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  where there is a wealth of books and meditations for your enjoyment.

Love from Pea x

All Is Not Lost At Christmas Time

This past year without Winter has been the most difficult of my life.

Yet when I look back at this past year I realise that I survived, and at times even flourished, in the most poignant annual celebrations; Birthdays, Mother’s Day… and Christmas.  And so, as we arrive upon our second Christmas without our little boy, I have composed a list to remind myself of all the thoughts and rituals that helped me through.

I have refrained from making this a ‘to-do list’ and instead felt it best to share what I do myself, in hope that it could inspire others in a similar situation without forcing upon them ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’.

And so here is my self-survival guide to embracing the festive season after losing our baby boy.

*Christmas is coming, there is no stopping its arrival.  The first step is to accept that and realise that I can’t hide away for a whole festive season.  It’s not practical, it’s not possible and it would be a ridiculous and miserable month.

*I imagine swapping places with Winter.  If I was gone and Winter was here, would I wish for him and my family to miss out on the joys of Christmas?  If I was no longer a live participant, would I sit amongst my family in spirit and will them to have a miserable Christmas, or would I wish for them to embrace the magic as much as possible, with me in their thoughts? Easy answer.

*To begin with, just dip your toe into the festive pool.  Maybe just spend some time imagining Christmas, watching the adverts, seeing its slow descent into the stores.  Instead of dread and panic, just sit with the feeling of festive acceptance. Notice that it is beginning, trust that we are stepping onto a sturdy boat and the river will be gentle with our journey.

*Put up your tree.  I feel like it’s hard to resist the magical pull of Christmas with little twinkling lights dancing in the corner of my lounge.

*Fill the tree with remembrance decorations.  We often call our little boy our snowflake baby, because we named him Winter and his life resembled a snowflake in so many ways, beautiful and unique, swift and impermanent.  So, we blanket the tree in snowflakes alongside name baubles, angel wings, and a photograph of his peachy face tucked into the star that is perched on the very tip top.

*We also decorate the whole house with him in our mind.  A mini tree in his nursery, twinkling lights to brighten up his photographs, a Christmas candle flickering next to his footprint.  With every embellishment, I hold him in my thoughts and decorate for him, with him.

*Christmas is about love, family and a sense of togetherness. It’s a difficult concept to invest in when we feel a loved one’s absence so strongly, but it is also an opportunity to celebrate those around us, those who have helped us on our journey and those who grieve alongside us.  Winters sudden death reminded me that nothing in life is guaranteed and loved ones can vanish so swiftly, and so we can take Christmas as a chance to cherish those around us with greater gusto than ever.

*We can remember the lessons our babies taught us; that material possessions bear much less significance than the loved ones we cannot replace, and we can thank our babes for the gift of this understanding, by wrapping friends and family up in love on this special day.

*Above all, remove any expectations.  This is a new style of Christmas, it is different from previous years and different from our imagined family gatherings, but very little in life goes to plan and nothing in life ever stays the same.  We can just relieve our pressure of how we ‘should be’ and accept the experience, tears and all. Take each day, each moment as it comes.

*Give yourself space and time to remember your baby on the day.  I will be sitting in Winters nursery in the morning, we will be visiting his memorial with flowers and festive wreaths.  There will be tears, at times the day will hurt like hell, and it’s ok to not be ok. Allow yourself to have your special moments with you baby and wish them a happy heavenly Christmas.

*As much as possible, surround yourself with loved ones and those who are understanding of your journey and holding you up on this wibbly wobbly path.

*Christmas can feel like an enormous hurdle, almost like an obstacle in our grief.  We can feel such strong aversion to it, like we want to swipe it off the calendar altogether.  But Christmas is essentially a title for a celebration of love, and therefore it is an opportunity to honour our babies in another new way.  By including our loved ones in the day at every opportunity, we can transform what feels like an unwanted event into another way to express our love for our angels; We have lost our babies, but we have not lost our love for them.  We will be raising a glass to Winter during Christmas dinner, collecting donations for the hospital and dishing out gifts for the nurses who worked so valiantly to try and save his little life.

*Remember that Christmas is simply a time of year.  I mean that in the sense that I will love and miss my baby in the Spring, Summer and Autumn too. I miss him on December 25th and I miss him on August 25th, because every day is a day with empty arms. For me, this disempowers the looming date, it is simply another day without my son. Of course, during the holidays our emotions are intensified, but that is a direct reflection of the heightened love we feel for our loved ones at Christmas.  We feel greater pain, because over Christmas we discover that we love them in so many new ways. And that is something else to celebrate.

*We hang a stocking up for Winter, but I can’t bear to see it empty, so I fill with little heavenly homemade gifts from Winter to hand out to his family.  It does actually break my heart to think I will never experience a Christmas with my little boy here and never watch over him as he excitedly tears open gifts.  Passing out presents in his memory is the next best thing, it keeps his memory alive and both giver and receiver can feel his love living on.

*And you know, buy your baby a gift if you like.  Maybe a new memory box, a sentimental keepsake, or even clothes that would fit them now that you would like to hold close and let reality escape you for a moment.  Nothing is considered weird when you’ve stepped into this wild world of baby loss. If it suits your grief and doesn’t harm others, then just do it.

*And finally, I would just say, give yourself lots of self-compassion.  Christmas is hard when we lose a loved one, and particularly I think if you have lost a child.  Give yourself a break.  I had several tearful moments last year, and I expect the same again.  At times, the pain of infant loss in unbearable, a searing burn that demands attention. If something is too difficult, then just let it pass you by, do whatever you have to do.  I won’t be suppressing any feelings, if I want to hide in bed for a whole day then I will, but also if I feel strong enough to experience the festive season in whatever way it appears to me, then I will be brave and just think of my son the whole time.

Winter didn’t experience a single Christmas, he was robbed of that experience.  But here I am, experiencing what he will forever miss out on.  I know Winter would have loved Christmas, so I will love it for him.

If you can’t have Christmas WITH your baby, have Christmas FOR your baby.


Winter ONEderland… Happy 1st Birthday Winter

This week marks a whole year of Winter being out the womb and in the world.  What is, for parents of living children, a time of great excitement and celebration, can be a time of huge anxiety, pain and sadness for those of us amongst the infant loss community.  Whilst for many, the first birthday represents a year of achievements and memories made with loved ones, for me it represented a whole year since I last held my baby boy close to me.

The build up to the day was genuinely terrifying and filled with high levels of anxiety which are still lingering now, despite the eventual success.  I had no idea how I would feel on the day, I was afraid that my emotions would swallow me whole and the pain I experience daily would sky rocket out of control. I was still coming to terms with my latest miscarriage and the crushing disappointment that my dream of a rainbow baby was not yet in the making. My safety net of a happy pregnancy had proved whimsical and unreliable and I was instead expected to celebrate with both empty arms and empty womb.

But I knew I had to gather this strength yet again, I couldn’t let Winters special day slide past with no cake, balloons or happy birthday sing song.

We decided early on that we would throw a big party, include some fundraising and celebrate our boys angelic accomplishments as much as possible.  It felt to me like the right thing to do for us personally.  At a time when I was feeling my sons absence the most, I wanted to draw myself closer to him, I wanted to play pretend, to feel like a real life mother and dedicate time and effort to arranging a whole day just for our deserving baby boy.

It wasn’t without challenge.  I was exhausted and tearful.  At times my strength escaped me.  We went to buy balloons and I was feeling excited at the thought of collecting my sons giant foil number one balloon, Dean and I decided to make a day of it.  But as soon as we found the birthday boy aisle emblazoned with the slogan ‘It’s fun to be 1!’ I exploded in tears and we left.  When we did finally pick up the balloons I was so pleased with them I grinned from ear to ear and we laughed trying to get them in the car.  Once we got them home and I carried them up to Winters room and I said out loud ‘These are for you…’ I noticed the stillness of a nursery without a baby, and I found myself again in tears.  Balloons with no birthday boy to show them to. And so the pattern of rise and falls and rise and falls continued, every moment was bittersweet, every victory was mourned, every joy swamped in heartbreak, a constant battle between my excitement and my grief.  A cake baked so lovingly but with no one to blow out the candles. A birthday wish with no one to grant it. A card filled with heartfelt words that would never be read.  Preparing for his birthday felt like intense ‘face your fears’ style therapy, I so desperately wanted to give him a day he deserved but in the process I was forced to confront difficult emotions head on. I couldn’t fold up and give in to them or else the party wouldn’t happen.  My strength came from wanting to celebrate his birthday more than I wanted to curl up and cry.

As much as I prepared busily for a birthday full of love and celebration, I also felt intimidated by the anniversary of his death the following day, gently referred to in this world of infant loss as his ‘angelversary’. I was very aware that the high of Winters birthday party would be quickly chased by a low.  A kind of post-Christmas season blues on a more intense level.  This was a little rain cloud that lingered visibly over our birthday plans.  And after his birthday party passed, then what?  Where would I focus my homeless love then?

Finally, a pressure to begin to move on weighed heavily on my shoulders.  A year after losing Winter, at a time when his birth and life is more a part of my past than my present, sayings such as ‘the first year is the hardest’ played on my mind.  Would I be expected to heal now that the ‘hard part’ was over?  Was I expected to feel better now I was entering the ‘easy part’ of grieving my baby?  Looking back over this past year, when I had only just lost Winter and this baby loss world felt so new and bleak, I think even I was guilty of looking at angel mothers a year ahead of me and thinking ‘well they must feel better than I do right now…’.  It’s times like this that I realise just how much I have learnt over this past year.  No, I don’t feel better actually. And I accept that now.  My grief is eternal, I will never recover from this loss, I will always be a bereaved mother.  I suppose I’m just beginning to get used to life without my child.  When Winter died I thought his first birthday would never come, it felt forever away.  And now it’s here and gone. But it is still very early days, one year down, the rest of my life to go.

It turns out that his birthday wasn’t as scary as I imagined.  It was a whole day dedicated to Winter, surrounded by family and friends, swathed in love.  So many people who remember and think of our little boy, all pooled together to celebrate his life. I spent the entire day feeling as proud as punch.  I was afraid that the passing of time was pulling him further away from me, but in fact I felt closer to him that day than I have for a while.  We released balloons, we sang happy birthday, we cut up his cake, we collected funds and gifts for the hospital in his memory, we shared his newspaper clippings and heavenly achievements, I smiled all day at the thought of Winter watching the celebrations unfold, it was one of the best days of my life.

And his angelversary was survivable to.  We ate pancakes, we opened gifts, I had a cry and took a nap, we went for dinner together.  We took the collected gifts to the hospital, we gave one birthday cake to my family at the Buddhist center and another to the nurses on the neonatal ward who cared for Winter.  How did I feel? Gutted, heartbroken, deeply sad, like a piece of me is forever missing.  But then I feel like that a lot anyway, so it was a familiar feeling and not at all the crazy distressing day I had conjured up in my mind.  We held his heart urn close and talked about our baby boy. We were reminded that in order to die, you first have to live, and Winter lived safe inside me for nine months and in our arms for a day.

I was listening to a podcast the other day where scientists and astrophysicists debated the possibility of time travel, and when describing what ‘time’ actually is someone said  ‘Time is a perimeter that measures change’.  Isn’t that crazy, that’s what ‘time’ actually is.  I wrote it down straight away.  We put titled markers on time as humans.  One year, 365 days since my son was born.  The Earth has circled the sun in one whole swift lap with him missing from it. The movements of the universe offer us these markers and we gather them into calendars and title them with importance. 365 days and I miss my son.  But 369 days and I still miss him.  I missed him at 300 days and I’ll miss him at 400.  The big scary ONE YEAR mark is just as big and scary, and entirely survivable as any other monthly, weekly, daily mark.  It kind of feels like less of a terrifying deal when we consider that.

I thought that Winters birthday would mark the end of something, like the last step in a journey.  I was expecting a physical crescendo, a grand finale.  But I realise now that our story is not finished yet.  And it won’t finish when we have another baby or even a house full if I’m lucky. In fact, Winter proved that your story can outlive even your death.

This time just over a year ago I was pregnant and excited.  I already know now just how much can happen in one single year, so I suppose I am just wondering what this next year will bring us.

Happy 1st Birthday Winter, the weight missing from my arms, the occupier of my heart.


The Brief Life of Baby Coconut

It appeared that our time in Sri Lanka had gifted us another rainbow.  Everything pointed to a fairytale ending.  We had lost our little boy at one day old, we had suffered a further miscarriage, we had eloped and married on a beach to celebrate our sons ten month mark, we came home pregnant and our happy ending was in touching distance.  What a story. Third pregnancy, third time lucky.

From the very beginning it was a delicate pregnancy, but a scan at five weeks showed us a beautiful little blob growing happily in Winter’s old home.  We declined a picture, I was too afraid of becoming attached to the idea of having another baby, something I regret now.  My doctor advised me to take time off work and rest, I was very anxious and experiencing some fragile symptoms.  In the beginning the days were long and terrifying.  I put my grief for Winter on hold, I couldn’t think about how that pregnancy ended and I was too scared to even cry.  I didn’t dare move and I hardly dare think about the tiny life inside me. I felt haunted by our previous miscarriage and desperate to pass the 12 weeks mark, googling any twinge or symptom. I lay as still as a stone and scoured the online forums for positive pregnancy stories. I constantly imagined my growing happiness being stolen from me again, every minute was torture.

I tested every single morning and lined up my strong results in Winters room for confidence.  I was delighted when the sickness started, every forum and online chat room confirmed that this was a really good sign, so I threw up smiling. Slowly we began to have faith.  We nicknamed our blob ‘Baby Coconut’ after the tiny coconut we found on the beach in Sri Lanka and brought home with us. We opened a fortune cookie that proclaimed we would have a daughter. Talk of the future crept into conversation, Christmas would be so happy this year, first kicks would arrive around Dean’s birthday. I tentatively downloaded the pregnancy app to track our progress.  I peeked at my little bulging belly and started to feel excited.  I dreamt of our announcement. Our hope grew each day.

I miscarried at 6/7 weeks during the night. I physically howled in sadness of the pain of yet another loss. The scan we had booked the next day to check baby’s growth instead confirmed we had lost yet another baby.  I deleted the pregnancy app and boxed up my positive tests.  Over.

I don’t really know why I have miscarried twice in a row after a healthy full term pregnancy that also ended in loss.  I don’t really know why I can’t ever keep any of my babies.  The hospital offered to investigate if I miscarry a third time, a thought that feels entirely unbearable.  I feel absolutely out of energy, defeated. I feel very sad about it all. Did you know that the chances of miscarrying twice in a row is less than 2%?  And I can’t even find a statistic to tell me what the chances are of a baby stopping breathing in the delivery room following a healthy pregnancy and labour.  But whatever the chances, I find myself amongst both statistics.  Infant loss and multiple miscarriage, all in one heart breaking year.

Once again my grief for Winter is magnified and with his first birthday fast approaching I find myself missing him more than ever, and so I am pouring myself into birthday party preparations.

I wish he had lived and none of this misery would have existed.  But here we are, holding on tightly to that thin thread of hope.  Can’t give up because then we will never have a living breathing baby that we get to bring home and watch grow.  Maybe fourth time lucky.

We’ll get there.

One day.

Good Grief

Ten months into this baby loss business, and I am suddenly struck by the shift in attitude to my grief.  What was once an outpouring of support and “you’re doing so well’s” has hardened into confusion and murmurs of “perhaps you should get some pills”.  But what I am experiencing seems to be shared by others grieving a loss – a child, a husband, a parent – and so it appears to be not the fault of any well meaning individual, but rather a miseducation of grief as a whole in our western society.

Firstly, I have to stress that I am surrounded by immense support, I’m blessed to have an incredible network of family and friends and the ongoing outpouring of deep love for our son is breathtaking.  Secondly, this blog post is not intended to rain judgment on those who are feeling just as confused about my grief as I am myself.  I understand with all my heart that even my own personal expectations of grief have shifted dramatically over the past ten months, I realise that I was clueless to the pain before losing my little boy and most likely spoke all the words and carried out all the actions that I now find so difficult to receive myself.  But seeing as I’ve now lived and continue to live with the heavy weight of grief, I felt like I could share my thoughts, a little act of ‘pass it on’.

In the very early days, my grief was raw yet gentle.  I would fall asleep crying and wake up crying, but ultimately I was protected by shock and disbelief.  Looking back I can see that after nine long months of preparing for a baby who came and went in a single day, I spent the first few months still feeling as though I was pregnant, still waiting for something, still in limbo.  Those early days of grief were devastating and proactive all at the same time, I was both heartbroken and motivated by my love I had for my invisible son.  SO MUCH LOVE and nothing to direct it at, fundraising, returning to work, talking about Winter all day everyday, that is where I housed my homeless energy.

And in the beginning, when it felt as though I was living someone else’s story, everyone was there ready to help.  They spoke Winter’s name, they expected my tears, they brought flowers and cards and said “call me anytime!”

And these days, those people are still there for me.  But time changes people’s perspective of your tears.  Misled judgements and opinions on ‘how you’re coping’ are crushing and isolating.  Why are you still feeling tearful?  But you just got married, why are you sad?  You’re struggling, I’m concerned about you.  Have you considered anti-depressants?

These are my loved ones and they care about me, so I focus on the intention and dismiss the delivery.  But perhaps they are lucky enough to have never experienced such a huge loss themselves and find themselves confused, bewildered, ill prepared to support their friend and deal with the long term sadness that comes with the death of their child.  And had Winter lived, I would find myself lost with them.  But he died and so here I am writing about my grief and hoping that it might provide a little helpful insight for those trying to be a good friend to an angel mother, and those angel mothers trying to be a good friend to themselves.

Here’s what I have learnt about infant loss and grief.

Firstly, my child died, my CHILD died. That is a huge, huge devastating event.  Controversially I don’t believe that what happened to me personally is the absolute worst thing that can happen to someone. I see stories in the newspapers everyday about someone’s son or daughter being brutally murdered, whole families wiped out in natural tragedies or children living and dying in warzones.  Winters beautiful brief life and peaceful death in our arms, brought with it happiness amongst the sadness and therefore I don’t feel entitled to everlasting sympathy.  But I do feel that it is difficult to understand the enormity of losing a child and the impact that has on you forever.  A stillbirth, a neonatal death, a death of a toddler or a seven year old.  They are all child loss.  Absolutely worlds apart in experience, and possibly pain (I can only speak from my own personal experience) but still all child loss, none-the-less.  Just because Winter lived only for one day, does not mean I don’t love him as my CHILD as well as my newborn baby.  Had he been one day old and someone asked if I had a child, my answer would have been yes. I would be ticking that box that asks if you have children rather than hovering over it and wincing as I have to tick no, no children, none living. I’m grieving my baby, I’m grieving my CHILD.  Not just someone I had for one single little day, but my much wanted little boy, grown for nine months, breathed for one day, loved forever.  I’m grieving his lost life and our lost future.

Secondly, there is no such thing as a grieving period.  I think we should all just rub this phrase out the western dictionary and be done with it.  This idea that when someone dies we grieve for a bit, feel gradually better and then heal is painfully misleading and only reinstates the false idea that grief can be jotted into a calender, charted, arranged into phases and neatly wrapped up in a pretty box with bows.  Grief lasts forever, because love lasts forever, and you grieve those you have lost and still love.  That doesn’t mean that in twenty years I will be in bed sobbing uncontrollably for weeks on end because I’m grieving my son, but then again, so what if it did?  I’m grieving all day everyday, I grieve when I cry on the kitchen floor and I grieve when I laugh with my friends. I will grieve for my son for as long as I live.  If you are wondering why I am still feeling sad, then please understand that it is because, simply, my baby died and I miss him.  I miss not just that one day we shared, but I miss his first smile, his first laugh, his first steps, his first day at school, his first partner, his first very own child.  I barely cried at my sons funeral, instead I felt full of pride as though I was showing my baby off to all those who came to say hello and goodbye, yet just the other day I spent the whole day in absolute tears.  Am I going backwards? No.  Each different day brings with it different emotions, different experiences.  When Winter first died my emotions were mainly ‘missing’ and ‘loving’, but over time grief becomes much more complicated, friendships are challenged, relationships can become strained, family celebrations and life events become minefields for emotion explosions.  Just like we cannot go through life in general without changing emotions and ‘good’ days and ‘bad’ days, so grief can be unpredictable, and anything but within a certain period.

Thirdly, I’ve learnt that this ongoing grief can be uncomfortable for others to witness.  We have a need to fix it, grief is seen as a problem to be solved.  But you cannot solve a broken heart just as you cannot replace a missing loved one.  There is no solving grief, there is only experiencing grief.  Whether you are the person grieving or you are the person helping the grieving, it is all an experience.  We’re all in this life business together, so we just have to help each other out as much as we can.  We can’t shy away from the grief of others, it can be ugly and painful to witness but it needs to be seen to keep us connected to our mortality. And grief can be beautiful, after all it is a side effect of love.  I often sense that people feel as though they are running out of things to say and advice to pass on, but grief is repetitive and relentless.  I have spoken the same words over and over to my own mum, and every time she just sits and listens, and really that’s all I want I suppose, to be able to free my mind of all my squashed in jumbled up thoughts and relieve my heart of a little pain, to say his name and be Winter’s voice as well as my own.  I don’t expect anyone to heal me, that is impossible, I just want the gift of time, patience and a listening ear.  Life will always involve loss, but we can use our humanity to ease it a little and hold each other up rather than take the easy option and just pretend it isn’t happening.  We will all lose a loved one eventually, such is the nature of this life.

Lastly, and this is a little piece of advice to myself as well as other grieving parents, strong and weak do not need to be mutually exclusive.  Too many times I have heard ‘you’re so strong!’ when I’m fundraising and writing a positive upbeat piece only to be met with ‘I don’t think you’re coping well at the moment’ when I am feeling emotional.  Crying, screaming, sobbing, holding my baby’s empty clothes to my chest, clutching his photographs, these are moments of strength too.  This is not a weakness.  Confronting grief with all its harsh realties is strong, feeling weak is strong, accepting our human emotions and letting them drown our bodies is strong.  My little boy is important to me and I cry for him, he is deserving of these tears.  I may get up in the morning and cry as I eat my breakfast or drive to work, but I am getting up in the morning and going to work, and there is strength in that alone.  When your child dies, just living takes strength.  Go easy on yourself and those around you trying to help, after all, when your baby dies, no one knows what the f*** to do because it’s not supposed to happen in our perfectly planned out lives.

There is a saying, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’ and I would grieve a thousand times over to keep this beautifully fierce love I have for my son.  It is just my hope that my loved ones will keep a little patience for me and pass it on to others who are grieving.