I Found My Voice at BritMums Live 2014

Me and Hugo

Me and Hugo

I went to BritMums Live with a great deal of trepidation. I’d been in a deep depression since the death of my baby son Hugo in March this year, and developed anxiety issues that mean I sometimes feel unable to leave the house.

The kind and generous Kylie from Not Even a Bag of Sugar had offered me a ticket. I was interested in the Inspire sessions at the conference and how to utilise my blog to advocate for change, and raise awareness of issues.

The conference was the first significant thing I had done since Hugo died, so I was terrified.

However, I was determined to do this for Hugo so I put on my favourite dress, made myself look presentable, and got on the train to London.

I received a warm welcome when I arrived.  I’d made eye contact and exchanged smiles with a few other women, but felt too unconfident to approach anyone. Mari had told me to look out for the Butterflies, but it all seemed so huge and overwhelming and I couldn’t find them.

So many women were cradling babes in arms. They were glowing, and seemed so bloody happy. I felt on the exact opposite end of the spectrum: my arms are empty, my heart heavy, and my face is etched with grief.

It began to feel too much: I could feel my heart rate increasing and tears pricking my eyes, so I made a run for the ladies’ where I started to sob and have a panic attack.

The first panic attack I had ever had was when the Hugo’s consultants delivered the news that there was no more hope for my precious baby, and nothing more could be done. Grief and trauma counselling is very difficult to find, and I haven’t yet learned how to manage the attacks.

Hugo enjoying a cuddle with me

Hugo enjoying a cuddle with me

A kind lady asked me if I was ok, but walked off when I didn’t reply. I wasn’t being rude, it’s just difficult to speak when you’re hyperventilating.

Another kind lady and her sister came along, waited for me to finish my sobs, gave me a big hug and looked after me. I’ll be forever grateful to Lucy at Capture by Lucy for her compassion towards a lost soul.

After Emma Freud’s heartening keynote speech, I got chatting to another group of bloggers. We traded information about the subject of our blogs. When I told one lady the main topic of mine, she told me it was a conversation stopper. She also said she was sorry about my baby, but also repeated the ‘conversation stopper’ comment several more times. I was so hurt by this insensitive comment. Taken aback, I felt so low and so lost I didn’t know what to say. I had lost my voice.

My son was born in February; I still count myself as a new mum. I’m as proud of Hugo as any new mum is of their baby and love to talk about him. I had always planned to show off my new baby to anyone and everyone. Talking and blogging about Hugo is the only way I can do that now. My heart is broken, in so many ways. I love Hugo so much. He is not a conversation stopper.

Hugo goes everywhere I go.

Hugo goes everywhere I go.

I came so close to walking out and going home. The event was too soon, I felt too sad, things were too raw, and I had surely made a terrible mistake by going.

‘The Power Blogging Can Bring to Your Life’ breakout session made me feel glad I stayed. The special ladies on the panel talked about finding and using your voice, the catharsis of blogging through major life events, and not caring what anyone else thinks. It was hugely resonant for me. I even found myself putting up my hand to talk about why I blog, the support I have found as a result and how it is helping others. I was beginning to find my voice.

I left the event on Friday feeling so much better than how I had arrived. Having now found my voice, I tweeted about the ‘conversation stopper’ comment and had lovely replies from fellow bloggers about meeting the following day. I arrived on Saturday feeling like I could take on the world – a total contrast to day one.

The Guardian website featured Ben Brooks-Dutton’s Life as a Widower blog last summer, and I wept through reading it. I never imagined I would be in a similar place less than 12 months later. I’d seen Ben on BBC Breakfast about a month after Hugo died. The powerful emotions of grief made me feel like I was going mad, and I was so grateful to him for saying it’s ok to not be ok. I had mixed feelings about Ben’s keynote speech because it cut so close to me, but I am glad I heard it. It was so full of love for his wife and for his son.

I found myself putting my hand up, and was handed the microphone. I wanted to thank Ben for his words, say how pissed off I was about the ‘conversation stopper’ comment and also thank him for breaking the taboo about bereavement. The round of applause I received after my comment was totally unexpected and very moving.

The deluge of bereaved mothers who approached me afterwards was overwhelming – in a good way. It’s an awful club to be in, but amazing to be able to speak to people who ‘get it’.

I’m touched by those who said I was brave for standing up. Those comments are kind, and there’s no false modesty in saying I don’t agree. I don’t think bravery and being pissed off should be confused with each other.

And believe me, standing up in front of 700 people is a whole lot less scary than discussing with your baby’s consultant about how and when your baby will die, leaving him behind in a mortuary, or watching his tiny coffin being lowered in to his grave.

I enjoyed making this sign in Pippa Best's Mama Me Time session

I enjoyed making this sign in Pippa Best’s Mama Me Time session

I’m so pissed off and utterly furious about the hand life has dealt me. I’m riddled with guilt that problems with the placenta led to my vital organs having a meltdown that meant my perfect baby had to be born weeks before he was ready. Women can and do die from HELLP syndrome, and I know I am lucky to have lived to tell the tale.

For those reasons, I am more passionate than I can express about talking about Hugo, and channelling my anger, grief and frustration into helping others in his name. It’s his legacy. It’s the least his mummy can do for him.

The conference gave me the opportunity to meet, chat and have hugs with the hugely inspirational people who I admire greatly for what they have done and continue to do: Ben Brooks-Dutton; Mel from Her Melness Speaks; Merry from Patch of Puddles; Jennie Edspire and Beth Bone.

I met so many wonderful people on the Saturday, and enjoyed talking to you all. Thank you for coming to talk to me, and for starting a conversation.

I have made lots of new friends, and have lots of potential opportunities to make Hugo’s legacy grow and grow.

I’ve recently set up a website in Hugo’s name – Bright in Mind and Spirit. I’d love to know what you think, and to hear from anyone who would like to contribute.

BritMums Live delivered everything it promised, and more. I’m emotionally drained and exhausted, but I went away feeling inspired and full of ideas about my blog being an agent of change.

Even more importantly, I saw a glimpse of the old Leigh. The one who smiles, the one who can be happy, the one who is friendly and chats to people. I also saw a glimpse of the ‘new normal’ people told me about, and the Leigh who will emerge from the devastation.

The Leigh who is feisty, and speaks her mind. The Leigh who has found her voice, and who is not afraid to use it.

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61 thoughts on “I Found My Voice at BritMums Live 2014

  1. Betty and the Bumps says:

    Hi Leigh,

    I’ve just read this because there was a link to it under your most recent BritMums post. I never saw it at the time of writing but AS IF somebody would use the phrase “conversation stopper” in that context. She might as well have said “Oh, that’s put a bit of a downer on the day” and punched you in the face! I really hope everybody else who heard it was as shocked and bewildered as you were. I can’t get over it (clearly!). x

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  2. amytreasure0 says:

    Hello darling Leigh, I’ve just happened upon this piece as was looking through the Britmums linky from last year, trying to get a feel for what it will be like (as a Britmums virgin) I’m so shocked that someone said that to you my love, I’m finding it difficult to put into words just how I recoiled when I read that. Some people have dreadful tact and lack any empathy or decorum and frankly I don’t know where you got the strength to stay and speak up after that. I commend you and I am so touched by your story and love hearing all about little Hugo and I know you know this but you absolutely must, must talk freely about it. I think all your articles are wonderful and I’m happy to know you. I hope you will be going along to Britmums this year because I can’t wait to meet you xxxx

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    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Hi lovely Amy, thanks so much. BML was overwhelming, I felt out of place and while I am sure that lady didn’t mean to be insensitive, it compounded my sense that I shouldn’t be there. Once I’d had my cry and gathered my strength, I felt I had to make the most of the opportunity, and say something. I am so glad I did. I am so happy to know you too, and thank you for your kind words about my posts – I’m really touched because I know many are not an easy read. I’m going to BML, and am very much looking forward to meeting you xxxx

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  3. Brighton Mama says:

    Hi Leigh, just booked my ticket for 2015, will be my first bloggers conference & came across your old post. It was brave of you to go so soon after Hugo’s death and glad you got something out of it in the end. Such an insensitive comment to make – I guess some people, me included, don’t know what to say sometimes when you haven’t experienced something so awful. But oh dear, what words to use! Glad you spoke out and got so much support from fellow bloggers. I’ll see you there this year if you’re going? 🙂

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    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Yes, it wasn’t the most sensitive comment! I’m so glad I went to the conference though. Fab news you’ve booked to go. I’m not sure if I’m going yet, but I look forward to meeting you there if I do xxx

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  4. SingleMotherAhoy says:

    I remember hearing what you said at the end of Ben’s speech (though I didn’t realise it was you) and I remember thinking what an insensitive comment that was. I loved the response Ben gave. I think for a lot of people it stops conversations because they’re scared you’ll cry, or somehow catch “death of a loved one” from you.
    I completely understand the desire to talk about Hugo. You must have a million things you want to remember about him, and the best way to remember is to talk. I’m so glad Brit Mums helped you on your journey, and am gutted we didn’t get a chance to meet. Like you, I was overwhelmed to start with and Friday was a bit of a blur in the end.

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    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thanks for getting in touch. We should have met – next time! I didn’t really hear what Ben’s reply was – I was too overwhelmed. I’m glad I stood up to be counted though. I’ll never stop talking about Hugo, so he lives on in our memories.xxx

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      • SingleMotherAhoy says:

        He said he didn’t think blogging about someone who had died was a conversation stopper; he’d been at a convention where someone asked what his blog was about and he said “oh you probably don’t want to know, what’s yours about” and the guy said something like “non English language heavy metal” and he thought that was more of a conversation stopper.
        My mum had a baby who died, I think after I was born. Her name was Rosemary. We don’t talk about her often, but I do remember visiting her grave when I was little.

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      • Leigh Kendall says:

        Thank you! Ha, non-English heavy metal does sound more like a conversation stopper than babies, or any other type of grief. I am sorry to hear about your sister. xxx

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  5. Anya from Older Single Mum and The Healer says:

    I had been keeping an eye out for you Leigh, being a Butterfly, and am sorry you hadn’t known about our FB group ahead of the conference. I’m glad we met accidentally at one of the sessions on the second day but didn’t get chance to speak after you were surrounded by fellow attendees after hearing your story. I hope we meet again in different circumstances. As I said at the time, I am so sorry to hear of your loss – and thank you for speaking up. It’s people like you that make a real difference and help others do the same.

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    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thanks Anya. My head was so full of everything, which probably didn’t help me find the butterflies. It was lovely to meet you, and I look forward to catching up another time. I had to speak up, for Hugo xxx

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  6. Emma T (@ETusty) says:

    A wonderful post, and so pleased that you found someone in Lucy to help you past that awful comment. And that you’ve been able to take strength and positivity in taking your blog and Hugo’s legacy forward. I was in the first session where you spoke up, and really respected you for doing that. I don’t think I’d have been able to in the same situation.

    Good luck with Bright in Mind and Spirit. Hope it achieves everything you want it to

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    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thank you, Emma. I’m glad that the lovely people far outnumbered the others. I really felt compelled to speak up in that session – it resonated with me so much and helped remind me why I was there. Thank you too for your wishes about Bright in Mind and Spirit. I’m so passionate about it. It’s Hugo’s legacy xxx

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  7. twopointfourchildren says:

    I missed the talk in the second day and wish I had been there to hear you talk. It must have been so difficult for you and if I had known I would have tried to find you. I have been through a ssimilar journey and would have loved to listen to you tell me all about Hugo x

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  8. Jenny says:

    I’m so sorry you didn’t find us in the Butterfly corner – I feel like I let you down so on behalf of us all, sorry. You are an incredibly brave lady and I hope you keep telling your story so honestly and eloquently

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    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Hi Jenny, please don’t worry. It was a busy conference, and my head was all over the place which didn’t help. Most of the first day was far from fun for me but to put it in perspective, it’s not the worst thing that’s happened to me this year. Thank you, I’m telling our story for my Hugo xxx

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  9. leyla says:

    I am so glad I found your blog. I wanted to let you know how much of an inspiration and how brave you are. I was touched by the courage you showed at Britmums and wanted to let you know. You will always be Hugo Mummy and that to me is the conversation starter, never stop taking about him. My only way to cope with grief is to talk about it to anyone who will listen. It has kept my sister alive and now my daughters, who have never met her talk about her as if they have. It makes me smile when they do.

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  10. Kylie says:

    I am so so proud of you. I bought that ticket ages ago and two people had no longer need of it. I just “gave it to the wind” and asked that it be directed to the right person, and it came to you.

    I am so glad we met through Twitter and I am looking forward to becoming a real life friend too. Hugo is very important to me, I see him as a nephew in a way, he is a very strong little boy, who is still bringing light and love to others and he always will.

    He’s a conversation starter, just look at these comments.

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    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thanks Kylie. That ticket was definitely providence. I was terrified, but am so grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to go and show off about Hugo and find more ways to achieve my goals for his legacy.

      Hugo will always belong to us all. He’s a very special boy who has brought together so many people together.

      I’m so glad we met on Twitter too, and am proud to call you my friend xxx

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  11. My Two Mums says:

    I am so glad I found your post on the Britmums Linky. I heard you stand up and speak about the conversation stopper remark and I was shocked at first that someone would say that and then I realised that people can be incredibly insenstive and ignorant, no matter the circumstances, sadly it’s quite common and it is so sad to think someone made you feel this way. I am glad you feel the strength to write about Hugo and share his story, it is so important. You are an inspiration.

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  12. Michelle says:

    I was sat near by when you stood up and spoke, and my heart not only sank for your loss, but for those horrid words that were said to you. We all have a different journey in life and through our blogs, and I’m so glad to read that you stayed beyond a unthoughtful comment(s) and found power and strength in some of the sessions. I know if I had seen you in the loos, I would have stayed with you and not just walked away. Sometimes we just need someone…anyone…a friend or a stranger to just be there.

    I read through your story before reading this post, and it isn’t a conversation stopper at all, it’s a starter…and in Hugo’s memory you’ll keep him alive through your words and story and help others who find themselves in a similar position. xxxx

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  13. emma berry says:

    I’ve just come across your blog from a RT – this post is wonderful and truly shows how society finds it hard to deal with death or bereavement. What a brave and wonderful thing to do for you and for the memory of your son. I’ve read about Hugo this morning and think you have a very brave, strong voice and I wish you all the best with your new website. I’ll be continuing to read your story. X

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    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thank you for reading about Hugo. He’s a very special boy. As a society we are terrible at dealing with death and bereavement, and I was speaking up for anyone who’s ever had such an insensitive comment. We need to break the taboo about baby loss and bereavement. It’s part of Hugo’s legacy to us all xxx

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    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thank you, I’m glad I stayed and came back too. I learned so much from you all about using my blog to advocate for change, and to talk about Hugo even more. I’ve made lots of new friends and have many future collaboration opportunities. It’s all for Hugo and his legacy xxx

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  14. mummybarrow says:

    I am so sorry you had such a crappy start to the weekend. But I am even more pleased you stayed and out your hand up. And felt brave enough to tell us all about Hugo. That was one of the bravest things I have heard

    In fact I wrote down what Ben said in response to the conversation stopper statement. I wanted to blog about it and how nobody should say that to a woman who has lost a baby. Ever.

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    • Leigh Kendall says:

      I’ll never stop talking about Hugo. I’ll talk about him even more than ever now! I’ll never let anyone let me lose my voice again.

      I’m looking forward to reading your blog. I’d love to hear what else you have to say about it. Also, I’d love to read what Ben said – I heard it of course but it didn’t sink in because my head was spinning from the emotion of standing up and the applause! xxx

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  15. Capture by Lucy (@capturebylucy) says:

    Leigh it was a pleasure to meet you and your writing is so powerful and eloquent. I only wish I had overheard that “conversation stopper” comment. I bet you can imagine what my response would have been. In fact I spent an hour at a child’s birthday party with a mum who lost her baby boy last year at 10 weeks. For an hour we chatted and she told me all about her beautiful boy. Certainly wasn’t a conversation stopper. So pleased to have found you xxx

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    • Leigh Kendall says:

      I’m so pleased you found me Lucy. I use my writing as a voice for Hugo, and for so many others who are unable to speak up for any reason. It’s wonderful you spent so long chatting to that lady, just as you did with me. All mummies love to talk about their babies, whether or not they are still with us. They are never a conversation stopper xxx

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  16. Ali says:

    I am touched, overwhelmed and deeply moved by your story. My heart is breaking to imagine the pain you must feel every day, yet the admiration i have for you, thinking of you standing up and finding your voice in front of 700 people is more than admirable. A close friend of mine experienced loss in the same way and she too is starting to see glimpses of her former self re appear slowly.
    What a gorgeous little bundle, here’s to you, Hugo, you’re mummy is doing you proud. Lots of love, Ali xx

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  17. Mummy Says says:

    Oh Leigh, I wasn’t in either of those sessions so didn’t hear all this. I wish so much I had seen you, just to give you a hug because I really have no words. I am sending you so much love, you are often in my thoughts. Hugo was so lucky to have you as his mum, and all that you are doing now is so incredibly brave xxx

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  18. tiasmum12 says:

    Oh me goodness hello! I saw you stand and talk after bens speech and I applauded you afterwards with a heavy heart. I’m so sorry that someone kept repeating those stupid “conversation stopper” words to you. Sometimes people just don’t know how to act around great sadness and loss, which is why I think blogs like yours are important. I’ve followed your blog now, and I just wanted to say please don’t feel bad for feeling sad. It’s ok xx

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    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thank you. The lady was perfectly pleasant, I’m sure she didn’t mean to upset me, it’s just that she didn’t know what to say. Thank you for following my blog. It’s so important to get these issues in the open for the benefit of anyone who has suffered a bereavement xxx

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  19. Ginny says:

    Leigh, I’m so glad to have met you and am so proud that you have found your voice. It’s a hard new world you have found yourself in and I know all too well about being the conversation stopper–but don’t stop. Talking about Hugo is what will heal you–there will always be a raw place, don’t get me wrong, but it gets easier. There is an “ok” place in the world for you, eventually–not what you wanted, not how you planned, but a place where there is more love than grief. Big hugs to you.

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  20. Hannah - Budding Smiles says:

    This brought tears to my eyes Leigh, thank you of sharing and a massive hug and a well done for going to BritMums, I wish I’d been there to meet you. It makes me happy to read that you can see a way through the grief, whilst also retaining the love and pride for your beautiful son. I’ve known others who have lost babies at various stages and they’ve also spoken of the ‘new normal’, you’ll find yours xxx

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  21. jillbeech2014 says:

    Beautifully written and bravely sharing raw emotions. Sometimes people will appear insensitive, I think maybe because they worry about saying the right thing and then getting it very wrong.
    But better to try, than cast you to a world of torment and silence.
    Feisty Leigh starts to reappear, very slowly, she will emerge when she’s good and ready. From your stories of Hugo maybe he got this from his mom x

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