A Matter of Perspective

Since Winter died I have trudged daily through grief, I miss him endlessly and it hurts.  To help me survive the mass of emotions and pain, I have taken many rich elements of Buddhist teachings and put them into practice.  One of these practices has been acknowledging my perspective and looking at ways I can alter it to bring relief and joy amongst the heartbreak.  Shifting perspective is not about painting on a happy face and pretending that I only ever feel thankful for his existence.  No, I have many moments where I feel cheated and angry at this world and the life and death divides we are ruled by.  Grief is essential, it a normal emotion.  But holding onto a mind that promotes gratitude and seeks to find the roses amongst the thorns is also helpful and a simple choice to make.  After all, he taught me that life is here and then gone, and whilst I have my moments of heartbreak and raw emotions, there is no time to fester in bitterness.

Buddha taught that the world we live in is a reflection of our own mind.  That might sound a bit hippie hocus pocus but studying Buddhism has taught me that this is entirely true and really quite simple to put into daily practise.  If we are looking to improve our daily state of mind then shifting our perspective is a virtuous and meaningful act that only requires ourself and our mind.  I feel the need to add with every one of these Buddhist blog posts that these are small practices that we can implement in our day to day lives with great positive effect, but also of course that I am a human being and riddled with faults.  I’m not preaching as a pure enlightened being, I am simply sharing teachings that have been shared with me, many of which have helped me continue when I found myself in the depths of grief as my baby son died.  I’ll never forget very shortly after his death, flipping his meagre lifespan on it’s head:  Winter died after one day – no, Winter LIVED for one day.  A small adjustment to detail that has forever stayed with me.  I can dwell on the fact that he was born alive and therefore suffered greatly until his death, or I can feel gratitude for the gift of being able to see his eyes open and know he had deep brown eyes, and the privilege we had to hold him close to us in our arms as he peacefully died. Whether we are grieving a loved one or just feeling a bit flat on the treadmill of life, it is small thoughts like this that can entirely transform our lives from heavy, chore ridden and monotonous days into an ongoing positive spiritual practice.

We can begin our day with a virtuous perspective the very moment we wake up.  One of Buddha’s greatest teachings is ‘Everywhere we look we find only the kindness of others’.  Now, I know what you’re thinking… what about ‘nasty’ people?  Naturally as sceptics we instantly look for the loophole, I would do the very same and Buddha always encouraged his students to question and look to prove him wrong.  Of course they never could and the questioning and analysing only ever improved their spiritual practice.  To begin with, we will consider our day to day.  We wake up in the morning, in our bed.  Where did that bed come from?  Somebody designed it, somebody gathered the materials required, somebody cut the pieces or operated the machinery, somebody loaded it onto a lorry, somebody drove the lorry, somebody placed it in a warehouse, somebody served you in a shop or handled your online order.  The mattress, somebody made it.  The bed sheets, somebody printed the pattern.  The pillows, somebody stuffed.  Without these ‘somebody’s’ you would have no bed.  And so we can see that even in the morning as we lie in bed, we are already basking in the kindness of so many people.  Even if the people who created your bed were grumpy and ill mannered, you lay there comfortable and benefitting from their work, and so it remains a kind act.  Even within our first hour of waking, we have benefited from the kindness of so many strangers it is impossible to list each one.  The cup of tea, with hand picked tea leaves, hot water from the kettle, the mug designed and manufactured, the shower with warm running water fitted by a plumber, our breakfast of cereal and fruit, picked, packed, transported, displayed, beeped though the till.  Everything that we come into contact with that has benefitted our life has all come from a web of kindness that extends beyond cities, continents, language and religion.  Without the kindness of others, where would be?  Homeless, starving, naked, in fact not even born without the kindness of our mothers.  We can use this perspective when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, such as a long traffic jam delayed by roadworks.  Rather than sitting in our car and cursing the road and other drivers, we can mentally thank the workmen for improving our roads, keeping them safe, providing for their families and loved ones whilst kindly improving our driving network.  Of course this is often easier said than done when we find ourselves late and stressed, but really when we consider that feeling neither angry and frustrated or thankful and calm will have any real effect on the actual situation, we can realise that we may as well sit in that traffic reflecting on kindness and how lucky we are, rather than with a disturbed and restless mind.  Either way, we are stuck in traffic and that is out of our control, but our mind is always ours to control (with practise…).

Ok, so now the question of people who are ‘mean’ to us or say and do things that are outside of our own personal wishes.  How is that kind?  Perhaps this requires a little more contemplation and an open mind, maybe a little more understanding of Buddhist practices and beliefs of karma and rebirth… but to keep it simple and light we can realise that anything and everything can be used as a tool to improve our own spiritual practice.  To give an example, since my son died I have had some negative reactions online to sharing his story and photographs (pictures of a ‘dead baby’ aren’t going to suit everyone. Read here about why I choose to share his story regardless) but it is the perspective with which we respond to these situations that matter.  I could retaliate, send an aggressive reply and see no virtuous outcome whatsoever.  Or I could mentally thank the person for offering an opportunity to gently educate, helping me to realise that there is still work to be done in the infant loss taboo, putting a little fire in my belly to continue spreading awareness and shouting about baby loss with an even bigger voice, and of course, thank them for reminding me about how to not behave and the importance of being kind even anonymously behind a computer screen.  They have provided me an opportunity to practice patience and to develop a peaceful mind even when potentially disturbed by anger. And so, in finding ways that this person has helped me and benefitted my spiritual practice, I can see that even though unintentional, they have been kind to me.

Keeping a virtuous perspective during our daily lives can also extend to our actions as well as our surroundings and interactions.  Chores… housework… cleaning…  Even something as simple as cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming can transform into beneficial spiritual practice simply by changing our view.  When we are hot and tired and changing the bedsheets, we can think ‘I am providing my loved ones with a safe and comfortable place to rest’ and when we are washing the dishes we can think ‘I am providing my family with clean plates so they are able to eat and grow healthily’.  I get it, it sounds a bit airy fairy, and do I walk around dusting and singing Disney songs everyday?  Nope.  But really it is just our thoughts and it can make even simple chores feel more meaningful.

Finally, we all need to stop the constant comparison of our lives.  Easier said than done especially in the world of Instagram where everyone else’s little squares always seem brighter than our own, but it is really a meaningless wasted act to spend time deciding who is winning at life and who is not.  I could write endlessly about this, but I won’t.  We are all here, in life, that has got to be enough.  We all know people that have everything and are miserable (just check the celebrity section in the tabloids), and others with less than us that are happy.  So more or less, neither matters, it is only our mind that we can rely on to keep us happy.  As the saying goes ‘The only time you should look in your neighbours bowl is to check they have enough’.

If anyone is interested in learning anymore about Modern Buddhism then visit Tharpa.com to find a Buddhist centre near to you and a wealth of books and Cd’s etc.

Preparing For The Unpreparable.

When I was pregnant with Winter I spent a lot of time wondering how my life would change when he arrived.  I imagined sleepless nights and groggy confusion and newborn survival, all wrapped up in a big thankful-for-his-existence bow.  And actually, despite his death, that expectation was pretty accurate.  But of course, it wasn’t at all the way I had fantasised. The sleepless nights were not tending to a cooing newborn, but me lay awake in a painfully quiet house, pining for my baby boy. The groggy confusion came not from scouring online baby forums for colic relief, but instead rested upon heavy grieving shoulders where I swung from peaceful gratitude to crying on the nursery floor, never really knowing or understanding how I would be feeling next.  And the newborn survival, became instead surviving the death of my newborn.  I had not planned for this, in my months of preparation for life with my baby not once had I discussed and decided just how I would continue my life without my baby.  And I have come to discover that nothing can prepare you at all for that, just as nothing can really ever prepare you for life with a real live wriggling newborn.  And yet here I am, trying to prepare.

It goes without saying that the preparation this time is bittersweet, but ultimately it is exciting and hopeful.  A lot of the items I have for this baby were bought with the intention to be used 21 months ago.  Gifted clothes left unfilled, a lovingly chosen crib left unused.  They sat in Winters nursery patiently awaiting a baby that never arrived home.  And now, they are offered a second chance.  If life were a Disney film then this is the bit where all the objects would jump into action after a long slumber, egged on by a cheery sing song chorus, animated by sprightly co-ordinated dancing.  This pregnancy has breathed life into faded hopeless items, it has polished and sprinkled them with colour.  Where I once pained to peek at the babygrows that I had washed and folded for Winter, I can now hang them up with refreshed purpose.  It may not be his body that fills their shape, but his sibling, his DNA, a part of him can.  It’s the next best thing. Then there is the sense during preparing the nursery that I have done this all before.  Last time our loving efforts went wasted, our talk of how we would raise our child and the dreams we had for their future all fell on deaf ears.  We planted the seed, we watered it and showered it with sunshine but we were rewarded with drought.  A fruitless harvest.  It’s impossible to not plan for the same happening.  Our imagination can be painfully morbid as it teases us with worst case scenarios.  I painted the walls of this nursery excited and laughing with Dean, and then for a split second my mind wandered off the cliff edge and I decided that I would like this exact colour for our baby’s coffin if they died.  I had to quickly remind myself that my past experience is not a guaranteed reality.  It was just a flicker, a millisecond, one of those things that flashes through your mind and jolts you.  A hastened recovery, back to smiling, ‘I can’t wait for baby to be in this room.’

My hospital bag is mostly packed.  This time I haven’t bothered with the fluffies, no chapstick or eye mask for me.  Just the essentials, nappies and wipes and maternity pads etc and a handful of well considered baby outfit in varying sizes.  Last time I made the mistake of taking only small baby clothes, bravely assuming my baby would only ever be small.  We laugh now at the memory of squeezing Winter into a romper that was most definitely too tiny, and seeing that very babygrow hanging in the nursery, stretched open between desperate poppers, still brings a smile to my face.  But that was Winters memory, and now I am ready to successfully clothe a live new baby.  I don’t know what to expect of this baby’s arrival.  Some days I feel like it could happen at any moment in a way I don’t really want, a rushed induction or emergency caesarean, and the loss of control is suffocating.  Other days I feel certain that I will naturally labour and birth this baby peacefully in a way similar to that of Winter before tragedy struck.  And really I am reminded every day that as long as they are alive and well, the method to which they make it is as throwaway as a sweet wrapper.

And then there is this real life parenting shit. Yes, I am already a mother, I’ve no bones about my title. I have 2 children, a little boy called Winter who lives in my heart and a growing womb baby.  But there is no doubt about it, there is a vast difference between mothering a child that has died and mothering a child that is living.  I mother Winter by protecting his memory and keeping him alive in our thoughts, hanging his photograph on the wall and his handprint at our door, but I don’t know too much about weaning and latching on.  Does anyone until they have to do it?  Whether parenting an angel or parenting a walking talking human, neither is easy, each throws challenges in different ways, and I still can’t really know what to expect when I walk through our front door with a babe in arms.  I’m not sure any pregnant woman has ever fully accepted that there is a real life baby in there until they pop out.  I fully expect to have that ‘Holy cow what the hell’ moment when we realise it is actually a proper baby that we are now responsible for. Right now, we feel the wriggles and hiccups and stick the scan photos onto the fridge… but is it true, is there really a baby in there?!  To steal a quote from my good friend and fellow pregnant loss mama Farrah – @somethingrosier – this morning as we text, ‘It’s like walking on the moon, you know its happened and it’s possible but you just can’t really believe it!’.  I lay in bed with Dean at night and we say things like ‘soon there will be a little baby here with us…’ but neither of us really think its actually truly true.  Because it is impossible to envision, perhaps even more so to first time parents or those who have had babies but never bought them home.

It goes without saying that I expect motherhood to be challenging.  What kind of mother will I be?  Will I know how to soothe a screaming baby?  How will I know what my baby wants from me?  I work in a school and we have recently begun to take children as young as two years old in our pre-nursery, and I have many friends who have had babies since Winter died, both in real life and online. In that sense I’m not in a naïve bubble anymore.  Before we had Winter I had never even changed a nappy, these days I change them in my job.  I know more about young children and baby’s development, the toys they play with and the TV shows they watch.  And I hear and read about the struggles of teething and colic and sleep deprivation.  I’m lucky to follow some open and honest mothers alongside the more picture perfect families on my Instagram, I enjoy both varieties on my feed and I’ve taken a lot from each and every one.  I also see that having a baby after loss is both easier and harder than parenting can ever be.  Easier perhaps because we know the true value of life on a deeper level that can only come with the death of another child, and provides us with greater patience… maybe?  Harder because we are still riddled with grief and the anxiety that our child may die… and heap a whole load of pressure onto ourselves to never be cross or frustrated because we wanted this baby so much…?  It is all speculation of course, and the reality will prove that motherhood is tricky no matter what your background.  Do I expect I will be forever calm and thankful and accepting even when my baby has cried for hours non stop…?  Probably not, I am human and I’ve no doubt I will struggle in all the ways that every woman has struggled on their new path of motherhood.  A rainbow baby won’t literally be all rainbows, with glitter poo and unicorns dancing around them as they sleep through each and every night.  We’ve all been the pregnant perfectionist who swears their child won’t have a tantrum in the supermarket like that… until it happens.  I’ve seen this, I’ve taken note, I’ve already began to make peace with the fact that whilst preparing for this baby fills me with hope and excitement, I have no idea what to really expect and that’s ok.  Winter taught me that we have very little control over life, it can change in an instant.  As long as I can offer love and protection and take the time to live in the moment then everything else is out of my hands.  All I can do is prepare to try my best.

 

Our Rainbow Journey

So I’m sitting here, 32 weeks pregnant, around 8 weeks away from potentially holding a healthy rainbow baby in my arms, with two conflicting thoughts running through my mind…

  1. How have I managed to make it through this long and tedious slog of pregnancy after loss?
  2. How on Earth has it simultaneously gone so fast that the end has snook up on me like a leopard in a jungle?

The last time I posted about this pregnancy journey I was 18 weeks pregnant and sharing as part of Pregnancy After Loss Awareness Week.  A lot has happened since then, we have bought our first family home and moved in, and seen our baby’s face on a 4D scan, and our journey – although relatively smooth and problem free – has undoubtedly been emotional and with it’s fair share of challenges.

Physically this pregnancy has not been too different to my experience with Winter.  Aside from the usual symptoms of backache and tiredness, I have managed to escape any long term discomfort or illness.  If you follow my Instagram then you may know that I had a bout of heavy nosebleeds, but they came at a time when I was already feeling under the weather and some time off to rest soon solved that problem.  I began to show some symptoms of SPD – Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction, a condition that usually occurs in second pregnancies onwards, and causes excessive movement of the symphysis pubis and results is sharp groin pains.  However it hasn’t seemed to materialise too much and I have only had mild uncomfortable pains that have been eased by a ‘bump belt’ which straps below my bump and pulls it up to relieve the pressure on my groin.  I have had repeated incidents of sugar in my wee samples and so I have been tested for Gestational Diabetes.  My Glucose Tolerance Test came back as negative, although on closer inspection my midwife noted that my results were borderline and so I may be tested again at some point, however as baby appears to be growing at a perfect rate there is no cause for concern.  All my cardiac and growth scans have shown a healthy baby with no heart abnormalities, and aside from swollen ankles and feet and a recent bump of iron tablets I am feeling healthy and relatively ‘normal’.  All in all, a smooth and thankfully non eventful pregnancy physically.  Emotionally, of course, is a whole different ball game…

When I was pregnant with Winter, everything just seemed so easy and guaranteed.  Happiness, excitement, anticipation – these were the overriding emotions that I carried with me.  I just sort of ‘tootled along’ in my niave and blinkered mum-to-be bubble.  After birthing a healthy baby and holding him in my arms as he died a day later, it’s no real surprise that although this pregnancy has been served with a main dish of joy and hope, it also arrived with a side salad of fear, anxiety and actually quite a lot of sadness.

There are so many delicate aspects to pregnancy that appear only after a loss.  Expectant mothers in these situations are faced with a whole new world of confusing and exhausting thoughts and experiences.  One unexpected neonatal death and 2 very early miscarriages, and suddenly the possibility of falling pregnant seems like a mountainous feat, and growing a baby for 40 long weeks and delivering them safely Earth side seems near on impossible.  I found myself asking ‘how did all these humans make it onto this planet?’. All these mothers walking around with live babies, ‘how do I get one?!’.  For me personally, I have found that I was so afraid of miscarrying or my baby dying early on that I wasn’t able to plan ahead for a baby coming home for a long time. I was too afraid to make any preparations, too scared to buy another tiny baby outfit or Moses basket that would sit unused and starkly empty of life.  I was 9 weeks pregnant with Winter when I purchased my first little baby item. I hadn’t even attended my first midwife appointment, my confidence of having a baby rested solely on a single positive test. Ironically it was a knitted woollen hat with a tassel that I bought from a ‘Friends Of The Baby Unit’ stand at a fayre, the very same charity that we now support in Winters memory.  With this little rainbow baby I was 22 weeks when we picked up our first outfit, and as we stood paying at the till I felt as though I was leaping across a raging river, it was a dangerous, daring and magnificent accomplishment.

During the weeks of mid twenties, as my belly rounded and back gave in to pains, I also found many opportunities to master the dreaded ‘Is this your first?’ query.  It is actually a question that still makes me nervous to date, I sense it’s arrival in conversation and I feel myself turning pink in anticipation, but never the less I have grown in confidence in my reply.  I choose to always say it is my second, regardless of the situation or person, after all, it is my second baby so why say otherwise? And I have realised that the response from the other person depends on two things… how confidently and gently I reply, and their own emotional standing.  Of course I don’t divulge my entire traumatic birth story to the 16 year old cashier at H&M, I carefully choose my responses.  If the conversation takes me to talk of Winter then I do, I am just forever mindful of dropping a giant emotional bombshell and so I will say things like ‘Our first baby was very poorly and didn’t come home from the hospital, we are very much looking forward to meeting his brother or sister… Only 8 weeks to go!’ The other person has a choice of acknowledging that our baby died or taking the other thread and talking about how soon this baby will arrive.  So far, bar one very early and unexpected moment, I have escaped any uncomfortable experiences… or maybe I have just been so proud that I had said my well rehearsed line that I didn’t actually notice!

At 26 weeks pregnant we moved into our new house. It is our first purchase, a beautiful 3 bed new build, and a million miles away from the tiny rented pad we lived in for 6 years previously.  Leaving Winters nursery was crushing, and I’m still not sure I’ve made peace with that.  Of course it is just a box in a house, and he is with us wherever we are, but that will always be Winters room to me.  I wrote in length about this on Instagram so I don’t want to repeat myself, all I will say is that I am continuing to find ways to include our firstborn angel in our new home.  It is, unsurprisingly, very important to me that he has a presence in this new space, and I am able to see his little face as I walk around the house.  Organising the nursery here has been bittersweet.  On the one hand we are carried by the love for our womb baby and on the other we are reminded that our last efforts ended in absolute heartbreak, and so we are working to find a balance of both honouring Winter in the nursery, and creating a space that is individual to our newest arrival.  Originally I had hoped to use the same wallpaper as Winter, little Indian tepee’s, and I was upset when I realised it wasn’t really possible for several reasons, but now I see this as a blessing and an opportunity to give this new baby a personalised place that has been created especially for them.

At 32 weeks, I am now arriving at the part of pregnancy where ‘preparation panic’ sets in.  I remember it well with Winter, you’re there just floating along, buying baby clothes and smiling as strangers admire your growing bump, when suddenly you’re 30 weeks deep and the finish line is in sight.  With Winter I was panic buying breast pumps and fretting over how to change a nappy, but I was also quietly self assured about my labour having read various hypnobirthing books and I had more free time for yoga and baths and self care.  This time I am not only amidst the wreckage of a recent house move, but I am also facing an entirely more frightening prospect – labour and delivery of a healthy baby.  My midwife appointment at 29 weeks awoke this fear that I have happily left in slumber for the majority of my pregnancy.  So focused on staying pregnant, the realisation that I have to face the other major fear of actually birthing this baby is something I had reserved for the future.  Now the future is here and I have to actively take control of this anxiety and steer myself towards a relaxed and healthy labour.  Whilst my actual birth with Winter was really quite uneventful and smooth (read my birth story here), he stopped breathing shortly after I delivered his placenta and he was taken out of my arms to be resuscitated.  My memories of this moment are of pure panic and terror.  I cannot forget the nurse looking at me and saying ‘I need you to know that your baby might die’ – and of course, he didFor me, this experience can’t be separated from my labour, it is merged into one deeply traumatic memory.  Is it any wonder that I am frightened this time?  What greater fear is there than a tangible reality that your child could die before, during or moments after birth?  Whilst my scans have reassured me that this baby is so far thriving, I am also hyper aware that Winters condition that ultimately caused his death would not have been detected on any scans.  He suffered from PPHN, which is a functional failure rather than a structural failure, in other words it was something that went wrong in that moment, rather than something inherently wrong physically.  After being tossed into the baby loss world, I am naturally also more aware of all the million ways that a baby can die at labour.  It is of course both a reality and an entirely skewed perspective.  My main job now is to overcome this fear and gift this baby the best birth possible.  My consultant offered me the choice of elective C-section to alleviate any anxiety, but I already stand firm in my decision to labour as naturally as possible and to have medical intervention only if and when it is needed.  If baby becomes distressed or ill then it goes without saying that I will do whatever is necessary to bring them safely into this world, and I am also considering the possibility of induction if my anxiety sky rockets if I happen to go overdue, but generally I am putting faith in my body as much as possible and using these last weeks to prepare myself mentally.  The phrase ‘mind over matter’ could not be more relevant right now.

Alongside the fear, there is the sadness.  Growing this baby is such an amazing stroke of luck and everyday I am thankful for my occupied womb, and by admitting my undercurrent of sadness I feel as though I am letting this baby down somehow, or for those women still desperately trying to conceive, I may come across as ungrateful.  But here I am confessing that although there are many moments of highs, there are also my moments of lows.  I have lay in bed feeling wriggles and kicks, with both a smile on my face and tears on my cheeks.  Every time my heart grows to house the extra love for this baby, it also exposes another crack.  ‘Bittersweet’ is absolutely the word that summarises my experience of this pregnancy.  I love this baby so much, and I love Winter equally.  One will hopefully make it safely into this world and grow and bloom into a kind and loving being, whilst the other remains eternally out of my reach and his growth and bloomability exists only as a figment of my own starved and grasping imagination.  Is it ok to admit that this pregnancy hasn’t bought me purely a peaceful satisfaction?  It feels so wrong to say that I have sat and cried whilst carrying my much wanted and already much loved baby, but it’s the truth.  Expecting a baby after losing one is simply not the easy breezy, picture perfect journey that we project pregnancy to be.  It isn’t the catalogue photoshoot of a couple smiling and choosing nursery décor.  It is highs and lows and highs, it is jumping from the penthouse suite, hitting the concrete at full force and somehow clawing your way back up to the top.  It is gratitude and hope and joy, and being forced to face your ultimate fear of another baby dying.  It is a raw, conflicting, emotional and valid happysad journey that takes courage and a huge amount of mental strength to navigate successfully.  Babies die, and rainbow babies die too.  Whilst tiptoeing along this wobbly path, three of my fellow loss mother friends have been confronted with the reality of their rainbow dying.  To say my heart breaks for them is an understatement. Alongside their pain I have also seen rainbows lost to early miscarriages and failed IVF attempts.  We are a crowd of desperately longing mothers, beginning our own weighty journeys, each carrying a tiny egg and a heart full of hope, dragging with us the weight of grief, crawling in a muddy field as snipers open fire to snatch away our dream, and we are all desperate to make it to the finish line with the ultimate prize… a healthy live baby to bring home and keep forever. I wish for us all to achieve that dream, I know that in this world of child loss and trying to conceive, I am actually one of the lucky ones, a feeling that comes loaded with both gratitude and guilt.

And finally I would like to end on a note of hope and excitement.  This pregnancy has been so very difficult at times, and yet here I am, embracing it as much as possible.  I am now emotionally self assured enough to buy clothes for this baby, and today I was excited as our car seat arrived.  Little victories.  The fear never stops, the longing to have Winter here is forever overwhelming, the voice in the back of my mind that whispers ‘what if…‘ is excruciatingly present, but we have made it this far and despite it all I love being pregnant and feeling this new life blossom inside me.  We simply can’t wait to meet our rainbow.  I have been sure to capture memories and enjoy the rolls and kicks, after all Winter taught me that life is too short to not count our blessings at every possible opportunity.

If you would like to have a guess at our rainbow baby’s gender, due date and weight with the chance of winning a prize, then you can take part in Winters Rainbow Fundraiser by clicking here and leaving your guess with a small donation and your contact details.  My official due date is 19th August… good luck!

Finding Happiness For Others: Choosing Joy Over Jealousy

Jealousy is an emotion we have all encountered in our lives, both experiencing the repercussions from someone else who feels jealous, or living with the uncomfortable feeling ourselves.  If someone were to ask you ‘how many times have you felt jealous?’ it would be an impossible question to answer.  Even if as adults we don’t suffer with strong jealousy, there are countless times we experienced it in the past and there are always future opportunities for this mind to arise, even in the most subtle of ways.  So why is it so shameful to admit our jealousy and begin the simple journey to relieving ourselves of its poisonous burden?

I have pondered over this blog post for an exceptionally long time.  Jealousy is everywhere in our human world, and of course this includes the emotional minefield of the baby loss world.  My intention here is not to alienate anyone or judge someone’s personal grief journey and all the deeply painful trauma that comes with the death of your child.  But I also know – having naturally experienced it myself – that jealousy is hugely painful and of great burden to us as humans, and having received Buddhist teachings on ways to ease it I feel like I would like to post this for anyone suffering and wanting to find ways to escape the suffocating clutches of the green-eyed monster.

Firstly, I want to make a few things clear.  My life is not devoid of jealousy, I am a human, one who has suffered the loss of her child shortly after he was born and has lived with the subsequent sting of pregnancy and birth announcements.  I’m not pointing the finger and rolling my eyes at you, or anyone, and I believe wholeheartedly that some level of jealous feelings are entirely natural when your baby dies and others live.  There is inevitably the feeling that after so much raw pain we have to at times protect our own heart and I am not suggesting anyone denies themselves that privilege, but rather I want to pass on some helpful relief.  To begin I would like to share with you a personal moment when I felt the rages of jealousy.  I had just suffered my second miscarriage following the sudden death of my newborn son and we were in the run up to his first birthday and angelversay.  I was heartbroken and losing hope when a close friend of mine announced – quite out of the blue – that she was expecting a baby.  She sent me a beautiful and well-considered text and I’ve no doubt she was aware that the news would bring with it a level of pain for me.  But despite knowing all that, I read the message and my chest burned, I felt angry, I went straight to bed and cried a river, my mind said ‘why can she have a baby so easily but I can’t?!’ and it took me until later that day to reply to her message.  After some crying and resting, to help regain my perspective I looked through my teaching notes and meditated with a mind focused on eliminating my jealousy.  I did not suppress the feeling, I did not beat myself up for it, I simply challenged why I felt that way and used practical reasoning to slowly overcome it.  It isn’t magic, it’s just changing your thinking.

Firstly, if we know someone is feeling jealous then we should also know that this requires great compassion.  Jealousy is so often hurled as an insult, and with it comes a huge amount of personal attack and negative insinuation.  But if we all think about a moment when we have felt jealous, then we can easily realise just how ugly it feels.  When we are jealous we are angry, ashamed and most likely comparing our personal value to the value of others.  It is such a consuming emotion that it is quickly out of our control, and many crimes of passion have been committed by someone who feels jealous.  Whilst it doesn’t always mean we are going to turn into a murderer… it can lead us to cut contact with friends and family and say and do tremendously hurtful and regretful things.  There is never any good that comes from a feeling of jealousy, and it feels painful and poisonous.  No one has ever said ‘I love feeling jealous, it’s so wonderful!’ and those around us who feel jealous are suffering great mental pain.  When we do retaliate in jealousy, it feels good for a short time but it is quickly chased by feelings of shame and guilt.  If we know how this feels, then we can realise that those around us suffering from jealousy do not require shaming and mocking, but actually they require great compassion to relieve them of such a terrible feeling.  And not in a patronising and sarcastic way with an underlying intent to embarrass or shame them, but in a way that truly comes from a compassionate intention – that is the most important point.

So why do we feel jealous?  From a Buddhist perspective, jealousy is a negative mind that arises when we feel like our own needs are not met.  This mind comes from our deep-rooted self cherishing, the mind that all humans possess that puts themselves as their number one priority and most important person.  We don’t need to be ashamed to admit that we have this mindset, we all do, it is our greatest flaw as humans, and it leads to all our minds of anger, attachment, jealousy etc, and is the mind that subsequently leads humans into division, war and other disastrous situations.  To give an example of this mind, we can use an analogy; Imagine you are walking down your street and you notice that all the houses have smashed windows.  Our mind instantly thinks ‘Oh wow, I hope my house hasn’t had its windows smashed’.  Whilst of course we may feel natural compassion for our friends and neighbours, we are ultimately relieved that our house is ok.  Now imagine that you are told that only one house on your street has been broken into, our mind of self cherishing leaps in again and says ‘I hope it’s not my house!’.  Self cherishing is the mind that values my things greater than it values others, whether that be my house, my car, my family, my idea, my religion or my country.  It is not to be confused with selfishness, but is rather a natural arising mind that promotes strong attachment to ‘me, my, our’.  As Buddhists we are always working to eliminate this mind – with wisdom from other practical teachings.  It is the mind that is the root of all our daily problems and our one true enemy.  Jealousy arises from our self cherishing mind.  When my friend announced her pregnancy, it was my self cherishing mind that instantly screamed ‘what about me?  Why couldn’t my baby live?  Why can’t I get pregnant?’.  Before I thought of my friends happiness, I thought of my own sadness, and jealousy tightened its grip.

There have been many times on this infant loss path that I have wished I had a greater skill at reducing my jealous feelings, and luckily for me (and anyone else who is hoping to reduce this suffering) Buddha provided us with some wonderful and practical advice.  I don’t think it is an instant cure without great practice – and devoted bodhisattvas and monks are training their minds tirelessly for many years to eliminate their mind of self cherishing, the root cause of all our problems and suffering.  But with some simple perspective and contemplation, we can at least begin to ease our jealousy and relieve our personal suffering whilst rejoicing in the happiness of others.

The first thing I always consider is this – jealousy is a wasted and pointless mind.  By feeling jealous of someone else’s happiness or success, it doesn’t make me feel better and it doesn’t stop them feeling happy or being successful.  In that sense it is a double loss; I feel worse, they are still happy.  If our jealous mind is hoping for the other person to stop feeling happy (which is sadly what this mindset promotes) then we will never be successful in that.  Our jealousy simply leaves us feeling even more miserable, whilst the other person continues in their happiness.  As we realise how empty and worthless the mental pain of jealousy is, we can make a rational and firm commitment to dispose of it.

The next thing I do is I remember what jealousy is.  It is just a mind that says ‘my wish not to suffer is more important than your happiness’.  To put it brutally, when I read the announcement I was thinking about my pain rather than my friends happiness.  I put my pain first, it was more important than the fact that my friend had just discovered that she was about to become a mother and was overjoyed at such a life changing moment.  I instantly thought ‘I want that’ rather than ‘she deserves that happiness’.  Grief is complicated and we must allow ourselves to engage in self-care and be gentle on our hearts, but we must also remember that we are just one single person whilst others are countless, and everyone around us deserves happiness.  It doesn’t mean we don’t find these situations painful and want to crawl into a corner and lick our wounds, but it also means that we can accept that the happiness of others is as important as our expectations of respect for our own grief.  I realised ultimately that I didn’t want my friend – or anyone – to feel guilty for her happiness, I didn’t want her pregnancy and motherhood to be tainted by my personal pain, she was happy and why shouldn’t she be, I remembered the feeling from my first carefree pregnancy and what a wonderful gift it was for her to experience and celebrate that.

Another point to contemplate – at the risk of sounding like a total hippie – is that we are all on our own journeys.  But really, we are… if my friend falls pregnant, has that robbed me of my own chance?  Absolutely not.  Her – and anyone else’s happiness – is not related to mine in that sense.  And so, does it really make any sense to not feel happy for her?  Actually, another healthy baby has an opportunity at life, and that doesn’t make or break my own chance at motherhood.  The same goes for any situation, our lives are all dependent upon circumstances arising, and so we can celebrate the happiness of others as if it were a success of our own.  We can remember that another person feeling happy doesn’t mean that we can’t, nobody is capable of stealing your happiness simply by adding to their own.  Often when we feel jealous we discover that this feeling vanishes when we achieve our own happiness, if this is the case then we can see that jealousy is simply dependent upon our own mind in that moment and therefore we have the ability to make it vanish ourselves, with some guided training and effort.  Just because we feel jealous in that moment, doesn’t mean we will always feel this way, our mind shifts and changes constantly and we can make the decision as to which direction we point it, after all it is our mind, we own it.

There are other countless things to consider.  For example, a stranger who sees me pass by with my now 6 month baby bump, may look at me and feel jealous that they do not have a baby.  But of course, they don’t know my journey to this point.  The fact is that we rarely know a persons full background and history.  Nine months ago as I stood in the shop queue, empty womb and heartbroken, behind a heavily pregnant lady, I looked at her as if she had the whole world.  I thought ‘I want that’.  But of course, everyone suffers in life, mentally, physically, emotionally.  Was the woman in front of me happy?  Who knows.  Perhaps she faces redundancy from her job, no longer loves her partner, or suffers from anxiety.  It’s easy to compare suffering and feel as though ours is worse, and of course I can agree that child loss is severely cruel, but suffering is suffering, and no one escapes it for a lifetime, no one.  When I looked at her as if she had the whole world, there are others looking at me and thinking the same.  We only have to turn on the news and witness the devastation that exists alongside us in this world to see that we – in our safe-roofed, cosy-warm, war-free, full-bellied worlds – are objects of jealousy too.

It took several hours for me to overcome my instant and writhing jealousy in my own situation, but after contemplating Buddha’s teachings and giving myself a little time to breathe and regain perspective, I felt relaxed and confident enough to send a heartfelt congratulations.  And the greatest things happen from those moments, I relieved myself of the added and wasted suffering of jealousy at a time when I already feel the relentless grip of grief, and I celebrated my friends happiness.  It’s not always easy, and I’m certainly far, far from a pure enlightened being, but as long as we have a mind it is possible to enhance our positive virtues and reduce our negative minds that bring with them so much destruction and pain, jealousy included.

I want to end by sending lots of love to all my fellow angel mother friends who walk this cruel path so courageously and with the greatest of grace, even during our messiest, most confused and vulnerable moments.

If anyone is interested in reading further about Buddhism or visiting a centre close to you where anyone is welcome for teachings, meditation or a friendly cup of tea, then please visit Tharpa.com

Mothers On Mothering

This week I am honoured to appear on Country Munchkins Blog feature ‘Mothers on Mothering’.  Just to be included in the ‘Mother Club’ is music to my heart and it was wonderful to write the piece from the perspective of a loss mother.

No one ever tells you that… sometimes, babies die.  Healthy, loved and wanted babies.  I don’t suppose many people want to be faced with the reality that death doesn’t care about status, wealth, or age, and we don’t want to imagine that babies are sometimes taken from their families.  It’s perhaps too painful to realise that parents sometimes bury their children, and that sometimes babies die before they are even born.  But it is, sadly, a ‘sometimes’. 

Click Here to read the full article.

Love from Pea, Winter and Baby Oppy x

A Special Day To Thank Our Kind Mothers

Today is Mothering Sunday, a day where gratitude and love is lavished upon mums up and down the country, and on other dates, across our entire globe.  If we put aside the commercial drive of the day, it is quite incredible to think that we have collectively decided as a species to dedicate an entire day just to celebrate our mothers.  It speaks volumes about the importance we bestow on our mothers and just how deep and powerful that connection is.

I wanted to take some time on my own Mothering Sunday to write about the kindness of mothers from a Buddhist perspective, and how that love and connection can positively touch our lives and inspire our spiritual practice of compassion.

The first thing I would like to contemplate is just how kind our mothers are.  Can we imagine a life without our mothers?  Absolutely not, because without our mothers our very own existence is extinguished.  Our mothers (alongside our fathers) created us and without them we wouldn’t be alive in this world, we would simply not be here.  Even those amongst us who have difficult relationships with their mothers, can be thankful for their own existence.  Not only that, but our mothers were kind enough to allow us to live and grow inside their own bodies for nine months, they showered us with nutrients that enabled us to grow.  Can we imagine loving a person we have never before met?  This is what mothers do, they care and provide for the unknown, a mother loves her child long before they have ever even set eyes on them.  Our mothers endure huge amounts of pain and physical discomfort to grow us and bring us into this world, and this is only the beginning.  As tiny babies we leave our mothers sleep deprived and exhausted, as toddlers we test their patience with broken ornaments and monumental tantrums, as teenagers we purposely hurt them with words filled with anger and selfishness.  And yet through all this, our mother loves us, unwavered. At times our mothers may even hurt themselves to provide for us and protect us, out of pure untainted kindness they may put their own wishes and hopes on hold to ensure we have all our own personal and material needs met.  If there were to be a house fire, the fierceness of a mothers love is powerful enough to send them into the building to rescue their baby, an act of strength and bravery spurred on by a love deep enough they would risk their own life to save the life of another human.  And so we can see that throughout our lives our mothers are extraordinarily kind, and our first example of someone who not only views another living being as more important than themselves, but also someone who puts the happiness of another person before their own.

Mothering Sunday is our way of thanking our mothers for all they do for us, and in this way we are practicing compassion without realising just how profound it is.  We dedicate the whole day to the happiness of another person, we recognise that our mothers happiness is important and we go above and beyond to provide that happiness for her.  Not only are we fulfilling another persons wishes, but we feel good about it.  This is a perfect example of realising that other peoples happiness matters, that we alone are not the only ones deserving of happiness.  As humans we have a (possibly natural, possibly spurred on by society) tendancy to spontaneously believe that our own wishes are more important than the wishes of others.  We shouldn’t feel ashamed to admit this, in fact realising this and recognising it is a wonderful practice to begin, and when paired with a little wisdom it works wonders for our mind of jealousy.  As we treat our mothers on this special day, we can keep hold of the feeling it brings us and remember that the happiness of others is important.

The love of mothers is clear to see even in the animal realm.  We can watch nature programmes and see a baby monkey clinging to its mother as she carries them away from predators, and giraffes nudging their calves as they encourage them to stand.  Even animals such as snakes that birth their eggs and appear to abandon them, have kindly grown them in their womb, endured painful birth and found a safe place for their babies to hatch.  The difference with animals is that they lack the wisdom of humans, they are unable to consciously develop compassion.  They have little or no knowledge of the importance of their existence, they are unable to practice on a wider spiritual level and they are therefore limited to the basic, natural compassion gifted to them.  It is when contemplating this that we can realise just how meaningful our human lives are, how lucky we are to not only be able to thank and care for our mothers as they have cared for and nurtured us, but also to have the opportunity to cultivate our compassion on a wider scale.

Buddhist theory around life after death – in a quick simplified nutshell – is that our mind and body are separate; our body is material and deteriotates like a water bubble, whereas our mind is a clear, formless continuum with no beginning and no end.  After death come results of passed lives karma, and we are once again reborn into another body.  As a result, we have lived countless lives and we will live countless more, until we achieve a pure Buddha mind free from ‘delusions’ of jealousy, anger, hatred and attachment when we will be reborn as a Buddha in the pure land.  Whatever our initial thoughts on this belief (which of course is no stranger logically than the belief that we grow wings and sit on a cloud) we can explore the idea and contemplate it.  This notion of rebirth and countless previous lives means that we have all at some point, from beginningless time, been ants, birds, cats, koalas, previous humans… and we have all at one moment in time been each others mothers.  Therefore in Buddhism, we refer to other humans as ‘all our kind mothers’ (mentally of course, not literally to a stranger in a supermarket…)  Whether or not we choose to agree that this is the ultimate truth in the life after death mystery, we can all agree that if we viewed every person we met as our kind and loving mother, then we would care for each other and all living beings with greater compassion and patience than we witness currently in this world.  It is both a logical and peaceful view to hold.

Our mothers also teach us that we have limitless pockets of love.  When a mother has one child they love them endlessly, yet if they have ten more children, the love for each one never diminishes, it simply grows.  Love never wears thin no matter how far it is stretched, it is the fabric of life that comes on an endless roll.  We can take our mothers kind example on board and realise that there is always room in our lives to love more and more people… Buddha himself set the ultimate example by loving all living beings without exception.

This is my third mothers day as a mother.  The first I was growing my little snowflake baby in my womb, loving him long before we met.  The second I was empty in both arms and womb, heartbroken by my loss and spending my days trying desperately to feel like a mother.  Today I have empty arms still, and a little life blossoming inside me once more.  Today I have cried a flood, my wish to kiss my son is the greatest wish I have on this special day, but it is out of reach and an opportunity I will sadly never be gifted again.  Although I can’t see him or hold him, I can feel him and honour him, and I am lucky enough to be able to physically thank my own mother for her love.  Today there are many mothers without their children, and their are many children without their mothers.  We are living proof that love doesn’t cease after death, and a gentle reminder to not only hold close those who you love, but to take example from our own mothers and grow the kindness and compassion they planted in us from the very day our existence began.

Happy Mother Day to all my kind mothers x

What I Want People To Know About Pregnancy After Loss

I had originally planned to wait until further into my Pregnancy After Loss (PAL) journey before I shared my experience, however this week has been PAL Awareness week and ends today with the prompt ‘What Do You Want People To Know About Pregnancy After Loss?’ and so I thought, ok I’m going to take the plunge and share my journey so far.  Why didn’t I want to share earlier?  Well, in case I lost this baby of course. And this way of thinking is the very reason why it is important for loss mothers to speak up and share their pregnancy experience, so those people around us, both family and professionals, can understand the long term mental haul that surrounds PAL, and so that those on a similar path can realise they are not alone.

After losing our son the day after he was born, and 2 subsequent early miscarriages, this pregnancy could not be any further away from my first naïve and relaxed pregnancy.  When I was carrying Winter I never expected that he would take his last breath so soon after taking his first.  I took good care of myself, yes, I swallowed the vitamins, I swam weekly and I was a daily prenatal yoga champ, but I also ate some soft cheeses and carried heavy loads. I was so relaxed about being pregnant that I didn’t even fret when Winter didn’t kick for a whole two days, instead I rolled my eyes and said ‘they’re sleepy this weekend…’.  Sometimes I cringe at my past zen attitude, but I was untouched by loss and presumptive that pregnancy ended with a baby.

PAL is many things, but relaxed is certainly not on my list.  I can honestly say I haven’t truly completely relaxed once for the whole 18 weeks.  You see, the death of your baby turns your next pregnancy experience upside down.  Once you know it is actually really possible for it all to end with a tiny coffin and an empty nursery, there is no going back.  And it is a huge emotional mountain.  And it is frightening.  And it is a challenge even for the bravest of mothers.

Here are 3 things I would like people to know about Pregnancy After Loss…

1. It is scary and emotionally exhausting.

I get up, I go to work, I see my friends, I eat dinner with my family.  And always in the back of my mind is the thought that this pregnancy could end, or that my baby could be born and then die.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I have lay in bed googling ‘How would I know if my baby had died in the womb?’ and fretted over the size of my bump.  My first thought with every twinge or ache is ‘Is my baby still alive?’.  Every day I go to sleep thinking ‘I have made it another day and I’m still pregnant, I hope I’m still ok in the morning…’.  Seeing that little pink line on the test sparked not an instant feeling of excitement, but instead just a hope that this baby lives.  I consider myself fairly strong mentally and a generally optimistic person, but even I have found myself wondering how I would plan this baby’s funeral if it died, what colour coffin would I choose this time? It might all sound a bit dramatic and party pooping to those who haven’t experienced such devastating loss, but really it is a natural protection, a way of preparing ourselves for the worst possible outcome – because for loss mothers that outcome is a tangible reality.  I don’t have to imagine how painful it would be for my baby to die, I know how painful it is. PAL is reading and researching every single possible cause of baby death and endless sourcing of apnea mattresses and baby breathing alarms, comparing symptoms and sickness and size of your belly.  The fear can be so consuming that we have to find ways to survive in bitesize timelines.  I see this pregnancy like a Super Mario game, once I reach the next level the game is saved and I can begin the next challenge; I have just reached ‘first kicks’ level, so right now I’m aiming for the halfway point at 20 weeks, then I will aim for viability at 24 weeks… each scan and consultant appointment is a little ‘tap in’ where I hit the save button before I continue on my next quest.  Imagining another 22 weeks all in one go is just too long, surely something is bound to go wrong in such a vast length of time… Then there are the other emotions to throw into the pot.  I hear a lot of loss mothers talk about feelings of guilt at another pregnancy.  I’ve managed to escape this weight, for me I can reason wholeheartedly that Winter is floating around on his cloud or wherever he is, and he sees me as his mother and he wishes me only happiness and an earth baby to love, he is wise enough to realise that this baby is connected to him and not a replacement.  However I fully understand why loss mothers would feel this way and there is a part of me that knows and worries that I will not be able to spend so much time on Winters memory when I am (hopefully) up to my eyeballs in pooey nappies, and there is a very real fear that this baby will somehow ‘overtake’ my first son.

It is not ALL terrible thoughts and anxiety.  Of course I’m delighted to be pregnant and there are times when I happily play out stories in my mind, feeding my baby and bathing them, all the things I imagined doing with Winter, but the truth is that every grand daydream is chased by a nervous ‘what if’ and every ‘we will’ is replaced by a cautious ‘we hope’. I want people to know that I am excited, grateful and happy, but I’m also frightened, I can’t commit to saying ‘I’m having a baby’ and instead ‘I hope to bring this baby home’ will have to suffice for now.

2. Preparing for the new baby can be a big hurdle.

I recognise that this varies from person to person.  For me, I have had to work on my feelings of ‘jinxing’ this pregnancy.  Of course on a sane level it is clear that buying a babygrow does not kill your unborn baby, but it’s a funny ideology that creeps into your mind post baby loss.  There’s the fear that investing in this pregnancy too much will somehow end it.  During my pregnancy with Winter I was active, I prepared no end and framed his scan photo, but then he died. The first pregnancy after Winter was here and gone in the blink of an eye. The second pregnancy afterwards I declined a scan photo and decided to prepare nothing, I lay as still as a stone on the sofa begging my baby to stay with me, but I miscarried anyway. Through these experiences I realise that nothing will decide the fate of my baby other than life itself, and although I feel at times like I’ve made peace with this idea and have the brave intention to begin preparations, I still struggle with the idea of buying baby things ‘just in case’. A constant hop between courage and caution.  I’m forever working on embracing this pregnancy, because I want to have bump photos and memories – whether this baby lives or dies – but I want people to know that it is not quite as effortless as it was before. I want people to understand why I am holding back and I want them to be gentle with my decisions.

3. It does not lessen my grief for Winter, nor will this baby replace him.

Ok, if I’m honest it has made my grief easier to bear, because now I have a positive focus in my life alongside the pain that comes with endlessly missing your baby, but it has not lessened my grief.  I’m not magically cured by the grief fairies.  This baby is not and never will be a replacement of Winter, they are an addition to our family in their own right.  I will always include Winter in my headcount of offspring because I grew and birthed him and he does not cease to be my child even when separated by death.  Being pregnant again has heightened my grief in many ways.  I’m very aware of the fact that if this baby is healthy and lives, then at 2 days old we will have already spent longer with them physically than we ever did with Winter, and that really hurts.  I’m pretty certain these days that there is no way I will ever fully recover from my child dying in my arms, from arranging his funeral, collecting his ashes, reading his post mortem report.  These are things that will stay with me forever, whether my arms are filled again or not.  I want people to know that this new pregnancy brings with it fresh hope and happy milestones amongst our painful ones, but it doesn’t stop me longing for my son.  I want people to know that watching my belly and baby grow will forever be bittersweet for me.

It goes without saying that I am enormously grateful for this pregnancy and I cherish every single moment I have.  For over a year I wished to fill my womb again with a growing baby, and I know I am lucky to have this chance.  But it is still hard, there’s no doubt about it, and it is an experience I woefully underestimated mentally.  Pregnancy After Loss is an absolute blessing, but I wonder if sometimes in a world of infant loss and trying to conceive, loss mothers feel uneasy about sharing their difficult PAL journey at a risk of sounding as though they are ungrateful or complaining.  This is why it’s important to share our reality and be gentle with each other, and gain the support we need from loved ones and our hospital teams.

PAL is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, bar losing Winter of course, but I’m just hopeful it will be worth it in the end.

 

A Winters Tale – Why I choose to openly share my sons story and photographs

A few weeks ago I was confronted by a Facebook post that questioned why parents of stillborn babies would share photographs of their deceased children on social platforms.  The status was rather brutal and flippant with little regard for the impact it would have on the several people in their friends list who had suffered such loss.  It takes quite a blow to really upset me, but I was absolutely devastated to read it and quick to respond.  After some public and then private messaging, the post was removed and I was offered a heartfelt apology with the justification that they had never considered it from the parents perspective before.

There have been many times when I have questioned if I am doing the right thing by sharing my story so openly.  It is both healing and liberating, but it also invites opinion and the occasional negative experience. Since losing Winter my social network family has grown dramatically, his story has been featured in Grazia magazine and well known motherhood blogs such as Selfish Mother.  It’s not at all what I had envisioned in those very early days of loss when I messaged my Instagram friend and said ‘I might post a few things that remind me of my baby on my feed over the next few weeks so I hope you like wolves.’.  Never did I imagine that my Instagram would morph from bump pics and hair selfies into a real life journal of infant loss, miscarriage, trying to conceive and, eventually, pregnancy after loss.  Somehow it happened, I began by cautiously sharing quotes and delicate thoughts until I began to delve into the nitty gritty of real life after the death of your child.  Who knew there were hashtags for infant loss and baby death?  I peeked under the garden stone and discovered a whole world teaming with mothers who had lost babies, tucked away in their own little safe world.  And so, my courage grew, like any proud new mother I wanted to share my baby with the world, and on Instagram I found a space where I could do it.

So why do loss mothers choose to share their stories and photographs of their babies?  Well I can only speak for myself, I don’t want to put words in the mouths of others, but I also know that at least some of my feelings are reflected in the loss community.  I certainly don’t share with the intention of shocking others, nor am I a person known for wallowing and seeking out sympathy.  For me, sharing my story of Winters birth and death came as naturally as sharing his life had he lived.  We live in an age of persistant social media and I began sharing merely for the purpose of a continuation of my story, the only difference being I was updating my friends and followers on funeral arrangements rather than what make up I was applying.  For readers it is a real life story to follow, for me it is real life.  I gained huge amounts of support online and I shared for that purpose too, to discover and connect with other people who had lived through similar experiences and could offer guidance and understanding at times when I found myself feeling lost in the confusion of my grief.  I made real, deep, friendships.  We pull each other up when one of us falls down.  Some of those friendships with loss mothers have sadly ended now I find myself bridging two clubs; the ‘dead baby club’ and the ‘expecting mother club’, but that is a whole different blog piece.  Support and friendship is one reason I chose to share our story.

With growing numbers I was inevitably soon greeted with some small amounts of negativity.  It actually takes some courage to bear your feelings so vividly, and criticism of this can understandably send loss bloggers into hiding.  But we are a community to be reckoned with, we are fierce when protecting our right to share our babies.  Aside from a few throw away comments that ‘my son died because I gave him a stupid name’, or that I should just ‘move on and have more babies’, it is the slander against sharing photographs of my son which cut the deepest.  It is here that I find myself defending my right to post an image of my child on my personal (albeit open) profile.  It is a wall that many loss parents face and another reason why we should continue to share stories and images, alongside gentle explanation of why we can, and do, share.  I have to admit that before losing Winter I don’t know how I would feel if faced with a photograph of a dead baby on my Facebook feed.  Would I feel shocked? Offended? Deeply sad? Morbidly curious?  I don’t really know because I never came across it.  I am also understanding of the fact that people don’t want to see endless photos of babies that have died when they are scrolling their feed full of nights out and hair tutorials.  Of course it makes people uncomfortable, children dying does not fit in with our western ideology and interrupts our happiness.  I also don’t ever want to force my photographs on people with the view that ‘I have to live with my baby’s death so you should too’ and ‘if it makes you uncomfortable then imagine my pain’, because whilst that is valid it can also feel confrontational and unnecessary. But there is also a point where I have a right to be able to share my photographs without judgement.  The argument of ‘you wouldn’t post a photograph of your dead parent so why post a photograph of your dead baby’ is so deeply misguided that we have to find the right words to explain.  When a baby is born there is a huge amount of pride and love for that baby.  New mothers show off their babies like trophies, the ultimate prize after nine months of sickness and backache.  Their babies are beautiful and perfect.  The same goes for if your baby is born without life, or dies shortly after.  If the only photographs you have of your child are after they have died, then there is no option to share a happy photo of a live pink newborn.  We are robbed of that chance, along with a lifetime of moments.  And so loss mothers can either share their beautiful perfect babies, or they can hide them away in shame.  The difference is that whilst some view the image as inappropriate or offensive, to the parents it represents love and family, a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend precious time with their child.  It is not a photo of a dead baby, it is a photo of a loved and wanted baby.  We can scroll past it if it hurts us to see, but simoultaneously we can’t shy away from real life and we certainly shouldn’t criticise and pile pain onto bereaved parents who have taken brave steps in sharing their loved babies.

Another reason that I choose to share my story is to spread awareness.  It’s a cliché, and people may wonder why the hell they need to be aware that babies die, but actually spreading awareness isn’t just telling people a sad story and hoping they feel like shit afterwards, but it has real purpose in many ways.  Educating people about why their baby died saves lives, loss mothers share fatal symptoms in pregnancies that can lead to a safe delivery if read about and detected early.  Taking about Winters death has raised over £20,000 towards life saving equipment, people simply read his shared story and donated.  There are ways that we can help families who lose their babies, some with funding or voluntary support, and other times a loss mother has shared a piece about her experience and others can read that and learn how to emotionally help their friend – I wrote a guest blog on Cheltenham Maman about the subject myself.  It occurred to me the other day that I could guide someone on how to support a friend through baby loss, but if someone close to me confided that they had cancer, I would have no idea how to react, the right things to say and do.  I’ve not experienced it, so I would need help myself, I would be searching for blogs and helpful pieces, looking for shared stories.  Talking about Winter and my continued grief 16 months after his death allows friends to recognise the lifelong loss that comes with the death of a baby, an understanding that my grief is not over and done with and although life continues and is here to be lived, my grief is never likely to just magically stop one day.  It was only a generation ago that stillborn babies where whisked away immediatly after birth with no opportunity for parents and families to even see their child or know what happened to their little bodies afterwards, dead babies didn’t exist, they simply weren’t even recognised and subsequently families experienced huge amounts of silent hidden pain. Now there are charities with volunteers who attend stillbirths and neonatal deaths to professionaly photograph the babies with their families, and wedding dresses that are converted into gowns for babies who do not live.  This progress is no doubt a direct result of awerness and story sharing.  Before Winter died, I lived in the baby bubble… I fell pregnant with him instantly and had a textbook perfect pregnancy and delivery, until half an hour when he stopped breathing and my life changed forever.  My expectation of falling pregnant again instantly was dashed and we tried for several months and suffered 2 miscarriages before I fell pregnant with what is now my womb baby that I hope to safely bring home in August.  As I share this rollercoaster it has opened my discussion with friends and Instagram family and I have discovered that many women have lost babies and / or struggled to conceive.  I had no idea. After years of being taught how to not get pregnant, I suddenly realised that I was desperately naïve and severely uneducated in my own fertility, the reality of falling pregnant and the shockingly common heartbreak of miscarriage.

Lastly, I share my story because I want to.  Because Winter was here and existed and important to me, and I like writing about him.  I enjoy knocking out a blog post and building friendships and being part of a community that despite devastating tragedy has taught me nothing but pride, courage and pure love.  Whether we decide to share or not, it is a brave and honourable thing to speak about our babies, in either gentle loving whispers or almighty vibrant shouts.  I feel like we are on a roll here, that infant loss has recently been on popular soap operas and discussed in parliament, that social media has become a little platform for our voices and that this ‘taboo’ is wearing thin.  I hope fellow angel mothers continue to share their stories and photographs, I know I will.

 

 

Our Rainbow Is Coming

December 8th 2016 we discovered we were pregnant.  The test that first appeared negative and gradually became what’s known in the business as a ‘squinter’ until finally after the 2 minutes allocated time became a line bold enough to crack a smile.  Of course I took several other brand tests, decided I would wait and tell Dean on Christmas Day, then realised I couldn’t wait that long and would announce to him when he got home from work and eventually I gave in and called him at work immediately. I wish I could say it was a pure joyous moment, but if pregnancy and infant loss teaches you anything, it is that a positive test is only the smallest step in a long and unpredictable journey.  It’s hopeful, it’s exciting but it feels too good to be true and it’s very, very scary. You are literally walking into the line of fire and opening yourself up to the possibility of pain with only pure hope and good luck to shield you from the bullets. Over a year after saying goodbye to our first born son and following months of trying to conceive and two early miscarriages, I called Dean to tell him the news and was met with the expected lacklustre response ‘OK, good.’  Neither of us felt overly celebratory, four pregnancies in and the magical moment of ‘I’m pregnant’ had sadly been replaced with a hesitant nod.  That’s not to say we weren’t delighted, but we both expected it to end more than we expected it to continue.

I began sharing my news right away to friends, family, neighbours, work collegues, the man at the Co Op.  In hindsight it’s clear I wanted to tell people whilst I could, to get my news in before it was over and have the opportunity to say the words ‘I’m pregnant’ before I had to say ‘We lost another baby’.  I enjoyed telling people because everyone else always seemed so confident that it would work out this time, it helped me to believe it could too.  Dean chose not to share the news so freely, but we respected each others decisions, he laughed at my inability to keep the news secret, I understood his reasons for keeping his cards close to his chest.  Together we agreed that we could tell who we wanted, but we would not share the news on social media until after our 12 week scan when the risk of miscarriage drops significantly.  For anyone who has lost a baby at late miscarriage, stillbirth, or after birth, there is no ‘safe point’ in pregnancy, or post birth for that matter.  Once you are immersed in the world of baby loss and have friends who have suffered loss at each and every stage of pregnancy, during labour and at 4, 5, 6 months old, there is no such thing as a pregnancy without fear.  But 12 weeks felt like a good moment to go all-out-public, we agreed.

I was booked in for my first scan at 5 weeks on Christmas Eve, but I cancelled the day before.  Dean couldn’t get out of work and I didn’t want to go without him, and I knew the chance of a seeing a fetal heartbeat was low before 6 weeks, so bravely I changed the appointment for 30th December.  Christmas was both exciting, nerve wracking and full of continued grief for Winter.  Every sharp pain, twinge, toilet trip was loaded with anxiety.  I kept thinking ‘Is today the day it ends.’  It was also a flicker of hope and our sentences became littered with ‘maybe, hopefully, if this one stays, if this works out, if we get to keep it…’ which became a running joke between us.

At the 6 week scan I cried with both happiness and relief when a heartbeat was confirmed.  I mean, I full on sobbed.  Suddenly, it felt possible.  I fell in love with my pixalated grey blob.  In that moment they morphed from an idea into a reality, their first little fetal promotion.  Dean and I went away to a countryside inn to celebrate New Year and his birthday.  I was tired, I felt sick, it rained, it was perfect.  I took my first bump photo, a teeny tiny little bulge, only just peeking out, but there nonetheless.  Dean Christened the blob ‘Oppy’ as, in his words, it is an OPPortunity and we need to stay OPtomistic.  I joked that with a name like that it would come out with one leg, Dean said he didn’t care if it had one leg and three heads, we agreed that that would be a difficult birth.  We took the scan photo down to the baby memorial and told Winter he would be a big brother, even though we had a feeling he already knew. That was my first realisation that my babies would never physically meet and I know that is a pain I will revisit often for the rest of my life, but these are future hurdles I will face and I’m trying to focus on the pregnancy sprint before I attempt the lifelong marathon.

I was given another scan at 9 weeks, a midwife appointment at 11 weeks, and a scan at 12 weeks with my consultant.  I have the same midwife who looked after me with Winter, she came to see me after he died and it’s wonderful to be able to return with good news.  My scan on 9th February dated me forward at 12+5 and we decided to wait and announce on Valentines Day.  I felt a huge amount of doomsday dread before each scan, and I’ve also cried at each and every appointment, but equally I have left feeling reassured and elated that we are getting closer to our rainbow.  Our wonderfully kind and gentle consultant discussed our care, we had met previously when I was growing Winter as there is a genetic disorder that runs in my family and comes with an increased chance of miscarriage and birthing a disabled baby.  The chances, however, are quite small and were not deemed a real risk, and played no part in Winters death.  There is a relatable concern for baby’s heart as Winter was diagnosed with a heart condition post birth, so scans every 4 weeks are monitoring our rainbows little ticker.  We were also comforted with the knowledge that unless things change we can expect a natural labour with a resuscitation team ready and extra scans and checks once baby is delivered.  Winter died due to PPHN – Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn – which is a failure of the circulatory system whereby the lungs do not clear of fluid and cause the baby to stop breathing which of course then causes other significant problems with body functions, but the light at the end of that very dark tunnel is that it is not genetic and unlikely to reoccur in following pregnancies.  A reminder of simply how fragile our bodies can be and how swiftly our life can be taken from us.  We are also in contact with Lullaby who offer a scheme called CONI – Care Of Next Infant – to families who have been touched by stillbirth or neonatal death, and offer sleep apnea mattresses, additional health visits etc to ease anxiety following the birth of a rainbow. I have stickers in my hospital records that say ‘I have had a previous neo-natal death’, they are available from Kicks Count website alongside stillbirth ones, and help when dealing with several different hospital staff members who don’t have notes or know your history.  Perfect to avoid moments such as my encounter at a previous pregnancy scan of ‘do you have any other children at home?’  A fairly harmless question but, Linda, I do not want to go into the story of my newborn sons sudden death when I’m midway through an internal scan for a new anxiety riddled pregnancy… (insert rolling eyes, face palm and laughing face emoji here).

Being at the hospital around other pregnant ladies was a little surreal.  I sat there, Dean holding my hand, a tiny but growing bump, in the same room that Winter had his scans.  Same room, same me and Dean, different experience altogether.  The footprints of past losses have wavered our faith and we were more nervous than excited.  But still, to the other couples, we looked just like them, excited young first time parents, and as Dean jokingly calls me ‘Teenage Pregnancy’.  We wore our painful history like an invisible cloak. I wondered who else in the waiting room had lost babies, or would lose their baby.  If they were one of the luckier ones, I mentally willed them to enjoy every moment of their scans, if they were a family dealing with loss I mentally willed them to stay strong.

I still don’t think I dare immerse myself fully in the fact that I’m pregnant… just in case.  It’s a survival tool, like a mistrusting lover who knows the sting of being cheated on and keeps a little mental wall up to save herself from repeated pain.  My experience of pregnancy after loss so far is one of extreme anxiety and severe hope.   I know how I feel is normal because I’m lucky to be surrounded by those who are going though or have been through it themselves, they are my lifeboats on this choppy sea.  There are so many additional factors to consider too; fear that my announcement will upset those still dealing with the after effects of grief, and those struggling to fall pregnant.  The worry that Winter will be forgotten about and everyone will think I am magically fixed forever.  The guilt of thoughts that run through my mind ‘…I wish this baby was Winter…’ followed by soul searching and understanding that this pregnancy will inevitably be steered by my grief.

Pregnancy after loss – PAL – is complicated, a balancing act of grieving and growing.  It is certainly more tiring and challenging this time round. Pregnancy is always a phase of heightened emotion and exhaustion, and PAL is a whole new ball game.  Nevertheless I’m determined to enjoy this pregnancy as much as I can, even if it is only in sporadic carefree moments.  I’m learning that it’s ok to worry, it’s ok to not be the naive, glowing, zen bump carrier that I was with Winter, I’m allowed to struggle emotionally with this pregnancy as much as I am deserving of it’s happiness. I’m reminding myself that nothing in life is guaranteed and not just this pregnancy, that it will be worth the emotional drain in the end, that every day is a step loser to finally holding a live healthy baby in our arms to bring home and love forever.  Maybe, hopefully, if this one stays, if this works out, if we get to keep it…

#babyoppy – Winters brother or sister; Due August 19th 2017.

More dharma, less drama; A brief intro to Buddhism

The word ‘Buddhism’ conjours up many images and feelings in our mind.  In this modern world we often associate it with orange robed monks sat in Tibetan caves, heads shaved, feet bare, sat in deep meditation.  We can picture giant Buddhist temples in the far flung lands of Thailand and China.  Its feels like a floaty word, perhaps a bit hippie and daydreamish.  It is a word that we relate with wisdom and peace, so much so that we can head into any home mega store and pick up a small Buddhist statue for our mantelpiece or garden, without even mildly associating ourselves with the teachings of Buddha.  Buddhism feels like something we would like to invite into our homes, into our lives, but it seems too complicated and out of our reach to ever fully invest in and understand.  Or so we may think.  But in fact, Modern Buddhism is not only a growing faith within the western world, but it is also becoming more and more accessible, mainly thanks to a Tibetan monk named Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who has, with supreme kindness, translated Buddhas teachings and made them relative to our modern daily lives without polluting them or altering them from their original lineage that dates right back to Buddha himself.  This tradition of Buddhism that I follow is Kadampa Buddhism, with centres rising around the UK, meditation classes, open talks, book study classes, and the opportunity for westerners to meet pure Buddha dharma.  There’s no mountainside caves to be retreated to, no foreign scrolls to decipher, and certainly no need to shave your head.

Buddha himself gave around 80,000 teachings and so this brief blog post aims to be just a  quick toe dip into the vast and deep ocean of Buddhism, a little taste of the nectar. The general basis of Buddhism is that our experience of the world depends upon our mind.  To give a simple example, let’s say that you and a friend go to the cinema to watch a film, and one of you enjoys the film and other person dislikes it.  What is the difference here?  The film is the same, the cinema setting is the same, but the two minds that viewed the film have a different experience.  The same can be said for our day to day lives.  Two people living the exact same lives, same jobs, same relationship status, same living arrangements, could record very different experiences based on their individual mind.

Imagine our mind is like a cup of pure water.  That is our pure Buddha mind. It is peaceful and calm.  It is full only of ‘good’ virtuous minds such as patience and compassion.  Now we add in the minds that pollute the water, ‘negative’ non-virtuous minds such as anger, jealousy, greed, self importance and aversion.  This is the current state of our mind.  As long as our mind is contaminated by these non virtuous minds, our life will never be peaceful and happy.  Buddhism incorporates ancient teachings and meditations to slowly reduce and eventually eliminate these minds, so we can have a mind like a fresh and crispy clean glass of water, rather than a cloudy and polluted bog.

So why is it so important for us to eliminate these minds?  It seems a little selfish doesn’t it, to just spend time working on our own minds? How is sitting meditating going to create positive change in he world?

Well first, lets have a think about the bigger picture, our world.  It is full of problems, we can all agree on that.  There certainly is no such thing currently as world peace.  When we examine the reasons for war, poverty and crime, we can easily realise that non-virtuous minds have all played a huge part in the destruction and suffering.  Greed for oil, land, money, and material possessions, anger for those who do not conform to a religion and aversion for opposing faiths, a self important need for power, a dismissive mind of those who are in need of compassion.  World leaders, governments, citizens, me and you, anyone who is in possession of a non virtuous mind is capable of causing harm and suffering, whether it is a hurtful comment made to a co-worker out of jealousy, or a man with funny hair ruling a whole country.  Can we imagine a world where Hitler had a pure and peaceful mind free from anger, jealousy, greed and a thirst for power? Now imagine a world where no one possess these minds. The world will never know peace until every human has a pure Buddha mind free from these non virtuous minds. It seems like a big task, how can we encourage everyone – of any religion, race and background – to work on creating a peaceful mind?  Because of course, whilst Buddhism is a religion in itself with belief systems, prayers and rituals, we don’t all need to convert to Buddhism to work on our mind, it can be a practice that works alongside other beliefs.  The answer is to simply learn and understand the teachings, put them into practice in our daily life, see the positive changes it brings, set an example, be an ambassador.  Buddha himself encouraged people to not just believe what he taught, but to try it and see for themselves.

If we have a pure and peaceful mind, we will have pure and peaceful intentions, and with pure and peaceful intentions we will inevitably have pure and peaceful speech and actions.  In this way we are promoting a pure and peaceful world.  We cannot expect world peace if we cannot live peacefully with our neighbours, family and work collegues, so we have to make a start somewhere.

So why meditate?  This is another often misunderstood practice.  It is quite often believed that meditation involves completely emptying the mind or imagining yourself relaxing on a beach.  Whist the latter is a fantastic way to relax and help with falling asleep, the former is pretty much impossible, and neither are related to traditional meditation.  The Buddhist practice of training the mind incorporates our own imagination to improve our viruous minds.  Now, I know its easy to scoff at that, imagination is for children, right?  But as adults we constantly use our imagination.  The computer you are reading this on, the clothes you are wearing, the house you are sat in, they all began in one persons imagination.  With effort, their imagination became reality.  How many times have we imagined a work meeting or a doctors appointment going terribly wrong before they even began?  Or imagined our future family with the first positive pregnancy test?  Our imagination outgrows our physical lives.  Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a jungle, on a mountain, on the moon!  It’s possible because our imagination is so powerful it surpasses time and place.  Briefly and simply put, Buddhist practice harnesses that power, by taking the time to soley focus our imagination on compassion, patience, the suffering of others etc, with the aim to enhance our virtuous minds.  It’s not easy, our mind is pulled continuously out of our control – what shall I make for dinner, did I leave the oven on, I must remember to send that email tomorrow – and that is why it takes continued practice. But we mustn’t be discouraged. Remember the Tibetan monk Geshe Kelsang Gyatso?  Well his advice is simple ‘Just try!’, and we can all do that.

One thing I often consider – and this is kind of off topic a little – is if people will read about Buddhism and wonder if it means you have to become boring?  I mean, practising being pure and peaceful all the time sounds a little dull doesn’t it?  But I hear the teachings, I study the books, I attend classes, I make huge efforts to put them into practice in my daily life, and guess what?  I’m not boring!  I enjoy a drink with friends, I colour my hair, I travel the world, I swear, I’m a normal human being doing normal human being things.  The teachings are incredibly life transforming, very scientific and really quite interesting to learn, training my mind and becoming a Buddhist has improved my quality of life immeasurably, and it has certainly not dulled it.  My life has simply become less complicated and more meaningful. ‘Dharma’ is a word used to describe Buddha’s teachings, and the light hearted saying goes ‘More dharma, less drama!’. We refer to the teachings as having an inner protection, a dharma shield.  I’m more able to process my own painful moments and suffering because my mind of compassion has grown and my non virtuous minds are gradually (not always, we are all just learners) becoming less like the untamed wild elephants that they can be.  My suggestion would be to just be aware of your mind over the next few hours / days / weeks and see just how little control we actually have.  No judgement, simply noticing.

I will continue blogging about Buddhism – it is a huge subject that I love to write about.  In the meantime if anyone has any desire to look further into Buddhism then I can happily guide you to  http://www.tharpa.com  where there is a wealth of books and meditations for your enjoyment.

Love from Pea x