I’m writing this on the eve of Alice’s birthday (Tuesday), and I can’t quite believe we are hours away from her turning one! Tomorrow she will no longer be my little baby, but instead an official toddler, and my heart isn’t quite ready for that. I have never particularly been a parent that gets too emotional over my children aging and until recently I have been okay with it all, but this time I feel a physical aching about one of my kids getting older…perhaps it’s not knowing if she’s the last of my babies, perhaps its because she’s our rainbow?

Today, and this week really, is a big reminder that losing a baby continues to affect you years down the line. I don’t think for a second Alice would feel any less appreciated or loved to know I was thinking and feeling all of this the days leading up to her birthday, and knowing her now, I feel she knows what we lost and how her presence is a gift in our lives that balances that all some days. Of course I sit here feeling excited that we have known her for a whole 12 months and can see what a huge blessing she is and has been. We are all super excited to celebrate with her, but I would be lying if I didn’t say how incredibly hard it is too. Tomorrow is another 1st. It’s a milestone we never saw with Poppy, and as I have been hanging up 12 to 18 months clothes ready to go into her new little closet, or as I look to buy a birthday card with a number 1 (which I haven’t yet) it all just feels a little much.

This time last year I lay labouring in the LGI utterly terrified that another one of my babies was going to be born dead. I ran through my mind the events of birthing her sister, still wondering how it was all possible. As the midwives assured me all would be well, I then began hoping she would at least not look like her. I had taken the risk to try again and thought I was ready to give it all another go, but the racing thoughts and the anxiety were a reminder of how hard this chapter was actually going to be. We were moments away from knowing if she would arrive safely and if she was to come home and whilst that meant that I was excited to meet her, I was also incredibly worried too that life would cheat us again.

In contrast to the anxiety of stillbirth all over again, nothing prepared me for the flood of joy she would bring. I for so long felt empty, and whilst she could/can never fill the hole her sister left, she does a blumming good job of filling my empty arms. Its this aspect of her turning 1 that I especially struggle with – an independent little tot that squirms away from the long cuddles she has kept me in good supply of. Its the whole “losing” another baby to toddler hood as well as the milestones we never saw.


For 12 months Alice has filled my arms and expanded my heart. She has given me back a portion of lost confidence, and increased the joy in our home and lives like no other. Through her I feel I know her sister better, and yet through her there are hundreds of little moments that remind us of all we lost and continue to miss with not having her here (Many of which I was completely unprepared for). But I realise I would grieve whether Alice (or any other kids) were born to us following the loss of Poppy, and I would much prefer to take the risk and have the reminders along with the joy and comfort they bring, than just the empty pain of grief alone!

 Despite the last 12 months of increased wonderment at what could have been, Alice has helped me to see in new colours. She has shown me what I am capable of, and what my new normal looks like. She has helped me to have more confidence in remembering and including her sister and has taught me new things and interests. I feel like she has given me the direction I have lacked in life since losing Poppy and she has certainly helped me to heal a little more. With all of this she has enabled me to help more people in baby loss and pregnancies after loss.

Ultimately though since we were expecting her, she has given us reason to hope.

She brings joy where there was none and she brings energy and calmness all at the same time. She is tender and loving, funny and cute, and at 12 months she has 6 (yes 6) new teeth! She has conquered both going up and down stairs now, has had her feet measured and is able to walk only holding on with one hand. She will only drink coconut milk and is terrified of toy dinosaurs (much to her siblings amusement!).

Alice Grace is by far the best risk we ever took!

* I will only be updating my parenting after loss experiences sporadically now as I feel getting to 12 months, with all of the firsts has most definitely being a roller coaster and one I needed to share. I expect on big milestones and family adventures there will more moments for us that I will want to share again that convey life after loss (with all of its struggles and beauties intertwined).  But please know that choosing to have another baby after Stillbirth was a choice we struggled with since days after she died. It has been a challenge and trigger of grief I never anticipated. As much as we love and adore our little Alice, she does hold the keys to both healing and painful reminders of losing her sister. It isn’t wrong to feel or acknowledge that, it is a known fact of having a baby after one has died – the joy (rainbow) suddenly coexists with the storm. The pregnancy was incredibly stressful, and labour emotional, but it has been worth it and life feels far better these days! HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALICE – Thank you for all you bring to our lives! 
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Just this morning Alice got up on all fours and properly started to crawl (Hooray!). She has been doing the bum shuffles, backwards worm, rolls and some commando stuff for some time now to get where she wants to, but I must say that I am super excited to see her crawling! Great timing too as tomorrow she will be 10 months old.

Here at 10 months I finally feel that I am used to her and relaxed with her. I guess what I mean is, that I have accepted she’s here to stay and with that it’s hard to imagine life without her here. It’s at that point with a baby where they seem like they’ve just always been in the family, even though its only been a few months, and you couldn’t imagine them not being one of yours. I have for so long being worried for one thing and another (that ultimately boils down to a fear of another loss), that to no longer look at her in disbelief feels lovely. She has slotted in wonderfully, is a light in all of our lives and a great daughter and sister.

I think with all of that, it has meant that it has been the easiest and most enjoyable with Alice, from the angle of parenting after loss. I have had a few low days, but these were down to things with SANDS, and that will always take me a day or so to feel right again because of the nature of the meetings.

Last week though she accompanied me on one of the speeches I did for SANDS sharing my story, it was good (and a comfort) to be able to have her with me. It felt so natural that she was there, and it was a great opportunity to have her do something with me about her other big sister “Poppy”. It obviously was a heavy day (reliving those memories are never easy), but Alice was calm and chilled and it was a rare moment I had to reflect on what their relationship might have been or will be, and how Alice is helping keep her sisters memory and legacy alive. I wonder daily what having a toddler and baby would be like again with their personalities, and I wonder how having a sick child with CHD would have been too day to day. Hearing Alice was healthy was wonderful, and is wonderful of course, but we loved Poppy with all of her ailments too and  were ready to go down that road. I know I would have adapted and become her expert for her, and sometimes even that makes me sad…that I didn’t get a chance to care for her medically as well as all of the caring that naturally comes as a mother. I think of that a lot when I meet Drs and health professionals at these things because we go beyond the Trisomy 18 diagnosis and talk about all of the other things she had too as a result. Of course initially it was one with out the other and for 12 weeks that is what we had in our minds as life with Poppy.

All of the medical stuff and of course her passing has meant that I have been rather paranoid with Alice when she gets sick, but this last month, when she had a good bought of Chicken pox (which she handled like a trouper), it didn’t bother me. I wasn’t panicked or worried, we just got on with it and it ended up being a relief to get that one out of the way in this first year.

Developmentally she has started pulling up on the furniture and taking the odd wobbly step sideways. She throws things and laughs, babbles lots, signs milk when you sign food and bawls her eyes out when dinner is finished. She has developed way more cheekiness, cute laughs and for some reason loves to wake every morning at 6am!!! She sleeps through which is fine, but 6am is a little too early. She also growls at us if we do something she doesn’t life, pants and slaps the tray on her highchair for more food and makes the most wonderful and hilarious noises.

We have a great routine, she is a great eater, loving especially satsumas, pitta bread, tomatoes, tuna, chicken, roast dinners, pasta and well pretty much everything!!! I love to hold and cuddle her and just have a feeling she is going to be funny like Megan when she grows up. I love spending my days with my little Rainbow girl and can’t believe how fast she is growing!

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As I cuddled Alice close this week I began to think of how many days worth of cuddles I have lost over the last 2 and half years with Poppy. Then I moved onto smiles, milestones and life generally with her in it. Nathan and I have spoken a lot about how hard it is some days to wrap our minds around the idea that we should have a 2.5 year old with us too, and it all feels weird and sad that we don’t. Its hard to not know her and hard that we don’t know what she would be like! I struggle with that some days, the fact I have a child I know nothing about and can do nothing for. I do forever wonder who she would have looked or being like and what my life would be like having my whole brood with me now. I guess its been a while since I had such an obvious reminder or thoughts like this, but I am good at suppressing them too. They are always there under the surface and sometimes I just feel a need to have to think about it all and wonder. It connects me to her and I feel like I have to remember or I worry I will forget.

I know that these thoughts and reflection have a lot to do with doing my SANDS befriender training last weekend. Everything has been on my mind a lot more as I did expect it to be, and it has left me not only feeling good about how far I have come in my journey of loss, but also with a lot of reflective thoughts and realisation of how many emotions and thoughts I still have to make sense of surrounding having a stillborn baby! This stage of parenting after loss has been and is getting more and more fun, and most days are a lot easier in some ways…yet it has also held a lot of moments to bring reflection on Poppy too and make me want to squeeze and protect Alice even more.

At 7 months I am still feeding her myself, which has really surprised me. I don’t know really know why I am when I always said only 6 months, but its working well so I am just getting on with it. I do find it tiring and know some days she really plays on it to get bonus feeds, but out of ease and convenience (especially first thing on a morning and when we are on the go) its fine and I am glad I am keeping on with it. I think also it makes me feel useful. There wasn’t anything I could do for Poppy, but here with Alice I can literally sustain her life, stop her tears and comfort her and that brings me a great deal of joy that I never imagined would come from breastfeeding. I do love to look at her little cheeky face, and have her close to me, and yet at night when shes screaming its the last thing I want to be doing – I find it such a roller coaster and test of endurance some days but overall its still working for us both.

We also had a few words this week (Alice and I), as she seemed to be lacking somewhat in her ability to sit up unaided. I was aware she was coming up to 7 months (today) and realised that with her being the baby, she is used to being carried around or held by everyone and anyone. Whilst she loves this, it has most definitely created a sense of reliance on others doing all the work, and as such sees no reason why she needs to try to move anywhere or sit up. There is no indication that she will be crawling anytime soon, but with that little chat we had, and with a little perseverance, distraction, a few wobbles and face plants, she finally seems to be getting the hang of sitting. So yes, I think at this point in her life we can just about tick off the “sitting up” milestone!

Sleeping has been shocking this weekend with us being away, but leading up to that I really felt we had turned a corner.  Ethan and Megs were sleeping trough by this age and so I have been struggling with the fact she isn’t and wondering what is different. She seems to think that 1am/2am/4am/5am are party times and as a result of night after night of minimum sleep with me still feeding her too in the mix, I have been exhausted and at my whits end! I’ve wondered if she would ever master sleeping well?? But its safe to say we have some hope. For about a week we have managed 7ish pm – 6am most nights which has been brilliant and I have felt way more refreshed and life more manageable. I hope that this is a sign of things to come.

She is still in our room and whilst that can be annoying and not help on the sleep front, I am not ready to move her out at fear of something happening! At 7 months she well and truly knows how to play us and the way she grins at us each morning, she knows she has scored well with sharing our room!

Finally we took her swimming! A very late “milestone” in comparison to the others, and another indication of my hibernating nature with her through the winter. But last Friday we went to the coast and finally took the plunge! She looked so cute and Ethan and Megs LOVED it! They splashed her and we dunked her. She laid in the water, splashed and kicked in the water, and she loved every second of it. It was all very adorable to hear her squeals of excitement and she managed to stick it out for almost an hour! I realised what a great sport she is and how much she just loves anything with her family.

Alice loves to be in the middle of us all and to have the kids playing with her and making her laugh. She loves hugs and kisses galore and has this wonderful way of staring into your eyes as she stretches out and touches your face, she will then smile and it melts your heart. We feel blessed that she is ours everytime she smiles and we cuddle her. I am so thankful everyday for this baby in my life, she hasn’t made me all better or stopped me from thinking of what I lost with her sister, what she has done is filled my heart with love and joy and helped me see colour in the world again, and I cannot kiss or thank her enough for that gift!

 

The Ordinary Moments
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How is my baby girl 6 months old today? I seriously am a bag of mixed emotions as I think firstly about how exciting it is at the many wonderful milestones that await in the near future, and then emotional too to think of my baby growing (as I say most months) far too fast for my liking.

Since our last update we have a new wardrobe, have started weaning, went to our first playgroup (finally), are sleeping for larger chunks at night time (thank you), and she has some great rolling skills from both back to front and front to back. Her sitting up is still somewhat rocky when not being assisted by us or the Bumbo, and whilst she’s still gnawing and whimpering no teeth have yet made an appearance either.

5 months to 6 have certainly being the most emotionally challenging for me in this parenting after a loss life. I think it has a lot to do with the big things we are now experiencing; like changing the pram unit and eating first foods that are like a huge slap in the face of what we missed last time round. Don’t get me wrong they are so exciting to see and be a part of, but they hurt so much in my soul that whilst celebratory in Alice’s life, they are very real reminders of what we lost, missed out on and every little thing we didn’t get to do with Poppy because she passed away.

And then I believe it has something to do with not being certain if Alice is my last and if all of these milestones are the last time I’ll be doing them? I don’t know, I’d like to think she isn’t but pregnancy for me is awful and my body felt so battered last time round. I still don’t feel like I have fully recovered physically, and that along with the anxieties of “will they make it?” now my naivety to birth always been joyful has been shattered. I don’t know if I can or want to go through that again. Mr Smith is a resounding “No”, but maybe with more time and a better rhythm to life with 3 kids we will feel differently (that or I will accept that this is it).

At 6 months old I want to remember how smiley and happy she is, her deep voice like megs when she laughs and the squeals of excitement that come from seemingly nowhere – they are the things that make her so delightful and are soothing to my heart. And I most definitely want to remember yesterday, when playing on her mat without a nappy to air a serious case of nappy rash, she decided to poo. I didn’t notice until she had rolled around in it like a little piglet and began to raise the alarm – Yes, now that’s most definitely a story for the boyfriends for sure.

How blessed I feel to look at this beautiful, pleasant, happy little girl with her dreamy blue eyes. A true beam of light in our world after such an awful period. Where have the last 6 months gone to? I still feel like I’m in the newborn hazy phase and here we are midway to her first birthday – I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun, and I can certainly see why they call these babies rainbows!

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