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.
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.