Thursday, 10 October 2019

Baby Loss Awareness Week, 2019

If I seem quiet about this year's #BabyLossAwarenessWeek, it is not because I am unaware. It is not because I have forgotten. It is not because I have "moved on."

I find this week (this month) hard to handle, because I don't need reminders. My little girl is on my mind all day, every day (in exactly the same way as my living son), and she always will be. This year, somehow, her loss feels more personal, more private, and I'm not sure I want to take part in moments of shared, public grieving. That's not to say those moments don't play an important part, or that I don't support baby loss awareness (or that I don't care about all the wonderful people I've met who walk this same cruel path - a route we never chose to go down, and I send my love to all of you). I think it's crucial that anyone going through the loss of a child knows they are never alone, and there is support out there. It's equally important that those lucky enough never to have to deal with the subject first-hand maybe just try to understand, in some small way, the impact of child loss on others (not least because it's more common than you think).

But, I am an empath, and sometimes I struggle with the weight of other people's sorrow, on top of my own. My facebook feed can be hard to face at this time of year, because I relate - both personally, and empathetically - so it's draining. For this reason, this year, I'm choosing at the moment not to play a public role in baby loss awareness, and to remember Holly Rose in my own, personal way.

I am conscious that people I've met more recently (particularly through work, where I've lately been very proactive) more than likely have no idea that my daughter ever existed. As always, there's a duality of emotions that comes with that realisation. Part of me is proud that I've been able to carry on, to function, to work, and to wear a brave face. I love my career, and in this competitive industry, every minor success is a major triumph. Add to that my own internal struggles, and I'm proud to perform alongside people who probably don't know that every word I utter, every note I sing, is secretly a tribute to the existence of a little girl who was very much loved, but who never took a breath... And at the same time, I am laden with guilt that those same friends and colleagues - with whom I share amusing anecdotes of my son's latest antics - have no idea that my daughter was ever a part of this world, or that she had such a lasting impact. "A mother's instinct is to protect her child. A bereaved mother's instinct, is to protect her child's memory." In acknowledging that there are friends and colleagues who don't know her name, I feel I have failed her.

Holly Rose is not a secret I keep. She is a part of everything that I am. Some days, I am able to share her with the world. Sometimes, she is an internal smile that I cherish and keep to myself. She is the silent strength behind all that I am and everything I do, and she always will be.

I had the best of intentions to launch her website this year, but I'm still not ready. Grief doesn't conform to deadlines. However, for anyone who wants to read her story, you can always read more entries on this blog. I haven't updated it for a while, but not because she is ever forgotten. Not even for a moment.

I didn't mean to write this epic post today. I didn't set out to do it, and I've cried a lot in the process. This may, or may not be my only post for this year's #babylossawarenessweek. As always, I have to play things by ear and do whatever feels right in the moment: Grief doesn't come with a guidebook.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Poor Little Thing

My partner and I stood beside our beautiful newborn, in her crib. I couldn't take my eyes off her perfect little face. She was wrapped in snuggly white blankets, and a sweet knitted white hat. She was the image of her big brother as a newborn, causing such a conflict of nostalgia, pride, love, joy, and heartbreaking loss, all at the same time. She never opened her eyes.

"Poor little thing," her Daddy sighed under his breath.
"Don't say that," I responded instantly. It was a fierce, instantaneous gut-reaction. "Don't call her, 'poor little thing.'"
I rejected those words, I didn't even want to hear them. I could not bear to think of her as a "poor little thing." I did not want to face the thought she may have suffered. I didn't want to believe her life was wasted. I wanted to believe instead that her short life was blessed; that she had only ever known love. I bestowed upon her the love and light that I felt looking at that sweet little face. I transferred it to her, to keep forever, and chose to believe she knew nothing of pain or loss. I wanted the heartbreak to be mine, all mine. Not hers. She had been spared. She was no "poor little thing." Pity me, not her. Her life was perfection; mine was irreparably broken.

That was seventeen months ago to the day, as I write this. Yesterday, we finally found out the truth about why she died.

It's hard to explain why it matters. Logic dictates that the reasons cannot alter the outcome. Whatever the cause, the result is still the same. She did not live, and that simple truth cannot be undone. But for seventeen months, I have lived with "what ifs." I have had to face the guilt of wondering if we should have tried harder to save her. The guilt of wondering if something I did caused her death. The unanswerable question of whether I could or should have done anything to save her. Whether something could have been different. I have lived with the background fear that maybe my son could be taken from me too, despite all assurances to the contrary. If whatever killed her was inherited through her genes, could he somehow be affected too? Statistics say no. But statistics offer very little comfort, when you have found yourself on the wrong side of probability.

We now know, seventeen months after her death, that Holly had a congenital myopathy. This means her muscles never formed or developed properly. It was genetic - meaning it was part of her makeup from conception, but it was not inherited. She had a de novo gene mutation, which means it occurred spontaneously as a new error in her genes; neither my partner nor I carry the defective gene, which effectively rules out any risk to my son, and for that I am eternally thankful.

Improbably, it turns out that her particular form of congenital myopathy is unique to her, and only her. The genetic mutation that caused it has never before been recorded. There are 7.7 billion people in the world, and my daughter died from a condition caused by a previously undiscovered genetic mutation. What are the chances? (In answer to that rhetorical question: virtually zero).

Although her condition cannot really be classified, we do know that the faulty gene causing it is usually responsible for causing "nemaline myopathy." So this is where I've had to look for comfort, since it is the closest I'll ever be able to come to a comparison. Babies born with the severest form of nemaline myopathy, which shared many of the same symptoms, often do not live. Holly's condition was similar to the severest form of nemaline myopathy, but in her case, even more severe because her heart was also affected. She was unable to breathe, swallow, or even move. There is no cure, or course of treatment that could have caused improvement. She was perfect in so many ways, but for the sake of one random abnormal gene, she was never destined to live.

That, I suppose, is the answer I have waited seventeen months to hear. All the while putting my grief on hold, unable to process her death without knowing what caused it. I honestly thought that if only I were able to close this chapter, and stop asking myself "what if?" that I might be able to re-create the peace I felt at the time of her birth - when I trusted my instincts and honestly believed that, no matter how sad I might feel, we had done the right thing for her.

So, it's a disappointment to discover (although it should come as no surprise) that I don't really feel any different today to the way I felt yesterday. The weight I thought would lift, hasn't. My reality is still exactly the same, and she is still gone. If anything, those around me have inevitably moved on and I am expected to do the same. But I am now processing a new sadness I never properly allowed myself to feel before. Having achieved the certainty I thought I needed, it has provided some closure, yes. I no longer have to face my "what ifs," I can lay them to rest. Intellectually, I know we did the right thing for her. I think I knew all along, in my heart.

But now I have to come to terms with another unexpected reality. It turns out, I couldn't have done anything different. But that converts my "what ifs" into "why her?" My beautiful little girl did nothing wrong. Yet from the moment of her conception, she was destined to die. Even as she grew, she was simultaneously developing, and dying. She could never have lived, she was born to die. She literally never had a chance, and that brings with it a new indescribable pain, and pity. Pity I never wanted to feel for my own daughter, I wanted to believe I had protected her.

Any parent will tell you there is nothing worse than when your child is ill. Your parental instinct to protect is never stronger than when you wish with all your heart you could make your child better. Now I have to accept and come to terms with the fact that Holly's mind was trapped in a body that was predestined never to work properly. She was completely immobile, unable to move due to her muscle condition. Her limbs were so rigid, her arms broke when she was lifted from my womb. No, it was not my fault, but I wonder now if she tried to respond to my voice throughout pregnancy, and couldn't. I wonder if she felt pain, and couldn't react. I wonder if an unborn baby can experience frustration. Did she feel trapped? Or is that an emotion we only come to understand with age and experience of life? I wonder if she suffered, if she tried to cry at birth. If she felt the attempts to resuscitate her. If her lungs were desperate for breath that her body was unable to provide. I wonder if she fought to breathe, and couldn't, or if she was already unconscious. Did she die in comfort, and peace, as I'd wanted to believe? Or did she die in pain?

With that knowledge, three words keep replaying in my head like an unwanted earworm. Three words I never wanted to associate with her. Three words I wanted to reject, and I hoped with all of my protective mother's heart did not apply to her. Seventeen months after her death, I can't stop thinking, "poor little thing."

Saturday, 22 December 2018

A Year Ago

It's my daughter's birthday, today. It's also the anniversary of the day she died in my arms, following (appropriately), the longest night of the year, and the longest night of my life - awaiting a Caesarian section I did not want, not knowing if she would live or die.

No birthday cards, no excited one-year-old to share the day with. No decisions to make about how to divide presents up for Christmas and birthday. Instead, I'll be bringing Christmas magic to other children, performing in three shows today... Which is by far the best place for me to be.

It turns out, in many ways, anniversaries are no harder than any other day - because I don't need reminders about my daughter. On some level, I think of her every minute. In fact, over the last year, I've learned that I think of my son and daughter with equal frequency. At first, I waited for the day I would be able to control the memories. I knew I would never forget, but I mistakenly thought there would come a time when I would be able to actively choose when I thought about her. Perhaps there would be reminders that brought her to the forefront of my mind. It turns out, I was wrong.

I didn't truly understand until I became a parent, that your children are always, constantly on your mind. This is true regardless of whether or not they are physically present. My son is sometimes apart from me - at school, or at home while I'm working, or even just in a different room - but I think of him all the time, as any parent does. My daughter is not physically here with us. But I think of her all the time, too. In that way, my children are equal, and parenting a living child is no different to parenting a child who is no longer with us. There is no such thing as a "reminder," she is just there. Present, in my thoughts, and always will be.

A year on, we still do not know why she died. We have been told there is no possibility of answers before March at the very earliest. I can't say more about that right now, because although I have learned to cope with grief, I have yet to learn to cope with uncertainty and lack of answers, and that is something I can't dwell on today. Let's just say that it never even crossed my mind, that a year after her death, I would be facing her anniversary without being any closer to knowing what caused her to be taken from me, and this ongoing lack of closure has been one of the hardest hurdles.

I do know Holly Rose is as much loved today as she was for the few minutes I got to hold her, before she passed away. She only ever knew two things: love, and music. She listened to me sing as she died, and I could not have wished for more than for her short life to be filled with those two things.
Today, as every day, I will be singing for her (albeit through a cold!).

Here's "Holly's Carol," which I recorded for her funeral (again, I was ill at the time, so the recording is less than perfect, but it is raw, and real, and filled with love for my daughter). It's Christmas, so what better timing that to listen to this traditional carol, which I associate with my beautiful little girl?
Many thanks to Michael Lovelock for the musical arrangement and instrumental backing, and to Jill Priest for the vocal recording and mixing.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

It's Halloween: Let's Talk About Death

Please excuse the following rant in advance. I’ve never been particularly comfortable with some aspects of Halloween, I just think our version is a grotesque concept. For one thing, Trick-or-Treat = standing on a stranger’s doorstep and basically threatening them unless they give you something nice, despite having done nothing to deserve it…

In the UK we have this ghoulish, horrible, frightening representation of the dead. We never really talk about death until October, and then it’s represented by blood, gore, and horror. I just find it so incredibly tasteless and unhealthy. We all die. It’s the one certainty in life - even more certain than birth or marriage, or all the other things that are expected and celebrated in life. It’s the one thing we know will happen, and it doesn’t have to be hideous.

Death can be beautiful, but nobody ever talks about it. My daughter’s birth and death were peaceful and beautiful. Sad. But beautiful. Even after she died, she was beautiful. I do not, cannot, and will not associate her with the awfulness that seems to represent death in this country. She was not hideous, she was not scary, she was not gross, or ghoulish, or disgusting, or any of those things that seem to appear at this time of year. I find it upsetting that death is treated like such a horrible, terrifying thing.

I feel like Halloween turns death into some gory spectacle. It's not just “harmless fun” (which is the argument I’m always given when I try to start a dialogue about death, and yes, a part of the old me can appreciate the "harmless fun" of kids dressing up, and getting high on candy). But I think it’s damaging that death is represented in such a negative way, and then generally silenced for the rest of the year. Death should be part of an ongoing conversation, so that when it happens, it’s easier to deal with. It shouldn’t be hidden away until October, and then paraded around like some frightening freak-show.

Holly’s death was beautiful. God knows it wasn’t what I wanted for her, or for me, but if there is a right way to die, then she died with dignity and it is one of few things I was able to do for her. At the other end of the spectrum, my elderly Gran’s death was equally beautiful, in a different way. My Mum was with her, and she quietly just slipped away, and was released from the horrendous illness that had been so cruel to her for the last years of her life. Her death was liberating, it set her free.

But here we are on Halloween, surrounded by these awful, upsetting, hideous representations of death. I wish I could see it as just harmless fun because my six-year-old wants to go trick-or-treating, and I suppose, to him, he only sees the “fun” side with all the sweets and candy, and I don't want to deny him that. But I just can’t help feeling this representation of death is not healthy. I don’t want to be around it. I don’t want my beautiful daughter to be associated with it. I want to protect her from any negative associations and Halloween to me this year, just feels so oppressively negative.

I have always tried to turn her life - and death - into something beautiful. To create positive memories, rather than remember her only with sorrow. So, while everyone else is surrounding their homes with macabre images, I took her beautiful bauble (containing her ashes) outside into the autumn sunlight, and photographed some tributes to her. There is beauty in everything, if you look for it. Even in death. At this time of year (and I admit that I am probably being over sensitive during the run up to the anniversary of Holly's birth, and I'm prone to overthinking everything anyway), I'm doing my best to hold onto that, in spite of what feels like an onslaught of grotesqueness associated with death...

And off I go... Trick-or-Treating with my son... in a controlled, and sensible way, in spite of my own feelings... Because that is what parents do for their children, and I don't want to deprive him of his "fun."

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Baby Loss Awareness Week

It's the end of Baby Loss Awareness Week, 2018 (#BLAW2018). I'm not sure how this week makes me feel, because for me, I don't need to raise my own awareness; baby loss is part of my reality. My blog is not limited to one week, it's part of a continuous narrative, sharing my ongoing journey through baby loss. One day, I intend to transfer these blog posts over to a new website, specifically for the purpose of remembering Holly Rose, but in the meantime, I'll continue to post here, and on Instagram (under the hashtag #RememberingHollyRose) where I've posted a few mini blog posts over the course of the last week.

Yesterday, I tweeted about baby loss awareness, and it was picked up and quoted by the press. Part of me wishes I had never strayed into the online world of social media on a day which made me feel vulnerable. But part of me is proud to continue to raise awareness, and to speak on behalf of myself and other baby loss parents who shouldn't feel silenced. So I'm sharing below one of the news articles that quoted me, along with the response I felt compelled to write in response to some unsympathetic comments I read.

I'm sure many of you are sick of #babylossawarenessweek (then again, maybe you didn't even know about it). Yesterday it concluded with the #WaveOfLight which was about remembering babies who died, worldwide. I attended a lovely service with a shocking number of other bereaved parents (literally - a shocking number, and that was just one service). Meanwhile, Meghan and Harry announced their pregnancy yesterday. 

For many people, pregnancy announcements in general are a painful trigger, as a reminder of what they have lost - particularly if the loss is more recent. That can't be avoided. But this particular announcement completely took over the news, and overshadowed the wave of light on the one day of the year it takes place, during the one week when we can theoretically openly talk about #babyloss without the stigma of silence so frequently associated with it. That's the whole point of baby loss awareness week - to #breakthesilence - as it so often feels like something nobody is willing to talk about.

At least three news articles (that I know of) quoted me from Twitter, in articles about the royals announcing their pregnancy on #waveoflight day. On some sites, I read hurtful comments about "PC gone mad," and how everyone is so easily offended. It's not about being "offended," offended isn't even the right word. It's about being hurt, and you simply cannot tell people who are hurting, not to be hurt. Nobody is upset with Meghan and Harry for having a baby. But their advisers could have done better research, and if they genuinely didn't know about the timing - to me, that's even more sad. #Babylossawareness is needed. It's needed because when you've lost a child, you need to feel able to talk about them. That's all we ask, and for that to happen, there has to be understanding.

I've subsequently been trolled by people who presumably read my comment in one of the media articles. So, I apologise if you don't want to hear or think about #babyloss. Neither do I really, but it's part of my reality all day, every day. I'm sorry if my posts "offend" anyone. But #babylossawareness is needed for the sanity of parents like me.

 Just a small number of the candles representing lost babies at one of the many "Wave of Light" services held for Baby Loss Awareness week. 

My lovely boy, remembering his little sister at the Wave of Light.

My Friend Mo

Dear Mo,

Looking back, I didn’t really have a "happy childhood." Hard to say why, there was no specific reason. Just an overwhelming sense that by school-age, I didn't really fit in. I liked books, words, and writing. I liked losing myself in an imaginary world somewhere between pen and paper, somewhere far away from mundane reality. You were the first person who shared that world with me.

You were not the most "popular" teacher in primary school. Your teaching methods were somewhat old-fashioned; you were strict and, by modern-standards, unconventional. But you saw something in me that others didn't. And I saw you in return. You were not just my teacher, you were my friend when I felt I had so few of them.

Our friendship transcended a gap of several decades. My favourite memory of you is the time I reduced you to tears, and somewhat-undignified snorts of laughter (I'm sorry to tell you that your snorting was much mocked by other pupils), over a slightly ridiculous English exercise from a set-text book. The chapter related to the postal service, and the specific task was "draw what you think a 'Dead Letterbox' looks like"... Even at the age of nine or ten, I questioned the educational value of the task, and mockingly took the instructions literally. I drew a faded letterbox on its side, at a 90 degree angle, with cracking paint, cobwebs, and a birds-nest balanced on top (and with pretentious attention to detail I knew only you would appreciate, the initials ‘VR’ for Victoria Royal): I will never forget queuing up with the other pupils, patiently awaiting my turn to have my work checked, knowing that the ludicrousness of the drawing would appeal to your sense of humour. Sure enough, you cackled and snorted for several minutes, while the other children stopped their chatter and sat in silence, staring at you. (I think it was quite a shock to them, that even teachers have a sense of humour).

The year after I left your class, during my final year of primary school, you made Christmas cards with your class. You’d made your own, by way of example, and I remember how special I felt, when you presented me with the card you'd made. It said, "I was trying to think of someone special to give this card to. It had to be you"... And so began the tradition of our annual Christmas cards to each other... although I wasn't to know, aged ten, that the tradition would continue for almost thirty years.

You retired from Ridgeway Primary School, just as I graduated up to secondary school, and our friendship could have ended there. Secondary school was a disappointment to me, and by December, aged 11, I was already struggling with a sense of isolation, and the feeling that nobody understood me. That year, you sent me another Christmas card, delivered to my home address. Again, I've never forgotten your words, they have stayed with me all these years. You wrote, in your familiar spidery handwriting, "I miss our conversations, your acute observations, of people and of life." And you stopped signing yourself "Mrs Burdett." You signed yourself, "Mo." And I knew then that you were no longer just my old teacher.  You were also my friend.

Every year (admittedly, with the occasional late exception), I wrote back to you; sometimes at length, and sometimes just a few words. Meanwhile, your Christmas cards became more elaborate. Homemade cross-stitching, in festive patterns. I kept them all, too precious to part with - most years, I still display them. And I'd sometimes drop in to visit you when passing through Ridgeway, with a bunch of flowers or a belated update. Sometimes years would pass, but friends always pick up where they left off, and you would always pop the kettle on, with an amusing anecdote. Even after your beloved Hal passed away, you retained your sense of humour.

You always said I “had a way with words," and you encouraged me to use them. You told me more than once that there was a space saved on your (burgeoning) book shelf for my first novel. I took your confidence in me to heart. You taught me the importance of words, and the weight they carry. Whenever I write a piece I'm proud of, or read a favourite phrase, I always think of you, and will continue to do so.

In recent years, you had become physically frail, but your mind was as sharp as ever. Your Christmas cards were no longer hand-stitched, and some years they didn't arrive at all, but I always knew the kettle would be on if I called in to visit. The last time I saw you (only a few weeks ago), I was overjoyed to finally meet Rachel, your daughter, who I had heard so much about, after living all those years in Japan. Somehow our paths had never managed to cross, but I felt I knew her. So much of your wisdom is in her, and I felt I'd found an instant friend. It can't be coincidence I met her when I did, and I hope in years to come, I can pick up my friendship with her where my friendship with you left off.
My only regret is that I am writing these words to you now. Now that you can't read them. The last time I saw you, I felt compelled to write you this letter, and most of it was already mentally penned... I only wish I had not delayed sending it.

Life has taught me, there is no point telling people how you feel at funerals. Tell them now, while they can still appreciate the sentiment. Nobody knows better than myself, that you cannot know what tomorrow will bring. Don't put off until tomorrow what you can put in words today.

I wanted you to know that although it is many years since you first encouraged me to write, there is still a novel in me. I don't know the exact content yet, but I do know that you have to live before you can write. For that reason, I have taken my time, but one day, Mo, there will be a novel on your shelf (or maybe Rachel's), and it will have your name on the opening page, dedicated to you, because you were the first person to believe in me, when I desperately needed someone to.

I wish I had told you all this when I last saw you, and I felt the compulsion... Premonition, even. I should have trusted my instincts. But still... Words speak volumes, but actions speak louder still, and so, I hope you knew. I hope that you knew how much you meant, because you will not be forgotten.

So I can only echo your own words back to you, today. The words you wrote to me, aged 11, in a Christmas card. "I miss our conversations, your acute observations, of people and of life."

I will miss you, Mo. A good teacher is never forgotten, but a good friend, even less so.

With all my love to Rachel and David,


Friday, 5 October 2018

Instagram: #TheGoodTheBadTheVainAndTheUgly

I've recently started using Instagram, since the purchase of a new phone with sufficient memory to enable me to download the app. For whatever reason, I'm currently finding it quite a liberating experience. It's the only place online where I merge all of my personas into one, and don't feel the need to filter my life. Consequently, my page is a bit of a mismatch of professional shameless self-promotion, everyday silliness, cute furries, dark days of grief, and everything in between. A combination of the vain, the mundane, the happy, and the heartbreaking. All part of the journey of self-acceptance since losing Holly Rose. Occasionally, I use it for a mini vent, and I find the sense of community there to be supportive and understanding. Social media can be both a blessing and a curse when you have experienced loss, and so I think it's important to share both the good days and the bad, rather than create a misleadingly perfect narrative.

On one of my down days, I recently wrote this "mini blog post" (complete with #hashtags), accompanied by the following picture for Instagram, and I'm sharing it here too. Feel free to follow me, and be prepared for an influx of random uploads, through good times and bad, and everything in between.

You may be wondering about the influx of selfies on my Instagram feed. (Those who know me will tell you I was never really a selfie-taker, and never quite got the hang of it). My newfound vanity is an attempt to accept "the new me." I long ago accepted that I will never again be the same as I was before - mentally, or physically. An attempt to see myself as others see me. People tell me "I look great," (I must admit, every "like" helps) but I look in the mirror and fail to see it.

Yesterday was a good day... Today... Not so much. I just watched a video of myself in the show I've been performing in for the last four months. (I'm proud to be in that show, it's helped me to regain a little of "the old me" in ways that nobody will ever really know). But all I see are the physical changes which represent the difference between "me now" and "me then". It's a painful visual reminder of the difference between who I am now, and who I was before.

#Grief doesn't disappear, we just learn to live with it. Maybe we simply become better at disguising how we feel. In the wake of loss, every emotion has a duality about it - happiness and sadness occur simultaneously. So I can post "flattering" selfies on the same day that I can post this slightly more realistic, honest #selfie of how I'm actually feeling right now.

#Loss has taught me that I am never alone. There is always someone who relates; but in order achieve understanding, we need to be #honest and open, in a way that people don't necessarily want to hear about, especially on social media.

I have always worn my heart on my sleeve, so I don't want to hide the bad days. Sometimes those bad days are also the good days. Everything is a grey area, there is no such thing as black and white.
I still get through very few days without crying (more now than I used to... and even that admission is tinged with guilt). I am also learning to live with myself, and attempting to love myself, as I am now. Sometimes that might mean using #allthefilters to paint myself in a #positive light - the way I'd like to be seen - the person I catch fleeting glimpses of.

Some days, I also look like this. And that's the #truth.

#babyloss #nofilter #HollyRose

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Grieving Twice: Past and Future

"Be grateful you already have children," they say. And I am. And so I wrote this.

Some days, I feel like I am grieving twice. Those days creep up on me, when least expected. Often it's not the anniversaries (which one might expect), or even the physical reminders. More often than not, it's some innocuous trigger. An unanticipated reminder of a past that's long gone, and a future that will never come to be.

A video popped up on my Timehop. A joyful, nine month old Rowan, standing up six whole years ago. Propped up, holding on to his nappy chest, delightedly squeaking with uninhibited pleasure, while flapping the contents of the chest with his pudgy fist. His continuous smile, never dropping for an instant: I had forgotten that high-pitched squeal. In the background, behind the camera, I am laughing contentedly. An uncomplicated laugh that I was capable of then; free from the double-edged, dual-sided, guilt-tinged happiness I can just about muster up now. (Complex, simultaneous emotions are something I think you can only truly relate to when you have experienced loss. How I envy the simplicity of my past, of feeling only one emotion at a time).

For the first time, I realised that my children's birthdays are less than ten days apart. I mean, I suppose I knew. But in the immediate blur of reality that descended upon me so suddenly last Christmas, it never really sank in, and it's never occurred to me since. Holly would have been the same age now, that Rowan was in that video. She would have been nine months old. Admittedly, she would probably have been behind Rowan, so perhaps the comparison isn't a fair one (given that she was born prematurely). But even so. Out of nowhere, the realisation hit me like a tonne of bricks.

Perhaps she would have been standing. Maybe she would have been squeaking. Certainly she would have been smiling... Of course, all of these comparisons make the impossible assumption that she wasn't ill... and that simply wasn't the case... And so I never got to see her smile, or laugh. I never got to hear her voice. Newborn Holly was so very much like newborn Rowan, that I really don't have to look very far for a comparison. I know what her face might have been like, had she lived. I see her in my son's baby photos, as he grew.

And so, often, I feel like I am grieving twice: once for the past - the babyhood my son has outgrown, that I loved so much; and then grieving once again for the future - the babyhood and childhood my daughter will never experience. For the fact I thought I would re-live those baby days. For the hand-me-downs I'd lovingly kept, expecting to use again, that will never again be used for purpose, and are now doubly laden with sadness that they have been outgrown, and will also never be grown into.

I am eternally grateful for my son - more so now than ever. I can't even begin to describe the gratitude I feel, or the love I have for him. I will never, ever take him for granted, and I hope I can be the best parent to him that it's possible to be. But knowing how much I love him only serves as a reminder of how much I've lost in her. Every beautiful memory, every baby photo I have of him, is tainted by the bittersweet realisation that I will never have the opportunity to recreate those moments with her. I don't have to wonder how much I would have loved her. I already know, because I have him. My son is my constant and wonderful reminder of how amazing she could have been too. Loving him reminds me how much I miss her. I know exactly what I've lost, because I know how much I love him.

There are no winners in this game of loss. No one loss is easier than another, no matter what our circumstances in life. Nobody wins because it isn't a game anyone would choose to play.
I grieve for his past, and I grieve for her future. His firsts, are my lasts - they will never come around again. And while grieving, I'm simultaneously trying. Trying to be grateful for every moment. Trying to be strong for him.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Holly Rose's Garden

In lilac and lavender, I sense your sweetness,
Your sunlight smiles upon me.
Where butterflies swarm to greet you, I too,
am drawn to gather memories
like nectar. Your scent revives me.

Deep in the greenwood, your presence lingers,
Vines intertwined,
Within prickled leaves of aged evergreen,
I will always find you. Everlasting, eternal:
You were the first tree. First, and last.

Through birdsong you sing anew;
transient nightfall owl lullabies,
joyous chorus with the dawn, ever hopeful.
Evensong, fading into mournful silence:
They know the score, those songbirds.

In blooms of white, you deliver peace.
Scarlet reflects my love, my love.
Your petals could not be kept,
nor contained. Your thorns cut deep,
but you grow, untethered, adored.

I seek you in friendships;
New, old, revived.
And find you in olive branches,
Echoed by those who speak your name.

I glimpse you in my own reflection,
Altered - scarred - healing.
Conflicted in time; frozen,
yet fleeting. You are spared
age’s indignities.

No mortal restrictions
confine your horizon.
You exist everywhere,
In everything, you live…
Only the edges are erased.

On your birthday, I gave you song. On Holly's Day, I give you words.
But if I could, I would have given you the world.

Photo added retrospectively. I created the image to match the poem.

Holly's Day

A year ago, I woke up in the spare bedroom (I don't recall why I was in the spare bedroom. Probably because I was too hot. Possibly because I simply like it in there). I thought I ought to check I wasn't pregnant - just in case - although as usual, I had very little idea of where I was in any kind of cycle (in life, or otherwise).

I rummaged around in the back of a drawer, and found an old, spare, pregnancy test (they tend to come in packs, you know, even if you only need one - rendering the others 'spare'). To my surprise, a few seconds later, there were two undeniable lines. Those lines sprang up remarkably quickly. Not like my first pregnancy (which gave me several false negatives, before ultimately - many weeks later - proving to be ectopic, which explained the lack of a definite line).
Not like my pregnancy with Rowan, which was so unexpected (following the ectopic pregnancy, and having lost any hope for an easy conception after surgery) that I didn't even bother to test until he was already fairly well established...
Holly gave me a definite line. Right on cue. A positive line. A strong line. Positive, in more ways than one.

If I am honest, I was not instantly overwhelmed with joy. Holly wasn't "unplanned," but nor was another baby the focus of my future. We left it to chance, and circumstance provided. If truth be told, I hate pregnancy. Even without the ectopic pregnancy (no... not "the ectopic pregnancy"... Ivy. Her name was Ivy), which robbed me of any joy from Rowan's pregnancy, I still hated the experience of carrying him.

I was filled with excitement and anticipation, but that was separate from the feelings associated with actually being pregnant... which honestly, I hated. I felt like I had lost my own identity, giving up my body in order to grow another person... I love my career, and throughout the "obvious" stages of pregnancy with Rowan, my professional life suffered a hiatus, and I despised it, whilst I awaited the arrival of my new life - his new life - our new life...

And of course, at the end of it all, following a ridiculously easy birth (I feel justified in gloating over his easy delivery, given the comparison to Holly's birth), it was absolutely worth every moment. Every second, and then some. I loved being a mother. I loved those newborn days. To my surprise, I loved all the baby days. I loved maternity leave. It was magical. To me, it was magical, and while at times it was trying, I shocked myself by loving every moment. Who knew?


Last year, when those lines appeared, my life would never be the same again (although I hadn't yet anticipated that I would never again be the same person). I wasn't instantly overjoyed, because I knew it would mean a temporary career hiatus. It would mean putting "myself" on hold, while I prepared to be a mother to someone else - an entire, separate person, entering my life. Someone I knew my son would adore. Someone I knew that I would ultimately love beyond anything else. I wasn't instantly overwhelmed with joy, but I accepted this new direction my life would take, because I knew - without a shadow of doubt - that it would ultimately be worth it. I knew that my heart would expand.

Days later, I became overwhelmed with sickness. Sickness that never left me throughout pregnancy. I'd experienced brief nausea with Rowan, but this was different. It was constant, overwhelming, and it sapped almost every ounce of my energy. Nevertheless, I carried on. Professionally, and personally. I knew it would be worth it. I knew she was worth it.

I also knew she was a girl. I knew. (As I did with my first pregnancy, and as I knew that Rowan was a boy). My daughter. I longed for her, she was eagerly awaited, even if it pains me to admit how much I hated carrying her... I knew it would be worth it. 

"Rowan's Day" is the 13th of May. It's the day I found out I was pregnant with him, and we celebrate it every year. I have never missed one, we treat his special day with greater importance than his birthday (due to the fact he was born within a week of Christmas, and it's nice to spread the celebrations out throughout the year). This year, "Rowan's Day" was his best yet. He had a well-attended party, with friends from near and far. It was the kind of party I always coveted (yet never achieved) as a child - and I hope he knows how lucky he is, and remembers in years to come.

"Holly's Day"... the day I found out I was carrying her.

So much has changed within a year. I am not the same person now that I was then. My life changed on that day, forever, although not in the way I thought it would. She came into existence, and she has never left. But part of me died the day that she did.

I never thought I would get hung up on dates. I never thought I would count the days, I am not generally one to dwell on reminders, I'm not overly sentimental. I'm extremely forgetful, and I am "that friend who will almost certainly forget your birthday" because I don't know what day of the week - or even month - it is.

I can't overlook "Holly's Day," and I can't believe that a year... but also a lifetime... has passed. Time has a contradictory quality, following loss. It stands still - it seems like an eternity has elapsed. And yet, somehow, it still keeps turning, and suddenly... who can believe a year has gone? Time slowed down while I was pregnant. It felt like I was awaiting her arrival forever. I wished my pregnancy away, but I never expected it to conclude the way it did - two months early. No, I didn't wish for that, and I carry the guilt of despising being pregnant, because it was the only time I got to spend with her. I can't sugarcoat the way I felt during that eternal pregnancy, but all along, I knew it would be worth it... And then after she arrived - lived, and died - time stopped moving altogether. It often feels like not a day has passed since that day in December. Yet... here we are... a year on since everything changed.

Holly's Day is just another day. Nothing has changed, and that's what hurts - there is nothing to celebrate. It is (to re-use my own phrase) "significantly insignificant." There are reminders of this time last year everywhere. I may not generally be overly sentimental, but reminders are all I have of Holly, and I see them in everything. The sunlight is the same. The house is the same. The hot, restless nights are the same. My life is outwardly the same... But everything... everything is different. And I will never be the same again.


I'm sorry, my love, that I can't buy you toys. I'm sorry you have no need for the pram in the cupboard, or the multicoloured, knitted baby socks I cuddled daily while I was touring - the first gift I bought for you. I'm sorry I cannot give you "Holly's Day" in the same way that your big brother has always been spoilt on his special day. I'm sorry I can't look back and wistfully wonder how a year has passed since that day, because it flew so quickly. That day is an eternity ago. An entire lifetime, because I was not the same person then.

I can promise you, that never a day, never an hour, goes by when I don't think of you. And it never will. I can promise you that "Holly's Day" is special to me, and always will be. I promise that every year, I will honour your day, just as I do for your big brother.

On your birthday, I gave you song. It was the only gift I could grant to you, and it comforts me to know that it was the only thing you heard. On Holly's Day, I give you words. Words that I can share with you, and with anyone who chooses to read them. I wish I could give you more.

Holly Rose, I can never repay the gift that you gave to me. You gave me gratitude. You grew my heart - double the size it was before. I will never, ever forget.

Two lines that changed everything.