What a grieving mother looks like

I remember the first time I attended a SIDS and Kids support group meeting.  There were other newcomers like me, slightly apprehensive and unsure.  There were those who had been coming for a long time, happy to be in the company of friends.  Before any of us spoke, I looked around the table.  And I was surprised.  I knew we were bound by the common thread of loss, but I hadn’t expected to be bound by other common threads.  The women who surrounded me where in their late twenties and early to mid thirties.  They were well dressed.  If they had children with them, they cared for them with tenderness and good humour.  As people spoke, I came to realise that they were articulate and well educated.  Without fail, I would look at each of them and think “but you don’t look like someone whose child could die.”   For some reason, I thought my family was the anomaly –  I thought that child loss simply didn’t happen in the circles my life revolved in.   That education, stable relationships and financial security offered some kind of mystical force-field against tragedy.  And yet here I was, mirrored by this group of women.  The very thing I thought protected me hadn’t protected them either.

Unless you are someone or close to someone who has experienced the death of a child, our image of mothers whose babies die are either rooted in history or formed by the media.   Until you have come close to it, stillbirth is something that belongs to the Victorians.  Until it infiltrates your life, babies do not die for no reason.  They die because they are too sick or because their carers are neglectful or careless.  Until it becomes your life, it is something that belongs to anybody but you.  Something that could never happen to you.  

The media is very good at demonising child loss.  Sensational headlines regarding babies starved to death allow our hands to fly to our mouths at the horror of it all.  Our hearts go out to the little ones but we do not see ourselves in that story.  Even when reporting children lost to tragic accidents, social media is quick to make comments about a lack of supervision, a lack of care.  So very quick to judge.   Not to make the parents involved feel guilty – oh no, we are not so mean are we?  But rather to place distance between ourselves and that particular tragedy.  I feel so sorry for her, but I would never ……      

I remember when the news of the murder of Alison Baden-Clay broke.  At first, there were stories about how it could have been any one of us.  But slowly, slowly enough sordid details were teased out by the media that we felt distanced again.  Affairs and incredible debt were not part of our lives.  The wolves at the door were silenced.

But what can we do when the wolves cannot be silenced?  When the wolves howl and make you anxious.  Because the wolf has tread your floors before.  What do you do when you realise that a grieving mother is not the monster in the media nor is she enshrined in history?  

When you realise, a grieving mother looks a lot more like you than you first thought.

And so this is Christmas….

Against all odds, it is December.  Mid-December at that.  The post that I had wanted to write since December first has been sitting on a shelf in my mind – perhaps accompanied by that ubiquitous little elf – whilst the world has spun around me.  The season of festivity.  The season of good will.  The season of busy, busy, busy.

Last year Christmas felt quiet.  There were things that we had previously done each and every year that were left undone.   Things were done that will probably only belong to Christmas 2012.  Each day, I did some small thing for Xavier.  An advent calendar in his memory.  Each day of December I spent time with memories, time with my cherished son.  I dedicated myself to him, to keeping his memory alive.  It seemed the only way I would live through Christmas.

This year is so different.  As if trying to make up for the traditions lost last year, we have immersed ourselves in Christmas.  There has been carolling and Christmas lights.   Decoration and present making.  There has been Christmas shopping at the actual shops (last year it was mostly done online).  There have been Santa photos taken.  Our house is full of singing.  The christmas tree seems more joyful.  Even the place in our house dedicated to Xavier seems a little brighter than last year.

And Xavier himself seems a little further away.   I do not want to repeat the latter months of 2012 – sometimes it is only in reflection that I can appreciate how truly dark those months were.  But, that pain did serve as a connection to Xavier.   The wound was open and weeping and he was there in such a visceral way.  He is still here, but his presence is quieter.  Perhaps overshadowed by the hustle and bustle.  He is in no way forgotten, but at times it feels like in leaving my pain behind, I have left him also.   There are times I imagine a tiny “mummy, what about me?” as I laugh with Elijah on my lap at Isaac singing carols at the top of his lungs.    And I have to remind myself, that Xavier is there – in Elijah’s smiles and Isaac’s giggles.

This Christmas I think of those facing their first December after loss.  It is truly one of the hardest times of the year.  The world around you so seemingly happy and you so sad and lonely.  Those that put on a brave face and continue in Christmas traditions for the sake of their living children – when all they want to do is hide and wake up in January.  Those that said good-bye to their only baby, confused and hurt, looking at “My First Christmas” onesies with tears in their eyes.  Those that have years of memories of Christmases with their child taken too soon – who feel their world shatter once again with each toy ad, every Christmas card, every department store Santa.

My first Christmas without Xavier was tear-stained but connected to him in a way that no other Christmas will be.  Even without him physically here, it truly was Xavier’s first Christmas.   It perhaps belonged to Xavier more than any of us.   If last year was almost exclusively about Xavier, this year is about our family.  Our three boys and each of their places in Christmas traditions.

For Christmas is a time of year when we can reflect on our loved ones – here and far away.   Each Christmas card I have received has acknowledged Xavier and the ones I (eventually!) write in return will also bear his name.  There are three stockings hung in our house – one for each son.  There are baubles and decorations for each of my babies hanging on the tree.  It is not a dedication to Xavier this year, but rather a family Christmas.  And Xavier is and always will be a part of our family.

Some of the ways I remembered Xavier last year.

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All the perfect souls

The question has perplexed theologians, philosophers and the grieving alike since time immemorial – why do the innocent die?  The question sits alongside “what is the purpose of suffering?” and “why do bad things happen to good people?”   Ageless questions without easy answers.  Xavier, and those I know through Xavier, are not the only people in my life to have left the world too soon.  A small handful of beautiful young souls within my orbit have been taken from this earth in the past two years.  People that surely karma would grace with long lives.   Sometimes it seems that Billy Joel’s, “Only the good die young”, is particularly prophetic.   Is there any sense to be made of this apparent waste?  Some profound lesson?  Some divine reason?   Or do we spend too much time, trying to find gold where only misery lies?  Why do we try to find reason in the unexplainable?  Why do we yearn for order when the world throws us into chaos?  Why must we look for the silver lining in every cloud?  Why does our Western obsession with looking for the good in everything extend into the darkest of situations?

Perhaps sometimes it’s okay just to realise something is crap without redemption.  Just utter, terrible, heart-breaking, soul-destroying crap.   When Xavier died, the words I found most comforting were – “it’s just not fair.”  No attempt to explain what happened.  No pretence around reasons and better places.  Just an acknowledgement that very often life is terribly, terribly, terribly cruel.

Of course, I have tried to look for answers.  I have spent the better part of 18 months turning the puzzle of Xavier’s death around and around in my head – a rubik’s cube that will never be solved.   There are a number of ways that I can look at his death that give me a kind of comfort.  That he is an old soul.  That he had little to learn and much to teach.  That his death had no reason but his life held a grand purpose.  That he is still here, in different ways.  Snatches at comfort – things that would bear no close scrutiny but that do not need to.  

The thing that made the most sense to me came to me late one night.   You may think me crazy, but I often have imagined conversations with Xavier in the still of the night.   Whether it’s Xavier’s soul speaking to me, or some deeper part of me that still belongs to him, it doesn’t matter.   I asked whether Xavier could see the future and give me comfort in what he saw.  The reply came that whilst living life, we have an incredibly narrow vision.  We see only what is immediately around us.  Xavier’s view was as if from an aeroplane – an expanded view of the landscape below, creating a larger and different picture from what we experience on the ground of life.  A more holistic viewpoint, removed from the minutiae of the moment.  

Perhaps when we reach the other side, we will be able to see a richer and more complete tapestry and suddenly our questions about why the perfect souls leave us, will be answered by the complete vision in front of us.

Myths about SIDS

Before Xavier died by SIDS, my knowledge of SIDS was limited to Red Nose day and the safe sleeping guidelines, particularly the emphasis on sleeping babies on their backs.  I, like most people, thought following the guidelines was preventive, rather than risk reductive.

Since losing Xavier, I have learned so much about SIDS, some of which I have included on this blog – About SIDS   There are a number of misunderstandings around SIDS.   It is my hope that by discussing these misunderstandings, people become better educated about SIDS and the ways that they can protect their babies.

SIDS cases are actually accidental suffocation
The guidelines reduce both the instance of SIDS and accidental suffocation but they are very different causes of death.   They present differently in autopsies.   In the case of SIDS, the baby has an underlying susceptibility to SIDS. The part of the brain that regulates breathing doesn’t work properly and when faced with a challenge to breathing that a non-SIDS baby would overcome, they cease breathing.   The guidelines aim to reduce the situations in which that challenge would occur.  In the case of accidental suffocation, the baby’s access to oxygen is cut off.   All babies are at risk of accidental suffocation.  Only babies susceptible to SIDS are in danger of dying by SIDS.  There is currently no way to identify that susceptibility.

SIDS no longer exists
The safe sleeping campaign has done great things and the rate of SIDS deaths has reduced by 80% since the introduction of the back to sleep campaign. Despite that, 80+ babies per year in Australia die by SIDS.  SIDS remains the leading cause of death of infants aged 1 month to a year.

In all SIDS cases, the parents haven’t followed the guidelines
There are a numerous cases where parents have followed the guidelines, and still lost their child to SIDS.
In addition, there are cases where the guidelines may not have been strictly followed, but in circumstances outside of a parent’s control.  There are cases of parents who have placed their baby to sleep on their back, and their baby has rolled onto their front in their sleep.  There are cases where babies have died in carseats and prams during afternoon naps whilst the family has been out.   The guidelines are incredibly important and have been proven to reduce the risk of babys’ dying by SIDS, but they do not offer 100% protection.

My baby is really happy and healthy – he wouldn’t die by SIDS
The majority of SIDS babies appear perfectly healthy before succumbing to SIDS.  Some suffer a slight respiratory complaint prior to succumbing to SIDS, but this often presents so mildly that it amounts to nothing more than an unsettled night.   Neither good nor poor health is an indicator of SIDS susceptibility.

I breastfeed.  I am very healthy. I don’t smoke, drink excessively or use drugs.  I am well educated.  My baby won’t die by SIDS
Unfortunately, this profile would fit every SIDS mother I know.  SIDS doesn’t discriminate and whilst breastfeeding and avoiding alcohol, drugs and cigarettes does reduce the chances of SIDS occurring, it doesn’t prevent it.

I use a baby breathing and/or video monitor, so my baby is 100% safe
Monitoring devices have become more easily accessible and that’s a great thing.  Breathing monitors, such as the Orricom and Angel-care monitors offer great peace of mind.  However, they do not replace the safe sleeping guidelines and it is vitally important to follow those guidelines whether using a monitor or not.  In many instances, SIDS is instant and even when parents have been immediately alerted to their child’s lack of breath, they have been unable to save them.  Monitors have no doubt saved babies in the past, but there are also cases where monitors have been used and babies have still died by SIDS.  If monitors were the sole solution to SIDS, they would be the number one safe sleeping recommendation.  They are not.  I think they are a great idea but they need to be used in conjunction with the safe sleeping guidelines.

A reminder of the guidelines

  1. Sleep baby on the back from birth, not on the tummy or side
  2. Sleep baby with head and face uncovered
  3. Keep baby smoke free before birth and after
  4. Provide a safe sleeping environment night and day
  5. Sleep baby in their own safe sleeping place in the same room as an adult caregiver for the first six to twelve months
  6. Breastfeed baby

Excellent information about SIDS is available through the SIDS and Kids website

Exercise and Happiness

I was never a particularly co-ordinated child and therefore my sporting and exercise involvement was limited.  But I remained slender, having inherited my father’s insanely speedy metabolism.   Throughout university I was truly skinny, subsisting on a diet mostly proffered by the vending machine and the cafeteria.  I took it as a source of personal pride that I could make a $3 potato scallop into a meal by the addition of salt and a free lemon wedge.  But my lack of any exercise meant I was “skinny fat” – slender with no tone.   As the years progressed I learnt, like many of us do, that I could no longer eat a whole pizza and expect none of it to stick.  A few years before Isaac was born, I discovered Pilates.  It was my kind of exercise – a focus on stretching and flexibility without any of that annoying sweating.   Whilst I was pregnant with Isaac, I did Pilates every second day and credited his easy birth to it.   I delivered Xavier just as easily, without the benefit of Pilates, and had to concede something to good genes and dumb luck.  After we lost Xavier, I decided to get fit.  Properly fit.   I had to channel my restless energy and there were a million reasons why fitness was the best option.  I invested in a personal trainer.  I learned how to do a proper squat, lunge, sit-up, push-up.  I did weights.  I did cardio.  I did not give up.  I pushed past a barrier I didn’t know existed.  As the repetitions got harder, I would dedicate the next one to Xavier, the next to Teddy, the next to Charlie, the next to Harry.   Sadly, there were no shortage of angelic motivators.

I started to feel strong.  In body and in mind.   I would often visit Xavier’s grave after a PT session – it was when I was emotionally the strongest.   I look back at photos of me in December of last year, I can see the difference fitness made – I see a tough kind of sadness in those photos.  A determined look of “I won’t let this beat me”.  When I fell pregnant I continued to exercise for a while, but it got too hard and my true end goal had been reached.   I never set a weight target.  My goal was to be healthy and pregnant.

Now, my mind turns to exercise again.  Elijah is nearly 11 weeks old and I have no more excuses.  My friends with babies are going through similar motivation – perhaps the spaces in our minds are freeing themselves up to allow the possibility of exercise. Something for ourselves.  Most likely the abrupt advent of bikini season has spurned us on.

I live in a city that values the outdoors and exercise.  Our council has provided free exercise programs through their active parks program – Active Parks.  I have attended two of the baby boot camp programs now.

Yesterday I attended one at a nearby park with Isaac and Elijah.  As my first foray into exercise after Elijah’s birth, I was hoping for some gentle stretches, some yoga perhaps.   I was instead treated to burpees, squats, lunges, sprints, push-ups, planks, mountain climbs and sprints. Isaac adored the sprinting, making each one a race that he graciously allowed me a head start (and I needed it).    Elijah was also a stellar exercise partner, waking only once at a point that I may have intentionally woken him in any case. “More lunges? I’d love to but, oh dear, baby’s awake and needs me”.  That was before one show-off started lunging whilst holding her baby.  The class culminated in a final jog, some stretches and the promise of being sore the next day.   I certainly felt the steps in our house last night.

Today I headed off for another session, just with Elijah this time.  It was a little easier – perhaps the content, perhaps my body had suffered it’s shock yesterday, perhaps I had a less intense work-out partner than Isaac.  With the sun at my back, my baby sleeping in his pram, I could feel both Elijah and Xavier present.  As I jogged past trees, dappled with sunlight, I thought of Xavier dancing beside me.  I could still dedicate this work out to him, but not in the grim determined way I did last year.    Instead, I can feel him near, whispering in the breeze, and feel a happiness that I thought had long escaped my life.  Because at the end of the day exercise does that – it makes you happy.

The burden of gratitude

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Elijah, like all babies, goes through periods of not sleeping, crying jags and general grumpiness.    On the whole, he truly is a “good” baby, but even good babies have their off days. Good  mothers have them too.

But I won’t tell you about those days. Not because I am trying to hide behind the image of a perfect baby and mother.  But because  it would seem too close to ingratitude.   When you are robbed of your child, you feel robbed of your right to complain about anything other than that loss.   How can I complain about transient things? Everything becomes insignificant in the face of such giant loss.  All other problems dwarfed.  And to complain about a child, the very thing that I lost, that would be an ingratitude too great.

Grief teaches you things.  Teaches you to to appreciate each moment.   You begin to understand the enormous privilege it is to bear and bring up a child.  You start to glimpse the compete preciousness of it all.  You meet those that are desperate to have a baby to hold in their arms, not just in their hearts.  And you realise, even though you have had the most horrible thing to occur, how truly blessed you are to have children.   You cannot help but wonder if you needed to lose in order to learn that lesson.  You hang onto appreciation as a kind of insurance.   If I am grateful for each moment, then Elijah can stay.  If I consciously appreciate every single second of him, I can protect him.  Conversely, if, for even a moment I lose sight of that, maybe he will be taken from me.  I must not complain.

After Xavier died I would see Facebook posts or hear whinges about babies that wouldn’t  sleep or were fussy.  I would wish, wish that were me.  I would wonder how people could be so blind.  I would vow never to be so unthinking.  But does the pendulum swing both ways?  Is all this thoughtful gratitude and gushing presenting an unrealistic image of life?  Am I expecting too much of myself and pressuring others?  Is it just as unthoughtful of me to be posting photos of a picture perfect, content baby all the time?

After all life does goes on and it continues to be challenging.   I wish that Xavier’s death had solved all my problems. All the problems of my friends and family.  But it didn’t.   Perhaps it offered some perspective, but it didn’t eradicate all other pain and it didn’t magically make our lives easy.

After Xavier’s death it took a little while before friends and family would once again discuss their problems with me.  I was glad when they did.  Glad that they thought my perspective would be useful.  Glad that they thought I could cope.  But I know even then they were careful not to complain, not to give any inference that they weren’t completely grateful for their blessings.

Perhaps the answer lies in living with grace, rather than finding limitless gratitude for every moment and a moratorium on complaints.  Living with the grace that I know no matter what life throws at me, I will handle it.  Living with the grace that I know I can see beauty, even in the darkness.  Living with the grace that problems still occur, to me and to others, and that listening and talking about those things doesn’t make me ungrateful.  It just makes me human.

 

What to wear after the bump

You have spent months dressing your bump, showing it off and basking in your pregnancy glow.   Now, I dearly hope you have your baby in your arms and are faced with a new set of sartorial challenges – how to dress your post-pregnancy body and, if breast feeding, how to make the milk bar accessible.

However, I know there will be those reading this that have given birth and are holding their precious child in their hearts rather than their arms.  When we lost Xavier to SIDS two weeks after giving birth, fashion was the last thing on my mind, but I did have to get dressed every morning.   I couldn’t bear to wear any of my maternity clothes, but my stomach had yet to reduce to its normal size.  I bought a couple of very cheap jeans at our local supermarket that also stocks clothes (Mix by Coles).  I couldn’t face clothes shopping, but I could just manage grabbing a few things with the groceries.  I also bought a few things online.  Even though I love shopping, the sight of racks and racks of clothes confused and saddened me.   My love of shopping has returned and I can still spot a bargain from a mile away.  The things you enjoy will come back, but it will take a little while.  In the mean time, do what you need to do to get through.

When pregnant your uterus expands to up to 500 times it’s usual size!  That’s a lot of growth and you do need to allow time for it to contract again.  Usually, this takes six weeks.  That’s just your uterus – it takes longer again of course to lose the baby weight itself.  So, no-one is walking out of the hospital in their pre-pregnancy skinny jeans and your maternity pants aren’t quite finished yet.   Those gorgeous dresses that showed of your burgeoning bump probably aren’t quite as flattering now that your baby is born and you have to learn a whole new way of dressing.

Here are my post-baby fashion tips:

  • Don’t be too hard on yourself or your body.  It has just achieved the most amazing feat of all.  You don’t need to subscribe to the celebrity trend of a concave stomach within three months.  They achieve that through countless hours in the gym.  Countless hours that they aren’t spending with their baby.
  • Particularly if your are a first time mother, you and baby are both learning and that’s not easy.  PJ days are inevitable.  So just invest in some lovely PJs that you feel comfortable answering the door in.   Lounge or light weight track pants with a maternity singlet or top are perfect. Intimo have some beautiful loungewear.  It’s not cheap, but it does last.
  • The tops you wore in early pregnancy that skimmed over your bump, rather than showing it off are perfect for this time.
  • Scarves are wonderful things.  Worn over nursing singlets they hide the post-baby bump.  They add colour to an outfit.  They make nursing singlets look less like underwear. They offer a modesty cover if you want it when breast-feeding.   They can double as spit-up cloths.  Maybe don’t wear your Hermes.
  • Babies spit-up.  Babies do number 3s.  My Baby is a master of the ninja wee.  Somehow I am wet, and he isn’t.  Basically, you are going to get dirty.  Keep your clothes practical and washable.   Darker colours and patterns are great at disguising spit-ups.   You know to keep a few changes of clothes for baby in your bag – keep a change of clothes for yourself also.
  • It is easy to become lost in your baby.  Taking a little time out to make yourself look and feel nice is okay.

And if you are breastfeeding:

  • You will either breastfeed by unbuttoning/unzipping/pulling down your top or lifting it up.   Lifting up your top is probably more modest in terms of revealing your breasts.   Most women probably don’t want to bear their tummy flesh when feeding, so a good option is to wear something light and flowy over the top of a nursing singlet.
  • I am completely un-coordinated with the lift-up method and Elijah normally gets caught up in material.  Ditto when I try to use a breast feeding cover.  I tend to do the pull down method.  This means I either wear low cut tops with a bit of stretch to them, or button/zip down tops.  In order to preserve some modesty, I will often pair a singlet with a jacket or cardigan which covers the boob when feeding.  Again, a scarf can be useful here.
  • I am fortunate to have a lot of milk.  This means a lot of leakage.  This means breast milk getting all over my tops.  One way to circumvent this is to invest in a few newborn bibs that will hopefully absorb the milk.
  • You will find that the first few times you breastfeed in public you are hyper-aware and thinking everyone is looking at you. They most probably aren’t.  The most important people in the breast feeding equation are you and your baby.  As my gorgeous, uninhibited, Brazilian friend once put it “I got enough to worry about – I don’t need to worry about what people around me think.”  However, if nursing in public does stress you out – it will also stress your baby out.  Invest in a light-weight nursing cover.
  • Your boobs are doing a lot of work.  Treat them kindly and ensure you wear supportive bras.   Bonds do a great line.
  • As in pregnancy, don’t change your style completely – you will never get out of the house for lack of things to wear.  I don’t normally wear button-down collared tops and trying to adopt them for breast feeding just doesn’t work for me.
  • Just as I advised during pregnancy, put away the things that don’t fit or work for this time in your life.  It will make getting ready so much easier!
  • You probably feel like you will never get back to your usual wardrobe again.  Keep in mind that the period of time when a baby feeds every 3 – 4 hours is limited.  Even if you intend to breastfeed past 6 months, there comes a time when babies just feed in the morning and evening.  Your wardrobe will open up again then.

My nursing kit

  • Wrap dresses – perfect for feeding.
  • 5 nursing singlets in black, white and nude.  Bonds do great ones.  Kmart and Target also do and they are a bit cheaper.
  • Jackets, capelets and/or cardigans.
  • Comfy pants (maternity or elasticated).  Elasticated harem pants are great if you don’t mind getting your hippy on.  Try Tree of life.
  • Loose, flow-y tops.
  • Zip-down tops
  • Stretchy, low cut tops

image1xl Love this  top from ASOS  (click to go to)

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Some of my nursing essentials

Are You OK?

Today is Are You OK? day.  A day that reminds us of the importance of reaching out to those around us.  A day where we should go beyond a casual, throw-away  “How are you?”    

That question has become an empty courtesy – like “Hello” and “Good-bye” but how often do we expect or want a real answer?  We are taught to reply “well” or “fine” when we may be anything but.   When we first lost Xavier I learned to distinguish between the sincere “How are you?” and the concessions to politeness.   Indeed, there were many who avoided asking all together, I can only imagine for fear of the answer.  It’s a brave thing – to ask “Are you okay?” or “How are you?” and be willing to truly accept the responsibility of a honest answer.  In our time poor, meme rich lives, how often do we engage in real conversation that reveals the heart?  We have become used to a few words on a Facebook status to describe “How are you feeling?”  But our hearts and souls need more than that.  We need time and conversation and nourishment.  How often are we willing to invest that time in one another?  

In the first few weeks after Xavier died, when strangers asked “How are you?”, there were times I responded with a completely honest answer.  The poor clerks at the check out saddled with an answer that they did not expect.  But I needed to tell someone.   I needed to say “Not so well – I am hurting today”.  And sometimes, the only person that asked was a stranger who was paid to be polite.  Most times, however, my beautiful family and friends asked that question in a genuine way.  I have two very close girlfriends who are lights in my life.   When I would reply “okay” they would respond “no, really – I want to know how you are going today.”  And it gave me permission to go beyond our societally regulated responses to the question “How are you?”  We need to give people around us that permission – we need to let them know that we genuinely care.  When my lovely boss asked me how I was a few weeks after Xavier died, I replied with my standard “okay”.  She shook her head and said “You aren’t – you’re not okay, but you will be and right now it’s okay that you’re not okay”.   Sometimes we just need to hear that too – sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.   I value every time someone genuinely gave me the opportunity to talk about my feelings, particularly in the days, weeks and months following Xavier’s death.   

I think that’s what “Are you OK?” day is about – it’s about creating the time and space and love around someone to allow them to talk about what they need to talk about.  It’s being completely unselfish and completely genuine when asking the question “Are you OK?” or “How are you?”

So today, ask someone “Are you okay?” and be truly engaged in the answer. You never know the impact it will have on someone’s life.

 

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.

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