Capture Your Grief: Day 11 – Life Is Short

Capture Your Grief: Day 11 – Life Is Short.

Isobel was born the day before my 32nd birthday. I keep wanting to say “I literally died that day” but I really hate when people use ‘literally’ so completely incorrectly so I will say “In many ways I feel like I died that day”. The last birthday I celebrated was in 2014. It hasn’t yet felt possible to celebrate another year of life and growing older, the day after commemorating the stillbirth of my daughter who didn’t even get one proper birthday.

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One of the impacts of this denial of life continuing is that I really honestly find it hard to remember what age I am, and more often than not tell people I’m 32. This is from genuine error rather than any attempt to make myself seem younger. It happened recently with a doctor who asked my date of birth, followed by my age and looked at me quizzically realising that my dates didn’t add up. It wasn’t until later I understood why he was looking at me strangely, and that he must have thought I was quite the idiot for getting my own age wrong! On many occasions I have had to count from my year of birth to correctly identify my age and even when writing this post I double checked it with Simon.

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In addition to feeling frozen in time on the cusp of 32, I somehow also feel I have aged around one hundred years in the past 28 months. I’m not sure how these two things make sense together – oh the great contradictions of grief. The person in my wedding pictures from less than three years ago feels temporally light years away while I imagine myself a kindred spirit to my 90 year old self. It really doesn’t help that I’m writing this after a particularly bad couple of weeks with Theo, very little sleep and lots of other stressors. Life is short but I feel old, heavy, tired and quite often ready for it all to be over. Life is short but still I am struggling to garner enthusiasm or excitement about much. Life is short but it feels like really hard work right now.

#captureyourgrief #stillbirth #pregnancyloss #babyloss #babylossawareness

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Capture Your Grief: Day 3 – Meaningful Mantra

Capture Your Grief: Day 3 – Meaningful Mantra.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

I had the most wonderful pregnancy yoga teacher called Eleanor who prepared me so well for the challenges of labour with Isobel. In those months of mental and physical preparations to birth my baby, I was encouraged to lean in to discomfort, to breathe through painful moments – even to embrace them knowing they were bringing me closer to meeting my baby – and always to know that “This too shall pass”. As a first time mother I was nervous about labour, but mostly I was excited, as Eleanor had convinced me I was a birthing goddess! But then Isobel died. Facing labour knowing my baby was dead was the greatest challenge of my life and yet there was no choice but to proceed and do the only ‘normal’ motherly job I would ever get to do for my baby.

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My actual labour with Isobel was induced, short but intense. It hasn’t remained as a clear memory. The sleep deprivation, trauma and gas&air have combined to leave a fragmented narrative. Snippets of what I remember to be hell, crying, perhaps screaming, begging for an epidural and being told ‘no’ because the baby was coming too quickly and there wouldn’t be time. Tearing. But what I do remember clearly is Eleanor’s voice in my head. I remember “This too shall pass”. I remember desperately clinging to “This too shall pass” almost as if it was a physical thing I could squeeze or a stick to bite down on. “This too shall pass” was my meaningful mantra when my only other thoughts were that I was going to die, or if I didn’t die then I was going to have to see my dead baby, and not knowing which option was preferable. It’s probably a bit extreme to say that “This too shall pass” stopped me from going absolutely insane but that’s not far off how I feel.

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“This too shall pass” reflects the Eastern ethos of ‘nonattachment’. Knowing that reality is constantly changing. Engaging equally with pleasant and unpleasant experiences, aware that neither will last so welcoming them with curiosity. How often when we are in pain do we make it more intense by imagining that we are always going to feel that way? 

Capture Your Grief: Day 2 – Rise and Shine Mourning Ritual

Capture Your Grief: Day 2 – Rise and Shine Mourning Ritual.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

This prompt is about taking some time at the beginning of your day to ground yourself and set an intention for the day. For me it’s not until I’m driving to work, having dropped Theo at nursery, that I first have time to think beyond the rush of getting us up, ready and depositing Theo happily to daycare. Instead of listening to music on my commute, I’ve started listening to podcasts to expose myself to new ideas and interesting stories.

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This morning I was listening to the pretty cheesy ‘The School Of Greatness With Lewis Howes’. The subject was Kyle Maynard author of No Excuses: The True Story of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and in Life. Again cheese. But this guy who was born without arms or legs and yet played American football in high school, became a wrestler and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro clearly has more to offer than just cheesy book titles. He spoke of how his parents made a choice not to treat him as a disabled child, how they had to let him try things and fail, over and over and over again, not protecting him from the distress but actually encouraging him to continually try things they knew he could not do. He told a story of how his grandmother would make him repeatedly introduce himself to strangers in the street, explaining her view that once the stranger knew his name and heard his voice, Kyle became a person to them and not just a disability. In this way he learned to help others see beyond his limitations. Interestingly he said he feels lucky in some ways to have a disability that people can see, as so many people struggle with unseen difficulties that might not attract support from others.

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Kyle discussed one of his lowest points while climbing Kilimanjaro, where he was totally depleted, everything was going wrong and he desperately wanted to quit, but two things kept him going – firstly the memory of his grandmother who had passed away and thinking of how proud she would be of him. And secondly his trainer’s mantra: “Not dead, can’t quit”. As long as he could hear that voice in his head saying “Are you dead?!”, then he knew he was alive and had to keep going.

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Despite such an inspirational start to my day, I’ve managed to put my return to running (that I’ve been putting off for the past few weeks) off for another day, the same with my stopping eating junk food. But tomorrow is another day, and hopefully I won’t be dead so I won’t quit. I will put on my Tommy’s t-shirt and I will do that first run that I know will be the hardest and I will get my momentum going again! Not dead, can’t quit!

Capture Your Grief: Day 1 – Sunrise Blessing 

Capture Your Grief: Day 1 – Sunrise Blessing.

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I must start Capture Your Grief in the honest spirit I wish to continue and admit that I ignored my ‘sunrise’ alarm and took this picture at around 9:30am. I imagine 7:30am looked equally grey, gloomy and miserable here in Aughnacloy, Northern Ireland.

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While in some ways it’s hard to believe that this is my third year participating in Capture Your Grief, mostly I feel that I have been slogging this grief slog for decades rather than a mere 27 months. My intention for the project this year is to allow myself time to focus on Isobel, her absence and to gently prod at the edges of what remains in her place. Thinking back to last year, I have the sense that my grief was driving and motivating me to take positive action like organising the Still Parents Retreat. I was more focused on Isobel’s legacy and doing good. This year I feel much more weighed down, lethargic and apathetic about my purpose going forward. Maybe I’m stuck in a grieving rut and need a little CYG shove to move things along! As much as I am looking forward to using the prompts for my own reflection, I am looking forward to reading the experiences of others and as always being awed and inspired by the strength and love our babies leave behind.

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Capture Your Grief 2017, we’ve got this mamas! 

Returning To Work After Pregnancy Loss

A recent post on ‘1 in 160’s blog prompted me to seek out an email that I sent to my colleagues before I returned to work after having Isobel. 
I am pretty sure I never shared it here so thought it might be helpful if anyone stumbles across this before going back to work. 

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I just wanted to tell people a little about Isobel and hopefully make it a little easier for everyone in knowing how to talk about our loss (if they choose to do so). 

We found out that the baby had passed away on 24th June after going to the hospital to get checked out because I hadn’t felt her move that morning. We’ve since found out the there were clots in the placenta that stopped the oxygen flowing to her over about six hours. She herself was perfectly developed and would have been absolutely fine even the day before she died. Labour was induced and our little girl was born on 26th June 2015 at 4:26am. We named her Isobel Olivia Salter. I always wanted a little girl so I was glad to find out that she was a girl! She was 7lbs2 and very long and skinny at 55cm with big hands and feet! She had Simon’s mouth and chin but my nose! We were able to spend precious time with her before having the funeral on the 30th June, which was her due date. 

I know it’s a very hard kind of loss to understand or to try to imagine if you haven’t experienced it. People often don’t know what to say. The reality is there is no right or wrong thing to say, so don’t worry! I do very much appreciate it when people are able to acknowledge our loss in some way although I understand if someone doesn’t feel comfortable doing so. I love getting to say or hear her name, for those who are comfortable enough to ask about her or mention her by name know that it’s a lovely gift for me. I have told Isobel’s story many times, if there is something you would like to know please do ask. If I ever get tearful, please understand that you haven’t upset me by reminding me about her, I am thinking about her constantly. It’s more that I am really touched you have acknowledged her absence and helped me keep her memory alive. I always wear waterproof mascara these days just in case!! I have lots of pictures of Isobel and like any proud mummy I enjoy showing her off, if you would like to see them just ask. I won’t offer as I know people can feel differently about the pictures. I am of course a little sensitive about pregnancy and baby topics of conversation but at the same time I want to be treated as normally as possible, and to celebrate for other people too, so it’s ok to have these conversations in front of me, if I need a wee break I will take one. 

Simon and I are determined that Isobel’s little life will leave a positive legacy. We have lots of plans for raising awareness of stillbirth, prevention strategies and support for families. This is our new favourite topic of conversation, feel free to ask me about it if you want to. Two of the charities, SANDS and Tommy’s, have really helped us. No doubt I’ll be fundraising in the future and begging you all for money! 

I’m looking forward to getting back to work and seeing everyone again, thank you for reading my ramble and for your support as I settle back in. 

“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!

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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?