Thursday, 6 March 2014

The New Normal

Emilie's due date - 23rd November - arrived.  I didn't sleep well the night before; I dreamt that the whole experience had been a terrible nightmare and that I would wake up to find that I was still pregnant and waiting for contractions to start.  Instead, when I woke, the stark reality hit me once again.  Our daughter had died and this was the day I had been dreading - the day that she should have been born.  The only thing that lifted my mood slightly was the arrival of my period 2 days previous.  I fresh start - the knowledge that we may be able to conceive soon.

We had planned a family day.  We took Samuel over to North Wales to see, and ride on, a miniature railway and to visit a railway museum with model railways.  Sam absolutely loved it.  He was amazed by the tiny little trains that he could operate with the push of a button and watch them speeding around the track.  I stood watching him take in everything around him and tried to control the palpitations and tight chestedness I was feeling through breathing exercises.  I was vaguely aware of the whistling in my ear that told me that my stress levels were high.  I tried to push down these feelings for Sam's sake so that we could enjoy the day together.

Afterhe train fun we went to a small cafe for hot chocolate.  We sat tucked around a corner so that we were away from the hustle and bustle and found ourselves sitting next to a couple with twins who were under 1.  I looked at them longingly as the sat being fed in their highchairs.  I was desperate to tell their parents how lucky they were and begun to imagine what it would be like to have twins.  I longed to hold one baby and they had two.  I remember trying to reason with myself that I didn't know them or their situation and that I needed to try to control my jealousy towards them.  I returned my attention to my hot chocolate before nothing the woman stand up in the corner of my eye.  As she stood to reach across to one of her twins I noticed that she was heavily pregnant.  I chocked back tears and gulped down my hot chocolate hoping that we could leave the cafe as quickly as possible.  We drove home exhausted - relieved that the day was over and that Sam had had a good time and at the same time full of grief that we had come full circle.  It was over.  The pregnancy had ended, we'd received the test results and now Emilie's due date was over and done with.  We needed to try and move forward and establish the 'new normal' as well as we could.

Life continued to plod on and we became acutely aware of the inexorable passing of time as we watched lives progress around us whilst we remained stuck in our grief limbo.  I started to get out and about more to toddler groups with friends and to their houses.  There would be some days where I would simply need to sit in my own world whilst Samuel and my friends children played around me, me being stirred every now and then by questions or requests.  Other days I would feel more able to engage in conversations although still struggled with talking about anything remotely normal.  Our daughter had died and life would never be normal again.  Making smalltalk, reading books, engaging in normal conversation and watching TV seemed to be things that I had lost the ability to do.  Everything seemed so trivial to me. Thankfully my friends were patient and allowed me to talk about my feelings and Emilie as much as I needed to.  It was obvious that this made some people uncomfortable, however, and conversations would not flow easily, relationships becoming superficial and surface level - something that we couldn't contend with at the time - and unfortunately a number of relationships did break down.  I have heard other people who have experienced such grief describe the same problems.  I learnt that grief, like joy, is something that needs to be shared.

As the year wore on, Christmas decorations and the joy of the Christmas season filled the world around us.  It filled shops, houses, pubs, streets, schools, church and people's lives.  It suffocated me.  I couldn't see Christmas decorations in shops and smell the sickly cinnamon air without feeling a wave of panic engulf me.  I couldn't escape from the knowledge that this should have been Emilie's first Christmas.  I felt that the decorations and displays were mocking me.  I couldn't even bear to buy wrapping paper.  Thankfully, Sam's present and our nephews and friends' childrens' presents had already been purchased prior to Emilie's death but everyone else received vouchers that Christmas. They were very understanding.  We hadn't made any concrete plans for Christmas, knowing that Emilie would have been so young, and instead were going to see how we were getting on closer to the time.  

Following her death we struggled with the idea of seeing family for Christmas as we didn't feel we, or any other of our family, would be able to escape the grief and we needed to feel comfortable with grieving on the day.  When we made this decision another plan was made that we were comfortable with, however, the day drew closer it became apparent that that plan was not suitable and our Christmas plans fell through the week before Christmas.  We were devastated.  We began to look at last minute holidays for the three of us for Christmas and panicked about what to do.  The two of us would have happily by passed Christmas but wanted to celebrate for Sam's sake. Father Christmas still had to come and we desperately wanted him to enjoy the day.  We did not have the capacity to decide what to do and sunk deeper into our despair.  And then, days before Christmas, the phone rang.  Some friends of ours, John and Kirsten, had planned to spend Christmas Day with John's twin brother and his family - with whom we were also friends.  They had spoken to each other and invited us to spend Christmas Day with them and their children.  Even now it makes me emotional to think about this.  We were to  spend Christmas Day with wonderful friends whilst Sam got to wreak Christmas havoc with some of his closest friends!  And so we had something to look forward to.

On 14th December, Faye and Mark's son, Jasper, was born.  Faye was two weeks past her due date and I was becoming a nervous wreck for her.   I wanted him to be born; to know he was safe, sound and healthy. I carried on seeing her in those two weeks and tried my best to hide my anxieties - but I'm certain I wasn't successful!  And then, whilst round at a friend's house where I didn't need to hide my feelings, a text message came through to announce his birth.  I had prepared myself for that moment for weeks and had gone through all possible emotions in my mind.  But when it came to it - apart from a nagging sensation of grief and pain that lingered constantly anyway - the main thing I felt was relief.  Relief that Jasper and Faye were healthy.  Later that evening it struck me.  The feeling wasn't jealousy or resentment, it was the old fear that Faye wouldn't want to be part of my life.  I began to worry that Faye would not want Jasper near me. That I was a bad omen of sorts - that my grief would overwhelm her and she would simply want to dwell on her own gains.  I was terrified of losing my friend and of losing a child who I had looked forward to meeting.  I spent the evening in a sense of panic.  The following morning the doorbell rang after we had dropped Samuel off at playgroup.  We weren't expecting anybody so I took a deep breath before opening the door.  Standing there were Faye and Mark.  I fought back the tears and gave her a hug whilst she apologised for being 'off the radar' the past day.  I marvelled at how well my friend knew me - how she had anticipated and acknowledged my fears and accounted for her (unavoidable) absence from phone contact!  She told me that I should feel free to ask her to go home but that she had brought Jasper to meet me and wanted to give me the opportunity to meet him on my own without the added pressure of putting on a brave face in public or in a group.  Her sensitivity overwhelmed me and I opened the door as they got Jasper out of the car.  They sat him on our kitchen table in his car seat and I marvelled at his size.  His head was covered by a hood and his hands and feel obscured and hidden by the sleeves of his coat and feet of his baby grow.  He sat curled up in his car seat trying desperately hard to retain the fetal position as the safety straps held him in place.  For the 9 weeks since Emilie's death I had barely been able to look at a pram - let alone a less than day old baby - and yet here he was, sitting on my kitchen table and I couldn't take my eyes off him.  I touched his coat and reached for his tiny hand inside the sleeve, sighing as he grasped my finger.  I waited for the inevitable panic attack but it didn't come.  John came in and we caught up with Faye and Mark, hearing about the experience of Faye's labour, Jasper's birth and how close Faye was to delivering him before reaching the delivery suite.  We knew that they had no expectations of us and were happy to let us take things at our own pace.  I had passed a huge hurdle; I had looked at and touched a newborn baby and I hadn't spontaneously combusted in the process.

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