“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. 

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 đź’•

Capture Your Grief: Day 14 – Beliefs and Spirituality 

(This is a slightly modified version of my recent blog post The Only Athiests In The Congregation)

I feel like I should preface this post with a warning. I have very strong anti-religious views. Although I strenuously disagree with the view that religious beliefs should be respected and not criticised, in the interest of choosing kindness I will try to be as moderate as I can in what follows. However if you think you might be offended by anti-religious sentiment, then please don’t read on.  

I don’t know how much I ever really believed in god as a child, however I know my atheism was cemented during my Psychology undergraduate degree when I studied a Religion and Psychology module. It just seemed so obvious how man-made religions are, how culturally and temporally contextual they are, and how they originally fulfilled a function for people who didn’t yet have methods of understand the world or how it came to be. People desiring to feel like they could exhibit some control over their lives, to justify the unfairness and hardship of life with the promise of reward in another life, and to assuage existential questions and fears of annihilation. 

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 though, losing Isobel has reinforced my certainty that there is no god, that religion is a man-made, politically driven enterprise which preys on the human desires mentioned above. 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 – that’s if the poor unbaptised baby is lucky enough to be cleansed of their original sin(!) and manages to actually get to heaven.  

I know religion in general is in decline, but the extent of belief in the baby loss community continues to astound me. I just genuinely don’t understand how anyone in this century can believe in a god, or would even want to, never mind someone who has had their precious baby taken away from them. How can a parent who has lost a child continue to trust in a god who had either decided to kill their child, or stood by and watched them die when they had the power to save them? I see such hypocrisy in the religious community. Most Christians completely ignore the horrors of the Old Testament, recognising that it is completely ridiculous and nonsensical so they focus on the New Testament. Their god is praised for the beautiful and the good – if a child lives it is thanks to prayer and the grace of god. Yet this same god is never held to account for the ugly and the bad. If the same child dies it is not because god failed to act, it is because there is a bigger mysterious plan we are not party to. If god has a plan why even pray? 

When I was pregnant with Theo so many people said they were praying for him to survive. I found this hugely insulting. The implication being that I had failed to inform god that I wanted my first baby to live and therefore she had died. Theo lived because not because people prayed. He lived because of science, because doctors and researchers know they can’t rely on a god to save babies, and so they study and research and use medicine. 

I don’t believe in any of the gods mankind has invented over the years but I believe in Dr Alex Heazell at the Placental Research Centre in Manchester and I believe in Dr Alyson Hunter at the Royal in Belfast. They are my gods. 

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. 

Capture Your Grief: Day 1 – Sunrise Dedication & Day 2 – Who They Are

 I am a few days late getting started with Capture Your Grief 2016 due to a good friend’s wedding on Saturday and my first hangover in two years on Sunday! This raises a concern reflective about my feelings towards Capture Your Grief this year – how dedicated will I be to the project this year? Last year in the midst of the rawest grief, it was a relief to have a focus every day and a prompt to express everything that was overwhelming my mind. I had no problem writing every day for each prompt and nothing but time in which to write. I find it much harder to explain how I feel on a year on, and I anticipate that with the busyness of life these days, there will be days that I will miss and I already feel the guilt of that. I feel the guilt of letting Theo take over Isobel’s space in my life because he is here, and she is not. The balance of mothering a baby who is not here and one who is, is ever challenging.  
Who she is, is my daughter Isobel Olivia. My first baby, stillborn on 26th June 2015 at 39 weeks and 2 days gestation. She had her mummy’s nose and daddy’s chin, she weighed 7lbs2oz, she was 55 cm long, and she was beautiful. We buried her on her due date, 30th June and we have been missing her every moment of every day since then. 

My participation in Capture Your Grief is in memory of Isobel but is is also for Theo. I have a duty to Theo to make sure his mama is as well as she can be, that her grief is as worked through as possible and that his sister is honoured and remembered but never overshadows his presence by her absence. 

Picture taken this morning in Lisburn, Northern Ireland by my friend Katrina.

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. 

———————————-

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!

Four Weeks On and a Big Thank You


I really want to say thank you sincerely to everyone who commented on my last demented post! I didn’t get a chance to reply to the comments but I read them all at the time and was so appreciative of all the empathy and support. I also read them a number of further times when things were challenging again and I imagine I will continue to do so!

I’m so glad to say that things are approximately one million times better now than when I wrote that post. The hormonal onslaught has settled and physically my recovery from the section has been much easier than I anticipated. I feel so much more confident with Theo, changing nappies and dressing him has become second nature. I’ve survived two weeks of Simon being back at work and doing all the night time feeds on my own. Most days I manage to get dressed even if I might stink a bit! I’ve been getting out more, I’ve been for walks, meals out and even to the shopping centre. The feeding situation is still a whole palaver although I’m more relaxed about it generally. I’m currently being a total desperate weirdo and formula feeding Theo through a ‘boob tube’ to try and increase my milk supply (not me in the pic by the way!). 


My quite unsupportive midwife in week one told me I was “flogging a dead horse” trying to breastfeed, well lady, I’m still flogging it and it remains to be seen whether it’s dead or not! At least Theo is getting some breast milk still and we get the closeness of breastfeeding. I’m hopeful that I can reduce the formula at some point and have some feeds just my milk but we’ll see! I’m happy to know that I’m trying my very best anyway, what more can one do?

Emotionally, about 90% of the time I feel positive and like I’m coping. The other 10% of the time I do feel overwhelmed and worry that I’m not being a good enough mummy to Theo. Or I get caught up with thoughts about Isobel and feeling sad that she is not here too. I know that had Isobel lived it’s very unlikely that we would have Theo but it doesn’t stop me from wanting them both. This little brother should have his big sister here. Next week we should be celebrating a birthday not remembering an anniversary. 


Other times when thinking of Isobel and last year, I start to imagine Theo dying. I picture that phone call to tell people he has died. I see his funeral in my mind. It’s horrible. Sometimes when he sleeps he is so still and with his mouth open can look dead (to me, having seen a dead baby – probably to others he looks perfectly peaceful). I have to give him a wee poke at these times just to check. The thought of something happening to him is unbearable. Although I know from non loss mothers that they have similar thoughts and worries at times too so it’s not completely beyond the realm of normal experience. 

That’s all for today. I will hopefully get writing some more next week for Isobel’s birthday as I’m sure I’ll be an emotional wreck and will need the outlet! For now, Theo is currently sleeping on my chest and the weight and warmth of him feels like heaven.