Reclaiming Motherhood

The other day I was enjoying a beautiful brunch outing with some other mothers.   They had their first children in their laps – from newborn to 18 months.    We talked about the things mothers talk about.  Sleeping, eating, toilet training, breast feeding, weaning, husbands, careers, having more children, facing bikini season.   As the only one with more than one child, I fell into advice giving.   It’s not something I am very comfortable with.  No-one likes a mummy-know-it-all.  Besides, I have always, always believed that mothers who trust their own instincts never go too far wrong.

Until one does.  I trusted every instinct with Xavier and he didn’t survive.   You know those Facebook memes where the mother hails her day a success because she’s kept all the children alive?   You can’t imagine how much they hurt.  The old adage that you don’t need to be a perfect mum, you just need to be enough, that stings as well.

And so sitting and dispensing advice makes me feel fraudulent.  I can’t help but wonder, why would these women want advice from me?  They have their beautiful children surrounding them, loving them, touching them.  Do they nod politely and inside think “at least I can keep my child alive.”  I know my friends, and I am sure that this thought wouldn’t pass into their heads, but it could and I would understand if it did.

When I expressed these feelings to N, he hugged me gently and said “What happened to Xavier and your abilities as a mother have absolutely nothing to do with one another.  You are the best mother I know.”  Coming from the best father I know – that did restore my faith somewhat.

Isaac is a beautiful boy of nearly five.  Boisterous but as well-behaved as you can expect any five year old boy to be.  He is full of life and colour and imagination.  He is fun to be around.  He cares for those around him.    He is a credit to his father and I.  He is proof that I can mother.

Elijah is adorable and wonderful.  Every moment I spend with him is precious.  I love everything about taking care of him.  Even at 4am in the morning, I cannot help but be filled with excitement that this precious little baby is mine!  He is proof that I can mother.

Xavier remains an integral part of our family.  I talk about him fearlessly.  I love him through space and time.  I try to make his memory accessible to other people in a positive way.  He is proof that I can mother in the most extraordinarily difficult of circumstances.

I lost my baby to SIDS and  I am still a good mother.

 

Holes in our hearts … but we carry on

I don’t often cry over Xavier.  Even in  the early months, I didn’t sob as often as I would have expected.  During support groups, I would be amongst the few whose cheeks remained dry.  For a little while this worried me – was there something wrong with me? Was this unhealthy grieving? Would the dam burst one day and floods of un-shed tears finally overtake me? Was I in denial? I began to realise that my way of grieving was simply more cerebral.  I analyse rather than cry, think rather than sob, write rather than weep.    And that’s okay.  It doesn’t mean I miss or love my son any less.

However, there is one thing that unleashes the tears.  Music unlocks something in my heart and the tears flow in sweet release.   When I was teenager, music played an important part in my life.  I would see my own feelings reflected in song lyrics all the time.   It has been a long time since I have sought solace in the same way.  Nowadays my life means that I tend to listen to music in the car, when a random song on the radio can unexpectedly send me reeling.

There are certain songs I simply cannot hear – Beautiful Boy by John Lennon,  Small Bump by Ed Sheeran, Last Kiss by Pearl Jam.    Then there are snatches of lyrics that never meant anything to me before that suddenly carry a profound weight.  Songs about loves lost and the inability to live without them. The song “Holes” by passenger hits home at the moment.

Well sometimes you can’t change and you can’t choose And sometimes it seems you gain less than you lose Now we’ve got holes in our hearts, yeah we’ve got holes in our lives Where we’ve got holes, we’ve got holes but we carry on

I have gained so much since Xavier died.  Learned more than I could have conceived.  But I would give it all up in less than a heartbeat if I could hold him again.   You gain less than you lose .   The gifts of grief can be hard accept – you never want to regard their origin with anything approximating gratitude.  Yet they are there – they exist.  And yes, they never amount to the same weight as the life of a child, but they are what you are left with.  We  carry on – life carries us on her relentless tide.  

We’ve got holes but we carry on.

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.

Two Weeks

On the weekend Elijah turned two weeks old.  For our family this was a significant milestone.  It’s the age Xavier was when we said goodbye.  On the eve of Elijah’s 13th day – the morning we found Xavier without breath – Elijah was held all night long.  My gorgeous sister stayed with me as we watched TV and waited out the sunrise.  As the clock ticked over to 5am, I held Elijah close and wept with relief.

“You’re going to stay” I whispered, elated and sleep deprived.

N had pointed out that there was minimal chance of Elijah dying by SIDS and non-existent odds of him doing so at the same age we lost Xavier.  But the heart and head sometimes follow different paths.  Even though it makes little logical sense, I cannot help but feel that we have dodged a bullet.

The anxiety remains, and it probably will forever, but the feeling of certainty that we will lose Elijah has lessened.  I will still wake in the night and check that he is breathing, but I am less surprised now to find that he still with us.  When you have experienced the worst, it can be hard to have faith in the future.  But I am slowly finding that faith.  I do not believe our lives will be perfect from this point onwards.  I have seen too many people go through multiple losses to believe that our angel children look after us from afar and protect us from any future pain.  Life doesn’t work on a series of checks and balances, nor do tragedy and deservedness have any bearing on each other.   I cannot look into the future and know what it holds.  But I am sure there will be both beauty and pain, laughter and tears.    So I can face the future with fear or with hope and I am going to choose hope.

I wrote these affirmations to help me with my anxiety – they might help other parents too.

Affirmations

WHy I chose you

Being Brave

I have been working on this blog for a few days now, but I have been unsure as to whether to make it’s presence more widely known.

Whilst writing about loss is cathartic, sharing those thoughts feels a little like standing naked in the school yard.   The internet can be a cruel place of faceless judgement, and whilst you might believe a bereaved parent to be held sacred, that is far from the truth.

Then I remembered the days after Xavier’s death by SIDS.  I would scour the internet in the hopes of finding a story that reflected my own.  I wanted to know that people lived through losing their children.  That people found hope again.  That grief would eventually become gentler.   And I found some of those stories.  And they did help.  They let me know I wasn’t alone.  They prepared me for the path ahead.  I am grateful to those brave parents, who let their fears, dreams and hopes become words that others could grab onto.   If I can count myself amongst their number, then that is enough.

So, with a great big gulp, I am going to plunge in and share my story with the world.