“I want to write something really profound”

“I want to write something really profound” I tell my husband. What I think I mean is that I want to write something that will make people understand exactly what it’s like to have a stillborn daughter. Not just what it’s like to have found out she was dead, or what it was like to give birth to my dead baby, or what it was like to bury her; but what it is like to be the mother of a dead child every single day for two years now. And then to know that tomorrow you will still be the mother of a dead child. To know that every day that comes, for weeks, for months, for years, for the rest of your life, that you will always be the mother of a dead child. That you will forever have a break that can’t be repaired – a weight that can’t be set down, only endlessly borne. 

I want to write something that could let people see how Isobel’s death was not an event that occurred in the past  but instead is a never ending process of loss that happens to me over and over, again and again, day after day, night after night. What could I write that would explain that feeling of having left the real me in hospital on 24th June, still sitting in the scan room waiting for a doctor to come in and check on my baby? How can I describe the sense of living life and having to function while only ever being partially, superficially present? Would people be able to understand when I say that I’m so detached at times that internally I have to remind myself to join in interactions? It’s like being a cardboard cut out of a person who looks normal from the front but on closer inspection is only propped up by a flimsy piece of cardboard. Or like being a derelict building that has been covered with a fake shop front to hide the decay inside. 

I keep thinking I want to make a list of all the times I lose Isobel in a typical day, just to demonstrate the daily impact of her absence. The times my mind returns to pregnancy or the days before she died, running and rerunning scenarios where I did something different and she was saved. How I hate myself when I return to what really happened. The times I could vomit when I think of her body rotting in a coffin. The people I see in work and still now my first thought after tens of encounters is how they didn’t acknowledge her death when I came back. The colleagues who are innocently talking about what a nightmare teenage daughters are. Listening to the parents of clients talk about their mourning and grief of having a gender diverse child. The babies that are the same age as Isobel on my Facebook newsfeed that I don’t know whether to hide or not. The questions from strangers about the make up of my family. Baby girl clothes with flamingos on them. Questioning my parenting of Theo. Sometimes loving him with a desperate neediness, sometimes resenting him because he is not her. Not knowing if it’s ok to admit that or not. Feeling guilty for feeling sad around Theo. Feeling guilty for feeling happy with Theo. Being challenged by my husband about any aspect of mothering and my mind hearing “how can I trust you with Theo when you let Isobel die?”. Not trusting my instincts anymore. Never knowing where and when or how I’ll be faced with a trigger. TV, radio, books, and conversations all being laced with danger. This is a window to a typical day’s content. If I made a tally of every moment that is affected by Isobel’s death would one go past without a mark being made? 

If I said that a part of me longs to go back to the immediate aftermath of losing Isobel would people find that strange? That if I could, I would willingly revisit that raw, uncomplicated grief – a time when there were no expectations to function, and nothing to do but sit in despair and feel how close to Isobel I could be. I remember the times I screamed, the times I cried so hard I thought I would shatter and I miss that. I need it but I don’t know how to make it come back. Crying now is brief, and unsatisfying. 

I don’t know why I feel this need to try and make people understand. Who even are people? I don’t know if it would be the same if Isobel had died after living outside my body. The belief that it’s ‘worse’ to lose an older child is one I find difficult to tolerate. Maybe I feel like I need to validate my own grief? 

I like to think that all I want as I write this is to make Isobel exist in someone else’s mind for a little while, but maybe I want sympathy or just any kind of attention? What good does it do though if I were to share what I’ve written here on my Facebook page and get some ‘likes’ and comments. Realistically 90% of them would be from friends who have also lost babies who already live everything I’ve said themselves. 

How would life be different if everyone in the world could know what it is like to be the mother of a dead child? Would it make this life easier? 

I’m still debating posting this, or a version of this on my personal Facebook page so I think I’ll sleep on it! Meanwhile I’ll leave it here. My soundtrack has been Radiohead at Glastonbury (on TV). Amazing. Epic. My spiritual home. Gutted I’m not there. 

 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 9 – Surrender and Embrace

There are moments of surrender and embrace in every day. Today my moment of surrendering to emotion was to cry a few tears in public at the #lifeafterloss balloon release. My moment of embracing this life was taking a creepy family selfie in the cemetery. Step-son: “This is weird”. Me: “We are weird now”. Today, I’m ok with that. 

The Only Athiests in the Congregation? 

On Sunday past Simon and I went to a rememberance service for babies held at the cemetery where Isobel is buried. We had discussed beforehand if it was likely to be a religious service, I thought because the cemetery itself is a municipal and non-denominational one, and because it was in collaboration with the health trust, that the service would be largely secular. 

Unfortunately for us that wasn’t the case. As soon as we opened the order of service and saw the extent of the Christian religious content, we knew we had made a mistake in going, but it would have caused too much of a commotion to walk out. And so we stayed, in a room full to standing room only of bereaved parents, like us, but seemingly not like us. 

The content included a reading about how all the days ordained for us are written in god’s book before they come to be. If someone was planning this life out, I could really have done without the day my daughter died and those that followed! There was the usual pseudo comforting rubbish about heaven. Yawn. The hymn that really baffled me though was the one about how we know we can always trust god. Experience of all those present would suggest otherwise. Who could trust someone who had either decided to kill your child, or stood by and watched them die when they had the power to save them? 
I wondered how others in the congregation felt about the words they were listening to. Were Simon and I the only ones who didn’t believe a word of the assurances of a loving god who cares what happens to those on earth and the promises of seeing their baby again one day? Are we really the only people who finds the idea of a god who could fail to intervene, letting all these babies die and all these families suffer, completely unforgivable? Is it just us who sees the hypocrisy in praising a god when anything good happens, yet failing to hold them to account for the bad? I wondered if the religious content is something that most bereaved parents want or is there just a lack of imagination to plan a beautiful rememberance service without resorting to biblical readings? 

I always used to wonder how my atheism would be affected when someone close to me died. I wondered if I would be so desperate to believe that I would be reunited with them, that I would start to believe in a god and a heaven. If anything, losing Isobel has reinforced my certainty that there is no god, that religion is a man made, politically driven enterprise which preys on humans’ desire to feel that they can have some control over their lives and to allay fears of dying. I’m glad that I don’t have to try and reconcile belief in a loving god with their failure to protect the most vulnerable and most innocent of their people. The idea of Isobel being anywhere without me would cause me extreme distress, not comfort. I am reassured that I don’t think of her as existing anywhere and yet I can still find her in nature, in beauty. I feel all the more keenly my need to make the most of the one life that I have, knowing that is all there is. I find it tragic to think of other bereaved mothers living their days, ticking time away, believing they will be reunited with their baby someday. 

I fully recognise that for some, belief in a god can be a comfort, and I do not wish to offend those who do believe. I know that anything that helps a person to cope with losing their child is a positive thing. I just genuinely don’t understand how anyone in this century can believe, or would even want to. It’s something I really can’t get my head around. 

I would love to have more, fully respectful, discussions on the topic if anyone feels like commenting… 

Maybe… 

Maybe you wanted a perfectly natural water birth with limited pain medication, and instead you had to face the disappointment of having medical intervention and giving birth in a bed. Please take a moment to imagine the extent of the disappointment of saying goodbye to all your hopes and dreams for your baby in the moment you find our their heart is no longer beating. 

Maybe your labour was frighteningly  long and difficult, maybe you even experienced the trauma of an emergency Caesarian section. Try now, if you can, to imagine the fear of facing labour knowing your baby is already dead and what will be placed in your arms at the end of the ordeal, is a dead body. Allow yourself to think about the trauma of seeing your precious baby lifeless and cold, her greying skin failing to become pink, her eyes never opening.

Maybe your baby spent some time in special care, maybe you had to be separated from them for a time. Think though of the mother who leaves hospital knowing her baby will be placed in a freezer when she departs. This mother soon will have to place her baby in a tiny coffin and watch the lid being placed on, knowing she will never, ever see her child’s face again. 

Maybe breastfeeding was painful or didn’t work out and you weren’t able to feed your baby the way you wanted to. Please spare a thought for the mother whose body doesn’t understand that there is no baby to feed, who has to take medication to stop her breasts from leaking milk in the shower as she cries. Maybe you’re spending hours feeding as your baby is going through a growth spurt and your sole purpose in a day is to feed your baby. Please be thankful that you are not the mother who feels she no longer has any purpose in life at all now her baby is gone, who has endless hours to fill and no desire or motivation to do anything. 

Maybe your baby cries constantly and doesn’t sleep through the night and you’re exhausted. Imagine though how much worse it could be, to have never heard your baby make a single sound. To lie awake at night revisisiting over and over against your will the moment you found out she had died, the labour, the funeral, only to eventually fall asleep and have nightmares filled with terror and death. Imagine crying so hard that you can’t breathe and don’t know how you will ever stop crying, knowing that it should be the cries of a hungry baby that are heard in your house, not these animal like wails of pure anguish. 

Maybe you’re finding it hard to lose the baby weight and you dislike your stretch marks. How would you feel about your body if it had caused the death of your baby? How would you cope with a post-natal body and no baby, nothing to show for all that you have been through?

Maybe you and your partner are snapping at each other, both tired from looking after the baby, fighting over who is the most tired and who has changed more dirty nappies. I wonder if you can picture the conflict between a couple so weighed down by grief, so divided by differing coping strategies, trying to encourage each other to face the world when neither wants to be alive themselves. 

Maybe you’re not getting out as much as you used to, it’s hard to get coordinated to leave the house and the baby needs fed so frequently it’s hardly worth going out. Think about how difficult it is for the bereaved mother to leave the house. She is terrified of being confronted with pregnant women or babies, of being overtaken by a flashback, of meeting someone who last saw her when she was pregnant and having to explain what happened, and that any one of these things (or a million other unexpected triggers) will overwhelm her and she will humiliate herself by breaking down in public. 

Maybe you get sad when it’s time to pack away the newborn clothes and move up a size. You are nostalgic for that tiny newborn baby and wish they wouldn’t grow up so fast. Now imagine yourself packing away the newborn clothes, all unworn aside from the outfit you chose for your baby to be buried in. Imagine deciding what to do with the nappies, the wipes, the creams, the muslin cloths, the blankets, the soft toys, all carefully chosen for a baby who never came home. Imagine putting a bin bag over the rocker that your husband excitedly assembled and putting it in the atic. Imagine returning the travel system that you fell in love with and researched for hours, because you need the money back after paying for a funeral and a cemetery plot. 

Maybe you’re dreading leaving your baby and going back to work. What do you think it would be like coming back to work when you should still be off with your baby? Meeting people every day who know what happened and don’t know what to say to you, so mostly don’t even mention that you had a baby and she died. Or meeting people who don’t know what happened, who ask if you had a boy or a girl and how old are they now. How would you deal with the awkwardness that ensues when you talk about your loss? 

Maybe everyone around irritates you with opinions on how to parent your child. Unsolicited advice comes from every direction, trying your patience. Maybe you lose touch with some old friends who aren’t interested in babies. Now try to put yourself in the shoes of a mother who has lost her child. Some family members will always say the wrong thing, upsetting you with religious platitudes, worse though will be those who want to pretend that your baby never existed or was just something not meant to be. Friends you’ve supported through work problems, family problems, and break ups will just vanish. Others will say they are there for you, but no thank you it would be too upsetting to see a picture of your child or to hear about your pain. Less than four months after your baby’s death you will be told by the closest of family that you have been going on about your loss for too long and that it is time to move on. 

Maybe you’re impatient for your little one to smile, to roll over or whatever their next development goal is. What if you knew that your baby would never meet any of their milestones, they will never smile, never say ‘Mama’, they will never walk, sing a song, play with a toy or go to school? What if you have to face a whole life without your baby, your toddler, your child, your teenager, your adult child, your grandchildren? 

Maybe it’s time consuming and expensive to plan a birthday party. Maybe your house gets wrecked, you have a headache by the end of the day and you think next year you’re not even going to have a party. But imagine having an anniversary instead of a birthday. Imagine having to decide how you will memorialise your dead child. Imagine going to visit a cemetery and seeing your beautiful daughter’s name carved on a headstone, while you can’t help but picture her little body degrading in a coffin beneath your feet. 

It is hugely challenging to be a mother but maybe for some, motherhood presents extreme challenges and few rewards.

Maybe you are one of the lucky ones. Maybe there is a bereaved mother out there who would give anything to have your problems. Maybe she wishes that just for one moment, you could know how it feels to be her. 

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I can’t post this without acknowledging just how hypocritical it is! Having a rainbow baby, I have at times caught myself in moments of complaining about some of the above challenges, as grateful as I am to have them. But I was compelled to write this after a friend (who knows exactly what I’ve been through) said she would only tell me her birth story if I wasn’t planning on having any more children as it was soooooooo traumatic! “Are you alive? Is your baby alive? Then don’t talk to me about trauma!” I know it’s unfair but just how I’m currently feeling!!! I listen to Mums at various classes complaining every day about one thing or another. I wish that just for one second they could know what the alternative feels like. 

Falling In Love Again 


I was thinking of how to describe how I feel about Theo and the above quote from one of my favourite books ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ came to mind (if you haven’t read it, please do!). 

People in relationships talk about loving someone and being in love as two different things. I think I experienced that with Theo too. I know I loved him before he was born. Despite my best efforts through pregnancy not to get attached in case the worst should happen again, I did grow to love the little bundle growing inside me as time passed and I talked to him, sang to him and felt his movements. I definitely loved him when he was born. I felt protective over him, it pained me when he cried, I enjoyed looking at him and felt content when he fell asleep on me. But I don’t think I was in love with him then. 


I will freely admit that I had some really hard times in Theo’s first two months of life. There were times when I was so sad, and felt so inadequate to the task of being his Mummy that I fantasised about running away and leaving him with his Daddy. When I felt so broken by not being able to exclusively breastfeed him, that I actually wanted to not be alive anymore and fantasised about dying in a car crash. Times when I resented Theo for needing formula and thought how Isobel would have been the perfect baby and would have breastfed successfully. I am pretty sure I cried at some point every day for the first six weeks or so! When I thought things were getting better, Isobel’s first birthday came along, bringing with it head colds for Theo and I with even less sleep, and even more misery. I was telling myself to get through one more day but then despairing that after that day there would be another day to get through. It wasn’t that bad all day every day, and there were lovely times too, but the dark times were very dark. It was like I couldn’t win, when I felt happy, I felt guilty for being happy despite missing Isobel. When I felt sad, I felt guilty for not enjoying Theo fully.  

The usual things eventually helped as they always will, talking to Simon, being really honest with friends and demanding they come and see me more often, getting support from my Mum, being told and telling myself that it was ok to feel the way I felt, that it was normal in the circumstances, that it would pass. I started to exercise again, walking and running on the tow path – exercise, fresh air and a little time away from the baby, a winning combination. I took Theo to some activities, baby yoga, a circuits class, and baby swimming. I spoke to other mums who admitted finding things hard even in somewhat easier ‘normal’ circumstances. 


During my first baby yoga class, I was singing to Theo and making him do the movements to the song and it was so cute I started to laugh. I realised I felt joy. I wondered why I hadn’t interacted with Theo in such a playful way until then. I realised that I could have fun with Theo as well as just feeding, cleaning and changing him! I don’t know if that was a turning point or just a symptom of the turning point, but my mood has gotten significantly better over the past three weeks. I am enjoying this gorgeous little boy so much more. I look at his funny little face and feel delight. I laugh at his big burps and explosive farts! I work my hardest to get smiles and my heart warms when I’m rewarded with a little grin – still quite rare at this stage!
I feel like I don’t just love Theo, but I’m in love with him and falling harder every day. It’s scary, but wonderful!