This is the title of a book written by a woman called Sheryl Sandberg, I’m yet to read it but I’ve read a few interviews recently and she talks of how found her way after the sudden death of her husband. How we can find meaning after tragedy. How we can take our ‘option B’.

So, I guess that’s where I am. I am a few weeks off of completing my degree in midwifery: My option B. Loosing Tilly was what led me here, my ‘option A’ would have been being a mum to my two girls and then returning to the health & fitness industry. Instead I have become passionate about caring for women, babies and their families and giving them the best care I possibly can. This is my ‘option B’ and whilst it may not be what I had originally dreamed of, I don’t afford it any less. In fact, because of my journey to ‘option B’ I give it everything. Option B? My husband, my daughter and Tilly’s legacy, providing compassionate, women centred midwifery care and giving 100% every time.

What an interesting concept…running yourself to better mental health. Exercise has long been known to have benefits on both our mental and physical health and it was inspirational to see the runners on the BBC documentary start their journey towards the London Marathon. I can absolutely advocate for the benefits of running and I think my decision to train for the London Marathon after Tilly’s death was one of the best I could have made for my emotional well being. It gave me focus and purpose at a time when I was lost, I had Darcy and Russ but the direction that I thought my life was going to take  was vastly different from the situation I found myself in.

5 years after Tilly’s death I felt inspired, as I always do, by the London Marathon and I will be entering the ballot next week when it opens. As I prepare to enter a new chapter in my life as a qualified midwife I will use running as a release as I begin to work independently, becoming a midwife in my own right. I always joke that I don’t really ‘do’ stress and I am sure that having an outlet like running is what helps me keep stress in check. I am under no disillusion that the first 6 months of been qualified will test me in many ways, and I hope that running will give me the head space I need, just as it helped my with my grief.

Sometimes I need comfort and acknowledgement, sometimes i need focus and purpose. Always I need to remember, sometimes it can feel as if I am alone in remembering Tilly. Never be afraid to say her name…no matter how much time has passed. And if you’re not sure what to say, you can always come running with me!

There’s nothing like the combination of Tilly’s birthday, Mothers day, a week on transitional care and Comic Relief to get you thinking.

Five years ago we had just got home with Tilly and little did we know about what the next few weeks would bring. This week, I spent her birthday looking after other women and their babies. Was it hard? Yes. Did I think about her? All day. Does the pain get less? No. You see, the pain doesn’t get less, it doesn’t go anywhere you just learn to deal with it. You learn to focus on other things, and for me that is my family and becoming the best midwife I can be. When I think about how far I’ve come over the past five years, I feel proud. I’m proud that I’ve managed to take tragedy and turn it into something positive, proud that I’ve learn you can come back from the most devastating of losses and proud that I’ve shown Darcy that whatever happens, we’ll be okay.

Mother’s day approaches, and I think about Tilly a little more than usual but I concentrate on being with Darcy because I can still make a difference to her life and I never want her to live in the shadow of what has happened to us. Tilly is part of our family, we remember her and we talk about her, but Darcy is the here, the now and the future.

And then there’s Comic Relief, and I think about the women and their babies who die because there is no access to the basics. Children that die of diseases that are easily preventable. Places where there is no safeguarding, no rape crisis, no trained midwives, no obstetric team at the end of an emergency call bell. And it makes me sad all over again. We take so much for granted. Sometimes, even when life gets really shitty, we should remember how lucky we are.

 

 

 

 

So, this week has been a week where I’ve given a lot of thought to the subject of baby loss. As I get stuck into my dissertation I find myself surrounded by evidence that, actually, we still are not consistently providing women with the care they need after they loose a baby. Whether the baby dies before birth, during labour, or after delivery women are often left floundering through the coming weeks and months with very little support.

Once I left hospital for the final time. With Russ. Without my baby. Not a single health care professional came to see us. No one phoned. Well, no one phoned except the midwife who called to see “how are things?”. So I told her. Like I told the GP at my postnatal check up. Like I shouldn’t have had to tell anyone involved in our care. I told them: my baby died. And, until you have to say those words, you will never know quite how they stick in your throat and make you eyes sting. How they break your heart every single time.

So, this week, in amongst the piles of evidence, the systematic reviews and the guidelines, even before I have critiqued literature and drawn conclusions I have confirmed why I am doing what I am doing. If I can ensure that no body who I care for has to explain why her baby is not with her, or why she doesn’t want to have her baby weighed on day 5, then I am making a difference. Saving her those three little words can make all the difference.

So, here we are again. Christmas number 4, minus 1. It’s hard at this time of year, knowing that someone is missing, the irony of delivering other people’s babies whilst still missing my own with unrelenting heartbreak. But I don’t talk about it. Nobody ever asks about it. Christmas with only one little girl, when there should be two is heartbreaking.

I focus on the good stuff, watching Darcy have fun, the build up and the excitement. This year we will be spending Christmas with my family, which means Darcy will be in the company of other kids. Pretty sure that my brother and his wife don’t quite know how much of a difference this will make to us. This will make a big difference, to see Darcy with other children at Christmas and to have that as a distraction as to what might have been is invaluable.

But don’t be mistaken. I will think of her. For the whole day, and every day there after. we miss you Tilly Grace.

Blogs, Vlogs, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The world of social media, gives a platform for important issues but I wonder whether it takes away a sense of true personal communication?

Occasionally I still have moments where I feel paralysed by a deep sense of sadness and grief, but I don’t write a cryptic Facebook status. I don’t feel it is the write platform for it, not for me. This blog is sometimes a way of me channelling my grief, of sharing thoughts on loosing a baby and hopefully for helping others through confusing and dark times too. Maybe others consider this an inappropriate platform to discuss grief, sadness or the death of a baby. The cryptic Facebook status seems like a cry for help, and this makes me wonder: Have we lost the art of communication? Are we no longer able to talk to our friends? I feel a bit hurt if a close friend feels that they need to share sad, painful news via a Facebook status, do people not feel that they are able to talk to their friends anymore? And then there’s the ‘life is shit’ status…what does that mean? And does it mean something if I don’t respond?

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the ‘my life is so amazing’ status. Creating a sense that we should all live up to an amazing (if unrealistic) ideal. Again, as a friend sometimes it’s lovely to hear good news via a more personal route…the ancient art of talking or even a text message. We are all guilty of this sometimes I’m sure…

And maybe that’s why it’s so hard to talk. Because we think that everyone else is having an amazing time and we feel feel inadequate if we’re not, or because everyone is having a shit time and we don’t think we should bother them. Who knows, but maybe we should talk more? A little bit of personal attention, making your friends feel like friends…not someone among 450 other people you met once or twice.

This week is Baby Loss Awareness week and I wonder how many people feel that they can’t talk to people because it isn’t what we do anymore? I know I’m not the greatest at opening up but maybe that’s because I can’t wade through the social media mine field and work out who would like to listen and who would like to just read my status?

So, if I don’t respond to your cryptic Facebook status it’s not because I don’t care, it’s because, if you really wanted me to know, you would tell me. One of my longest and closest friends once said to me “if you wouldn’t shout it in the play gound, don’t put it on Facebook” so maybe that’s something to consider and maybe we can start talking to each other a little bit more instead. Don’t judge a person by their Facebook Status or their Instagram and this week, if you know someone has lost a baby, ask them how they are.

Let’s talk more.

 

 

 

 

I miss her. And some days I miss her a little bit more than others. It’s that time of year when I feel that our family is missing someone more acutely than I feel it at other times. I still enjoy the summer as much as anyone but some things are always tinged with sadness. When I sense that our daughter craves the company of another child or when I think, just fleetingly, about how Tilly would be now and what she would be like.

It’s also a time of year when you seem to strike up more conversations with people (maybe that’s just me), in queues, sat in fields, over a glass of something or lunch where it’s crowded. Often conversations come around to children or jobs. Is she your only one? Why did you decide to become a midwife? Often, I fib, or skirt around the answer. Babies dying is not really the thing to talk about in polite company is it? Maybe this is part of the British sensibility? That we only talk about what is deemed appropriate, but maybe this is what makes loosing a child harder in the long term. That we become self conscious about it, we don’t want to make someone else feel uncomfortable. Maybe we should talk about it. So it doesn’t feel like a dark little secret. Sometimes this is what makes it more upsetting, that fact that once you’ve lost a child you worry more about upsetting others than your own grief.

As September approaches I hear the conversations of the mum’s whose children will be starting school in September, how their babies are all  grown up. Sometimes they are friends who I think might remember that my baby would be going to school too, in her tiny uniform, lined up with their beautiful children. Tilly’s first milestone. But my baby never grew up. And sometimes I wish that someone else might remember that too.

So, my second year as a midwifery student is drawing to a close, I’ve just completed 8 weeks on delivery suite. As I switch between excitement for my final year and panic that by this time next year I’ll be nearly qualified and ready to practice on my own, I also think about how far I’ve come over the last 4 years.

After loosing Tilly, I felt that I had lost a bit of myself. I knew that I had to stay positive and that I had to keep moving forward, but initially I wasn’t sure how. I went back to work, teaching classes and doing some personal training but it just wasn’t the right thing for me, my heart wasn’t in it and longer. It sounds cliched, but I really wanted to make a difference, and that’s how I got here.

There have been some real challenges this year, not least the juggling & horrible post night shift commute. I have learn so much, and delivery suite has been no exception.  8 weeks on one of the busiest units in the UK, which deals with complex cases from all over the region, has really developed my skills and experience. It has also taught me which situation are the most challenging emotionally. I have not supported someone who has lost a baby but supporting women who know that their baby will go straight to neonatal care, or when a baby comes out unexpectedly compromised or when there is an emergency; you can’t prepare your emotions for those times. Trying to keep your own sense of concern or panic in check so that you are there the people you are caring for 100%, that’s the stuff that working along side amazing midwives and mentors (you know who you are!) teaches you. That’s the stuff that no amount of research skills, referencing, and assignment writing won’t teach you. I completely understand the importance of understanding the current evidence, but there are some skills in midwifery that only caring for women and along side inspiring, experienced midwives will teach you.

The next year will throw up more challenges, and the learning will never end. Not now. Not at graduation. Not ever. There will always be different women with different needs, who will always challenge me and help me to grow as a midwife.

I think that one of the hardest things about loosing a baby is that, as the time passes, most people forget. You can’t blame them, because there isn’t 80 years worth of funny memories and anecdotes to reminisce with, there’s 5 days of being at home in the ‘new baby’ blur and then 3 weeks in hospital as you slowly come to the realisation that your baby will not be coming home. Family visiting, because that will be the only chance they get and then? Then there’s the moment when you leave hospital for the last time, just the two of you, back home to return to being a family of three.

Over the last weeks or so I’ve been considering how our lives have turned out, I think I will always find this time of year difficult. Probably not so that you’d notice, but I reflect on things and think about the way things would have been. Last week, driving to placement, I wondered whether I would have ended up where I am now if we’d not lost Tilly? I’m not sure that I would have, because I would never have had that earth shattering realisation that there are so many people out there that do amazing things 24/7 and that, actually, I want to be one of them. What I focus on when I feel the grief creep up on me, which it still does every now and then, is focus on what Tilly is helping me to become: A empathetic and compassionate midwife and a mum who really values what she has.

Looking back, I don’t know how I got through the first months after Tilly died. I look back and it’s a bit of a blur of tears, anger, heartbreak (and maybe a little gin) but we’re here now and this is the family we are, and despite how we appear we take an extra little one wherever we go. She doesn’t define us, we haven’t become ‘the family whose baby died’ but she is still a really important part of our story and she has made me who I am today.

Happy birthday Tilly Grace 22.03.2012-24.04.2012

Billie Hunter has written extensively about the emotion work of midwifery on how we manage our emotions so we can provide the best care for women, sometimes putting on a face or an act. This week at uni we are looking into the compromised neonate and immediately I find my self working hard emotionally, putting on my face. Trying not to cry.

I was prepared for the topic, I had seen the lecture titles but I was not so prepared for impact of a picture of an intubated baby would have, a baby with a cannula, IV lines going in, a catheter drain coming out. Holding back my own emotions becomes a challenge. On a cold January morning in a room of women I know well, but maybe not well enough to break down in front of, I realise, that this will be a big part of my own emotion work as a midwife. Holding it together when I know how much it hurts, how bad it is and how it feels as if your world has ended.  I am also sure that this will help me. I will be reassuring and supportive, not because I will share my story with the women I care for, but because I know that, eventually, it will  get easier, you will adjust to this different kind of future. That even though every single day that you live for the rest of your life, someone will be missing, but every single day of your life you can live to make them proud. The pain will lessen, the tears be less frequent and you can be happy and enjoy things again. And I can comfort them because, nearly four years on, I know this to be true. I also know that sometimes, it’s not just me that’s doing the emotional work. It’s the expectant mum who’s had five miscarriages already, it’s the dad that’s already supported his wife through a still birth, and it’s the mother who cannot fathom how to support her own daughter when she is already grieving the loss of her grandchild.

I am thinking about my own experience this week. Reflecting on which aspects of the care I received really helped me and which aspects made the process harder. This is my starting point for how I can really help women and their families through a heartbreaking time…