“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. 

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Today you are nine months old

Dear Theo,

today on Monday the 13th of February 2017, you are nine months old. 

That might not seem like a long existence but already you have taught me a great deal about myself, what I am capable of, and how to deal with life’s challenges. 
Being pregnant with you was the scariest time of my whole life, I was so worried we would lose you. I had to learn how to be scared – every minute of every day – but still carry on with life, go to work, see friends and cook dinner, when all I really wanted to do was hibernate and hope the weeks would pass. I learned how important it is to keep active, to exercise and to always have lovely treats to look forward to! Every Monday, Daddy and I would go and see the doctor for a scan to see how you were doing. Every week we were sure that this would be the week we were told you were either dead or dying. We used to sit in the waiting room feeling sick, with our hearts racing, holding each other’s sweaty hands. I learned that no matter how scared I was, it didn’t have to stop me from doing something, I could be scared and still do whatever it was that was terrifying me, like going back to the maternity hospital or to pregnancy yoga. Often it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, the power of my imagination worse than the reality. Now I can’t imagine being too scared to do anything that’s important to me; I know I can face any fear. You taught me that.

When you were born, you were so small and perfect. New to the world, you had everything to learn. I’ve watched how you’ve grown and changed, how every day you manage something that just yesterday you couldn’t do. I’ve seen that growth doesn’t happen by accident, you work so hard for every ounce of development you achieve. I watch you try to do something tricky, you can’t do it and yet you try again and again, sometimes falling over and getting hurt (when I am too slow to stop you!) and other times frustrating yourself. I think “That baby is crazy, why doesn’t he realise he can’t do it, and give up?”  But you are so determined. Every attempt leaves you that tiniest bit stronger – it’s such slow progress it’s imperceptible. But then one day you are strong enough and you manage it. Lifting your head up, rolling over, sitting up, feeding yourself, crawling, these are all skills that didn’t just arrive fully formed, you worked hard for them, day after day. I’ve realised there isn’t really a first time for rolling over, or sitting up or crawling – there are hundreds of attempts that get closer and closer and then evolve in to the realisation of the milestone. I see this is the same for me and the things I want to achieve, the ways I want to grow and change. Instead of thinking of failed attempts and giving up, I need to think of practice, and getting stronger over time until it comes with the ease you now have with rolling and sitting, as if they were things you could always do. 

Right now you are trying to walk. All you want to do is stand up and be walked around the room. You are so unsteady and need a lot of support. You keep taking massive steps that unbalance you! It’s hard to imagine how you will ever be able to balance and take those steps on your own. But I know that you will keep trying until you master it and that some day you will be walking and running and jumping as if you were never nine months old and unable to stand unaided. You are my inspiration little one. 

You are so good at living in the moment baba. This is mostly a helpful skill to keep. When something unpleasant is over and you are distracted, it is instantly forgotten, the perpetrator immediately forgiven and all is right with the world. It always amazes me how quickly you go from crying to laughing. Your little face that was so sad lights up, and the eyes that were wet with tears are now crinkled with mirth. Something I need to work on is letting hurtful things go, not holding on to resentments, and enjoying the good moments without always feeling a tinge of sadness for what has gone before. 

Sometimes though I wish you could understand that your hard times won’t last too long. You hate getting your nappy changed – especially when it’s dirty as it takes a bit longer! You hate having to lie down as you like to be sitting up and seeing what is going on! If you only knew that it would only take a minute or two I think you would find it easier. It makes me think of how the same is true for me. Often when I’m struggling with something hard like feeling sad, or worried or guilty, part of the problem is that I think I might always feel that way. I am trying to think of your nappy changes and that “this too shall pass”. I can cope better with hard things when I stay in the present and remember that I won’t always feel that way. I think of how sometimes you are so cross with being changed that you try to wriggle away, bat your arms and kick your legs! It actually makes the nappy change take longer than if you just lay there still (also it can get poo everywhere!). I think sometimes I fight back with my emotions and can make things worse than if I just accepted them for what they are and dealt with them. 

Daddy and I are learning to be playful again. That is something we lost when Isobel was born asleep. Once we thought we might never laugh again, but you are so funny though wee Theo that you make us laugh every single day. We don’t care how silly we look or how awful our singing is, if it makes you laugh we will look like fools! Your little giggle is so infectious and it’s without a doubt my favourite sound in the world. 

Already we know you are a very clever boy little monkey. Another thing you are very good at is seeking help. If you can’t do something or get somewhere you want to get, if you’re hurt or upset, you cry out straight away. Now you also know to lift your arms up and yell when you want to be picked up. I don’t know why we lose that skill as we get older. Sometimes I’m so sad or lonely and all I want is to let someone know that I need help, what I should do is cry out straight away like you do, and lift up my arms to the people that I know are there. For some reason I stop myself from doing this, maybe because I don’t want people to think I’m not coping. I think I should take my lead from you and call for help at the first sign of trouble! I love that you are so confident that someone will come when you cry. I hope you always know that I and others will drop everything to help you when you need it, all you need to do is shout. 

Daddy and I are not the Mummy and Daddy we would have been to Isobel if she were here. We are different in some bad ways but maybe in some good ways too. We try and appreciate every moment with you little one, even when you are being a little terror or it’s 5am and we still haven’t been to sleep! We know we are so lucky to have you. 

We love you so much precious Theo, not just for coming along at a time we were sad and bringing us joy, but for your smiley sweet stubborn snuggley little self. 

You are now crying upstairs as Daddy is putting you to bed so I better go and help!!!!

All my love,

Mummy. 

P.S you’ve been saying ‘dada’ for months now, I think it’s time to say ‘mama’! 

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. 

An Impatient Patient 

As planned, I was admitted to hospital on Monday 9th May in advance of my Caesarian section on Friday 13th May! At the time we planned it, the purpose of the admission was for observation and monitoring and to help with my anxiety in the final few days. A last minute Gestational Diabetes diagnosis last Friday has meant that my blood sugars are also being monitored and since taking the steroids to mature the baby’s lungs I’ve had to take some insulin as my sugar levels are all over the place. 

I’m having mixed feelings about being in hospital. I’m happy to be here and have the responsibility for keeping this baby alive be a little shared! The CTGs twice a day and multiple Doppler heart rate checks in between are so reassuring. It’s good to know that when I have any concerns, I don’t have to go through the waiting period, obsessing about movement and trying to decide if it is in fact reduced and if I need to get checked out. The midwives have been really lovely and answered all my millions of questions!!

The main downside to being here is the other patients! Some are constantly trying to chat and I feel so antisocial but I just want to keep to myself. Telling my story and why I’m here over and over again is too tiring right now. Others are complaining bitterly about being in hospital and want to go home against medical advice even though it will put their baby at risk. They are so naive as to think that nothing bad will happen to them. They don’t know how jealous I am that their baby’s problems have been identified and are being treated. Other stories are striking me with fear, like the woman whose placenta is failing and the baby hasn’t moved in two weeks but for some reason (probably a very good medical reason that I’m not privy to) is being kept waiting for the baby to be delivered. She has been told the baby is conserving energy due to the limited placental functioning and she doesn’t seem overly scared, I’m terrified for her. Every now and then a woman comes in labour and progresses through this ward to the labour and delivery ward. In my mind I imagine their straightforward pregnancy journey, easy and effortless, and I’m jealous.  

Nevertheless the time is passing. Two nights done and two to go. Tomorrow I can say that “I’m having my baby tomorrow”! When I saw that positive pregnancy test at the beginning of October 2015 I could never have imagined being here, almost at the finish line. Now I have the same inability to imagine holding a baby boy that’s mine and that’s Simon’s. But that experience too will come, all I have to do is let the seconds tick away… 

Clothes For A Baby Boy

We opted not to know what gender our first baby was. The clothes we bought for Isobel were therefore gender neutral; white and grey mostly and we didn’t buy much. We went through them recently and decided that we are happy to use them for this baby, but I wanted to get a few things especially for this little one. I think it was part of the process of accepting that this is a different baby – our son, not our daughter, and I wanted to give him a little hopeful headspace. With less than two weeks to go it seemed like a good time to purchase a few little things, so off we went today…

 

It wasn’t as emotional as I expected. I don’t know if it’s because I still feel a bit detached but it seemed normal to be picking clothes and debating between the newborn size and 0-3 months. If I’m honest though, I still can’t remotely imagine a little body wearing the clothes. Or at least a moving little body wearing the clothes. 

The shop assistant asked the inevitable question (“Is it your first baby?”) and got my stock honest response (“No, we had a little girl last year but she was stillborn”). She immediately responded that she too had lost a baby, a little boy at 35 weeks. She said he would be seven years old now. She asked what our daughter’s name was and it was lovely to be able to say Isobel’s name. I know it can be awkward to ‘drop the dead baby bomb’ (term taken from someone else’s writing/blog – sorry I can’t remember where I read it?!) and it’s not right for everyone to answer the way I do. But when you have an interaction like the one today, it really compounds my belief that for me, right now, it is so worth it to be able to be honest that this is not my first pregnancy and to acknowledge Isobel’s existence. 

Incidentally, I’ve ever once replied “yes” to the “Is it your first baby?” question and I’m not sure why I chose not to give my usual answer that time. It was an older man at the theatre and we were in a big queue of people and I was frustrated standing and just didn’t want to answer the question. I later found out that he has already been speaking to my mum and mother in law, so he already knew about Isobel. He and his wife had lost a little baby around 40 years ago. I think he must have asked me so that he could have an opening to share his loss with me and maybe offer some comfort to me. I hope he understood why I didn’t tell the truth that day. 

Anyway, it was nice to see Simon getting excited about little boy clothes. He was really in love with the idea of a daughter and has struggled a little with the idea of a boy this time. Looking at the little boy clothes though, I could see the idea of another son forming in his mind and I had to restrain him from buying some very impractical baby items such as a babygrow that looked like a suit with a bow tie!

He did insist on these completely ridiculous Converse booties though!

Practically at least, we are ready for you little one 💕   

Remember When Reassurance Used To Be Reassuring?! 

  I had my weekly antenatal appointment with my consultant today as usual. The baby continues to be a giant (growing over the 90th centile), fluid is good, blood flow is good and my doctor assures me all is well. Yet I’m sitting here at home with my heart racing wondering when is it all going to go wrong. I’m being seen twice weekly now, with the other appointment on a Friday with the midwife to check fluid, bloodflow and do a CTG. I know Monday to Friday is not long. Friday to Monday is even shorter. I’m still so scared though that it’ll all go to hell between those appointments. I just have two weeks and five days until my planned c-section on 13th May. It seems close but yet way too far away. 

I think part of the problem is that Isobel did die so suddenly, having been growing on track with a normal scan including bloodflow check just a week before she died. According to the post-mortem report she was deprived of oxygen over a six hour period. So I could be scanned every day and this baby would still potentially have six hours in which to die unnoticed. Taking the next 18 days until my section, that’s around 432 hours until the baby comes out and 72 sets of six hours. 72 times the baby could be starved of oxygen and die between now and then. I know that I am paying attention to movements and especially now that I’m off work I would notice if the baby went any length of time without moving, but I don’t find that reassuring either. I think reassurance is just not possible in this situation. 

I wish someone could tell me it would be OK and I would believe them. The reality is, when people tell me it will be ok, it makes me angry, like they clearly don’t understand the situation and should really just be quiet! The only person I would have any chance of believing would be my doctor but she is careful not to make promises. All she says is that everything is as it should be for now. I would love her to lie to me and tell me she is 100% sure this baby will be born alive and thrive. 

18 days. Hang in there little one 💕 

All The ‘Me’s

 I’ve always done this weird thing where I view what I’m doing in a particular moment and assess what a past ‘me’ would think if they could have a glimpse in to the future and see that moment. I guess it’s a bit of an evaluative check in with myself to see if the past ‘me’ would be happy with what’s happening in her future. 

Up to the point where Isobel died I was usually pretty confident that past ‘me’ would be impressed with what current ‘me’ was up to. Past ‘me’ who didn’t yet have a long term relationship would have been very surprised and delighted to see me with Simon and getting married. Past ‘me’ who was unsure about my career progression would have been happy to see me working in my dream job. Past ‘me’ living in our old flat would love to see our nice house in my favourite area in Belfast. And so on… 

Now though it gets really confusing because there are too many past ‘me’s! 

So there’s past ‘me’ pre-Isobel who would be amazed and overjoyed to see me pregnant now and would be thinking life must be all good for me. 

There’s past ‘me’ pregnant with Isobel, wondering where the hell my baby is and why I’m pregnant again. This me is incredulous that I’m dealing with losing my baby. That I’m having calm conversations about headstones, fundraising for stillbirth and planning what to do for a first anniversary. 

Then the past ‘me’ after Isobel died who instantly worried about ever getting pregnant again and past ‘me’ who on discovering she was pregnant could never imagine getting to 12 weeks never mind 33 weeks. These versions of me would be relieved to know that there would be another pregnancy and that it would be carried to this stage, and hopeful that there will be a baby to take home this time. 

Now when I do my little check in thing (not on purpose, it just happens!) I have all these versions of myself present in my mind at once and I don’t know what to think or how to feel! It seems like my previously relatively integrated sense of self has just disintegrated, leaving me with this fragmented metal state. It’s all very confusing! I suppose it makes sense to be confused while trying to hold all the emotions of still being shocked and horrified about what happened to Isobel, sad about losing her, glad to be pregnant, guilty about being pregnant, anxious about being pregnant and who knows what else all at the same time! 

Am I the only one who does this past ‘me’ thing? Am I completely crazy? Be honest – future ‘me’ can take it! 

Preparing Again 

  

I’m 31 weeks pregnant now. Our plan is to deliver the baby by caesarean section at 37 weeks at the latest, earlier if there any signs of reduced growth or compromised blood flow. The doctor has also spoken about admitting me to hospital for monitoring at around 35 weeks just to be safe. This doesn’t leave a whole lot of time get organised for this little one’s arrival, maybe only 4 weeks until I am incapacitated! And yet I’m really struggling to want to do anything to prepare for having a baby. 

Our spare room/nursery became a dumping ground when Isobel died. All our baby purchases were shoved in a chest of drawers or under the bed, with bigger things being sent away to my parents house. The room is now full of random bits of paperwork, books, clothes, bedding and general clutter that doesn’t have a home! I know it needs to be tackled. But I’ve been here before. Around this time last year in fact. We cleared the spare room. We organised the baby things; the Bednest was waiting to go by our bed, the bouncer was waiting for a baby to lull to sleep, the baby bath was ready to be filled with warm water to clean a little body. The isofix base was installed, the car seat and coordinating pram ready for adventures. I washed and ironed the cutest clothes and softest blankets. I set out the changing mat making sure the nappies, wipes and creams were in reaching distance. I did all of this. And the baby never came home. 

Am I supposed to do these things again? To make my preparations, with the most horrible feeling of deja vu and yet hope for a different outcome? Or do I accept that preparing for this baby is too difficult and just face the disorganised chaos head on if all is well? I imagine that ‘nesting’ and getting a home ready for the baby is very much an integral part of preparing psychologically for the baby’s arrival. What am I communicating if I don’t ready a home for this baby? Will my bonding with the baby be affected if I don’t at least try to accept the possibility that he will arrive alive and come home with us? 

Even when I decide not to worry about getting organised and just deal with things when the baby comes, I know there are certain things we definitely need to do. I will need a hospital bag no matter what happens now. We will need at least one outfit for the baby. My mind can’t help but thinking of it as an outfit to bury the baby in. Of course, I hope we need many outfits, nappies, wipes and a car seat before we even get to the coming home stage but it’s hard to imagine that. I have no experience of that happy scenario. 

In my attempt to help the time pass, I have made plans for us pretty much every weekend. Today was the only Saturday until May that we were free to look at car seats and prams, so off we traipsed to a few baby shops. We had returned our previous travel system, purchased for Isobel and though we had loved it, we didn’t want to keep it after she died. Being in the stores felt surreal. Like we were acting the role of a normal couple having a baby, but the slightest questioning would reveal that we were frauds and it was all a fantasy, there would be no baby. After the first shop, I started to panic that I hadn’t felt the baby move since leaving home. As if the very act of looking at prams could have killed him. A pause in pram shopping, an orange juice in Cafe Nero and that worry at least temporarily, was shelved. Not so easy to shelve the fear that another pram will be carefully, pointlessly, chosen for a baby that doesn’t survive. That we are setting ourselves up for more heartbreak by even pretending to others that we will have a baby we take home. There’s also guilt that we could be hopefully preparing for this baby, that life is going on, and Isobel is being left behind – her pram returned and replaced by another, her room taken over and things that were meant for her being used for another baby. 

Surprisingly, we did find another pram we liked and although we need to think it over a little (as its more expensive than we would like), it’s nice to have an option and I anticipate we’ll probably go for it rather than face the shops again! Also surprisingly, of all the chipper shop assistants, only one asked if it was our first baby and I think she got the message not to ask anything further when we looked at each other and after a pause I just replied “no”. 

This time we won’t be taking the travel system home before the baby comes. Returning Isobel’s car seat and pram was heartbreaking. This time, we will just order it and leave it there for someone to pick up should we need it. With having a c-section, I’ll likely be in hospital for a few nights so there will be plenty of time for someone to pick up the car seat before we need it to go home. 

Isobel was only in our car in her little coffin for a few minutes’ journey between the ceremony room and her grave. 

This time has to be different. 

It has to be. 

Please let it be different. 

A Feeling of Shame 

  

I work in a service that offers specialist consultation to other mental health services working with young people. It means that I meet a lot of different staff from all across the region. We also do direct work with some young people and families but only see them every 6-8 weeks. The point of this introductory ramble is to explain that I meet lots of people through work, and even now, having been back in work for three months, I’m still meeting people for the first time who last saw me when I was heavily pregnant with Isobel. And here I am heavily pregnant again (I’m 28 weeks but flipping huge). 

On meeting people for the first time, I’ve repeatedly become aware of an emotional experience that I’m finding it hard to make sense of so I thought writing might help. 

It feels like shame. 

I’m conscious that people will see my rather unmissable bump and have some level of judgement about my second pregnancy. I notice that I try to hide my stomach behind a file or cross my arms – as if that would even disguise my obvious pregnancy. I actively avoid small talk before and after consultations, swiftly exiting after meetings are finished. For someone who delighted in showing off my bump and talking about my first pregnancy, this is such a change. I’m not explicitly aware of caring what other people think about my personal life, and I don’t rationally believe I have any reason to be ashamed…but the feeling persists. 
  
One of the difficulties is that I’m never sure who knows that Isobel was stillborn and who is not aware. For those who don’t know, maybe I’m worried that they will ask about her or make a comment about my having a second baby so soon. When asked, I am always open about the loss of Isobel but this can make me feel vulnerable and unsure of myself which in a professional setting (where I am supposed to be the ‘expert’ being consulted) is uncomfortable. For those who do know about my bereavement, I’m not sure what I fear people think. Maybe that I mustn’t have been that affected by losing Isobel if I bounced back so quickly, or that her loss has been cancelled out by this new baby and I must be fine now. That getting over losing my daughter was as easy as ‘trying again’ but more successfully this time. Incidentally the phrase trying again really angers me, like my daughter was a failed attempt at life, like I’m a failure. The idea of losing another baby and coming back to work to face all these people again, having failed, obviously, again, is more than I can bear. 

The rational part of me knows that firstly most people are so self-involved as to spare me little thought at all and secondly that any sensible person will understand that pregnancy after loss is a much wanted but difficult experience that does not soothe the grief for the child that is gone. I know that Isobel wasn’t a failure, that I’m not a failure. But it’s not the rational part of me that feels the burning, shame feeling and wants to hide the outward sign of life in my belly. 

If I’m honest, I do feel guilty that I got pregnant so soon after Isobel was born. I worry that I haven’t dedicated enough time for pure grief, for just missing my daughter, without simultaneously giving headspace to her sibling. I notice already that other people expect me to be more comfortable with pregnancy and babies because I’m pregnant. I’m not. They mention Isobel less, preferring to look ahead to our second baby, to indulge in more pleasant conversation. I think I have concerns about how to keep Isobel’s memory alive for others, when a memory is such a flimsy thing to have to compete with a living baby. It’s almost as if by having another baby I feel like I am killing Isobel again.

This post has gone somewhere I wasn’t expecting and I’m probably more confused than ever so I’m going to leave it there! Welcome to the wonderfully disorienting world of life after stillbirth…