On 31st January 2019 our third son was born sleeping at almost 20 weeks gestation. Those are the hard facts, cold and unemotional.
The three days before were spent in hospital desperately hoping that the next option offered by a wonderful team of doctors and midwives would be the one to keep him inside and safe. Eventually, the hope ran out, the probabilities were too close to zero to outweigh the risk of our two big boys losing their mum. So we faced the inevitable and let go, together, holding each other up.
12 hours later we’d cuddled him and held each other and cried and said goodbye. We came home and helped our boys to understand that their baby wasn’t coming home.
Almost immediately the routine everyday parenting requirements pulled us back into a normal world. But after days and weeks of crying every night after the boys went to bed, the weight seemed a little lighter and the tiny steps to recovery began.
Here are some things that made a difference to me starting to feel just a bit more normal.
1. Got out and about straight away
Two days after we came home, babyless, we went out for the afternoon. My mum had been staying so that himself could be with me in hospital. We decided not to hide in the house, however comforting that might be. Instead of somewhere local, we went to a National Trust place 20 miles away. Fresh air and change of scenery gave us a sense of normality, a distraction from the thoughts of grief running through our heads at home. Just focusing on something was good, it gave my emotions a break from the overwhelming sorrow.
2. Added ring on my necklace
About three weeks after we’d lost boy3 I went back to work. My mum and mother in law had stayed and kept me company. Going back to work was the right thing for me, to keep my brain busy. At the same time I felt I needed to be able to connect with our baby any time he was on my mind.
A few years ago himself got me a necklace for my birthday, with two interlinked DNA plasmids looped together. I took this to the local jewellers and they added a plain extra loop of silver, linked through both rings. The extra loop moves freely and gives me something to touch whenever I think of him.
3. I learnt how to do a Rubik’s cube
The hardest thing for me was being on my own or just sitting quietly. Left in peace without a focus my brain started asking all the “what if”s, feeling guilty and reliving the memories. To keep myself occupied and distracted in those early weeks, while my emotions and hormones settled down, I got a 3×3 Rubik’s cube and set about learning to solve it. I just needed the space to think about our loss when I wanted to, not to avoid it completely just to escape sometimes. I can solve the cube now, starting with any colour. I got a 4×4 too but haven’t mastered that, I think I’ve come out of that phase of needing distraction.
4. I joined Twitter
For a long time, I’ve always found myself thinking in the shower or in bed at night about stuff and knowing that my opinion might not be very welcome by my Facebook friends. I felt like I quite wanted to let those thoughts out – whether boasting about the boys, moaning about school or politics, or talking about loss. So I created myself an anonymous Twitter account (@AndSmelly) and took the automatic advice about follow suggestions.
I love it! I’ve found a dynamic, diverse community of people all over the world. I say pretty much whatever I want, no filter based on the fear of judgement by “real” people. People respond or they don’t, so far I’ve mostly avoided trolls (must not engage antivaxers) and strange sexual overtures. It doesn’t really matter. I’m not holding things in and that does matter.
5. And started my blog
My reasons for starting my blog are similar but maybe a bit more ambitious too. Instead of short thoughts I can write more freely, taking longer to put together more considered pieces. Sometimes I’m just venting, sometimes I’m almost diarying, sometimes documenting creations, mostly just letting out my latest ponderings.
Having both these outlets is great. Where else could I say how hard it was to have my lovely friends give me a tree to remember boy3 by? Where else could I rant about the school and PTA lack of consideration for working parents?
6. Haven’t shied away from talking
Even though I tend to let out the less acceptable subjects and opinions on here, I try not to avoid talking about boy3 with my friends. They ask how I am and I tell them truthfully. We talk about how I’m feeling, how they felt after early miscarriages, how our families cope.
It’s so important to keep talking. It doesn’t matter what I need to say, they’re there to listen and its crucial to let it out. It helps me to feel like what’s happened isn’t this secret that must be kept for fear of upsetting or scaring people, its not normal exactly but it is part of my life and is my normal from here on in.
7. Forced myself to confront babies
Several friends had their second babies in the last year. The first just at the time our boy3 was born and then three more between then and a month after our due date. So when we see each other, there are babies everywhere of varying ages. I’ve taken my time feeling ready to interact with them. I’ve held the oldest biggest ones sooner and the tiny ones only recently.
There’s no point hiding from them, there are going to be babies around for the rest of our lives. Maybe grand-babies one day. I have to face that and get used to it – not all at once, just when I’m ready to take each step.
I haven’t met my cousin’s third son yet. Her two older boys are close in age to our two and she had a third son just before our was born. They should have been 5 months apart, instead her little boy is destined to be left out when we get together as the older two pairs go off.
8. Got my body back
When boy3 was born I’d put on almost a stone more than my normal weight. I’m not very tall and usually quite petite, so once the pregnancy was gone my body didn’t feel like it was supposed to – I wasn’t round and “glowing” and I wasn’t my usual slim self either.
Every time I pulled up my maternity jeans or caught sight of myself in the mirror I was reminded how my body was neither here nor there. So I set about putting it back in order. Long walks (with head phones) and cutting out chocolate, it took 6 weeks. Pulling on my old jeans again and feeling comfortable felt like pressing reset. Back to normal.
9. I never walk any distance alone or without music
Despite being able to talk about our loss (now 11 months later), to hold other people babies and no longer dreaming of all the what ifs, being alone with my thoughts is something I still want to control. I want to decide when I have a wonder about baby boy3. So if I go for a walk I want to go with a friend or wear headphones and listen to BBC 6Music. I want my head filled with songs and speech.
10. I’ve re-started running
I’ve attempted running a few times before and never got into it. I’m doing better now than I ever have before. I always take music with me and I’m building up to longer distances. I used the couch to 5km app to get my started and whenever I’ve had a break with a cold I pick back up at week 4 (I haven’t actually got to the end of week 6 yet!).
Running is helping in a couple of ways; it give me a break from the sometimes overwhelming busyness of family life, it helps me keep my body the shape I want it while also eating all the chocolate, but the endorphin releases are surely contributing to my mood.
One last thing…
A friend gave me some wonderful advice shortly after boy3 was born.
There’s only one first time.
That’s a really helpful mantra to have whenever I’m facing a tough moment. Only one first day back at work, only one first time meeting a pregnant friend, being in the school playground, meeting colleagues, holding a baby, passing our due date, the anniversary of finding out we were pregnant and that first Christmas without him. We’ve got through all those things saying “there’s only one first time”.