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. 

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 💕

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.