My normal is different

Over the past few weeks I have met quite a few new people – both online and in real life. There is always the hesitation over when and if I reveal how many children I really have. The pause before I tell my whole story and the silent steeling of my heart as I await a reaction. People are kind. I have found this to overwhelmingly be the case. But I always wonder – what do they think of me now? How has their perception of me change now that they know I have a child who was lost to SIDS?

Before Xavier died, I knew no-one who had lost a baby to SIDS. In one of those cruelly ironic twists of fate, my mother told me a few days before Xavier died how she had bought a red nose pin for SIDS & Kids. She said “Can you imagine it?”. I scoffed and said “that would never happen to our family.” And I truly believed it – I did not think SIDS could be a possibility within our family. I wonder if other people think the same thing. I wonder if, behind the kindness, there remains a belief that a person who loses a baby to SIDS must have done something wrong. I would instantly forgive anyone who thought that, but it does make me hesitant to talk about Xavier’s story. I have been through the guilt and the judgement and I have arrived on the other side. Most days, I no longer blame myself. But when I tell the story to someone new, when it is fresh and shocking to them, I do fear judgement. My story isn’t a pleasant one to tell or to hear. My normal is different.

I have placed Xavier’s story in the world. I have written about him here and in other places. A quick google of my name will reveal Xavier’s story before my own. As someone who has just started a new business, this worries me. Will people judge me before they know me because my son died? Will they assume that I am less capable due to grief? Will the words that have bled onto internet cause me harm in the future? I think any blogger that writes about intensely personal things faces that question. What will people who don’t know me think of me? What image have my words constructed? Will I be seen as brave and helpful? Or as an over-sharer who should have taken more care of her online persona? If Xavier hadn’t died, I may not have returned to the embrace of words. If Xavier hadn’t died, my google search results would look very different. If Xavier hadn’t died, I would be travelling a different path and perhaps in a different career. But he did die. And I needed those words.  And I wanted to share those words with people who felt something they could not articulate. I wanted people to feel less alone. Because their normal is different.

My littlest baby is growing up fast. Toddling and talking and spending time outside of my care. He is happy and thriving and he and his brother are the lights of my life. And I am filling the time busy-ness. I am finding myself feeling anxious about what I have set out to achieve. And I berate myself for feeling this way. I feel as though I waded through the raging seas of early grief and managed to swim. That I should be able to conquer anything. But I was careful with my mental health in those early months. I exercised. I watched what I ate. I slept. I talked things out. I took time to appreciate all that was beautiful. I have let many of those things slip. And keeping my mind healthy needs all those things. Grief has no time frames. You don’t wake up and find it’s over and done with. A little over two years ago my normal changed. And it’s still different.

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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.