'There are no words'. I have lost count of the amount of times that has been said to me since losing Holly. And its true, often there are no words as we just don't know what to say. However, this month I was part of something incredibly special. A day dedicated in sharing words, sharing stories and sharing advice on child loss. The charity Our Angels, organised a conference with the Bradford University midwifery society on bringing an understanding of baby loss to midwives and student midwives. It was the first of its kind and I hope the start to other universities and hospitals acknowledging the importance of care for those going through baby loss.
I met Chris Binnie from Our Angels on a facebook site for bereaved parents (Otis and friends - childloss support, set up by Natalie Oldham) and was truly honoured that he asked me to come and speak. I was invited to come and speak as a mother to Holly but also as a midwife. Having experienced both it was felt that I could bring another aspect to the day, two sides to the same coin. Prior to Holly, I wouldn't have dreamed I would have the confidence to speak in front of 400 people but after losing a baby things suddenly don't seem so scary. I spent a month writing up my speech and practicing it over and over to my husband, who by the end of it knew it by heart. As the conference grew closer my nerves set in but I was doing this for Holly and I was never going to let her down.
The conference started with fantastic speeches from the Director of the RCM, a local bereavement midwife and SANDS. It was refreshing and comforting to be surrounded by people who all had the same agenda, understanding baby loss for the better. We watched a heartbreaking documentary, 'Still Loved' and many tears were shed.
Later, Dr. Alex Heazell, clinical director of the Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre spoke on his work into the prevention of stillbirth and improving care for parents, which left many people inspired. The Saving Babies' Lives Care Bundle was presented by Julia Walker-Brown, the information and knowledge these presenters had was invaluable.
Then there were the parents. My tears started when Chris presented. I knew he had lost his little boy, Henry but hadn't known the full story. I won't share his story, as video's of the conference will soon be available (links will be posted when I have them) and I wouldn't do Henry's story justice but it was emotional. Hearing another bereaved parents loss is just so raw, whether you've gone through it yourself or not. I have no doubt that his story touched the hearts of many students and midwives that day. What he continues to do in Henry's memory with Our Angels is incredibly touching.
Heidi Eldridge, CEO of the Charity MAMA Academy also presented. Another bereaved parent whose loss of her little boy Aidan, inspired her to set up the Charity to promote safer births. Another example of a warrior parent keeping her baby's memory alive every single day.
The tears continued as David Monteith spoke about the loss of his daughter Grace. A truly inspirational man who rightly shows that fathers matter too. You could have heard a pin drop during his speech and his words resonated exactly with how I felt.
Stalls were set up with various charities, proudly showing what they do to support bereaved parents and in honour of their babies. Such charities including 4 Louis, offering precious memory boxes to the parents, Hand on Heart offering precious keepsakes and Otis and Friends providing much needed sibling memory boxes. The care, consideration and honour put in to these charities work is truly inspiring.
Soon it was my turn to speak. In the lead up to the conference, I hadn't worried about getting emotional during my speech, which sounds so silly now. I thought I had learnt how to hide my emotions pretty well. But the day was SO emotional. I had been dealing with my grief privately but suddenly being exposed to grief all around was both comforting and heartbreaking.
Standing up in front of 400 people I realised that sharing Holly's story to strangers was different. These people didn't know Holly's story, they didn't know what happened and how it all ended. I needed to share her story in 20 minutes, from start to end and that was hard. So I was emotional, I had to take pauses and catch my breath. I had moments where I didn't think I could do it but then I would picture Holly's face. If I can birth her and say goodbye to her then I sure as hell can share her story. And I did it, I somehow got through it for my girl.
The conference was unique and inspiring. It has ignited a passion within me for supporting bereavement care and its shown me that people do care. The students who attended that day are truly special. They now have the power to bring a little light in to the worst days of a parents life. Their presence at the conference means that they believe baby loss is just as important as bringing a live baby home. I am so thankful that they attended, they will never know how much it means.
That day will always have a special place in my heart. For the first time since losing Holly, I was surrounded by people who had lost babies. People who I had spoken to over the internet and could finally meet in person. People who I had shared some of my closest and hardest thoughts with were suddenly there in the flesh and it felt like home. No one was offended by what you would say, nothing was too 'in your face'. I was free to say whatever I wanted and for the first time be surrounded by people who absolutely understood and passed no judgement. I 'got' these people and they 'got' me. I met other warriors that day and I am SO proud to call them my friends.
There are no words when you lose a baby. But we created a day full of words, a day full of love to bring hope to future parents suffering loss. And you can create these words too. Share our stories, keep your mind open, be kind to us and listen. Make the words happen and increase awareness for baby loss.
I made firm friendships and my grief was at its most calm that day. No one has to be alone when they lose a baby and no student or midwife has to feel unprepared. The support is out there for us all and I thank Our Angels and University of Bradford midsoc for showing that understanding baby loss can be done and needs to be done. I hope, I really, really hope that this starts a trend as the experience of losing your baby is just too important to not get right.
To all the babies honoured that day and my darling Holly. I know we did you all proud. X
Most people expect you to take some time to grieve when you lose a baby. They expect that for some time you will be sad, you won't reply to messages and will keep yourself to yourself. You will be silent. But it comes to a point where some people expect that the silences will last less and become less frequent.
I have experienced this expectation from people. In the last month or so I have been called rude for not replying to messages when my daughter died. I have been called self obsessed for not replying to people and I have been called unsupportive and inconsiderate in not replying to friends problems right away.
People seem to expect that you reach a certain amount of time after your daughter has died where you should be able to get back to normal and act as you did before. What people don't understand is that you can never go back to normal. Your normal has changed, and as I recently found out physiologically changed after experiencing trauma. The change is a deep, soul altering change.
It is very hard when your grief comes under attack. I have gone on weekends away, been to parties and had nights out since losing Holly. All which comes with its own level guilt as how can I be doing this whilst my daughter will never do these things? I spent time messaging a 'friend' throughout her labour whilst my own daughter was dying but still in some peoples eyes, all of this is not enough of an acceptable behaviour.
Holly's death has been used against me. I have been 'told off' as people were there for me and yet I can't always be there for them at that precise moment in time. Sometimes it takes a few days to respond to a friends problem. It doesn't mean I don't care, it means I am trying to get through the day. I am trying my best. However, my daughters death is not a weapon. And friendship isn't giving to then be owed something back. It's giving because you care.
After I had received some of these messages, I spent ages going back through every single message on FB, IG and text to check I had replied to everyone who sent me a message when Holly had died. I became paranoid. I became worried that I had upset people and that everyone saw me as this rude, uncaring person. I didn't not reply to people because I wasn't grateful for their messages but quite simply, I had just given birth. I was registering Holly's death and I was planning a funeral whilst trying to be as normal as I could for my eldest daughter. I was trying to hard to just find the strength to get up each day, strength which is still required and will be needed for every day I am living.
Some friends have had their own hard times and sometimes I still can't reply right away. I have always responded though, albeit days later. For most, they understand but for the rest this isn't good enough. This was when I realised that some people 'get it' and some people just don't.
If Holly was alive, would I be attacked for not replying to a friends message if I needed to spend time with my daughter as I was worried about my parenting? I very much doubt it. This should be NO different just because my daughter is dead. At times my grief takes over my entire being. But that grief is Holly's time. And she deserves her own time with me, just as my eldest daughter physically deserves her's. Of course I feel bad that I can't always reply to people right away but its not out of spite and neither is it done on purpose. I have two children and they BOTH need me.
I am not rude. I am not self obsessed. I am not unsupportive and I am not uncaring. I am none of those things and my behaviour does not need to be excused anymore than if I was silent over time due to me spending time with my living child. I am so grateful for the people that understand that. But I am not sorry for those who don't and neither will I try to change anyone's mind.
In 2014, my best friend lost one of her little baby girls. It would never have been in my soul to have had such thoughts about her, whether I 'needed' her support or not and whether it was then, now or in 10 years after her daughters death. I quite simply would expect that sometimes, she would need to be alone with her baby and that would ALWAYS be okay. But I guess that's the point isn't it? Some people get it and some people don't. People change when they lose a baby, people's priorities change and people's self care changes. I get that.
I will never excuse my silence. My silence is my time with Holly and so I will embrace it, I will not rush it and neither will I be condemned for it.
They say your phone book changes when you lose a baby, I now know this to be true. Thank you to those who understand that I have changed and sometimes I need time. I wouldn't be a midwife if I didn't care and I wouldn't be trying so hard to share Holly's story to help others if I didn't care but sometimes Holly needs me too.
My silence is Holly's time and that will always be okay.
It has been over a month since I last posted. I had been having a little bit of a wobble. Maybe it was the stress of Christmas and the New Year which at the time I thought I had coped with well but as it is the way with me, the stress always comes out some how.
Of course I am a parent to my firstborn. I know that because she is here and she finds great delight in shouting 'mummy, mummy, mummy' at the top of her lungs. I cook for my firstborn, I cuddle my firstborn, I play with her and I put her to bed every night. She is my little shadow and so there is no doubt that I am her parent.
My wobble was about Holly. I was worried about her. There are no guides or handbooks in how you parent your baby who isn't here but the need to parent doesn't die with them. The innate feeling to mother and to care for Holly is just as strong as if she was here, living and breathing.
I have tried incredibly hard since losing Holly to keep her memory alive. This blog attempts to keep alive, I share her pictures, I talk about her, I fundraise, I increase awareness and in my everyday life I have her all around my home. But I still didn't feel like a parent. I couldn't do all the things with her that I do with her eldest sister. I worried that I didn't do enough.
I started second guessing my parenting of Holly exactly how I did with her sister when she was born. I worried I didn't go to her spot at the crematorium enough. I don't go every day but did that mean I was letting her down? Other than the pictures around my home, I don't actively look at ALL her pictures everyday. Does that mean I wasn't caring enough for her? I don't look at her memory box every day and I don't cuddle the teddy with her ashes in every day either. The truth is, I can't. I don't bottle my grief up, far from it but the moment I hold her ashes I fall apart. And as other grieving parents will know, picking yourself back up when you have a fall in your grief is exhausting, its traumatic and just so bloody hard to do.
Shortly after all these worries started I was approached by a wonderful Dad who lost his little boy, Henry. He asked me to come and be a speaker at a conference discussing bereavement and baby loss support. I am not a public speaker and I knew I would be nervous but after losing Holly, I'm not scared anymore. I have been through one of the worst things and I am still breathing and so I know I could do this.
This last month I have been putting together a speech for the conference which is in 3 days time. It took me a long time to write and a lot of my honesty, heart and soul has been poured into it. That's when I realised I was parenting Holly. The time I was spending sharing her story was parenting her. The time I've spent practicing the speech, is parenting her. My dedication in increasing the awareness and support for baby loss is parenting her.
As with my firstborn, I have realised that there is no rules on how to parent your baby, whether they are here or not. It doesn't matter how you spend your time or how you chose to honour them. It doesn't matter if you do a lot or if you do a little. What matters is that we keep going and we say their names. We keep them alive within us but we don't have to prove ourselves to anyone.
I have realised that I AM Holly's parent and as with my firstborn I am learning. Learning every day how to parent on our own special journey.
I love you my little heart
On the 7th September 2016 at 25 weeks gestation, Holly was born, still after a battle with complete heart block.