When you eat mostly chocolate as your daily food intake, and wallow around sobbing and feeling anxious and gaining pounds by the second, you know you’ve hit rock bottom and are pretty miserable! And yes, this is a scene that frequently plays out in my life. You see, sadness or grief is something I experience frequently, and I suppose it is all part of my “new normal” package I received when my child died!

Sometimes I know what will trigger these emotions, and whilst they are difficult, I have learnt that I can be on my guard, and this often in the short term avoids me spiralling into the depths of misery and negativity. I know for example, that entering certain situations or doing certain things, will ultimately hold sadness for me, and this has been okay to bear (mostly) and I can cope. Whilst I may get tired from fighting it, ultimately it isn’t so bad as the days when I am caught off guard.

For me it is in the moments I am least prepared for it that the sadness grabs me and pulls me down – it’s on these days it strikes the hardest – with low mood, constant crying, some anxiety, and a desire to hide away from it all! I know for some it is easy to label it as depression, and I assure you I have gone through every type of mental health problem with these symptoms that I can think of. I have asked time and time again “What is wrong with me?”! “Am I depressed? Am I Bipolar (because I was on one yesterday)? Is it hormonal?”! And right now I do not know the answer to that. I do not know if it is simply the messy and very natural occurrence of grief since stillbirth, or if it is the effects of trauma and I have an element of PTSD? I don’t know if there are underlying and deeper mental health problems that I may need to explore. All I do know is that whilst we all get sad from time to time, (frustrated and stressed about things too), for me it is different to normal. For me it has become, and is, a very real and regular occurance in my life that makes me feel often at my limit and searching for joy.

I have had depression before (PND), and whilst some emotions and behaviors are similar, with this I can cleary pinpoint it back to 2014 – when my world came crashing down and I endured the trauma of having a stillbirth, and burying my baby. It went against all that is natural and now I am frequently sad and brain doesn’t work how it used to!

It is an almost daily battle to lift up my pain, grief and loss and try to wear it comfortably!

In the last 3.5 years I have grown in confidence with this and have come to the conclusions that those who judge me in how I respond to my grief, or choose to wear it, are obviously completely oblivious to my pain and need to mourn. You see, when I am sad I am also very fragile, and sadness isn’t all that comes in the package. The sadness is only the start because it also leads to feeling rather discouraged about every aspect of my life, momentary anger and stress and a general feeling of inferiority and longing for more joy.

I begin to think I am failing at everything.

That I am not very good at anything. 

I am not myself – But I am always sad.

I am emotional.

And I am fighting hard to survive!

But how do you get out of that? How do you stop it from making you go insane? Stop it from drowning you and consuming your life?

Yes I think it’s completely fine to be sad, to have things move us to tears, and to mourn losses – sadness is natural. But to stay there long term is not. And so here are the steps I take, and the things I do that help me embrace the grief, but also then help me to move through it and be better at the other side! I guess they are my steps to self care to cope with it all!

My steps to moving forward in Sadness! 

1.Let it out / feel it

This is a vital step to being able to move forward. For too long in the beginning I tried to suppress my sadness thinking that being strong meant I shouldn’t cry, and that to cry meant I was weak. This only made it worse and, meant the periods of grief lasted for longer. Now when I feel it I cry, I sob, I whine, I mourn, and I feel every raw emotion that at other times I keep a lid on. In these moments I remember what it felt like to be told my daughter had died, and to then give birth and how hard it all was. I look at how different life looks and feels because of it, and It is a sad thing that still makes me sad…and that’s okay.

I feel it… I acknowledge it, and I remember it’s okay to not always be okay!

Letting it out, and riding the waves of sadness and grief are so important in finding calmness at the otherside and coping with the stresses of life after loss!

2.Talk

Some people are very private when going through struggles and deep grief, and won’t talk or mention it to others. But I am not one of those people. I am a talker, and a wear my heart on my sleeve type – I find it both therapeutic and strengthening to be able to talk to a friend, counsellor, family member, or SANDS group about how I am feeling, all of the thoughts racing through my mind and how sad I am at that point in my life.These days that friend is usually Nathan or my older sister, because I have found that both allow me the freedom to go over and over the same old points I need to in order to try and make sense of them. They allow me to talk nonsense, or to bring up things that to others are uncomfortable.

With Nathan I find he holds me, my pain, and lets me speak. He seems to get now that for me, talking about how I am feeling is so important to feeling Okay again.

3.Veg!

Being that sad, anxious about things, and generally emotional completely wipes me out. I often feel exhausted, drained and unable to function and complete my usual daily tasks. I remember how in the first year of loss, it left me feeling everyday like I had the flu because my whole body was literally trying to carry that burden and it was tough. Only on occasion do I now get that sad, but when I do I feel it all over – headaches, pain and tiredness.I have discovered that as the heart is the life of the body, when it is broken, it’s effects are felt through pain and aching in your entire body – heartbreak is all consuming.

The way for me to feel better in these moments is to veg. I do like to go for nature walks and do things that lift my spirits on days I feel a little “meh”, or in need of a rest to my soul, But on the days I hit rock bottom, I just veg! I drink Pepsi Max, eat rubbish and I don’t get dressed/do my make up. I take time out from the day to day things, and binge on treats, have a diet of chocolate for 24hrs and just snuggle in my bed or on the sofa. I stay at home and I’ll watch films to take my mind off things and give me emotions a rest. And i’ll sleep more than usual, because I am more tired than usual! The house work and laundry will still be there tomorrow, and whist I always manage to feed the kids and get them to school (success), I have learnt that sometimes looking after our emotional and mental needs has to be prioritised over those day to day menial things!

Vegging is not lazy when your emotions are wrought – it is necessary, and an important step in rebuilding yourself from a point of pure sadness!

4.Write about it!

I found writing to be a great therapy for me early on in all of this. Once I have let it out and rested from the day to day demands, I will pick up a pen and write down what I have been feeling and thinking in my journal. Some of that I will filter out on to my blog, to help others, but often the deeper things I keep private.

Writing to me is an essential step that not only helps me process what has just happened, and how hard it was… what my thoughts and feelings were and what caused it, but finally gets it all out of me and then I can close the book on that period of grief and sadness and pick myself back up again!

5.Read things that will motivate and strengthen me

Initially I don’t particularly enjoy hearing positive quotes or uplifting messages, they irritate me, because in my mind none of it means much and I already know it all – I’ve heard it before! At that point of sadness I am purely lead by my heart and the emotions of sadness from the broken, empty part left by poppy. When I am sad, I want to be sad. I want to cry, I want to talk about it all and I want to veg. I do not want positive stories and quotes until I am ready to process them, and only after the processes of steps 1 -5 do I find I want to be inspired and motivated to get up, put one step in front of the other and start walking through life again!At that point I will scroll through pinterest, I will read positive thinking books or talks from leaders in our church, and I will turn the pages of my scriptures to look for things that will build me. From here I set a couple of goals to apply those things and then head into reminding myself that…

6.Remember that there is no time limit

This quite possibly is the most important step. However sad you feel, and for however long you have felt that way…however you chose to deal with it, it is so important to remember grief has no time limit and will hit in the most unlikely situations. There will always be the expected dates and places that make you feel sad, and sometimes only briefly, but if sadness hits, months or years down the line it’s okay.
It isn’t a race, and there is no particular time you need to aim for to be able to broadcast to the world “Hey remember me whose baby died – yeah I’m all fixed and better now!”… you know, the hard reality is that I don’t believe you ever will be all better. I believe you can live a full life, but there will always be an element of sadness attached to some things, and it’s remembering with that to say “There is nothing wrong with me. It is not a lack in my faith or inability to heal. It is simply a fact of life…an act of love and the natural effects on ones heart from suffering a major loss”.

Sadness and grief have no time limit, and having a plan in place to get through it, bare it and come out of it again is something I find essential to carrying this, and living a joyful life in the easier moments despite that aching!

Always Remember…

Sadness and low mood from grief makes you feel less – you are not!

Vegging doesn’t mean you are a bad person or parent – a day of TV is fine and your kids will not suffer as result or be any less intelligent, it is self care for you and an essential step in being able to cope with the burden of sadness. 

Being sad doesn’t mean you are a failure or inferior to anyone else – it means you are normal and feeling the effects of losing someone or something you deeply love.

It’s okay to ask for help. Whether it’s a friend. family member or counsellor – Choose people you know will respect you and hold you, not tell you to move on, get over it or make you feel less for being sad!

Success and happiness can still result from a life where grief is a recurring scene! At times this may not seem true and it may feel like a balancing act, but you soon begin to realise that as you feel deeper pain, you are also able to feel deeper joy in contrast – and that is a strange, and yet very beautiful thing! 

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A few weeks ago I received an email in my inbox from one of the channel 5 producers asking me if I would be interested in sharing our story (or rather Poppy’s story) with them for an additional News piece they wanted to do on Stillbirth! I’ll be honest, despite feelings of anxiety at the prospect of being on TV, I was mostly jumping for joy and over the moon at such a privilege. All I have ever wanted to do since giving birth to Poppy, was to raise awareness of her life, our life after loss, and the impact of Stillbirth on individuals and families.

And yet despite this, I always find that sharing our story is such a hard task and takes so much energy – it can wipe me out for a couple of days after as I deal with what I now refer to as “Grief Hangover” (Thanks Antonia!).

My desire to Raise Awareness

The easiest (or maybe most convenient) way I have found to raise awareness of what it is like to go through Stillbirth and how it feels after, is to write it here in my blog or to talk about it with people; both in person and at seminars hosted by SANDS and other loss groups! My blog has for me being the thing that has kept me afloat. To write about the things I cannot speak is incredibly cathartic to me, and whilst I know at times this has been difficult for friends to hear me say “I am okay”, and then read from me things that are far from “Okay”, it has been the only way I have been able to get out, formulate the right words, and make some kind of sense of all of the pain that continually beats upon me from losing my daughter before she was born.

I find my motherhood very difficult (and this is beyond the everyday mundane that we all struggle with) because it is two fold – on the one hand I am mothering 3 living children, but on the other I am also mother to a daughter in heaven. But this is difficult for both my mind and body to make sense of, and often in the early days my body would literally crave a baby and yet my mind couldn’t bear to be around new babies – the torture within has been incredibly hard, and motherhood such a daily battle. Nowadays the battle is more emotional and mental, but it has always been a battle to parent my living children whilst grieving and navigating the loss and who I am as a mother to Poppy.

I want to (and the key is that I can) encourage my living children to be successful in whatever path they choose and I want them to be happy. I want them to write interesting stories and leave an imprint in some small (or big) way. I want them to find people that will make them happy, and who they can hopefully have a family with too. And whilst being a parent is hard day to day, these things are so natural and in some ways the easier part of motherhood to do for them.

With Poppy however, she cannot write her story because her life never really had a chance. Her whole life went against what is natural in the order of things – her death came before her birth, and life was never lived. Her presence was known briefly by many, but quickly forgotten. Her parents buried her in infancy instead of holding her close and raising her with her siblings. And I know now that many believe I should let that all go, accept what happened when it did, and focus on my own life and happiness, but when I held her in my arms in the silence of the delivery room, I looked upon that sad situation we were in and was determined I would make something of her small life and presence in this world. She would/will always be a member of our family, spoken of in our home and remembered between us each birthday. But as a mother of a child who did not live, I cannot just let that go and I cannot just let that be what her life was.

To me her life would have been wasted, however brief it was, if something was not to be written and created in her memory.

And so I write – I write her story and I write about her tiny life. I write about how it broke us and how it has at the same time helped us to find inner strength and courage we would never have known any other way. I write about the hard stuff – the taboos, and the ongoing effects her life and departure has had on our family. And I write about our life now – how we still have joyful enriching moments, how we still see goodness and beauty, and how our joys are all so intertwined with the sadness she will never experience them with us.

And I talk – I talk about Trisomy 18, about CHD, Stillbirth and SANDS, to anyone interested. And I talk about her birth story and pregnancy at SANDS trainings. I talk about the hospice, and then I walked a ridiculous amount of miles and nearly died on a mountain side all in the name or raising awareness – awareness of our daughter and awareness of her life and how it ended, and what that now means for us.

I became a befriender, and I am becoming a therapist of some description because I want her life and the pain of her departure to have purpose – I want her imprint to be left in the hearts of others, and I want to channel my pain and grief into something meaningful. I can make breakfast, read with, play with, wash their clothes, cook dinners, talk with and go on adventures with my other kids… I can teach and discipline them, hug and kiss them, laugh and cry with them; my motherhood to them is my daily life and very apparent in how we live life together. But for Poppy it isn’t ever obvious unless I make the ongoing decisions to write, speak and find various ways to have her remembered and her life purposes created.

So raising awareness through all of these mediums, and working in a field supporting others in hardships, are my way of finding a way to let my motherhood of her show in this world.

So when a TV station email me, or when I speak on a radio station (see here), or if a newspaper or magazine were to contact me, I would always say “Yes”!

Yes to raising awareness.

Yes to helping others through our experiences.

And Yes to being able to be a mother, and helping my child’s story to be written and leave an impact on the world.

It is because of this that I was so absolutely gutted and fed up, to be stranded on a train, and I couldn’t just let it go. I was so nervous to speak on camera in the first place and all I wanted was it to be right. I wanted the message to get out of course, but I so very much wanted to be one of those speaking it as I had envisioned and had looked forward to doing.

I loved the opportunity to be acknowledged as Poppy’s mum and to share Poppy with so many people. I loved the chance to be able to speak the words so many don’t want to listen to. And I felt it an honour to stand shoulder to shoulder with 8 other brave women who too just want to mother their sweet babies.

I am grateful that 4 weeks ago I was invited to go to ITN studios and be a part of the “Stillbirth: Still a Taboo” panel. What they discussed and created was incredible and a huge step in helping families affected by stillbirth. For me It was an incredibly exciting moment in my life, and whilst it was a scary one too, ultimately it was a complete privilege to have a chance to raise awareness and exercise my motherhood for Poppy!

If you would like to see the programme then you can here 

 

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For such a long time (I’d say from the moment I lost Poppy) this post has been with in me – bubbling away and yet suppressed by my british courtesy and respect for others, as well as the fear and inner worry that perhaps I will be misunderstood by others and perceived to be a selfish person – one who is unable to be happy for those around me. But it is more than that, and yes, perhaps it should have been something I published in the early days, but it is just as true now as it was then and when I read Laura Doves Post recently about how she felt Jealous of those whose babies die and get to do more memory making than she ever did 12 years ago, or when she hears of those who get more time with their babies, it resonated with me (a lot), and empowered me to press publish on this long ago written post!

As we met last Monday with other bereaved mothers to film a news piece on Stillbirth, it became very apparent that Jealousy is a massive part of grief and another thing we really need to talk more about. And so in all of my vulnerability I am putting it out there, and I am writing this post to speak the truth of how it feels for nearly all of the women I have ever met on this side of loss, when someone (whoever it is), announces a pregnancy that you know! I am writing it for me to get it out, and for the women in my shoes. But I am also writing it in a hope that if anyone reading it has a friend or family member that has lost a baby, that they may approach it a little more sensitively.

Being a woman of childbearing age, and a mum of 3 living kids, it is inevitable that I will share acquaintances and friendships with women who are in the same boat – that is having babies and raising kids. We are also from big families, and belong to a church that is very much all about family, and whilst I love that we have so many people to enjoy life with, It can be (and most often is) very hard to see so many people having babies when yours has died! I love that I share relationships with people who get the madness of raising kids, but it is inevitable that with that demographic of people there will always be lots of “Hi I’m pregnant” announcements, and whilst I am happy for my friends and family, this is rarely the emotion I feel first when I hear the news.

I know that feeling of sheer joy when you find out you are pregnant, and that together you have another child coming to your family. You want to shout it from the rooftops and you want to share that happiness and great blessing with all of the people you know and love. It is exciting and you want to celebrate.

It is normal now that after calling, meeting up with, or texting family and best friends to let them know the news, that we slap it all over social media and want everyone to feel this excitement with us too.

I remember it well and it is such a great time of life.

But since having a Stillbirth, pregnancy is suddenly more fragile to me, and anything around tiny new babies just feels more heart wrenching! It is hard to see babies that new and fresh, and excitement for others, however much I love them, is not the first emotion I feel now when I find out that someone is pregnant. It is rather more of anxiety and jealousy. It’s often like an inner torture as I fight my grief and pain to find, and then balance it with the joy and happiness for others as they enjoy the blessings of a new baby. I mostly just want to hide away, and for a small while (sometimes longer) it is what I do as it all just feels raw again and a little unfair, even though I know it absolutely isn’t.

The Pain  of announcement because of my loss 

I find pregnancy announcements terribly hard because I am rarely prepared for them, and because I have little control over how much it hurts – every single time! Each time it is the same anxious and sick feeling I have always felt – a reaction tainted by grief that tears me up, and whilst I wish that my initial reaction to a pregnancy announcement was still one of joy and delight, and that I could truly celebrate the moment like others (and like I used to be able to), instead I am faced battling these bitter emotions. Often the joy comes in time, and after a lot of “getting my head around it”, but until then it can be a lot of “faking it til I make it” scenario’s.

More often than not, they are feelings that have to be searched for beneath the initial shock and pain that comes from hearing someone is having a baby.

It would be unreasonable to expect a delighted friend, family member or whoever to consider our feelings before sharing their news, but at the same time this is what is needed to soften the blow and know they are respectful of our feelings and the daily battle of living without one of our kids. An element of sensitivity would ease the awkwardness within me as oppose to the sudden “Oh hi we’re having a baby – yipeee!” which catches me off guard every single time.

I guess that people assume that our loss was an event and not a continuum we live on. They fail to see that this means that rather than sharing in their joy, I struggle with feelings of anxiety and awkwardness – I feel aching that they are getting another baby and I will always have to live without mine.

I find it terribly hard when having opened a message, a text, or a social media page, that I come face to face with an announcement. And, like a slap in the face there it is –

A baby…

A scan picture…

A due date…

A gender reveal!

And nothing prepared me for it, nothing was there to catch my fall, and suddenly I feel defensive too.

Don’t they remember what we went through?

Don’t they consider how hard this is?

And I go into a panic, and I begin searching as to what it is that am I feeling about this and how will it affect me in my grief? When are they due and will it mean their milestones coincide?

Pregnancy announcements stir within me a jealousy and pain I never expected to feel and that I wish I didn’t feel. They all remind me I was pregnant and lost a baby at term. They don’t remind me of my living kids and those moments I felt at ease in pregnancy (though later I can find it), rather I feel the awful demon of Jealously rising up everytime, and I wish it wasn’t so.

I feel jealous and worried of how I am to be around the new baby, when brand new babies (however lovely they are) trigger the memory of holding my still baby! And then I worry that the more babies that come, the less Poppy will be remembered.

And so I battle and try to juggle the joy for them with the aching for me and my baby who died.

I fight to be happy that they have this blessing whilst every day we live with the continued aching for her and one less kid to raise with her siblings, and all I feel is that I wish it was me. I wish I was having the healthy baby… And the moment of an announcement makes me wonder why it was me that had to have the baby die, and why it was me that didn’t get the miracle?

An announcement makes me wonder why so many of our friends get these opportunities and we didn’t, and my heart sinks for our little girl that was gone too soon.

I get mad too … mad that I have a grave and they won’t ever know how incredibly hard that is or what that feels like – and whilst I would never ever wish that on anyone, compassion would be nice sometimes!

This feeling has never left me, no matter how much I pray and wish it wasn’t so. And it has never become easier to see people I know having babies even though I have had a healthy baby since. And so whilst its all kind of wonderful to have mum friends and family, and whilst it’s lovely to see them growing their families, often it can be like walking through a minefield, because I had a baby that died, and people keep having babies that live!

Of course I respond graciously and celebrate in the way you would hope, but it takes me a long time to digest the news because ultimately I am reminded of my loss each time I hear of newborn and expectant babies, and I am reminded of how hard it was, and still is some days and I guess I want people to continue to validate our loss. I want others to be aware that it wasn’t something awful that happened 3.5 years ago, but that it is something awful, and very painful that we have to live with for the rest of our lives.and so these joyful moments for others will trigger my grief and cause me to stress a lot about it.

If you know me personally, then I hope you would know that I love you and can eventually be genuine in my happiness for you and your family (though initially it is somewhat of a facade to try not be weird in my emotions that trip me up).

I know that It is so awkward for us all to live with this, but surely there is a place somewhere in all of this grief, where your living child and my dead child can both be celebrated and acknowledged in life. I guess in another world it would be nice if birth announcements came a little more gently to my heart and crazy mind, but they don’t. So please, if you made it this far, please have more compassion on your friend or family member that misses their sweet baby whilst you get to have and raise yours.

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On Monday morning I headed to London on the train to participate in some filming with Channel 5 for a piece on Stillbirth. It was lovely to be able to meet such a bunch of brave, and kind women, and to hang out a little with 2 other blogging friends; Laura Dove from Five Little Doves, and Jess from The Legacy of Leo – it is always exciting to meet a person in real life (hi Jess), and to see a familiar face! It will be aired LIVE on Tuesday at 6.30pm and I am feeling sooo nervous about that part, and still can’t decide what to wear for the live show!

With that as the start to my week, you could say that this week has been rather a surreal one, and of course, very reflective. It is so good that Channel 5 are covering such an important topic, and one that is still so widely awkward for people, but sharing our story always stirs those raw emotions I work to keep a lid on day to day. However, I say time and time again that the ripples of stillbirth and baby loss are huge, and looking back I would have loved to have seen women like me sharing how life is months and years on. I did get that a lot from Leeds SANDS, but I know that that isn’t an option for everyone, and so have always said if I can write or do something that can help even one family/person to navigate through the fog of losing a baby, and try to normalise loss in everyday life, then I will jump right on it! Of course it is emotional, of course it is scary and vulnerable too, but we need to talk and break the silence to help others!

Grateful For …

This week I am grateful for my Mum and sister helping out with childcare and school runs so that I could easily go to London and back. I am grateful to be working on an important piece with Channel 5 and sharing Poppy’s story with others – It is a privilege!

I am also grateful for Deli No.1 Milkshakes (choco – mint!) and friends to share them with. And finally I am grateful for lovely friends in the village that invited Alice and I out on Thursday! It was such a laugh, and generally lovely day at The Deep in hull … chasing tots, watching fish and sharks, and seeing the penguins being fed! I never did get my piece of cake I was chatting about, so hopefully that will be next time, but all in all it was a great spontaneous day that left me feeling happy!

Succeeded At …

This weekend I have had 3 of my nephews to stay to enable my sister and her husband to be able to have a lovely time in Cambridge for his Masters graduation (well done guys!) and general celebrations of that. On Friday I also had one of my nieces as my other sister was working a night shift, so here is my ultimate success of the week – 7 kids, about 4 hrs sleep, and me still sane and my house not too trashed = high 5 and ultimate success!

Yesterday we also took a train into Hull with the original 6 and went round a couple of the museums. I loved it, and whilst this was far more manic than we anticipated (and 5 out of the 6 kids ended up soaked to the skin after running through the fountains), we are all in one piece and still had a good day all round. So I want to say I feel good to have succeeded with Nathan at looking after 6 kids from 21 months to 8 years old for the weekend!

Found Beauty In …

Seeing Alice on Thursday at The Deep, was one of the cutest and most beautiful things I have seen in a while! She was loving it, and was so vocal and excited to be there. She shouted at the stingrays and sharks, and couldn’t figure out that there was glass between her and them, so would jump each time they came near. She was mesmerized by the penguins, and both seeing the pretty aquarium and her reaction to it (as well as being with 2 lovely ladies) made for a very beautiful day indeed!

On Friday Ethan and Megan also participated in our Churches Talent show – Megs did an improv dance (it was epic) and then backed up Ethan whilst he sang! They both did us incredibly proud, and it was beautiful to see them shining on the stage.

I hope you have had a great weekend despite these April showers, and I hope this week is kind to you!

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