Saturday, 21 December 2013

As time passes inexoribly...

At the start of this year I decided to buy a mason jar to fill with memories from the year. A friend was doing it and I thought it'd be a great idea.reasonsn't wait to sit at the end of the year and look back through all of the pieces of paper remembering the joy and the tears from the year and being thankful as a family. The mason jar is sat on the shelf in our kitchen.........filled pods. I put it to use after our coffee machine being put back to work. The jar had remained empty for months and by the time I remembered about it I felt it was too late to start filling it with memories from the last couple of months of the year.

But something has happened this week that has made me sit back and reflect on the year we have had and what I have to be thankful for.

My beautiful friend lost a baby at 14 weeks under horrible circumstances.

I don't want to go into her story here as it is her story and not mine but needless to say they are devastated. Like us, although for very different reasons , having a family has not been a straightforward journey for them.

Seeing her go through it has reminded me of the immense pain we were in 15 months ago having suffered our third loss in 12 months; a very early 7 week loss following a miscarriage at 10 weeks and a stillbirth at 32 weeks....full term for me due to a clotting disorder meaning I am unable to carry well into the third trimester. The pain is suffocating. Everything you hoped for is destroyed in one moment and your life suddenly takes a whole new course.

People who have read my blog before will know that 6 months ago we took the huge decision to stop trying for a baby following 3 years of loss,  prematurity and failed fertility treatments. It was the biggest decision we have ever made and has caused us to completely refocus our lives and rethink our priorities.

So here we are, 15 months after out last loss, having rebuilt our lives beyond any recognition of what they were like before the losses began - before we struggled to conceive and then lost our daughter at 32 weeks, 27 months ago.

So I thought I'd manually look back and imagine I'd filled the jar. What would be in it and what memories would we be reliving?

We were asked to consider caring for a little girl a similar age to Emilie.  The initial pain of the comparison between the two babies melts away when we hear her story and we agree to the placement.

Samuel celebrates his 4th birthday and our families meet my husband's half brother for the first time. We have a wonderful time getting to know each other and look forward to building relationships.

We go away on a family holiday to centerparcs and have fun making new memories together.

Our foster daughter arrives.  Our lives are changed for ever.

I facilitate my first parenting course...something I have wanted to do for years. My passion is working with children and families and the timing of everything over the last couple of years has meant that I am now able to do it without having to worry about juggling work! I go on to facilitate 2 more over the course of the year.

We continue to suffer from infertility which which breaks my heart on a daily basis. There are days when it is all I can think about. I am referred to a new consultant who agrees to a new course of treatment. I sob in his office - much to his embarrassment - purely at the relief of being listened to.

Our foster daughter's complex needs become more known and we are asked to consider caring for her on a permanent basis. We know that we cannot continue having fertility treatment and trying for a baby at the same time as caring for a child with additional needs. We decide to put our foster daughter first and stop trying to expand our biological family.

The relief is immense.

Samuel starts school. I have a month of slipping back into the clutches of depression due to a combination of missing him so much, knowing my life has moved on and Emilie's 2nd anniversary.

The fog lifts towards the tail end of the year and I am able to look back and realise how much I have to be thankful for and how far I have come.  I didn't think I would ever recover from the grief of losing a child and it is something that still effects me on a daily basis but we are still standing over 2 years on ..... Albeit sometimes only just.

And here were are at the end of another year.  I felt another wave of depression hit at the start of this week spurred on by the inexorable passing of time. I felt suffocated at thought of another new year looming and genuinely thought I was no further on than I was at the start of this year. Or the year before.

Looking back I realise how wrong I was.

And maybe I'll fill that jar in 2014...

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Being 'That' Parent

Parenting a child with additional needs is more challenging than I had ever expected. The child's behaviour is challenging, the exhaustion is challenging, the physicality of parenting a child with additional needs is challenging but the most challenging aspect of parenting a child with additional needs is the reactions of other people.  

You know that it is not appropriate to go around saying 'the reason they are behaving this way is because they have............' Yet everything in me wants to shift the responsibility for their behaviour and, what may seem to an outsider, my lack of dealing with it appropriately.

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.

Parenting a child with additional needs is more challenging than I ever expected.  It is also more rewarding than I ever expected.  You try over and over to work on something to no avail ..... And then something clicks.  There are changes in behaviour and increased ability to handle things - new situations, new stimulations, new people. Progress is made in ways you never thought possible and trust is developed.

 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.

The following is written about a birth child rather than a foster child but it still rings true. 



Emily Perl Kingsley.

c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.


Monday, 23 September 2013

When Heaven Touches Earth

Two years ago today I lay on a bed expecting to deliver my daughter due to reduced fetal movement. I have a history of premature delivery and knew that the chances of me reaching full term were very slim. I had reached 32 weeks - a week short of my son's delivery gestation 2 1/2 years earlier - as full term as I was ever going to get.

Instead time stood still as the news of our daughter's death was given to us. Two years ago tomorrow she was born.

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. 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. 

And so heaven becomes real and a song resonates in my mind.....

Happy heavenly birthday, my beautiful girl.

Heaven is the Face

(Steven CurtisChapman)

Heaven is the face of a little girl

With dark brown eyes

That disappear when she smiles

Heaven is the place

Where she calls my name

Says, "Daddy (mummy) please come play with me for awhile"

God, I know, it's all of this and so much more

But God, You know, that this is what I'm aching for

God, you know, I just can't see beyond the door

So right now

Heaven is the sound of her breathing deep

Lying on my chest, falling fast asleep while I sing

And Heaven is the weight of her in my arms

Being there to keep her safe from harm while she dreams

And God, I know, it's all of this and so much more

But God, You know, that this is what I'm longing for

God, you know, I just can't see beyond the door

But in my mind's eye I can see a place

Where Your glory fills every empty space

All the cancer is gone

Every mouth is fed

And there's no one left in the orphans' bed

Every lonely heart finds their one true love

And there's no more goodbye

And no more not enough

And there's no more enemy

No more

Heaven is a sweet, maple syrup kiss

And a thousand other little things I miss with her gone

Heaven is the place where she takes my hand

And leads me to You

And we both run into Your arms

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I did a short talk at my church this week - it was the first time I've been asked to speak and although it was only a 15 minute talk I was incredibly nervous and planned to the nth degree. The talk was part of a series of talks called 'Frontline at the Movies' which looked at films and drew out a life message from them. I chose 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen' and talked about 'Faith for the Unseen and Impossible'. I've had quite alot of feedback on my talk throughout the week so decided to edit my notes into blog form and post them here.

I loved Salmon Fishing in the Yemen when I first saw it. It's a very easy to watch film that probably best falls into the category of Rom Com - definitely a feel good film. Yet in-spite of its simplicity, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen really spoke to me.

The premise of the film is that a Yemeni Sheikh has a grand plan to introduce Salmon Fishing in the Yemen which, according to Dr Alfred Jones from the government dept of fisheries and agriculture, is a 'fundamentally unfeasible' task. The Sheikh, however, refuses to be defeated. He genuinely believes that it is possible.

There is a particular scene in the film by which I was very affected. The Sheikh, Dr Jones and the film's heroine are enjoying a dinner party together in which the topic of fishing - and introducing salmon fishing into the Yemen - is raised. The Sheikh explains that it would be a miracle for this to happen and the following exchange takes place:

Sheikh: It would be a miracle of God if it were to happen.

Dr. Jones: I’m more of a facts and figures man.

Sheikh: You aren’t a religious man, Dr. Jones?

Dr. Jones: No I’m not.

Sheikh: But you’re a fisherman Dr. Jones.

Dr. Jones: I’m sorry I don’t follow.

Sheikh: How many hours do you fish before you catch something?

Dr. Jones: Hundreds sometimes.

Sheikh: Is that a good use of your time as a facts and figures man. But you persist, with such poor odds of success. Why? Because you’re a man of faith, Dr. Alfred. In the end, you are rewarded for your faith and constancy.

Dr. Jones: With due respect, fishing and religion are hardly the same thing your excellency.

Sheikh: With equal respect, I have to disagree.

I don't know much about fishing - most of my attempts as a child resulted in my brother impaling my finger on fish hooks - but I do know that there is neither a guarantee that there are fish in the water nor that they will bite and be caught. But people still go fishing regardless of this believing that they will catch a fish. They spend hours doing it - sitting at the side of a river or lake waiting and hoping to catch a fish. I loved this analogy of fishing as trust in the unseen. I loved the concept of persevering - keeping going and being '.......rewarded for your faith and constancy.'

Not knowing much about fishing I decided to speak to people who did. A friend in America told me:
'You fish for [salmon] when they are mating. They don't want to eat, they just want to mate. So, you have to tick them off enough to want to bite the bait, it has to be the right bait, and the line can't be too thick as it will scare the fish. So you have to use this teeny tiny line that is almost guaranteed to break when the fish takes off and hides behind a log. The odds are truly against the angler, however, when you hook one of these 20+ pounders...the fight is amazing!! The wait makes it even better!'

Amazing! What a seemingly possible situation and what patience it requires. I couldn't imagine spending hours upon hours of my life sitting at the side of a river in waiting for something that isn't guaranteed to happen. Yet people do.

Dr Jones tells the Sheikh that he can spend "hundreds" of hours trying to catch a fish. Hundreds of hours - sat at the side of the water. The key thing is that he knows what he is waiting for - what he is hoping for; it is an active process. He has the correct equipment to catch a fish. He is not hunting for a deer expecting to catch a fish; he is confident of what he is waiting for.

The Hebrew translation for the word 'wait' - chakah - talks about waiting being just this - an active process - waiting in anticipation for something to happen; looking towards something, earnestly expecting'.

Of course if you are waiting, you are hoping for something to happen - or not to happen. There is a sense of expectation.

I asked a couple of non Christian friends what 'hope' meant to them and it was difficult for them to define. One person told me that 'hope' can mean vastly different things in different circumstances; "I hope I get that job"....."I hope the kids are ok..." "I hope the cancer hasn't returned..." To me these were incredibly different uses of the same word.

The use of Hope in the Bible is very different to this, however. It is an indication of something that is certain - a strong, confident expectation rather than something wishy washy that can't be defined.

When I learnt this, it brought a whole new meaning to 2 of my favourite scriptures:

These scriptures suddenly become more real - more validated. We are waiting for and hoping for something that is CONCRETE and CERTAIN. In a God who will work for us. Fishermen have a strong and confident expectation in their ability to catch a fish - or they wouldn't be fishing, surely. They wouldn't waste hours of their lives investing in something that they are sure of. In the same way, If we have a strong and confident expectation in God I believe that we can have faith in impossible situations.

The Sheikh refuses to let circumstances get in the way. He looks past the desert land, the climate, the distance the fish must travel etc to see what can be achieved with faith. He looks past the physical realm into the spiritual to see what is possible through God. He is unfazed by the hours upon hours that he may have to wait to catch a fish and states that, "you persist, with such poor odds of success. Why? Because you’re a man of faith, Dr. Alfred. In the end, you are rewarded for your faith and constancy."

This reminded me of a story Jesus told:

5 Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.[a]

9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “You fathers—if your children ask[b] for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? 12 Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! 13 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

I loved this; I loved the idea of having 'shameless persistence'. Of 'being rewarded for faith and constancy'. Of not giving up on what God can achieve.

I don't want to ruin the end of the film but just to add that (and I can vouch for this) sometimes, in spite of our faith, things don't come to fruition in the way me may want or expect - perseverance may be needed to get the water to remain in the river so that the salmon can be fished for or God may have something better in mind. There are even heroes in the Bible of whom it says " (Hebrews 11:39 NLT) [39] All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.[40] For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.

Faith is prepared to accept that there may be no reward for the faithful in this world; and that if this be the case, then the reward will come in full in the heavenly country. (Steven Coxhead)

I saw a Tim Keller quote on Twitter recently which totally changed my perspective on having faith for the unseen.

“We can be sure our prayers are answered precisely in the way we would want them to be answered if we knew everything God knows.”

One day we will be able to stand and look back on our lives with the knowledge that everything fitted together - worked together - for our good. One day all of this will make sense.

There are moments in life that seem 'fundamentally unfeasible' and although we don't know what God's plans for our lives are nor do we always agree with His timing, as it says in Hebrews 11, ..... it is impossible to please God without faith and Jesus himself said "Anything is possible if a person believes." Mark 9:23

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Waterbugs and Dragonflies

Quite a few people have been asking me about the significance of my latest tattoo. I thought I'd answer here.

I love tattoos and love them to have significance for me. I posted here ( about the last tattoo I got about 20 months ago.

My latest one was inspired by a book that Samuel was given when Emilie died. He still has the book next to his bed and whenever he sees a dragonfly - or an image of one - he tells me it reminds him of his sister. I'll let the story do its work:

Waterbugs and Dragonflies
by Doris Stickney

Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a little colony of water bugs. They were a happy colony, living far away from the sun. For many months they werevery busy, scurrying over the soft mud on the bottom of the pond. They did notice that every once in awhile one of their colony seemed to lose interest in goingabout. Clinging to the stem of a pond lily it gradually moved out of sight and was seen no more.
"Look!" said one of the water bugs to another. "One of our colony is climbing up the lily stalk. Where do you think she is going?" Up, up, up it slowly went....Evenas they watched, the water bug disappeared from sight. Its friends waited and waited but it didn't return...
"That's funny!" said one water bug to another. "Wasn't she happy here?" asked a second... "Where do you suppose she went?" wondered a third.
No one had an answer. They were greatly puzzled. Finally one of the water bugs, a leader in the colony, gathered its friends together. "I have an idea". The next oneof us who climbs up the lily stalk must promise to come back and tell us where he or she went and why."
"We promise", they said solemnly.
One spring day, not long after, the very water bug who had suggested the plan found himself climbing up the lily stalk. Up, up, up, he went. Before he knew whatwas happening, he had broke through the surface of the water and fallen onto the broad, green lily pad above.
When he awoke, he looked about with surprise. He couldn't believe what he saw. A startling change had come to his old body. His movement revealed four silverwings and a long tail. Even as he struggled, he felt an impulse to move his wings...The warmth of the sun soon dried the moisture from the new body. He moved hiswings again and suddenly found himself up above the water. He had become a dragonfly!!
Swooping and dipping in great curves, he flew through the air. He felt exhilarated in the new atmosphere. By and by the new dragonfly lighted happily on a lily pad torest. Then it was that he chanced to look below to the bottom of the pond. Why, he was right above his old friends, the water bugs! There they were scurryingaround, just as he had been doing some time before.
The dragonfly remembered the promise: "The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk will come back and tell where he or she went and why." Without thinking,the dragonfly darted down. Suddenly he hit the surface of the water and bounced away. Now that he was a dragonfly, he could no longer go into the water...
"I can't return!" he said in dismay. "At least, I tried. But I can't keep my promise. Even if I could go back, not one of the water bugs would know me in my newbody. I guess I'll just have to wait until they become dragonflies too. Then they'll understand what has happened to me, and where I went."
And the dragonfly winged off happily into its wonderful new world of sun and air.......

So - my latest tattoo is a permanent reminder and testimony of the fact that I will see Emilie, and my other babies, again. One day I'll be able to look back and all of this will have been made new.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

1 Year, 9 Months, 28 Days.....

1 year, 9 months and 28 days...
95 weeks
667 days
16,008 hours
I should have a nearly 2 year old now. A walking, talking, temper tantrum throwing, food refusing nearly 2 year old.
I can't believe how quickly the past year and 10 months have gone. From the sheer torture and pain of grief to learning what a 'new normal' is, rebuilding our lives and now moving forward in what we believe the plans for our futures are.
There are parts of the past (nearly) 2 years that I simply can't remember. There are huge chunks of cloudy and blurred memories and I struggle to work out timescales or order of events over, certainly the first half of, the last 2 years.
That blurriness and haziness has gone now but the pain and loss are still there on a daily basis; not as close to the surface as they were and much easier to manage but still there. Pregnancy announcements still sting as we try hard to grieve the loss of the dream of a bigger family and learn to be content with one biological child but we are gradually learning this contentment. It is not something that will come over night and, as my closest friends will know, there are days when I am at peace with the finality of the situation and other days when the pain creeps up on me unawares and I will have a day, or days, of seemingly unexplained emptiness before realising that there may actually be a trigger; maybe the approach of an anniversary of loss, another due date come and gone, a hospital appointment, negative test results, the thought of the 'what could have been' moments.

And then something happened in our lives about 2 months ago to make us sit back and reassess the situation. We felt God whispering into our lives to trust him as our lives took a very unexpected turn and so we began, once again, on a path that we hadn't chosen for ourselves. It is a path that still has the potential to cause us immense pain but is also a path where we have already seen incredible blessings and joy poured out into our lives. At the point of this event we both, independently to each other, came to the same decision; a decision that could have been shattering to the other had it not, as we believe, been a God inspired decision. We decided to stop trying for a baby and we are at peace with our decision.
I can't fully explain this sense of peace as it does not take away the pain (and sometimes jealousy) that I feel but it reassures me that we are exactly where we are meant to be at the moment. This point is also something that has taken me 1 year, 9 months and 28 days to get to and I am glad to finally be here.
We still need all the people around us who have supported us over the past (nearly) 2 years and who have helped us to be accountable to them. We need reminding of God's timing, of His plan, of the sense of peace we have felt with our decision, of words that have been given to us and of where we have come from to get to this point. But most of all I need reminding that 1 year, 9 months and 28 days is not long enough for people to forget our daughter.

Friday, 17 May 2013

New Shoes - an insight into the life of a foster carer.

We spend the weekend with a very frustrated Little Miss. The normal toddler tantrums are arriving and are being amplified by her already fiery temperament. We rack our brains; what can we do to ease this frustration? We come to the conclusion that not being able to walk may be adding to the frustration she feels and decide to buy her new shoes to try and encourage the walking. Cue a trip to Clarks for measuring. Who'd have thought that being measured for new shoes could be such a traumatic experience?!
I weigh up the risks - a mental risk assessment of the situation; new faces, unfamiliar place, unfamiliar smells, new situation. Not to mention random people touching you with strange shoe measuring implements! The sales assistant comes to introduce herself and, without giving away details of our situation, I quietly explain that Little Miss can be very nervous in new situations and with new people. The sales assistants voice softens immediately and she kneels down at eye level with Little Miss to say 'hello'. Little Miss, initially unsure and leaning into me, slowly begins to relax and smile. She shouts 'hiya' and waves excitedly to the sales assistant who then picks up the foot measurer and tries to secure it to Little Miss' foot. The floodgates are opened. She begins to scream, writhe and scratch and has to be held very firmly to be measured. I can see that the sales assistant is trying to be patient but is surprised at the ferocity of the outburst. I ask her to wait a couple of minutes whilst I turn Little Miss around and cradle her against me. She clings to me, shaking, with her head draped over my shoulder and twiddles a strand of my hair. Once she has stopped shaking I begin to move her away from me but she scrambles to get close again whilst screaming. I breathe a sigh of relief that it is 9:35 am and the shop is very quiet. I feel a hint of embarrassment flood my cheeks as Sam sits next to me and starts to hum a song from the Les Miserables soundtrack at the top of his voice. Inappropriate much?!!
I wait for Little Miss to calm down again before turning her around whilst singing 'Twinkle Twinkle' softly in her ear. She screams, writhes and kicks out but the patient sales assistant finally manages to measure her feet whilst seeming to be contorting herself into all manner of strange positions to obtain the correct measurements from said octopus's feet. She brings out a selection of first 'cruiser' shoes and I allow Little Miss to get down on the floor and choose her own. I try to point her in the direction of the pretty t-bar style shoes with embroidered flowers. She picks the most garishly pink shoes there that are guaranteed not to go with any outfit. I sigh and ask the sales assistant if she has them in the required size. Cue screaming, writhing and wriggling again whilst the shoes are fitted and deemed a good fit. Sales assistant asks if we would like to take the shoes off to put them in a box. I want to laugh - haven't we just wrestled these shoes onto her?! They're NEVER coming off. I take a deep breath before saying 'no thank you', paying and leaving the shop with joyful optimism of said shoes solving all frustration problems and Little Miss strolling off down the path holding hands with Sam. Instead I am faced with a toddler who pulls the shoes off every 10 minutes and has given up any desire to stand and/or walk.
Frustrations continue for the rest of the week and I am unable to get to the bottom of them. People stare as the outbursts take place. They look at me as if to ask 'are you going to control your child?'. I think of friends who have children with additional needs and recall stories of judgements from people around them who are unaware of their childrens' needs and (maybe unwittingly) give disapproving looks at outbursts and socially inappropriate behaviour that may be exhibited. I breathe a sigh of relief that I am not alone and take a deep breath to avoid turning to another staring person and asking 'do you have a problem?'.
Little Miss takes deep breaths and begins to calm herself down - a skill that she is only just learning. Her body relaxes once more and her fists unclench. She gets down from my knee and crawls off as if nothing has happened. I feel my body relax and carry on regardless, waiting for the next outburst.
Being a foster carer is the most amazing thing I have ever done. I love seeing the changes in Little Miss that are occurring on a daily basis. She really is like a different child and this is an amazing reward. My goodness though, this is hard work!
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 8 April 2013

Getting it Right?

It's been a long day. I was kept awake last night again by nervous "are you still there?" cries from our foster child. Sam has a bad chest (he is asthmatic) and our cat has required major surgery to remove a blockage from her intestine; a plastic foot from something, apparently. Tomorrow we'll get to see what the 'plastic foot' was that cost us a small fortune out of our savings as the vet has kindly kept hold of it to show us.

Ask my husband last year and I'm pretty certain he wouldn't have opted for drawing out savings to save a cat. A cat that scratches, keeps us awake at night, eats anything in sight (including plastic feet, apparently), turns up at neighbours' houses for play and some attention and throws up all over the bathroom floor. But this was different. The kids love this cat - they adore her. Sam was absorbed in his loss after Emilie's death and somehow, in a way that I certain a human couldn't do, Kip pulled him out of his withdrawn state. His behaviour changed virtually over night. And our foster daughter loves her. Infact I don't think 'love' is a strong enough word. Kip was the first 'person' that she engaged with, the first 'person' she shared kisses with, and the first 'person' she initiated eye contact with. For weeks she followed her around the house shouting 'cat, cat' - her one and only word. So when the call came from the vet to say that surgery was the only option, there was no doubt in my husband's mind that it was what needed to be done and so we find ourselves with a big gap in our 'house fund' savings. It will be worth it, though, when 'cat cat' comes home to stop the tears!

Our foster daughter struggles with change. She struggles with goodbyes and new experiences. She struggles with life. And today she has cried all day. She has raised her arms, formed her mouth into an 'O' shape and let out the 'ooooooo, oooooo' sound that she has perfected so well interspersed with cries of 'cat cat' and 'mama', arms raised to me. All day!

I have waited to hear a baby call me mama for years. But she's not mine. We refer to me as by my name to her no matter what but she has chosen 'mama' after hearing Sam do so. And so we find ourselves in a cafe at a craft session. Sam and his friends are happily gluing sequins to material and our little lady is playing with blocks. And then, for no reason seemingly out of the blue, comes the crying. The sobbing. I try to work out what is wrong with her but she turns away from me. She just wants to cry. This is a common occurrence and happens at least once a day. There are times, more frequently now, that she seeks comfort (she always snuggles in when happy but struggles when she's crying) but generally she turns away, refuses to make eye contact and screams at anyone who dares to look at her or try to comfort her. And it breaks my heart. I have learnt the hard way, that she needs the outlet. That she needs to be able to sit and so and wollow in her on sorrow. After this has happened she is fine. The switch is flicked and she is her happy self again, chatting and interacting with me. But the looks I get!! I can't tell people 'she's not mine' and I can't explain why I'm letting her cry. A friend said to me today that I KNOW her - I know what calms her down and what doesn't but I wonder what people must think. Some even let me know - 'ah, she's tired', 'someone's not happy, are they?' and the worst are the people who try to talk to her, hence raising her stress levels ten fold!

I wish there was someone there who could say to me 'you're doing the right thing' and reassure me that the way we comfort her is ok. I see changes in her every day and she is unrecognisable from the little girl who arrived 10 weeks ago - and probably so are we! It is so rewarding to see and fills me with such a sense of pride but we have a long way to go. I don't want to see her leave or wish our time with her away but I often wonder - how amazing will it be to see her move to her final placement leaving a lot of those insecurities behind her.

And then I'll know we've done the right thing.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 16 March 2013

A Year of Running

It's been a while since I've posted here. I've been a little bit preoccupied with the baptism of fire that has been our introduction into the world of foster care. I can't believe it's been 2 months since we got our first placement. We're thoroughly enjoying having an extra little person staying with us for this season and are currently trying to get our heads around the prospect of her moving on all be it not imminently. People often ask me how long she'll be with us and if she'll stay. The answer is, quite simply, I don't know. I don't know what the future holds but right now we know that we are called to foster care and not adoption so I guess that answers that question. I know that that may change in the future and, with suffering from infertility, we may well choose to adopt a child at some point in the future but now we're enjoying foster care and the experiences that come with that. Foster carers often say that it is the best and hardest thing they have ever done. I'd agree. Every day we get to see our little visitor increase in confidence and develop new skills. We get to be reward by the love and affection she shows us and get to see her change in ways we never thought possible 2 months ago. We get to do all of this to prepare her for her final place of care - wherever that may be - and that, in itself, is enough reward for now. Yes, it's hard. Yes, we'll struggle moving her on but then we will meet another child; another child who's life we can sew into and support them to grow and develop preparing them to be a resilient adult. What a responsibility that we are trusted with!
To me, this is my year of running. Of sometimes feeling like I'm running a race that we could never win. Last year was a year of loss, of waiting and of fertility treatment and I feel like I missed out on everything else that was promised to me. Not a wasted year, as such, but a year of putting my life on hold. After our last loss in September, we decided to move on - to start running forward rather than looking back and wondering what could have been. As as I've mentioned before, so many doors have opened to us. The pain is still there and some days it consumes me, but having a new focus, having something to move forward towards has really helped. We will continue running the race for as long as is needed.

Last night was Comic Relief and like most people, I'm sure, I sobbed my way through the stories, put in my donation and felt frustrated that a. There was not more I could do and b. our Westernised society leads us to see loss in a very different way to how people in other countries may see it. We are so lucky to have the resources, medical care, research, transport, hospitals, and sanitation needed to ensure that loss IS something that shocks us - it's not something that we endure every day. It's not (really) something that we live in fear of and, as a result, is something that (quite rightly) completely rocks us when it happens.
Whilst watching Comic Relief, and the documentaries leading up to it, I was struck hard by a number of statistics. The first was that an estimated
655 000 people DIE from malaria deaths each year - with 600 000 of those estimated to be children. That's 600 000 parents who have to experience the grief that we have - the grief of losing a child. ( The other thing that shocked me us that approximately 800 women die every day from PREVENTABLE pregnancy related causes ( and 99% of these deaths occur in developing countries. In 2009 there were also 2.6 million stillbirths globally ( with 98% of those being in low and middle income countries. 2.6 million and Emilie is just one of these. The reason I'm still here, however, is because of the amazing care that Liverpool Women's Hospital offer but it could easily have been a different story. This terrifies me and shocks me - especially seeing as a lot of the deaths worldwide are deemed as 'preventable'.
And that begged the question - what can we do/what do we do? I'll be honest - I'll donate to charities. I'll support sponsored events but I'm never going to run a marathon or climb a mountain - not least as I don't have the time to train (that's how I justify it!!) but I still try to make a difference - I share my story whenever I can. I try, as much as I can, to provide support and love to other women who have suffered recurrent miscarriage, still birth and infant loss, and I will happily bake cakes to sell but I wanted to introduce you to a friend who is giving his everything to change statistics like the above.
Nearly 4 years ago, as a childminder, I would walk to and from the local primary school to do school drop offs and pick ups. During that time I met a mum who lives very close to me and walks the same walk to take her children to and from school. Her daughter was in the same class as the little boy I picked up so we got chatting both on the school run and outside school. Eventually, as we chatted, we realised that both of us suffered from PCOS but amazingly she was pregnant again. We were trying for Emilie and her story gave me hope. However, on 12th November 2010 my colleague came home from the school run with the colour drained from her face. She asked me if I knew Karen and explained that, at 38 weeks pregnant Karen had lost her baby girl to stillbirth. I remember feeling terror for her and willing myself not to think about what she must be going through. A few days later I saw her up at school with her husband. They both looked obviously grief stricken and pale and were stood on their own. I badly wanted to go and tell her how sorry I was but I barely knew her, couldn't find the words and desperately didn't want to cause more upset.
10 months later on 26 th September 2011 the same terror happened to us at 32 weeks. Within days Karen got in touch to offer her condolences and, even though the grief was still raw for her, met up with me on a regular basis and helped to carry me through it. Needless to say a friendship formed.
On the times that we met, Karen would share with me stories of her husband, Dom's, weight loss and fundraising which had arisen out of there loss of Ella. He had raised a very significant amount of money for charities such as Bliss, Tommys and Count the Kicks in Ella's memory and the transformation in his life, and courage he had shown were amazing.
In April 2012 Dom set himself and team Ella runners the challenge of a year of running starting with the Great Ireland Run and ending at the London Marathon in April 2013! Dom had never run before Ella's death! I'll let him tell the rest of his story here:
One of the incredible things about Dom and Karen's story is that a few short weeks after the London Marathon Karen will give birth to Violet - Ella's baby sister - a 'Rainbow Baby'. What an amazing story of hope.
The Year of Running is drawing to a close. Please help Dom and Karen to support the amazing charities that can help to change the terrible statistics mentioned above by donating on the Team Ella 'just giving' page. We can make a difference.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 11 February 2013


I'm sat writing this feeling exhausted. It's not the same emotional exhaustion I've felt over the past 17 months, however. This is physical exhaustion - the kind that helps you fall into a deep sleep at the end of the day, the kind that makes you feel you are filling your days with something worthwhile, the kind that comes from looking after two children.
'Little Miss' joined our lives nearly three weeks ago and those past three weeks have been a whirlwind. It's a time of huge adjustment as a family and as individuals. Sam is really enjoying having our little foster visitor to stay and we are both amazed at how well he is adjusting to things. (Most of the time) he enjoys showing her how to play. He enjoys helping to get her up in the mornings and he enjoys helping to give her her tea. He also misses having me all to himself and we are adjusting to learning to make time for 'mummy and Sam' time every day. Today we played charades at his choice but the game descended into chaos when his inner terrible toddler took over and he did not want Little Miss to watch him acting. On Saturday we baked cakes and yesterday we played the piano together. I am learning that his focused time only needs to be 10 minutes or so per day to himself but I have no control over what he does with that time. When his inner terrible toddler takes over he refuses to listen, he rolls about on the floor being generally silly and he shouts at me. I miss being able to devote full days to him and him only. It is bittersweet this adjustment thing.
We are learning to juggle meetings with social workers, hospital appointments, school runs, leading parenting courses, cooking tea, spending time with friends and sleeping but we feel that we are able to function as a family - something we have looked forward to for a long time.
There are new questions every day; people seem surprised - "I didn't realise you had 2 children", "will you adopt her?", "how do you take one somebody else's child?". It's the adoption question I struggle with the most. Do I seem callous if I explain that that is not the reason we went into foster care? Does it come from a lack of understanding on people's parts? And then I ran into someone I haven't seen for a while at school today. She has been in Australia for 3 months. She greeted me with a hug - delighted to see our dream of foster caring becoming a reality. She asked how I was finding things and without asking any questions about the future told me "of course, you'll be heartbroken when she goes but how amazing that you can DO THIS for her". How refreshing to have someone acknowledge her moving on and to also acknowledge the separation we will have to endure when she goes.
Little Miss has come into our lives with a bang and and I'm certain that she will leave with the same level of noise but while she is here we can be certain that we are the right family for her RIGHT NOW. That while she is with us we can sow into her life and play a part in her future, supporting her early on to, one day, become the woman she deserves to be. And to think that, as a family, we played a part in that is pretty amazing.
Maybe one day we'll have another child of our own - another child to play with foster children and to support them in their own adjustment and journey.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad