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.

Life Before Death

Winters brief life gave me the gift of an immeasurable love, but Winters sudden death gave me a gift even greater than that.  He taught me the delicacy of life, the fragility of something we take for granted every second of everyday, he opened my eyes to the uncertainty of this path we walk.

Death isn’t generally a topic of conversation in western society, it is considered inappropriate, depressing and awkward.  It’s as if it is less likely to happen if we just don’t bring it up.  But there is only one thing in this life that is absolutely certain, and that is death.

In Buddhism, death is a huge subject discussed daily, in fact many of our 21 daily meditations relate to death, and the first practice in our New Kadampa Meditation Handbook is based entirely on the contemplation of death itself.  And if realised sincerely, rather than bring with it doom and gloom, death instead invites a meaningful intention to your life, for many reasons and in many different ways.

To begin with, if we ask ourselves honestly, do we believe that death will surely come?  Aside from a fleeting comment about ‘life’s too short’ and ‘you only live once’, do we truly and sincerely believe that our life is brief, extinguishable at any time and entirely out of our control?  Just consider this for a moment.  As you look around, try to grasp the notion that one day everything that appears to you now will one day no longer exist.  The very thought of it feels almost out of our human understanding, as though we are teaching a cat about the stars.  It is a thought which flickers but never truly seems to sink in because it is so abstract to imagine ourselves no longer existing.  But it is true and we can all agree, one day we will die.  Whatever our personal beliefs about life after death, we can mostly agree that life before death is impermanent, and if we contemplate this further, we will realise that whilst death is certain, the timing is unknown and the causes are countless.  Winter reminded me what Buddha had already taught, that we do not have to be sick to lose our life, we do not have to be old to die.  Before we lost our son, I had become complacent in my practice, distracted by the colourful mirage of this life, forgetful that we control nothing and believing that death was saved for the elderly.

Understanding that death is real is not depressing, quite the opposite, it is altogether enlightening.  Realising that our time in our lucky human bodies is only temporary instead drives us to lead meaningful lives.  If you knew for sure that you could die today, what would you do with your time?  Would you spend an hour worrying about a problem which can or cannot be solved or would you desire a peaceful mind?  Would you open your curtains and curse the grey clouds or feel thankful to feel the rain on your skin one last time?  Would you crave expensive threads or cars or would you realise that once you die wealth and objects mean nothing, not even your clothes are yours anymore?  We would suddenly see that fame, money, beauty, talent, popularity, personality, confidence… nothing could stop our lives eventually ending.  We would lead very different lives if we thought we could die at any moment.  But if we think about this carefully, we can see that unless we have a signed godly certificate that says ‘you will not die today’ then this is the reality.  Many people who die today will have woken up believing they will go to bed tonight and wake up tomorrow, their belief is no different from our own.

So we can check for ourselves, which of these statements is true?

I will definitely not die today.

I may die today.

If we wake up every morning and contemplate this truth, slowly over time we gain a deeper realisation of death and the preciousness of our lives.

Of course, we also have to use our wisdom.  For example, it would not be wise to say ‘I may die today so I will not pay my rent, I will quit my job, I will not take care of myself’ because with life comes a responsibility to provide food to nourish our bodies and a safe, warm home for our family.  But we would notice that with each day we realise this truth, we will become less attached to material objects, less disillusioned with chasing followers and likes on our social media, less time wasted on idle gossip and negative minds, and a happier, more thankful life emerges.  I am alive, tomorrow I may not be, I will accept any problems that arise and face them with patience, I will use my energy for love not hate because when I am gone all that I leave behind is the results of my actions.  Whilst my life has ended, for everyone else their life continues.

Today my mama -Winters Great Grandma – said to me whilst looking through his photographs, that she never expected that he would die because he was just a baby.  And she is absolutely right, whilst I was pregnant we never even considered it.  We decorated his nursery one year to the day, we spent months preparing for a life that lasted just one day, and whilst I would do it all again and preparing for a baby’s arrival is vital and meaningful in itself, Winter reminded me that death is rarely expected.  We prepared for a life but we never prepared for a death, we forgot that life, no matter how short, is a gift and not a certainty.  Winter taught me that every morning we are born again, each day of life is a blessing, and death ends all except love.

Thank you Winter, you know that I love you x

 

A Bigger Taboo – Facing Other Babies When You Have Lost Your Own

In the nine months that have passed since our son lived and died, entire pregnancies have evolved from the meeting of egg and sperm, to live and kicking out-of-the-womb babies.  During that time, I have held more babies more times than I will ever hold my own, and each Facebook log in brings with it a flood of pregnancy announcements, bump shots, birth details and first milestones.

If infant loss is considered a taboo subject, and surprisingly to me, it is, then the feelings that arise from grieving mothers when faced with other babies, has to be the biggest taboo of them all.

It is one of those subjects that we would rather avoid and my stomach knots as I imagine people reading this with anxious trepidation.  But with a little gentle honesty and understanding from both sides of the coin, no knots need be involved.

Since losing Winter I have become part of the online infant loss community, a place thanks to the ever growing world of social media that probably didn’t exist even five years ago.  On there I have discovered a sea of other humans in the exact same situation as myself, childless mothers, desperately trying to make sense of the emotions that they battle continuously in this thick swamp of grief, all whilst they mourn their loss and try to maintain their everyday lives.  I know from talking with these newfound friends, that the feelings I experience are commonly shared and natural, and through my Buddhist practices I am working hard to make sense of them and, more importantly, ease them.

Firstly, this is taboo because, well, no one wants to admit to having negative feelings towards an innocent baby, and the initial feelings that we experience can be trailed by a huge amount of guilt and shame.  But the truth is not so scary.  We are not experiencing these feelings because we are met with a healthy baby, we are experiencing these feelings because we don’t have ours, and those feelings arise simply at the moment we are confronted with that reality. Most regular people experience heightened emotions of some kind around little babies, creating a new life is a highly charged event.  And when you have had your own baby pulled from your arms so suddenly, those emotions are heightened tenfold.  We are talking about instinctive, animalistic emotions, feelings that are knitted into your DNA, and threaded into every atom. When things go wrong and your baby dies, these intense emotions derail spectacularly and can be terrifyingly difficult to understand and exhausting to manage.

Speaking from my own personal experiences now, being around other babies can be difficult.  Seeing other people share the happiness at bringing their baby home from hospital can be painful. Hearing other people talk about the achievements of their young children can be heart breaking.

Can be.

Not always.

The varying factors shift and change. There have been many, many times when I have successfully held a newborn baby and separated the experience from that of my own, and there have been other times when I’ve had to politely avoid a situation or paint on a brave face.  The feelings that arise in that instance depend mostly upon other unrelated events.  How am I feeling that day, in that moment leading up to meeting the baby?  Has it been a difficult morning, am I feeling particularly low?  Or am I feeling light and positive?  Other factors can be thrown into the mix. Babies tuning one, babies born around the same time as my own, babies who have just been freshly delivered.  Sometimes it’s effortless and sometimes it’s impossible. Each day is different and each baby brings with it its own ties and connections.  A close family friend that has a baby changing right at your very touch, an acquaintance in a shop with a baby whose name you can’t remember or an online face so familiar but far enough out of reach that it’s safe.  As with everything in life, each individual experience is dependent upon the mind in that moment.

Jealousy is an emotion that gets thrashed around feverishly after your baby dies. When someone has something that you want for yourself, it is our self cherishing mind which leads us to jealousy.  If we experience even some low level jealousy when someone gets a promotion we wanted or a wedding we dreamed of, then we can begin to understand the burning jealousy that can be overpowering when something as precious as a child is involved. It is, I believe, completely natural to experience that, but it can be overcome with time.  When I see a birth announcement or a first scan photograph, I can get that first sharp ping of jealousy.  I recognise it, and I face it.  On the one hand, I’m thoroughly relieved for healthy babies being made and born, who wouldn’t be?   On the other hand I am reminded that mine wasn’t. Sometimes it takes just a minute, other times a day or even a week of contemplation, before I feel relaxed and able to sincerely congratulate.  During that time, I am reminded by Buddha’s teachings, that my happiness is not dependent upon others, only myself.  I have a choice to firmly face and avert negative minds.  I remember that whether or not that baby was created and born, my son is not here.  If other babies stopped existing, my son would still not exist.  Other babies being born does not change my situation, I can therefore choose to harbour negative feelings for no purpose other than to poison myself, or to let go of them and rejoice in the good news.  A jealous mind is simply a mind that wishes for someone else to not experience happiness at a time when we feel that we are not experiencing happiness for ourselves and realising that our experiences are entirely unrelated helps us to enjoy the happiness of others.

But of course, it is not easy and it takes great effort.  I am only human with human emotions, I am far far far from a perfect enlightened being.  Feelings arise, they are intense, all consuming, I cannot always gather the reigns and steer my horse with a smile and a jaunty tip of my hat.  Sometimes, I can’t do it.  And honestly, I think that is ok.  And I think it’s even better if the mother who is no doubt looking after their live baby with great love and affection, can understand that sometimes you just can’t do it either.

With every baby I see I am reminded that Winter has a lifetime of missed opportunities.  My heart aches, I struggle to find words to describe the longing I experience to have my son here with me, knowing I will never have that chance.  For the rest of my life I will track his age, I will see children around me that are growing at the same pace, and with every milestone I will miss my boy and wonder how his first steps and first day at school would have played out had he just been given the gift of life.

I’m sure most mothers would understand that after holding your baby as they died, holding theirs will ultimately bring with it some level of pain and I have discovered that with some open conversation and gentle effort from both teams, the experience can one day bring with it some joy amongst the heart ache.