Thursday, 6 March 2014

Pain and Panic Attacks

Once Emilie's funeral was over there was an initial release as the limbo state we had been in was over.  But following the release we were plunged deeper into grief.  The funeral had given us something to focus on and something to move towards and once it was over we had nothing to replace it with.  John had still not returned to work but his return was moving closer and I was all too aware of my lack of job, and therefore (as I felt at the time) my lack of purpose.  A few weeks previous I had felt like I knew exactly where I was going.  I had finished work early to rest but knew it was temporary.  My plan was always to spend time with Sam and Emilie being a stay at home mum until she was a couple of years old at which point I planned to continue my career in childcare.  And now here I was jobless having suspended my business with no direction.  The rug had well and truly been pulled from under our feet.  
My blog, at that time, read:

13th October 2011

I feel like I’m really struggling.  I miss Emilie so much – I will be ok for a couple of hours and then my chest seizes up as if my heart is physically aching for her and the panicky feeling comes back.  I’m physically and emotionally exhausted from not sleeping and spending hours crying. I find myself staring at people with young babies and panicking when I see a pram.  I know that they are doing the things that I should be doing and am finding this incredibly painful.  I keep thinking about all of the milestones we’ll never have with Emilie – her first smile, weaning her, learning to sit up and learning to walk.  I can’t bear the thought that these are all things we won’t get to see.  

I had started to go back to toddler groups with my friends, initially with John's support and eventually by myself, but I was always in a strange, subdued state.  The world carried on around me and I felt like an observer in my own life.  I almost had the sensation of being under water - when all senses are dulled but you can vaguely hear people calling your name and talking about you.  Sam and his friends would run around as normal and I would watch them, in a daze.  My amazing friends - the same friends I had met when I had Sam - stuck by my side and ensured that I wasn't left alone.  The panic attacks I was having were becoming much more common but now, instead of taking me unawares they would be always present, just below the surface pushing down on my chest and suffocating me.  They would lie dormant rendering me unable to eat or sleep, unable to have a conversation without hearing a ringing in my ears and sensing how unreal the situation was, and unable to breathe deeply.  And then they would surface.  I would see a pram or a baby carrier, see new born baby or a pregnant woman or hear the cry of a baby and the panic would be unleashed.  I needed to try and learn to contain it.  I quickly learnt that, although seeing any pregnant woman or baby was painful, seeing a woman or baby whom I didn't know and had no relationship with was more than I could bear.  I didn't know their story and often they didn't know mine.  I envied them so much and desperately wanted to tell them how lucky they were.  I struggled to walk past them in supermarkets or cafes without feeling like I wanted to be sick.  Thank goodness people were still cooking meals for us as for weeks on end I became unable to go to the supermarket!  After a few weeks the panic was ruling my life and I became unable to function. I had lost weight - very quickly and very obviously.  My eyes were tired, my face was gaunt and my skin was pale.  I knew that people were becoming increasingly worried about me but I physically could not eat or sleep.  It didn't take long for this to become a habit and it was difficult to see where the inability to sleep and eat through grief ended and the habit started.  It was at this point that my GP suggested I start taking antidepressants in order to help me function more on a day to day basis.  The type of anti depressants I was taking would not work instantly but instead would take a month or so to build up in my system.  In the meantime (and in the time following) I continued to have counselling sessions with Carol, who had been with us on the day that Emilie died.  

I was continuing to read books that spoke about overcoming grief and losing a baby/child and was asking God to speak to me about what was happening.  I knew that I blamed myself for everything that had happened.  I was expecting the results of the pathology report to throw up something that would indicate I was to blame and knew that I'd have to pay the price.  I would rack my brains to think about what I might move done and would obsess about what I could have done differently; should I have eaten that?  Should I have taken Sam to soft play? Should I have gone to the hospital earlier?  Should I have slept in that position?  Should I have gone swimming the week before her death?  Should I have taken those baths?  Did I take the medication to prevent clotting properly?  Had I taken it at the wrong time of day??  The questions went over and over in my mind and I begged God to tell me why it had happened.  Why had he allowed it?  The only thing I knew is that I wouldn't know the reason this side of heaven and blaming myself for the rest of my life would be a very long, painful and possibly futile process.  That said, it took me a very long time to stop blaming myself and there are still days when the thoughts of self blame cross my mind.  I was reading a book one evening and read a passage that talked about God having a purpose for each and every one of us.  It was written by a lady who's baby had died of a congenital disorder and had been stillborn at the same gestation as Emilie.   She was talking about the purpose that her daughter had had in her 7 month life.  ('Wonderfully Made' by Jaclyn M. Olson).  I was absolutely blown away by what she had written and begged God to show me what Emilie's purpose had been.  I knew that the  Bible says that God ‘will fulfil his purpose for me’ (Psalm 138:8) and that this applies to Emilie also – that her short life was not a waste or in vain and that she did have a purpose.  That I didn't know what her purpose was at that time was no obstacle to God and he reminded me that he has a plan for me to prosper me, and NOT TO HARM ME – to bring me HOPE and a future.  I needed to keep clinging to this, especially when the doubts crept in.  At that time I also began to realise that the voice I’d heard accusing me of doing something to harm Emilie was NOT God's voice and that I needed to learn to hear and recognise his voice more.  I learnt that nothing can happen without God’s knowledge and permission... 29 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin[a]? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows" (Matt 10: 29 – 31).   I knew that I needed to cling to this and decided to wait to find out how God would use what had happened for good.  

The weeks seemed to go by in a hazy fashion and there is alot that I can't remember about those first few weeks after Emilie's death.  We were trying to work out what our lives looked like; what the 'new normal' was.  The medication I was on was beginning to work and, although still present, the panicky feeling I had become so used to was getting less suffocating.  I would still cry myself to sleep at night though and would put Sam to bed for his lunchtime nap and sit in a daze not knowing what to do with myself.  I began to watch TV box sets whilst Sam slept to keep my mind in some way occupied but looking back I can't remember anything of what I watched.  I would often arrange for friends to come round for coffee whilst Sam was asleep and would try to engage in 'normal' conversation but, as my mind was filled with thoughts of Emilie, this was something that I found incredibly difficult to do.

The day that Emilie had died had been a blur of trauma and confusion.  The only item we had kept of hers after her death was the pink and grey striped sleep suit that she had worn.  Before the funeral I had woken up in a panic that the funeral directors would have thrown it away and asked John to call to check.  They confirmed that they still had the sleep suit and her Princess dress and I asked John to go down to get it.  I wanted her to wear her dress so that we could remember her as a Princess but I was desperate to retrieve the sleep suit.  Grief is a funny thing.  It completely disables you and renders you incapable, not only to complete every day tasks, but also to think clearly with perspective for the future.  We were unable to think about what we might want to keep of Emilie's and this was something that, apart from being given the memory box, was not really spoken about at the time of her death.  I look back and wonder what, if I was in my right mind, I'd have kept.  Maybe the blanket she was wrapped in?   Certainly the wrist band she wore from the hospital.  Instead, the only material things we had to prove she existed was her sleep suit and her hand and footprints.  I longed for something physical to hold.  I didn't want to hold the sleep suit too much as it smelt as I had remembered her smelling and I didn't want to lose that scent.  I couldn't hold the hand and footprints.  I longed for something to show people - to say 'this was my daughters' or to enable them to raise the subject in conversation. 

 The week of the funeral, while John was still off work, I decided that I wanted to go along to 'Sticky Fingers' - the toddler group run by my church.  I wanted to try and get back some sense of normality and also wanted to see people before the funeral so that the funeral wasn't the first time I would have seen them since Emilie's death.  It just so happened that on that particular day Jemma, the leader of Sticky Fingers, had met a lady who made silver hand and footprint jewellery.  Jemma had felt really compelled to invite the lady along to the toddler group that morning and had shared my story with her, asking if she would be able to make me a piece of jeweller with Emilie's prints on it.  Jemma sensitively spoke to me that morning.  Through chatting, I explained that we didn't have anything physical to remember Emilie by and how much this was upsetting me.  She then relayed her conversation with Sarah, the jewellery designer, and asked if I would like a piece of jewellery making as a gift.  I remember the feeling of complete numbness that I was still experiencing at that time.  I had worked to put on a front that morning so that I could get through the group and I wasn't willing to let anything break down that front but the thought of owning something that represented Emilie overwhelmed me.  I have never been able to express how grateful I am for my necklace but remember that 3 weeks later when I picked it up and was able to wear it, feeling a huge sense of relief at being able to prove Emilie had existed.  I loved wearing something that people would notice and could ask me about.  I often say that the necklace is my most treasured material possession - I know that it is the material thing I would save if my house was on fire!

As the weeks drew by, Faye's due date was getting closer and I was so scared that she would want to stop seeing me once the baby was born.  It was a fear that was borne out of reactions from other people who did not know how to deal with the situation.  I sometimes wonder, had the situation been reversed, would I have known how to deal with things?  I learnt that my friends were grieving as I was and the pain was incredibly difficult for them to deal with.  I learnt that it was painful for them to see us in the situation that we were in and that this pain was even more amplified when they had young babies and no one knew what to say or do.  I couldn't bring myself to talk to Faye about how I was feeling incase she turned around and told me that actually yes - she did need some space from my pain.  Each time I saw her I worried that our friendship may come to an end as she wouldn't want to see me once her baby boy was born.  Eventually I met with another good friend, Sally - a very close friend of Faye's, for lunch and spoke to her about it.  Sally's mum had died a couple of years previously and she was one of the only friends I had who had experienced huge grief and wasn't scared of it.  We spoke about the way I was feeling about certain things and she assured me that it was completely normal.  I also spoke to her about my fears concerning Faye.  I remember her reaction - it wasn't one of surprise of ridicule and she simply said 'Faye loves you'.  She helped me to understand that Faye had also experienced loss in the situation - we had both been pregnant together and had looked forward to our children being friends and growing up together.  We had looked forward to attending baby groups together and doing the whole 'baby thing' as friends.  In a similar way to me adjusting to losing all of these things, she was also needing to adjust to losing the idea of us having babies the same age.  I decided to speak to her before our due dates arrived as I knew that once her baby was born he could become the perfect excuse for me not to deal with my fears.  As our due dates drew closer I asked Faye if she would help me clear out Emilie's wardrobe.  We sat on Emilie's bedroom floor folding tiny baby clothes to put away in boxes and I spoke to her about my fears.  I explained that, although I knew that it would be hard when their baby was born, I didn't want her to try and protect me from him.  I wanted to still be able to be a part of his life and I didn't want to be robbed from that opportunity in addition to what I had already been robbed of.  The morning after Jasper was born, Faye and Mark arrived on the doorstep.  Faye said that she wanted to give me the opportunity to meet him without other people being around.  They brought him into the house in his car seat and I was immediately struck by how beautiful - and how alive - he was.  I was also struck by the fact the he wasn't Emilie.  This sounds like a strange thing to say now but it was a huge thing for me, at the time, to be able to separate Jasper from my own baby and from my own desires.  He was his own little person and meeting him was a special moment.  It didn't induce any feelings of panic or any floods of tears, only appreciation for our friends and a desire to be a part of Jasper's life as much as we could.

Just before my due date arrived we had our debrief appointment at the hospital with my consultant.  It was the first time we had returned there since the day we went to register Emilie's death and as we drove into the car park that familiar feeling of panic and dread started to rise up in my chest.  We walked down to the fetal medical unit and the walls seemed to spin around me.  I felt physically sick and the thought that I should still be attending clinic there, being monitored before Emilie's delivery, struck me hard as we waited to find out the cause of her death.

We sat in a side consulting room and waited.  My post natal midwife, Angela, had kindly agreed to come with us so that we would have an extra listening ear.  Our consultant, and a haematologist, came in and sat down.  I remember trying to take deep breaths so that I wouldn't break down.  My consultant started by asking how we were, at which point I started to cry.  I couldn't speak so simply shook my head.  She emphasised that we had suffered a huge loss and bereavement and did not at any point belittle our feelings.  She noticed my footprint necklace and commented on how special and beautiful it was.  She then  began to go through the pathology report with us.  The problems I had had with Sam had recurred but to a more severe extent.  The onset had been very sudden, the reason for which was unknown  and I had also suffered a placental abruption in which the lining of the placenta had become detached from the lining of my uterus causing the oxygen supply to Emilie to be suddenly cut off.  There was no way she could have survived and I was also incredibly lucky as pre-eclampsia and placental abruption can claim the life of the mother in addition to the baby.   I began to ask questions - had I been overdoing things?  Had I been sleeping in a poor position?  Could I have prevented it.  My consultant reassured me that there was nothing I had done to cause Emilie's death - something I really needed to hear.  We were desperate to start trying for another baby; I couldn't think of anything else.  We were relieved to hear that we would be able to try for another baby and an action plan was put in place for future pregnancies.  I would be 'booked into' the hospital very early and would have a scan by 7 weeks.  I would take folic acid in preparation, aspirin as soon as I had a positive pregnancy test and fragmin injections when the pregnancy was confirmed as viable at the 7 week scan.  Miscarriage didn't even enter my mind.  We left the hospital encouraged that a reason had been found for Emilie's death and pleased that we could try for another baby.  It was 7th November and I was convinced that I would be pregnant by Christmas.

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