Anxiety, pregnancy and loss

I’m part of a few Facebook groups that are for parents who’ve been through loss. One of the groups is for women pregnant, or having recently given birth to their “rainbow baby”. A common theme I’ve noticed is the amount of anxiety women go through in pregnancy following loss. Clearly you’d expect this to be the case and trust me, I’ve been there through this pregnancy, and continue to be there.

However anxiety can be crippling both emotionally and physically and come to take control over our lives. That’s not a fun, nor healthy place to be for nine months. Now before I go on, let me put a disclaimer that I am fully aware anxiety isn’t something solvable, and indeed it may be that your anxiety is so great you need some medical help in dealing with it. However I also know personally that some of these techniques have helped take the edge of my anxiety, and even enjoy my pregnancy.

Accepting your anxiety

A common practice in CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is starting with acknowledging your anxiety. It’s important to recognise you feel anxious and what you feel anxious about. Now the problem here a lot of women who are pregnant after loss have, is that the worst has happened. Usually in CBT you are asked to begin to rationalise, look at the evidence as to if it’s likely to happen, put it in perspective. However these aren’t worries about things that are unlikely to happen to you, they have happened. It may also be your going through a pregnancy where you know statistically it is high risk. Hence rationalisation may not always be helpful.

Things that might be helpful from CBT though are things like boxing your anxiety-so giving yourself 20 minutes a day to really think through your anxious thoughts. Or turning worry into action e.g. is there anything I can do about this? For instance do I have a symptom which is worrying me that I can ask my midwife about? Or can I contact someone whose previous baby had a similar condition?

Practical ideas

Ok so I don’t feel any of these are a one stop fix it method to helping with anxiety but combined I have personally found them helpful;

  1. Google is not your friend- I say this guiltily of not having always followed my own advice but stick to a few key websites for any pregnancy concerns. Perhaps NHS, Baby Centre, Tommy’s and Emma’s Diary. The amount of times I’ve googled a pregnancy symptom and pulled up streams of forums with worst case scenarios is not good if you’re already feeling anxious.
  2. Walk – Now I’m not throwing this out there in the way some people do as a ‘do some exercise and it’ll cure your depression/anxiety’, but there have been numerous times I’ve felt awful, taken our lovely Lab out for a walk and felt better. Apparently there’s a reason for this that walking uses both sides of our brains, and thus helps our brain to process stress and trauma. Plus fresh air and sunshine helps stimulate some of those good and happy hormones like endorphin’s which should hopefully balance out the nasty chemicals that make us feel worse if we’re stressed like adrenaline or cortisol.
  3. Talk- find someone to express how you’re feeling. Whether it be your partner, family member, a friend, a medical professional or even other mums who’ve been through something similar. As an addition to that, find someone who will acknowledge your feelings and be empathetic. Not someone who’ll dismiss your fears or tell you you’ll feel better once your past the ‘danger point’ of the last loss. I’ve also found writing to be a really helpful way to process my thoughts in a similar way to talking. So maybe think about writing your feelings down in a blog or a journal.
  4. Practice self-care- eat well, sleep (as much as possible) or at least rest if your anxiety is affecting your sleep, do things that make you feel physically good (e.g. have a “lukewarm” (*Sigh* oh what I’d do for a hot bath right now) bath, book a pregnancy friendly massage, eat something you really enjoy).
  5. Avoid caffeine- you should have cut down on caffeine already but if you’re anxious it might be good to cut it out altogether.
  6. Pre-natal yoga- this will be different for different people but I have found my weekly pre-natal class (which is run by the NCT) to be very relaxing and helpful. Yes there are moments I’ve found hard emotionally – I often feel like the party pooper in the rooom when I explain to all these wonderfully glowy optimistic women why this is my second baby but my first baby will forever only be 36 weeks old. However the relaxation techniques we’ve done, particularly the breathing, has been good emotionally and has had the physical consequence of giving me the best nights sleep of the week after it. Furthermore I think there’s an emotional side of it. I love my Facebook groups of women who’ve been through something similar BUT if you spend too much time in them it’s easy to feel like every pregnancy goes wrong. So that weekly dose of women, the majority of whom are going through uncomplicated and healthy pregnancies are a good reminder of how normal things can be.
  7. Keep busy- see friends, go for days out, do/take up a hobby- help time to pass quicker when it feels like every day is like a week sometimes, and every week is like a month!
  8. Talk to your midwife/consultant/GP- now I know we’ve had a very, very positive experience on the NHS through both our loss and this pregnancy and I also know there’s a lot of people who don’t. Hopefully if you have a good midwife or doctor they’ll fully appreciate why you have concerns and want to reassure you either through a quick chat to discuss any unnerving symptoms, taking your blood pressure, listening into baby or even giving you extra scans. If they’ve offered help, take them up on it! Many of them now understand, that a pregnancy after loss is as much about looking after the mother’s psychological state as it is about ensuring baby and mum are healthy physically.
  9. Do what you need to do- sometimes if you’re feeling rotten or wound up there are certain situations/people you might want to avoid. For instance a friend’s baby shower might be very difficult for you, or seeing a friend who you know is very opinionated in their views and hence doesn’t always say the most helpful of things. In our very British way we often feel a duty to go to things or see people, but if it’s going to be detrimental it’s ok to put yourself first sometimes and do what’s going to help you.

Daring to hope

This is the most tricky of all of the above I think but it is a piece of advice I’ve found very useful. Particularly early on in the pregnancy I was utterly convinced this pregnancy was going to end in miscarriage. I was so frightened of losing the baby, and I couldn’t allow myself some days to even think about getting past even the 8 week scan we were going to be having, let alone the 12 week one. I’d worry about every possible thing that could go wrong and try and prepare myself for the worst.

However, a good friend of mine who has A LOT of experience in this gave me some good advice;

  1. You can never prepare yourself for losing a baby. It’s going to hurt like hell whatever happens.
  2. You need to dare to hope this baby is going to be ok.

It’s true we often see anxiety and worrying as a form of self-preservation. And, as a natural pessimist, I do see the virtues sometimes in worrying about consequences. It’s often pessimists who ensure we’re prepared for when things go wrong. BUT in this case convincing myself baby wasn’t going to happen wasn’t doing me any good. And you know I wanted for my sake, and babies sake to get some enjoyment out of this pregnancy. I didn’t want this baby to be forever in the shadow of their big sister’s death. I wanted to be able truthfully to say to this baby one day I loved carrying you. And I knew my friend was right in saying no matter how much I worried it wouldn’t prepare me for if the worst happened.

So I had to daily choose to hope this baby would be in my arms by the end of June. This has often been a battle of wills internally, and some days I just have to let the pessimism (often combined with grief) take over, have a cry, and contact a health professional for some reassurance. It’s ok to have bad days. However some days it’s been helpful to physically make myself do something to dare to hope. For instance very early on I bought this baby a teddy just like I had done their big sister. Later on I’ve pushed myself to buy more things for the baby and make preparations. I think going to pre-natal yoga is also part of my daring to hope too, as has been writing in a pregnancy journal.

 

I hope the above is helpful to someone! As I said before the above is not meant to be a list of ways to fix anxiety entirely- I’ve just felt it’s helped me cope and not be so anxious it’s overwhelming. If you’re dealing with severe anxiety please do ensure you get professional help! Professionals really do take anxiety seriously and there’s lots of help available.

 

 

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New Year, new things to celebrate

I feel we’ve shared so much sad news through our journey through the last nine months. Many of you have shared that journey with us and cried alongside us, hence you deserve some good news!

Well the exciting news is baby Miles number 2 is due to arrive on the 18th of June. On Thursday we had a 16 week scan which confirmed that baby doesn’t have the condition Aurelia had and they had a good little check of baby generally and all seems to be going well but we’ll breathe a final sigh of relief post the 20 week scan at the end of January.

It’s only today that I’ve felt able to type these words and share this news so publicly. It’s not that I wanted to keep this baby secret, but it felt like before sharing was daring to hope that this baby would be ok which was hard to let myself do. I’ve had to make myself do things through this pregnancy that I did, when giddy with optimism and pregnant with Aurelia. I wanted this baby, whatever happened, to be treated the same. So at 6 weeks pregnant I bought a little bear as I’d done at the same time with Aurelia. At 9 weeks pregnant I began writing in my new pregnancy journal, as I’d done at 9 weeks pregnant last year.

It’s been a funny old 16 weeks. Of course there’s been so much joy and excitement at the thought that maybe, at long last, we’d have a baby in our arms very soon. As you’d expect there’s been huge anxiety on the other side of things, not helped by a couple of scares we’ve had. Thankfully the NHS have been a phenomenal support and have given us lots of extra scans, not because they expected anything to be wrong, but simply because they understand a pregnancy under such circumstances isn’t just physical but psychological too (#longlivetheNHS!).

What I didn’t expect from this pregnancy was the fresh waves of grief I’ve sometimes felt. I think some people think once you’re pregnant again, it’s all ok as you’re having another baby. But this baby isn’t a replacement, and carrying another life has sometimes been a painful reminder of the life we’ve lost this year.

The consultant said to me this week ‘can you relax a bit now?’- my answer was that yes a bit though when you lose a baby you enter this new and hidden world of lost babies where you suddenly realise how much can go wrong at any stage of pregnancy. She nodded somberly but we agreed I now need the chance to have a normal pregnancy. So a normal pregnancy I shall have from now on!

 

10 Things to Show You Care

Last week I published a post 10 Things to Be Aware after Saying Goodbye’s post for Baby Loss Awareness Month. Knowledge is all very well, but for the baby loss community, they want to see people care too. As I’ve said countless times for the most part our experience has been hugely positive but we’ve had our moments. For instance I was asked soon after Aurelia’s diagnosis ‘When are you going to get IT sorted in hospital?’ That IT was my baby, and even if we had made the decision to terminate it would have been from a motivation to protect our baby from pain. She wasn’t an inconvenience  to ‘fix’.

Many other parents are much less lucky. I don’t think people for the vast part are malicious when they upset people in these situations, I think most of it comes from lack of understanding or simply not knowing what to say or do. So, because most people want to show they care I’ve come up with a list of 10 things you could do to help the baby loss community. The first …. are some tips as to what to do/say with someone who has been through baby loss. The last …. are some things you can do on a more general basis.

#1 Sorry is the easiest word

I know Elton thinks it’s the hardest but when it comes to baby loss it’s the easiest. People (and I suspect the British in particular with our good old stiff upper lip) so want to make a sad conversation better by ending with a positive. The words ‘at least’ are often therefore used- at least you know you can have another one/at least you know they’re not suffering now/at least you’ve got another child. For parents who’ve lost earlier on I’ve heard often they just get stats thrown at them as to how common it is, or that it’s just ‘nature’s way of sorting things out’.You might think you’re helping by getting them to focus on the positive, perhaps you even think you’re helping them to not be too self-pitying but there’s no at least about it. They’ve lost a baby- a baby that can’t be replaced. There are no words of optimism that can make it better.

The other thing people often do is not saying anything at all which can be just as hurtful at times. But be assured all those parents want to hear is that you’re really sorry for their loss (and potentially a hug).

#2 Offer direct practical help

Lots of people said ‘let us know if we can do anything’ which we knew many of them meant. But again, call it being British, we found it really difficult to pick up the phone and ask people who’d offer generally to help.

What was super helpful were the people who offered to do something very particular (or who just turned up having done it). For instance some people offered to look after the dog,  or some people turned up with shopping to fill our fridge with (very delicious and easy to cook) food*. We didn’t take them all up on it but it seemed easier to ask these people.

A few more ideas that you could offer to do;

  • Do a bit of a cleaning
  • Mow the lawn
  • Drive them home from the hospital/to the hospital for follow up appointments
  • Help with funeral practicalities

*I knew we were particularly loved when a veggie friend turned up with steak and chips for us!

#3 Don’t assume people want to keep themselves to themselves

Of course some people do, and we at times needed our space. However what got me through those first two weeks was a steady stream of visitors- whether it was friends, family or even midwifes. It added structure to the day, it gave me the chance to talk about what we’d been with externally and hence process it more, and meant I at least had to get dressed.

This is of course a personal preference, but just give the option to couples. Offer to come round if they’d like to see someone and tell them, if they’d like to see you, to tell you how long they’d like you to stay.

#4 Don’t assume you’ll know someone has lost a baby

I don’t want to make you nervous or scared to say things. I’ve never had a miscarriage but I have friends who have done. Their loss is often hidden from the outside world. People mean well but be careful about asking women about when are they going to start trying for a baby. For all you know they have been trying and have lost. I also think this is one of those topics if people want to share with you about it, they will. If they don’t, don’t ask however curious you are.

#5 Emotionally dump towards the edge of the circle

That sounds bizarre, I know, but there’s a concept called the dumping circle or the ring theory. Essentially the people who are going through a trauma, in this case the parents going through baby loss are at the centre of the circle. Then there is a  circle around the parents of those closest to the parents and therefore next closest to the trauma- I suppose this might be grandparents, close siblings of the parents, best friends of the parents. And then there is a circle round these people who are more distant from the parents and therefore the trauma, and another circle and another. The idea is that you emotionally dump your upset/anger/any negative emotion to the circle around your circle, and you comfort those in circles within your circles. I.e. dump out and comfort in.

comfortin

bigcandme.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/kvetching-correctly.html

This goes for how you may feel about the baby loss, but also just about how life is in general. For instance, just after someone’s lost a baby, it’s perhaps not the time to tell them you’ve had the ‘worst week ever’ after something went wrong at work.

 

There’s an article which much better explains this whole concept here

#6 Give their baby status as a person

This is a really difficult one at times. One really common complaint from parents who lose their baby before 24 weeks is that there is no legal recognition of their baby i.e.  there’s no death certificate. This might seem bizarre to some people that it matters so much but it often does to many parents. And I think, certainly in my case, it goes for how Aurelia is talked about- just people (if they know her name) referring to her by her name meant/means the world to me. It recognises her as a person who lived, even if it was for such a short time.

One of the most touching things anyone did for me during my pregnancy was when two friends came round for dinner after we’d had our diagnosis. When they left to go home, both patted my  tummy and said ‘bye Aurelia’. A small action in some ways but one that will live with me forever.

#7 Give money

We’ve benefited from two charitable organisations that rely on donations in order to be able to work to the high standard they do.

The first was the Rowan Suite at Frimley Park. This was a suite that we had use of for nearly a week whilst I was being induced, giving birth and then as we spent time with Aurelia after. There was a clinical room for labour, a bathroom and an adjoining bedroom which meant Gerard didn’t ever have to leave me to get some rest, and meant we could sleep somewhere comfortable together and have family whilst we spent time with Aurelia. Whilst I’m in doubt this receives some NHS funding,  many  of the ‘extras’ that made all the difference (such as a cuddle cot which essentially kept Aurelia cool meaning she could be with us) had been bought with donations.

The second is the Mariposa Trust, and in particular their division called Saying Gooodbye UK which supports parents through pregnancy and baby loss. Much of their support has been through befriending me and just giving me a channel to talk. However they also put on amazing remembrance services for parents to attend, and of course have started a project in Aurelia’s name.

#8 Give time

Again whilst you might not have your own money to donate with, you could give up some time to raise money- perhaps sign up to run a marathon, or hold a coffee morning! Anything!

Also you could try and volunteer. Perhaps you could try and help out at one of Saying Goodbye’s Remembrance Services? Or you could contact your local hospital and offer to help with any  gardening in a garden of remembrance they might have?

  #9 Get political

If you watch the recent backbench  debate held in Parliament (you can watch it here) you’ll see how many issues there are that you could write to your MP about to help either stop unnecessary baby losses, or improve care surrounding it. A couple of ideas might be petitioning your MP;

  • About the fact your local labour ward doesn’t have a seperate suite for parents who’ve lost
  • To push for 30 week scans for all pregnant women
  • To ensure all midwives are trained in caring for bereaved women
  • To ensure there is standard advice (that also treats the baby with dignity) as to what to do with the ‘foetus’ when a woman has had a miscarriage (this was mentioned by Fiona Bruce in Parliament and I’m afraid it’s quite hard to listen to what women are often currently advised.

If you’ve no idea how to write to your MP check out this link on the practical side of things.

#10 Get social

It being baby loss awareness month it’s the perfect time  to help spread the word about baby loss. It’s still such a taboo to talk about and the only way we break taboos is to talk about it and get all the information, myths, stats, stories out there to show this is life for many, many people. So share this post, or share the countless articles that have appeared online over the last few weeks!

If you’ve any more thoughts on how people could show they care, do let me know!

10 Things to Be Aware

October is Baby Loss Awareness Month and Saying Goodbye UK have been posting the below image:

It got me thinking as to what I would personally (and I’m sure it’s different for lots of other people) want people to be aware of regarding baby loss, and how they could show they care. I’ll deal with the latter in a few days but firstly 10 things I’d like you to know;

#1 I’m still a mother

Just because I don’t have my baby with me doesn’t mean I’m not a mother, or Gerard’s not a father. We, and plenty of parents who’ve lost babies like us do the same as parents with babies/children who are in the outside world- they love and protect them as best they can. There’s no such thing as ‘mum’s to be’ and ‘dads to be’- once your baby is there, growing, you’re already a mum or a dad.

#2 Baby loss isn’t that rare.

1 in 300 babies are stillborn in the UK every year. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. I don’t say that to scare you (and I know it’s scary , believe me) but only to make you aware that it’s very likely, if not certain, that you know someone who has miscarried, and fairly likely you know someone who has had a baby born sleeping. Once we had our diagnosis and knew what was coming it was amazing how many people spoke to us about their experience of baby loss.

#3 Dad’s are really  important too but they  are easily forgotten.

Yes women have the physicality of the loss to go through, and there is often a sense of grieving differently within a couple, but that doesn’t mean the father hurts any less. One of the most painful things I have ever witnessed was watching Gerard grieve- if I could have done anything to stop his pain, I would have done.

#4 The words ‘At least’ are a big no no.

One of the worst is ‘At least you know you can get pregnant’. A) Have you ever heard of secondary infertility?!? Yes of course it shows it’s likely, but many couples who didn’t struggle with their first baby/ies struggle to get pregnant later. B) It doesn’t take any of the current hurt away of losing this particular baby just because we can have another one. No baby can be replaced.

#5 Don’t presume people don’t want to talk about their baby loss.

Yes it’s not the happiest of subjects but like any parent, many people who’ve gone through it want to talk about their baby e.g. how they used to kick, their sleeping patterns, their name etc etc. With having such a peaceful birth, I’m also quite happy to join in with labour and birth stories.

#6 Dignity of care for your lost baby is so helpful in the healing process.

The way Aurelia was treated by the midwives after she was born was incredible. Midwives who I’d had earlier in the week popped in to see her and cooed over her beautiful face, one kissed her forehead goodbye as she ended her shift, and after we’d left Aurelia’s body at the hospital one midwife went with her body when she needed to be x-rayed to confirm her diagnosis. Also the fact we were able to get a birth certificate for Aurelia which recognised her legal status was really helpful (though unfortunately parents who lose their baby before 24 weeks aren’t able to get a birth certificate for their baby which can be very emotionally painful).

#7 Many people presume ‘another pregnancy’ will be healing and help people to move on.

However for many the thought of exposing yourself to that kind of loss again can be terrifying, and it won’t necessarily stop being so when they’ve got ‘past the point’ where they lost their baby last time. When you lose a baby you often become (probably over) aware of how many things can go wrong. Couples need to be given the time to decide when they feel strong enough to cope if things don’t go as planned again, and of course, can get enjoyment out of that time too.

#8 Saying goodbye isn’t morbid or scary.

Often you’ll hear about parents who did things to say goodbye to their baby after they’d died such as giving them a bath, taking handprints and footprints, taking photos. It can seem morbid but actually it can be a vital step in the healing process. I’ve heard of so many stories from the past where babies were born still or very ill and were literally whisked away from the mother who never ever got to see their baby. 30, 40 years on they are still burdened with questions and perhaps what you’d call an unhelpful amount of grief- they just can’t let go. I can say from personal experience our time with Aurelia’s body never felt morbid- she looked just like a sleeping baby and when we did leave her it felt the right time to leave her. It’s why suites like we stayed in in Frimley are so important for parents’ long term well being.

#9 Just because I’ve lost a baby doesn’t mean I don’t want to be around other babies!

Of course sometimes watching babies and children can remind me  a little that Aurelia’s not with us, or I sometimes ponder what Aurelia would have been like compared to them. However losing a baby has only made me treasure other babies more as I know how precious they are.

#10 There isn’t always good care for people going through baby loss.

We were very blessed to have such supportive medical care round us both before, during and after Aurelia’s birth. Lots of parents aren’t so lucky with a number being treated with a huge lack of compassion and insensitivity. Indeed this is likely to be one of the issues raised in a debate being given in the House of Commons on Thursday the 13th of October (go to Parliament Live to watch it).

Perhaps if you’ve been through baby loss yourself you’d like to add what you’d like people to be aware of below in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A World Without Disability? No Thanks.

Last week Sally Phillips presented a documentary program on the new Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing which could potentially  lead to no babies being born with Downs Syndrome in the UK. I wrote a response supporting Sally’s fears and kindly Threads agreed to publish it.

It’d be great if you could take the time to read it (which you can do by clicking here) and if you feel moved by it perhaps you could sign up to the campaign Sally is helping ‘Don’t Screen Us Out‘. You could go even further and write to your MP about the issues surrounding it (there’s advice and more information as to how to do this on the Don’t Screen Us Out website).

 

Due Date

I thought this week was going to be horrendous to be honest. We’d be home from our little break in the New Forest, the funeral was done and dusted, and Gerard was going back to work.

And then there was the looming date of Aurelia’s ‘official’ due date which is today.

But you know I’ve been ok this week, in fact, I’d call it a good week. It’s been filled with seeing friends, lovely long phone calls, walks with the dog and getting the house and garden straightened out. I’ve felt energised and productive and wanted to get out of bed in the morning and get on with things- something I didn’t predict for this week.

I remember Gerard said to me a few weeks ago, when I was pondering as to how awful it was going to be when he went back to work, was to not let those emotions become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ll admit my first reaction was not a happy one to this- it felt a little cold and lacked the understanding that of course I’ll be on the floor with grief.

That’s not what he meant of course, and in fact he was right (yes Gerard I admit you’re right!).

Having reflected on what Gerard had said, last week I decided that I’d give myself plenty of structure whether it be seeing people or having a to do list to get through (and not just boring housework type things to do), whilst giving myself the grace that if I had a bad day, I’d go with it and allow myself a day in front of the telly or day in bed if that’s what I needed. Rather than predicting it was going to be awful, I changed my mindset to it might be awful, it might not and let’s just try and avoid things that might make it particularly awful (which for me is being on my own too much or not having structure in a day or at least a plan of things to do).

Because that’s the nature of grief, as I seem to be fast learning. It’s about riding through it, not trying to predict it…and I don’t know the best analogy for describing what you do because you can’t control grief, nor should you avoid it, and it’s ok to sometimes be overwhelmed by it. But, I suppose it’s about not letting it be a case of I’ve got to be miserable forever now, and doing things that help you cope with it. Whether that be ensuring you rest, eat, or avoid those things you know will pull you down too much.

And I suppose life’s ‘normality’ helped jolt me out of any chance to bring myself down into a low on Monday. Again I was dreading saying goodbye to Gerard on Monday morning as he went to work. But instead of having much chance to think about it, our darling Lab got far too excited, did a huge wee on her bed in the middle of the lounge, got her feet in it and trod it all round the living room. I then spent the next 45 minutes cleaning up which set the week off nicely!

So we come to Aurelia’s due date today. I’ve had some time and a reasonably clear head this week to reflect on this. Whilst of course for many parents this can be a really difficult day, I felt by Wednesday today was going to be ok. At the end of the day Aurelia entered the outside world when she was meant to, and that was always going to be the case.

Her due date is of course a reminder of ‘what ifs’ today- if she’d been ok what would we be doing? I’d probably be waddling around, moaning about my back, stressing about having everything ready. Gerard would be on tenterhooks with his phone off it’s normal silent mode worrying less about having everything ready and more about how he was going to cope with less stress. Whilst of course I’d give anything to be worrying about those things right now and not grieving our little girl, it does make me smile in some way thinking about how we might have been and thankful that when (hopefully) another mini Miles comes along those worries or stresses will be so much less important than we thought, and again, hopefully, we will enjoy those last days of anticipation and excitement so much more.

 

Waitings and hello’s-Aurelia’s birth

I wanted to share the time leading up to, including and after Aurelia’s birth firstly because I’m like many other mums who wants to share their story, secondly because I want to express to others what a peaceful and beautiful experience it was and finally because I want to document it for myself. Those days, despite so much sadness, hold some of my most precious memories of my entire life.

I also want to share this story for other couples perhaps about to go through a similar experience. Often accounts of births like Aurelia’s come from America which can provide a very different birth experience including very different decisions on care of the mother and baby. This is why, for the more squeamish of you I go into detail at some points.

It feels like everything properly started on the day before we went into hospital, Monday the 18th. We spent much of the day in preparation- ensuring the hospital bags were packed, giving the house a good clean and tidy,  making a labour playlist and other tasks. By late afternoon when all was ready we headed off with a our lovely lab, Lottie, for a walk in a place that’s become special to us in recent weeks for some final time as our family of four. After then dropping Lottie off on her holidays for  a  week, Gerard and I stopped for dinner at a lovely country pub. It’d been one of the hottest days of the year thus far, and we sat and toasted our little girl, reminiscing on all the happy memories of the pregnancy whilst watching the sun sleepily drop behind the surrounding trees. It was a perfect evening.

The next morning we headed off to Frimley Park hospital to begin my induction into labour, and were quickly ushered into the Rowan Suite. This suite became such a wonderful place of safety, comfort and care over the next few days. To explain, this suite was designed to be used specifically by couples like ourselves going through a late miscarriage, stillbirth or baby that is known will not, or is unlikely to, survive. It’s situated slightly off the labour ward meaning you’re away from all the “normal” births. It has three rooms- a clinical room for labour and delivery, an inter-joining bathroom and a very comfortable double bedroom. We had the run of these three rooms the whole time we were there and it was part of what we can only describe as five star care.

The first task however was to try and turn Aurelia from breech to head down through an ECV. After a quick scan by the consultant to check she still was breeched (and at which it was noted she  is a real cutey with rosebud lips!), and a quick injection dans mon derriere, my ‘massage’ began. Because Aurelia’s head was sat so high it was very very difficult for the consultant to move her head and she had to try and use some force (indeed her fingernail marks remained imprinted on my tummy for a few days!). Whilst Aurelia’s bottom could be swung this way and that, she had clearly decided her head wasn’t for the budging (she gets her stubborness from her father’s side of the family!).

With the ECV unsuccessful we’d already decided we would continue with induction knowing it would result in a breech birth. So pessary inserted – the waiting began. We hung around the hospital for an hour or so just to check my body wasn’t really really happy to go into labour, which it wasn’t, and then went home for the afternoon and evening.

Returning home felt very surreal. I suppose it felt the calm before the storm.  And whilst outside it was the hottest day of the year, we rested in our cool living room watching films and playing scrabble. By late evening I was starting to feel uncomfortable and have mild contractions, and then after a not so great nights sleep I eventually got up at 4.30. By 6.00 I had to shout for Gerard to come down, contractions were getting quite strong, and I was feeling an increasing sense of pressure with at one point even a sensation like I wanted to push. On reflection I think this sensation was simply due to Aurelia having dropped down after she’d been sat so high  for so many weeks, but with breech births one of the risks is that you’ll feel the need to push before you’re dilated. So off we trotted back to hospital.

It turned out, whilst my body was responding, I was a lllllooooooong way off at this point. So the next step was to put in the gel. Initially my body responded beautifully. The contractions gradually increased in number and intensity and by shortly after lunch I was needing gas and air to get through the contractions. Up until then I’d been bouncing away on a birthing ball, but I suddenly lapsed in energy and decided to lie down for a bit. Unfortunately, this meant Aurelia’s bottom wasn’t pressing so hard down on my cervix and frustratingly the contractions quickly died out to almost nothing (A side note here- I felt very annoyed with myself after this for lying down but as the midwives pointed out my body also needed rest so other ladies please don’t feel if you’re exhausted and in a similar position you can’t stop for a rest!!!)

By mid-afternoon with nothing happening I was getting cabin fever and we asked my Dad, who was staying nearby, to pop round. We spent a lovely hour in the hospital’s Time Garden, a private garden for those going through bereavement or perhaps patients near to passing away, enjoying the evening sun, talking and chatting, and just enjoying the knowledge that Aurelia was close and near, still kicking away. This was after a second insertion of gel, but instead of getting closer to labour we seemed to be getting further away.

After a final insertion of gel at around 10pm nothing was happening so Gerard and I settled down in our room for a good night’s rest.

The following morning it was time for the last ditch attempt at getting my body into labour through putting me on a drip. There was a palpable sense of pessimism by all at this point that my body was going to get into labour. We’d come so far through this journey, and then we seemed to be getting ever closer to what we’d tried to avoid, a caesarean. After inserting the drip they had thought I’d probably need an epidural due to the intensity of the pain (contractions on the drip come on very quickly and intensely on this drip) within a couple of hours.

However my body was being stubborn, and whilst my body was regularly contracting four hours after the drip had gone in and I’d spent all that time either bouncing on my birthing ball (much to Gerard’s amusement who said I looking like I was riding a horse) or standing and swaying to encourage Aurelia to drop, they certainly weren’t painful. Furthermore an internal examination revealed whilst things were changing they hadn’t changed much. The midwife having discussed with the consultant how to proceed, we agreed to persevere on. I was still feeling determined.

By early evening I was on the gas and air but coping ok. Even though the contractions were painful, it somehow felt good. It felt like my body was doing something for Aurelia, and in a strange way I enjoyed this time.

Around 7ish our consultant came in at the end of her shift, by which time I was pumping pretty hard on the old laughing gas. She was pleased to see I was clearly progressing and she must have had some magic effect, as during the time she was in the room suddenly my body ramped it up a notch, and it became very clear I needed my epidural sharpish.

The anaethatist arrived super quick, and all I remember in waiting for her was Gerard getting me to look into his eyes when I was mid-contraction. He could see how tired I suddenly was and I was losing a bit of control, but he kept me so calm and I felt safe just knowing he was there.

The epidural seemed to be in in no time, and relatively painlessly, and oh me, oh my, as it kicked in- I hadn’t felt so comfortable in months!!! Suddenly all the contractions, the sore hips, the achey back were all gone and I could lay  down in bed without spending 10 minutes jiffling about with pillows in order to get comfortable enough to settle.Hence much of the evening was then spent in an epidural bliss- letting my body do it’s work without me even feeling it (the best type of work in my view!).

Very late in the evening the consultant on call did come in to clairfy a few points. The first thing she set out was that Aurelia was very likely to be born, either natually or though caesarean section the next morning. Of course we knew this was coming (and had actually hoped labour had happened a bit quicker) but it seemed to add a bit of electricity to the air. Despite what we knew was going to happen we were finally going to get to see our little girls face and to hold her. I was excited.

To set the context here we’d decided as part of the birth plan to only very occasionally monitor Aurelia’s heartbeat. If she started to slip away we were going to let her and had opted we wouldn’t have an emergency c-section in these circumstances, so why keep bothering her with the monitor. During the induction process though we’d really not monitored her heart rate at all, and whilst I’d felt a few kicks occasionally that day we didn’t really know if she  was still with us.

The consultant therefore encouraged us to maybe think about having a listen in, and to continue doing so every four hours up until she was born. Gerard’s concern at this point was if we knew she’d slipped away already how would that affect me labouring? Would it make it tougher for me? I felt it was better to know, and not have the shock at birth and instead just be able to enjoy those precious first moments of seeing her for the first time. So we agreed to listen in.

When we listened in it was around midnight. The room was quite dark, the hospital was quiet and as the midwife put the monitor on my tummy we were all very still. It was as if we’d all taken in a deep breath as it suddenly seemed so unlikely we were going to hear her heartbeat galloping away. But then after what seemed an era finding her heartbeat, there it was, at a healthy and strong 163 bpm. We all quietly smiled at this little girl defiantly fighting on, and clearly quite happy despite being squished away by my contractions. The midwife then asked if we’d ever recorded the sound of her heartbeat, which we hadn’t, so in the still of the night we recorded, what for me, is the most precious sound I have ever heard.

I cannot tell you how peaceful that room felt to me at that point and indeed the whole of the next day. After the midwife left, and Gerard moved to get some sleep in the other room, I put my phone to my belly to play a song to Aurelia called a Mother’s Prayer which has really become the soundtrack to the later stages of our pregnancy. As the song gently played I’d never felt as close to my little girl as I did then- she was on her way and still striving on to meet us.

It was also at this time I remembered a friend had text me the night before with a Bible reference which had come to her mind. What jumped out was the phrase God will protect her at the breaking of the dawn. It seemed like that promise was being made directly to us, she would be protected that morning, and indeed she was as my body kicked into labour at the breaking of the dawn.

At 4 the midwife came in to have a listen in to Aurelia’s heartbeat again. And after a quick (and friendly) telling off that I’d not got much sleep (I was too excited!!!), and waking up a very bleary eyed Gerard we listened in again to that beautiful heart. It also turned out by this point I’d had a ‘show’- finally a sign that my body was moving into labour.

It’s funny, both Gerard and I have reflected, that you can know someone for years and never form an emotional attachment to them, yet by the end of each shift with our various midwives, they somehow felt like old friends. I suppose they share in such an intimately special time with you, and indeed are so very gifted in their bedside manner, it’s hard not to feel like a special bond has been created. Indeed after listening in to Aurelia’s heartbeat and Gerard had stumbled back to bed, the midwife sat with me in that quiet, dark room and let me share Aurelia’s story. It was a precious moment to me.

Anyway at 7 it was time for my most favourite of things (not) with a quick internal examination, but finally some good news- I was in active labour! Hurrah! I cannot tell you how relieved we felt after all our perseverance.

At this point I get pretty mixed up on the time scale of things but after three days of being induced everything seemed to happen pretty quickly. The morning seemed to turn into a bit of a blur of waters breaking, being sick (sorry!) and being scanned- at which point we realised Aurelia had for once got into the best position possible in the context of a breeched birth anyway. I think it was about 10.30 in the morning however after the consultant realised my waters had broken, and about to do an internal when she suddenly realised Aurelia was well on her way with her foot suddenly being there for all to see! I think it was one of the strangest and most marvelous moments of our lives! Suddenly those tiny tipee toes were a reality to be seen.

It was decided at that point to just let my body’s contractions and Aurelia do as much work as possible for a few hours before we even thought about pushing. And indeed that worked beautifully. In the next few hours suddenly there was a leg, and then two legs and a bottom. During that time her little legs and feet often wiggled and waved letting us know she was perfectly happy and still very much with us.

Early afternoon, Gerard had been out to let parents know it was probably going to be a few hours before Aurelia made her full appearance, but on coming into the room suddenly everything started to happen. I promptly started to bring up everything I’d eaten and drunk that morning (again, sorry!) which helped Aurelia to swiftly come along as far as her chest which meant the midwives had to quickly get ready for the ‘finale’ as such. Now Call the Midwife fans might remember the way breeched babies are born which is that the bodies are wrapped up to keep them warm (so they don’t try and gasp for air due to the shock of cold air) and then their bodies are allowed to hang down as such to let gravity do some of the work at getting the head out which can be difficult as the last thing to come out. I thought this was an old technique but this is exactly what was done with Aurelia, and after a few pushes (and a quick snip) there she was at 1.23 pm after what the midwives later referred to as a textbook breech birth! After all that worry and concern she’d arrived with relatively few problems.

I think Gerard and I were in complete shock as to how quickly she had arrived, but she was swiftly moved onto my chest. I remember so many things going through my head at that point- a sense of bewilderment as to who/what this little thing was on my chest, a willingness that she’d make one little cry or take one little breath, a panic that I wouldn’t say all I’d planned to say to her whilst she was still alive.

She never did start to breathe, but we know, because the midwife listened into her heartbeat that she was alive when she was born. With her heartbeat growing gradually fainter Gerard and I simply told her how much we loved her again and again. Gerard cut her cord and she peacefully slipped away.

Yes we wanted more time with her, we’d wanted those couple of hours the consultant thought we MIGHT get. But on reflection she couldn’t have had a better death. She never struggled or suffered but simply fell asleep in her mummy and daddy’s arms.

The midwives then quickly got me decent as the hospital photographer was there ready to get some pictures of Gerard, Aurelia and I as a family. And here are some of them…

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The story doesn’t end at this point as I want to tell you about how we said goodbye. This may sound morbid or strange, but the time we were then with Aurelia for the next day and a half were incredibly healing in the grief process. However at nearly 3000 words into a blog post I think that’s for another post. For now I hope you’ll look at those pictures and perhaps marvel at our beautiful daughter for a brief moment.

Much love,

Becky.x

 

 

 

 

Aurelia’s Hearts

An amazing thing happened yesterday.

When we found out we would lose Aurelia a number of people suggested we look into a charity called Saying Goodbye which is one strand of The Mariposa Trust which helps parents who have lost a baby at any stage of the pregnancy. Zoe, the founder and director of the Trust has been the most incredible support in the last stages of pregnancy and since we lost Aurelia last week. I really don’t think I’d be coping as well as I am doing now without her advice and consolation.

Part of the Trust’s work is that, out of donated wedding gowns, they create gowns for stillborn babies. But Zoe had an idea this week to use the wedding gowns for another purpose, and they are going to be named after Aurelia!

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When a parent loses a longed for baby, part of their heart goes forever with their child. One of the saddest and hardest moments is when they finally have to say goodbye, and the baby leaves the parents arms and room for good. Aurelia’s Hearts is the Mariposa Trusts gift of love to them. Made from precious donated wedding dresses, the Trust send two hearts to families who have requested them. The pair of hearts are always identical to each other, and have a small pocket where a love note can be placed. One heart goes with the baby, and the other is kept by the parents as a special keepsake. Each pair of hearts is unique, just like each child and parents relationship.

Now those of you who know me, know I’m not often stuck for words, but when Zoe told me yesterday well…I had no words.

One of the most difficult things for me to cope with is the idea Aurelia will be forgotten. It sounds crazy at times to say that Aurelia has impacted lives when she never even took a breath, but just her very presence, just her being there and striving on, has done amazing things (that’s for another post someday). And now Aurelia’s hearts can help her carry on her impact, comforting parents through something to treasure and have something connecting them to their baby for evermore.

She really is my golden gift.

Details of Aurelia’s funeral

Despite it only being short there is much to celebrate of Aurelia’s little life, and we warmly welcome you to come and join us in celebrating it.

10am, 5th August, 2016

Wood Green Salvation Army24 Lymington Avenue, Wood Green, N22 6JA (nearest tube stations Wood Green/Turnpike Lane)

No formal dress code– i.e. feel free to wear black if you wish but bright colours are warmly welcomed for our summer baby.

Family flowers only but donations would be warmly received. Donations will go to the Rowan Suite/bereavement team at Frimley Park Hospital and to The Mariposa Trust.

 

50 shades of grief

It’s 6 days since we lost Aurelia. 4 days since we left her little body.

Those days seem both like they were only experienced seconds ago, and at the same time a lifetime ago.

I suppose this week has been the start of our new normality. I’ve heard people say life becomes divided into two when you lose a child- before loss and after loss, and we’re currently learning to fumble through the latter. Even in these short few days I’ve learnt what this fumbling is going to mean.

And yes, it’s the old cliche of a rollercoaster of emotions, but at least with a rollercoaster you can see where you’re going. Grief is like going on a rollercoaster blindfolded, not knowing when you’re next going to turn a corner, rise high with a lovely memory or  sink low into some of the sharpest and most painful emotions you could ever expect to experience.

Monday was the worst day. It’d been 24 hours after I’d left my little girl and I wanted her back. As Gerard held me I heard noises come out of me as I sobbed that I never imagined I could make. It wasn’t crying it was wailing. I could feel it actually hurt me physically to have been seperated from Aurelia. I can only further describe it as it felt like torture- you just don’t want to feel those emotions anymore whatever that would mean.

I was told Monday was also the day my hormones were most likely to have kicked in. Three days after giving birth is often when women will have the baby blues to contend with. So I had the hormones to fight with as well as battling with our grief.

And the only thing you can do when it gets that dark is to survive.

I think there’s sometimes an assumption that grief is easier with faith, and I suppose it depends what you mean by easier. For me knowing Aurelia is in a better place provides comfort and hope. I don’t have the anxiety that I’ll never see her again or that she is lost forever, or indeed in a very final sense that she’s gone.

But faith doesn’t make it any easier to be separated from your child. It doesn’t make it any less painful to be robbed of all the hopes and dreams you had for your baby before they even existed. It doesn’t stop you having some of darkest days of your life

At other times I’ve felt almost normal. This morning I got up to let the dog out and it felt no different from three weeks ago (with the exception I wasn’t waddling so much any more) when I’d have done the same thing. Or laid in the bath the other night catching up with the Archers (I’m an Archers fan and proud thank you very much) I realised I hadn’t thought about Aurelia for 15 minutes.

Sometimes it’s felt  wonderful to feel a little normal again. I’m sure it’s partly your brain’s way of stopping you from going insane. But sometimes realising you feel normal can exacerbate the pain- you feel guilty for having laughed at something or for not thinking of her for a moment.

Or sometimes the normality of the situation when you feel so abnormal can cause some of the greatest pain. For instance putting my seatbelt on for the first time to drive the other day I realised I no longer had my swollen pregnant belly to contend with. I realised as well I was bizarrely going to miss all my medical appointments because at least they meant Aurelia was still with me, she was still alive and I was still pregnant. I’m also dreading the funeral being over because that’s effectively our last act for our daughter, it’s the point where you’ve said goodbye and in many ways marks the point where you’re expected to at least start to operate as normal.

But then I don’t want things to be normal again. Normal again means it’s all over. Normal means learning to live without Aurelia being here with us. And yes I know no one expects us to get over it overnight, or suddenly move on, but at some point life does have to continue for us as it has been doing for others around us all the time we’ve been going through this ordeal.

And that’s another thing I’ve grasped the last few days, is that we have been through an ordeal, a trauma in fact, and that  has an impact. For instance on Monday evening I was in a lot of stomach pain. Having called the labour ward for advice they thought I should come in to have my medications reviewed. I’d never thought that I’d be particularly affected by the location of everything that happened, but the thought of having to go back in Frimley Park so soon(despite our time there being so positive and wonderful) pushed me into a desperate tizz. In the end we decided to try a few home remedies which have thankfully worked, but it brought it home actually the depth of what has happened to us and how deeply those emotions will run.

Much of the time though I’ve noticed grief is a fairly numb emotion. You just get through, not really feeling anything in particular although often it’ll just have a tinge of heaviness which sits in the pit of your stomach, reminding you all is not well.

Hence- 6 days and 50 shades of grief.