“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. 

The Vessel of my Hate

I wonder if everyone has that one person, pregnant at the same time as them, the one who’s baby didn’t die, who becomes a vessel for all the anger, envy and hatred that was created from nowhere when their baby died? 

For me it’s a woman who works in the same service as me but luckily in a different building, let’s call her Laura. I used to work in Laura’s team on a Friday when I was pregnant with Isobel and she was pregnant with her son, just a few weeks behind me. Maybe I started hating her when she announced her pregnancy the week after I announced mine although I don’t remember minding about this. Maybe it was because she was so anxious about every aspect of impending motherhood and I thought she needed to chill out. It might even have been because she had a rich husband and they had just bought a house in my dream location and I was annoyed because I felt like I was smarter than her and I should be the rich one. But actually I didn’t start hating her until one of our babies died, and it wasn’t hers. 

Despite spending every Friday lunch time with Laura, having all the baby chats and making plans to hang out when on maternity leave, I didn’t hear from Laura when Isobel died. Our first encounter was about six months later at a yoga studio when I was coming out of pregnancy yoga and she was going to her first class after having her son. She was friendly but it was awkward, she was clearly shocked that I was pregnant again so soon and she didn’t know what to say about Isobel so she said nothing. When I asked about how her son was doing she lit up and said how great he was and that he was six months old now! Wow! As if I didn’t know exactly how old he was, as that was how old Isobel should be. 

I managed never to see her in work until a few weeks ago. I am in a different team now and don’t really have cause to visit my old site. But there I was sitting at a mandatory training day a few weeks ago and in walks Laura. My heart sank at first glance and then sank further as I noticed her heavily pregnant belly. My mind went on a little rant. “That fucking bitch who’s baby didn’t die is having another baby who also won’t die, and then she’ll have two babies and they’ll both be alive, and her son will have a sibling and why the fuck was it not her baby that died?!” Although I tried to avoid her at the training she came over to chat, telling me about how her son was doing and how she cries when he achieves certain milestones because she wants him to stay little. You can imagine how much that failed to make me warm to her. 

Fast forward a few weeks and I’m going on a two day training course which I’m really looking forward to, until I see Laura’s name on the delegates list. Ten people and one of them has to be her. 35 weeks pregnant and on my training course just to ruin my experience. 

Today was the first day and I arrived with a positive attitude and a plan to ignore her as much as possible. It’s all going ok, I sit away from her, catching up with another colleague from her team who I haven’t seen for a long time. We sit down to a lunch of soup, bread and cheese. Laura helps herself to some blue cheese. Someone comments that maybe she shouldn’t be eating that. She responds and I quote “I figure the baby’s well enough cooked at this stage, it’s hardly going to die on me now.” My jaw is on the floor. I am literally sitting one person away from her, did she just say the word ‘die’. I think – she’ll realise she’s referenced her baby dying in front of someone who’s baby actually died and be mortified and backtrack, but no. She continues to say how she’s eaten soft cheese all along in both of her pregnancies and never gotten listeria so why would she get it now? She goes on to say that she apparently has been diagnosed with gestational diabetes but she’s mostly ignoring that too as she doesn’t think she really has it. 

Oh Laura. How I hated you for our respective circumstances when I thought you were super conscious of me and what happened to Isobel. I imagined you couldn’t say anything to me as you maybe had survivors guilt and it was difficult to face that. That was bad enough to deal with.  

Imagine how I hate you now, when I realise that you are so blissfully thoughtless that you will talk about dead babies so casually in front of me and be blasé about risks because dead babies happen to other people, not someone like you. Imagine how it feels to know that had the circumstances been reversed I would still have that stupid innocence that you flaunt. 

Now I know that what happened to Isobel is not Laura’s fault. I know that it wasn’t a choice between her baby and mine, where someone picked her baby to live and mine to die. I even know that she’s a nice person who deserves good things. I know I don’t really hate her as a person, it’s just that I’ve projected all of my negative emotions and the poor woman has been an unlucky recepticle. But I just can’t bring myself to feel bad about how I feel about her.  As if she will give me a second thought when she goes home to eat her bloody blue cheese. As if it will matter to her when she is celebrating her son’s second birthday. As if she will be upset that I hate her when she is introducing her two children to each other and watching them form a lifelong bond. 

Tomorrow I will tell myself, “Laura, I don’t hate you, I’m just not necessarily excited about your existence!” 

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. 

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 17 – Sacred Space

This beach – scene of early dates, wedding pictures, pregnant waddles, grief stricken midnight ‘I need to go to the beach’ urges and a first birthday balloon release. 
This man – the arms that surround me, the eyes that see everything ugly and beautiful, the heart that aches and rejoices with mine. 
This mind of mine that contains everything of Isobel and always will.