Why Us?

Why Us?

On the 20th of September I completed a 9km fun run in honour of our Zoe. I was humbled by the support I received both from the amazing mums that ran with me and from our beautiful friends and family who sponsored us. As a team, we raised over $3000 for Bears of Hope. These funds, along with the funds raised by other runners that day, will be put towards a miscarriage support workshop.

What only a few people knew was that as I was running, I was carrying another beautiful life with me. I was 6 weeks pregnant with what we hoped would be our second earth baby. Sadly, in a slightly ironic twist of fate, I lost the baby at 10 weeks.

We had felt as though everything was looking positive. At 6 weeks we had a dating scan and saw our little one’s heartbeat flickering away. But at my 10 week check up, as I peered into the ultrasound screen, I knew. I was praying and hoping to see some flicker of life. But I knew what I was seeing. There was no heartbeat. That beautiful heartbeat that we had seen just weeks earlier had gone. We were again facing the ache of loss.

And so the inevitable question came. Why us? What have we done to deserve this?
The answer I have come to is, why not us? Why when so many couples struggle with building their family should we be exempt?
The sad part about it is we are just getting used to it now. We know the drill.

I find fighting grief is futile. You can’t go around it, you can’t go over it, can’t go under it, you just have to go through it. This time, I really found that thought exhausting. I know how it feels, I know that it gets worse before it gets better, I know that I will always carry this with me. The emptiness weighed heavy on me. I didn’t feel like I had the energy to get through what lay ahead of me. Apart from what I knew, there was also the added challenge of facing a D&C, a procedure that was new to our repertoire of loss.
Thankfully, what I do have is a beautiful support network. Other angel mums that are open, honest and willing to share their experiences. I was able to draw on their experience to start to feel like I could make it through.

And so I entered into it with a plan. A plan to feel sad, to feel angry, to feel tired. I armed myself with self care activities, some gardening, some trashy TV, some colouring in. Did the plan help? Maybe. It helped me to feel like I was owning the journey. I still felt, and continue to feel sad but I’m owning it. I can’t expect to feel any different. All I know is that there is no sense fighting it or pretending it is ok because that will only prolong it, and with that comes other problems. Despite the grief, and despite the pain, it just is. It would be easy to blame, easy to rage. But there is nothing and no one to blame. This is just our journey.

One thought that I do keep having is around the notion of our family being “finished”. For me, I know ours is not. I sometimes wish it was. That would mean not having to put ourselves out there again to risk being hurt. But nothing worthwhile is without risk. We will try again. We will try until we have another baby safe in our arms.

This tiny life that was to complete our family, wasn’t to be. They have made way for another little person to join us here on earth when the time is right. In time, I will understand why and I will be grateful. I know now that I wouldn’t change my past losses because they wouldn’t have led me to Magoo. This loss will be no different. But for now, it just hurts. I wanted you, oh how I wanted you.

Now: (Day 4 “Capture Your Grief Project” 2014)

Now: (Day 4 “Capture Your Grief Project” 2014)

Lately things have been weighing a little heavy on me. I feel I am in a new stage of my grieving journey. I have accepted that we lost Zoe, I have found a place for her in my heart, I have welcomed my earth baby, I have started my blog, I’ve lent support to other grieving parents, I have advised friends who needed guidance on how to help others…….and I am exhausted. Each and every day I carry our loss around with me. I will never be the same again. I will always have this to carry, and some days it is heavier than others.

I’m not sure if people around me think I am “OK”. I suppose they assume I am. By being a bit of an open book when it comes to our loss journey I have put myself out there as being strong. But strong doesn’t mean I don’t hurt. It’s not all rainbows and dragonflies. In truth I don’t remember what it’s like to not feel broken. I try to convince myself that this hasn’t affected me negatively, that it’s all growth and enlightenment, but it has. Of course it has. How could it not?

Every morning I wake up and I listen as hard as I can to hear Caitlyn breathing in the next room. I hold my own until I hear her. That muffled sigh of her turning in her blissful sleep is all I need to hear. Many, many mornings I have all but convinced myself that she has died in her sleep. I can picture it. I can picture her cold lifeless body.
All mums check on their babies, I’m sure there are very few new mums that haven’t snuck in like a ninja just to check that their precious bundle is breathing. But not all go in with their heart racing, stomach in their throat, knowing the feeling when that breath isn’t there.

I suppose what I am coming to terms with is that I will always be a bereaved parent. I wouldn’t do things differently, I am proud if where we are. But that doesn’t mean it is easy. I work hard to be happy. Nothing will change that I will always feel that little sick feeling, a pang of jealousy when someone announces their first pregnancy. I will always feel a bit torn when I hear of a “perfect labour”. I have to carry this with me for the rest of my life. I will always have birthed my beautiful daughter, only to have her take her first and last breath all in one. I will always have the memory of that horror.

It is a heavy memory.

What do I do now?

What do I do now?

I’ve been holding on to a deep seeded resentment for a while now. I would go as far as to say it was a hatred. It consumed part of me. I thought about it daily. I practiced what I would say if I came face to face with this person. When we were with mutual friends I went over and over the ins and outs of why I hated them. What good was it doing me to be in knots? Was it honouring Zoe to hate someone? What was I teaching Caitlyn?

I realised why I was holding on to this grudge for so long. There were two reasons. It started because they behaved really poorly after we lost Zoe. Really poorly. But in some way I think I resented them in lieu of resenting the situation.

My dad could be bitter. He held onto grudges, they ate him up inside. His was of dealing with things was to drink. It was his heavy drinking that lead to his death at 60. If only he could have let go of things and enjoyed his life, he might still be here. He might have met his granddaughters. I’m not saying this in judgement, he did what he saw his father do, it’s just an observation.
It used to frustrate me when he’d carry on for the millionth time about how he felt wronged by someone, how things weren’t fair. We could all see from the outside that the hate was misdirected. He hated a person as opposed to addressing the actual issue. I used to think he should just let it go. Move on. Who cares. But it seems I am my father’s daughter.

I had something to hate, it felt good. I suppose I was angrier about losing Zoe than I cared to admit. I liked being the gracious one. I liked feeling like I had handled things well. I tend not to think it was “unfair” that we lost Zoe, rather it was just part of our story. What I do struggle with is the feeling that it is somehow unfair that other people get to have that fairy tale first baby experience. Why should they get to have that blissfully ignorant pregnancy, while I held my breath for 9 months carrying Caitlyn? Why should they get that opportunity to announce the safe arrival of their firstborn, while we had to arrange a funeral?

In some strange way, hating them kept Zoe in the forefront. Letting go of it felt like I was somehow letting her down, letting her go.
But hating someone won’t bring Zoe back. It won’t change what happened. I need to demonstrate for my daughters how to show compassion and forgiveness. People make poor choices everyday. If I punish someone for making poor decisions based on the fact that they struggled with their emotions, what I am instilling in Caitlyn is that she can’t tell me if she makes a mistake in fear I won’t show her compassion and understanding.

So for Zoe and for Caitlyn, I have forgiven. The forgetting…….I am working on. It feels good to have released it. I am looking forward to finding a place in my life for this person again and I hope they never have an opportunity to let me down again.
So what do I do now? I might have to start following a football team more closely or something so I can rant about their poor performance. Or maybe I’ll write angry letters to the council about cracks in footpaths!

Searching for answers.

Searching for answers.

A friend brought an article to my attention recently and wondered what my thoughts were on it. The article talked about marriage/relationship breakdowns following the death of a child. It was well written and had some really valid points. There are many articles out there that share the challenges that bereaved parents face. Things like relationship breakdowns, issues with friends, challenging subsequent pregnancies (refer to my list of things that are shit for other examples!). But just because such challenges are common, it doesn’t have to mean that they are “normal” for everyone. If I were to have read this particular article in those first few dark days, it would only have added to my anxiety about what my life would now look like. Unfortunately there is not context to these things. There are no flashing lights saying “don’t read this until you are ready to”.

In the weeks that followed Zoe’s short stay with us on earth I spent hours searching for positive stories, desperate to know that it could be ok. But unfortunately just as the squeaky wheel gets the grease, those who are struggling tend to scream the loudest. They are inclined to want to share their experience as a way of healing. Which is great, don’t get me wrong. But it paints a picture that isn’t entirely accurate. It ends up being a view that the whole experience is something you can never get past, that your life will be this dark place forever.
I’m not writing this to criticise, I am writing it to provide a different perspective. Everyone deals with things in different ways. This is my way. It might not be how everyone copes. I hope that one day someone like me stumbles across this and can find some hope that it can be ok.

I got so disheartened by other people’s experiences. I became anxious that I would never feel joy again, or if I did, it would somehow be muted. My life would be muted. Zoe’s death would put a filter on my happiness. But that’s not the case. You can find joy again. But it won’t just happen, it takes work.

There is support out there if you are willing to utilise it. If you feel like shit, there is only one way to feel better and that’s to change what you are doing. But you can’t expect it to be a quick fix. One counselling session, one yoga class or one support group won’t magically solve your problems. You need to be consistent and persevere. There will come a day when you realise that you are so much better than you were. You might not be “ok” yet, but you are better than you were.

Facing it head on is hard. It hurts. It is our natural instinct to try and protect ourselves from hurting so we try to take an easier route. Unfortunately, that route can take us longer to travel. Ignoring it, getting on with life, not talking about it, it can all come back to bite you.
I also need to say this and I don’t mean to preach, but alcohol is not the answer. It might be a nice escape for a few hours, but it won’t change anything. What it will do if you aren’t disciplined is turn into another separate issue altogether. It’s when we try to escape our problems that they spawn other problems. Relationships don’t break down because of a death. Relationships breakdown because of the choices we make around how we deal with that death.

What I have learnt is that my experience was exclusive. It was my own. No one else’s. And it was in my control. Some days I dropped the ball. I wallowed in my grief, decided it was never going to get better and played the “why me” game. But that’s ok, the next day I got back on track. I’m not saying in any way that I just got on with it and forgot about it. I worked through it, unpacked it, felt it. With hard work and determination, I have got to a point where I have a place for Zoe’s death in my life, but it doesn’t control my life. I still have moments where I ache for her, I have tough days, tough interactions, but I accept those moments.

So listen to others experiences, take what you need, empathise with them. But their pain doesn’t have to be your pain. Your journey is your own.

Things that are shit

Things that are shit

There are so many little moments that I have to navigate that are just, well, shit. Many that aren’t enough for a full post so I decided I’d make a bit of a list titled “things that are shit”! I’ll add things every now and then as they come up, but here are some to start……..

#46 Ghost Room.
Coming home to a room that was meant for our baby girl was numbing. All her beautiful things that would never be used, never be worn, never be played with. Her bed was made, but she would never sleep in it. Her stroller was there waiting, but she would never sit in it.
Some things I just had to get rid of. I couldn’t bear looking at them. Her stroller, her car seat, her bath. Other things I could hide or cover, or close the door on.
Some families don’t put their subsequent children in the room that was meant for their angel, and that’s ok. We did. It is now Caitlyn’s room. But I am convinced that Zoe comes to visit once in a while, in particular when I’m trying to put Caitlyn down for a sleep! Often Caitlyn will look past me into seemingly thin air and smile. I love those moments.

#8 Why? What if?
Zoe’s death wasn’t my fault. I know that. But in the days before we knew the cause**, I scrambled for a reason why. As humans I think we have a need for a reason. Things need to make sense. But when you are obviously extremely emotional you lose a sense of rationality and you start to blame yourself.
What if I had gone to hospital earlier?
What if I hadn’t wanted a drug free birth, and they had induced me earlier?
What if I hadn’t had a bath?
What if they hadn’t broken my waters?
Do you remember the song in The Sound of Music that Maria and Capt. Von Trapp sing that says “somewhere in my youth, or childhood, I must have done something good”? Well I was convinced for a period that I must have done something terrible and I was being punished somehow. I spent hours wracking my brain to find the thing that I must have done with the deluded thought that if I repented for it then perhaps I’d feel better.

#97 Feeling guilty for being happy.
Despite the fact that our world was crumbling, life outside our door kept moving. Lovely things still happened, the sun still shone, flowers still bloomed. I remember laughing at something funny and then feeling TERRIBLE. How could I laugh when my baby had just died? I felt as though I needed to explain myself so that people knew I was still grieving.
Truth is, it’s ok to feel happy. It’s ok to laugh. It’s ok to smile. You will go back to feeling like shit soon enough. It doesn’t mean you love any less, it just means you got a break from the oppressive sorrow. Enjoy those moments while they last.

#189 People that require comfort.
We had someone come to our house to pay their respects as it were, and they were so distressed that we had to comfort them. I realise that Zoe’s death was a shock, it was distressing and it was awful. But I’m sorry, it was the worst for us! This goes for any grief. It was lovely that this person cared for us enough that they had an emotional response, but we were not the right people to be supporting them!
So grief support 101: show an appropriate level of emotion to demonstrate you care, but if you need to break down, find a more appropriate person to support you. Because honestly I hardly had the energy to speak, let alone comfort someone!

#37 Consenting to an autopsy.
Letting someone cut open your baby. Enough said.

#267 Regrets.
Oh what a crappy emotion regret is! Yet we all spend time regretting things we can’t change. We put ourselves in this negative state and mull there for a while feeling crap. WHY? Why do we do this to ourselves?! Silly humans!
So here they are, some of my regrets. I share them in the hope that maybe someone can learn from them…….because I sure as hell hope I’m never in the position to do things again!
I should have held her longer.
I should have unwrapped her, then re-wrapped her, then unwrapped her again and studied every little inch of her and taken mental notes of exactly what she looked like.
I should have given her her first bath.
I wish I’d been told about Heartfelt and had some better photos taken of her. (Heartfelt are an organisation of volunteers that are either semi or professional photographers that photograph babies like Zoe). We have some photos and I am grateful that they were taken, I just wish we had more!

#142 “How’s the baby?”
My poor husband having to field those types of questions when he went back to work. Normally in the organisation we work for the grapevine is very effective. As luck would have it in this circumstance, it clearly missed a few people.

#11 Broken Friendships

Unfortunately some people that we had thought would be there for us let us down. Let me acknowledge that I know the whole situation was very distressing, and so many people just didn’t know what to do. But for me, I’d rather someone try than do nothing at all. For anyone who ever felt they put their foot in it and perhaps said something inappropriate, thank you. Thank you for at least trying. Thank you for caring about us enough to try, because someone who we once considered a close friend said and did essentially nothing. I have promised that I wouldn’t defame said person, and I don’t mean to, I just share this because it’s something that happened that is shit! If you know us, I ask that you don’t play guessing games, it’s not important who it is. I promise it’s not you! If it were you then you wouldn’t be reading this. Silver lining though, we now know who our true friends are and they are still in our lives.

There are so many more that escape me. I’ll add occasionally as they come to me.

**Zoe died due to an overwhelming sepsis (infection). The working theory is that my amniotic fluid became infected with a particularly aggressive strain of e-coli bacteria and she, as all babies do, ingested the fluid. Unfortunately during labour she showed no signs of being unwell or distressed so there were no clues that would have alerted anyone to give antibiotics.

A tale of two Mother’s Days.

A tale of two Mother’s Days.

What a difference a year makes

There are many, many emotional triggers that you have to navigate when you lose someone. When I think about it I am reminded of the Nintendo “Super Mario Cart” game. There is a particular track where little moles pop out of the ground in front of you. If you don’t think quick and steer to avoid them, you end up hitting them, spinning your little cart and losing your place in the race.
Mother’s Day 2013 was just such a moment for me. I hadn’t anticipated it, I didn’t steer away, and I spun my little cart.

When walking through a shopping centre on my way to a work visit, that little mole popped up in front of me. The little mole in the shape of a Mother’s Day card display. CRASH. I hadn’t even thought about navigating Mother’s Day until that moment. That familiar lump in my throat and burning in my eyes started and all of a sudden I couldn’t walk. I had to stop and sit down. Those beautiful pink flowery cards that remind mums that their children love and appreciate them just reminded me that I was a mum with empty arms.

There are many fantastic resources to help friends of bereaved parents to acknowledge such days. Bears of Hope is one such resource. They have some great advice. My advice? Ask the parents how they are feeling in the lead up to the day. They will guide you on what they want. Personally on the day I just wanted everyone to leave me alone. I wanted to hibernate in my house and come out the next day when it was all over.

Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate that people thought of me and texted, facebooked etc, I am blessed to have so many people in my life that care about me. But each time my phone went off was like a little bell reminding me it was my first Mother’s Day and my baby wasn’t with me. This is why I say talk to your friends to ask how they want to handle the day. I didn’t realise that until I lived it, so I’m sharing based on my experience. Some parents will love a call, a card, a text, a cuddle, a visit and some won’t. It’s not one size fits all unfortunately.

This year I had a lovely day. Brenton arranged some lovely presents and a morning out in the city for high tea. I had a little tear during the day just at the shear contrast between the two days I had. I held Caitlyn tight and was grateful for both my daughters. I don’t like to think about the day as bittersweet. It is a beautiful day where I can celebrate my journey as a mum. Yes there have been some hard roads on that journey, but I’m so blessed to have known Zoe and to have our cheeky Caitlyn.

Newborn Minefield

Newborn Minefield

Recently I asked my friends what they would like to know more about in regards to Zoe and our journey. I will get to all of the ideas, they just take a while to develop for me.
One dear friend, and fellow parent of a baby in heaven, suggested I talk about how I feel when I see a baby/child the same age that Zoe would have been. I thought, that’s easy, there wouldn’t be much to write about, I’m fine…….well maybe not all the time…….sometimes it’s weird…….actually sometimes it’s shit……..sometimes it feels like I’ve been hit by a truck…….ok maybe there is more to this!

Truthfully it doesn’t happen as often now, but early on it was really hard. I would get a lump in my throat, my eyes would sting and my heart would just ache for Zoe. It was excruciating.
In the first few months it was like a minefield, it seemed like everywhere we looked there was a newborn baby. More often than not I could just look away or change direction, but there were some moments where I couldn’t escape. I just had to be there, with a beautiful baby staring me in the face, reminding me that mine wasn’t with me, mine was gone and I would never get to hold her again.

I had planned on taking 12 months off work when she was born. So losing her meant I had to go back to work, which in itself was very challenging. With going back to work meant new work clothes as I had changed size dramatically over the last 9 months. Now any new mum will tell you that your body isn’t looking great 4 weeks after giving birth. So change rooms and mirrors are not really the best place for you. But I had no choice.

It was in Myer that one of the first really heart wrenching experiences happened to me. Already feeling pretty crap having tried on several skirts and pants that just didn’t fit right, I was standing waiting for a change room to become free and looked up the corridor straight at a newborn baby girl. Her grandmother smiling and cuddling her while her mum tried on clothes.
I couldn’t look away. It was like a train crash. What made it worse was the fact that, just like Zoe, she had a mop of black hair.
The grandmother caught my eye and assuming I was admiring the baby she smiled at me and then back at the baby. So blissfully happy.
I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I could feel the tears welling in my eyes. I wanted to be sick.
Please someone finish so I can get into a change room. Or can I just leave? Nope, blocked in by other ladies waiting. FINALLY I hear a door unlock. I think I nearly threw the women out of the cubicle in my haste to get in. I slumped to the floor and cried. Muffling my sobs so that no one could hear. My heart aching. My empty arms burning.

After I pulled myself together, I went and found Brenton. I just wanted to get out of there. So we made our way to the register. As luck would have it, the same register as the mother with the newborn. I couldn’t face it again and started to panic. I stopped and said to Brenton that I just couldn’t go over. So I hid. I sat on a chair facing the opposite direction so that I didn’t have to look at that beautiful baby. Instead sending poor Brenton to do it!

Another challenging day was my little cousins first birthday. This was 3 months after Zoe was born. I had been forewarned that there would be a baby there, she and Zoe had been born a week or so apart. I thought I’d be fine. I prepared myself mentally. It wasn’t their fault that their baby was the same age as Zoe, and they had every right to be there to celebrate too. It would be fine.
As soon as I saw the pram, that ache started to make its way across my chest. That lump in my throat was suffocating me. I could hardly breath. I had to get out of there.
As calmly as I could I excused myself to “go to the toilet”. Brenton asked if I was ok, but I couldn’t answer, I just had to get out of there.
As soon as my back was to the crowd, the tears started to flow. So many emotions just bubbling up. I hated them for having a healthy baby, for being happy, for not knowing the pain I was feeling. I hated myself for hating them because it wasn’t their fault Zoe had died and finally I just hated that I had to be in this position.

Brenton caught up with me and we kept walking until we were out of sight. Once we were, I collapsed into his arms. This was so unfair. We were supposed to be the smiling new parents with our beautiful baby girl. But instead I was standing in the rain with an aching heart and empty arms. My mum had realised what was going on and came to find us. I told her how much I was hurting and also how much we were struggling with the decision to start trying for another baby. She helped us to see that it didn’t matter what anyone else thought, we were the only ones who would know what was right for us.

Now it is a little easier, kids ages are a little less obvious so it’s not as big of an issue. But I’m sure the big moments in life like when she would have started school, turned 18 etc will be cause for quiet reflection. But my heart goes out to anyone who ever has to face the same thing. I know that over time there will be a mum see Caitlyn and I at the shops and they will feel that same ache. That excruciating pain of having empty arms. I hope for them that they have the love and support that we had and continue to have and I send them loving kindness.

Caitlyn – The glue that has helped to mend our broken hearts

Caitlyn – The glue that has helped to mend our broken hearts

A baby after a loss is referred to as a “rainbow baby”. In the real world, a beautiful and bright rainbow follows a storm and gives hope of things getting better. The rainbow is more appreciated having just experienced the storm in comparison.
The storm has already happened and nothing can change that experience. Storm-clouds might still be overhead as the family continue to cope with the loss, but something colourful and bright has emerged from the darkness and misery. Personally I think “storm” is putting it mildly, more like a tsunami!

The rainbow description was one that really resonated with me prior to being pregnant with Caitlyn and in the early months of the pregnancy. The idea of some light and beauty was calming, and gave us something to look forward to. But as the pregnancy progressed I started to become slightly uncomfortable with it. I couldn’t work out why, it just didn’t sit right.
Then I realised, I wasn’t comfortable with my baby being labeled. I wasn’t comfortable with her being defined as if she was a consolation prize.

Caitlyn is Caitlyn and Zoe is Zoe.

I’m not at all criticising the rainbow baby idea. As I said, it really resonated with me for a period. But Caitlyn deserves to be able to make her own mark without a label to live up to. (let me just say if I was comfortable with her being defined as a rainbow….she’s the brightest bloody rainbow I’ve ever seen!)

People ask me if I found it hard or bittersweet when Caitlyn was born. I can honestly say that I didn’t. I am able to separate the two but I worked bloody hard to get to that point. I know that parents can and do struggle to reconcile the relationship they have with their lost baby and the one they now have with their new baby and that’s ok. I don’t think there is a “normal” when it comes to this.
The decision for us to have Caitlyn was a very deliberate one. We spent many nights agonising over being “ready”. I particularly struggled with what people would think given it was “only” 3 months after Zoe. It was actually my mum who said “who gives a shit what they think”. That was all I needed! Decision made and I’m so glad, another month or few would have meant we wouldn’t have met Caitlyn.

The last thing I want is for Caitlyn to be seen as or ever feel like a replacement. The thought of her ever feeling like I wished I had Zoe and subsequently not have had her just breaks my heart. So I have worked hard to find a place for Zoe to be in my life, but not be my whole life. She was my whole life for a time, but that had to change. I won’t let the fact that my baby died affect my living children in a detrimental way. I will however let it affect us in a positive way. We will always speak of her. She will always be a part of our family. But our priority when it comes to parenting will be Caitlyn and any future siblings.

Words can’t begin to explain how much I love Caitlyn. Some days I could just look at her for hours. To hold her, to touch her, to smell her is just pure magic. I know all mums feel this way about their babies and I’m very biased, but Caitlyn is extra special.
I am so grateful to be Caitlyn’s mum. She is just the cheekiest little heffalump in the world. Perhaps she is Zoe’s gift to me…….

“Our children are only ever lent to us.
We never know just how long we will be able to keep them for.
So kiss them, cuddle them, praise them and hold them tightly.
But most of all, tell them you love them every day.”
Carly Marie