Things I’m feeling guilty for…

I’m conscious that I haven’t written a blog post for ages! There have been times I’ve wanted to but I just haven’t made the effort. It seems like what I need to write at the minute is a list of things I’m feeling guilty for, in no particular order!!! 

Things I’m feeling guilty for 

– Ignoring my blog

– I haven’t been to Isobel’s grave since Christmas Eve. This is terrible. I hate seeing her pretty name on the grave. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do there. Am I supposed to cry? Am I supposed to talk to her? I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to picture her rotting body which is what I tend to do. Should I go more often to get over this association? Should I only go when I really want to? What if that means I never go? 

– I didn’t make any effort for Theo for Easter. I saw all these babies on Instagram with Easter outfits and bunnies and it literally never even occurred to me to do anything for him. Am I neglecting both my children?

– Theo being in nursery long days. 

– My friend told me last night she is pregnant with twins! It was a huge surprise as she hasn’t been with her boyfriend for that long and I thought they might get engaged first. I am happy for her and really excited…but I’m also jealous of her naïveté, her excitement and honestly some part of me almost wants something bad to happen so that she knows how it feels. She was saying about how she has to tell our other friend separately as she has been through cancer and it looks like her fertility has been negatively affected. It didn’t seem to occur to her that I would have complicated feelings to a pregnancy announcement now that I have Theo. But I do. 

– We’re planning Theo’s first birthday. I want to be excited and happy, and I am, but I feel sick about it too. As Theo gets older, Isobel’s death and absence gets starker. Why is she not here? 

– I’ve barely even thought about Isobel’s anniversary. 

– I still haven’t printed out never mind framed, any photos of Theo. 

– Simon and I aren’t getting on as well as I would like. Sometimes we’re fine but other times we are really horrible to each other and that’s more often than I would like. I love how he is with Theo, he’s the best dad ever, but I don’t feel like we have much fun together anymore. This worries me. He’s quite insecure at the minute and says he gets the feeling I’m not ‘in love’ with him anymore. I probably should be making more of an effort to make him feel loved but I kinda can’t be bothered either which makes me worry if he’s right? 

[ Related ]

– Theo was sick and Simon wanted me to take him to the doctor again, I didn’t think it was necessary. Simon said “We have a habit of thinking things are ok when they’re not…”. I took this to relate to Isobel. The night before she died I had a little pain while out for a walk. I was excited thinking it was the beginning of labour. Simon said we should go to hospital, I brushed it off thinking there was no need until the pain was regular / worse. It went away. The next day there was no movement and she was dead. 

– Isobel died. 
– I let Isobel die. 

– I didn’t prevent her from dying. 

– I did this to myself, to Simon, to our family, to Theo. 

– I’m letting it affect me. 

– I’m letting it affect me too much. 

– I’m not letting it affect me enough. 

– I don’t know what to do with this. 

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Today you are nine months old

Dear Theo,

today on Monday the 13th of February 2017, you are nine months old. 

That might not seem like a long existence but already you have taught me a great deal about myself, what I am capable of, and how to deal with life’s challenges. 
Being pregnant with you was the scariest time of my whole life, I was so worried we would lose you. I had to learn how to be scared – every minute of every day – but still carry on with life, go to work, see friends and cook dinner, when all I really wanted to do was hibernate and hope the weeks would pass. I learned how important it is to keep active, to exercise and to always have lovely treats to look forward to! Every Monday, Daddy and I would go and see the doctor for a scan to see how you were doing. Every week we were sure that this would be the week we were told you were either dead or dying. We used to sit in the waiting room feeling sick, with our hearts racing, holding each other’s sweaty hands. I learned that no matter how scared I was, it didn’t have to stop me from doing something, I could be scared and still do whatever it was that was terrifying me, like going back to the maternity hospital or to pregnancy yoga. Often it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, the power of my imagination worse than the reality. Now I can’t imagine being too scared to do anything that’s important to me; I know I can face any fear. You taught me that.

When you were born, you were so small and perfect. New to the world, you had everything to learn. I’ve watched how you’ve grown and changed, how every day you manage something that just yesterday you couldn’t do. I’ve seen that growth doesn’t happen by accident, you work so hard for every ounce of development you achieve. I watch you try to do something tricky, you can’t do it and yet you try again and again, sometimes falling over and getting hurt (when I am too slow to stop you!) and other times frustrating yourself. I think “That baby is crazy, why doesn’t he realise he can’t do it, and give up?”  But you are so determined. Every attempt leaves you that tiniest bit stronger – it’s such slow progress it’s imperceptible. But then one day you are strong enough and you manage it. Lifting your head up, rolling over, sitting up, feeding yourself, crawling, these are all skills that didn’t just arrive fully formed, you worked hard for them, day after day. I’ve realised there isn’t really a first time for rolling over, or sitting up or crawling – there are hundreds of attempts that get closer and closer and then evolve in to the realisation of the milestone. I see this is the same for me and the things I want to achieve, the ways I want to grow and change. Instead of thinking of failed attempts and giving up, I need to think of practice, and getting stronger over time until it comes with the ease you now have with rolling and sitting, as if they were things you could always do. 

Right now you are trying to walk. All you want to do is stand up and be walked around the room. You are so unsteady and need a lot of support. You keep taking massive steps that unbalance you! It’s hard to imagine how you will ever be able to balance and take those steps on your own. But I know that you will keep trying until you master it and that some day you will be walking and running and jumping as if you were never nine months old and unable to stand unaided. You are my inspiration little one. 

You are so good at living in the moment baba. This is mostly a helpful skill to keep. When something unpleasant is over and you are distracted, it is instantly forgotten, the perpetrator immediately forgiven and all is right with the world. It always amazes me how quickly you go from crying to laughing. Your little face that was so sad lights up, and the eyes that were wet with tears are now crinkled with mirth. Something I need to work on is letting hurtful things go, not holding on to resentments, and enjoying the good moments without always feeling a tinge of sadness for what has gone before. 

Sometimes though I wish you could understand that your hard times won’t last too long. You hate getting your nappy changed – especially when it’s dirty as it takes a bit longer! You hate having to lie down as you like to be sitting up and seeing what is going on! If you only knew that it would only take a minute or two I think you would find it easier. It makes me think of how the same is true for me. Often when I’m struggling with something hard like feeling sad, or worried or guilty, part of the problem is that I think I might always feel that way. I am trying to think of your nappy changes and that “this too shall pass”. I can cope better with hard things when I stay in the present and remember that I won’t always feel that way. I think of how sometimes you are so cross with being changed that you try to wriggle away, bat your arms and kick your legs! It actually makes the nappy change take longer than if you just lay there still (also it can get poo everywhere!). I think sometimes I fight back with my emotions and can make things worse than if I just accepted them for what they are and dealt with them. 

Daddy and I are learning to be playful again. That is something we lost when Isobel was born asleep. Once we thought we might never laugh again, but you are so funny though wee Theo that you make us laugh every single day. We don’t care how silly we look or how awful our singing is, if it makes you laugh we will look like fools! Your little giggle is so infectious and it’s without a doubt my favourite sound in the world. 

Already we know you are a very clever boy little monkey. Another thing you are very good at is seeking help. If you can’t do something or get somewhere you want to get, if you’re hurt or upset, you cry out straight away. Now you also know to lift your arms up and yell when you want to be picked up. I don’t know why we lose that skill as we get older. Sometimes I’m so sad or lonely and all I want is to let someone know that I need help, what I should do is cry out straight away like you do, and lift up my arms to the people that I know are there. For some reason I stop myself from doing this, maybe because I don’t want people to think I’m not coping. I think I should take my lead from you and call for help at the first sign of trouble! I love that you are so confident that someone will come when you cry. I hope you always know that I and others will drop everything to help you when you need it, all you need to do is shout. 

Daddy and I are not the Mummy and Daddy we would have been to Isobel if she were here. We are different in some bad ways but maybe in some good ways too. We try and appreciate every moment with you little one, even when you are being a little terror or it’s 5am and we still haven’t been to sleep! We know we are so lucky to have you. 

We love you so much precious Theo, not just for coming along at a time we were sad and bringing us joy, but for your smiley sweet stubborn snuggley little self. 

You are now crying upstairs as Daddy is putting you to bed so I better go and help!!!!

All my love,

Mummy. 

P.S you’ve been saying ‘dada’ for months now, I think it’s time to say ‘mama’! 

Still Parents

Quite early after losing Isobel I read about healing retreats for bereaved mothers and felt it would be so helpful and lovely to go to one. However I couldn’t find any in Northern Ireland or even the UK. After talking to Simon about it, we decided we could plan our own, with a focus on including fathers and the relationship between the couple after loss. Next came pregnancy with Theo and the idea didn’t have any room to grow amongst my anxiety addled brain! When he was born though I started to think about it seriously again and put it all together, and ‘Still Parents’ was born. I am thinking of it as my fourth baby, my service in work being my first, Isobel and Theo my second and third! 

You can find all the information about the retreat on the Events page of our Still Parents Facebook page. Even if you are not in Northern Ireland, feel free to have a look at the content as I think it’s really excellent and it’s something that could easily be replicated elsewhere. 

So please like our Still Parents page and say hello! 

Our logo with Isobel’s wee feet 💕

 Wasn’t Meant To Be

I had both “It wasn’t meant to be” and “Everything happens for a reason” in the same enlightening conversation today. I just smiled and agreed. This was what I should have said!

…………………………………………………..

Please don’t tell me “It wasn’t meant to be.” ‘It’ is a ‘she’ and she is my daughter. 
She was not a job interview that I didn’t get, or a house that I wanted to buy but was outbid on. She was seven pounds two ounces of perfect baby girl, created and grown with all my love and dreams of the future. 

She wasn’t not meant to be, she *was*. What wasn’t meant to be, was her death. 

I understand you want to believe there is a reason. To think that there is order, fairness. What’s for you won’t go past you. What goes around comes around. Good things happen to good people. Bad people get what they deserve. Maybe you go so far as believing in karma, or a god who oversees our life paths. 

I’m sorry to tell you we live in a world where desperately wanted babies die and other babies are born to be abandoned or abused and broken, by people abused and broken themselves. A world where some people are obese from excess food consumption and others are starving to death – where some people have so much money they couldn’t hope to spend it all in many lifetimes, and others live in doorways and eat waste out of bins. We live in a world where people’s homes are washed away by floods while their fellow humans on a different spot on the globe pray for rain. We live in a world where some people get sick and die far too young, and others live until old age. We live in a world where unspeakably awful things happen to people who have lived careful lives, while people who have been reckless or harmful to others prosper. 
There is no order, only chaos. There is no reason, only senselessness and random chance. There is no intelligent design, only the fragility of life, evolved to be only as good as it can be. Nothing is meant to be, or not to be, there is only what is. 

Facing Fears

Like every parent, I have a fear of something bad happening to my child. Isobel was my first baby so I don’t know how strong those fears are in normal circumstances, compared to mine in a world where my daughter dying was an actual reality. While I do freak out at times, and picture Theo’s death or shake him a little to check he’s still alive, I know that I haven’t been as anxious about him dying since he was born as I was during his pregnancy. The Snuza breathing monitor that I thought I wouldn’t be able to do without, remains unopened. I leave him upstairs asleep for brief times without even a regular baby monitor, knowing I will hear him if he cries. I have left him overnight with my parents on two occasions and have also let my friend babysit him for a few hours. I have moved on from purées and given him foods that I know he could conceivably choke on and watched him gag as he tries to manoeuvre it around his mouth. 

New Year’s Eve however was the most challenging experience yet when Simon and I took Theo up a mountain (Cavehill in Belfast)! Simon was wearing Theo in the baby carrier and obviously was very careful with his footing but I was really terrified that he was going to fall with the mud, or be knocked over by one of the mountain bikers that were whizzing down the mountain, or equally by one of the joyful dogs bounding around, or even that I would fall and knock Simon down! On the way up, approaching a narrow ledge that wound around the hill (this part is called The Devil’s Punchbowl, you can kind of see in the picture below – but I swear it seems worse in person!) I told Simon I was too anxious, I couldn’t do it and that we would have to go back.

 

Simon pretty much ignored me and kept on going! Cue lots of deep breathing and practicing of repeatedly bringing my mind back to the present moment every time it ran away to the most catastrophic of scenarios. Every now and again, Simon would turn and smile reassuringly and say we were nearly at the top. I would thank him and tell him to turn the fuck around and watch where he was going! 

We have climbed so many metaphorical mountains since finding out that Isobel had died that day in June 2015. Putting one foot in front of the other again and again even when we wanted to give up, treading as carefully as we can, but still taking risky chances, knowing that is the only way of moving forward and living the kind of life that we want to live. On New Year’s Eve the mountain was real, the ache was in our legs rather than our hearts, the fear of falling, of something bad happening to our baby, enough to make me want to turn back. But with encouragement and a reminder of the reward, I kept going and eventually we made it to the top! 


Was it worth it? Well it was bloody feeezing and so windy! But there was a good sense of achievement that was pretty sweet and some justification for all the chocolate consumption later that night! 

The big difference between Cavehill and my metaphorical mountain is that in the world of life after the loss of a child, I don’t imagine there is ever a top to my metaphorical mountain. Maybe plateaus and times of easier terrain or rest. But there won’t ever be a sense of being done with the struggle, taking a pitcure, saying we made it, it’s all downhill from here. 

That’s the thing that I don’t think anyone except another bereaved parent understands. To more or less of an extent, every day for the rest of our lives, we will be trekking up that mountain of life without Isobel. 

Lost Levity 

Simon and I took Theo to a ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ baby sensory class at the weekend which was lots of fun.

At one point, a couple beside us were playing with a balloon. The dad bopped the mum on the head with the balloon and laughing, she grabbed it and bopped him back. Something I really notice when we’re out with (what I perceive to be) normal/non-loss parents is that Simon and I have lost a lot of our lightness and playfulness that we once had with each other. 

Although we really try to interact with Theo in a fun and joyful way – Simon is a lot better at this than me – I don’t think we make the same effort with each other anymore. Silly things like play fighting, tickling or teasing each other which we used to do would just seem really alien now. I feel like we’ve become an old married couple years and years before our time because of the weight of grief and everything we’ve been through. Sometimes Simon makes me laugh and I notice how strange it seems and unusual even though I laugh at Theo all the time. 

I don’t really have anything profound to say on this topic! It’s just something I’ve noticed and I wonder if our levity is something we can ever get back?  

Lucid Dreams and Making Connections

I’ve always had a pretty vivid imagination and would tend to have nightmares at times of stress. Since losing Isobel, my nightmares have become crazily detailed with intricate plot lines that seem to span hours of time. They aren’t recurring in the sense that it’s the same storyline over and over, however there does tend to be a theme of death or imminent death and me either being powerless, or trying desperately in vain to stop it from happening. This theme is apparent even in my normal dreams where I’ll be trying to make a phone call and repeatedly press the wrong button on the keypad or I’ll be trying to drive a car but from the back seat. 

My normal nightmares don’t bother me too much, if they gets too intense I can wake myself up and I don’t tend to be upset after them. On a number of occasions however I have had lucid nightmares, where I know I’m having a nightmare and yet I can’t change it, stop it, or wake myself up. If my other dreams feel like hours, these ones feel like days of pure torture. I am paralysed, completely unable to act, I scream but don’t make a sound. I know that it’s a nightmare and that it’s not real but the feeling of being trapped is so real. Sometimes I think I’ve managed to wake up but then the nightmare starts again and I realise I’m still asleep. These dreams are horrible and when I wake up my heart is racing, my body filled with tension and my throats feels raw from screaming even though I haven’t really made a sound. It takes me a few minutes to accept that I’m awake now and it’s over. Then I don’t want to close my eyes again or go back to sleep. Simon is normally woken up by my gasping and we have a cuddle and I have a cry. 

I was chatting to a psychologist friend about the most recent lucid dream I had last week. We were talking about the sense of powerlessness in the dreams and  how that of course connects with Isobel’s death and my inability to do anything to save her. We were talking about different trauma therapies and how it might be helpful to see a therapist to help me process this a bit more. 

I was imagining myself being free of nightmares, these trauma symptoms being gone and it made me realise that I still feel like I deserve these symptoms. In connection with my beliefs of my own responsibility for not saving Isobel, some part of me thinks that having to experience these distressing dreams is a fitting punishment. In a strange way, my ongoing emotional difficulties are also my ongoing connection with Isobel. If I’m fine, if I have no more distress, then is it just like Isobel never existed at all? 

I know this doesn’t really make sense, or at least only makes a kind of sense. Which makes me realise just how complicated people and minds are! 

I’ve been googling lucid dreams and I think the strategy is to learn to control the events of the dreams so maybe that’s something to work on! Any one else suffer from nightmares? Any tips? 

We Keep This Love In A Photograph 


These are some of the photographs of Isobel that we have in our living room, there is another single one on the TV unit and another in the hall. So far, we don’t actually have any pictures of Theo printed out or on display! 

My mum asked me recently if I could print her this picture of Theo as the ones she has up in her house aren’t her favourites and she liked this one. I found myself feeling really angry, and not understanding why until I thought about it later. My mum and dad only have one picture of Isobel in their house and mum deliberately picked the one below that you can’t really see Isobel in. My dad has said before that he doesn’t feel comfortable seeing pictures of Isobel so I think mum has avoided putting one up because of him and maybe other visitors too. 


Even though I understand why, I am cross that one of my children is good enough to be displayed by their grandparents and one of them is not. To me, they are equal, but this photograph issue and so many other things remind me constantly that to the eyes of others, Theo matters and Isobel does not. 

I feel angry and sad that we don’t have more pictures of Isobel. Even though we took literally hundreds of pictures in the four days we had with her, if there aren’t already more pictures of Theo, there soon will be. Our house will be filled with images of Theo, in different poses and clothes, different places and seasons, getting older and older (I hope!), but there will never, ever, be any more pictures of Isobel. Those hospital photos, that one babygrow, that look of pure trauma on our faces, are all we will ever have. I think I’ve resisted putting up pictures of Theo because I don’t want him to overtake Isobel on our walls, in the same way a mother with two living children wouldn’t have significantly more pictures of one than the other. I also have more of a need to see Isobel’s face in pictures, as I can see Theo’s adorable wee face any time. 

We are moving house soon, we are buying our first house (how I feel about moving from this one may be another post). I am definitely going to put up some pictures of Theo when we move. I just don’t know how I will feel when we have more of Theo than of Isobel. 

Capture Your Grief: Day 31 – Sunset Reflection

I’ve been very involved with Baby Loss Awareness month this year. As well as completing Capture Your Grief, I did an interview for a local newspaper, had an article published on Still Mothers that was shared on Facebook over 1000 times, attended the screening of Still Loved where my husband spoke on the Q and A panel and presented my therapeutic retreat proposal to a SANDS committee to successfully secure funding.

As wonderful and worthy as all of that is, and as much as I love being able to talk about Isobel and share her story, it is really draining too. The flip side of every experience of speaking out or sharing something is that ache in my chest, that sick feeling in my throat, the sadness that I am doing this because my baby died. I swing between embracing this life that I’m living, and feeling extreme resentment that this is my experience. I move between the numbness of it almost not seeming real and the gut wrenching reality slap that it actually happened. And in lots of ways is still happening on a daily basis.

There is no doubt that many things are easier than they were last year. I’m sure to people on the outside, I seem back to my normal self a lot of the time. And that’s not a wholly false perception. I feel so different than the old me but yet more recognisable to myself than I was last year. I’ve gotten used to having part of my mind always thinking hard thoughts and to being intermittently swept away in sadness or anger or guilt. I know now that the intensity of those feelings will always ease after a while and that I can cope until it does. Sometimes I’m afraid to say things like this though, because I worry people will think I’m better and although I’m not quite sure why, that scares me.

I think this description of grief is excellent. It’s not something I will ever be finished with, but it is something that I can absorb and still live a meaningful life while carrying. I’m both sad and relieved that Capture Your Grief is over for another year. I am thankful to everyone who shared their hearts, who read my posts and to Carly Marie for creating such a beautiful outlet for our thoughts and feelings. Until next year…

Capture Your Grief: Day 30 – My Promise To You

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.