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Baby loss Self-care

Self-care, baby loss & pregnancy after loss with The Fitness Dad

May 22, 2019

Today on the blog we have Jonny Stacey, also known as The Fitness Dad. Jonny’s a personal trainer based in Amersham in Buckinghamshire and he works with everyday people to help them get fit and healthy. We first connected through Instagram following our experiences of baby loss and I invited Jonny to share some of his self-care wisdom for #thebigselfcareshare.

Jonny Stacey self-care

Tell us about yourself, Jonny.

I’m a father of three; Arthur, Henry and Maggie. Arthur and Maggie are here with us and unfortunately, Henry was stillborn. I also have one four-legged pooch called Ben and an amazing fiancé, Katie.

As a personal trainer, I work with a lot of parents in particular as I can relate to their common everyday problems and help them find some time to work on themselves and solve those problems. I also have a YouTube channel where I put out Vlogs on fitness, baby loss and general family stuff. I have also written a blog all about our experience with stillbirth called ‘Don’t forget about dad‘.

What does self-care mean to you?

Self-care, to me, is about looking after yourself so you can give your best self to others. I believe that if you aren’t truly happy, you can’t serve and make others happy. I believe we all need to spend some time focusing on ourselves, especially as a parent otherwise it’s just all give, give, give.

How do you practice self-care?

I incorporate self-care through exercise and I think daily movement is hugely underrated. The endorphins from exercise are like no other. As a parent, I also think it’s hugely important to set an example of leading a fit and healthy life for your children. Exercise has played a huge role in every stage of my life and it’s what I have turned to, to help me cope, especially after the loss of our son Henry. I also think spending time doing things you love is incredibly important.

Eating well can make you feel good too and there is some truth in ‘you are what you eat’. If you eat rubbish all the time you feel pretty rubbish and if you eat healthy food you feel good.

I also try my best daily to just be a good person and think there is something very empowering about being kind to others.

I also try my best daily to just be a good person and think there is something very empowering about being kind to others. Be polite to people, including strangers. And I like to try and have a very positive outlook on things which was hugely tested with what happened to Henry but I have managed to somehow cope. I think a positive outlook has helped and your circle of peers are incredibly important for this; you need to surround yourself with nice people.

They say you are a by-product of the 5 people you spend the most time with so if you spend your time with positive, happy people you are likely to feel that way. If you spend your time with people who complain, moan or constantly put others down, you too will feel down and also start to do the same to others.

Tell me, how have you found the process of opening up online about your son and your experiences?

Opening up online about Henry has been one of the best things I have done in terms of coping with his loss. I have met people I never would have otherwise and we have been able to share our experiences.

I originally created my blog as a way of expressing to everyone I know about how I truly feel as I found it hard to open up to family members and thought well if they read it then they can see how I feel. I also thought a male voice and opinion was lacking and since opening up I have had people from all over the world, as far as Australia, say “thank you, you have helped my husband” or “I now get how my partner feels thanks to you”. The fact that my sharing my experience is helping others is helping me too.

I have some huge fundraising plans for charities related to stillbirth and I also have big plans to keep my son Henry’s name and legacy known for years to come, hopefully for long after I myself am gone.

You’ve recently welcomed your daughter. How was pregnancy after loss for your family and what advice can you offer to those going through this?

After losing Henry we knew the only way we could truly feel somewhat healed (we never truly will be) was to get pregnant again. For anyone who is at that crossroad, I’ll be honest, it will be the hardest 9 months of your life. Anxiety can be at an all-time high and so my advice is to make sure you and your partner communicate and tell each other how you feel. But also, be as patient as possible with each other.

Katie’s anxiety was like nothing I had ever experienced and at times I felt pretty helpless which just made me feel frustrated and at times I took that out on her. A situation like this really tests your relationship. We had two pregnancies with just a three-month gap between them and both were very stressful situations to be in. But I used exercise and walking with the dog to help clear my mind.

If you are on edge and scared about going through it, you just have to tick off the milestones as you go along. The fear will never go away no matter how long you wait, it will always be scary. It is so worth that pain when you get to leave the hospital with a baby and we will always miss and love our Henry but we can’t let that hold us back from growing our family. He deserves to be a big brother too.

We were very afraid of getting our hopes up but tried to get as excited as we did in our first pregnancy.

We were very afraid of getting our hopes up but tried to get as excited as we did in our first pregnancy. I thought, we should get excited when we see tiny baby clothes at the shop, we should think of what to call her, we should dream of bringing her home like we did her biggest brother Arthur. With Henry, the only time we got to spend with him and get to know him was in the 9 months he was in Katie’s belly and Arthur and I used to sing silly songs to the bump and rest our heads on it at night. That was the only time I got to spend with my son and god forbid if it was to happen again I didn’t want to look back and think we didn’t enjoy the time getting to know our baby because that could have been the only time we had with her.

Talk, breathe and try to enjoy the pregnancy as best as you can.

Thanks so much for your contribution, Jonny, and for sharing your experiences of losing Henry and of pregnancy after loss. I’m sure your words will offer so much support and encouragement to those going through or embarking upon what can be a fragile time.

If you’re struggling with self-care after baby loss or during pregnancy after loss, or indeed any aspect of health or fitness, you can follow Jonny on Instagram or visit his websites:

www.the-fitness-dad.com
dontforgetaboutdad.wordpress.com

Baby loss Mental health Self-care

Maternal Mental Health Week – baby loss & early motherhood

April 30, 2019

Louise O’Donnell created her blog after a traumatic experience of pregnancy and early motherhood. In her contribution to #thebigselfcareshare for Maternal Mental Health Week, Louise shares the steps she’s taken towards finding support within a community of like-minded people on her challenging path to becoming a parent.

Louise O'Donnell - maternal mental health week

Tell us about your experience of pregnancy and loss.

I had a twin pregnancy where we sadly lost one baby at 28 weeks. Our surviving baby had to come prematurely to stay safe and was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 9 weeks. I remember feeling so angry and cheated that we had experienced such a sad loss – this isn’t how pregnancy and motherhood are in the fairytales. I also found early motherhood so full of anxiety and doubt.

I feel passionate about reaching out and helping others through our actions, however small.

I set up my Instagram account and blog because I didn’t want anyone else to feel like they were alone in experiencing loss, prematurity and generally not knowing how to navigate being a new mum with all its pressures, especially guilt and comparison. I feel passionate about reaching out and helping others through our actions, however small.

We first discovered each other through the online baby loss community. Tell me, how have you found writing about your experience of motherhood?

I started, as many do, for cathartic reasons and to try and find like-minded people. I was dubious about starting an Instagram account as I know there can be lots of crazy negativity but in the loss community, I’ve found so much warmth and support. It’s one of those situations where you would give anything to not be in the club of bereaved parents, but you also get to meet the strongest most inspiring people.

…through writing about my experiences I’m more confident in how I navigate grief and know I’m not alone – that is an amazing comfort.

For me, I felt so alone in my grief as I experienced a less common form of loss, but through writing about my experiences I’m more confident in how I navigate grief and know I’m not alone – that is an amazing comfort.

Where did you find the most support following the loss of your baby and as a new mum to her twin?

Because I had a twin pregnancy, I used the charity Tamba (Twin and Multiple Births Association) through the good, the bad and the ugly, from the first scans to the loss. After the loss, I used their bereavement befriender service to get me through the early raw stages of the grief. The lady who I was matched with is now a close personal friend who I cherish more than I can say. In terms of Instagram, there is such a wide community of parents who have experienced loss in many different ways and I have found the ones who I can relate to. Grief is so personal and I’ve learned you need to connect with those who ‘get it’. I’ve also recently attended Baby Loss Hour Live hosted by Jess, The Legacy of Leo, and this was hugely significant for me in meeting other parents and again reaffirming that I’m not alone and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

How would you define self-care and how have you prioritised it during this time?

To me, self-care isn’t going to the nail salon or having your hair done (although both are lovely!). I think it also includes looking after your mental health and wellbeing – like going for a walk, taking time out for yourself, picking up the phone and calling a friend. I try to set a realistic self-care plan that I know I can achieve – right now it’s to cut down on alcohol, cut out coffee, make sure I get outside every day and before bed I write a gratitude list and meditate. Usually, I try to make an effort to reboot if my resources are low rather than just taking easy routes of shutting off in front of the telly and pouring a glass of wine! Saying that what counts for self-care for one day might not cut it the next so I stay flexible!

Can you share a self-care tip, something that’s helped you on the path to being kinder to yourself as a new mum?

I would say the thing I find most helpful is getting outside every single day (illness aside). If I don’t have any plans for the day, I get the pram, put on a podcast and pop my earphones in and just walk. It doesn’t matter where. There are times as a new mum where you get to mid-afternoon, you haven’t got dressed, all the day has brought is poo explosions and screaming (from the baby…hopefully!) and you just feel like you’ll go under.

…feeling a loss of identity was a huge thing for me as a new mum and you need to bring the old you back out whenever possible.

Just get out, even if it’s around the streets a few laps! I also think its really good to book out baby-free time ahead in your diary with friends so you can reacquaint yourself with the old you – feeling a loss of identity was a huge thing for me as a new mum and you need to bring the old you back out whenever possible. As much as I cherish being a mum I was someone before that too!

Thank you for your raw and honest contribution to#thebigselfcareshare, Louise, and for sharing your story and the inspiration behind your blog.

You can find out more about Louise by visiting:

www.instagram.com/helpamummyout
www.helpamummyout.co.uk

Baby loss Secondary infertility Self-care

Self-care during tough times

January 28, 2019

Today on #thebigselfcareshare we have Kate Meakin and her husband Phil. I first encountered Kate on Instagram and we connected through our struggles with secondary infertility and recurrent loss. Here she opens up about her husband’s recent cancer diagnosis and the couple’s approach to self-care during a challenging time.

Kate & Phil Meaks self-care during tough times

Tell us about yourselves.

Phil and I been together for 17 years, meeting when we were just 21. We finally married 11 years after meeting and are blessed to have a beautiful little boy Austin via IVF. We are just about to embark on our 5th IVF after enduring 3 miscarriages since our son was born.

Infertility has been a major part of our marriage and I started blogging and sharing our story after our first miscarriage. Writing is very cathartic for me and I will always try to help break the silence around baby loss and infertility. Last year, at the age of 38, Phil was diagnosed with a brain tumour. This was devastating for us all, so this year is all about getting Phil fit and well and taking care of ourselves as we try to complete our family.

What does self-care mean for you?

Phil admits he has never really thought about self-care, but what it means to him now is looking after yourself and having more awareness around when you need to make the time for it. Before his cancer diagnosis working a 60 hour week was the norm so self-care wasn’t high on the priority list.

To me, it’s not self-indulgent to care for yourself, it’s a necessity to keeping fit and well.

As a stay at home mum, I have more opportunities to focus on self-care, especially when Austin is in nursery. I make sure that on one of those days nothing is planned so I can enjoy a very quiet day of writing or resting at home. To me, it’s not self-indulgent to care for yourself, it’s a necessity to keeping fit and well. Now with Phil’s diagnosis, there is even more emphasis on self-care; radiotherapy is gruelling for Phil and I need to make sure he has the time to rest, just as do I. It’s about keeping us both healthy, physically and mentally.

What do you find most challenging about self-care?

For both of us, the challenge is setting time aside for self-care when life gets busy. Austin keeps us very busy and we both love to spend time with him, so it can be difficult to prioritise. Phil works hard for his young family and because I’m at home it’s easy to think I’m resting but choosing to dedicate that time to self-care is isn’t simple.

How do you incorporate self-care into your daily routine?

Since his cancer diagnosis, Phil understands now more than ever how important self-care is. The biggest side effect from radiotherapy is fatigue and so we always make sure that he’s well rested so he sleeps for as long as he needs to and takes daily naps. It’s also important for him to keep fit during treatment so it’s recommended that he walk 30 mins a day, which has now become part of his routine.

It’s rare that there’s a single day where there isn’t some sort of treatment or appointment and physically they can be quite demanding. Even the journey to and from the hospital can be gruelling for both of us, and with our next round of IVF now underway it’s essential that we both live and eat well; good fuel is so important.

I have dedicated a day for myself too; a day to write and allow myself the opportunity to speak the words my mouth sometimes struggles to say.

I have dedicated a day for myself too; a day to write and allow myself the opportunity to speak the words my mouth sometimes struggles to say. And taking 5 minutes to just quieten my mind through breathing exercises or a heated face mask is bliss.

On the days Austin is in nursery, Phil and I do simple things together like go out for brunch or a nice walk.

Share a self-care tip, something that’s helped you on the path to being kinder to yourselves.

For Phil, it’s about letting others know when he needs time to rest. The fatigue caused by radiotherapy means relaxation is important and by telling us when he’s tired Phil’s less likely to be interrupted and will get the rest he needs. For me, it’s making self-care a part of every day and not just when I feel exhausted. Prevention is the best cure and so I make sure that self-care is a part of my routine.

Thank you, Kate and Phil, for taking a moment to openly share your experiences. I know your honesty and approach to self-care will benefit others going through their own struggles, fertility or otherwise.

You can follow Kate on Instagram and visit her website where both she and Phil contribute: www.mrsmeaks.com/blog

Baby loss Self-care

Taking time for you after baby loss awareness week

October 16, 2018

Every year, thousands of people in the UK are affected by the loss of a baby during or after pregnancy. Baby Loss Awareness Week, which runs from 9 to 15 October, offers bereaved parents, their families and friends the opportunity to unite and honour the lives of their little ones. It also seeks to highlight the key issues affecting those who have sadly experienced baby loss – to ensure that care, research and bereavement support continues to improve.

After the event

While awareness weeks such as this can give people the chance to air important views and share valuable experiences, it can also be emotionally challenging. Over the last week, one which also saw us recognise World Mental Health Day, I’ve had to be extra mindful of my time spent reading articles and blogs, watching videos and the news. There have been media campaigns, television programmes, remembrance services; each of them a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness and honour the little ones we couldn’t bring home. But just over two years on from the first of our five pregnancy losses, it’s also been a constant, daily reminder of my own experiences.

We made the decision very early on, days after losing Harris in fact, that we would name him and talk about him. I didn’t know then that I would lose four further pregnancies and that’s brought a heaviness into my life that I still can’t describe, but it hasn’t dampened my spirit for talking, for sharing and for keeping his memory alive. He and our littlest stars are and always will be a part of my life. And I do want to continue raising awareness and remembering them. But I also have to find ways of moving forward. Not ‘moving on’, not forgetting, but I suppose making my experiences a part of my life in a way that’s manageable, that doesn’t keep me in a place that’s hard to bear.

…it’s important to be mindful of our thoughts and feelings and to take the time to be kind to ourselves.

The awareness we’ve raised, the support we’ve offered, the lives we’ve honoured, these are all things we can be proud of. And now in the days that follow Baby Loss Awareness Week, it’s important to be mindful of our thoughts and feelings and to take the time to be kind to ourselves.

Over the last few days, in my own small way, I’ve taken the grief I feel and the love I have for my littlest ones and put it into making the topic of baby loss more widely understood. I’ve accepted that it’s okay to do as little or as much as I like in the form of awareness-raising, and I’m keen to carry this forward; to keep talking, to keep sharing, but to do this at a slower pace and bring some focus back to other areas of my life.

Today, I feel emotionally tired but stable. A little tender maybe. So for those of you who are feeling a little tender too, maybe you can join me in exercising a little extra self-care? Here, I’ve written about the four things I did today to help me feel better and thought I’d share.

Four simple self-care activities

1. Observe
Sometimes, the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is to be still. I sat on my sofa with a hot drink. I stared into my mug of tea. I thought about how I was genuinely feeling. And I had a good greet. I felt alone and I felt sad. But I also felt supported because I was allowing myself that time to just be. It’s definitely okay not to be okay at a time like this, just as long as you’re also talking and sharing somehow. For me, that meant replying honestly to a couple of kind messages from friends after I’d finished my cuppa.

2. Write
Most mornings, I reach for my journal. While I don’t write religiously, I do try to set intentions and create a realistic to-do list for the day ahead. There’s something therapeutic about jotting down tasks, completing them and checking them off. It can give you the motivation to keep moving along and possibly the energy to do more (if you want to). Today, I felt compelled to free-write about how I was doing after Baby Loss Awareness Week and it grew into this blog. It might go unnoticed, but I feel so much better for putting it out there.

3. Relax
I try to have a relaxing couple of hours to myself once a week and I decided to enjoy that time this morning. My body felt tired and achy despite a lack of exercise and that’s usually a sign that I’m almost at the point of running on empty. So I decided to take a cheeky Epsom salts bath. This is something that still seems quite luxurious to me and I almost thought about making this a list of three but it’s actually just a cup of salt in a giant bowl of warm water. And my body feels a little more nourished, it feels better supported.

4. Read
I’ve been reading a few new books lately (I always have more than one on the go!) but there’s one I’m keen to finish this week and that’s The Self-Care Revolution by Suzy Reading (do check out her recent contribution to Bide & Bloom). I’ve mentioned the book a couple of times on Instagram because it genuinely is a handy guide and I’ve learnt a lot from it over the last few weeks. So I’m going to pop my phone on charge in the living room, complete my journal for the day then head to bed and read a few pages.

If you’d like to reach out or add your own thoughts do comment or share below. I’d love to know how the past week has been for you and how you plan to take the time to support yourself.

Love,
Sarah x

Baby loss Self-care

Self-care after baby loss with Jennie Agg

October 13, 2018

Today on #thebigselfcareshare we have Jennie Agg. A passionate writer and journalist, she runs a blog about life after recurrent miscarriage called The Uterus Monologues. We first connected when I set up my blog earlier this year and I recently approached Jennie about contributing to my series as part of baby loss awareness week.

Jennie writes so beautifully and honestly about her experiences. She’s also a great support to others, giving them a platform to share and getting behind causes such as the Tommy’s Together For Change campaign which she helped to launch. It’s a campaign that’s about ending the silence and stigma around all forms of baby and pregnancy loss, something that’s very close to my heart.

Jennie Agg self-care

Tell us about yourself

As well as being a writer, journalist and blogger, I’m a wife to Dan, a feminist, a cat person, a runner, a worrier and a Hufflepuff. On my blog, I write about my experiences of miscarriage – we’ve had four now, all before 12 weeks – but I’ve also started to share other people’s stories of baby loss. There’s so much about fertility, reproductive health and loss that we don’t really hear about or know how to speak fluently about and that’s what I’m interested in changing through my writing – on the blog, but also in my journalism where I can. Until recently, I used to work for a newspaper (a big, scary tabloid one) editing the health pages, but I’m now freelance. The decision to leave behind the office, the job title and to work for myself, from home, was made partly so I could do more of my own writing (and less worrying about other people’s writing) but also partly to give me the space to take better care of myself.

What does self-care mean for you?

More than anything, I’ve come to realise that self-care for me means time – time to myself, time to do whatever I feel like. For me, it’s not so much the thing that I’m doing that’s important, it’s that carving out of breathing space to be on my own. I think I’ve always been a classic introvert in that I need quite a lot of time to myself to decompress, to order my thoughts and truly relax, but this was amplified massively after our miscarriages (which all happened in space of about 18 months). Sometimes just being in crowded or loud spaces would feel exhausting, mentally and physically, in a way, I can’t really justify. The best I can do is that in the deepest moments of grief it’s like your body interprets everything as a threat and it just saps your resources (I have no idea if there’s any science to this).

I am not the person who can bounce from task to task, social engagement to social engagement and feel energised by that. I need the pauses in between.

In terms of the things I do with my self-care time, it really could be anything – a walk, a face mask, odd jobs in the house, decluttering forgotten messy corners, listening to a podcast, reading a magazine, baking something, or just sitting with a coffee in a cafe. People like to mock the idea of “me-time” (and it’s been shamelessly co-opted by companies flogging bubble bath and wine and the rest of it) but that really is what it is – and for me it’s vital. I like to busy and I like to be productive, don’t get me wrong, and I think I work hard, but I am not the person who can bounce from task to task, social engagement to social engagement and feel energised by that. I need the pauses in between.

How do you incorporate self-care into your daily routine?

I’m a great one for regimenting things and making what should be a treat feel like a chore, for latching on to something I enjoy or makes me feel better and deciding that therefore I MUST do it every day or three times a week. I’ll think: “I’m a yoga person now”, or “I’m going to get up and go for a run every single day at 7 am. That’s the answer”, or “I’m going to give myself a facial every Sunday night”. So I’m really trying to work against that tendency because it’s not a very relaxing mindset! Often, I think, real self-care is about what we let ourselves not do. So not getting up early if we’re exhausted, or not going to the gym when our legs are still sore from the day before, or not making ourselves eat the salad when we’re actually craving pasta. Not watching the serious drama everyone’s talking about, but re-watching the naff film we love instead. Small acts of letting ourselves off the hook.

Reading isn’t just entertainment for me, I honestly think it improves my well-being.

That said, I have some things I try to stick to every day: I try to get enough sleep, at least 8 hours (I know some people will think that’s a total luxury, and it’s easier for me as I don’t have children or a commute, admittedly, but I’ve interviewed enough sleep scientists to know that it really isn’t just a “nice to have”). I also try to get outside every day, whether it’s for a run or just a walk around the park at lunch. I like to look at the trees and the sky (God, I sound boring). (Jennie, I have to disagree! It sounds very relaxing, the perfect self-care activity!)

And my final non-negotiable act of self-care is to read a book. Not something for work. Not a newspaper article or blog post. An actual book. Reading isn’t just entertainment for me, I honestly think it improves my well-being. Sometimes if things are starting to feel a bit jangly and jarring in my head and I can’t really work out why, I almost always realise that for whatever reason I haven’t been reading on the train or before bed, as I usually do. I think reading does for me what meditation does for some people.

Share a self-care tip, something that’s helped you on your path to being kinder to yourself.

Schedule it in. It’s so easy to push whatever it is you want to do for yourself to the bottom of the list, and then never quite get round to it. This is something I’ve found especially difficult since going freelance because, in theory, I can do things any time I like – I don’t actually make the time at all. So I try to actually write self-care things in my diary, blocking off a whole day to specifically do nothing every now and again, or setting an alarm on my phone to tell me when it’s time to go for a walk or take a break or finish for the day. I think it’s about shifting how you see self-care from non-essential to something that has to be done, otherwise, nothing works as well. I’m still working on this, to be honest.

Thank you, Jennie, for being part of #thebigselfcareshare. All too often we try to fill the space we have and what you’ve said about carving out more time to simply be (and not necessarily do!) really resonated with me. It’s an important message for many people.

Read more about the Together For Change campaign and follow Jennie on social media at:

Instagram: www.instagram.com/jenniemonologues
Facebook: www.facebook.com/uterusmonologue
Twitter: www.twitter.com/UterusMonologue

Or visit her website: www.uterusmonologues.com

Baby loss Our story

When is enough, enough?

August 31, 2018

When is enough, enough?

In recent weeks I’ve got to thinking about where I am on our ‘journey’ and how important it is for me to accept that it could end this year. It’s been an emotional time and so yesterday, for the sake of my mental health, Jonathan and I made the decision to press pause.

While our experiences of secondary infertility and recurrent loss have taken place over a relatively short period of time, the last 26 months have seen us experience back to back losses and anniversaries. And I’ve gotten so attached to each of my pregnancies. It’s in my nature to make connections with people and try and build relationships and it’s no different with the little lives that began inside me. And so when those pregnancies end it’s devastating. So devastating in fact that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to articulate precisely how it feels to see two lines then one, heartbeats then stillness, life then death. Harris was a wriggly little baby, the image of his big sister in his scans, and then he was gone. I believe it was Jamie Anderson that said “grief is just love with no place to go” and I honestly feel that way at times. So full of love and yet so pained because it’s trapped inside.

Poor Cora is smothered beyond belief and I’m beginning to fear losing her, which isn’t healthy. Added to this her recent fascination with what it means to be dead and I’m having to tread quite carefully, for my own benefit as well as hers. Cora understands now that mummy had a baby boy in her tummy called Harris and that he died, we made the conscious decision to remember him and involve her in that. But when she asked “am I going to die too?” it brought so many emotions to the surface. Feelings that I hadn’t been aware of and so have never really tended to. You can read more about her curious nature and my approach in my blog: helping children understand baby loss.

Something that our experiences have got me thinking about is the bigger picture, of our whole lives, and the other things we wish for. And being completely honest with myself, I don’t think I have it in me to continue down this path. I’m pretty clear on my boundaries, on what’s healthy for me personally; both mentally and physically.

But until I know for certain, it’s time to be kind and gentle with ourselves, to focus on the family we’re lucky to have, the beautiful home we’ve created, the successful business we’ve grown, and to count our blessings. Even the little ones, our stars, who have taught us so much about ourselves.

I’m conscious that for some this might seem easy to say when I have a living child but, for me, it’s incredibly difficult coming to terms with the fact my family looks nothing like I thought it would. My grief isn’t limited to the little ones we’ve lost. I also grieve for the future that will never be.

That’s not to say my future won’t be a bright and happy one. I know it can be. It’ll just be a different kind of bright and happy.

Love,
Sarah x

Baby loss

Helping children understand baby loss

August 7, 2018

My daughter has thrown some pretty challenging questions my way lately and sometimes it’s hard to satisfy a curious little girl who’s trying hard to understand the world around her. After all, here I am with 30 years on Cora, trying hard to do the same.

A few weeks ago, shortly after the second anniversary of her baby brother’s death, she asked me a fairly innocent question. But it was a question I wasn’t quite ready to answer.

“Mama? Am I going to die too?”

I was driving at the time and had stopped at the lights, so could see her inquisitive little face in the rearview mirror. While I felt out of my depth I managed a short reply: “Not anytime soon, you’re a young, healthy girl!” Or words to that effect.

She seemed content with the response. But I felt like I’d dodged this really important question. And I kept asking myself if I could have worded it in a better way or explained more about life and death. Only I’m not sure there’s a perfect way to reply to the big questions. Will I ever have all the “right” answers?

In the spirit of trying not to be too hard on myself (something I’m continually working on) I got to thinking that it was an honest and painless response. Probably just what an almost-four-year-old needed to hear.

Reading material

Around the time of Harris’s second birthday this year, and before Cora’s recent fascination with death started, I came across a campaign for a book called These Precious Little People. Written by Frankie Brunker and illustrated by Gillian Gamble, it’s designed for children affected by the death of a baby during pregnancy or shortly after birth.

These Precious Little People book

As far as I know, the book is the first of its kind and there’s nothing else in print that tackles the subject of explaining baby loss to a child, so I’ve pledged to support it. The contents, which I’ve had the pleasure of reading and seeing, explain death through rhyme and images in such a beautiful way, and they encourage talking and memory making. It’s so in touch with my own approach to parenting Cora and her many questions have highlighted the need for this ‘tool’, something that can support children at a time when grown-ups might struggle to find the words.

Frankie, the author of These Precious Little People, was kind enough to point me in the direction of a few other reads. Books that could help me with my conversations while she continues to raise the funds needed to publish her own title.

What Does Dead Mean? by Caroline Jay and Jenni Thomas looks at some of the ‘big’ questions children often ask about death and dying, and Lifetimes, by Bryan Mellonie, gently explains how all living things must die. Lifetimes is a really beautiful book and Cora enjoys looking at the pictures and learning about different animals and insects and their lifespans.

There’s also a recently printed book by Joseph Becker called Annabelle & Aiden: What Happens When We Die? and it was funded through Kickstarter in just one day, which is pretty incredible.

Discussing loss

Books offer a good opportunity to start conversations. But I often try to draw on my own experiences when explaining life and death to Cora.

Much of this is shaped by my own childhood; the loss of my dad when I was just seven, which affected me most in my teens due to the nature of his death, and my granda in my twenties, a father figure who was a big part of my life when I was growing up. These losses have impacted upon me in different ways, but I’ve always tried to face up to what’s happened and talk about my feelings, and I think this has taught me the coping strategies I needed to tap into when my son died during pregnancy.

I’m still finding my way after the loss of Harris and I try to involve Cora as much as possible. And while there are times when I need to grieve alone, I have a responsibility to help my little girl understand that death and the feelings surrounding it are okay to talk about. I suppose this extends to our conversations in general, which, as mother and daughter, I hope will always be open and honest.

Memory making

As a family, part of our grieving process has been to introduce memory making, something that was first encouraged on the day we left the hospital after I gave birth to Harris.

Simpson’s Memory Box Appeals (SiMBA) is a charity with a simple aim. To honour babies who have died, been stillborn or miscarried and to help gather timeless memories. And they gifted us with a small memory box, which we occasionally take the time to go through along with Harris’s other little things. For Cora, it’s a chance to fold his blankets, read cards with me and she might ask a question or two about who the gifts are from.

We also join SiMBA at an annual memorial event to release butterflies for all of our babies gone too soon, and SiMBA’s trees of tranquillity give us a quiet place to go at other times of the year. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be particularly hard, as well as Harris’s due date in December. But for us, the very act of honouring these little lives, regardless of the stage of pregnancy, make our thoughts and feelings much easier to process.

On Harris’s birthday, his special day, we enjoy some family time. It might be a trip to the beach or local gardens and we buy a balloon for Cora to release. I’ve found that the lead up to days like that is usually harder than the day itself and we usually have a lovely time. Bittersweet.

Sometimes, Cora might ask if she’s going to have another baby brother or sister, which is perhaps one of the harder conversations to have because I simply don’t know. So I just say “I hope so” or “maybe not”. And if she presses, I explain that not every family can have or even wants more babies. It’s important to me that Cora understands that every family is different, that there’s no “perfect” set up.

Of course, Cora doesn’t know the details of our losses, only that she did have a little brother. We’re choosing to leave that until she’s older, perhaps because it’s a part of our journey that isn’t complete, something I’m personally finding quite difficult to come to terms with. But also because I think it’s possibly too much for a little one to take in. A conversation for another day once we know what our future holds.

Love,
Sarah x

P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can help a child cope with baby loss, whether it’s the loss of your own baby or a baby in the family, please do check out These Precious Little People. You can follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and you can pledge here.

Baby loss

A tribute to Harris

June 29, 2018

On this day two years ago I heard the words that no expectant mother wants to hear. “I’m sorry.”

My baby, gone before I had the chance to say hello.

I used to think people were being dramatic when they talked about rooms spinning as devastating news was delivered to them. But at that moment I felt so overwhelmed by what I was seeing and hearing, so crushed by the pain of it all, that I could barely breathe.

My baby, wriggling around just weeks before in my 12-week scan, the baby I’d bonded with and taken my first bump photos of, now still and silent. We’d been so excited about telling our daughter the news she was going to be a big sister and had waited months to share it. Now there was nothing to say to her. Only bad news to share with our family and friends.

Strangely, I hadn’t been so open about the pregnancy, and I often look back and wonder if, deep down, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I’d been experiencing backache and had a temperature in the days leading up to the private scan. On the morning of the scan itself I had other symptoms that suggested things weren’t going to plan; pink spotting, waves of nausea, radiating pains. What I hadn’t realised is that I was in very early labour. And that day marked the start of my secondary infertility journey, only I didn’t know it yet.

The sonographer called triage to arrange for us to go in and have the news confirmed. And a midwife was waiting to quickly take us past all the anxious and happy pregnant women waiting for their 12 and 20-week scans. I remember wishing I was them, hoping that the sonographer had somehow just got it all very wrong. It felt like a nightmare, it just didn’t seem real.

After the loss of our baby had been confirmed we were sent home with instructions to come back in two days for an induction. I would need to give birth and it’s something I really struggled to get my head around. Despite having given birth previously, I didn’t know what to expect. All I could do was take it one step at a time.

As it happens I went into full labour the following night and I delivered our beautiful son on 30th June 2016. The rush of love I felt for Harris when I first saw him was no different to how I felt the very first time I set eyes on Cora. I was in shock, I was in pain, but I was in love.

And I would give anything for just one more second of carrying Harris, of believing everything was okay, of feeling at home with him inside me. I miss that feeling. I miss cupping the soft curve of my tummy. I miss Cora snuggling into my wee bump.

And if there’s one thing Harris has left me with it’s the ability to enjoy little moments, to find the good in every day. While I experienced a great loss, it doesn’t mean I can’t learn to appreciate a good life.

Harris may be gone, and his time here was short, but he taught me so much.

There are of course days where the anger and pain are all consuming. Some nights I still curl up in a ball and cry myself to sleep. Some days I beat a pillow and let it all out. And there’s still that silent scream, the deafening kind where you open your mouth and you hurt so much inside that no sound escapes and the pressure inside your head can make you feel like it’s about to explode. Those moments are the worst.

But I believe that bad days build better days.

And tonight as I write this, I’m aching but I can breathe, I’m hurting but I can feel. The longing for Harris will never leave me and that’s okay. That’s just how life is for me and my family.

Tonight I read these words by Helen Keller. They really spoke to me, capturing everything I’m feeling right now, and her words might speak to you.

“What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

She also wrote:

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”

And I know that so many of you will resonate with this.

Harris, I miss and love you, and you’ll be forever in my heart. Goodnight, baby boy. Goodnight, all little stars.