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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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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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

Loss

Alex’s Birth Story

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I’ve been thinking a lot over the past week about how I am going to write Alex’s birth story. I’ve found it difficult to write, myself and Rob (my husband) have talked it over many times and the truth of it is, there are parts that neither of us can remember. The only thing I can put this down to is the complete and utter shock we felt at the time. It makes me feel so sad now, I feel disappointed with myself, I want to remember everything no matter how much it hurts to think back on. We don’t have a lifetime of happy memories to block out the bits we would rather not remember. But I’ve come to the conclusion that the shock and its effects on us are just a part of Alex’s story too.

 

My pregnancy with Alex was uneventful as far as pregnancy’s go. I already have two children and I enjoyed this pregnancy with the laid-back attitude that comes from having been there and done that. Both of my boys were way too comfy and were ten days overdue before I finally went into labour and Alex was exactly the same. I was eight days over and starting to feel fed up when I finally went into labour. I actually considered myself lucky at the time that he hadn’t kept me waiting quite as long as his older brothers.

 

Early labour started on Sunday, finally the baby we had waited so long to meet would soon be in our arms, I couldn’t wait to see the reactions of his older brothers William & Thomas. In bed that evening I timed the contractions trying to keep quiet and allow Rob to get some sleep; knowing only too well the sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn. By the time morning came I knew I was getting to the point where we should go to the hospital, we rang my Mom to come and look after the boys and put our carefully packed hospital bag in the car along with Alex’s car seat.

 

I was bouncing on a birthing ball when the midwife came in and sat down to ask me the usual questions. How often are the contractions? How long are they lasting? Are baby’s movements ok?

 

I stuttered.

 

I didn’t know. I had been concentrating so much on breathing through the contractions I hadn’t noticed Alex’s movements. Despite this the midwife didn’t outwardly show any concern and I didn’t feel any. In our excitement, I hadn’t eaten or drank anything that morning so we decided on some tea and toast and hopefully we would have felt Alex again by the time she came back.

 

When she did come back I was desperate to say he was wiggling as normal but the truth was I still hadn’t felt anything at all other than contractions. A second midwife listened to Alex with a pinard, she seemed to hear a heartbeat and we both felt Alex kick which reassured me that everything was fine. The midwife in charge then listened with a doppler and after a lot of trying she couldn’t find a heartbeat. I feel so naïve looking back, I was totally oblivious to what had happened. Surely I should have known that something was wrong. Stillbirth was so far from my mind at that moment, it wasn’t even a possibility. After two scans with different scanners we were finally given those words. The words that no parent ever wants to hear. The words which broke our hearts and forever changed our lives. The words which sealed our entrance into the club that nobody wants to be in.

 

“I’m really sorry but your baby has died”

 

I remember the complete disbelief so clearly. What do you mean he’s died? No, he hasn’t. Get him out! Save him! You hear amazing stories of babies defying the odds all the time, Alex was a perfectly healthy, full term baby, I was sure they could do something. There wasn’t. Alex was gone and there was nothing they could do. I was in a room full of people and all I wanted was to be alone with Rob, I needed the labour to stop; I needed time to process what I had just been told.

 

There was no stopping though, we were taken off the labour ward, away from the healthy crying babies and into the Willow Suite to deliver our sleeping baby. I’ve had two babies without an epidural before and it wasn’t on my well-prepared birth plan this time either. I begged for it. I didn’t want to feel the pain. The shock and grief felt more than I could bear without the pain of labour added into the mix.. But it was too late, Alex was born before I could have an epidural. Looking back now I’m so glad that I didn’t get chance. I felt Alex being born in the exact same way I had felt his brothers before him and he deserved that. He didn’t deserve to be blocked out.

 

Alexander Robert Anthony Maguire was born at 10.58am on Monday 7th November 2016 weighing a chunky 8lb 10oz. Alex’s arrival into the world was quiet. I think a part of me still thought they had got it wrong, I hoped that there would be a miracle, so I stayed silent waiting for him to cry. I think we all did. He was everything I imagined him to be. A beautiful button nose, perfect kissy lips, lots of dark hair and delicate long fingers. I thought maybe there would be some undetected defect which would explain what had happened but there was nothing. He just looked asleep, which cruelly made it seem even more possible that he might cry. I loved him, rocked him, kissed his nose and patted his little bum in the way only a mother can but he was still gone.

 

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And with that realisation my thoughts went wild. Why? How? Should I have known that something was wrong? Could I have prevented it? Should the midwife have picked something up when I saw her two days earlier. Should the sonographer have seen something on the scan we had a week earlier? Did I do something to cause this? If I’d come to hospital earlier would they have found that he was struggling? When did he pass away? Did the first midwife really hear a heartbeat and feel a kick? Did he suffer?

 

I find this one hardest parts of Alex being stillborn, the never-ending questions, the guilt, the blame, the unknown and the unanswerable.

 

But despite all of this, I am so proud to be Alex’s Mommy. Once I emerged from those early days of complete despair I began to see that Alex’s life would change us all for the better. Something good and bright had to come out of the complete darkness we felt after his death. And to show how proud I am, I talk, and I have told Alex’s story to anyone who will listen. Most of the time their reactions are caring and sympathetic but I often get the impression that they think I am just an unlucky statistic to have experienced something with such small odds. Sadly, that would also have been my reaction before Alex. Little did I know that 3600 babies are stillborn every year in the UK, 10 babies a day! We have one of the highest stillbirth rates in the developed world and the West Midlands, where we live, has one of the highest stillbirth rates in the country.

 

I feel completely deceived. If we have one of the highest rates then why don’t we all know about it? Why isn’t it advertised and talked about? Why aren’t Phil & Holly talking about it on This Morning and Loose Women debating it at lunchtime? Why is there so little research into why this is happening? As expectant mothers, we are told so much about cot death and yet it is far less common than stillbirth. I hope that talking about Alex and sharing his story will not only help other families through their grief but also that my voice will join lots of others who are speaking out and trying to raise awareness with the hope that the government will fund much needed research into stillbirth.

 

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Loss

How It All Started

Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog. I would like to use my first post to tell you a little about our beautiful Alex and why I am doing this. We have just returned from a family holiday to Crete and in my quiet moments I have read, as i often do, other blogs detailing peoples experiences surrounding stillbirth. People writing about their lives following the devastating loss of a child has been one of the most important things for me following our own loss. It helped me to feel less alone, it helped me to realise that my feelings were normal and most of all it helped me to see that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. I began to see that the hurt from Alex will never go away and we will always feel his loss deeply but the pain will become less acute in time and we will be able to find a new normal where we feel fulfilled by life again.

I have often thought that I would like to write about Alex and how we have all coped following his birth with the hope that we can help other people dealing with child loss. Alex made me realise that I can, and I should do more. I should push myself, I should challenge myself and I should (cliche I know) live life to the fullest. Life is short and I now not only live life for myself but I live it for Alex. So why not? If I can help one person drowning in the rough seas of grief following stillbirth then this will all have been worth it.

Alexander Robert Anthony Maguire made us wait, he was 8 days overdue and I was starting to get really snappy at the ‘isn’t baby here yet?’ questions. He finally decided to make an appearance at 10.58am on Monday 7th November 2016. He was 8lb 10oz and perfect in every single way. The only difference was that Alex never cried, he never opened his beautiful eyes, he never snuggled into me for his first feed, he never wrapped his long fingers around mine and he never got to come home with us. As our third baby Alex’s pregnancy was a breeze, after all I had been there and done that twice already. After two low risk pregnancies and straight forward births prior to Alex there was no need to think that this time would be any different. I used to get comments on what a natural mother I was and how I made it look so easy, it would be easy again, surely. Little did we know what life had in store for us all.

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Rachel & Alex xx