a baby loss community, filled with inspiring parents who grieve and love yet create meaning and live. I’m relieved that times have moved on and people are able to speak about baby loss. I’m glad I live in the age of the internet where this baby loss community is instantly accessible – a message on a FB group on a bad day will get empathic and comforting replies in a matter of minutes; a Capture Your Grief project where I can read hundreds of stories of people living after loss; a wave of light hashtag with 42,000 pictures this year. I have never had to feel alone in my distress, in my missing of Isobel – those other 41,999 people are missing their children too. And here we all are, supporting each other, carrying on, living this life that we never would have chosen and trying to make the very best of it that we can. I think that’s amazing. If you’re reading this, I think you’re awesome.