Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Our Lips are Sealed

This weekend someone who was very well meaning told me that I need to move on from Emilie's death and stop dwelling on it. They pointed out that it will be difficult for John and the kids when I get upset around Emilie's anniversary and that it may be easier for them if I didn't.

... If I didn't get upset ...

Today is her anniversary - six years.

The advice I received from this well meaning person this weekend got me thinking about the way I handle grief and emotion. I believe that as parents we have a responsibility to show our children healthy ways of managing emotion. Samuel misses Emilie - whether he fully understands what he misses or not is another matter but when her anniversary comes around we talk about her.  We go away as a family and make new memories together, we have cake together, we celebrate her life and sometimes we cry.

This weekend I cried in-front of my children.  When I discussed this with Sam and asked him if he understood why I was upset, he simply replied 'because Emilie was your daughter and we all miss her.'

When the above advice came through in email form my initial reaction was panic. Old anxieties surfaced and I worried that by showing emotion and grief in-front of my children I was reversing the parent/child relationship and inviting them to care for me.  I didn't want them to see my weakness.  I wanted to pick myself back up, dust myself off and carry on regardless of what was going on.  Emilie died six years ago and really I should be over it by now. Right?  Life moves on and we don't mention bad things that happen - it's not the British way.

And yet this felt so wrong.  I was reminded of the hours after Emilie was born.  She was wrapped up in her hospital cot and was lying next to where I was sitting.  I was doing ... well I can't really remember.  She didn't need feeding and she didn't need changing yet the normalcy of having given birth carried on.  I had still undergone a hugely traumatic birth.  I had lost blood, I was exhausted and my blood pressure was dangerously high.  Everything ached terribly and I had been given medication to lower my blood pressure and medication to stop milk production.  I had a terrible headache which is associated with pre-eclampsia.  I was seriously ill.  I couldn't just leave and carry on - I had to stay where I was until I was well enough to go home.  This sense of having to stay where I was was probably a positive thing as my default is to do just what I've described about - to get away from the pain; to push it away, to get rid of it, to put a lid on it and move on.  Because I had to remain in hospital I had the opportunity to clean and dress Emilie.  I had the opportunity to hold her, to cuddle her and to kiss her - to take precious photographs.  These were not things I wanted to do.  My initial reaction was to get rid of her.  I did not want the pain of seeing her and I did not want physical proof of her existence.  I wanted the excruciating pain gone from my life.  In short, I wanted to move on.

The hospital staff, our friends who were with us, and John were hugely supportive of me over the two days we spent with Emilie.  Our friends Dave, Jenny and Carol held her and commented on her beauty.  They cradled her like any other newborn baby and they loved her unconditionally.  For this I will always be grateful.  And then something amazing happened; a midwife - a stranger - came into the room.  She wasn't my  midwife and I never saw her again.  I can't even remember why she came in, but remember her being there.  She walked straight over to the cold cot where Emilie was lying and looked into it.  She turned to me and said 'she is beautiful, and looks just like you'.  I remember being taken aback - what was the correct response?  At that moment the only response I could think of was a snappy 'you do know shes's dead, don't you?' (In a strange way this memory has always made me laugh - I often think of that poor woman!).  She replied that yes, she did know that Emilie was dead yet it didn't change how beautiful she was or the fact that she was our much wanted, much adored daughter.  The kindness of strangers can be amazing and form the whole two day nightmare this is one of my most vivid memories.

She was still our daughter.

Someone told me yesterday that a life so short is no less precious - and how true those words are.

So I will carry on remembering her.  I will let myself feel this emotion at anniversary time and will not push it down.  I will show the emotion - where appropriate to my children - as I believe it is as healthy for them to see my vulnerabilities as it is to see my strengths.  And maybe - just maybe - children seeing the emotional strength and the emotional vulnerabilities of their parents, and being able to use healthy and appropriate language to discuss these emotions, is a step in the right direction towards not having children who grow up believing that emotion is bad; believing that putting on a strong front is the best way to be - and descending into mental health problems later in life.

We need to talk about these things.
With September progressing I feel my anxiety levels rise, triggered by the back to school chaos with a child with Autism and my husband away in South Korea for the first couple of weeks of the month amongst other things.  This is a post that has been in progress for a couple of weeks and has undergone change, development and rejection but is one that I felt needed to be written.
Six years ago our daughter, Emilie, died.  It is her anniversary in less than two weeks.  It is the event from which this blog grew and is a defining moment of my life – the point at which ‘before’ became ‘after’.  My life bears no resemblance to that which it did before Emilie’s death and I am completely changed as well.
She changed me and her death made me into the person I am today.
But that is not especially what I am writing about now.
Four days ago my dad died.  He was probably ‘dad’ in name only.  I did not know him well and had not seen him for over a decade.  He made huge mistakes when I was growing up - which are not for this blog – and at the age of 22, after his separation from my mum, I made the decision to protect myself and withdraw from him.  It wasn’t really a conscious decision at the time but became a conscious decision over time.  I did not like the person I became when I was faced with the prospect of seeing him.  I did not like the panic attacks, the anxiety, the obsessions and the lies and when I had my own children I realised that my priority had to be to my own family.  I had to learn to be a parent and work out what that looked like for myself.
But now I am faced with fresh grief – and with decisions that are really hard for me to make.  At this anniversary time I am struggling to isolate one grief from another; the grief of Emilie’s death from the grief of the death of an absent parent.  How should I feel and what is the right way to respond?  If the past six years have taught me anything it is that grief is hugely personal.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve and the social norms and rituals that surround death can often make personal grief hard.
I have spent the past few years thinking that I have finished grieving my (lack of) relationship with my dad yet the news of his death hit me much harder than I expected. Maybe this is because of its close proximity to Emilie’s anniversary, maybe it’s because I have dealt with it alone while John is away or maybe it’s because grief is actually cyclic and, as I have said before, time does not heal all wounds.
Right now I am firmly rooted in the Anger stage of Kubler Ross’ Grief cycle and I’m happy here – it’s easy to wallow in my own self pity rather than having to deal with the acceptance that I will never receive the answers or apology(ies) that I have so longed for.
Yet I feel like a fraud.
The majority of people who know me well will know about the difficult relationship I had with my dad and my grief feels like a lie.  It becomes something I believe I don’t deserve to feel and the hurt, pain and disappointments of the past 35 years are coming back to haunt me.  Is there a correct way to mourn the death of an absent parent and how is it possible to reach a position of acceptance and forgiveness when it is now totally one sided?
I don’t have the answers and I possibly never will – it is something new that I will have to learn to process and I don’t want anger and hatred to surface as I learn to process things.
And then there’s September ... Samuel picked up a conker this morning and I struggled to share his excitement.  They will forever be a seasonal reminder that we are drawing closer to the anniversary of Emilie’s death.  Her death came at such a significant time in the year – that change of season from the heat of summer to the beauty of Autumn and then my grief led me into the barrenness of winter where I genuinely hibernated with the warmth of the air until spring came round again.  And as I enter this new wave of grief I feel myself ready to hibernate again whilst I process everything that has happened.
Hopefully with the promised change of season from winter to spring that seems so far away at present, I will enter a place of forgiveness and acceptance and will be able to move forward.  For now, after days of agonising and wrestling with guilt, grief and anger, I need to be able to be with my immediate family as John returns from South Korea and make choices and decisions that are best for us.  I need to be ‘ok with not being ok’ about this particular situation and that is something that is not easy for me.
But who ever said that grief was easy ...?

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

On Loss ... and Gain

As I’d spoken about in a previous post I have recently become a student again and am retraining as a Psychotherapist.  It still feels a little bit unreal and very BIG but so far I’m enjoying it.  I’m just nearing the end of my first year which, incidentally, has flown by.  Every so often I’ll be reminded why I decided to embark on a career change and the weekend’s training that has just passed has been no exception as we were learning about grief, loss and bereavement.

Prior to the day itself I found myself fantasising about breaking down – about not being able to cope and my own grief overwhelming me.  In my fantasies I would run out of the room and leave the training centre realising that actually I’m not cut out to be a psychotherapist after all.  The familiar fear of failure leapt at me again.  I had no idea how I would respond.  I worried it could go two ways – I could experience the reaction mentioned above, descend into panic and find myself firmly back in the darkness of loss or I could breeze through the weekend not feeling anything, rising above it all and be able to leave saying ‘my grieving is done, I am restored’. 

Neither happened. 

I felt it.  Actually I felt everything and familiar feelings of loss and grief resurfaced throughout the day. It was tiring – but not exhausting in the way I had feared.  It was sad and if I was someone who cried I’m sure I’d have shed a tear ... but that’s something else that needs work!  But I really felt it ... and I knew at that moment, more than I’d known before, that I am making the right decision in this career change.  Those feelings; the grief, the loss, the fear, the devastation – they are all things that I am familiar with.  They help me to empathise with people in different situations and, I hope, have helped me to develop a sense of openness and integrity that I will eventually be able to use to help other people.

A question was posed to us this weekend; ‘can loss bring a gain; can it be transformative?’

I’ve spoken about this alot throughout this blog – about the transformation in my life since Emilie died.  Would I have chosen that path for myself?  Not a chance.  But it happened and we had to move forward.  We had to find the ‘new normal’, work out what that meant for us and discover how to carry on being parents when one of our children had died.  In my training notes I wrote the following:

“Moving forward in a new experience means leaving the old behind.  The old pattern is gone forever.  Every move forward means leaving something behind and each new stage means loss in another area.”

This got me thinking about the different losses we have experienced as a family – and I have experienced as an individual.  Even starting this training meant a loss in another area.  It meant that I would never return to teaching.  Adopting our daughter meant that we had to leave our dreams of fostering lots of children behind.  Each new stage means loss in another area.  I have reflected a lot on these different losses and am beginning to see real value in acknowledging them and giving them the importance that they deserve.

I am not a stranger to loss.  I have suffered years of infertility, miscarriages and the stillbirth of my daughter.  My adopted daughter has Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and Autism which is a huge loss in itself.  She has defied expectations and is doing incredibly well yet seeing the other children in her class make progress and meet their milestones whilst she is left behind is hard.  There are simple losses like not being able to go to the cinema as a family to see the latest films as she would not cope with the crowds, the noise and the containment. Often, activities we have planned are cut short when she has had enough. 

There is loss surrounding Samuel and the relationship we’d hoped he’d have with Emilie, had she survived.  I feel this loss most when our daughter is struggling; when she lashes out and hits him or is unable to engage with him as she is overwhelmed and over-stimulated.  I see this loss so starkly in Sam as he takes himself off for some alone time or sobs when she has broken one of his possessions.  I long to be a ‘normal’ family – whatever that is.  And then I feel the joy of seeing them play together, of seeing how much he adores her and how much she idolises him.  And there is the gain.  They will never have a ‘normal’ relationship and the gap between them will widen as they both grow older and he develops ‘typically’ yet their relationship is incredibly special because of that.  When she is struggling and can’t make herself understood Sam knows what she wants and what she is trying to say.  We hope that he will be more accepting of people around him as he has learnt to be accepting of and to love his sister unconditionally.

Loss is huge. It can be as simple as the disappointment felt at losing an ebay auction; the sadness of missing an opportunity – or not getting what you expected.  It can be more complex; losing out on a house purchase – something we have recently experienced – or losing a pet.  Losses can be more impactful; losing your job, losing a friend, diagnosis with a serious illness or life - long condition, losing a parent, losing a spouse, losing a child.
All of these things will evoke feelings of grief and grief, as I have learnt, is frightening and all encompassing.  I am not an expert on grief but throughout this blog I have spoken about our own journey through grief and about what has helped – or hindered us.  However, the prevailing truth in our own journey is that grief doesn’t go away.  It does not shrink; time does not heal it and you do not wake up one day to find it is gone.  There are times for me when my grief will be triggered; a smell, a sound, something that has been said, a memory, a photograph – and for a time I will be taken back to the weeks and months after Emilie’s death when nothing felt like it would ever be right again.  But my ability to deal with those triggers has improved and life carries on.

Loss is an inevitable part of life.  It affects us in one way or another every day; the loss of time being a huge example.  The task is not how we get over these losses, boxing them up neatly and moving on, but instead what we do with them.  How can we allow loss to bring a gain?  I had a picture in my mind this weekend of bulbs in their dormant stage as they die back in the autumn ready to emerge in the spring. I always feel a sense of sadness when the flowering bulbs in my garden die back and lose their beauty.  But the anticipation is always there.  I am certain that they will return the following spring – bringing life and beauty back into my garden.  The transformation for me this weekend was the reminder that ‘every move forward means leaving something else behind’.  We’ve had a difficult few weeks as a family but I hope believe that it is just a season.  As we leave this season behind I wait in hopeful anticipation for what is coming next.

To close I’ve borrowed an idea from Lois Tonkin ( ).  For me, this was both transformative and affirmative.  I will it do its own talking.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

New Beginnings ...

So ... I have some news.

I'm having a career  change.

No; really.

This is something that's been rather a long time coming and is also something I've kept very quiet for a number of reasons.  This post has also been brewing for a while and is one of those posts that I've started a few times and not managed to get much further than a bare skeleton of a plan.

And then I was listening to the radio and an old Semisonic song - 'Closing Time' - played.

Whilst not hugely life changing the song featured a single line that struck a chord with me and literally made me stop in my tracks.  The line was a quote from Seneca; a Roman Philosopher, and said 'Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end ...' It rang more true with me than anything I had heard in a while and throughout the course of the week I heard the same song on the radio a number of times.

As part of the preparation and study for my intended career change I need to keep a reflective journel.  On discovering this I later sat with a friend to have coffee and grumbled that I'm not a hugely reflective learner.  Lover of theory, yes.  Reflective,  no.
So to help me reflect on my learning I bought a book: The Reflective Journal by Barbara Bassot. I sat down and began to read coming to, of course, the first theme - 'Beginnings'.   Instantly, the Seneca quote (or Semisonic, depending how cool I'm feeling) sprang to mind.  '

'Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end ...'

I felt like I was going to cry.

New Beginnings are hard for me.  I don't deal with change or upheaval especially well.  My absolute need for control was challenged five years ago when my daughter was stillborn.  The rug was pulled out from under my feet and I had no control of the situation whatsoever.  This continued throughout both unsuccessful fertility treatment and successful fertility treatment followed by miscarriages. A total lack of control.  Riding the storm with no sense of direction. The path I had intended for my life had been completely demolished and my plans were razed to the ground.  I was totally directionless. And through this I learnt (a little bit) very slowly that I could not have total control over my life.  This is something I am still learning;

I am not the driver.

The Barbara Bassot book references William Bridges' Transition Model which highlights three stages of transition that people go through when they experience change. These are:

Ending, Losing, and Letting Go
The Neutral Zone
The New Beginning

This made so much sense to me and I began to unpack it.

16 years ago I moved to Liverpool to train as a teacher.  I couldn't imagine doing anything else and this sense of it being what I should be doing was reaffirmed by everyone around me.  I was meant to be a teacher. I was made for it; born to teach.  Gradually this affirmation caused it to be the only thing I could do; what else would I possibly do? There was nothing else I could do or wanted to do.  Part way through University a wonderful friend left her teaching degree.   She did not want to be a teacher and is now an amazing social worker. It was something I could never imagine doing and the very thought of it terrified me.

Through a maze of occurances  I left classroom teaching and worked towards setting up my own nursery.  They were baby steps but I was getting there slowly.  It was, in my mind, a natural progression and I carried on affirming my choice - there's nothing else I could, or would want, to do.

And then our daughter died and all of my plans and priorities changed.  I had to close down the business I had built up and had no capacity for teaching or childcare of any sort other than caring for my son, Samuel, who was 2 1/2 at the time.

A year and a half later we began our foster care journey which developed into an adoption journey (you can read about here and here) and I regained some purpose in my life.  My life was also actually so full of appointments for our foster daughter that returning to work - or even thinking of returning to work wasn't a possibility.  I always had lodged in the back of my mind that if all else failed I could always return to working in the childcare sector; could always use it as a fall back.  It was my security blanket and as it was something I was good at I felt it was a good security blanket.

Last year I picked up my career and returned to working in the childcare sector through liaising with a charity to set up a nursery.  At the tail end of last year this is what I wrote:

I blogged a few months ago about returning to work and what a big step it had been for me. I helped to set up a nursery which is something I've always wanted to do.  However, I have recently had to take a step back from my role as it wasn't working for my family.  Everyone was getting half measures.  My daughter took a turn for the worse and struggled to settle into pre school.  Her sleep disorder worsened.  My son realised that my attention was further split and, as he's only 6, began to act up too.  He has an intermittent stammer which worsened dramatically and his behaviour massively deteriorated.  Our marriage received whatever scraps were left. I felt relief at making the very difficult decision to step down until I saw on Facebook the number of my friends who manage to juggle children, marriage, life and amazing jobs and still have time to paint their nails!  And my relief and joy was stolen and I became a failure....

And that was my ending ... and my losing.  I was suddenly lost.  I had lost everything that was familiar to me.  I had grabbed my security blanket and returned to what I was good at and it hadn't come to fruition in the way that I had hoped it would. The start of this year began with me feeling incredibly low and things like blogging have definitely taken a back seat because of this.

And so I entered the Neutral stage; LIMBO.

As a bereaved parent, and for issues prior to that, I have had years of ongoing Psychotherapy. I became fascinated by the Transactional Analysis methods used in my therapy and following a lot of thought I decided to investigate whether this was something I could find out more about. At the start of this year I applied to study for a Foundation Certificate in Transactional Analysis - with view to training and practising a Psychotherapist - and was accepted! Although hugely excited I told very few people about this.  I was waiting for the 'how will you cope?', 'will you manage?', 'how will you juggle everything?', 'have you not already done a four year degree?', 'it's such a change from teaching' comments to come. They didn't; except from myself.

I still had the niggling suspicion that I had failed in someway - that a career change was to admit defeat and not to say 'I'm ready for a change; I'm ready to move on'.  I struggled to see that the experiences I'd had in the past, both personal and professional, had contributed to who I am and prepared me for the choices I will make in the future.  And as I reflected on this, the words that came to mind included: fear, nerves, uncertainty, trepidation, trapped, purpose,  lack of fulfilment ...

But slowly the feelings of failure began to diminish and were replaced by feelings of excitement - of anticipation and I began to let go.  I have not failed - I have simply developed and am ready to use my experiences for good.  Although I am getting there I still been to remind myself of this daily.  This needs to become my new affirmation.

... and as this season; as my last beginning draws to an end, I now await my new beginning.

Watch this space.

Barbara Bassot - The Reflective Journal (2016 ed)

William Bridges - Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes (2004 ed)

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Time is the Best Healer

This post has been brewing for a few weeks having just watched a couple of friends suffer recurrent miscarriages. 

I have been thinking a lot about the term ‘time is the best healer’ and wondering whether it is actually true.  One of the things that spurred me on to wonder this was seeing a post on Facebook about Rainbow Babies.  For those of you unfamiliar to the term, “a rainbow baby is a baby that is born following  miscarriage,  stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss. In the real world, a beautiful, bright rainbow follows a storm and gives the hope of things getting better.  The rainbow is more appreciated having just experienced the storm in comparison.” (

Oh how I longed for my rainbow baby.

This year marks 5 years since Emilie’s death and 4 years since my last miscarriage; 3 years since we decided enough was enough.  We felt like we had exhausted every path and had continued to experience loss. We have 2 beautiful children; one birth child and one adopted child and we felt that continuing to pursue our rainbow baby was unfair on them due to the huge risks for me during pregnancy.  But the desire didn’t go away and I sometimes wonder if that can be misunderstood.

We did not have a rainbow baby.  We are one of the families who people can feel uncomfortable talking about.  Our happy ending was different to that which we had expected and that which women longing for children want to hear about.  I have been one of those women; I know the score.  When I was longing; when every fibre of my being was crying out for a baby to hold, I did not want to hear about couples who had made their peace with not being able to have any other children (or any birth children full stop). I did not want to hear about couples who had adopted children and moved on. I wanted a baby.  I wanted MY baby.   I heard inspirational stories of couples who had held strong in their faith in spite of their prayers not being answered in the ways that they had hoped and therefore not receiving their rainbow baby in the way, or timing they had expected. And sometimes not at all. 

But that wasn’t going to be me.

I was going to be different and was going to have my rainbow baby.  Except I didn’t.  I never got the opportunity to announce the healthy pregnancy of my rainbow baby on Facebook.  I didn’t get to share the scan photos, announce their birth or share anecdotes about sleepless nights.  There is still a void left where those experiences should have been and, nearly 5 years on from our biggest loss, I think that that is something that gets forgotten.  Not in us as a couple,  per se, but in couples who have experienced infertility and loss as a whole.

For couples who have experienced repeated loss, the pain does not diminish each time. There is no sigh of “oh well, it’s happened again, I kind of knew what to expect anyway ...”.  The pain is still there. Deep rooted and festering.  The hormones still kick in, the miscarriage (or for couples who have experienced repeated late loss – the birth) still has to take place.  The physical pain still has to be endured, sometimes surgeries still have to happen, and the emotions still have to be experienced. 

Watching my friends go through miscarriages recently has been like watching a mirror image of myself .  To a certain extent I knew what they were feeling. I could anticipate what emotions would come next and knew that when they were feeling it was all too much they would ultimately be OK. Not that day, and not for a long time afterwards; but eventually they would be OK, even if they didn’t know it themselves at the time.  Being ‘in’ that pain, however, is excruciating and sometimes you just need someone to come alongside you, not to say ‘it’ll all be ok’, ‘count your blessings’ or ‘at least you know you can get pregnant’ but actually just to say ‘it’s crap. I’m sorry’.

I have friends who have experienced loss and have had their rainbow babies and friends who have experienced loss after loss as we have. I can only imagine what it must be like to bring home your rainbow baby and often wonder whether having a baby after a miscarriage reduces the pain.  I’m sure it must to an extent but the lost baby will never be replaced and that alone is one of the most painful lessons I ever had to learn.

By the same merit I can only imagine the pain of experiencing loss and not having any birth children as a result.  My heart breaks for people in that situation and I wouldn’t want to add any more thought to this as I can’t comprehend how that must feel.

My children are such an amazing gift.  There are times when I am so overwhelmed with love for them that I actually fear losing them and how I would cope ...  but that’s another post altogether. My love for them does not, however, diminish the pain that I feel at losing Emilie. Neither does it take away the pain of not being able to have another birth child – of not being able to hold my rainbow baby.  That is something that I believe I will always have to deal with regardless of age or life stage.
So, back to the theory that ‘time is the best healer’.

With time, my capacity has increased, as has my acceptance of the situation.  My pain has become more manageable and my understanding greater.   But things still hurt.  Pregnancy announcements and birth announcements still carry a sting with them regardless of my joy for the people involved. That’s hard to say and it took me a long time to realise that that did not make me a bad person. There are still bad days, low days and days where life feels bitterly unfair. 

And then there is the fear of sounding like a broken record.

And that alone encompasses what I’ve learnt about recurrent loss.  I do sound like a broken record but it will stay with me forever. This is not the way things were meant to be; this was not my ‘life plan’. I did not set out to experience great pain and feel a hole in my life.

But that is what happened.

And for those friends, who know who they are, the pain is also very real and very raw.  I would love to be able to put together a wonderful ’10 things you can do to support your friend who has experienced recurrent loss’ or ‘things not to say to people who’ve experienced recurrent loss’ but would not know quite how to word it without causing offence!

So instead I’ve borrowed someone else’s! This is something I came across that I believed was too good not to share.

1. ‘Make sure you listen more than you speak. This conversation isn’t about you or your opinions but about supporting your friend’

2. Know your audience when talking about your own family
‘If you talk about your kids all the time you’re talking about the one thing they don’t have in common with you’

3. Be sensitive about telling your friend you’re pregnant
‘Tell your friend first before you announce it publicly… Don’t tell them in person (a text, email or letter gives them time to process the news)… Don’t show them your scan photos…’

4. Bite your tongue
‘Most people have a story about someone who couldn’t have children and then did… There’s always some weird herb or drug people have taken…’ In short, go easy on advice-giving

5. Stop trying to find reasons why
‘Faith doesn’t always resolve, we may never have our ‘answer’ and this is the complex journey you need to walk with your friend’

6. Infertility doesn’t always go away
‘It may be years since a diagnosis and your friend may seem much stronger, but this doesn’t mean they’re no longer experiencing loss’

7. Talking helps
‘You need to let your friend get angry, complain, cry and say what’s on their heart… help them let it out, then give them tea and cake’

8. Have fun
‘Organise some fun activities with them, get some dates in the diary and have a laugh. It gives them a break from obsessing over baby stuff and helps them remember there are still some good things in life to enjoy’

9. Be an advocate
‘At work, in friendship groups, church communities and family gatherings you can change the conversation when it’s been dominated by child birth stories and cracked nipples for the last half an hour…’

Monday, 28 December 2015

Comparison is the Thief of Joy ...

Yesterday I shared a meme on my Facebook page.  I had stolen it from someone else but it rang very true for me.  It said "the life you see here on social media isn't reality.  It's everyone's highlight reel."

After I posted it and gave my reasons for doing so I received a lot of feedback both in the form of comments and private messages which led me to believe that I am not the only person who struggles with the lives portrayed on social media.

Unfortunately, comparison is something that I have always struggled with.  In my late teens and early twenties I had an eating disorder. Although this grew out of a need to regain some control in my life rather than out of comparing myself to slimmer girls, it did lead me to a point of comparison.  At the time, I was never fully aware of how thin I was but during my time of recovery (in which I include now; as with other addictive behaviours I don't feel that eating disorders ever fully go away, but instead need to be managed) I began to become much more aware of my size.  Naturally, I needed to be a much more healthy weight and began to compare myself to other women of different shapes and sizes.  For the first time I became grossly aware of my appearance and was not happy with this. Friends would look different to me. In my eyes they had a better figure, better hair, better teeth, nicer clothes and better fashion sense. They had better lives - and I often based this purely on how they looked and what they wore.

Social media did not exist (as it does now) when I was in my late teens and early twenties and I am hugely thankful for this.    I based my views, and built my insecurities, on those I could see around me, on how they looked and on unrealistic images of women in magazines. Had I had social media to add to the equation I can only imagine where my insecurities and issues with comparison would have led me.  I have younger sisters who grew up with social media being the norm and I am aware of how difficult it must be for them and for teenage girls to see unrealistic images popping up on their news feeds all day.  For me this would have hugely fired my need to compare myself to others.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not slating Facebook, not really, anyway.  I have tried a number of times to come off Facebook - to remove the comparison to other people's lives in this way from my own.  But I have friends all over the world.  I enjoy being able to keep in touch with them and see how they are getting on.  I enjoy being able to see how their children are growing when I'm unable to see this in person.  It is an amazing tool for keeping in touch with people.  However, who ever REALLY posts the whole truth and nothing but the truth on their Facebook page.  I know I don't!

I'll give an example - and I don't mean to offend anyone by doing so.

As an adoptive parent (read more here I have two separate privacy settings on my Facebook page.  Those for people who I may not know especially well in 'real life' but still want to be able to keep in touch with and those for people who I 'do life with' and see on a regular basis and have a deeper relationship with.  With the latter I share more personal anecdotes, photographs and information.  My reasons for this are not to exclude people from my life, rather as I feel that not everyone would want to know the nitty gritty stuff.  I also do not fully trust privacy settings and would not share information about my daughter widely for fear of it somehow reaching her birth family.  In all honesty, unless I've had a particularly horrendous day, I share my best bits to both privacy settings.  Even if I've had a horrendous day I don't think I'd ever really say EXACTLY how I was feeling on my Facebook.

I like to post boast about my running on my Facebook. Did I mention that my half marathon personal best is 1 hour, 46 minutes and 55 seconds? No?! Well now I have.  I was delighted. However, two months later I was injured and couldn't train.  I began to compare myself unfavourably to other people's run times and before I knew it I had lost my joy.  Running is a big thing for me.  I do a long run every Saturday and if I am happy with my time I will post this on Facebook.  If I am not happy with my time I will either remain quiet or simply post a map of my distance and keep the rest to myself.  Maybe it is a bit proud and boastful.  I would certainly think so if I read it on a friend's timeline.  However, what I don't post is the tears I will have cried the day before.  The fact that I broke down, once again, on the way home from the school run because my daughter, who has learning difficulties and sensory processing needs, has once again sat down in the middle of the pavement in a puddle and refused to move ... and I'm not strong enough to carry her the 1.5 km home myself so have had to call my husband to come and rescue us.   I do not post that she has, once again, lost her sense of danger at a level crossing and has stepped out onto a busy dual carriage way only to have me tug on her hood/arm/reins/hair to stop her stepping into the line of a car and that this has caused her to have a meltdown leading me to handing my son over to a neighbour to take to school and calling my husband to come and rescue me and my daughter.  I do not post, alongside my running photograph, map and time, an anecdote about running being what keeps me sane; what stops me from lashing out and busting into tears of frustration.  That I look forward to my runs ALL WEEK and my husband and I both realise how important it is for me to fit them in.  I post my best bits.

I blogged a few months ago about returning to work and what a big step it had been for me. I helped to set up a nursery which is something I've always wanted to do.  However, I have recently had to take a step back from my role as it wasn't working for my family.  Everyone was getting half measures.  My daughter took a turn for the worse and struggled to settle into pre school.  Her sleep disorder worsened.  My son realised that my attention was further split and, as he's only 6, began to act up too.  He has an intermittent stammer which worsened dramatically and his behaviour massively deteriorated.  Our marriage received whatever scraps were left. I felt relief at making the very difficult decision to step down until I saw on Facebook the number of my friends who manage to juggle children, marriage, life and amazing jobs and still have time to paint their nails!  And my relief and joy was stolen and I became a failure.  The rational side of me knows that these friends will also have their struggles and, like me, will not share them all on Facebook.  But when I'm feeling less rational, that's when the feelings of failure creep in and everything I had accomplished in helping to set up the nursery becomes diminished.  I post my best bits - and so do they.

During the summer we were planning on having some work done on our house.  However, the planning permission fell through.  I began to lose contentment in what we had and began to covet all of the amazing houses I was seeing flying round the internet.  It was at this time that I was listening to a podcast entitled 'Comparison is the Thief of Joy'.  I felt like the podcast was speaking straight at me and God was saying 'this is for you'.  As a response I deleted the Rightmove app off of my phone and tried to focus more on what we had rather than what we didn't have.  At this time, we won the appeal for planning permission and the work started shortly after.  And, of course, I began posting photographs of the work on Facebook.  I did not post that a matter of months earlier that refusal of planning permission had made me feel so sorry for myself that I began to question why 'nothing ever went my way'.  I added the refused planning permission to a long line of tragedies including our daughter's death and the infertility we later suffered.  Talk about losing perspective! Funnily enough, this did not make it to my Facebook feed (although I did mention it to some trusted friends who smiled, patted my arm and remained as patient as ever with me).  I post my best bits.

So this brings me back to my original point: "the life you see here on social media isn't reality.  It's everyone's highlight reel ..." And once again stealing someone else's words - "We use social media to plaster the highlights of our lives because why share the ugly parts if we don’t have to? We don’t get to see the unattractive pictures. We don’t get to hear about the fighting that goes on. We don’t know that they are charging all of their luxuries on a credit card and they’re in debt. WE DON’T KNOW. Instead, we post the things that make our lives look f****** fantastic…even when it’s far from it." (, I'm calling to mind a scripture.

As we move into a New Year (following a very difficult year) I plan to try and focus more on what I have, what I have been given and what I've achieved rather than comparing myself to others ... or at least I will try and take what I see on Facebook with a pinch of salt! ;-)

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

4 Years ...

4 years ago I was sat at a friend's house enjoying a little tea party with our children. I was 32 weeks pregnant and John was away with work. I had been feeling exhausted all week and had been resting as much as I could. I remember my stomach was starting to tighten but nothing that I hadn't experienced in my pregnancy with Sam 2 years previously. I wasn't exactly blooming - I was puffy and bloated and looked just as tired as I felt. Samuel had been born prematurely 2 years earlier and was significantly growth restricted. This pregnancy was very high risk and I wasn't expecting to feel wonderful. I was starting to brew a headache and a slightly upset stomach and felt a bit fed up. On returning home with Samuel I gave him a ridiculously early night, ordered myself a take away and curled up on the sofa. John was home the following day ...

Today I have been at hospital with Samuel. A very small and routine operation that we have been putting off for a couple of years. As soon as he found out he was going to be in Alder Hey for the day he groaned. You see, Sam spent much of the first year of his life in Alder Hey for various appointments; to see paediatricians, dieticians and gastrentriologists. This was following a month long stay in special care when he was born prematurely and months of feeding difficulties following this. Samuel does not really make a fuss but he was not happy at the prospect of returning to his least favourite place. And neither was I. 

The Doctors talked through the procedure with him and he begged for no needles - another phobia. As a result of this they used gas to put him to sleep and only put his canula in after this. His precious toy, Wotsit, also had her hand bandaged up which caused giggles when Sam came round and realised.

Watching him drift off to sleep was awful and brought back so many memories of seeing him weak and poorly in his incubator, hooked up to umpteen wires. As bereaved parents nothing is without stress.  The innocence attached to such small procedures was taken away 4 years ago and was replaced with a huge sense of anxiety; with a fear that something will go wrong. Waiting to hear those dreaded words again ... 'I'm so sorry Claire, but your child has died'. As I write it I appreciate the drama but for other parents who've experienced grief, loss, illness and trauma they will understand where I come from.

I watched him drift off to sleep and tried not to show my panic, my dread. The staff, knowing our history, were very supportive and careful to reassure me. 'We will look after him,' I was told by the anaesthetist as I left the room. I was led through to the parent's room and given a cup of coffee as I waited. A wait that seemed anxiously long. I sat thinking about the other children throughout the hospital who were 'really' ill.  Who were having life saving procedures and who, in some cases, we're experiencing terminal illnesses and felt embarrassed at my anxiety for such a small operation.  And then I remembered I have been 'that' parent twice. I have been the parent who sits next to the incubator that houses their child's tiny body whilst machines monitor every pulse, every gas and every breath throughout the body; whilst tubes sustain them and the smallest and most taken for granted reflexes like sucking, swallowing and breathing don't happen as they should so the baby is tube fed, causing untold later feeding problems and oral trauma.


I have also been the parent who sits in a room in shock having been delivered devastating, life changing news. I have been the parent who sits cradling their dead baby not wanting to let go and knowing that, when that happens, it will be forever.  That there will be no more photographs, no more cuddles, no more kisses and no growing up.

And ... I have been the parent who has had to accept,  through devastating circumstances, that they can't have any more biological children.  That the risks to mother and baby are too high. 

The innocence has been snatched away. I know what loss is and I know what death is.  I know what it feels like to mourn the loss of your own child. That feeling that parents can't bear to think about; that is too painful to verbalise or even consider - I know how that feels and I know that life is never the same afterwards. 

Yet Samuel returned. He is dozing next to me with a very sore head but no adverse side effects. The whole experience feels like a huge anti climax and I feel my stress levels lower.

4 years ago I was 32 weeks pregnant ...

This weekend marks 4 years since Emilie's birth. Since her death. 

Emilie - Rose

I can't comprehend where those 4 years have gone and know that 4 years ago I  would never have imagined that life could have regained this sense of normality. A new normal, yes, but still normality. 
I get up each day and care for my children. I work when I can and in 2 weeks time will be returning to regular work 2 days a week. I cook tea; I bake cakes; I bake bread. I like to run and enjoy anything crafty. 

And I adore my children.

4 years ago our world came crumbling down around us. Everything echoed with the deafening sound of grief and emptiness. Everything felt surreal. Unreal. 

Emilie - Rose

This anniversary season is hard.  Filled with so many memories - the anticipation and excitement followed by the panic, disorientation and grief. And yet we still stand, with Sam nearly 7 years old and just awaiting the final court date that tells us our adopted daughter is legally OURS.

I did not expect to have come this far. I never thought I would work again and I never thought I would live day to day knowing I can have no more biological children and yet still being able to function.   An old friend said to me last week 'life has a way of doing what it wants rather than what you have planned for it'. This reminded me of something I had read a couple of years ago about life being like a complex tapestry.  That when viewed from behind it is incomprehensibly messy with arrays of complicated threads weaving in and out and being cut off at strange angles. Yet when viewed from the front it is perfect, weaving a beautiful and rich picture that tells a story.

4 years on I still don't understand why God allowed us to go trough what we did and yes, I still get angry from time to time. But I am looking forward to a time when I can view the whole tapestry from the front and see it's beauty, see how it makes sense and comes together. 

And already I can begin to see the sense and the meaning form.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A Reflection on Grief, Loss and Joy

Once, in a little pond, in the muddy water under the lily pads, there lived a little water beetle in a community of water beetles. They lived a simple and comfortable life in the pond with few disturbances and interruptions. Once in a while, sadness would come to the community when one of their fellow beetles would climb the stem of a lily pad and would never be seen again. They knew when this happened; their friend was dead, gone forever.
Then, one day, one little water beetle felt an irresistible urge to climb up that stem. However, he was determined that he would not leave forever. He would come back and tell his friends what he had found at the top. When he reached the top and climbed out of the water onto the surface of the lily pad, he was so tired, and the sun felt so warm, that he decided he must take a nap. As he slept, his body changed and when he woke up, he had turned into a beautiful blue-tailed dragonfly with broad wings and a slender body designed for flying.
So, fly he did! And, as he soared he saw the beauty of a whole new world and a far superior way of life to what he had never known existed. Then he remembered his beetle friends and how they were thinking by now he was dead. He wanted to go back to tell them, and explain to them that he was now more alive than he had ever been before. His life had been fulfilled rather than ended. But, his new body would not go down into the water. He could not get back to tell his friends the good news. Then he understood that their time would come, when they, too, would know what he now knew. So, he raised his wings and flew off into his joyous new life!
Adapted from 'Waterbugs and Dragonflies' by Doris Stickney

I started writing down the thoughts that I have been sharing over the past couple of months about two years ago. I wrote manically initially, finding the whole process cathartic and healing. Around 'big' milestones I found that my words came more freely and flowed more easily. Around the time of my miscarriages, for example; around Emilie's anniversaries; when we went away as a family and I was able to sit down and think a bit more; around the time that I was experiencing failed fertility treatment; and around my 30th birthday. At these times the feelings were so raw, so intense, that I was able to sit for hours and write. And all the time I was looking forward. All the time I was waiting for our miracle; our happy ending. I JUST KNEW it would happen for us...that I would get that positive pregnancy test and the months would go by with me getting bigger - and probably more stressed - until we had a healthy little baby at the end of it....

....but that didn't happen.

Our lives remained trapped in the state that they had been when we lost Emilie  - when we heard the words "I'm so sorry, Claire, but your baby has died".  We were stuck and unable to move forwards physically or emotionally. Each time my fertility treatment failed and each time I miscarried it was Emilie who I longed for so desperately. It was her face I saw as I lay in pain waiting for a miscarriage to take place and it was the silence in the delivery room I experienced each time I flushed the remains of my babies down the toilet; the deafening silence.

The thing that surprised me most was the fact that life carried on. The world didn't stop turning and time didn't stop moving ;  our lives had ground to a halt but still things were carrying on around us as normal.  The words of a song by The Carpenters go like this and each time I have heard it since Emilie's death a lump has formed in my throat at the sheer reality of the portrayal of sorrow - albeit in this case through the loss of a love.

Why does the sun go on shining
Why does the sea rush to shore
Don't they know it's the end of the world
'Cause you don't love me any more 

Why do the birds go on singing
Why do the stars glow above
Don't they know it's the end of the world
It ended when I lost your love

I wake up in the morning and I wonder
Why everything's the same as it was
I can't understand, no, I can't understand
How life goes on the way it does 

Why does my heart go on beating
Why do these eyes of mine cry
Don't they know it's the end of the world
It ended when you said goodbye

Each day when I woke up I couldn't understand how or why things were carrying on as normal. The sun indeed was shining - in fact it was an Indian Summer - and I couldn't bear it. I remained indoors wrapped up as much as I could bear refusing to believe that there could be beauty and joy outside of what we were feeling and experiencing.

And the world did carry on. Babies carried on being born and people carried on getting pregnant. Children in the wider community carried on falling ill and some even died. The grief was so immense and all encompassing that I couldn't bear the thought of what these parents would have to experience - of the long road of grief ahead of them and the fact that the only way in which the grief gets easier is by your own capacity increasing.

As time carried on I felt like my life remained rooted in that day and I didn't know how I would ever feel happy again. Relatively small things would bring me crashing back down so that the grief was as raw, as painful as it had been when Emilie had first died. I knew that I would never be the same again and I struggled to see people with whom I had had less meaningful relationships prior to Emilie's death. I couldn't cope with the superficial, the surface level and the unimportant and must have seemed like an incredibly solomn and serious person. But the relationships that endured through those difficult times have become incredibly strong throughout the times that followed.

As I began to realise that we were struggling to move forwards and that it was incredibly difficult to fully embrace the 'new normal', my writing began to slow down.  There were only so many ways that I could express the way I was feeling and talk about what was happening.  I felt hopeless and every single pregnancy or birth announcement stung in a way that I cannot explain.  And still we stood still.
Each time a pregnancy was announced I would congratulate the couple and share in the joy as much as I could.  I didn't always get this right and neither did some of our friends.  Generally though, friends were amazing and gave us the space and grace that we needed without withdrawing from us or being awkward around us but still, each time an announcement was made I would think 'it will be me next. Surely'....only it never was.

After my second miscarriage, after truly giving the situation over to God and putting it in his hands, I noticed a huge shift in the way I felt.  Suddenly the pain did not consume me and overwhelm me as it had and I was able to have more headspace for considering a future different to the one that I had had planned out.  This is not to say that that pain went away, however.  It still remained under the surface and reared its head with every trigger; the sound of a heart beat, an ultrasound picture, the cry of a newborn baby, the sharing of a birth story.  I learnt to control it more effectively, however, and realised that people understood if I left a conversation and a lot of grace was given to me for sharing my birth stories and for talking about Emilie.  For this I am truly thankful.  There are times, however, when I genuinely feel that I have nothing to add to conversations - that when labour stories, breast feeding stories, and pregnancy stories are being shared no one wants to know my side of the story and at these times I need to be kind to myself, take a deep breath and remove myself from the conversation if needed.  This took me a long time to learn.

When it started writing this story I was convinced it would end with us having another healthy baby.  I knew that my story hadn't ended.  As this became less and less likely I began to slow down with my writing.  Who wanted to read a story about a couple who had suffered terrible loss and infertility and did not get their rainbow baby? 

And so this section has been very difficult to write and has taken me a long time to get it right.  Making the decision to adopt Molly meant that we were putting an end to our attempts to have a biological baby of our own.  It was not an easy decision and was not taken lightly.  No baby - whether biological or adopted - will ever replace Emilie; will ever fill that gap.  Each child is individual - fearfully and wonderfully made and created for a purpose.  One child can not fill the gap another child has left any more than a square peg can fit in a round hole.  But somehow we have been chosen and trusted to care for her and had Emilie survived, although we would have pursued foster care, it would not have been at the specific time that would have allowed Molly to come into our lives.  I try not to focus on this point too much as I find it too painful but I have realised that we have had our miracle; it has not come in the form of healing, neither has it come in the form of a rainbow baby or what other people might see as a normal situation.  It is not a happy ending; not in the way I had expected it to be and had I been told that 30 months after Emilie's death we would have stopped trying for a baby the mere thought would have invoked a panic attack.  But somehow, 30 months after the nightmare began, God has truly used our experience for good and we look forward to a time when Molly can share our name and we are legally her parents.

When Emilie died, I was truly broken and couldn't work out how to move forward.  I couldn't ever imagine how I possibly COULD move forwards. And from that position of brokenness, God touched our hearts and gave us such a sense of compassion for broken children that I cannot put into words.  He taught us how to truely love unconditionally and, because of our brokenness and pain, we have been able to accept a little girl in need of a family into our own.  

And still, I know that this is not the end of the story.

Romans 8:28 (MSG)
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Monday, 31 March 2014

A Different Christmas and a Positive New Year

November 2013

As the year drew to a close, I found myself having to adjust alot.  Not just to being a parent of 2 children on a permanent basis but to caring for a child with additional needs.  In-spite of my previous experience in childcare, I found parenting a child with additional needs is more challenging than I had ever expected.  However, it wasn't simply Molly's behaviour that I found challenging - or the exhaustion - whether physical or emotional.  The thing I found most challenging about parenting Molly was the reactions of other people.   I loved her unconditionally and, although exhausted at the time, I had a bond with her that went beyond anything that behaviour could affect.  This did not make it any easier when she struggled in public and lashed out at another child or had a tantrum spurred on by her inability to manage routine changes or new experiences.  I knew that it was not appropriate to go around saying 'the reason she is behaving this way is because she has............' Yet everything in me wanted to shift the responsibility for her behaviour and, what may seem to an outsider, my lack of dealing with it appropriately.

I recorded the following in my blog: 

A pen, a car or an item of food are thrown across a table, across a room or at an innocent bystander; hair is pulled; another child is hit and my reaction is to guide, rather than chastise.  Of course I give a firm 'no' and try to remove from the situation if appropriate but more rigid behavioural management strategies such as time out could be seen as rejection; physical restraint may be retaliated to; rewards are not understood and understanding/sustained interest is not sufficient enough to withdraw privilages. There are times when it feels like nothing works and having to leave them to cry it out on the floor seems like the only thing to do.  And then the moment passes and they calm down. You calmly explain 'we don't hit/throw/pull hair we need gentle hands' and the world is a calmer place.  Until it all begins again. And again. And again.

The looks that we are given - the tuts, the sighs and the stares cut deep and, on a difficult day, can make me feel incapable. So I often find myself leaving before things escalate again.  We gradually build up the length of time we can stay at places. I explain to trusted people that we may not be able to stay for long, that we may need to make a quick exit and apologise for being 'not all there'.  

Anything can trigger this cycle...a new room layout, unfamiliar sounds, unfamiliar faces, an unexpected visitor, an inability to find a certain toy, a new structure.....all of these things need to be addressed and the exposure to them needs to be increased gradually but it is a slow process.

Each day I would bring Molly home and I would know that, as challenging caring for a child with additional needs could be, it was also incredibly rewarding.  I would hold her and she would snuggle in to me, resting her head on my shoulder and draping her arms around me.  I would be reminded of how far she had come - from the child who did not show any affection and went stiff each time she was picked up - not wanting to be held or cuddled.  Not even a year ago she had been unable to trust us and did not engage well with people and by the end of the year, in-spite of the behavioural problems we were experiencing, she was like a different child.  I loved to hear people mention how far she had come and I loved to see her interacting well with our friends and their children.  I loved to see her being part of a community and BELONGING.

I went on the write:

The most special, challenging, rewarding thing I have ever done is parent a child with additional needs. The journey is exhausting and is a constant learning process but, as a family of a child with additional needs, we are learning and growing together and are working out the best way to handle the situations we are in.  We are learning that additional needs are just that: additional.  Added extras. Different personality traits and a different way of thinking and being.  We are learning to be flexible and find our own ways to embrace additional needs.

December 2013

Christmas arrived and I felt excited about the season for the first time since Emilie had died.  The seasonal reminders still evoked a tight chest and feelings of sorrow and pain but I was able to enjoy aspects of it as well.  I was able to watch Sam and Molly get excited by seeing decorations and taking part in family traditions that we were beginning.  Molly was fascinated by the Christmas tree and, with real support from us, was even able to visit Father Christmas!  We were able to give her a normal experience.  I spent the months leading up to Christmas making decorations, planning food and putting together gift boxes for friends and family.  I acquired a new found joy for buying Christmas presents and reveled in the excitement of being able to share them.

We woke up on Christmas morning and were potentially as excited as the children, if not more.  We shared stockings together and went for a morning walk.  I was mildly surprised, however, to realise that the familiar pain was still there; the aching in my chest and the distant ringing in my ears, but I was more able to control it and was looking forward to hosting a big family Christmas Day with all the trimmings - something I had't imagined I'd ever have the strength to do again.  Watching the children tear open their presents and play with them throughout the day was an incredibly special experience and something I will always treasure; our first Christmas as a family of four.

I waited for the lull between Christmas and New Year to arrive, for the depression of knowing that we were starting yet another year leading a different life to that which we had planned to arrive.  However, we were surprised at how fresh we were feeling.  Boxing day was difficult but not due to grief; both children had become very overtired on Christmas Day and when the excitement wore off for them they struggled with challenging behaviour.  Even this felt completely normal and we were thankful to be able to have a quiet day to recover - to feel like a normal family.

As New Year approached we went down to Essex to stay with two different sets of friends - James and Katie, with whom we had spent the Christmas after Emilie's death, and Tom and Lindsey.  Being with great friends gave us all a focus.  Sam and Molly loved seeing James and Katie's children and loved spending time with Tom and Lindsey.  We loved seeing our friends and ending the new year with them.  It felt symbolic - the first time since Emilie's death that we had looked forward to the start of a new year and the first time that we had felt able to truly celebrate.  The inexorible passing of time still caused us immense pain; other people's lives had moved on along the path that they had planned - that they had expected - and ours had halted drastically in September 2011 forcing us to live a nightmare and remain in a state of limbo.  For the first time since this nightmare, I felt like our lives were moving forward too.

It was at this time that John and I spoke more seriously about the implications of Molly remaining with us as a permanent foster placement.  This would mean that she would be 'floating in the care system' - a term used my social services.  Our Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) had expressed concerns about this and warned us that when Molly's care plan was reviewed, social services would want a more concrete plan for Molly's future due to her young age.  She warned us that we may run into problems with Molly remaining in permanent foster care.  She asked us to consider more legal options such as Special Guardianship Order.  John and I spoke about this in depth and wondered - if she were to remain in our care permanently and legally under SGO, how would our rights be different to those of adoptive parents and how would she feel in the future still not sharing our name.  The more we spoke about it the more it became clear in our minds that something needed to change.

And so I picked up the phone and called our social voice shaking, I took a deep breath and tried to stay calm and rational.

"John and I have been talking about Molly's care plan", I said, "In-fact we've talked of nothing else".  Our social worker waited patiently whilst I tried hard to get my words out.

"We would like to request to adopt Molly".

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Promise: Part 2

As the summer approached, and following our agreement to offer her permanent care, we began to see Molly really relax into family life. Spending more time outside in the good weather meant that she was naturally encouraged to spend more time exploring on the ground and less time in my arms. We saw Molly make huge leaps in her sensory development as she observed Samuel playing and copied his play; splashing in the paddling pool and digging in the sand pit.  She loved having Sam home every day for the summer holidays and the bond between them became stronger each day.

We adjusted to becoming a family of four and tried to get our heads around what this would mean for us long term in terms of our future plans to continue fostering other children. We knew that Molly needed our attention as much as possible and that it would benefit her to have me to herself whilst Samuel was at school, for her to not need to adjust  to another child and more professionals in and out of the house on a regular basis for a while.  However, we knew that ultimately we did want to go on to foster more children and were left with the conundrum of how to get a spare bedroom without having to spend a fortune or move house and see our mortgage rocket. As part of this conundrum, we lived - and still do live - on a quiet estate with a number of families with whom we are close friends also living on the estate - Faye and Mark and James and Sally included. Moving off the estate to get another bedroom and, as a result, losing the support network a stone's throw from us was not an option and bigger houses on the estate were few and far between with mortgages bigger than we could commit to on only one proper income and our small foster allowance.  We therefore decided to look at the option of splitting one of our existing bedrooms into two to provide us with the extra fostering space for when the time came to foster another child.

In the August of 2013 we had out first holiday as a family of four - a holiday with a lot of special memories and something we had looked forward to for a long time. However, other aspects of the holiday were bitter sweet and I found myself missing Emilie terribly. To all of the other families who saw us I knew that we looked like any other young family holidaying together but once again I was struck with the feeling of wanting to let people know that Emilie had existed and that we should have been a family of five. The familiar feeling of jealousy arose again as I longingly watched other young families play together in the rock pools and on the sand.  I would guess at the age differences between their children and would wonder at the experiences they had.  Miraculously these feelings were made less painful when we realised that, surprisingly, John's half brother and his family were staying a couple of miles down the road from us. We were able to meet up with them for a couple of days sharing the holiday experience with them.  Suddenly the feelings I was having were lessened at the prospect of there being someone else there who had known Emilie had existed and who acknowledged our loss. With the loss of a child, a lot of experiences become bitter sweet as there will always be a huge gap in our lives. This said, however, we had longed for a family holiday for so long and I will treasure the memories we made on that holiday for ever.

September 2013

Once again, Emilie's birthday and anniversary approached and I was overwhelmed by the familiar feelings of grief and emptiness.  Sam and Molly gave us something positive to throw our energies into but I would become overwhelmed once they had gone to bed and the silence returned.  With this, Emilie's second anniversary, I learnt that the saying 'time is a healer' is not true and I wrote the following in my blog:

Over the past two years we have experienced grief like I could never have imagined, grief that cannot be put into words. Loss of a child is a heart wrenching sort of grief.  It grasps your chest and prevents normal breathing. It takes over your every waking moment and controls the few sleeping moments you can manage, filling your subconscious with fears and obsessions, with fantasies that will never come to pass so that the grief hits in a fresh wave each time you wake up realising that it was just that - a fantasy. Grief is crippling and all encompassing worming its way into your relationships, your friendships and your family.  It tells you that life will never be the same, that you will never regain the joy that you have lost, that there is nothing to live for and no sense in trying. 

It hits in fresh waves, over and over, until you feel like you can't bear it any longer.  It is like running a mega marathon but never getting a second wind. Feeling the breath taken out of you, feeling the pain seize your muscles as the intensity of the run becomes too much...

...but not being able to stop.

And then, slowly but surely it eases. The pain doesn't go away. Time does not heal where the loss of a child is concerned but your capacity increases. The belt loosens and you slowly learn to breathe again, slowly rebuild your life and learn what the new normal looks like. You slowly restore relationships, slowly relearn your purpose and get to know the person you have become following the breaking of yourself.

Slowly but surely the fog lifts.....

.... And you realise there is beauty .....

Heaven becomes a tangiable concept. A place so close that you believe you could touch it if you could just reach that far.  Death is no longer something to dread and God breaks through the stifling silence to reassure me that there is something else.  Longing is replaced by hope through the realisation that my daughter - and that my miscarried babies - are not lost to me forever. 

I wonder what she'll look like now, wonder what she'll enjoy. I become impatient to meet her but know that this time is not eternal, I know that one day I'll look back on this as a distant memory as I sit surrounded by my children and marvel at the heavenly beauty around me. 

In the run up to Emilie's anniversary I was overwhelmed by the gifts and cards we received in memory of our little girl.  They came in the form of cooked meals, babysitting so we could go for lunch together, beautiful candles, stunning flowers, cakes, cards and an evergreen heather plant - a reminder that life continues through winter.  Again I baked a cake for Emilie's anniversary - indulgent and full of chocolate - and we took it away with us as we went away for the weekend. 

For Emilie's second anniversary we chose to go and stay on a working farm.  We stayed in a beautifully converted barn on farm belonging to Gamal and Kay; a couple who bought the farm 17 years previously and run it as a getaway for families wanting something a bit different.  We had the most amazing weekend.  We got up early to help with farming jobs and were filled with joy as we saw how much enjoyment Sam and Molly got from feeding the pigs, chickens, sheep and cows and helping to muck out the horses.  Gamal and Kay made us feel unbelievably welcome and let us join in as little or as much as we wanted to.  Kay treated the children like little celebrities as they helped her carry out jobs like feeding the ducks and were also lucky enough to see day old chicks following them hatching during our stay.  On the farm there was also an adventure play area and indoor games room meaning that the children had all of the activities and stimulation they needed and we, and they, were occupied and having fun the whole time which lessened the effects of the grief.  In the evenings we ate together before putting the children to bed, lighting a fire and enjoying the peace, quiet and glasses of wine together!  We returned home rested, having felt like we had experienced some real quality time together as a family and ready to move forward again.