Loss · Moving Forward

Surviving December

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December was always going to be a tricky one for me to navigate since losing Alex, it’s the month after we lost him and when the whole world seems merry and full of cheer I couldn’t feel further from it. To help me cope this year I took part in a wonderful idea from Jess at The Legacy of Leo blog (go have a snoop here, she’s really wonderful!). Last year Jess & her wife did an Advent for Leo to ease them through December and include their son Leo in the festivities, this year they very kindly opened up the idea to allow other bereaved families to participate and remember their little ones. The idea is beautifully simple, its an alternative kind of advent and every day throughout December you plan to do something to remember your baby, or indeed any loved one who you’re missing at Christmas time; it could be an act of kindness, attending a memorial service, an act of self-care, or something as simple as lighting a candle. The idea is as big as your love and imagination allows it to be.

For me, the 1st December marked a year since Alex’s funeral and it hit hard. Harder than I could ever have anticipated. Throughout November I had been remembering my time with Alex a year ago, the final days of pregnancy, those words, his birth, the times we had visited him and the things we had done to make memories. It had been an emotionally draining month but the constant reflection helped me feel closer to him at a time when we’d physically never been further away from each other. I found Alex’s funeral a relief at the time, we’d had over 3 weeks of living in limbo, stuck between our three children, two very much alive and needing our attention and one who needed us for nothing but who we desperately needed to savour every second with. This surreal period allowed us the time to gently prepare ourselves, so that when the time eventually came to say goodbye we were ready for it.

But that’s the thing with grief, there is no rhyme or reason. The stormy seas can come at any time and without any warning. I’d survived Alex’s first birthday and November by pre-empting the sad days and planning in plenty of distractions but I’d disregarded the 1st of December. It turned out to be a crisp, clear and frosty day exactly like it had been a year ago and I felt like I was right back there, dressed in black and silently screaming on the inside. Those memories of watching my husband carry Alex’s tiny coffin into church and through the church yard whipped the air from my lungs and made my chest ache with sadness. The tears didn’t stop all day and for the first time in a long while, finding my brave face proved extremely difficult. Definitely not the start to December and the run up to Christmas that I had anticipated. But as we all know, life sadly goes on in spite of our loss, so I got ready and took homemade star biscuits into work for my colleagues, my very first Advent For Alex activity. It wasn’t a magical cure to my sadness on that day, nor did it stop the tears but it felt good to include Alex in a positive way and create a happy memory alongside the sad ones from last year.

Since then we have done something every day to include, remember and honour Alex and it has warmed my heart in so many ways. There have been 25 in total so I won’t list them all but some of my favourites were posting Christmas cards to elderly people living in our local area and giving out candy canes to strangers. We’ve adopted a donkey, donated to a food bank, dedicated a star and a light to Alex. In amongst that there was some self care which included a festive afternoon tea, a Christingle service at church and a craft evening at my local SANDS meeting. We decorated Alex’s grave for Christmas and our own Christmas tree in lots of Alex related decorations. Feeling inspired a friend even did a ‘12 days of Christmas’ for Alex and in the 12 days before Christmas she gave a total stranger a candy cane each day and told them Alex’s story, one of these people had also experienced a stillbirth over 40 years ago. What was so lovey about Advent for Alex was how we have been able to include Alex’s brothers and give them ways to remember their little brother. They both lit candles at his grave on Christmas Eve so that Father Christmas could find him and William now wants to hand out a candy cane to pretty much every person we meet!

 

I heard a lovely analogy of grief the other day, one which I’ve not heard before. It compared grief to a tennis ball and a jar. Our lives as newly bereaved parents were likened to a tennis ball (our grief) being put into a small jam jar (our lives). At first there is no space in the jar, no room to breathe or move without being reminded of our grief. People often think that in time the ball of grief will shrink, giving us more space in the jar and making us less aware of it, when actually the opposite is true and the ball stays the same size; grief is a product of our love and our love will never diminish or lessen. Which means that the task in hand is to expand the jar, to build a bigger life around our grief by living life to the very fullest. What Advent for Alex gave me this December was the extension of dreams on my jar and it felt nothing but truly wonderful! Excluding Day 1 I’ve felt so fulfilled and content, we think of Alex everyday but to physically do something in his name each and every day has been a balm to my aching heart. He’s played a bigger part in our Christmas than I ever thought possible and as I sit writing this, on the very first day of a brand-new year, I can’t help but look back and feel like we did December right!

It’s been so wonderful to see how other families have interpreted their grief into their own Advent’s To Remember online, the Instagram community has felt so hopeful and I’ve looked forward to seeing what other parents have done for their advents each day. There have been some fantastic ideas that I would love to try next year (of course we’re doing it again!). I can’t thank Jess enough for giving me a focus and an outlet for my grief and love this December, Advent To Remember has pulled me through a pretty tough season for anyone missing a loved one and it’s given me plenty of smiles and happy memories to cherish.

 

I hope you all had a gentle and peaceful Christmas and New Year.

 

Rachel & Alex xx

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Fundraising

The After Alex Ball

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The things that Alex will never get to do are just another cruel twist of the baby loss knife. No first day at school, no magical Christmas mornings, no seeing him marry the love of his life and no birthdays. We don’t just miss our baby, we miss all of the possibilities and dreams which died with him. With Alex’s first birthday fast approaching I was starting to feel anxious, confused and contradicted. The idea of a birthday with the special guest missing felt so odd and peculiar, I had no idea what we were supposed to do and if we should do anything at all. Maybe a day in bed hibernating from the world would have been the answer? Either way it was starting to feel like a huge mountain casting a shadow over us. We were entering an emotionally triggering time of “this time last year we were….” I think people forget that it’s not just the anniversary of Alex’s birth and death, it’s a year since I last felt him kicking and wiggling, a year since life was normal, a year since we left him with a stranger and walked away, and it’s a year since we gently placed him in his coffin, tucked him in with his teddies and kissed him goodbye. All of these anniversaries hurt, it’s not just one day that we needed to get through, it’s this whole time of year. I used to love it, crisp cold and clear sunny mornings used to make me smile but now the start of the frosty mornings take me back to that hospital window cradling my baby, looking at our frost covered car all alone in the car park because everyone else had left with their babies.

I desperately needed a distraction, something to focus on and lose myself in to get through the weeks surrounding Alex’s birthday. We do a lot of things for Alex in his absence, I say it often; we live for him now. And whilst I long for what should have been, he should have been joyfully opening presents with the help of his big brothers at his first birthday party surrounded by family and friends, I came to realise that his birthday is another event that we can live for him. Why can’t we have a first birthday party and be there for him? Why can’t we all gather together and show our love for one tiny little soul who is fundamentally changing our world on his birthday?

The answer is we can! We will! And we did!!

I clearly remember trying to draw Rob into a conversation about how we were going to mark Alex’s birthday. I knew that I wanted to have some sort of balloon release or family get together but I wasn’t sure what his feelings might be. He gave his usual nod and said OK and the rest is history as they say. But I found the more I thought about it the more I realised the potential to create something truly memorable for all the right reasons. And so the idea of a simple family get together quickly spiralled into a Charity Ball. A year ago I would never have thought myself capable of organising something on that scale but Alex has taught me that I’m so much more than I ever believed. We may lose a part of ourselves when we see nothing but perfect stillness on the ultrasound screen but we gain a lot too. Self-belief was one of those things, Alex gives me so much strength. I’ve survived the worst part and nothing will ever come close to being that hard again.

So last Saturday 117 people came together to mark Alex’s first birthday and raise money for an incredible charity so close to our hearts-Tommy’s. We made the evening as much about Alex as we could, we themed the event with white feathers and stars and there was even birthday cake! The evening was a huge success and we raised over £5000 for Tommy’s!! An unbelievable amount!! I still feel so overwhelmed by people’s generosity and their willingness to come out, dress up and support us and Tommy’s. There were a lot of people there who have felt our loss first hand but there were also complete strangers who have never met us and I’m still in total disbelief that they would be so kind. I’m confident that the money will go a long way to help Tommy’s in their mission to ensure that every pregnancy has a happy ending. We achieved so much more than that though. We raised awareness of stillbirth and how common it is, we hopefully showed that it’s not something reserved for certain stereotypes, it can happen to absolutely anybody and often without a determinable cause. We chipped a little more into the silence around losing a baby and demonstrated first hand that its OK to share our babies and be asked about them in return.

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It was an overwhelming evening for me full of joy, bittersweet and tinged with sadness. The night played along to a chorus of: “You should be so proud,” “you’re so brave,” “you’re so strong,” “you’re an inspirational couple.” Each one is an incredible compliment, but I can’t help feeling like a fraud, like I’m not worthy of such high praise. The truth is I don’t feel proud, or brave or any of those things. Its hard to articulate but I feel like this is normal, isn’t this what we’re supposed to be doing? And that is in no way meant to be an insult to bereaved parents who chose to honour their babies in other more private ways. We all do what feels right for us and our babies. But for me, I have surrounded myself with a group of incredible loss mothers who are all doing similar things. Essentially, we all blog, we all speak out to create awareness and raise money as our way of parenting our babies in the stars; so, to me Saturday was nothing out of the ordinary, this is simply what we do. And it was my absolute pleasure to do it! I don’t get to do a lot for Alex and when I do, it fills my heart with love and pride for him. I’m proud of him and what he’s pushed me to do, not myself. I certainly would never describe myself as inspirational. Life for us now isn’t all beautiful dresses and smiles at glamorous balls, some days its barely brushing my hair and getting dressed because the sadness feels so heavy. Some day’s the tears just don’t stop and I long for my beautiful baby boy, the ‘old’ me and my ‘old’ life. Some days I boil with anger and rage at how cruel and unfair the world can be. But if I could inspire just a few people, it would be the other mom’s out there with aching arms and holes in their hearts. I would like to give them the confidence to speak about their perfect babies; you are all mothers from the moment you get a positive on your pregnancy test, your motherhood doesn’t start the day you bring a baby home from hospital. You can share them with the world and feel proud, you don’t have to keep quiet if you don’t want to and you shouldn’t!

The most unexpected part of the evening was that everyone had such an amazing time that we’ve already been asked when the next one is!  All I’ll say on that, is that birthdays happen at the same time every year…..

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For more about the incredible work of Tommy’s please visit their website by clicking here.

Loss

Happy First Birthday

To My Precious Boy On Your First Birthday,

‘Happy Birthday’ has never felt so wrong. I don’t feel like celebrating a year without you and yet I know I need to. What kind of Mom would I be if I didn’t acknowledge your birthday and celebrate everything you have pushed us to achieve this past year. 365 days ago I was sat in hospital cradling your small, still and silent body and I couldn’t even see the top of the hole we had found ourselves in, I couldn’t contemplate how anyone could possibly survive such pain, guilt and despair. But we’re here, we’ve made it and I hope with all of my heart that you’re proud of us. It’s been a whole year full of you and my heart has never felt so full because of it! It is pouring with rain today, totally different to last year’s beautifully clear and frosty morning but it reflects my mood perfectly so I don’t mind too much and I know that after a whole year of riding the waves of grief that there will be brighter days and calmer seas ahead.

Wow I miss you! There hasn’t been a single day when I haven’t thought of you, your absence is a constant ache, its familiar now though and it reminds me that it wasn’t just a bad dream. You were real and every beat of my aching heart reminds me of that. I think back to the days around your loss constantly. The guilt still haunts me. Did I miss something? How could I not have known that something wasn’t right, I am your Mommy, I should have known! And the question which makes me despair every time; did you suffer because I didn’t notice? I tell you constantly but I need you to know on today of all days that if I could go back and change the ending of our story I would in a heartbeat! I would move mountains to go back for you and bring you home!

I took a step into the unknown this year, I laid my soul bare for all to see at a time when I felt so incredibly delicate and vulnerable already. I wanted to do that not only to help other parents in our situation but also for you. I sensed everyone’s uncertainty around your Daddy and I and I wanted to lead the way for them. I wanted to show in no uncertain terms that I will not forget you, I will not stop talking about you and its OK for them to do the same. Hearing your name and seeing everyone’s love for you is a balm for our aching hearts. I know that sharing you and our feelings so openly may seem strange from the outside looking in, it feels alien to me at times too but at others it feels so instinctual. I’m sure that if another family member had passed away I would not share them to the extent I do you. I would not sign their names in cards and I wouldn’t expect people to send birthday cards after they were gone, but the grief of a bereaved parent is unique. You didn’t have a chance at life, we don’t have years of memories with you and that could make you so easy to forget. So your Daddy and I live our lives for you now, and that means you need to be included in the things you didn’t have the chance to do yourself.

This year should have been full of your firsts, and it has. Just not the ones we anticipated. We set up ‘Alex’s Wings’ after all the painting of your hands and feet we did in hospital. Sorry about that, we just needed to make sure that if we couldn’t take you with us that we had enough of you to keep us going until we meet again! Mommy started blogging and discovered a long-lost love of writing, we’ve been in the newspaper and next week we’ve got the biggest birthday party planned for you!! Your Auntie Kerry biked all the way to Cornwall! Daddy & I even stood up and spoke in front of 200 people last week to share your story and hopefully give courage to other Mommy’s & Daddy’s who have babies in the stars with you. Before you I would never have dreamed of doing any of these things!! I couldn’t even stand up at our wedding and say thank you to our family and friends because I was too shy which makes this the best example of the positive influence you’ve had on our lives! You’ve changed us both, and only for the better.

I’m so thankful for you Alex, I hope you know that! Thank you for everything that you have done for all of us. The most precious thing you’ve given me is showing me how much your Daddy loves me. I knew he loved me of course but its like putting glass on top of water, you know what’s underneath but it becomes so crystal clear through the glass! It takes my breath away. You’ve also shown me a strength and resilience in your big brothers that I had no idea they could possess at such a young age. They love you so much you know, if I could post all of the pictures that William draws for you, you would live on a mountain of paper!!

Happy Birthday Alex, I would give anything to have you here but I will always look for you in everything we do. You are loved beyond all measure and missed beyond all words. Have a beautiful day dancing in the stars!

Love Always

Mommy xxx

P.S. Mommy will eat an extra slice of cake for you! 😊

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Moving Forward

What Would Life Be Like With Three?

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It’s a question I often ask myself. What would it really be like? How would we have managed? Would they really have all fitted into the car? Well Saturday we got the answer and I wont lie, it was bittersweet. We looked after my best friend’s son for the day and despite all of the warnings we had received from perfect strangers when I was pregnant, it wasn’t chaos, we didn’t lose a child and we definitely didn’t find ourselves rocking in a corner with a bottle of wine by 7pm. In fact, it was quite the opposite, we had the best day!

But like so many things these days, the experience has left me struggling to appease conflicting thoughts and emotions. I feel torn between the contentment of a great day, the sadness that Alex should have been there and the bittersweet taste of life with three children.

I often got the impression that some people thought we were crazy for having three children. The truth is that I actually wanted four, Rob wanted two and so we did the grown-up thing and compromised on three (with me secretly hoping he would come round to the idea of a fourth).  The general consensus was that three children under the age of four was absolute lunacy! Most of my pregnancy was lived out to a soundtrack of “good luck with that!” “It must have been an accident”! “Are you crazy”? “How on earth are you going to cope”?  “How on earth will you go to a theme park when one child will be sitting on their own”? “How will you ever be able to cross the road when you don’t have a hand for each child to hold”?  My standard reply to these questions was always that we will cope because there is no other option but to cope.

But Saturday taught me something, I learnt that whilst I am in no doubt there would have been tough days where just coping was the only option (isn’t there always with children), there would also have been days where we more than just coped. There would have been days where we excelled at being parents to three children, days where we could pat ourselves on the back and smugly reassure each other that we’ve got this parenting lark sorted. There would have been days where we not only managed to get three children dressed and fed but where we also managed to get out of the house! (A miracle I know!) There would have been days where they screamed with excitement in the car because we were going on an adventure. There would have been days where we made magical memories to last all three of them a lifetime. Having three would not have been the grey hair inducing hell that people seem to imagine it to be and I know that we would have loved every second of it.

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So I guess that even though it made me sad to think of what could and should have been, it also settled an internal battle I hadn’t fully acknowledged I was fighting. I realised that I constantly question myself throughout my daily activities, always wondering if I could have coped with Alex in the mix. When I’m rushing in the morning to get two children fed, dressed and at nursery in time for me to get to work I wonder if I would have had enough time to feed and dress an additional child. When I’m battling with two fed up children in the supermarket on a busy Saturday afternoon I wonder how on earth I would have managed with Alex as well. But this is our life now, without Alex, and imagining him in our current lives will never seem like a perfect fit. The reality is, that if things had gone to plan and Alex was with us today then I may not be back at work at all or at the very least I would have been getting up earlier to allow time to get Alex ready as well.

I now realise that the question I need to be asking myself isn’t, how would I have coped? I know for sure that I would have. Instead maybe I can wonder who would have fallen in the mud first? Where would we have gone? What magical adventure would we have imagined? Would we have gone out to hunt for bear’s, fairy’s or dinosaur’s? Who would have eaten all the bread for the ducks instead of feeding them? The thought process of doubting my ability to cope with three children was instilled in me throughout my pregnancy with Alex and then only exacerbated by his loss. His death left me feeling like I had failed my child in the worst possible way and doubting my abilities as a Mother. Our day out with three children gave me back some of what I had lost, confidence in myself.

And the best part of it all? Alex still found a way, as he always does, to send William a white feather. He was there with us hunting dinosaurs in the woods.

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Love Rachel & Alex xx

Moving Forward

Back To Work

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So that’s our last family holiday of the year over and it’s time to get back to work, literally. Tomorrow is the start of my last week of maternity leave for Alex. I feel so blessed to have still been able to have maternity leave following Alex’s death. A couple of weeks off would nowhere near have got me back in a place emotionally and mentally where I could have functioned properly at work. This period of time has been so precious for me and knowing that the end of it is so close is bringing up so many conflicting feelings. I wasn’t expecting to have this time with my boys to just simply be at home and be a mom with no other distractions such as work or the newborn Alex we were expecting to bring home. The time off has also been essential for me to heal and get acquainted with our new normal. In the early days we called things like this ‘gifts from Alex’, things we never expected to have if Alex had been with us, they often seemed small and insignificant in the wake of Alex’s death but we had to find some positives amongst the sadness and time off to heal and be with my boys was definitely one of them.

I guess the thing I’m feeling most strongly at the moment is anxiety, I’ve never been an anxious person so I find it a tough one to navigate and deal with. I feel anxious about so many things, not just simply returning to work and settling back into my job. Of course I am definitely worried about getting back into the routine of work, making sure we have a dinner ready for when we all get home, doing packed lunches and making sure we’re all up, fed and dressed ready to be out of the door on time. But these aren’t new hurdles, I’ve faced these challenges before and after a few tired weeks I soon get back into the swing of things. The things which worry me most are inevitably related to Alex, my new outlook on life, my children and coping with the sad days.

I’m different. I look like me, I talk like me, I even act like the old me most of the time but dig a little deeper and I am irrevocably changed. The new me has lost the majority of her patience and tolerance for the complainers and pessimists of the world. Unfortunately however, I work in a customer facing role in a busy hotel and complaints are part and parcel of the job. It’s an aspect of my role that has never really bothered me too much in the past, in fact I always quite enjoyed resolving any issues and making sure the customer leaves happy. I feel so differently about it now though, it all seems so trivial and non-consequential in the aftermath of losing Alex.  How do I stop myself from telling the guests who are getting irate over their egg being too runny at breakfast, their dinner being five minutes late or their bed being too hard that life can be a LOT worse. How do I stop myself from simply telling them that I’m really not bothered?  Losing Alex really has put so much of my life into perspective. I just want to tell them that I wish my child was here to taste a runny egg when he’s old enough, I wish I could feed him his dinner five minutes late and watch him race to eat it all or screw his little button nose up at the foods he doesn’t like. Most of all, I wish I could put my beautiful baby into his bed at night and tell him I love him, I don’t think he would care if it was too hard and I would sleep on concrete every night of my life without complaining just to have him back in my arms.

And what about the bad days? They still happen, maybe not as often but when they come there is no escaping them. There is nothing that can stop the waves of sadness, guilt and regret that come over me and nothing that will stop the tears. In the past, I’ve had no problems leaving whatever issues I have in life at the door of work and putting on my ‘be happy for the customers’ face but I worry that won’t be so easy anymore. Being off work has given me a safe place to feel whatever I feel on that particular day and I really have found that to be the best way to deal with my grief. If I’m sad I’ve been sad, if I’m angry I’ve been angry and if I feel I need to go and spend some time with my little boy I have been free to do so. I find it hard to suppress my emotions like I used to, my face struggles to hide what I feel. But I also know that I need to function to the best of my ability at work and be professional at all times, something which doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with grief. I don’t think the hotel’s TripAdvisor reports will fare too well after the guests experience me sobbing on a down day. I guess I just have to hope that I can pull myself together on those days and find that strength to leave it at the door.

How will the boys adjust? I have a feeling that they will deal with this a lot better than I will but it’s my job as a Mom to worry I guess. Will they notice that tired grumpy shouty Mom makes an appearance a bit more now that she’s back at work? Will they notice that I am away from them for longer? They have both taken Alex’s death so well, we have been open and honest with them from the start and they have come through with an unconditional love for their little brother, a firm understanding of where and what he is (a star) and hopefully no negative lasting effects. The one thing that has become clear though, is that they are both very clingy with me since we lost Alex. They will always choose Mommy over Daddy, a normal boy thing I know, but it’s a lot more intense since Alex’s arrival and me being at home all of the time. I guess we just have to carry on as we started and hope that by being upfront and preparing them in advance for me leaving will mean that they will run into nursery without a backward glance. Driving to work having left behind two distraught children screaming your name doesn’t make for the best start to the day.

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It’s not all gloomy though, on the other hand I am also excited and eager to return to work. I do love my job, I have a great group of colleagues and it’s generally a happy place to be. My employers have been incredible through our experience of losing Alex and I will always be thankful for their love and support. Although it feels like another step away from Alex I am looking forward to getting this part of normality back in my life, I think it will be a good thing for all of us. I feel guilty for saying it since losing Alex but I still get the normal feelings of isolation which many stay at home moms experience. Some days I crave adult conversation, I miss my work friends and the giggles we used to have and I find that my brain needs a challenge. Again, I feel guilty saying it, I know that so many people would give anything to have what I have and I honestly do cherish every moment, more so than most, but there is only so much CBeebies and PlayDoh that I can take before my brain cells shut up shop and leave me forever.

Most of all though, I’m excited to have a group of people back in my life who know Alex. They met Alex and watched him grow in my tummy, they all tried to guess the sex when I secretly knew that he was a boy, they brought me cake when I needed it and quizzed me excitedly when I returned from a midwife appointment or scan. It will be a relief to be surrounded by a group of people who I don’t have to explain myself or Alex to. I know they will speak his name without fear or uncertainty and that feels like one of the most amazing things right now.

So I’m off to make the absolute most of this last precious week despite my anxieties and pray that I can still fit into my suit!

Love Rachel & Alex xx

Fundraising

Cycling For Alex & 4Louis

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I’ve been so lucky to have a great group of friends to support me through the loss of Alex but my best friend Kerry definitely deserves a special mention. Our parents live opposite each other and we have grown up together always being the best of friends. No matter where we have been or what we have done we always come back to each other and nothing changes, the very definition of friendship I think most would agree. Our friendship truly showed its worth when I lost Alex. I felt so ashamed, I wondered if people would think, like I did, that I had done something wrong and I was devastated that people wouldn’t want to see my beautiful boy because he wasn’t alive. For those reasons, I didn’t want to see anyone at all, I didn’t know what to say to them and I couldn’t bear to see anyone’s distaste towards Alex. It felt safer to exist in our little bubble of grief with Alex and my family rather than risk inviting other people into it and possibly causing more upset.

So, in true Kerry style, she did what exactly what I needed without even knowing it. She just marched in and picked up my baby. She held him, rocked him and cuddled him exactly as she had with William and Thomas when they were born. She commented on his long fingers and toes, she picked out the similarities to his brothers and told me he was perfect. That moment in time helped me more than I can ever explain. She erased some of my fears and lifted a few of the worries from my shoulders. Her actions showed me that people wouldn’t be afraid to see Alex and most of all I could clearly see that she loved him. It broke my heart all over again to think of the relationship Alex should have had with his Auntie Kez but it meant so much that they got to meet each other and we all got to make a memory. Even now, further down the line in our life after loss I still find Kerry to be one of my most important support mechanisms, she met Alex and saw the depths of our sorrow and because of that she ‘gets it’ more than most.

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So why am I telling you about this? Well, a few months ago Kerry came to me and asked if she could raise some money in Alex’s memory. The reply was obviously, ‘of course!’ And it was decided that a bike ride to Cornwall would be the perfect challenge. Cornwall is a special place for our family, I have been going every year since I was a child, in fact I’ve missed most of Kerry’s birthdays due to being down there every year in August. After Alex’s funeral, Rob and I escaped down there for a few days away to gather our thoughts. I needed to hear the waves and smell the sea air since the first day we lost Alex. It brings me so much peace. So Kerry, her sister Katie and Katie’s partner Jayne are riding the 380 miles to Cornwall on spin bikes. The event will be held outside Pure Gym at Bentley Bridge, Wednesfield on the 2nd September so anyone local who fancies coming along to cheer them on you will be more than welcome!

Over the years Kerry and I have tried a multitude of things to get fit and lose weight. We’ve dieted, we’ve joined gyms and we’ve tried exercise classes. We even tried a personal trainer once and quit after feeling totally broken for a week afterwards! I’ll never forget him making her jog for 5 minutes on the treadmill and her shouting that she couldn’t do it and nearly having a tantrum in the middle of the gym! I think after all these years we’re finally starting to accept that we’d rather go out and eat cake or drink wine than exercise or diet. So it’s definitely safe to say that this will be a massive challenge for Kerry who probably doesn’t even remember how to get on a bike, never mind ride one for that distance!!

 

I can’t think of a more deserving charity to raise money for than 4Louis. When Alex was born and the room had calmed down a bit I so clearly remember the midwife coming in with the box. She sat down and quietly went through it with us, even through my sadness I remember feeling so incredibly amazed and grateful that someone could be so thoughtful as to create something like a memory box for parents in our position. I had no idea that such a thing even existed and I can’t say how glad I am that they do! We had three short days to collect and make enough memories to last us a lifetime and the memory box was a vital part of that. Our box is one of my most precious possessions as it’s pretty much all we have of our little boy. 4Louis make memory boxes for children who have passed away at all ages, each box is tailored for the age of the child. The boxes help families to feel less alone and to capture as many precious memories as they can. It contained so many beautiful things all thoughtfully wrapped in tissue paper:

A clay impression kit to capture Alex’s beautiful long fingers and toes

Forget Me Not seeds which we will plant in Alex’s memory garden

A balloon and a postcard to send a message to heaven-we are saving this for Alex’s first birthday

A curl box to keep a lock of Alex’s hair

An SD card so that we could take as many photos as we wanted to

Two teddies, one for Alex and one for us

A copy of the wonderful book Guess How Much I Love You

A candle and a card to write a message to Alex

£30 is all we need to provide one devastated family with a memory box to help ease their pain and give them lasting memories of their child. So even if you can only spare a pound or two to sponsor Kerry, Katie and Jayne we would all be so grateful and it will go a long way to helping other families cope with the loss of their precious child. Please click on the link below to donate.

Donate to Cycling for Alex & 4Louis here

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Thank you

Rachel & Alex xx

Loss

Lets Break The Silence

I was under no illusion when I decided to write about Alex and our life after losing him that it would not be to everyone’s taste. Us British do not like talk of death and grief, we prefer a stiff upper lip over tears and emotion. I was recently told by a friend that someone who had read my blog had commented that it was morbid, and despite being prepared for negative comments, I have to admit that it bothered me. Morbid felt like a strong word and I felt that familiar feeling of shame after hearing it. And then I got frustrated, frustrated with our society and its ignorance of stillbirth and frustrated at its willingness to turn the other cheek because talking of a baby dying makes us feel uncomfortable. So in light of that, I thought I would write a blog on why I feel talking about Alex is so important.

Morbid is defined as an abnormal and unhealthy interest in disturbing and unpleasant subjects such as death. And that is the basis of why the word bothered me so much. My interest in Alex is not at all abnormal and unhealthy, my interest is exactly the same as any other mother has in their child, it is healthy, natural and fierce. I cannot help that Alex’s story centres around his death and I cannot help that this makes people feel uncomfortable. And yet because of that, over and over again families of stillborn babies are ostracised and ignored by society. I’ve always said that I wouldn’t wish losing a child on my worst enemy and its true, I honestly wouldn’t. The pain is indescribable. But there is the odd occasion where I just wish that people could walk a mile in our shoes to have a better understanding of what its like. Hopefully then they would see that the stigma and taboo surrounding child loss is a constant battle for us. Losing a child is painful enough without having to put the feelings of the masses before our own.

And yet it is hard to blame people for their ignorance when the media and government do so little to light the way and open up the conversation around stillbirth. The BBC recently declined to show Still Loved, a documentary showing peoples experiences after losing a baby, as it was deemed to be too upsetting. It was then shown in selected cinemas around the UK but some of those also declined as ‘who would want to see that?’ 1 in every 200 babies are born still. 10 babies a day! This is not something that should be easy to ignore, we need to talk about it, we need to educate ourselves and we need to get better at supporting those 10 parents who lost a baby today. As parents to stillborn babies one of our biggest fears is that our children will be forgotten. The only way to stop that is by talking and people need to understand that this is totally normal.

By myself and other parent sharing our babies stories there are so many amazing things which can be achieved. The first has to be more funding of research into miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death. This area is massively underfunded by the government and that means that the all-important research into preventing so many babies dying is simply not happening. Only by talking and getting the issue out there will we be able to accomplish this goal.

By opening up the conversation around stillbirth, family and friends will hopefully have a better understanding of how to support parents grieving for their baby. Everyone grieves differently but having more awareness of grief and its different forms will allow families to grieve in whatever way they need to and not feel judged. Parents themselves will also know that what they are going through is normal. When we lost Alex I had no idea that what I was feeling was so common following a stillbirth. It is totally normal to feel angry, ashamed, confused, lonely and guilty as well as being desperately sad, it is normal for your arms to physically ache for your baby. Reading other peoples experiences of stillbirth and seeing that they felt the same things as me helped me not feel so alone. Those stories filled the gap and answered the questions that my family and friends couldn’t.

And lastly, I have found that by talking openly about Alex we are creating new, positive and exciting memories in his name. I have had a couple of friends come to me in recent months wanting to do things to raise money in memory of Alex for charities like 4Louis, SANDS and Tommy’s (I will post details of these on the blog as soon as I have them) These wonderful events not only help these incredible charities but they will give us an easier way to bring Alex into a conversation. It will always begin with “we are doing this because our son was born sleeping” but hopefully when coupled with a charity event people will find it more palatable.

I will never apologise for speaking out and telling Alex’s story. The silence needs to be broken and how can we do that if we conform and stay silent? I made Alex a promise before I left him in the hospital, and that was that I would always speak about him, I would never be ashamed and I would never let him be forgotten. I intend to keep my promise and by speaking about him I intend to make the noise that he never had the opportunity to make.

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Rachel & Alex x