Saturday, 30 March 2013

James: Grief, The Bully

James writes on his own blog following the stillbirth of his son Ethan on New Year's Day 2012. Father's Grief is a beautiful, poignant blog that documents the journey of a bereaved parent following the death of a much-wanted child.

Not being content with taking your child, Death leaves behind grief to bully the bereaved. He continually marvels at the crown of sorrow and despair that he fashioned and exchanged for your child; this crown is grief.

Like all bullies, grief has a weakness. Death arrogantly assumes that bereaved parents will continue to wear his crown and suffer grief for the rest of their days. Bullies hate it when their victim doesn't react to provocation and they eventually give up.

Personally, I lost patience with grief some months ago whilst struggling through its stages. I gradually recognised which triggers I found particularly upsetting; many events that once triggered sorrowful regret no longer upset me.

New born baby boys will always remind me that Ethan died. We continue to hoard the baby clothes that our two eldest sons wore. The sight of these clothes that should have been Ethan's remind me that the only clothes he wore became his shroud.  I continue to recognise and acknowledge such triggers, though they now spark acceptance rather than despair.

I remain continually surprised at grief’s inventiveness as it attempts to embrace in the most unlikely of places, in a bid to reopen the wounds which he inflicted. One of grief’s sporadic appearances came on a Glasgow bus that I take daily, without incident; perhaps that is why grief decided to use this vehicle to creep up. A woman entered the bus. She was holding an empty baby car seat.

There was a time that I couldn't have coped with the sight of a vacant baby car seat, let alone have one placed beside me. I would have regarded this as a personal assault on my fragile emotions. I would have thought the woman was using the car seat to a remind me that Ethan did not leave the hospital in the family car; he only ever rode around the streets of Glasgow in a hearse.

However, on this day, I recognised the situation for what it was. A woman simply got on the bus with a car seat; it was not my business to know why.

Despite this personal victory, the war against grief is never truly won. Several victories can be recorded, but the inventiveness of grief is immeasurable. Like most bullies who have been vanquished, the fear of its return to reopen healed wounds can continue to haunt the bereaved.

Moving through the various stages of grief, triggers that instil sorrow can be recognised and conquered.  Eventually the bereaved begin to recognise grief’s continual mocking and choose their own path. When this happens, grief eventually fades to a scar that is bearable and can be worn with a quiet determination - a determination that a life can be rebuilt after the loss of a child. You never forget your child, you never stop loving them, but you learn to accept that they are no longer with you until you meet again.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Claire: Guilt

Yesterday I sat and chatted with a dear family friend who suffered the loss of twins more than 45 years ago. As we chatted about our losses, it occurred to me that parents of lost babies suffer from a huge amount of guilt.

We both talked about how we had, at times, questioned whether something we had done had caused the death of our babies. She told me that the day before she had given birth to her twins she had stood on a low stool while her husband pinned up a maternity dress in readiness for alteration. After her babies had died a week later, and despite not even falling or stumbling off the stool a week prior, she had wondered whether this action could have led to their premature birth. I was saddened to see her eyes well with tears as she recalled her losses all these years on.

I remember accepting gifts for my Laura before she was born and irrationally wondered after she died had I jinxed her by doing so. The weeks after she died as we packed away all the baby clothes we had prepared for her, I wondered whether we had been too sure that she would have been fine, whether we had somehow been overconfident of her arrival. Ultimately, I wondered whether, in some way, I had let her down.

My daughter Laura was born with a congenital defect that would have been caused in around week 5 of pregnancy, in all likelihood before I even knew I was pregnant. I’m not a smoker, not a heavy drinker or drug user. I eat well and am pretty healthy and I’m in a good strong and happy relationship. I’ve been assured that nothing I could have done or not done could have influenced how this defect formed. Medical professionals still don’t know why this anomaly (present in approximately 1 in every 3500 babies) happens. Yet, still I wonder whether it was something I did wrong.

We torture ourselves with guilt, possibly because we care so much about our responsibility at becoming parents. Being an older mum, I worried a lot. I worried from before I did the pregnancy test. I worried through all the horrendous sickness. I worried right up to the 12 week scan. I worried all the way through the 20 week anomaly scan (and afterwards) and right up until my daughter was found to be breech. I worried about having a C section, I worried about everything, but in the end all my worrying could not alter what eventually happened to my beautiful little baby, who died aged 2 days old on the operating table during surgery to correct her oesophageal atresia.

My husband is thankfully a very rational, practical and positive man. Without his reassurance I am sure I could easily descend into a pit of guilt, which is such an unhealthy emotion. When I begin to head down that road again he pulls me up (sometimes harshly), and reminds me that “it just happened”. I guess this is part of acceptance. I truly struggle with accepting that Laura is gone, but I have to admit that it is true. The best thing that I can do for Laura now is to talk about her as my much loved daughter and keep her memory alive.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Dr Joanne Cacciatore: Bereaved Mothers: The hardest job of all

With Mother's Day on 10th March (UK) just past us, Dr Joanne Cacciatore of the Centre for Loss and Trauma has kindly allowed us to publish the following post from her blog, which was written just prior to Mother's Day 2012. Thank you Joanne for allowing us to publish such a beautiful post. I am sure it is one with which many bereaved parents will identify. We hope you all had a peaceful and gentle Mother's Day.

It's almost Mother's Day of 2012.

A day for mothers. Tall mothers, short mothers, dark-skinned mothers, fair-skinned mothers, funny mothers, serious mothers, mothers with blonde hair and dark hair, curly and straight. Mothers who are emotional and nurturing and mothers who are an Aurelian-brand of stoic.

Mothers of living children and mothers of dead children.

There is nothing more painful in this world than facing day after endless day without your child in it. What could possibly be harder? Everything is changed- colors, textures, sounds, feelings. Us. We are changed.

Bereaved mothers look into the mirror and face a stranger. Who is this woman now? This woman without her child? How will she make it through this day, this hour, this moment?

The truth about being a bereaved mother is that it is exhausting. We cry until our tears become leather. Night after night, we beg God or Jehovah or Yahweh or Allah or Mother Earth for just one more day with our children. We cannot find our keys or our toothbrush or our parked car or our hearts. We strive to uncover the "why" but there are no good answers to those countless questions which taunt us and eventually collect webs in the backs of our minds.

And bereaved motherhood comes with many more sleepless nights than one could imagine as our arms burn to hold our children, our eyes cry out to see them, our ears mislead us toward voices which do not exist, and our legs carry us, repeatedly, toward their empty, lonely rooms.

No, being a mother to a child who died is no easy burden. It is the hardest job of all.

Our lives are a unique juxtaposition between two worlds, life and death and between two states of being: incredible, immeasurable sadness balanced against the will and pressure to live again and find joy.

It is a world where we often have to defend the dignity of our dead, protect their memory, and advocate for our right to feel…

It is a world where we go to bed at night secretly wishing we wouldn't awaken. It is a world where primal mourning takes over our bodies and our hearts feel as if they've been systematically excavated leaving a gaping, open wound in our core. It is a world where we are judged for our tears, and where we fear for the lives of those we love with an unfamiliar panic. It is a world of searching and yearning and pining for far longer than the world would allow, and incessantly seeking reminders of our children in the eyes of other children for a glimpse into what-should-have-been.

It's a wretched and indescribable longing which so many cannot begin to comprehend because they tuck their own children into bed at night, and they hug all their children on Mother's Day, and they are utterly, thankfully ignorant of this experience.

Nothing quenches the longing in our hearts for our children who died. Nothing. And this is how it should be. The place in our hearts- the one which belongs to our beloved child- is theirs and theirs alone. Our duty is to honor that place, to keep it free from detritus and from absorbing the hate of the world.  Our duty is to remember them so their place in our lives is one of beauty, a beauty beyond the material.

Our duty is to love them boldly, wildly, with every part of our being, and to carry their spirit into the world.

This Sunday is a day for mothers. All mothers. So please, this year, remember that bereaved mothers are part of the Mother's Day club.  Please, reach out to one or two and see their child, always loved, always missed.

They have a much harder job than the mothers who do homework, and dishes, and driving, and all-nighters, and cleaning, and laundry, and cooking- and one which will last until they take their final breath on earth. Perhaps, they are, as mothers go, the most important and hardest working of all.

Your name is upon my lips
your image is in my eye;
the memory of you is in my heart...


This post is dedicated to the many brave and tireless mothers and families of the MISS Foundation I know, admire, and love. Happy and Gentle Mother's Day from my heart to yours.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Steven: The Mask

My little princess, Mia Rose Greenall, was born on 4th June 2012 via caesarean section due to a huge placental abruption. She was born terribly ill because of this and we had to say goodbye to her the following day. This short piece is about how I deal with day to day life since my life was shattered. I have my own blog where I talk about all of my experiences and feelings, please visit and share it:

When I returned home from the hospital the day after saying goodbye to Mia, I was surprised to see something at the side of my bed. It wasn't there when I left 2 days before and I wasn't completely sure what it was for. I left it where it was for a while, still unsure if I should use it or not.

I finally decided to use it when I went back to work, this was a month after we said goodbye to Mia. I put it over my head and there it was, it was a mask that had been left by my bed. Only you can't see it when its on.

It's not easy wearing the mask, it takes a lot of effort but it protects me from the outside world, I feel safe when I've got it on. I put it on when I leave the house and keep it on until I return back home, it's not safe to take it off anywhere else. The mask is making every effort to free itself from my head, but I can't let it go. Its keeping my feelings in check, the world isn't ready to hear my feelings face to face yet, and I don't think I'm ready to share them yet.

The mask does have a weakness though. It doesn't cover my eyes. If I drop my guard for a second at all and you manage to make eye contact, you'll see. You'll see the pain, deep in my eyes. You'll be able to see how deep it goes, deep into my core, you'll see that there's something missing inside me. You'll see that there's a piece of my heart that's gone, my precious little Mia took it with her. I don't begrudge her that, she needs a piece of her daddy with her. This explains the emptiness I feel, but it also means that I'll feel the emptiness forever. The emptiness will only disappear when we meet again.

Until that day Mia, look after that piece of my heart, because I do want it back. But I know when I get it back, I get you back. So just remember this princess, your daddy loves you very much and is so proud of you so until we meet again, look down on us all and keep us all safe.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Claire: Congratulations?

“I see you’ve had the baby” – that comment struck fear into my heart and brought a sick feeling to my stomach every time I heard it, which seemed to be more than I anticipated in the days and weeks following the loss of our little Laura.

As we exited the NICU the day after she died, the receptionist arranged to let us drive out without paying for parking with a heartfelt “don’t worry, your baby is in safe hands, I’m sure they will be fine”. It wasn’t her fault, but the comment choked me and I sobbed in the arms of my husband in the lift to the car park.

One card of congratulations had landed on our doormat, followed with an apology for it. Over the days and weeks that followed there were hundreds of sympathy cards. It was nice to see them but so sad that the death of our little baby was being acknowledged way more than her actual birth.

By far the hardest thing to deal with though, was the face to face congratulations from neighbours, acquaintances and shop assistants etc. As other parents dealing with loss have said, it’s like dropping a bomb. You’re met with glances to your missing bump, smiles and that word “congratulations”, and then you have to have that awkward re-telling of the worst thing that has ever happened to you.

The news is inevitably met with shock, dismay and at worst some of the most utterly crazy verbal diarrhoea you could ever imagine to hear (but that’s a whole other subject of its own). I’d usually end up with my arm around the person that congratulated me, comforting them as they took in the news, or saying to them “don’t worry, it’s not your fault” whilst trying to get away with some dignity intact.

Thankfully, my wonderful husband paved the way for me with a lot of people as did a lot of my wonderful friends. However, last Christmas, eight months after we lost Laura, I received a handful of cards addressed to Claire, Enda, Georgia & ? along with “congratulations” and “you must be busy with the new addition”. It’s tough. I still have to “drop the bomb” to them. You wish things were different. You wish that all those cards that lined the window cills were congratulations cards rather than sympathy ones. In the past, I’ve never thought twice about offering congratulations to someone that looked as though they’d just had their baby. However, they usually have their newborn with them as that’s normally what happens isn’t it? Only one kind lady in our local bank behaved impeccably when she asked me whether I’d had a girl or a boy. Perhaps she read it in my face, perhaps my reply of “a girl, but it’s complicated” told her all she needed to know. Whichever it was, she was so calm and quiet, apologised for asking and told me that she’d be happy to hear what happened whenever I felt ready.

Since we lost Laura, I’ve taken nothing for granted. I now know that you can go all the way through a pregnancy and still come home with no baby. I know that dreams can be shattered, that hearts can be broken and I know that sometimes “congratulations” can be both the sweetest and the cruellest word.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Claire: The Pipette in my Fridge

We moved into our new house in December 2011 in readiness for our baby who was due in April 2012. All of us were excited; husband, daughter and me full of expectation. I began to adapt to living in a house rather than a flat. It was an easy enough adjustment. The only downside was having to waddle upstairs to throw up instead of just popping into the bathroom in our flat. I’d had horrendous sickness all through this pregnancy. My first pregnancy had been bad enough when I’d thrown up for around 12 weeks. This time round, things had been even worse. I’d thrown up every day throughout the pregnancy apart from about 3 weeks in the final trimester, and I had the most awful heartburn for the final 16 weeks too. But I kept telling myself that the sickness was a good sign. It meant that the hormones were high and that meant that the baby should be strong and healthy.

When we moved house we negotiated to keep the previous owner’s white goods. Only 6 months after we moved in the fridge freezer decided to give up the ghost, and that is where the pipette comes in.

My husband and his brother removed the fridge and put a new one in its place. The only concern I had was whether my husband would think I was mad for keeping the tiny little pipette that had been in our fridge since 22nd April 2012. Thankfully, he understood, and gently placed it into the top drawer of our new fridge unseen by anyone but us.

Our beautiful baby girl Laura was born by C section on Friday 20th April, seemingly healthy. We were so delighted to have her with us, so relieved to meet her, to hear her cry. But she wasn’t as perfect as we thought. As soon as she was born I tried to breastfeed her. My older daughter had latched on and sucked for dear life only minutes after she was born, but Laura seemed to struggle. She hardly seemed to suckle and when she did, she coughed and spluttered and eventually began to have awful episodes of not breathing. The night she was born she was diagnosed with a condition called Tracheo-Oesophageal Fistula. Overnight she was transferred to a top London hospital but as I had to have a C section due to her breech presentation, I had to wait in our local hospital until the morning to get discharged (there were no beds available in the hospital Laura was transferred to).

And so began my attempts at expressing milk for my little girl. My older daughter had been an expert breast-feeder and despite having problems in the early few weeks, she took to it well and in fact refused anything other than the breast, meaning that she moved straight onto cups rather than bottles. Because of this, I had never really experimented much with expressing. Now I was faced with this as the only current option, so when a midwife at our local hospital asked me if I would prefer to move to a private room until I could be discharged, I declined thinking that hearing all the other crying babies may help me concentrate on producing some nourishment for my darling little Laura. That, and the beautiful picture of her that I had taken only hours earlier on my phone.

In between getting discharged and visiting Laura on the Saturday, I massaged and tried to express every 2-3 hours, setting the alarm on my phone so that I wouldn’t miss an attempt. Most of these attempts led to nothing but a flushed face and sore breasts, but eventually at around 1pm on Sunday 22nd April 2012 while Laura was having her corrective surgery I finally began to see small drops (small precious drops) of colostrum. I was elated. I could finally look forward to giving our little girl some nourishment and protection when she came round from her operation. I was given dozens of little pipettes and instructions on how to collect this “liquid gold” as the neonatal nurses called it. Two small pipettes with drops of my colostrum were labelled and placed carefully in the NICU fridge alongside whole bottles of milk expressed by loving mums for their poorly babies.

At 6pm on the Sunday, Laura’s operation was still ongoing. We weren’t unduly worried (not openly anyway), so I went to the expressing room and had just begun to squeeze out some drops when there was a knock on the door and I was hurried away to the consultation room to hear the words that turned my life into a spin and eventually broke my heart. Our lovely little Laura’s lung had collapsed, she had gone into cardiac arrest and the surgeons were unable to re-inflate her lung. They had tried for 45mins to resuscitate her with no success and by now her brain function would have been zero. There was no hope of a positive outcome. We were asked permission for the surgeon to stop resuscitation and were rushed off to the Surgical Theatre to receive our still warm but bruised and battered little baby only moments after her time of death had been called – 6:08pm.

We stayed with Laura for hours after she died. Some of our close family came to see her and we removed the drips and tubes, washed her and dressed her and cuddled and kissed her.

The only thing we brought home from the hospital that day along with our sadness and tears of despair was the tiny little pipette with the drop of liquid gold that now resides in the top drawer of my fridge.