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!
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.