Someone asked me recently what my plans were for the next 5 years. I laughed and said ideally I still want to be alive and I hope my family are all still alive too. Then I’d like us all to be healthy and happy. That’s about it.
A 5 year plan?
Not sure that was the answer he was after as he said I meant professionally and for your business. Well it’s not much use wanting anything work wise if I’m not here is it was my answer?
Maybe they shouldn’t ask parents of loss who have a heart defect that will hopefully be repaired before Christmas that question?
I used to be a planner
I used to be into forward planning years ahead at least as far as work, holidays and home went but these last few years have taught me that there’s no point putting too much effort into future plans when something could happen unexpected at any time that can change your world in a heartbeat.
Now I try to live in the present
It much better to live in the present as much as you can and also to try not to dwell too much in the past either as there’s nothing that can be done with that now.
Don’t get me wrong I still plan a little because I have to with work or family plans but i only tend to plan a few months ahead at a time.
How about you? Are you a planner?
Always Violet Skies
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Sleeping like a baby what an ironic phrase considering most babies I know hardly sleep anyway I thought I’d write a little post about when you move your baby into their own room.
Moving baby into their own room
This is something most new parents worry about and then once they do it most say how much both they and their baby’s sleep improves. This was certainly the case with our first baby Violet. She actually started sleeping through occasionally once she was in her own bedroom away from daddy’s snoring.
Well now as a parent of loss I can tell you this is extremely difficult and no now she’s in her own room I don’t sleep better in fact my sleep is worse.
Number one I’d like to say to those people marketing webcams and tablets as being “just as good as a baby monitor”. They are no good for a parent of loss. The fact they repeatedly pause to reset or reload is a nightmare for a mother who subconsciously listens to her baby breathing through the monitor while she sleeps. When it stops to reload my subconscious triggers me to wake with a jolt. My brain telling me my baby has stopped breathing. This happened 10 times during the first night she spent in her own room. Add into that the three times she actually woke up too then I think I got approximately an hours sleep.
This amazing first night triggered the purchase of a proper baby monitor through amazon via same day delivery so night number two was better. Just a shame baby then had a cold so awoke 6 or 7 times in the night and awoke to start her day at 5am.
Here’s hoping it gets easier as we’re very tired parents but you know I don’t like to complain. I know I’d rather zero sleep than zero baby as I’d give anything to have my first baby Violet back.
My counsellor tells me it’s normal for a mother to be anxious and all mums have anxiety, to some extent. It’s just that most haven’t then experienced the worst scenario ever playing out in front of them. Most mums when someone tells them the odds of something happening to their child are really slim they can rationalise. They can’t then turn round to say well those odds have happened to me in the past. Unfortunately my experiences now compound my natural mummy anxiety especially at night.
How did you get on with moving your baby to their own room? When did you do it?
Love Sarah x
Always Violet Skies
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This week is Maternal Mental Health Awareness week and I have to be honest that I’ve struggled with what exactly to write. Although I am a mother and sometimes have struggled with mental health, I’m not what you would call a “normal” mother but then I guess no one is truly “normal”. So for the last day of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week here is my story of motherhood.
I have friends who have struggled with post-natal depression. I know friends whose mother’s have had it 40 years ago when it was dismissed as minor and called the “baby blues”. The difficulty I have is that motherhood for me has been a real rollercoaster. The struggle for me is writing about my own experience without seeming to diminish anyone else’s experience of post-natal depression. I have had friends tell me that they feel they can no longer share their tales of depression or worries as they think they seem minor compared to what I have been through. They have said that actually I make them feel worse about themselves because they should be happy when they compare their lives to mine. Well that doesn’t make me feel guilty, bad or worse at all for sharing!
So apologies in advance if my story of Motherhood makes any of you out there feel worse about your own situations. I don’t want to diminish anyone but hope that by sharing my story some of you who feel alone might feel less so.
I have never had a “normal” motherhood experience. I have not known what it is like to go into a baby scan at 20 weeks full of excitement and to come out elated with happy news afterwards. Our first baby Violet was diagnosed with a heart condition at her 20-week scan. Second baby Arthur was diagnosed with a serious brain condition at his 20-week scan resulting in a TFMR at 22 weeks of pregnancy. Third baby Aurora luckily had clear baby scans all the way through pregnancy but we never entered a scan room full of excitement or even left elated afterwards. More we left smiling with relief that we hadn’t yet had any bad news. Those were my three motherhood beginnings already a little different from the majority of mothers out there. You can read more about stress with a rainbow pregnancy here.
When Violet was born we had a natural induced labour as that was deemed the safest for her but she ended up being undiagnosed breach so I had a breach birth naturally with no pain relief. I am still having counselling for that experience alone, never mind the on going medical treatment because of the wounds I sustained. Violet was also transferred to Alder Hey hospital shortly after birth without me and at 4 days old she had open-heart surgery. It had only a 30% chance of success but she survived and the operation was a 100% fix.
It was, at that point, the most stressful time of our lives and we were relieved it was over. We finally took a 2-week-old baby home from hospital with serious health needs. She needed specialist round the clock care, whilst her heart and rib cage healed up. You can read more about Violet here. Despite her start she was a healthy little girl who had mild developmental problems because of her surgery and also issues eating solid food. We found that a challenge and extremely frustrating. However she was extremely clever, musical and a happy little soul considering her start in life. She was a joy to be around and made everyone who met her happy. This summarises my first year of motherhood started off extremely stressful and finished happy.
The loss of Violet
My second year of motherhood wasn’t anywhere near as good as my first! Violet got sick and was admitted to Manchester Children’s Hospital. We sat by her bed for weeks where she finally died, suddenly from a rare form of pneumonia aged 15 months. We had to wait nearly 2 years to find out why she died, as the autopsy was inconclusive. We had to endure a coroners inquest too. You can read more on this here.
First rainbow baby
My third year of motherhood I think was possibly the most challenging as this year we enjoyed a second pregnancy. Until the fateful 20 week scan and then, whilst still grieving the loss of our beloved daughter, we lost our son Arthur too. You can read about it here.
Second rainbow baby
My fourth year of motherhood is still in full swing and I have to say it is by far the best yet as we have our gorgeous rainbow baby Aurora. Named after the goddess of the dawn she has brought light back into our darkness. She certainly does this as she’s a bright, cheerful, smiley little girl.
People looking at our social media feed might be forgiven for thinking our lives are pure happiness now but as anyone who has suffered child loss will know they aren’t. The happy days are still tinged with sadness, as to what should be and what we are missing.
For example the other day I was “subjected” to a conversation by other mothers talking about how lovely it is that their three year olds and their babies play together. They interact now all the time. Well that’s what we should have Violet as a big sister playing with her younger siblings. Instead Aurora will probably grow up alone. Having grown up with a brother and sister that thought alone makes me want to cry. My siblings are still close to me and we remain an important part of each other’s lives.
I still have regular counselling to help me to try to deal with everything as I have horrendous nightmares on a regular basis. Sometimes extreme anxiety and times when I feel sad. I also have PTSD (read more here) caused by my first birth experience, my daughter having open-heart surgery and also from watching her die. I am told all this is “normal” for a grieving parent but it does draw parallels with how other mums say they feel who have post-natal depression. Whilst I don’t know what it is like to have a relatively normal experience of motherhood and still feel depressed, I do understand and have lived through all these feelings on a fairly regular basis.
I feel that lots of health visitors also need more training and guidance for how to deal with mothers who perhaps are slightly more fragile mentally than others. This is in light of a recent experience I had with a health visitor who reduced me from a confident mum of a rainbow baby to a crying anxious mess in the space of one baby weigh in session.
I also feel that more support should also be given to fathers as often they have no support at all, especially after the loss of a child or after they have witnessed a horrendous birth. They can suffer PTSD too.
Sending all mothers (and fathers) out there lots of love as parenthood can be tough whether it is simply sleepless nights. Or sitting by a sick child in a hospital bed or crying at a graveside. At the end of the day everything is relative to your previous experiences too. I thought the toughest thing I had to endure was watching my child sick in hospital that was until they died. Motherhood can be beautiful and wonderful but it can also be extremely cruel.
There’s a lot out there about new mums being lonely and how as a new mum you can suddenly feel lonely as your world changes overnight when your new baby is born. People talk about how important it is to make new friends and to build support networks so you don’t feel isolated. I’ve been there and get why some mums feel that way so can champion the importance of joining groups or courses to meet other new parents perhaps NCT classes or pregnancy yoga (as long as you’re not a rainbow mum read my earlier post about my experience with this here) before the birth or a baby class afterwards.
Loneliness as a mother of loss
What no one really talks about though is how lonely it is when your baby or child dies. As a mum of a living baby yes it might be lonely but you only have to go into a cafe or shop or walk down the street with a pram before someone stops to talk to you, to coo and fuss over your baby. It’s more than acceptable in society to be a new parent and to have a baby. If anything society celebrates it as this great achievement, which it isn’t, and miracle, which it is. But what happens if your child or baby dies? What then?
Well I can say from experience that society ostracises you. The support networks you had as a new or expectant mum suddenly disappear and aren’t there anymore. You can’t go along to a mother and baby group minus a baby can you? Or a post-pregnancy yoga session when that baby didn’t survive even though perhaps you’re more in need of that session than others. Well why can’t you? Because society makes you feel like an outcast.
You should be able to attend these groups and classes but you’re made to feel unwelcome. I phoned one yoga school after I lost my rainbow baby Arthur at 22 weeks (read about it my experience with Arthur here) and asked could I switch my paid for maternity yoga sessions to a post-pregnancy class but she advised that it wouldn’t be suitable for me and gave me a refund instead. All of a sudden your mummy membership has been revoked. You aren’t welcome anymore. Suddenly you’re pushed out to the fringes of society.
When my daughter Violet was alive I was celebrated by that same society, who exclaimed, “Oh you’re doing such a good and thankless tiring job as a Mummy”, “wow you’re a working mummy too” and even though motherhood is stressful at least it is acceptable.
Then your child dies and you’re pushed out, ignored and no one knows what to say or do with you anymore, so it is easier for him or her to simply ignore you or your situation. It is as though your mummy label has fallen off, when in fact you are still a mummy but just not of a living child. You’ve had the sleepless nights and are still having them just now they are because of your tears not a baby’s.
The invitations cease
No one wants to invite you out anymore. Well we don’t want to risk upsetting you, they may say, if we talk about our children. Suddenly if you do see any of your old friends by accident they deliberately avoid talking about their children and mentioning yours for this reason, when actually having only discussed parenting and each other’s children for the past year or more that line of discussion might actually be a great comfort and more the “normal” you’ve been used to. It is actually lovely for someone to mention your child’s name as it shows they still remember them and that their memory lives on, as one of the fears a grieving parent has is that their child will be forgotten.
A few years before I became a mother I was a singleton for years and I was subject to a different kind of societal taboo. I actually found myself longing to be in that outcast group again as it was more familiar to me!
So what to do about it?
If you’re the parent of loss then don’t feel alone there’s a huge community of us out there who can relate to what you’re going through. There are some links on my site here and don’t be afraid to reach out to friends to invite them out for coffee/lunch even if you don’t feel like it you’ll feel better for it as often they just don’t know what you need so tell them.
If you’re a friend or family member of someone who has suffered loss please do the following-
People used to ask me what they could do for me & sometimes I knew but often I didn’t know or couldn’t think about what I needed. So instead perhaps say I’d really like to be here for you. Would you like to come out for lunch with me or would you prefer me to drop some food round to you? Do you fancy a walk & a coffee somewhere or the cinema or I can pop round to you? By giving them choices it makes it easier for them to say what they’d prefer. Multiple-choice questions are always easier.
When you do see them just listen and give them a hug if appropriate. Feel free to say – “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” or if you’ve suffered child loss yourself then “I’ve been there I’m so sorry I understand what you’re going through” (please note: don’t say this if the closest loss you’ve suffered is losing a pet, as hard as that to you is it really isn’t comparable to losing a child nor is saying everyone has bad times then comparing it to money worries or a sick parent). Don’t say “at least he/she didn’t suffer”, “it wasn’t meant to be” or “at least you’re young enough to have another”. Remember silence is golden.
The period leading up to & straight after the funeral is when lots of people will be fussing over the grieving parents but that will end one or two weeks afterwards, then everyone outside the family will go back to their normal lives as if nothing happened. Contact your friend then, as this is when the loneliness begins. Good friends of mine dropped in food, insisted on cooking for us in our home & dropped in alcohol. One bought us a voucher card for a meal out that encouraged us to leave the house. Others sent flowers to show they were thinking of us if they lived far away. Remember even something small like a card or text message can make them feel less alone.
This week has been a really challenging one for me because my baby has been properly poorly for the first time. Yes we’ve had teething pain, the odd tummy bug and reflux issues but this time she has a very nasty cold bug that’s affected her chest too.
Now you might be thinking having to look after a sick baby is hard for any mother or parent and yes it is but when you’ve previously had a baby get sick and die it makes the experience all the more stressful. Especially when your other baby died of lung problems and now your new baby is choking and coughing in her sleep.
The doctor has said it’s just a cold so you’d think just give the child some calpol and vapour rub and get on with it.
Well just getting on with it is easier said than done. My hubby was also away so I was flying solo too (hats off to all those single parents out there you deserve medals!).
Sleepless in Manchester
The reality was that I didn’t get any sleep at all. Part of the night she was awake distressed after coughing and wanting cuddles. The rest of the night she slept in fits and starts repeatedly coughing and choking in her sleep. Cue mummy leaping out of bed every time. Sprinting across the room to lift her head and rub her back trying to ensure she didn’t breathe any phlegm back into her lungs.
Of course I also put a folded blanket under her mattress to ensure she was tilted to help with congested breathing, a tip we learnt from caring for her sister.
Holding baby while she sleeps
The following day aurora was still not herself so whilst most mummy’s might have tried to nap whilst baby did. I held her propped up while she slept so preventing her from choking on any phlegm and ensuring when she did cough that she definitely coughed or vomited outwards. Her sister they think breathed vomit into her lungs so this is now our worst nightmare for Aurora.
Rainbow baby’s are difficult
You might wonder why I’m even taking the time to tell you all this. Whilst I don’t want to over share or make anyone feel sorry for me. I’m thankful for my baby and don’t want to complain. Lots of people think once you finally get your rainbow baby then that’s it job done. Well it’s only just begun really.
The stress and worry now Aurora is ill is unbearable as when I do manage sleep I get flashbacks of her sister, Violet, in hospital and immediately after she died.
What are the chances?
Most parents will stress and worry about their babies for their entire lives, that bit isn’t a new phenomena, but I guess most believe their child dying won’t happen to them. These things always happen to other people. Well when the unthinkable has happened to you already then you’re more likely to worry that it will happen again.
I’ve seen what hell looks like and I’ve experienced unspeakable pain. I have sat by the side of a hospital bed for days and nights on end. I have had to hold my screaming baby down while she is tortured by doctors with needles and tubes all trying to do their jobs. I’ve stifled back my own crying and sobs so as not to distress my poorly child. I’ve told my crying child that all of this is to make them better and lied that they will be ok. I’ve begged and pleaded with emergency intensive care teams not to give up on resuscitation but nothing is worse than the nightmare of your baby actually dying.
You can’t un-see or forget your dead baby’s face. How their cold lifeless body felt? How clammy the skin? How soulless their eyes? Almost like a doll has been made of them. They don’t seem real somehow. I can tell you that hell is watching your child in pain, being tortured and then them die. Then you have to arrange their funeral before somehow going on with your life.
I never ever want to go back there again thank you. If to ensure that doesn’t happen it takes staying awake to check Aurora throughout the night then so be it. If I have to hold her while she sleeps then I will do. Anything I need to do I will do it.
I also keep having to repeat the same mantra over and over in my head.
“This is a different baby. A different person. She isn’t the same. ”
To all those parents out there with rainbow babies or those caring for children who are sick my hat goes off to you too. Sometimes it’s tough being a parent.
Sarah – Violet Skies
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For those of you who regularly read my blog or follow me on social media you may know that I have been waiting for the news about my heart since before Christmas (see this blog post if you need a catch up). Anyway that decision was supposed to be discussed with me this week, when I was due to see my cardiologist about my MRI scan results from last year.
My hospital appointment was on Wednesday, the morning after the night the snow came that caused gridlock across the north west. It meant my cardiologist was one of the many people unable to get into work that day, so, alas again, I am still awaiting news as to what the future holds for my heart and for me.
Initially I felt really frustrated that I still don’t know what will happen and all because of a bit of snow! Then I remembered that this isn’t the first time Mother Nature has put a spanner in the works for me and, in the grand scheme of things, this time I feel a bit of snow is quite a minor one.
Other “Mother Nature” surprises
Previous Mother Nature surprises have included nightmares such as my first child Violet being born with a heart disorder that was 100% fixed, thanks to medical science, then only to die from an extremely rare lung disease. Then I am diagnosed with a heart disorder too, that it seems I was born with.
My second baby was given the all clear as healthy at his 16 week scan. Then we were told at the 20 week scan that his brain hadn’t formed correctly so we’d need a TFMR. During both of these births medical procedures went wrong and I nearly died. Then I was told the issues both babies had were probably genetic and inherited from me. After tests it turns out the faulty gene is so extremely rare they can’t identify it as yet (of course it bloody is!).
Not all bad surprises
Then Mother Nature pleasantly surprised us with my third pregnancy, which we weren’t expecting as it was immediately after losing Arthur. This time it went smoothly producing the beautiful Aurora. Perhaps she felt she owed me one!
So Mother Nature continually surprises us on a frequent basis so I really don’t know why a bit of snow causing gridlock on the one day I really wanted to be able to see a consultant shocked me at all. I should be getting used to this by now.
Ride the Wave
I need to remember to a certain extent to “ride the wave” or “go with the flow”, when forces beyond my control come into play and balls everything up. It really is like the shipwreck analogy of grief. I’ve been clinging to the “I’ll find out about my heart on Wednesday” piece of wood to stay afloat and buoyant for the last month only for it to suddenly disintegrate plunging me under the icy waves once again. Anyway now I’ve clambered onto the “meh so what” Irish whiskey keg barrel and seem to have recovered again!
All I can say is that if a higher power does exist they certainly have a very dark sense of humour with the twists and turns they deliver to me on a regular basis.
I’m just hoping I get to see my cardiologist soon and that he says I can have a keyhole procedure in the not too distant future.
Hope none of you were adversely affected by the snow and scuppered by our good old Mother Nature. Keep warm.
Always Violet Skies
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