Fathers Day

It’s Fathers Day in Australia.  A time to celebrate the wonderful men in our lives – our fathers, grandfathers and husbands.

Nearly eight years ago I married one of my closest friends.  I married the best man I know.  Someone who knew all my secrets.  Someone who would always put me first. Someone who made me laugh.  Someone who understood me.  Someone who fell just shy of perfect but someone who was perfect for me.   Being friends for years and years before we became more meant that I knew him.  Truly knew him before we wed.

The one thing i didn’t know was how wonderful he would be as a father.  N is a natural.   There is a smile that you only see when he is holding his newborn.  A complete pride and contentment.   He changes nappies willingly and without being asked.  He holds his babies for hours.  When Xavier and Isaac were born four and a half weeks early, he instinctively provided skin to skin contact to help them regulate their temperature.  The first six weeks at home with a newborn  are often described as the hardest.  I have never found that and only because of N.  He takes over four weeks leave each time.  Each night, he spends between 9:00pm and 2:00am with Elijah, giving him an expressed feed and me a good, uninterrupted, sleep.  When necessary, I can leave the house with absolute confidence that the boys will be more than okay with their dad.  N never babysits – he parents.  When Isaac was about 18 months we were struggling with daycare options as I returned to full-time work.  N took about four weeks off to be a stay at home Dad.  He was wonderful – he went to mothers group, he played with Isaac – at no point did he treat it like a holiday – he treated it as an amazing chance to bond with his son.  Even now, he’ll take Isaac to rhyme time at the library when he can  (generally noting with quiet pride that he was the only male).  He embraces fatherhood in all it’s glory.   When Xavier died, I felt acutely that it wasn’t fair to rob such a great dad of his son.    My ability as a mother doesn’t feel exceptional but his as a father is.  Today I wish my darling a very happy Father’s Day – from all three of his sons.

Grieving Fathers – a Poem



As Father’s Day approaches I wanted to share a poem I wrote about men in grief.  The strong and silent grief that bears the weight of supporting a fractured family.  The grief that rarely speaks, but is just as important, just as real and just as painful as the grief of a mother.



A Baby and His Daddy

It’s very early morning,
The clock is nearing one,
And the tears are finally falling,
For himself and for his son.

The girl beside him sleeps,
He doesn’t want to wake her,
For when the morning breaks,
The grief may overtake her.

In these still and silent hours,
He can let himself feel,
He can let himself be broken,
He can start to heal.

For those still and silent hours,
Before the sun lights up the sky,
Belong to a baby and his daddy,
The time that he can finally cry.

Xavier’s Sunshines

DSC01325If I wasn’t blogging about life and parenting after loss, I’d likely be blogging about craft and/or fashion.  Both are things I love and both seem trivial in the face of losing my son.  However, they do remain a part of me.  I cannot let the greatest loss of my life take away the little things.  Craft and creating allows me a closeness to Xavier and tonight I wanted to share a little project with you.

I recently made a little felt sunshine for Elijah and it hangs in his daytime cot.  It feels like a manifestation of Xavier looking over Elijah.   I liked it so much that I made a few more for friends’ babies.   Sharing around Xavier’s sunshine.

If you would like to make one too, here are the instructions:

You will need

  • 50cm of yellow felt (you can use other fabrics, but as felt has no nape, you don’t need to worry about finishing the edges)
  • A collection of different yellow & orange ribbons
  • Orange or yellow thread
  • Black thread
  • Polly-fill for stuffing
  • Scissors, a sewing machine, needle, pins

To Make

Cut out two yellow felt circles exactly the same size.  You can use a compass to create a perfect circle, or cut freehand for a more organic shape.  Make sure you place a marker, I have used a pin, to show where the two pieces match up.


Cut small strips of ribbon, approximately but not exactly the same length.

Randomly place the ribbon, folded over, around the circumference of one of the yellow circles.  Pin in place.


Machine stitch around the circle, securing the ribbons in place.

With the black thread, embroider eyes and a smiling mouth on the other piece of felt.  I did this freehand, but you could trace it first in pencil or chalk and then stitch over it.


To add a little blush to the cheeks of the sun, I used make-up (specifically benefit benetint)


Machine stitch the two pieces of felt together, leaving a small opening.


Stuff the sun with the polly fill.


Machine stitch the opening closed.

Thread a longer piece of the ribbon you have used through one of the loops so that the toy can be secured to a cot, pram etc.

You can make this into a crinkle toy by cutting circles out of an empty baby wipes toy and placing inside the yellow circles prior to stitching them together.

(These wipes are the BEST by the way – you can get them here – Aussie Wipes)

Part of the inspiration for this little cutie came from this blog post – Rainbow Sunshine Plushie

1, 2, 3 – Loving all my children

When I was pregnant with Xavier I worried that I would not be able to love him as much as I did Isaac.   How could I love anyone with the same intensity as my firstborn, my little buddy, my constant companion?  We had been each other’s world for so long.

What I had not been prepared for is that the all-encompassing love you feel when your first is born hits you all over again when your second enters the world.   I had thought this love bomb had already been ignited when Isaac was born, but here was this intensity once again.  The love you feel right to your bones and takes a hold of your soul.  A thousand loves impacting you all at once. The only thing vaguely comparable is the obsessive love you feel in the first throes of a relationship when every thought is occupied by your crush.   Take that feeling, deepen it and multiply it by a thousand and you still won’t come close.  This is the all-consuming love that is born with your baby. Your first, your second, third, fourth – it doesn’t matter, that love remains just as powerful.

Xavier became the centre of my world, just as surely as I was his.  Everyone else just orbited the peripheral edges.  Including my darling Isaac.   He came to see us in the hospital.  His three-year old body ridiculously large.  His hands and feet preposterously enormous.   For a split second, as he shifted in my mind from baby to big brother, he seemed a stranger.  I had not expected this.   My heart expanded and swelled and there was more love for both of my boys.   But my focus had shifted to the child who needed me more.

When Elijah came into our lives I was prepared and I knew that my relationship with Isaac would change again.  I also knew that my relationship with Xavier would change.  Early in grief I had decided not to relate to Xavier as a newborn – he had a different role in our lives.   I disassociated pictures of infants from Xavier – I tried to avoid imagining what he would be doing as a baby and instead focused on the more abstract ways we experienced him.  The sunshine, butterflies, nature’s beauty and the kindness of  others.  It was a way of protecting my heart.

But when Elijah lay on my chest for the first time it was impossible not to think of Xavier. To remember what was and what might have been.  But in that moment, I didn’t feel an aching sadness, I felt gratitude for this new life and Xavier’s part in protecting his little brother.   My relationship with Xavier continues to shift and grow.  My need for a baby in my arms has been soothed by Elijah.  This portion of my grief – the fact a newborn was ripped from my arms like the severing of a limb, has been begun to be healed by littlest boy. But my need to still love and mother my middle child has not eased.  The fact I miss just him remains – that has not lessened.  My relationship with Xavier has become more uniquely about who he is and what he means to me, and less about regret for what we will have never have with him.   The way I mother him will change accordingly.  Each of my boys with their special place in my expanded heart.

DSC00267Isaac with Eljah

IMG_2118Isaac with Xavier

Ladders in Loss

There is an unwritten ladder of grief that bereaved parents seem expected to adhere to.  An expectation by society that a miscarriage hurts less than a still birth, a still birth less than a neonatal loss,  a younger child less than an older one.   And the length of time allowed for grieving contracts the younger your child was at the time of loss.

The truth is, that ladder is a lie.  There is no “more than” or “less than” in grief – each story holds its own tragic weight.  A weight that defies categorisation or comparison.  For as much as there is no “less than” there is also no “the same as”.  My grief over Xavier is different from the mother who lost her baby at birth, different from the father who lost his son to an accident at three years old,  different from the parents who learned at their thirteen week scan that their baby had no heartbeat, indeed, different from another  family who lost their son at two weeks old to SIDS.    But it is not “more than” and it is not “less than”.  We are different but bound by the common devastation of holding a child in our heart, rather than in our arms.

There is no finite amount of grief that needs to be shared amongst the bereaved.    Each journey is different and each journey is valid.   How someone else grieves their child is their business – the intensity of their sadness does not somehow invalidate my grief over Xavier.  There is no competition. There are definitely no prizes.

When we first lost Xavier at just two weeks old to SIDS, I wondered whether it would have been easier if  he had born still.  Would that have hurt less?  It is an impossible question.  I am so grateful for the two weeks we spent with our middle son.  I would never wish it away.  I would rather have loved and lost him, than to have never had him at all.   Every parent treasures the time they get to spend with their child.  And yet those that didn’t get to spend any time with their living baby outside the womb are expected to hurt less.  It defies logic. A baby is a baby to their parents the happy moment they find out they are pregnant.  Hopes and dreams for that child often formed before that.  Every baby is a miracle.  Whether you grieve the memories you made or the memories you never got to make, that grief is real and cannot be contained within imaginary boundaries.   Parents need to grieve, without judgement and without ladders.

Darling, I hope so – Pregnancy after Loss

Pregnancy Shoot

In the moments after we were told Xavier would not live, N and I clung to each other – a pain that only we would fully understand drawing us  to each others arms.  Between tears, I whimpered “no more children.  Isaac is enough. I can’t ever do this again”.   Through tears, N agreed.

However in the days following, as my arms ached to hold a baby and the milk that should have been Xaviers leaked uselessly from my body, I knew I wanted, NEEDED, to have another baby.  These feelings of intense longing – a sense of “if I can’t have my angel child I need his brother or sister” – are common in the bereaved.   N needed more convincing but eventually he too felt there was another living child in our family.    In the months following Xavier’s death I did everything I could to prepare for pregnancy.  I lost baby weight at a speed normally reserved for celebrity mothers.   I worked on my heart and my head space.  I got fit.  I had acupuncture.  I wrote.  I cried.  I talked.  I learned how to laugh again.  I reached out to others who had lost and embraced those that reached out to me.

Four months after we lost Xavier we decided it was time and we were incredibly blessed to fall pregnant immediately.   I remember looking at that second pink line appearing on the pregnancy test and crying my thanks to Xavier.  At no point did I take for granted what had come to us so soon.

My pregnancy was wonderful but anxious.

It was also incredibly precious and something I kept relatively private.   My Facebook page remained bereft of pregnancy news.   Aside from wanting to keep this precious secret, as a bereaved parent I had a new appreciation regarding the hurt a throw away line on a Facebook status can inflict on those who are struggling.     I held off telling many friends for several weeks after the traditional twelve.    I was overjoyed but also so incredibly anxious – a part of me felt that telling other people was tantamount to a promise I couldn’t keep.  And whilst many might have attributed a special dimension to the pregnancy I couldn’t help but think it was less real, less valid than other peoples.   When your eyes are opened to the horrific numbers of babies that are born still, you take nothing for granted.  When you have been the one in a thousand statistic, you don’t assume you will dodge any bullets.  When you know stories about multiple losses, you have no comfort in the promise that lighting doesn’t strike twice.  Gradually, as I came to accept the fact that life holds no promises, my “why me?” turned into “why not me?”   At times I almost felt guilt about this fear of stillbirth – that I was appropriating someone else’s story and turning into my own when I had no right to do so.   Yet, every mummy I know who has lost to SIDS and has become subsequently pregnant has struggled with similar emotions.  Anxiety remains, but now when I check if Elijah is breathing, my relief is immediate.

During my pregnancy, Isaac kept asking, hope in his little voice, “this baby is going to stay isn’t it?”   To this moment, I can only answer “Darling, I think so – I really hope so.”   But the conviction in my voice is growing stronger by the day.

August 19th – Day of Hope

Day of HopeToday is August 19th – a day of Hope.  A day to talk about children gone too soon, whether they lived outside the womb or only within it.   A day to remember those with hearts of mothers, but have not yet been able to conceive.  A day to shatter the silence that surrounds child loss and infertility and to remember all those little footprints that have left a large imprint on our hearts.

Like many bereaved parents, I found my way to Carly Marie’s beautiful blog in the weeks following Xavier’s death.  At the time (July 2012), Carly had just introduced her new project – an opportunity for the bereaved to make their babies prayer flags which would be strung and photographed on Christian’s beach.  Being a crafty kind of person, this project seemed perfect.

Xaviers Flag by Carly Marie DudleyMaking things for people is one of the ways that I show love and this seemed such a beautiful way to express my love for Xavier.   As I selected lace and ribbon and beads, I felt moments of calm that had previously eluded me.   When I sat making the flag up for darling boy, I felt closer her to him than I had in some time.    I had thought that preparing his funeral service (which I did meticulously) would be the last public act I would be able to do for my son.   To realise that I could create and share that creation with others was a joyful discovery.   In the quiet moments I spent sewing, embroidering, planning I felt like I was nurturing my son – it was a feeling akin to the sleepy, beautiful bubble that surrounds nursing your child.    It helped me realise that my need to mother was not extinguished when Xavier’s life was.  That there were still ways to connect with him that did not centre around sadness.   I made two flags initially – copies of each other – one to send to Carly and the other to hang in our home.   Last year, I was lucky enough to meet the gorgeous Carly and she told me that Xavier’s flag was amongst the first she received.   When she posted a picture of it, amongst others, as inspiration to others I was so happy – not just because I was beyond flattered that Carly thought it beautiful but that so many more people would see Xavier’s name.

Prayer Flags

I was not ready to give up the healing that crafting the flags had given me, so I made several more, each with words that felt inspired by Xavier.   Those flags now hang on our verandah, with fairy lights strung around them.


I made Xavier another flag on his first birthday this year and strung more ribbons.  I have made flags for close friends on special occasions – another way to share Xavier’s love with those around me.

This year Carly is again hosting a Prayer Flag Project– this time each of us will photograph and share our flags to celebrate August 19th – Day of Hope.   I decided to make a slightly different flag this time – my previous flags have all been ribbons, lace and ethereal beauty.  This time I wanted to make something more earthy and representative of his presence on earth, rather than heaven.    His sunshine is the most important symbol to us, so I chose to reflect that.  Once again, creating for my son allowed me feel his presence and his peace.

2013 Xavier flagI photographed this as the morning light came up
and lit the candles we gave out a Elijah’s mother blessing.

Mother Blessing

I always thought baby showers were the exclusive domain of the first time mother.  A chance for her to feel loved and embarrassed in equal measure.  A rite of passage akin to a hens night.    Having a shower for a second, third or fourth child seemed gauche and somewhat presumptuous.  It might not surprise you to read my thoughts have changed.

When Xavier was a week old my best friend arranged a small lunch with girlfriends in lieu of a shower and I am so glad she did.  If not for that lunch, several friends would never have met Xavier.   My eldest son, Isaac’s, shower was of the traditional kind, with the exception that I planned it myself.  My sister, mother or friends would have arranged it but my nature didn’t allow that to happen.  So I have never had to cringe at games featuring nappies full of chocolate or had to fake a smile as people guessed the girth of my belly.   Indeed, the traditional baby shower has never really appealed to me.

I didn’t know about mother blessings until I read about them in Francesca Cox’s beautiful eBook – Celebrating Pregnancy Again.    Many of the ideas have been borrowed from the Navajo tradition of blessingways.  Out of respect for that tradition, I refer to a mother or baby blessing.   The idea is to nourish the expectant mother with blessings and meaningful ritual.  As soon as I learned about this tradition, it made so much more sense to me that the conventional shower.  A dear friend was expecting her second daughter at around the time I became aware of mother blessings and I offered to host one for her.   She too would probably have foregone another baby shower, but was happy with a “baby sprinkle” and a more unconventional approach.  At her blessing, we strung words of hope and tied them onto a candle.   We made a birthing necklace, where each guest strung a bead they had chosen onto a piece of leather.  Guests wrote words of welcome onto prayer flags to be hung in the new baby’s room.  I wrote words like “hope” and “joy” on rocks and asked guests to take what they needed as they left.  I would have liked to also have done henna tattoos but as the blessing was held at a cafe, that proved too difficult.  All in all,  it was a beautiful morning.

Leigh shower

I knew that this was the kind of celebration I wanted to welcome Elijah into the world.   My sister and mother organised the blessing, with significant input from me – I let go a little, but my nature remains.    Around 30 of my friends and family gathered at a beautiful local cafe.  I was surprised and so very touched when a dear friend from Sydney arrived at the blessing.  She too knows the pain of losing a child and the anxiety and hope of a subsequent pregnancy.   To have her there was amazing.

My friends strung a necklace with gorgeous beads – each with a story and meaning attached.  That necklace accompanied me into labour.    Mum and Paulina had created crystal pendants which guests hung onto a branch with white and silver ribbon.  Mum had found a beautiful branch for this purpose.   Words of hope and welcome were written onto hearts to be later framed.   Further prayers and words were written onto pieces of paper and placed into bunting.   Each guest received a tea light candle holder that Paulina and I had made.  On reflection, I wish that we had lit those candles at the blessing itself but I am happy to know that Xavier’s light travelled home with each of the guests.    It was exactly the kind of baby shower I needed.  It allowed me to include Xavier and welcome Elijah in a special and respectful way.

Baby Shower

Practical Notes:

Birthing Necklace
Ask guests to bring a bead in the invitation –  for those that cannot attend they may want to send a bead.  Many of my guests wrote what the bead represented within their cards, which I really treasured.  It can take a while to string all the beads, so it’s a good idea to get this activity started early on in the blessing – we simply passed the necklace around so that people didn’t have to get up and could continue chatting.  We used very thin leather.  If the leather starts to get difficult to thread beads onto, place some glue on the very tip, let dry and then cut on an slight angle.

Crystal Branch
My mum scoured local scrub land for the perfect branch (there were a few branch auditions before we found the perfect one!).  She stripped back some of the bark.   We bought crystals from a local beading store (Bead Trimming and Craft Co) and made up hanging pendants.  We use Swarovski lead crystals so that they would catch the light effectively.  Guests then chose the pendant they liked and hung it on the branch with some silver and/or white ribbon.

Prayer Flags
For my friend’s shower, I bought a couple of packs of pre-cut craft tissue paper.  I then sewed the tops over so that a ribbon could thread through the top.  I supplied pens for people to write and draw on the flags.  You could do something similar with fabric, or supply jewelled stickers etc. for more ornate flags.

For my shower, I made bunting that opened up at the back so that pieces of paper could be held in the flags themselves.  I liked the idea of the bunting holding hidden messages of hope and welcome.

Guests did this throughout the blessing, with many choosing to do it as they left.

Blessing Rocks
I bought a bag of pebbles from a local dollar store and wrote on the stones with permanent marker.  I hair-sprayed over the top of the writing to ensure it adhered.

Xavier’s Lights
We found tea light candle holders for $1.  We hot glue gunned on strips of hessian and ribbon around the holders.

For each activity we placed instructions and the meaning of the activity within white ornate frames.  The ones we used are from Officeworks and are inexpensive.

Xavier’s Room / Elijah’s Room

Xavier never slept in his room.  Never played in it. Never watched the sunrise creep in through the window. Never begged another story or asked to keep the light on. He slept in our room for the entire length of his short life.   But the room remained his.  His things in the drawers.  His teddy bear waiting expectantly in the cot. The room was a reflection of our hopes and dreams for our son.

I had chosen an airplane theme and decals of paper plans adorned the walls.   A paper plane mobile I had made him gently moved in the breeze.  Tiny cut out airplanes were attached to his cot. A plush helicopter nestled with cushions on the feeding chair. And in the centre of the main wall, the wooden word “Fly”.

“Fly” – those words mocked me for months until in a bout of teary rage I ripped the “F” from the wall.   I let “ly” remain – it seemed apt.

When I was 20 weeks pregnant with Elijah, I started to think about how to re-decorate the nursery.  How could this room become another baby’s whilst still honouring Xavier’s memory?  How could I take things down and put others in their place without feeling I was erasing and replacing Xavier?

I decided that the room could still reflect Xavier – but Xavier as our family experiences him now – his spirit, his presence.  Of course, the room holds things that are uniquely Elijah – new toys and clothes.  Furniture moved around.  A newly upholstered chair and a pretty new rug.  But there are many things that reflect Xavier’s love in the room.

I chose a sunny yellow and grey theme.  I printed the lyrics to “I won’t give up on us” (our song from Xavier) on a series of canvasses that hang above Elijah’s cot, where “Fly” once was.  I made bunting with an opening at the back of each flag that allowed friends and family to write wishes and words of hope – a variation of the prayer flags I make for Xavier.  More words of welcome were written on hearts and framed.  The gifts of words, prayers, and hopes meaning more to me now than teddy bears and nappy cakes.

At my Mother Blessing, loved ones hung a crystal each on a branch.  That branch hangs in Elijah’s room, refracting Xavier’s sunlight and throwing rainbows around the room.    I can imagine Elijah trying to catch them as he gets older.


Practical Notes

The mobile was made using the instructions here to make the round ruffle balls – Beautiful Nest .  I then strung the balls onto an embroidery hoop that I had covered by wrapping ribbon around it.

I created the lyric canvases by first creating a document (in Pages, but it would work in Word also) with the text and background colour for each canvas.  I then saved this as a PDF, which  allowed me to export each page as a separate jpeg image.   I used the Kmart photo service to create the canvasses themselves – $19 per faux canvas.

The rug is from the Etsy store  – Camille Designs

I made the bunting, cushion and reupholstered the chair with fabric from Spotlight.



When I was pregnant with Elijah I was monitored more closely than I had been with either Isaac or Xavier.  Not because I had a high risk pregnancy, but to allay my own anxieties.

Close monitoring is a double edged sword.   On the one hand you have the constant and necessary assurance that your baby is still living, on the other every single growth abnormality is picked up.  At 34 weeks, Elijah’s head measured large and his femurs short.  I imagined dwarfism and a host of other Dr Google supplied diagnoses.  He was born in perfect proportion.

This is the sword – reassurance comes with no guarantees and the slightest issue gains momentous proportions. The promise of rarity echoes hollow when you have been the one-in-whatever.

Yet, somewhere deep down I knew Elijah would be okay.  There was a motherly instinct that was difficult to grasp at times but existed nonetheless.   Instinct can be hard to access once it has been tainted by fear, but it remains.  Instinct does not disappear after loss, but it can be crowded out by doubt and distrust.  It’s hard to trust your gut when your head is full of anxiety.  But if I took a deep breath,  concentrated, and asked Xavier for a little guidance, my true maternal instinct was still in tact.

Just as I had multiple scans during pregnancy, Elijah has seen the inside of the GP’s office more times than would be considered normal for a healthy two week old.   I have needed the reassurance – particularly in the lead up to Elijah turning the same age as Xavier when he died.   But with that reassurance has come multiple weighings and with those weighings a concern about the lack of weight Elijah has been putting on.  He weighed 3.5 at birth and 3.2 at discharge.   Within the following week he only put on 60 grams.  My GP suggested a formula feed once a day to increase his weight.  I left in tears. My milk supply is fine – gushing in fact.  The advice insinuated that formula would be better food for my baby than my milk.  Breastfeeding has always been something I love doing and have never had an issue with.  To think I was failing Elijah with my milk after feeling I failed Xavier was too much.

But somewhere motherly instinct  kicked in (with help from N and supportive friends) and I knew formula was not the answer.  I rang the ABA in floods of tears and the counsellor was fabulous. I booked an appointment with the Mater hospital lactation consultants.

During that appointment they saw that Elijah latched properly. Check.  That he had no tongue tie. Check. That there was plenty of milk. Check.  Then he was weighed and he had put on 140 grams in 3 days. Check. Check. Check.

The lactation consultant explained that weight is only one factor to measure a baby’s well being.  A good amount of dirty nappies proves that milk is getting into baby.  The baby’s skin tone and level of contentment indicates their health.  She also pointed out that when a baby is in the womb, they are being nourished according to the mother’s body.  Once they are born, they regulate their own appetite, which may not match what was offered in utero.  I was ecstatic that Elijah had put on so much weight, but armed with this extra knowledge, I won’t panic unnecessarily if that amount of weight gain is not consistent.

I am so glad I followed my instinct.  I am reminded that the best expert on my baby, is me.    The role of health professionals is to educate and support me – but their role is not to mother my baby.  Every mother is the best expert on their own child.  We just need to trust and believe in ourselves.