And then she was one

And just like that, she was one.

 

Except, when I really think about it, it wasn’t ‘just like that’ at all.  The first year of parenting after loss has been a complete rollercoaster; a Big Dipper, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and one that I have desperately wanted to escape at times.  Because, despite what I had hoped, having a take home baby did not fix everything. It did not take away my pain.  It just made the hardest job in the world that much more complicated.

 

Parenting a live baby has changed me.  I am not the person I once was, and at the same time, I have come to accept that I am not parent I thought I would be.  It has shattered my sense of self and I am slowly piecing the shards back together and getting to know the cracks that exist in between them.  Some of those crevices have been deep, dark and quite unnerving to expose myself to, whilst others have acted as a prism and shone the full spectrum of colours.

 

I thought that when Orla died that I was well and truly broken, but looking back, I had just built up an even stronger wall than I had before.  My own emotions have always scared me and I have run from them; finding solutions or ways in which to numb the pain.  Working harder.  Finding another project.  I would bounce from one thing to another as a way of blocking out what was really troubling me, because I feared that my emotions would destroy me.  I couldn’t trust that anyone else could hold them; the terror that they would either become overwhelmed by them or would reject me was paralysing.  So, I denied that they existed and continued to build my armour of strategies, that enabled me to run away from pain.

 

But mothering a baby at home has ripped down that barrier. It wasn’t immediate; when Esme was born I was shell shocked – she was here, she was alive and we had survived those nine months of overwhelming anxiety.  Instead, ever so slowly at first, and then all at once, my emotions started seeping in. There has been love.  So much love.  But there has been anxiety and fear and anger and resentment and self-loathing, all on a level that I wasn’t prepared for.  I suddenly had to confront everything I had been running away from. Which essentially was myself.

 

There is nowhere to hide when you are a parent.  Your baby acts as a mirror, reflecting everything you believe about yourself.  They won’t settle: Am I doing the wrong thing?  They won’t sleep unless they are on me: Am I not doing enough?  They seem unhappy:Am Ienough?  There is no day off and no escape.  There is also no warning.  This stuff is visceral and no manual, no talking to, no soundbites of sage advice can prepare you for it.  It is just utterly mind blowing and life altering.

 

What I will never know is whether parenting in general would have done this to me, or whether this is specific to parenting after loss.  I have spoken with other loss mums about this and how confusing it is to pick apart how you are feeling or coping on any given day.  I find myself questioning is this ‘normal’ parenting stress, or is it my mental health deteriorating?  Is this expected mum worry or is this anxiety that comes from knowing what it is to plan your own baby’s funeral?  Is this just a bad day or is this grief hitting me at full throttle?  I question whether this matters or not, but in truth I think it does, because each one requires a slightly different approach.  And as a psychologist, it has shown me how little is understood about the stuff that is left behind following trauma and loss and how this impacts on parenting.  Everything changes when your baby dies: your view of yourself, your view of the world, your ability to manage stress and noise and people – it is all that much more complicated because there is always a part of your brain that is processing what you have been through and how that fits with the situation you currently face. And with parenting, there are so many new and challenging situations, that it is no wonder it sometimes feels pretty overwhelming.

 

Most parents talk about the shock at how much life changes, how all-encompassing parenting is and, at times, how much you long for the old you that wasn’t so tired and dazed.  Yet when you have fought so hard to bring a baby home and have had to face such heart-breaking hurdles, these feelings are that bit more difficult to admit to.  I mean, how can you say that you are finding it hard or that you aren’t enjoying every moment, when previously you would have fired daggers at anyone who said this?  The need to overcompensate, to show gratitude and to savour every waking moment without grumble undoubtedly increased my risk of PND.  Moreover, my internal drive to be self-sufficient and not to need help was unrealistic and punitive.  Yet I persisted and pushed myself further and harder, because deep down, I didn’t think that I deserved the help that every single mother desperately needs.

 

I have tried to be the parent I thought I was going to be: active, attending classes, making friends and having lunch dates, but I soon realised that my mental health couldn’t quite manage the pressure to perform and ‘just be normal’.  I have been the mum who has spent a lot of time alone, because that felt the most comfortable and safe in the immediate term.  I have been the mum who has walked and walked and walked to get her baby to sleep; who has said no to things because she didn’t think her baby would like something.  And I have been the mum who has tried to get her baby to fit in with what she wanted to do, because surely I cannot be controlled by someone so little….surely?!

 

And what I have learnt is that every single experience is a stage. A phase.  A new thing to learn and something that will change again, and then again.  I haven’t been a consistent certain ‘type’ of mum, because actually, I have been a responsive and intuitive mum.  One that has desperately tried to always meet her baby’s needs whilst equally desperately trying not to lose herself in the process.  This has often felt like a losing battle on both sides, and there have been so many days where I have felt like a terrible mother and a complete stranger to myself. And whilst the core of me is still there somewhere, I also know that I have changed – and that this is actually okay. Because I’m not sure I want to be exactlylike the old me.  I need to develop a new sense of self that integrates my new role as a parent with myself as a person, a wife, a friend, a psychologist – all so that I can actually be a good enough mother.  The old me was too hard on herself, too critical, too perfectionist.  And I don’t want Esme to be parented in the way that I parented myself.

 

This year has seen me break.  I have asked for help and been on the other side of the therapy couch. Within the safety of that relationship, I have cried more tears than I probably ever have before and have spoken some of my innermost fears.  I have started to learn how to communicate differently, to understand my limits and to see myself as worthy of care.  Of course, all of these are work in progress and actually take a whole heap of effort. They still don’t come easy right now, but with practice I hope that they might.  But the bottom line of this is always awareness and compassion: to be aware of myself and to be kind as to whatever is arising – because ultimately, this has to start with myself.

 

10 thoughts on “And then she was one

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this, I’m not a loss mum per se but a few failed IVF cycles with one beautiful success mum, & can relate to absolutely everything you speak about here. Thank you for being so real x

    1. Thank you so much Fionna – our journeys definitely don’t need to be the same for the themes of emotions to be similar. It’s a complex old journey hey?! xx

  2. OH MY this paragraph is so perfectly articulated… I have tried to be the parent I thought I was going to be: active, attending classes, making friends and having lunch dates, but I soon realised that my mental health couldn’t quite manage the pressure to perform and ‘just be normal’. I have been the mum who has spent a lot of time alone, because that felt the most comfortable and safe in the immediate term. I have been the mum who has walked and walked and walked to get her baby to sleep; who has said no to things because she didn’t think her baby would like something. And I have been the mum who has tried to get her baby to fit in with what she wanted to do, because surely I cannot be controlled by someone so little….surely?!

    thank you so much for sharing your journey and Happy Birthday Esme.

  3. Are you aware of the work of Kristin Neff Michelle? I really need to go back to her book on self compassion and the idea of self acceptance vs self esteem, letting go of the idea of needing to be better than average to drive our self esteem and practicing self compassion in order to accept ourselves as we are xx If you’re not perhaps of interest. Wishing you well x

    1. I’m not overly familiar with her stuff, but I love self compassion and have Michelle Cree’s book and I’m going on a CFT training course in a couple of weeks. I think this is often what is missing from some of the more practical therapies – needing to learn how to be kinder to ourselves and accepting of what arises rather than always trying to fix it. Thank you for the suggestion – I will give her a little look x

  4. Beautifully written as always. You sound like a normal mum to me, it’s just that instead of just comparing your parenting ways and baby to others you have another comparison to make. Parenting is tough but awesome at the very same time. They are little buggars that change like the wind and I’m sure that your lo is exactly the same.
    I am a mother to a toddler girl (nearly 3) and am also pregnant with our rainbow girl; we lost our second girl last year at full term and only found out of her passing while in labour. I am petrified of how I will parent our third girl and am really worried about PND, as if I’m honest my focus has only been to complete our family as per our plan last year. I have not allowed myself to look beyond delivery and even that is a relatively new concept as you must know that with your rainbow you are literally living week to week. Until that baby is in my arms and I am out of the hospital I will not be able to relax!!
    Like Dory says, “just keep swimming” and you’ll be fine. You will look back and realise that the choices and changes you made were necessary and all part of the process. 𝖸𝗈𝗎𝗋 hill has just been a little steeper than most x x

    1. Thank you so much Alexandra – and you’re so right that these little terrors change all the time and often there isn’t much of a break between phases!!
      I am so sorry that you lost your daughter too – congratulations on your current pregnancy, but I am sure that it has been a complete rollercoaster since finding out. I too just focussed on getting through those nine months and didn’t allow myself to think beyond her arrival. I hope that for you, knowing how bonkers those first few weeks / months are will be a great help, but all I would say is that if you feel wobbly, just ask for help sooner rather than later. I know lots of mums parenting after loss who haven’t had PND / PNA as well as those who have. I guess we just know that there is an added layer of complexity – I’m just learning to turn that into an extra layer of love!
      Sending lots of strength and hope for these next few weeks / months xx

  5. This encapsulates exactly how I’m feeling right not. My ‘bring home baby’ is now 3 weeks old, after his sister was stillborn in 2016. I am SO grateful and relieved he’s finally here and safe but it’s tough – and yet I feel like a couldn’t dare admit this after longing for this for so long. You’ve always been a year ahead of me in your loss journey and reading about how you blaze the trail is such a comfort. Thank you for being so honest, it helps me feel normal. Laura xxx

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Laura, it means an awful lot. The mum guilt is intense – and even more so post loss. It just isn’t feasible to be happy and grateful every moment of every day, and yet we put that pressure on ourselves. I just remember being completely shell shocked those first few weeks and couldn’t believe that I would survive. But I did, and I am…and actually it is less about survival now and more about enjoying the highs and riding the lows with the mantra ‘this too shall pass’. Babies are hard….and rainbows don’t get the memo to give their parents an easy ride!! Sending lots of love your way xx

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