I don’t think I have ever know such a strange day to have Tilly’s birthday on. Today is also Mother’s Day. It is also the second day of all leisure facilities being shut down due to the unprecedented situation that has seen COVID-19 spread across the globe, and the type of government action we’ve not seen since the war.

I have read many posts, blogs and watched vlogs and reports talking about the massive impact this is going to have. But here’s the thing. It hasn’t really hit us here in the UK yet, we are just at the tip of the iceberg. However, I can promise you that those of us working in the NHS can already see services being adjusted to allow for the increase in demand that we are expecting. Routine services are being scaled down, appointments and operations being cancelled, face to face contact is being reduced. It feels like we are waiting for the storm to hit. And we are.

Others are working around the clock to support the nation, food production and retail, care workers, teachers, those working in infrastructure and utilites. The people you don’t even normally give a second thought too. They are going out, doing our best, putting ourselves and our families at risk to take care of you, to make sure you get what you need, to look after your children so you can take care of others.

So today think twice about going to see your mum for lunch, or taking her out. Pop a card and flowers at the door. That’s it. I can tell you that eight years ago I thought everything would be fine. It wasn’t. You might think you will be fine. You may not. Or someone in your family. Your friend. They may not. I could not control what happened to me, I couldn’t make a difference. You can. Follow the guidance.

This Mother’s day, look after your Mum. Social distancing matters.

So as the international wave of light works it’s way around the globe, year on year increasing awareness of baby loss I still reflect on how little we talk about it. Tonight a very old friend sent me a photo of the candles she had lit with her own two children, the youngest who is just a few months younger than Tilly. This friend is one of the only people I know who is not afraid to say Tilly’s name, who knows that it is better to risk tears than say nothing at all. And in the photos there is a picture of her youngest, in tears. Tears because he had just been reminded of why they light the candle. And so I wonder, when will we adopt the honesty and emotional openness of a child, not afraid to show how we feel, not afraid to risk tears. Less brave face. More brave conversations. Be brave, say their names.

In relationships we talk about the ‘7 year itch’, but in my relationship with grief it’s less of an itch and more a feeling of contentment and reconciling my situation. That’s not to say that I don’t feel that loss any longer, just that I am reconciled to my plan B. Don’t ever think for one moment that I don’t wish everyday that we could have Tilly with us, but do know that it is possible to be happy and to feel positive when living with the loss of a child.  All around me I see people doing amazing things to honour the memory of their babies, raising thousands of pounds to support the charities that supported them, setting up charities where there have been none previously, awarding excellence in the field of baby loss, working to improve services within our NHS to support bereaved parents, and (of course) taking a complete career turn around and being inspired to help others.

Take this away when you read this, and support the families, individuals and midwives who are working tirelessly to support the women and families who, in that moment, feel like life will never get better again. It will, and I have been lucky enough to meet many of those women, and I am lucky enough to be one of those women.

We are a family, who 7 years ago welcomed a baby girl into our family and four weeks later we had to say goodbye. But we are a family who have grown through that grief. D is able to talk about her sister in a positive way and knows that, despite not being with us, she is part of our family. My husbands daughter can talk to D about her and they know that they have sisters in each other, despite the big age gap (there are no ‘halves’ in our family. R and I have muddled through the process together and come out the other side. With the support of family and friends, and now new work colleagues we can continue to grow as a family who thrive in adversity and are not defined by it.

When it rains, look for rainbows.

Happy 7th birthday, Tilly Grace.

Yesterday at the end of Baby Loss Awareness Week, there was an international wave of light, where all over the world people light candles at 7pm local time to remember all the babies who have died. I didn’t light a candle. I didn’t light a candle because I was busy, I was looking after other pregnant women and their babies. It’s ironic somehow, but also it is a fitting tribute to Tilly. In amongst the cacophony of the maternity unit, you probably wouldn’t even think about what brought me here, you probably wouldn’t notice, maybe you wouldn’t even know. But that is why I came here, how I arrived here, and how I know that every single baby is precious. That if I look after someone who has lost a baby I know that they are feeling utterly devastated, in a place that they never imagined they would be. And although I can not tell them that I know, I know they will get through. It is part of our job to share with women in the joy, but also to care for women in the darkness. We have an amazing bereavement midwife on our unit, our women are well supported. When we left paediatric intensive without out baby, no professionals supported us, we had to find out own way. I had to tell a midwife and my GP that my baby had died. We are lucky, we have good friends and family, but some people are not so lucky, or they are isolated. We need to support these women and families, let them make memories, let them talk about their babies. Don’t be afraid to say their names. Let’s talk about baby and infant loss. Say their names. Tilly Grace Beaumont.

So yesterday the NHS turned seventy. The NHS in which, according to the World Wide Web, I was baby number 21,603,528. An NHS which has provided care for my family in friends and in which Darcy was baby number 38,886,277 and Tilly was baby number 42,222,615. Of course Tilly’s story turned out to be very different from Darcy’s ongoing adventure, but the NHS shaped her story and she was provided with excellent care in a state of the art hospital. I am certain that, perhaps even within my generation, she may not have lived as long as she did as knowledge and technology surpasses all expectations, and where medical science continues to advance to the point where we are living longer than ever.

There is an incomprehensible ethical discussion about the limits of medical science which I would not even attempt to enter but one thing I am sure of is that we are so fortunate to have the NHS and health care that is ‘free at the point of access’ and does not discriminate, an NHS staffed by people who are passionate about what we do. Do not take your NHS for granted, do not let it get underhandedly and slyly privatised beneath our noses. Fight for it. I, for certain, will fight for a system that meant we got to spend four weeks with our beautiful girl, and a system in which I have the privilege of welcoming new life into the world.

The NHS. Miracles. Everywhere. Every day.

This day is always hard, but as time goes by I do think that it gets a little easier. I keep busy, make sure I’m not on my own too much and the day passes much like any other. There is truth in the saying that you cannot have a rainbow without rain, and I would say this to anyone else who looses a baby: it will  get easier and you will get through it. You will always find that a little bit of you is tinged with sadness, but you can be happy again, you will laugh and you will find joy in the little things. Sometimes I think you will appreciate the little things even more, appreciate the good times and realise that there is great value in appreciating the everyday joys and triumphs.

Six years seems like a long time and like only yesterday all at once. When I woke up this morning Tilly was not the first thing that came into my mind, nor the fact that today is her sixth birthday. I feel guilty. I feel guilty that even though she is not here I have rebuilt my life, my plan b, and I can still be happy without her. I know that that’s okay though, and I know that that is the best tribute to her. There is no ‘shrine’ in our house, I do not visit the grave often, I do not cry often but it’s there in the normal everyday. When I care for women, I think about how I would have liked my care to be, the communication and the compassion. I appreciate the life we have, even if it’s not the one we had planned.

5 months ago I started a new job, and I have started to tell people I work with about Tilly, the dreaded ‘have you only got the one..?’ question. These are my collegues and friends and working with women and their babies is perhaps where I am most vulnerable, it’s important that they know so that if I am caught off guard, I don’t have to explain myself all over again. Yesterday I was asked ‘how did you get through?’  and I didn’t really know how to answer, but today I think I would say ‘because of people like you, people that aren’t afraid to ask me what happened, people that aren’t afraid to say her name’. Please say her name, because all I need to do is to remember.

 

Lost

But here’s the thing, Tilly was not a miscarriage, she was not still born, she was not even a neonatal death. She was an infant death. These terms are defined. There are charities and support for different types of loss. Yet somehow, when you give birth to an apparently healthy baby who later dies, you get lost.

In the early hours of the 25th of April my husband and I left the hospital without our baby. We had to go home and tell our three and a half year old that her sister had died, that she would not be coming home again. I had to tell a midwife who called to see ‘how things were’ that I was organising a funeral’. I had to attend a postnatal check up on my own and tell the GP that my baby had died. And the week before Tilly’s first birthday, I had the results of her new born blood spot test through the post. Not one health professional got in contact with me. Not one health professional offered any support. Once I left that hospital we were on our own.

Infant Loss

When I look back, I wonder how we got though those early days, weeks and months, but we did. It’s appalling that there is such limited provision to support parents and families after the loss of a baby, and that there is such a difference across regions. I was lucky to have a supportive network and over the months I was able to find coping mechanisms, but I can see how easily it could have been very different. No one family should feel alone and unsupported after losing a child.

I am about to embark on a career that will allow me to support women and families in many ways, including when they lose a baby. I endeavour to do my best so that no women has to explain why she hasn’t got her baby at her postnatal check, to ensure that I do the communicating and that she accesses the right support. Something positive out of something devastating. Knowing that my experience has shaped me but it doesn’t define me, that I live to make both my girls proud.

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!