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. 

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. 

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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. 

A Lack of Mother’s Milk

Firstly thanks to everyone for the lovely congratulations and best wishes on the arrival of little Theo (we finally decided on his name!). 

I wish I could write a beautifully positive and upbeat post about how well everything is going. I want to say that I’m Mother Earth, a natural at parenting and that Theo is thriving. The reality is sadly worlds away from that desired scenario. 
Theo had a bit of a tricky start – he had jaundice and had to go under a photo therapy light in an incubator for 24 hours. I was advised that he would process the jaundice better the more hydrated he was and so was told to formula feed him. I was really devestated by this, as he was breast feeding well until that point. I felt like I couldn’t argue with the paediatrician and I was so tired and overwhelmed that I capitulated and started forumula. Of course the breast feeding since then hasn’t been going well. We got home from hospital on Tuesday and since then I have been trying to feed and also expressing with a double pump around the clock. The milk however is just not flowing. Little Theo has lost too much weight, mummy and daddy are exhausted and we’ve decided to stop trying to breast feed although I will still express for a while and see if anything changes. 

This decision has not been taken lightly. Breast feeding is something that is very important to me, for the benefits for the baby, for the bonding experience between mum and baby, and for the sense of doing something for your baby that no one else can do. I was prepared for cracked and bleeding nipples, for pain and for a baby who needed me all the time. I was not prepared that I just wouldn’t be producing milk despite regular stimulation. I have been feeling so sad and so disappointed by this situation that if I’m honest it has really ruined my enjoyment of Theo’s first week in the outside world and especially his first few days at home. 

I feel so let down by my body. I don’t understand why it won’t do what Theo and I need it to. It has compounded my feelings of worthlessness as a pregnant woman that I developed after Isobel and now as a mummy. My body couldn’t keep Isobel safe, and now Theo is here, it can’t feed him sufficiently. I keep thinking of how I took medication after Isobel to stop my milk production. Then I had the milk but no baby – now I have the baby but no milk. If I can’t do anything for Theo that someone else isn’t able to do, then how I am any more important to him than anyone else? How am I his mummy? I’ve been in floods of tears every single day, sad about the situation and then guilty for feeling sad and not enjoying this precious time with this beautiful new baby boy. 

Since losing Isobel, I thought I would have more perspective, to know that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how a baby is fed, just that they are alive to be fed! However I have still gotten caught up with thoughts of being a failure as a mummy, with being useless and worthless, with thoughts that Simon and Theo would be better off without me and even with thoughts that it was easier dealing with the loss of Isobel than it is being a mummy to Theo. I hope anyone reading this will realise how much it pains me to have these thoughts, how much I know on a rational level that they are not true and how much I wish I didn’t feel the way I do. 

On top of the distress about the feeding situation, I am simply missing my daughter too.

Our lovely midwife asked me today how I normally deal with overwhelming negative emotions, which prompted me to realise that I haven’t been using any of my helpful coping strategies. I’ve avoided writing about my feelings, I haven’t spoken to my friends, I haven’t been out of the house (or even gotten dressed) and I haven’t even allowed anyone to visit the baby get except my mum and Simon’s mum. I haven’t wanted anyone to know that this has not been the joyous time they all want it to be for me. I am ashamed by how much I am struggling and it’s made me withdraw from people which is just making things worse. 

Writing this post has been the first part of my plan to process some of these thoughts and emotions. I also plan to post on the Pregnancy After Loss Facebook page to get some support from other mummies. I am going to eat my first meal for days. I am going to have a shower, shave my legs, do my hair and put some make up on for the first time in a week. After Theo’s next bottle we are going to put him in his pram for the first time and go for a walk. I am going to do skin to skin after every bottle feed so I still have close time with my beautiful baby. That’s the plan so far. I hope my next update will be a little more positive but if it’s not, if the reality is still painful and hard, then I hope I have the ability to be brave and face it and share that too. 

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! 

The Mother Of His Child

 I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I have a 15 year old step-son, I’ll call him J. Simon is 32. Math experts will have managed to figure out that Simon was very young when he became a dad, 16 in fact! I only have Simon’s story (and MTV’s Teen Mom) to go by but I can imagine some of the difficulties Simon and J’s mum L faced having a baby at such a young age. I know their relationship was very challenging and although they tried to stay together for the sake of the baby, there was a lot of resentment and bad behaviour on both sides. They were on and off until J was around five when then finally split up for good. 

When I first started going out with Simon, I used to get pretty jealous that he’d had not just a significant long term relationship with someone, but more that they had had such an intense connection as having a baby together. At this point, I already knew about my PCOS and that I would need fertility treatment to have a chance of conceiving and I think that made it worse. I didn’t know if I could have a child with the person I loved and here was this other woman who had done that, who was the mother of his child. Despite the fact that I knew it was a stressful, unplanned pregnancy and their relationship was often conflictual, I would imagine the moments of happiness they shared together, looking at the child they created and delighting in him and in each other as parents. 

As I got more secure in my relationship with Simon, those feelings of jealousy towards L pretty much disappeared. My desire to have children with Simon deepened, for all the purest of reasons, with only the tiniest part of that being about feeling that there was no closeness that he had shared with someone else that we hadn’t surpassed. When we became pregnant with Isobel, a lot of memories started to come back for Simon about expecting J. Things he hasn’t really allowed himself to think about over the years but couldn’t help reflecting on now he was expecting his second child. I started to understand a little better just how traumatic it was for Simon and L to discover she was pregnant, to have to tell their parents, to have to deal with the judgements of those around them, to have to leave school and get jobs, to try and continue with part time education, to look after a baby at such a young age, to feel stuck in a relationship neither had really chosen. I will admit that I felt happy that Simon’s experience with me was so different. He chose me, he wanted to have a child with me, we actively tried to have a baby, we were overjoyed to be expecting, others were delighted for us not disappointed in us. Any last remnants of my insecurity in relation to L as the mother of Simon’s child seemed to be gone. 

But then Isobel died. 

I had failed to do what Simon’s 15 year old girlfriend had been able to do so easily – deliver him a healthy baby. The multivitamins and my careful eating, the yoga, the antenatal classes, all my research and knowledge – L didn’t have access to any of that but somehow that didn’t matter to the outcome. As devestated as I was for myself, my heart was torn apart for Simon. This baby was his second chance to be the kind of dad that he wanted to be, mature, stable and always present. I felt like I had allowed Isobel to die and let him down so badly. Yes there had been hard times with L, but she gave Simon a baby that came home from the hospital, who opened his eyes and smiled, that learned to say ‘daddy’, watched football with him and played x-box. I gave him a lifeless little body, a funeral, a grave, a lifetime of heartache. 

Of course I have talked to Simon about all of this and he has reassured me that he doesn’t blame me in any way for Isobel’s death. I know that’s true anyway because of how lovely he continues to be to me (most of the time!). I think the fear that he would blame me comes only from my own guilt. Rational me doesn’t really blame myself either, knowing how unhelpful it would be to get caught up with that narrative. However that doesn’t stop the thoughts from coming even if a lot of the time I can let them come and go without being too hooked on them. 

A few weeks after Isobel was born, I remember asking Simon if he considers me to be the mother of his child. He assured me that he does. It’s hard though. I’m not *the* mother of his child, I’m the mother of one of his children – the one that’s not here, the one whose memory elicits heartache rather than joy. 

I’ve noticed my jealousy about L returning. I find myself asking questions that I haven’t asked for years; “Did you ever think about proposing to her?”, “Did you want to have more children with her?”, “If you had met when you were older do you think you’d still be together?” and so on… Basically I think I’m saying “Tell me you love me more than you loved her – even though Isobel died”. I’ve also had lots of nightmares of Simon having an affair, leaving me, going on to have more children with someone else. (For those who are wondering, I have literally no reason to feel insecure either about my relationship with Simon in general, or about his relationship with L. Even if she were single, I can’t imagine any scenario in which she and Simon would reunite. As it is, she is married with another child.) 

Of all the things I’m desperately hoping for and looking forward to with this new baby, seeing Simon with our baby is one of the most significant. I remember how he looked at Isobel, how much he loved her and was so proud of her, even in those hardest of circumstances. He fought me to get to hold her longest, to stroke her perfect little face and hold her hand. He never held back on his emotions and cried openly with no shame. He spoke beautifully at her funeral. He continues to talk about her and to campaign for stillbirth awareness and prevention. He was, and is, the best dad Isobel could ever have had. 

I know he will be an amazing dad to this little one, I just hope he gets to be a dad to a baby, a toddler, a child, a teenager, an adult and who knows, maybe even gets to be a grandad! 

I hope too that my insecurity will retreat again once this baby comes. For now, it’s just one part of the whole whirlwind of emotions that follow losing a baby and pregnancy after loss. I’ve learned that the only way to cope with the whirlwind is to accept each and every emotion non-judgementally as just another part of the experience.  

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I actually wrote this post a couple of weeks ago and had kept it as a draft. Reading it over I realise that I’ve felt so much better about this issue since I wrote about it but I thought I may as well post it. I’m so glad that I have been able to use writing as a way to get perspective on the crazy rollercoaster that has been my life in the past 10 months! And thank you to anyone who reads my ramblings xx 

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… 

The Crushing Weight of Responsibility 

  
I’m feeling a lot like this Spidey at the minute but without the benefit of his superpowers or muscular toned thighs! 

Since our lil rainbow baba’s movements have been more definitive, I feel such extreme pressure to know at all times if he is moving or when he last moved. I’m feeling like I can’t concentrate on anything else. There have been times in work when people have been talking to me and I’ve just been superficially listening, with my main focus of attention being in my tummy! It’s getting in the way of everything I do, including trying to sleep, and I’m quite probably going to go insane with it all! It really doesn’t help that I have an anterior placenta so depending on the baby’s position, movement feels vastly different on different days but very often is pretty gentle and ‘internal’ rather than big tummy wobbling kicks. I haven’t started to do official kick counts. The guidance around this is so confusing and has moved away from counting a specific number of movements but I think maybe having three (?) set times a day that I specifically pay attention might help me rather than trying to do it all the time.

So far I’ve gone to hospital twice outside of my normal weekly appointment with concern about movement, once at 23 weeks and this weekend past at 27 weeks. Both times I felt that the baby hadn’t been as active as usual that day. Because the process of going to hospital is so traumatic, I actually find myself putting off going rather than going immediately – which is how I thought I would be. The first time I waited and waited, and got myself into a really horrible state of panic and was convinced the baby was dead. The second time, I went sooner after I became concerned so I was still pretty calm which was a much better experience. Both times if I’m honest I know that I was having particularly hard days on an emotional level. I suppose it makes sense that when my mood is generally worse, I’m more likely to worry about the baby and then if he’s not very active, or is in a bad position, the whole rocky ‘holding it together’ act falls apart! Luckily we don’t live too far from the hospital and so far the staff we’ve met have been very understanding. 

We got a report back of a file review of my antenatal care with Isobel. The opinion of the reviewer is that my antenatal care was adequate. She wrote that MPFD is known to be associated with sudden foetal death with no warning signs. On the one hand, we get this message that there were no signs that there was anything wrong with Isobel’s placenta but then they try to reassure us saying we’ll be monitored so closely this time. It doesn’t make sense. How can monitoring be reassuring if there are no warning signs??!! I have some questions about that to ask, but I’m sure that reading the report has not helped with my fear that this baby will suddenly die one day like his sister. As much as I trust my doctor and am grateful for the close monitoring, it feels very much like it’s up to me alone to know if something is not right with the baby and to quickly respond to that. Isobel’s postmortem stated that she was deprived of oxygen over a six hour period. If MPFD strikes again, it could happen that quickly and what if I notice too late again?

  

The feelings of responsibility for keeping this baby alive, have made me think more about my ideas of responsibility for Isobel’s death. I have tried not to get stuck on thoughts of being to blame for her dying, or feelings of guilt. I know these are not fair or helpful. However on  a factual level, if I had noticed a reduction in movement in the hours during which she wasn’t getting enough oxygen and had responded immediately to this, there is a chance that she could have been saved. I know there are a million more ‘what ifs’ that relate to things other than me but that one still stands out and I can imagine it’s one I will struggle with more or less for the rest of my life. I will continue with my process of noticing it, reminding myself that it’s not helpful, and letting it go. 

Stalking Amelia K Yoga

 
I’m not sure how, but I found Amelia K on Instagram after Isobel was born. Amelia is a Canadian yoga instructor who, when I started to follow her, was pregnant with her rainbow baby after losing her first son at full term last year. I was so happy to see the news of the safe arrival of her little girl Lily a few days ago. 

This morning, I compulsively flicked back through 71 weeks of her posts to her first announcement that her little boy Landon had been born with no brain activity after an emergency Caesarian section. I cried as I read about her loss, her immediate response to grief, her grief journey over the months that followed, and her discovery of her pregnancy with her rainbow (I think around seven months after her son died). So many thought were prompted by her feed, which is inspiring and beautiful and hopeful above all. But my big revelation was how open Amelia was about her rainbow pregnancy, announcing it to thousands of strangers as soon as she found out at 6 weeks. This is in such contrast to how I feel about my current pregnancy which I was almost afraid to acknowledge even to myself because I was scared that if I admitted I wanted it, it would be harder when I lost it. 

I’m starting to question the wisdom of this. If I stop myself from getting excited, from being hopeful, from having thoughts about getting to take this baby home, and this baby dies, will it really be any easier? Will I be glad that I didn’t allow myself to experience joy in the pregnancy, or might I actually feel guilty that this little one’s brief life was never celebrated in the way that Isobel’s was when I was pregnant with her? We are glad that we spent Isobel’s pregnancy in blissful ignorance because she brought us such happy moments, shouldn’t we allow this baby the same impact? 

I know that it’s not quite as simple as deciding how to feel. The anxiety that holds me back is understandable and I can’t just pretend it’s not there. I also know that it’s still early days with this pregnancy and my feelings will evolve as time goes on (I feel compelled to write ‘if’ time goes on). But I feel conflicted, part of me wants to tell the world that I’m pregnant, to share scan pictures and to talk about this baby like its going to live. The other part of me feels so stupid for thinking that with Isobel and doesn’t want to make the same naive mistake again. Five months ago I was sharing scan pictures of Isobel, look how that turned out! I also worry that people will judge me for getting pregnant again so quickly. I judge myself. I feel irresponsible. 

Maybe for now, I will just share here and see what happens as time goes on. So here is week 12 – we have legs! 

  

Capture Your Grief: Day 3 – In Honour

  Capture Your Grief Project 

I wish I could build a Grand Palace of temples in honour of my baby; a memorial so spectacular that it would be visited by millions. All these people would know that there was once a little girl called Isobel Olivia Salter, that she was important, that she was loved. The world would not forget her. 

Isobel didn’t get the chance to impact the world in the usual way, but I am determined that we who have been irrevocably changed by her will find ways of doing good in her honour. Her little life will in some small but meaningful ways change the world for the better. I have some ideas about this already and look forward to developing them as my capacity to function slowly returns. 
(Photo taken at The Grand Palace Bangkok on our honeymoon – 10 weeks pregnant).