I'm only 39 years old but when I look back on my life I see more than my fair share of chapters on loss. A counsellor once said to me that it must be so hard re-inventing yourself and learning to adjust to yet another new 'normal'. It is.
On Mother's Day two years ago I was walking in the Spring sunshine through my local cemetery, I was crying for my mother and my baby son. I felt angry, heartbroken and lonely. It was at that moment I finally realised that the universe was trying to tell me something. Quite simply instead of fighting against my grief I should use what I have experienced to help others. I am motherless, childless, divorced and now I battle with unexplained infertility. I think I can confidently say I know a bit about loss. So...
In the Spring sunshine that day I decided to set up my own charity called Aching Arms.
Aching Arms is a baby loss charity. Our aim is to support the mental health needs of bereaved mothers by providing them with a teddy bear as a comforter to hold in times of distress and loneliness.
This ache is not an imagined feeling. It is real and it can be frightening. My baby was diagnosed with a fatal condition at my 21 week anomaly scan. He died soon after and I delivered him by an induced natural labour at 23 weeks. My heart shattered into a million pieces that day. We named our son James, held him, touched him and talked to him. As he was our first baby we marvelled at the perfect little boy our love had created but we would never see him grow, never see him smile or laugh and he would never know us, his mummy and daddy. The devastation is hard to put into words. This was a loss like no other I had faced. Within days of coming home without my baby, my arms ached to hold him. I had crazy dreams of cradling pets and people, I clung to cushions and my partner to satisfy this upsetting urge, I didn't know what to do with my arms. When a friend gave me a beautiful soft throw rug, I found I could finally get to sleep if I cuddled it. It brought a little comfort.
In an effort to get help and support I found an Australian charity called Bears of Hope. They are a big charity but were started by two friends who had, like me lost their much wanted babies. Bears of Hope ask midwives to give out teddy bears to mothers who have lost their baby during pregnancy, labour or soon after. The teddy bear is given as acknowledgement of the loss and is dedicated in memory of another baby who has died. I finally realised I wasn't going crazy and the urge I had to cradle something was normal. I needed a teddy bear to hold.
I tried to find out if there were any charities here in the UK doing a similar thing and when my search found nothing I wondered if I could set it up myself. But, I was still grieving so intensely I wasn't sure it was something I could do on my own. I knew I wanted to make my son's brief life mean something. Some people, including some members of my family wish I would forget about James and move on, but it just isn't that simple. I am a mother, I nurtured my baby for 23 weeks, I loved him and dreamed of a future caring for him, playing with him and teaching him. I never expected to lose him. How do I just stop loving him and pretend his life didn't matter to me? It is not possible.
A year after losing James I felt I was just 'existing'. I was back at work, I was a functioning member of society on the surface, but my arms ached, my heart was shattered, a deep core of sadness ran through my soul, work seemed pointless and many friends just drifted away busy with their own children. Life seemed pointless, until...
Mother's Day 2010. I posted my idea on the ARC online forum. It had become my life line and the charity helped my partner and I survive those darkest of days. Within 2 days of posting my idea about Aching Arms, my inbox had 25 messages from other bereaved mother urging me to do it. I had offers of help and support. It was amazing! I met one mum, who lived locally to me and she said 'let's do it'. She was put in charge of fundraising. Another mum said she would build a website, another is a journalist and would do all the media and help with PR, another started buying teddy bears and posting them to me and another started researching ribbons. We were underway.
Finally, I was living again, not just existing.
Bears of Hope gave me their blessing and in just 2 years Aching Arms is growing stronger every day. If you visit our website www.achingarms.co.uk you can read more about us. We all do the charity work in our spare time but hope one day to have enough funding to at least work part-time for our charity. We have recently delivered our first training session to midwives, it was really well received and we hope to do more of this work.
I will always be a bereaved mother, I can't change that. I will always miss my son, I can't change that. I will always talk about my son, no one can stop me. Breaking the taboo of baby loss is so important.
The only way to cope with loss is to talk to others who will listen. No words will make it better, but silence makes it worse.
If you, or someone you love, has experienced the loss of a much wanted baby, please make a donation and we will send them an Aching Arms teddy to hold. It will help them feel less alone, and will bring a little comfort to their aching arms.
Peace and comfort,
Charity no. XT25650