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 worker.......my 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.


The Promise: Part 1

Molly continued to remain in our care and came on in leaps and bounds.  As a family, we felt our attachment with her and her attachment with us deepen on a daily basis.  I was finding my time filling up with facilitating prarenting courses, attending toddler groups, doing the school run and juggling social worker visits and contact. Due to Molly's difficulty in separating from me, I started to supervise contact with her birth parents; something that I simply hadn't prepared myself for.  I found this to be an incredibly painful yet humbling experience but managed to build up a rapport with her birth parents.  This, however, started to pose problems as although there were boundaries in place and her birth parents have fully adhered to these, I began to suffer from transference of what I believed her birth parents must be feeling.  I felt like I'd lost Emilie all over again and it took me a long time - the best part of a year - to realise that these were my own feelings of loss and my desire to protect and nurture Molly.  These are feelings that I need to learn to control.

As the months progressed we noticed more and more of Molly's needs were becoming apparent - a lot of sensory processing needs in addition to delayed speech and language.  It was simply through trial and error that we learnt what worked and what didn't work with Molly and what she could and couldn't tolerate.  I remember placing her in a swing at the park.  She wasn't too sure getting into the swing but when she realised that the swing moved her eyes were filled with terror and she started to scream uncontrollably.  I took her out of the swing and comforted her.  She clung to me for a good while afterwards.  Another time she needed to be weighed at the hospital. I stripped her off as instructed and tried to place her on the scales.  Her reaction was the same as that when she had been placed in the swing.  She clawed at me and reached out, screaming for me to pick her up.  We were unable to weigh or measure her accurately and trying to measure her head circumferance produced the same reaction.  She needed a lot of comforting afterwards and was unsettled for the remainder of the day.

May 2013

Molly's adoption medical approached and John and I knew that this was the first step to her finding an adoptive family.  I felt sad at the prospect of her moving on but also felt excited for her, knowing that she would find her forever family.  I hoped that they would be a young family with at least one other child for her to play with and learn from.  I imagined what her life would look like and had spent hours working on her life story book which would follow her.  I had even spoken to some friends who had recently adopted a little girl, and a teenage friend who baby sat for us and had, herself, been adopted to ask what to save to move on with Molly and I had begun to put together a memory box for her.  I wanted her to know how much we had loved her and wanted her to be able to build a picture of her life prior to finding her adoptive family. 

For reasons of confidentiality I will not go into the details of the medical other than to say that Molly struggled very much with the examinations. She would not allow the doctor to weigh or measure her properly and clung firmly to me, crying and clawing at me each time I tried to turn her around or put her down to be examined.  The doctor started to put together a medical report and expressed her concern at the prospect of another placement move for Molly.  She asked if we would consider allowing her to remain with us permanently.

I left the medical feeling dumb struck and shaking.  We had not allowed ourselves to even consider the prospect of Molly remaining with us out of concern for building an attachment that could not be easily transferred to her adoptive family and now the seed had been planted for Molly to remain permanently with us. I calmed Molly down as much as I could, sat in car and called our social worker, Fran.  I tried to keep my voice level as I spoke and relayed the details of the medical to her.  I explained that I didn't know what to think or what to feel and was confused as to where to go from here.  We knew that we had a LAC review (review of a looked after child's care plan) coming up and arranged to discuss things further at this point.  I the returned home, emotionally drained, and relayed all of the details to John.

Over the next few days prior to the LAC review, John and I thought about and talked about little else.  We tried to get our heads around the prospect of Molly remaining with us coupled with the prospect of bringing up a child with additional needs on a permanent basis.  We knew that agreeing to this permanency would transform our lives and plans.  We had not entered the foster care profession as a path to adoption and knew that agreeing to permanency for Molly would mean that, as she was sleeping in our foster bedroom - which had been our one spare room - we would not be able to foster other children for a lengthy period of time or without having building work done on the house to give us another bedroom...something that we were unsure was possible.  The biggest thing, however, was the knowledge that agreeing to permanency with Molly would mean, without any shadow of a doubt, that our journey or trying for another biological child would be over due to the stress and risks attached to another pregnancy already being so high without factoring in caring for a very young child with additional needs who would need extra security, nurturing and continuity.  All of these doubts had counter arguements borne out of our love for Molly, our desire to do what was best for her and our belief - in agreement with the doctor and Molly's social worker - that another placement change could be detrimental to her development and not in her best interests.  And so, after a lot of thought, prayer, discussion and sleepless nights we agreed to offer permanent foster care to Molly.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


The few months after Molly's arrival were a real period of adjustment and change.  I was physically exhausted from suddenly jumping from caring for one 'typically developing' child to caring for two children, one with a significant development delay.  Samuel really enjoyed having Molly about from the offset and was very gentle towards her, however I could tell that he was missing having me to himself and this was reflected in his behaviour.  I started to ensure that he always had some mummy time, something that I found both enjoyable and exhausting - particularly the latter when his behaviour later that day did not reflect the 1 - 1 time we had spent together but instead resulted in him continuing to act out.  Most children are required to adjust to having a sibling and not be the single focus of their parents' universe yet Samuel was prepared for 7 months to become a big brother and then had to adjust to the grief of not being a big brother.  He then was required to adjust to having a foster sibling spring out of nowhere and take a lot of his parents' attention.  When people ask me how Sam got on with being a foster sibling I know it would be a lie to say 'fine'. He loved having Molly around; he loved having someone to play with, someone to teach new skills and someone to idolise him but I don't think the strain the change had on him can be played down however well he dealt with it.

One of the things I found especially difficult when Molly arrived were the comments from other people who we knew in passing through school, nursery or playgroups.  I lost count of the number of people who said 'I hadn't realised you had another one' as if I had kept Molly shut away for the first 13 months of her life.  Besides the surprised reactions people would give when I explained that we were a foster family, everything in me wanted to scream 'we did have another one; her name was Emilie' but I knew that this was not an appropriate reaction.  Instead I explained as little as I needed to and left people to come to their own conclusions.  The most asked question was 'will you keep her'.  'Keep her'....as if she was a stray puppy.  I found it incredibly difficult to explain to people that Molly was a short term placement, that she would be looking for an adoptive family and that that adoptive family would be very closely matched to her and her needs to avoid placement breakdown.  I explained that, if asked, we would always talk about caring for a child long term but that we had been advised to expect Molly's placement to be about 6 months old, that we would care for her and love her like our own for as long as she was with us and would support her to move on to her adoptive placement when one was found for her.  Often people would mention that they would be unable to foster as they would not want to see the child go.  At first I wondered if we were hard hearted because we were preparing ourselves for Molly to move on at some point.  But as I stood in her room cradling her as she fell asleep, watching her mouth open and close gently as she breathed, feeling her close her hand around mine and finally start to relax as I held her, I would find myself praying - begging God - not for Molly to stay but for the strength to be able to move her on when the right family was found.  I realised through experience that we desperately wanted to do what was best for Molly and that if this involved moving her on we would trust that the strength and courage to do so would come.  We knew it would hurt.

While Molly stayed with us we had to get used to a seriously reduced amount of sleep.  She really struggled with attachment and was terrified that we would leave her.  She would cry on and off throughout the night simply testing that we were still there.  She would relax as soon as one of us went into her room and placed our hand on her chest.  This would even make her smile and all through this her eyes remained tightly shut as if she had never properly woken up.  This would play out throughout each night until we went to get her up in the morning.  Although the amount that this happened reduced as she became more secure in the placement here, her sleep disturbances still continued and we often would have shocked baby sitters asking us how we manage to sleep through it every night.  My answer? Ear plugs!  We also invested in a Sleep Sheep which was, without a doubt, worth every single penny.  It was a white noise machine nestled inside a toy sheep.  Molly could occupy it herself and choose from one of 4 sounds.  Unfortunately for us, her favourite sound was the sound of a heart beat which took a lot of getting used to and a lot of panic control on my part!

I was juggling monthly social worker visits and facilitating parenting courses.  Once again I felt like my time was structured around something constructive other than just being a mummy. Although I felt incredibly busy and at times overwhelmed, I felt like I had a purpose again.  I spent what little free time I had researching how to build secure attachment bonds with Molly and learning about how best to support her. I even started running again - something that I had  always enjoyed but had been unable to do whilst trying for babies, being pregnant and undergoing fertility treatment.  I felt like I had a new lease of life. None of this came without burdens, however, and I found being open and honest with social workers, when I wanted to come across as professional and capable, difficult. Fostering is an incredibly emotional profession and you take on all of the 'emotional baggage' of the child you are caring for through allowing yourself to be the emotional outlet for the pain they are suffering in addition to dealing with feelings of your own that arise through the challenges of caring for a vulnerable child.  I hadn't prepared myself for how valuable supervision with our social worker (and my ongoing counselling) would be.  

In addition to adjusting to being foster carers, we were also still coming to terms with our lengthy decision to stop trying for a baby.  This, like everything else, was a process and is not something that can be accepted over night.  In February 2013 I was seen at the recurrent miscarriage clinic where a large number of tests were carried out to try and investigate what was happening.  A number of weeks later I was due to collect my results and see my new gynaecologist.  I did not sleep the night before and was incredibly anxious.  Amazingly, on the morning of my appointment I received a text message from a good friend who had also experienced recurrent pregnancy loss.  She was in the area for some training which had been cancelled and wanted to know if I'd like to meet up.  She agreed to come to the appointment with me as a extra listening ear and we went for lunch together before hand...enjoying the delicacies of the hospital canteen.  My gynaecologist explained all of my results to me and we discussed the prognosis.  They were unsure exactly how to prevent me miscarrying due to very inconclusive results but thought that by trying to regulate my menstrual cycle to help prevent the premature or late release of egg(s) at ovulation, timing ovulation very carefully and then giving me progesterone in the second half of my cycle and HCG injections in early pregnancy I might stand a chance of carrying a healthy pregnancy. The next step was to increase a medication I was already on, metformin, which had been proven to regulate menstrual cycles in women with PCOS.  Once my cycle had returned they would introduce clomid again in the hope that I might respond to it with the additional metformin as well.  We would then go from there .... Trial and error.  None of this, however, could prevent the clotting problems and placental abruptions I was suffering in later pregnancy.  I was due to return to see the consultant three months later.

As I was taking all of this in I started to cry.....a mixture of being totally overwhelmed and being utterly relieved at having a plan.

I returned home to relay all of this to John and to try and process it.  I was so relieved to have a plan and to have the date to return to the hospital in my diary.  I was relieved at being properly listened to and being given the increased dose of metformin which I knew had already started to make a difference since I'd started taking the lower dose four months earlier.  However, there didn't seem to be a solution to the problem and neither John or I were happy with the uncertainty and the fact that there was no real way to prevent me from miscarrying again and certainly no way to prevent another late loss.  The more we talked about it the more we began to wonder what the right decision was.  John was terrified of losing me and we were both very uneasy at the thought of putting Sam, Molly and any other foster children through the pain and trauma of me experiencing another pregnancy loss.

Over the next few days, weeks and months I prayed that if this was it for us; if we were to put the dream of having another biological baby on hold that this would be made very clear to us and that the desire would be taken from me.

And I waited.....

Monday, 17 March 2014

New Year, New Us

*I have changed some names to protect privacy of individuals.

December 2012 and January 2013

We spent most of the day on Christmas Eve frantically preparing for the little boy to arrive with us.   We bought extra presents as we didn't know what he would arrive with and we wanted him to have something to open on Christmas Day.  We sorted out his room, made the cot up, bought nappies, formula and bottles and contacted friends to see if anyone had any clothes, shoes etc that would be suitable for him at such short notice.  We spoke to family to let them know that we may have an extra little person to feed on Christmas Day.  That afternoon the phone rang again with an update; the correct care order couldn't be obtained for the little boy so he would probably be arriving after Christmas.  Following this phone call we carried on as normal and were excited to spend Christmas Day together.  How different it was from the previous Christmas which was so close to Emilie's death.  Although it did bring with it a sense of  grief - a longing that things could be different - we were now at a place where we were more able to accept the path our lives had taken.

Boxing Day came and went and the following day we received a call from from our allocated social worker, Fran* to explain that the little boy we had been contacted about would not be coming to stay with us but instead he would be staying with his current foster carers.  I was disappointed.  We had spent a mere couple of days preparing for his arrival but we had been looking forward to meeting him and had been looking forward to the new challenge and new experiences it would bring.  Fran assured us that we wouldn't be waiting long to have a child placed with us and advised us to carry on as normal.  She emailed us some more paper work to complete and gave us lots of daily record forms to look through and familiarise ourselves with.  Once again I felt a sense of excitement and anticipation at what was ahead of us.

Sam's fourth birthday was approaching and again I could feel the familiar sense of dread at the inexorable passing of time.  I longed for a time when Sam's getting older could be something I was excited about and proud of but at this time it still felt too raw - too painful.  I felt incredibly sad that Sam's birthday reminded me so starkly of how long we'd been trying for a baby.  The happiness of Sam's birthday was juxtaposed against the sorrow of the 'should have beens' and this one seemed particularly painful as it coincided with what should have been my 28 week mark with my second miscarriage, and the point at which I should have been admitted to hospital for monitoring.  I should have been so close to meeting our baby and instead they were still a distant memory.

We had planned to go away to Center Parcs for Sam's birthday.  We had booked it just after the miscarriage and this had given us something to look forward to.  A couple of days before we left, our supervising social worker, Fran, came round for a visit and to properly introduce herself following the chaos of Christmas' non arrival.  She seemed lovely and both John and I were relieved.  She made a fuss of Samuel and showed a real interest in us as a family.  She also mentioned that she wanted to speak to us about a potential placement; a 13 month old girl called Molly* who potentially had some additional needs and needed a short term placement until an adoptive family was found for her.  We tentatively agreed to the placement with view to speaking to Molly's social worker and meeting her and Molly when we returned from holiday.

Once again, Center Parcs surpassed our expectations for giving us quality time to spend together.  I found the swimming pool much less emotionally painful than the last time we had been there and one of the things that really helped with this was the certain knowledge that I wasn't pregnant and that, at that time, we weren't actively trying for a baby.  Safe in this knowledge I was able to do things that I hadn't been able to the last time we went to center parcs; I was able to use the jacuzzi and water slides.  I was able to chase Sam safely around the swimming pool and sit him on my knee as we went down the water slides together.  I was able to ride a bike through the forest and go cross country without having concerns of what the dangers might be had I been in early pregnancy.  For these reasons it was a completely different experience and I returned home much more rested than I had been in a long time.

The day before were returned home I called Molly's social worker, Jan*, to make arrangements for meeting her.  We planned to return home on the Friday, have a brief rest at home and then drive up to meet Molly, her foster family and her social worker.  

We were extrememly nervous as we drove up to Molly's foster family's house and were trying hard to explain the situation to Samuel who at the time seemed completely nonplussed! We briefed him on being a big boy in Molly's house and explained that we wouldn't be staying long. When we arrived, Molly's social worker still hadn't arrived and we were greeted by Molly's foster carer and family who welcomed us warmly, if not nervously too. We were shown through to the playroom where Molly was with her young foster sibling and were greeted by a tiny little toddler girl who was bottom shuffling across the laminate flooring with a dummy in one hand and a bottle in the other.  Straight away a sense of relief washed over me as I realised that she bore no resemblance to what I imagined Emilie might look like.  I asked Molly if I could pick her up and, when she didn't refuse, I bent down and lifted her into my arms. Her body was stiff and jittery and she did not nestle into me as I might have expected a child of that age to do but neither did she try to wriggle free. I noticed straight away that she was very agitated and although she was sat happily on my knee whilst we chatted with her foster carer, she was not sat still - or even close. She was constantly jiggling, bouncing and twitching and a number of times she even launched herself backwards laughing at my shocked reaction.  However, she did come to both John and I voluntarily, something that I would come to learn was very unexpected and not in her nature at that time.  We spoke for a while with Molly's foster carer before the social worker arrived and we began discussing a transition plan. Over the next couple of days we would go and spend time with Molly building up to taking her out on our own.  The following Wednesday she was to move in with us.

The transition week was surreal and exhausting.  We enjoyed getting to know Molly but it was difficult not being able to implement our own routines and only seeing her for short periods of time.  Samuel seemed to be adjusting well and they seemed comfortable in each other's company.  We struggled with getting Molly used to eating solids.  Coming from a placement of a large number of children she had only been used to eating purees and jar'd baby food and hadn't experienced finger food in any great amount.  She initially refused to take any food from us apart from weetabix and puréed spaghetti bolognese so this is what she lived on for the first couple of weeks she was with us.  She also threw everything; food, toys, drinks, clothes, dummies and supporting her to relax and let down her guard sufficiently to trust us was a very long process.

The day Molly moved in was emotional for everyone involved.  Her foster carer and I shared tears and hugs as we left the house but there was no reaction from Molly.  I strapped her into to the back of the car and drove to pick Sam up from the toddler group that Faye had taken him to with Jasper.  Molly clung to me for the rest of the day and cried every time I even tried to put her down.  She was incredibly unsettled and had no idea what was going on around her.  She would not, however, be cuddled to calm down.  Instead she just wanted to be propped on my hip or sat on my knee - not being held as such but knowing that she was safe.  Her sleep pattern was incredibly disrupted and we had an exhausting few months adjusting to her sleep disturbances and learning that she did not always need seeing to inspite of her noisy sleep patterns.

Her seeming detachment continued and although she would want to remain very close to me; in my arms or on my knee she did not want to snuggle up and would not allow me to be affectionate towards her.  I had never experienced anything like this before and both Fran and Jan explained that it was normal for a child with Molly's needs and in her situation.  Molly was obviously drawing comfort from her closeness to me and would simply not entertain the idea of going to anybody else but she did not know how to respond to cuddles and affection and these were completely out of her comfort zone.  She would sit on my knee and take both my hands to ensure that they were firmly around her waist but would not want to be cradled or cuddled.  We learnt very quickly that everything had to be on Molly's terms and we had to allow her to take the lead for everything - when she wanted to be picked up, when she wanted to be put down, when she wanted to be engaged with and when she wanted to be left alone.  If we misread her signals we would be rewarded with the most tumultuous tantrums we had ever seen and one of us would need to sit on the floor close to Molly ready to intervene if she tried to hurt herself through rolling into something or pulling something on top of her.  These outbursts could last for a good half an hour. We found responding to this completely alien to us as parents but supported her through it as much as we could.  I was desperate to teach her how to be loved but I knew that this would take time.

When Molly had been with us for about four weeks she became ill.  She started off refusing her bottle feeds which concerned me as she was still not eating any solids or finger foods and her bottles were the only thing sustaining her.  Try as we might we couldn't get her to take her bottles. And then, after a day of this, she began being sick.  Violently so.  I called the out of hours GP service explaining that I thought Molly had a tummy bug but because she was our foster daughter I wanted her to be checked over straight away.  I drove up to the walk in centre, gave in her name and went straight through to the treatment room.  It was now approaching what was normally her bed time.  Molly was obviously very weak and tired at this point and I expected her to become agitated and have a tantrum. Instead, as she was sat on my knee she turned to face me and nestled her head into my chest.  She didn't go to sleep but remained perfectly still drawing comfort from the cuddle she was receiving.  I am unable to put into words how much this gesture overwhelmed me but I knew at that point that we were one step closer to supporting Molly in learning to be loved.

A Fork in the Road: Part 2

October 2012

We continued completing the paperwork for the Foster Assessment and were feeling positive.  I was excited about moving forwards and starting to fulfil what I believed was our purpose.  I felt like we had been on an incredibly long journey; I had imagined, as I looked forward years before, that by this point we would have completed our biological family and would be looking towards fostering.  The path had taken a very unexpected turn but we were ready to start with the next chapter and ready to fully throw ourselves into it and commit to it.

We arrived at the three day foster training feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I looked around the room at the other couples being assessed.  We were the youngest by far but I also noticed that there were a few single women.  The social worker invited us to introduce ourselves.  We were told not to mention our skills or experience at this stage but to mention what had led us to want to foster and why we had decided to do it at that point. As we went round the room people were mentioning wanting to make difference to the lives of vulnerable people. There was a wealth of experience; some of the foster carers were divorcees, some had no children, some were looking to extend their family through caring for an older child on a permanent basis, some were single parents and others, like us, were couples with biological children who had the space and capacity to care for another child.  Our turn came and I introduced both John and I.  I explained that we had wanted to foster as a couple for a number of years, that I had always wanted to foster and that I grew up with foster caring bing the norm.  I also explained that we were bereaved parents and had been putting things on hold for a long time whilst we tried to extend our biological family and that we felt that we could potentially wait for ever without there being a right time to foster.  We felt that as we had a spare room, as I wasn't working and Sam was about to start school meaning that I could commit fully to caring for a foster child,  that now was a good time and that we were excited.  Immediately I could see the social workers exchange glances and start to make notes.

We continued around  the circle and for each person who introduced themselves there was a disproving look on the face of one of the social workers.  The final lady in the group had no children and was single.  She wanted to care for an older child on a long term/permanent basis as she had the space to do so.  The social worker leapt on her.  She told her that foster caring was not an easy profession, neither was it an appropriate way to build/extend a family.  With this she then turned to me and said 'I mean I imagine you would love for someone to just come and give you a baby to keep?  That won't happen with foster caring!'.  I was dumbfounded and John sat in silence next to me evidently equally as shocked.  I had expected at some point to come face to face with opposition from people who might misinterpret our desire to foster as something else but her reaction truly shocked me.  She carried on with 'if you want to complete your family then fostering is not the way to do it'.

I swallowed and took a deep breath whilst tears stung my eyes.  I reminded myself not to cry and steadied my voice before saying 'with all due respect, you asked us to introduce ourselves and give our reasons for fostering.  You did not ask about our skill set.  Had you done, you would know that I am a qualified teacher, that I have worked with children with additional needs, Looked After Children and other vulnerable children.  You would know that my grandparents fostered and that we have thought very long and hard before making this decision.  You would also know that I have decided not to return to work so that we have the capacity to foster.  We are not trying to complete our family through fostering and know that it would never be complete'.  She was taken aback and retorted with,
'it will if you adopt'.  

I explained to her that adoption may be an option in the future; that if we can't have another baby of our own we may well look into adopting a baby but that this was a long way off. I also explained, however, that there will always be a gap in our family and our lives left behind by Emilie.  I explained that this would never be filled - that we understood and accepted this as much as we could and that we would never try to replace Emilie through adoption and certainly not through fostering.  And that was it.  We had been given a hard time because of our history, and our resilience and desires for foster caring had been tested.  They eased up on me for the rest of the day, but that evening we decided that we were not happy with the way we had been treated or perceived.  I met up with some friends and shared the story of my experience that afternoon.  Everyone was visibly shocked.  That is when the tears came - thick and fast.  They were tears of anger and tears of frustration.  I had no idea how we could break through the walls to convince the social worker that we were ready; yes - there would be hard times but we wanted so much to be able to care for vulnerable children.  The following morning John explained to the social worker who had spoken that way to me and asked about her motives.  He was planning on explaining that we were considering making a complaint.  Before he got this far, however, she apologised.  She said that on reflection she realised that she had spoken out of term and that she could see we were a very resilient and knowledgeable couple who had thought very hard about foster caring.  She did tell us, however, to expect to come up against opposition due to our recent history.  

I was frustrated.  We were always going to be bereaved parents and were always going to suffer from infertility.  I wondered for how long we were going to have to explain ourselves.

The parenting course training was over two dates and took place in the October and December of 2012.  This was a real turning point for me.  I initially found the training painful as we discussed what might bring parents to the course and how to support them.  People introduced themselves and mentioned their children in their introductions.  I longed to be able to say I had 2 biological children (which I do now, 16 months later, offering further explanation if people ask) but at the time it was simply too painful to mention Emilie without sharing her story.  I simply said that I had a son and left it at that.  I can't describe the pain I experienced at this and felt that I was denying Emilie's existence.  Funnily enough, I got talking to one of the course leaders at lunch time.  She had introduced herself as having 6 children, one with Down Syndrome, and offered no further explanation.  At lunch time she explained to me that her fifth baby had been stillborn.  I asked her if she included them in the six children she mentioned to which she said 'yes'.  I realised at that point that I didn't need to deny Emilie's existence; that I could mention her as one of my children and that people could ask further questions if they wanted to.  I often say that I have a biological son and daughter and that we are also a foster family.  People do ask how old my children are.  I will say, for example, 'Samuel is 5 and Emilie would be 2 1/2'.  I leave it up to the person asking questions to venture further, which they often do.  I am no longer shocked by people's reactions - although sometimes a little surprised and often John and I will have a giggle about someone's reaction the as we relay the day's events to each other.  People react in very different ways.  I learnt the hard way, through the social worker's reaction, that people can be shocked,  they can jump to the wrong conclusions and it can also induce terror.  I have even had one lady, who asked me about my own children (and asked further questions relating to their ages...and where my 2 year old daughter was) whilst heavily pregnant with her second child, put her had up to me and ask me to stop speaking.  She said she didn't want to hear any horror stories!  

There are no rules to govern people's reactions. 

The foster panel came round in the December of 2012.  We were both incredibly nervous and had prayed an awful lot that if now wasn't the right time to start fostering; if it was too early or if we had heard wrong, that our application would be deferred. Panel lasted less than 20 minutes.  As soon as we walked in we were told that we would be approved but that they wanted to ask us a few questions.  I braced myself for difficult questions about Emilie and infertility but instead they asked about Samuel and how we would support him as a foster sibling.  Happy with our answers they closed panel by letting us know how excited they were to have us on board, congratulating us and acknowledging Emilie which they said they felt was important.

On Christmas Eve 2012 we received a phone call.  A 16 month old boy was needing a placement for an unknown period of time.  Would we be willing to take him?

We agreed.

Friday, 14 March 2014

A Fork in the Road: Part 1

September 2012

Initially I didn't feel the same level of grief following this miscarriage. I had lost 3 babies in the space of 11 months but still it was Emilie who I missed so terribly, and we were approaching her first anniversary.  I thought about her every minute of every day.  I would find myself fingering her footprint necklace to help me remember her.  I spent time looking through her memory box, touching and smelling individual items and relishing in the memories they evoked.   I wondered what she would look like by now had she survived.  Would she have my dark auburn curly hair?  Would she have John's blue eyes?  Would she look like Samuel?  I wondered what her personality would be llike.  Sam has always been so cheeky; so confident.  I would have loved to know the girl she would have developed into.

As Emilie's anniversary approached I felt suffocated by the change in the seasons.  Every leaf that changed colour, every conker that fell and the developing colour of the sky, the trees, the ground; the changing position of the sun in the sky, the feel of the warm autumn sun, the smells of the season and even the seasonal vegetables we were eating...these all reminded me of Emilie.  These all reminded me of the things that, one year ago, had heradled that I was getting closer to meeting my little girl and instead these things of beauty were now stark reminders of the pain I still felt every day.  I loved looking down tree lined paths and seeing the golds, reds and oranges of the trees but then, a mere moment after taking in the beauty of the colours, I would feel the familiar pain in my chest that would remind me that autumn had become a time of painful memories.

The hopelessness of autumn felt stifling and I I desperately wanted something to look forward to.  My heart literally began to feel heavy again and I was flooded with memories from the previous year.  I decided to try and see the start of the year after Emilie's anniversary as a fresh start; the first time I would be able to stop saying 'this time last year I was pregnant/choosing names/having a scan....' We had deccided to go away for Emilie's birthday and anniversary and went to a friend's cottage on the Welsh Peninusla for a week.  We were away from technology and got to spend some great family time together making new memories.  It was during this week that I started writing with any real intention or motivation.  I had decided that I wanted to share my story.  I had no idea how the story was going to end and at that point I still felt like I was in an immense amount of pain.  However, once I sat down and started writing I sudddenly began to see how far we had come in the year since Emilie's death, inspite of the miscarriages.  I also started looking at Autumn in a different way;  Everything around me was changing colour, falling to the ground and dying.  I realised, at this point, that I had been missing something.  Autumn is the preparation for winter; a time of rest, a time where life does not immedietly come to mind.  However, spring always follows winter and new life breaks through again.  This is what I needed to focus on.

Emilie's anniversary arrived and Samuel made his sister a card.  He used gallons of glue and seemlingly hundreds of tiny pom poms and sparkles.  I made a cake full of choclate and caramel and we lit a candle.  On the day itself we spent the day together riding steam trains, having lunch and exploring.  We went down to the beach for a walk, had a lovely family meal and lit sky lanterns.  We celebrated her life and talked about her.  We shared memories of the pregnancy and warm memories of friends supporting us since her death.  We made wonderful memories together.

We returned home rested and ready to move forwards.  The pain was still there but our capacity had definitely increased and that was something that I had learnt in our time away.  I was learning that I needed to come to terms with the fact that I might never have another baby of my own; I might never know what it is like to hold my own newborn baby without the wires that surrounded Sam and the silence that engulfed Emilie.  I was trying to come to terms with the fact that my path - the plan God had for me - might be different to the plan I had for myself and I needed to trust him in what he was doing.  I had spent the past year (and much longer) comparing myself with other people.  With other mothers.  I had wanted what they had to the point that I had begun to lose sight of what I had, of my gifts and of how far I had come.  I had given everything over to God after my second miscarriage and I needed to learn to trust him.  We were a couple of weeks away from our foster training and so far the paper work side of things had been surprisingly smooth.  This was where we were going.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Shot Down

With this, our fourth pregnancy, I did not feel a sense of elation. Of course, I was happy that the treatment had worked but I was so filled with fear and anxiety.  I was waiting for the joy to come but it didn't and I couldn't see past the possibility that I might lose another baby.   I envied women who's biggest worry was making it to the 12 week scan.  I knew, for me, that the 12 week scan was just the start of things and I couldn't allow myself to see past this for fear of being let down.  At the same time, however, inspite of this self preservation, I also couldn't bear the thought of losing another baby. 

Samuel was about to start preschool 5 afternoons a week and I was looking forward to our upcoming foster training, registration and the parenting course training.  These things were very welcome distractions at the time as I was not only dealing with the pregnancy, but we were also approaching Emiliie's first birthday.  Her first anniversary.  I had so many feelings relating to this anniversary and was surprised at how much it affected me.  I could feel the mist descending over me as the anniversary approached and found it incredibly difficult to separate my feelings of anxiety relating to the pregnancy and my feelings of grief relating to Emilie's anniversary.

When I was six weeks pregnant I dropped Sam off at nursery and returned home for the afterrnoon.  I had been feeling pretty groggy all day and was experiencing cramps.  As I have mentioned before, I had no idea what was normal and what wasn't.  I knew that I had experienced cramping with both Samuel and Emilie but this seemed so long ago that I couldn't remember the feeling.  On returning home I went to the toilet and immedietly realised that I was bleeding.

This time I attended hospital on my own as I felt it was important for John to pick Sam up from school. He would drop him at Faye's house after picking him up but I had the initial wait in the waiting room, triage and the initial examination on my own.  As ever, the nurses were fantastic. They held my hand, hugged me, made me cups of tea and did everything they could to comfort me.  I was even touched to see how emotional the triage nurse was when she asked 'is this your first pregnancy?' I explained that it was my fourth pregnancy and started crying.  When she asked how many living children I had and I explained that we had Sam, that Emilie had been stillborn and now we were struggling with infertility and loss I noticed that her eyes filled up.  She will never know how much this gesture of compassion meant to me.

By the time I came out of triage I could barely walk because I was in so much pain.  Unlike my last miscarriage where the outcome had been uncertain, an examination this time revealed that my cervix was open and that there was a lot of blood. My urine sample had also been tested and my pregnancy hormone levels were incredibly low.  There was no doubt in anyone's mind that I was miscarrying again.  The pain this time was a concern though and my blood pressure was dangerously high again.   For this reason they were talking about admitting me and were questioning whether it might be an ectopic pregnancy.  The only way to confirm it was through an ultra sound and the onlly ultra sound available at the time was downstairs in antenatal.

At this point John still hadn't arrived and I was starting to panic.  I begged the nurse not to let me go downstiars to antenatal on my own so she agreed to come with me.  I tried again to call John but my phone wasn't connecting.  I sent him a text message to explain where to meet me and walked out with the nurse.  I was trying hard to stay calm but could feel the familiar tight chestnedness and shortness of breath creeping up on me.  The nurse held my arm to steady me and led me towards the lift. Had I not been in so much pain I would have asked to have been taken down the stairs.  The lift arrived and the doors opened. We stepped inside and were greeted by a family bringing their new baby home in a car seat.  They were holding balloons, presents and cards and were beyond happy.  I couldn't take my eyes off them and tried to breathe slowly so that I didn't hyperventalite.  The nurse kept her arm around me the whole time.  

I stepped out of the lift where John was waiting and the nurse led us down to the scan room.  As soon as I stepped through the doors to the antenatal unit I completely lost control of my breathing and descended into a full blown panic attack.  I could see through the double doors to where women were sat in the waiting room holding their stomachs and cooing over scan pictures.  I felt as if I couldnt physically push the door open to walk through it.  Nothing in me wanted to sit in the waiting room and I turned to the nurse, begging her to let me go somewhere else to wait.   I completely lost control of my actions and started shouting at John and at the nurse that I couldn't go in the waiting room.  I couldn't sit in there waiting for another scan to confirm that another baby had died.

The nurse spoke to the receptionists and gently led us down the corridor to a scanning room.  She told us she would be waiting outside.  John helped me climb up on to the bed and the sonographer, not fully knowing what she was dealing with, started to scan me.  She was silent for a while before confirming that she could see a gestation sac and that I was showing to be 5 - 6 weeks pregnant.  I tried to explain that I was 7 - 8 weeks and she tried to reassure me telling me that maybe I had my dates wrong.  If only she knew how wrong she was; how there was no chance I could have my dates wrong due to having had IUI.  I then asked her if there was a heart beat.  She shook her head; 'no heart beat but it's not ectopic'.

The panic stopped as soon as I realised that the pregnancy wasn't ectopic and, unlike my last miscarriage, there was no doubt that we had lost our baby.  As we left the scanning room and returned upstairs to the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit, I said to John 'I can't do this again' and he agreed.  We sat down back in the treatment room in silence, both of us shocked once more at what had happened.  As we sat in the silence I found myself praying.  I prayed that God would take the desire to have a baby away from me and that the pain would be lessened.  I prayed that we would both find some peace in the situation and, for the first time, I truly handed the situation over to God.  I told him that I didn't want it any more and that I would stop trying to control things.  I wanted to move on.  As I prayed, and sat in the silence, a huge sense of calm and clarity washed over me.  The panic left immedietly, as did the anxiety and sense of dread.  And I was left with simple grief.

We had the obligitary week long wait before returning to the hospital to check that the miscarriage was over.  I knew that I had lost the baby a couple of days previous to this and the bleeding had stopped.  Once again my consultant scanned me and once again sorrow filled her face.  'Yes', she said 'your uterus is empty.  I'm so sorry, Claire'.  I explained that I knew, that I accepted it and that we were ready to move on.  I got down from the bed and we sat down with her and chatted for a while.  We chatted about the fostering and she was delighted.  We talked about Sam and about how well he was doing.  He sat on John's knee, tired from nursery, and she looked at him with a real affection.  Our miracle boy.  She explained that she was going to refer me to a specialist in early miscarriage and I would also be referred to a gynaecologist to find out how to deal with my polycystic ovarian syndrome.  If we decided to try for another baby we would be seen by the early miscarriage specialist before being referred back to her after 20 weeks.  I was touched that she had faith in us not to give up but at the same time I was certain that I needed a break.  The only things that mattered to me from that point were John, Samuel and the upcoming foster training.