When we initially found out that Poppy had died I went into a state of shock and detachment. I felt numb and at times it was like I was just going through the motions but not 100% there. There are times even now that this is how I survive day to day and get through things in my life, but I have come to find out that this is not a way to live – only to exist.
During the period that followed our loss, I reached out to several people I knew who had also had their babies die. They told me that grief came in waves and that when it hits in the beginning it would be like a Tsunami – powerful and all consuming. With time those waves might ease, but even if they still have force behind them, I can be assured that they will become less frequent. I came to understand that grief is hard, but over time you learn to wear it more comfortably.
I have clung to this analogy and sought out many people since who have lost babies and children to find out if what I was STILL experiencing year on year was normal – I needed reassurance that I wasn’t losing it. I knew that grief was a lifelong thing, or rather living without one of my children would always feel a little sad, but my “grief” didn’t seem to be changing. Not just that but these cycles and waves of pain were actually becoming more and more frequent – the more I filled my time to distract from them, and the more I tried to “get on with it”, the more emotional and exhausted I was becoming. Each day has been a fight to stay afloat, and I have struggled over the last 3.5 years to be able to deal with anything that triggers my memories of Poppy – her pregnancy, birth, anniversaries etc. I am constantly tense, anxious and on guard at fear something may happen to my kids or Nathan, or simply that I will see a baby I wasn’t prepared for, and these situations and memories cause me a heck of a lot of distress.
We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors – but I am going to open mine to you now. For the last 3.5 years I have painted on a smile whilst often inside I am struggling. I have forced myself day after day to “get on with it” on the faith that in time it would become easier. I have sat and wept – clutching my head in pain as the thoughts and memories hurt me so much. I have yelled, shouted, thrown things in rage and become awful to my family and Nathan. I have struggled to get out of my bed and face the world and I have struggled to exist. I have been angry that I have needed help and understanding but I didn’t know why I needed it or how to get it. The more friends distanced themselves, or even seemed to just be getting on with life, the more stuck in the past I felt and the lower and less self confident I felt.
I will stress at this point that this isn’t all of the time and not every day – but it has been incredibly frequent and enough that it has negatively affected our family and my ability to fully enjoy our lives together and be a good mum. It has been enough that my husband and I both have felt for a while that there could be something wrong with me.
I struggle with disciplining my kids because I am so numb and at my limit every day. I often just burst into tears at the smallest of stresses and will often be heard saying “I can’t cope!” – Because that is all that I feel.
But then I learnt about PTSD (post Traumatic stress disorder) whilst studying my recent counselling course and quickly realised it was me on a page. It kind of made complete sense to me – Those points and symptoms – they were me and my life since I lost Poppy. I was STILL angry (even to the point of rage sometimes) and I feel guilty no matter how hard I try. I have heightened senses and am easily startled by noise and situations. I am unable to fall asleep most nights and have regular nightmares or the memories playing so vivid on repeat. I have stress and always feel at my limit, and often I just feel numb!
I detach from life and people because I feel they don’t get me, or I feel isolated even when around people. I find it hard to know how to be in some situations and all of these are things I never struggled with prior to her passing and seeing her dead.
I read on and on and all I could see was my life and my brain/behaviour since Poppy had died. It all kind of fitted.
Why were the dates, the season changes and general days when I saw a little baby so painful? Why did they make me not just sad, but anxious and tense? Why do things unrelated cause me to spiral into such dark places? It wasn’t simply because it was when she died, because I wasn’t “just sad”, it was also because the change of Summer to Autumn, and the sight of a baby, the dates and the announcements of more babies and pregnancies, the joy of baby talk and hearing of people dying, all flung me back into reliving the trauma I experienced in September of 2016!
I haven’t just had the waves of grief hitting me for the last 3.5 years, I have been consumed by the event of giving birth to my dead child and then burying her over and over, and over again. It plays out in my mind on several occasions pretty much daily, and I am bombarded with reminders of what it was like and how awful it was. I have nightmares regularly of seeing and holding dead babies and members of our family (or even random babies).
Second to that I realised I was really good at avoiding things that reminded me of Poppy and her death, and that in situations where I couldn’t avoid it, I would just disconnect!
I realised when people talk of babes and death that I freeze up and become tense. When I see a documentary or read about kids dying I obsess and panic. Even a couple of weeks ago when I saw a dead baby bird on my drive, I became anxious and emotional at how its mother must have felt (yes really!). And then when people or myself are talking I zone out. I noticed this huge change in the last couple of years that I can no longer focus or remember things like I once prided on myself on being able to do and it has been incredibly frustrating and scary! I have had moments where I go in to a shop and suddenly realise I am stood there – numb, and unable to remember what I went in for!
The memories of losing Poppy haven’t spaced out or become any easier like I assumed they would at this stage, but rather it is all consuming and it drags me down over and over again. Sometimes I fight and sometimes I conquer. Sometimes I want to talk about her and have her remembered because it’s all I can think about. But recently I just do not have the energy anymore. I have reached a point where I have shoved so much in the cupboard of my brain and tried to get on that it has flung open and it’s time to deal with it.
When someone has suffered trauma, getting on without professional help is quite possibly the worst thing to do, as it only becomes harder to live with and all consuming. When you have PTSD your brain struggles to file away the traumatic memories and associations into the back of your mind, and constantly brings them to the front.
One thing I know now is that my grief triggers are actually trauma triggers. The hearing of birth announcements make me sad yes, but many of them cause real panic. My heart races and palms sweat and then it’s the same when I see or know I am going to see tiny babies, go past the cemetery or hospital, have her anniversaries or hear of a passing! They make me feel allsorts – but mostly its anxiety. And it’s not always because of what I have lost, but a lot also to do with the panic of thinking “what if they lose their baby too?” or “how will they cope”!
I feel as soon as things feel good, and as soon as I am feeling joyful – another reminder, trigger or intrusive thought hits and I go right back down to how I was in the beginning. One minute I am up and without warning I am spiralling – free falling and unable to stop it. I come down with a bang and then I can’t cope. All I feel is pain, anger, despair and fear. Day to day I fight the thoughts of losing my other kids and my husband, and then in these moments I have pure anxiety for days about all sorts and I am disconnected from life, only going through the motions.
For so long it hasn’t made sense. It has been a pattern of confusion on repeat, because I am happy…but then i’m not. And the pictures I share of capturing my positive and blessed moments are all real – but they are just that – moments! And now, after more weeks of hiding indoors and only facing the world for school runs, and for all of those days of painting on a smile followed by talking lots and lots so I seem like I’m okay, I finally went with Nathan to see a Dr who referred me to the Mental health team.
I felt scared.
I felt anxious.
I felt like I had failed.
I felt as though I wasn’t enough.
But then I felt so much relief too – relief that I had finally accessed the help I needed.
For 3.5 years as I have sat in despair and mostly alone whilst these triggers have pushed me down, and as I have said in great despair and in anger and frustration, the words “I.NEED.HELP” over and over again – I finally got it. I was told after an initial assessment (and previously by my counsellor friend too) “Mary, I think you have PTSD!”.
I think I already knew that from my counselling course, but to hear those words suddenly gave me hope that if I have something wrong, that means I can be better. I can be more consistently happy, I can grieve in a more healthy way and I can be more confident and more free. I can be a better wife and mother.. a better friend and I can be well again.
The thing about PTSD that they made a point of telling me about during this consultation was that other than the anxiety attached to the trauma, we are otherwise mentally well. This explains why sometimes in life I am well and happy and having a laugh, and why at other times I am depressed, anxious and in despair!
Next week I will see a private psychotherapist and begin therapy to help me overcome the negative trauma of losing my baby girl at term. I will learn techniques to help me remember and focus on the positives of her life and presence in our family, and how to preserve her legacy without it damaging me day to day. I will be able to see life in a positive light as opposed to one of despair and fear, and consequently I will rewire my thought patterns to help me have less of these debilitating symptoms of PTSD.
To have this diagnosis makes so much sense. It means I am not losing my mind or unable to heal and let go. It means I am ill and I am living with the consequences of having trauma in my life. When Nathan and I have discussed it, it kind of all makes sense – How could I find out my baby had died, carry a dead baby inside of me for 2 days and then birth her. How could I look at one of my children dead – see her and be told I could no longer have her with me, send her to a funeral home and then bury her in the ground and return home empty, and not suffer some serious issues to my brain?
How could I think that continuing a normal life when I have experienced something so painfully life changing and awful the following weeks and months be possible?
I have suffered something horrendous that most will not in life, so please don’t tell me to get on with it or be happy for what I have when I am exhibiting symptoms associated with trauma. Please don’t pacify me with comparing others trials – These are unrelated. My blessings cannot compensate for the mental disruption the trauma of stillbirth has caused. Of course I love my family and they bring me great joy. Of course we have many things to be happy about – I am incredibly blessed – but I am also fighting a psychological disorder caused by seeing one of my children dead and that is a bit of a mess some days! It blocks me from being able to see the joy in all things and whilst on occasion I do, some days and weeks it consumes me.
I am grateful for those in my life that have consistently shown me compassion and understanding. For those who always ask how I am and take thought in announcing things they know will cause me pain. I am grateful for the friends that accept me on a daily basis wherever I am mentally and emotionally! Thank you for giving me the space to be honest and share how hard this is!
Perhaps people will read this blog and decide to be more patient and understanding – perhaps they will just continue with their life and leave me to mine – because it wasn’t them and they still don’t get it. Either way I feel hopeful now that I can find relief from my anguish and suffering. That I can reach a more healthy place to remember my daughter without the crushing pain and emotions of remembering her death, birth and burial. I hope I can remember her with fondness instead of seeing the traumatic events that followed that night when I was told “there was no heartbeat”! I hope I can have more meaningful relationships without the wedge of loss and I hope I can see in more clarity and less tarnish!
*If you can relate to things I have spoken about in this post, and have suffered a traumatic event in your life, please, please, please contact your GP or local mental health team. The longer you live with PTSD the harder it is for your brain to function and find happiness!