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.
It’s been ages since I blogged, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about Tilly. I do. Every single day. As we celebrated Christmas she was on my mind a lot, with tears coming at unexpected moments. I try not to dwell over Christmas because I want it to be a special time for Darcy. We decorated a tree together and took it out to the church and we went to the carol service there. Some time to reflect and remember, and wonder what might have been.
So, this year I will blog more regularly, keeping news of my training (for marathon attempt number three) and news of my journey into midwifery and hopefully a bit more fundraising!
Not so far no. Last month we met with a genetics consultant to discuss the diagnostics that were carried out with Tilly’s DNA after her death. Both Russ and I had submitted blood test because Tilly had shown some abnormal chromosome material. This proved to be inconclusive as I displayed the same abnormality with no physical presentation. So, where from here? Is it really worth knowing? Does it even matter?
There is still a small DNA sample of Tilly’s at St.Georges. When the geneticist told me this it felt very strange, imagining that there is still a tiny bit of her existing, sat in a vial in a lab in tooting. I know it’s nothing, it’s not really her, but still…
The sample will be sent to Great Ormond Street hospital where they have recently developed a panel test. This means that, rather than testing individual chromosomes that are identified as been responsible for seizures in babies, they can test the panel of chromosomes that are known to cause seizures. It may take up to a year to get the results. The Doctor was incredible sensitive (which is lovely, but can bring on tears) and apologetic for the poor follow up we have received and incredulous when I told her about receiving Tilly ‘s heal prick test results shortly after her first birthday.
I was also concerned that we might end up feeling that we were wasting valuable time and resources by persuing this but Dr Smithson made us feel that it was completely normal to want to know why Tilly had developed this condition. For us, it is not about having another child. We have decided that this is not something we want to do. Not an easy decision, and sometimes I feel very much that I want another baby, but it is not the right thing for our family. However, I feel that if Russ’ daughter, Laura, or Darcy decide to have children it would give us piece of mind to know that there is no underlying medical condition. Imagine if this happened to a grandchild and knowing you could have found out, surely this is reason enough.
So as we start the next stage in our lives, for Darcy that’s starting school, for Russ it will be finding a job that will bring him back to the South West. And for me? For me it is starting college and doing an Access course that will (hopefully) get me on to a midwifery degree course next year. I want to use my experience to make a real difference to other mums. I know how terrifying it is when your baby is taken away, when nobody can tell you what is wrong. I understand the all consuming grief of loosing that precious baby forever. And as devastating as it has been, I know that you can come out the other side.