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.

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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