New Guest Post Series: Life After…

Life doesn’t always work out the way we planned, or hoped. Sometimes things that happen to us are out of our control. These unexpected events can change our lives completely. Somehow, though, we have to carry on. We have to live the life we have, after.

My blog is about my life after two life-changing events that happened to me last year. The events are related: my pregnancy nearly killing me (I had HELLP syndrome, which is rare pregnancy complication that can cause organ failure) when I was just 24 weeks pregnant, and my much-wanted, much-loved baby son Hugo dying just 35 days later.

I will never be ‘over’ the death of my son, or what happened to me when I was pregnant. My acceptance, if you can call it that, of what happened to me changes like the tide. Acceptance or no, however, I have had little choice but to live the life I have now.

Life after Hugo has been really, really tough, challenging, awful, terrifying, sad, heartbreaking, devastating, exhausting. Living with grief and trauma is like that.

But I have survived, I am surviving. I could not have imagined saying that this time last year.

That is why I thought I would start a new weekly guest post series on my blog, ‘Life After…’. It is open to anyone who has had any life-changing experience (it could be bereavement, a life-threatening illness or accident, abuse, breakdown of a long-term relationship….this is not an exhaustive list).

The purpose of the series is to try and give hope to others experiencing similar issues. To let others know that (dependent on the nature of the life-changing event) things may never be ‘better’, you may desperately want things to return to the way they were even though you know that is impossible, that life after can be really, really tough – but you can survive.

If you would like to tell your story, please do get in touch. You can email me at headspace-perspective@outlook.com. While not wanting to prescribe how you tell your own story, as a guide you may like to include a bit about yourself; what happened; how it changed your life; and what your life is like now. You may also like to talk about what you found helpful and unhelpful, and things like coping strategies.

I look forward to reading your stories.

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Guest Post: Making The Smallest Things Matter

Guest post from Catriona Ogilvy, founder of The Smallest Things.

 

They say that nothing can prepare you for parenthood (I’d be inclined to agree); but for nine months you can plan, imagine, hope and dream.

For parents of babies born too soon though the anticipation is dramatically interrupted and the hopes and dreams become a distant memory replaced by the beeping sound of monitors and life support machines.

I have written about my experiences as part of the Smallest Things campaign after my first son was born suddenly at 30 weeks. My memories from that day are as hazy and surreal as the day itself. Calling my boss in-between contractions to say I wouldn’t be in work, being shown my tiny baby for just a nanosecond before he was taken away to intensive care, being given a bag full of leaflets and booklets about anything and everything, being told that my baby would spend up to ten weeks in hospital and that tomorrow would be my first day of maternity leave. That night climbing into bed at home the feeling of emptiness was all consuming and the sense of unfairness lingered at the back of my mind. How could I be on maternity leave? This isn’t how it was supposed to be.

For many mothers of babies born too soon maternity leave begins weeks if not months before their baby comes home. To me this just didn’t feel right and in some way I felt I was being punished for having my baby early. I’d missed out on my final trimester with him, and now I would miss out on our precious time at home together as well. Since launching The Smallest Things, our most popular post to date has been around extending maternity leave for mothers of premature babies. It is an issue that matters, and is an issue that resonates.

It is well documented that parents who have spent time in neonatal intensive care are at increased risk of developing anxiety or depression, with many reporting symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Bonding with a baby in hospital can be difficult and coming to terms with all that has gone before shattering. After weeks you finally bring your new baby home only to start thinking about childcare options for return to work. That precious time together at home to bond is small, your time to accept, heal or seek necessary help is cut short and your baby, who although is chronologically older, is still tiny and totally dependent upon you.

Alongside the emotional trauma of having a premature baby there is also a very real cost to being in hospital. The latest survey by Bliss reports that on parents spend an extra £2,256 over the course of their hospital stay and I can certainly relate to this as we saw our cost of travel, parking, eating out etc mount up. This is a significant amount and with the worries and anxieties of having a baby in neonatal care parents do not need the added burden of whether they can afford to visit their baby in hospital or pay the monthly bills.

The Smallest Things is encouraging parents of babies born too soon to share their stories and to speak openly and honestly about their experiences. This is vital to increase awareness around the realities, both emotionally and financially, of having a premature baby, and is key in building an effective campaign calling on Government to extend maternity leave for mothers of babies born too soon.

More information can be found at our website www.thesmallestthings.org

 

Guest post: Menai mourns all lost babies

My friend Menai has generously shared her experience of her three miscarriages in honour of Baby Loss Awareness Week. In this moving post, she talks about her anger at the lack of support she received, and how she stands in solidarity with all women who have lost a much-wanted baby.

I wanted to write about Baby Loss Awareness week. I am an admirer of the brave parents, often mummies, who have the courage to share their stories and shout their babies’ names to the sky. Those who campaign and put their grief and their anger and their love out there in the world, trying to make things better for those who will come after them.

My husband and I wanted to have children and were thrilled at that first positive pregnancy test. The news was shared with our parents but we kept everyone else in the dark, guarding our private secret. We were off on a family holiday to Ireland, sharing a rural house with my husband’s cousins. It was difficult to keep the secret, feeling tired and worried about looking lazy, not wanting to go for long walks or to stay up late playing cards. Refusing to eat raw shellfish. Asking surreptitiously in restaurants if the ice cream was homemade. The rest of the family departed and we had the place to ourselves. We talked about names, planned dates and flew home. At work a few days later I started to bleed, and I met my husband at the hospital.

In a big old building the babies’ crying echoes. As night fell and I was wheeled around from the waiting area to the corridor in a chair, I felt sure that this baby was not going to make it. The scan confirmed that there was a lovely little coffee-bean shape but no heartbeat. I saw the screen and asked for a printout. The printer wasn’t working.

There would be no record or acknowledgement.

They wheeled me back through the ward of mums and babies, all crying and feeding and snuggling and being so damn alive.

I wasn’t in any pain but my mind was fighting to see through the fog of questions and hurt. We had an accident on the way home, bumping the car in front and as my husband remonstrated with the driver, I withdrew into a shell that could protect me. What did anything in the world matter other than what was happening right now inside – I was miscarrying, failing to hold onto this little life. Why had I done anything to risk it? If I had stayed home would it be safe and sound? Perhaps, probably not.

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I miscarried at home, crying with a sharp pain and holding onto my mum who had come to keep me company. I wanted to keep what came for the hospital to see, to analyse and help me hold onto the next baby. The hospital said that they didn’t need to see but would take it for me. I gave them the container but held onto the soft fabric bag I used to take it there despite my husband encouraging me to throw it away.

I changed jobs and went to work in an early years team, planning baby rooms and activities across the county. Every time I heard the word ‘baby’ my heart leapt and sank.

The next two miscarriages came even earlier, the first after only a few short weeks of getting our hopes up, staying close, missing weddings and parties, the second whilst abroad again – had I even really known I was pregnant that time? The GP had said not to worry about going out and about but to give ourselves time, to be sure that the dates could be measured for subsequent pregnancies. Had I rushed things, not given these little ones a fighting chance? Just within the months that our first would have arrived, a new pregnancy, a springtime ray of hope.

This time we were lucky – bleeding wasn’t severe and baby stayed inside. I was horribly sick and tired and gave birth nine months later.

Little H is now nearly six. I can’t wish for those other babies, because if I had any of them, I wouldn’t have had her. But I am angry at how it went both that first time in the hospital and at no support or investigations by a GP for three lost pregnancies. I am angry that I didn’t know what to do and feel guilty, wondering if I did something that deprived those others of a chance.

There’s no names, just loss. There’s an increased awareness that life is fragile, that babies are not to be taken for granted, that wounds heal but with scars to remember.

I mourn with those who lost their babies at early or much later stages and who lost their children of any age. I stand shoulder to shoulder with them and call out for change.

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