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.

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Grieving Fathers – a Poem

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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Stuff the sun with the polly fill.

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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.

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(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.

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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.