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…
Tonight I lit a candle to remember Tilly, and all the other babies that were stillborn or too poorly to survive. This week has been Baby Loss Awareness week, aiming to raise awareness of a topic that is still very much taboo. No one likes to talk about dead babies. In fact no one likes to imagine that it’s something that would ever happen to them, I never considered it was something that would happen to me. It happens. Everyday. For those of us that have lost one of those babies, we want to talk about it sometimes. We think about it everyday, and everyday we are still adjusting to our ‘new normal’, our life where someone is missing. I think about what Tilly would be doing now, how her and Darcy would be together, how our life would be different than it is now. I also know that her short time here has changed my path forever.
Midwifery. If you’d asked me 4 years ago, I would never have thought I’d be training o be a midwife and now here I am. During this week I have been caring for women who are expecting babies. The irony is not lost on me. But I don’t feel envious of them. I find strength in that fact that every day little miracles are happening. The midwives I have mentoring me are incredible women, who really invest in the women they are caring for, they want to support women and empower them. Sometimes midwifery is a magical place to be, sometimes it is sad and painful, but I want to use my own experience to support women in those devastating times as well as the magical times. Whilst I won’t share my experience with them, I know that it will get easier, the tears and the pain will lessen and I will hope that I can share my strength with them.
Light your candle.
Not much to say here but yesterday I was given one of those moments of clarity that can only come from and eight year old. I was at Mum’s with my niece, Daisy, and Darcy and the girls were looking at the photos on the wall when Daisy asked who was in the picture with Darcy. What unfolded was one of those candid conversations, the ones that adults avoid at all costs. Darcy said it was her sister Tilly, and Daisy looks a bit puzzled and asked where she was was. So Darcy told her. She is Dead. Daisy asked why she died, and I explained that she had a very poorly brain. Then she asked if I we had her with us for just one day and when I said that it was for four weeks she simply said ” I suppose that’s nice, that you got to meet her, isn’t it?”. And do you know what? She was right.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything but I’m almost at the end of my first year as a student midwife. It has been a brilliant but challenging year, in many ways. Every day dealing with women and families looking forward to the keenly anticipated delivery date or settling in at home with a new baby (or two)! On many occasions I’ve thought of Tilly and as I move on to year two I know this will happen more and more as I deal with women who have more complicated pregnancies. Perhaps I will come back to my blog, putting my feelings down, not pushing them away. Recognising that it’s okay to find things tough, that even though I feel nothing but joy for a new family, sometimes my heart still breaks. Knowing that it’s okay to feel someone’s pain when their journey doesn’t turn out how they had dreamed for so many months, but knowing that I’m doing everything I can to make it as bearable as possible. As a family we’ve come a long way in nearly three and a half years, I live my life as a tribute to Tilly, not in the shadow of her death.
It’s been several months since I have ‘blogged’ but this week seemed an appropriate time to start again. This week I checked the total amount raised for St.George’s and it was an amazing £7,788.44! This isn’t something I say very often, but I’m so proud of what I achieved in the aftermath and devastation that was the loss of our beautiful girl. I couldn’t have done it without the support of friends and family, too numerous to mention but hopefully you all know who you are. Yesterday I accepted a place in the Brighton Marathon! Watch this space for some more details but I will be running for Henry Grice, a brave little boy who has recently been diagnosed with Diabetes. He would like to raise some money for the diabetes charity JDRF, who have given him and his family lots of support since his diagnosis.
Also this week I have enrolled on my Midwifery degree at UWE. I’ve already met lots of lovely, like minded ladies and can’t wait to get stuck in. I am going to blog as I start my journey into midwifery. I realise that at times it’s going to be challenging and, emotionally, I know there will be hurdles to get over but I am certain that I want to help women on their own personal journeys and make a real difference to them and their families. I will decided whether to use this blog to continue or whether to start a new one (the running student midwife!?), maybe you could give me your thoughts.
What a day it was yesterday, a day I’ve been waiting (and working) for since Tilly was in St.George’s PICU and one of the nurses ran the London marathon the Sunday before she died.
It was an emotional day for me but what an incredible experience. As I approached Tower Bridge I was overwhelmed with the occasion and a sense of ‘I’m actually running the London Marathon’. The sun was out and there were runners as far as I could see. I finished in a time of 4.06.46, I was really pleased.
Over the last two years I have had support from my family, people who I’ve know for many years, from people I only met when I moved to Surrey, from people I’ve just met and from people who I’ve never even met! Amazing and humbling. And running yesterday, you realise that so many people have their own story and their own reasons for running, the challenge isn’t just physical, so many people have travelled huge journey’s to complete 26.2. For me running has also really helped to find some perspective and to find a positive way forward in adversity. Being able to do something positive has without a doubt being fundamental to my grieving process and helped me move forward. Without the support of friends and family I’m not sure I would have got to where I am with the outlook that I have. Be sure that the human spirit is an incredible thing and you can always achieve more than you will every imagine.
Would I do another one….?
Last Saturday, the 22nd of March, Tilly should have been two. She should have been toddling around, pinching Darcy’s toys, starting to chat, experiencing the seaside, swimming and the terrible twos. Instead? She is just a memory.
I have not been writing much on here, I know that not many people read it but sometimes it helps me to write things down. Maybe one day, someone will stumble upon it and it will help them too.
You see, the thing about the second birthday is that people don’t remember, because there’s no party, no cake, no presents. Just a sense of what if. And that’s sort of okay because if you don’t remind me, I won’t remember your birthday so, I don’t blame people for not realising. Yet it’s confusing for me because, despite that, it still upsets me, I want people to remember that I still miss her everyday. Sometimes I just need a hug.
On her birthday, we went with some family and friends to the seaside for a beach BBQ and fish and chips. It was freezing, and it felt like the craziest place to be, but it was lovely to share the day with people and not be sad. To remember the day we had Tilly, before we realised our world was about to come crashing down. A lovely thing happened, our friends son asked us what we would buy Tilly if she was here. It didn’t upset, it made me smile. He wasn’t afraid of upsetting me, he just wondered about Tilly, he wasn’t afraid to ask, because kids aren’t. It made my day. A note to his Dad: next year, I promised we can go somewhere warmer.