Todays post is written by my beautiful and courageous friend, Carly.
For those of you who are new to Lindsey’s blog, I would like to introduce myself. I am Carly and I am a mummy to an angel. I won’t mention again just how we came to be here, but you can read our story about our son Samuel who was born sleeping a year ago, on this link: Faces of Loss.
This post is where we are at now. A whole year has passed since our beautiful baby died. The significance of the 13th March (the day we found out his heart had stopped) and the 14th March (the day he was born) has put me in a very reflective state of mind. Writing things down really helped a lot in the early days of our loss, but I’ll save my paltry poetry attempts for another time. At the forefront of my mind, I think about where we were a year ago; both mentally and physically. What has changed, what remains the same, what we’ve achieved and what has destroyed us.
I say “we” and sometimes mean it, but mostly I can only really speak for myself here. The challenges that are given to me on a daily basis, the gut-wrenching sadness that threatens to overtake me for good, the occasional happy moment or the rare chance to laugh. There was a time where I never thought I’d be able to laugh again. I thought the tears would never, ever stop and believe me I have never cried such a way before. They do pause now, but they never really dry up, they’re just one of the many scars I bear.
We are actually still a “we”. That in itself is a giant accomplishment. Losing a child can test a relationship beyond anything you can imagine. It can literally make or break a relationship. In our case, it definitely made us, thankfully. Without my husband, I would have nothing left. Grieving is such a personal journey. I’ve forgotten just how many times we screamed at each other that “you don’t understand!” How can the man who was robbed of the chance to know his son console the woman who grew this baby and got to know his little soul so deeply over 9 months? How do these losses compare when they are so vastly different. How can a woman console a devastated man when she is suffering not only the mental anguish but the physical symptoms too? I felt that my body wasn’t my own for 9 months anyway, but it had never felt more alien than it did then. I never really grasped just how differently men and woman think and feel about things; they really are a different species. But I would never have survived this without him, he is my everything and I hope he realises that I feel this way.
I researched the phases of grief. I wanted to know when this raging, hot, bitter, anger would mellow. It does take time, and, so I’ve endlessly been told, time is great healer. I didn’t recognise myself in my own skin, but I didn’t like the person I’d become. I still don’t. I became a person that, despite the intense feelings of self-loathing this brought on, wished this upon anyone but herself. A person who cannot hear anything about children without dying a little bit each time. A person that caught herself mentally preparing what she was going to write in her own suicide note. A person that is wholly consumed by an ache that will never go away. A broken woman.
Some wonderful people have entered my life in this past year. There’s a huge babyloss community out there and in some dark times, they have been my saviour. Most of them I’ve never even met in person, but they just know exactly how you feel or what you are going through without you having to explain or without fear of being judged. We feel we are judged by others though. Those who appear to be scared by us; as if utter sadness could be caught. Judging whether we’re recovering too quickly or not quickly enough. Whether we’ve gone back to work, or even “life” too soon or not soon enough. Judging us for not being able to be around other babies, not even being able to go to a supermarket, or crying deeply when others have healthy alive babies and wishing with all our might that it was us. Seeing us smile and thinking we’ve recovered. Asking us if we’ll try again; as if we made a mistake on the first attempt, as if he could somehow be replaced. Trying not to scream the building down when someone tells you that they’d love to swap places with you to work part-time. Or being told to think yourself lucky not to have sleepless nights, not knowing I’ve had chronic insomnia since I gave birth. Trying to find joy in passions and pastimes that you used to love and never succeeding.
I wish I could rid myself of my feelings of self-loathing. My value of self is through the floor and is showing no signs of returning. How could it though, I basically killed my own baby. Not in the literal sense of course, but by being too naive and care-free. By not wanting to add to the maternity ward burden by just getting checked over. If I had just listened to myself, my intuition, not ignored feelings of doubt, or taking old wives tales as gospel, then my son would maybe be here today. I don’t ever bother to mention this to any one anymore. A lot of my feelings I tend to hide these days. No matter how many times I’m reassured that it wasn’t my fault, there was nothing I could have done. How was I to know my placenta was failing my boy, it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. There is absolutely no one or nothing that can absolve me of these feelings of worthlessness and stupidity and relentless guilt. I was – am – the Mother, the protector and I failed.
I think sometimes people forget that I am now this fragile shell of a woman. I returned to my job, I’m functioning in society, I started my own little business, and I sometimes go out with friends. This takes gargantuan effort on my part and the slightest little thing can instantly trigger a downward spiral. I still have frequent down days and I’m not as resilient as I once was. And it’s still relatively early days; no one can fully recover from such hideousness in just a few short months, can they? I wonder if it’s expected of me to be recovered. I’m not sure that’s ever going to be possible. It does feel to me as though I can’t even mention Samuel any more, I occasionally see people actually wince if I deign to mention something such as my pregnancy, god forbid! When people do mention him, it really lifts my heart to hear his name and that he’s not forgotten or never existed in their eyes.
I am struggling to find ways to honour my baby’s memory, his very short life. I don’t know what to do to make him proud of us. But, he is in everything I do. I cried giant tears at the recent snow; he would have seen his first snowfall. Instead I wrote his name in pure white, untouched snow and photographed it. Documenting the passing of time without him or acknowledging him in some way. I’ve been privileged enough to talk to other angel mummies who now, as part of their own healing, make keepsakes of different kinds and I have a few items at home now, such as collages of Samuel’s photos and beautiful candle holders with his name on. He’ll always be part of our family and his presence will therefore always be felt in our home.
I’ve mentioned how I’ve sometimes been disappointed by people and felt judged by them but I have to say that’s the minority. I’ve been amazingly well looked after too. It must be really quite hard work to see your friend so profoundly different. I wonder if they wish for “old Carly” to make her grand comeback; jazz hands and all! I do feel so very loved and we’ve constantly been amazed at the support we’ve received. It’s really helped us get through the last year. I feel grateful to be surrounded by such wonderful, caring and thoughtful friends. And even this support and love seems to come with a side order of guilt. I’ve taken away their chance to meet and love and care for this wonderful little person. Samuel’s death has altered a lot of lives and changed a quite a few paths.
I feel as though I’ve been robbed too and this has resonated with me more lately, as additional milestones pass by. I have not only lost my baby, I’ve lost my future. I’ve lost a toddler, with his first steps and first words. I’ve lost a child, with his first day at school or reading his first Harry Potter book. A teenager with the raging hump and the stress of wondering if he’s going to stay out ALL night. I’ve been denied the chance of seeing my son go to Uni, get married, pass his driving test or buy his first home. I’m immensely angry that all of these things and countless more have been stolen from me without my permission.
I’m furious that I didn’t previously know about an organisation called Count the Kicks and I’m even more furious that I have come to know all there is to know about organisations such as SANDS, Saying Goodbye and Aching Arms. They do amazing work, but it angers me that organizations like this have to exist. Why are babies dying and hardly anything is being done about it? After research and funding into SIDS in the 1980’s, cot deaths decreased by around 80%. Stillbirth breaks the hearts of 11 families a day in the UK alone, some of the worst figures in the developed world! And before we became a statistic, I had no idea that this still happens anywhere.
As angry as I am with Him for taking my baby from my arms, I’m always more angry with myself. Even now, I don’t seem to have any control over my life. My “take-home” or “rainbow” baby gets further and further from my grasp as I sink into this vicious circle involving tears, self-loathing, Cadbury’s, scales, anxiety, more self-loathing and always more Cadbury’s. I’m not even sure I even deserve to be a parent, I certainly don’t think I’ll ever come to the point in my life where I’ll ever get to do any mothering to someone that isn’t a one of my nephews or a dog. I feel that it is just never going to happen for me and I can’t shake that feeling, I even had it when I was pregnant. Supposedly that’s all I want, for that baby to be in my arms, and if that’s true, why can’t I make it happen? The thought of another pregnancy absolutely terrifies me; it’s scary enough when you are naïve to all these things. I would never survive another loss like this.
This post was planned to be about a year after babyloss and as you can see, it’s ugly and unrelenting. I’m sure that there are positives that can be drawn from this, although it’s hard to see them sometimes. There are, of course, my strengthened bonds with my family and friends. My marriage has become even more of a partnership rather than just jovial cohabitation. My personality has changed in many ways too. Does anyone recognise me anymore? I care a lot less about the trivial things that used to matter to me. I can’t even remember the last time I went on Heatworld.com. I like to think I don’t take any shit anymore; I used to be a bit of a walkover. I am a lot more truthful too, there’s no point in being backwards in coming forwards. I say it how it is and sugar-coat a lot less. I have no time for petty behaviour and I’ve got my priorities in order. There is a hell of a lot that really just doesn’t matter at all anymore. I hope that I am a lot kinder and as thoughtful as my wonderful friends. I take time to understand new things and empathise with people’s situations. Maybe I have finally become a grown-up?!
On 14th March this year, we are honouring Samuel’s birthday and his first “angel-versary”. It is certainly not the first birthday we should have been planning. We’ll be gathering with family and friends to write his birthday messages onto balloons and Chinese lanterns. We’ll release them and hopefully light up the sky. Everyone is welcome to take part, even by just lighting a candle for him at 7pm. We want our beautiful boy to know that we all still love him and miss him every second of every day. I hope our messages of love reach him somehow.