Mothers on Mothering

This week…Life of Pea, teaching assistant, blogger, mother to one, and expecting a rainbow baby in August 2017.

So honoured, and humbled, to have the wonderful Nicola from Life of Pea on the blog today. She began fundraising and writing about infant loss after the sudden death of her newborn son in October 2015.  Sharing her experiences across her blog and social media has lead to over 11,500 followers on Instagram, and she’s now writing about the delicate journey that is pregnancy after loss as she awaits the birth of her much-wanted rainbow baby, who is due in August.

My little Munchkin is…Winter Wolfe Gaskin, born onto this earth on 23 October 2015 weighing 7lbs 6oz.  He lived safe inside my womb for nine amazing months, and in this big wide world for one brief day.  My pregnancy was textbook perfect and I hold those chilled-out memories close, the growing bump, the kicks, the way he dug his heels into my ribs.  He was born a pink, crying, fat little badass.  He had deep brown eyes and big pouting lips.  He gripped our fingers and we fell deeply in love. We had a blissful 30 minutes together as a new family before our lives were jolted from a daydream and into a nightmare.  Winter stopped breathing – he couldn’t be saved and he died in our arms the next day.  We left the hospital with an empty car seat and a full memory box, and arrived home to a house full of expectant preparations – a Moses basket that remained unfilled, a silent nursery, sympathy cards where I had dreamt of congratulations.  We were, and still are, heartbroken.  But our son wasn’t ready to be left in the past, he gifted us strength and a love everlasting.  He taught us the value of life, he taught us courage and kindness.  Winter only lived for one day, so every day is a lifetime to our son.  We have a life full of little lifetimes.  His legacy has raised over £20,000 for life saving equipment for babies, his face fills frames all around our home, we talk of him endlessly with love and pride.  He was only here for a while but he changed my life for the better and filled my heart with more love than I could ever imagine.

No-one ever tells you that…sometimes, babies die. Even healthy, loved and wanted babies.  I don’t suppose many people want to be faced with the reality that death doesn’t care about status, wealth, or age. It’s perhaps too painful to realise that parents sometimes bury their children, and that sometimes babies die before they are even born.  But it is, sadly, a ‘sometimes’.  When I was pregnant with Winter, not once did the possibility of him dying cross my mind.  And in many ways, I’m grateful for that, I was an easy breezy, zen bump carrier and I cherished every carefree day-dreaming moment.  Now I know the ugly truth and I learnt it the hard way.  But I don’t share my story to scare expectant mothers or to revel in a pity party.  It’s just that, as it happens, not all babies come home from the hospital, not all pregnancies end in full arms.  Miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death – they happen, and the UK has an exceptionally shameful record as a developed country.  And, while I can’t for a second knock the outstanding care and support gifted to me by the NHS and every single doctor and nurse I have encountered on my journey, it is clear to me that more resources need to be poured into preventing such heartbreak and loss of little lives.  We need to educate, open up discussion, invite society to accept that babies die and help those around us to understand our lifelong grief and have the space to talk about our loved babies.  All of this begins with sharing our own stories.

This time, birth is about taking the time to trust my body and simply hoping that this baby lives.

Birth was…life-changing. Despite the obvious traumatic ending, birthing my son remains one of my all-time best ever life experiences and easily my greatest achievement.  Yeah, it really, really hurt, and that birth plan I spent hours putting together didn’t even make it out of my hospital bag, and I was sick and exhausted and just wanted it all to be over… but looking back now I realise that I can’t wait to do it all again.  Birth is allowing life to begin, it is your own body putting another human onto the planet.  It is undoubtedly incredible. Now I have formed friendships with so many women who are struggling along the journey of infertility, I’m thankful even just for the opportunity of birth.  As I am currently pregnant, after suffering such devastating loss that began so shortly after labour, I’m hyper-aware of all the complications and risks involved in birthing a baby, and I’m understandably apprehensive.  Birth for me last time was reading about water births and hypnobirthing and skin to skin.  This time it is taking the time to trust my body and simply hoping that this baby lives.

I couldn’t have survived the first three months without…my husband, family and friends, my social network family, my Buddhist faith.  I’m grateful and proud of them all, to every single person who reached out.  No-one knows what to say when a baby dies, but it was so good to hear ‘Congratulations on becoming a mother, I’m sorry baby Winter only lived for a short time, but he is so loved’…  I loved people asking about him, I loved sharing his birth story, I loved showing his photographs.  My husband is my absolute rock, he is free from judgement as I grieve, he knows the pain as he holds it himself.  He makes me smile when he calls Winter a ‘badass’ and conjures up new daft ways for us to create memories as a family.  His light attitude balances me out.  When Winter’s tiny heart-shaped urn – which lives under our pillows in bed – had got knocked down the back of the bed in the night and I was upset that I had failed him, Dean winked and said: ‘He just wanted to explore under the bed, little bugger, he’s an adventurer!’ And just like that he lifts the mood and we smile and I remember that what is important is love.  Dean reminds me that the bottom line is that no matter what happens with urns and misplaced photographs or forgotten dates, what matters is that I love my son and he loves me.

I wish I’d known before that…we would only have 30 minutes as a happy family together.  But then, maybe it is best that I didn’t know, and I’m certainly not suggesting that parents who knew their baby’s life was going to be limited have had a better time at this baby loss journey.  It’s just a case of forever wondering if we made the most of what we got.  I didn’t kiss him when he was alive, we didn’t get a photograph before he became unwell.  It all happened so quickly and amidst the post labour blur, I wish I could remember it all clearly.

When I say I’m tired from my pregnancy and people say: “Wait until you’re up all night with a baby”…I think: “It’s got to be better than being up all night in tears with an empty crib”.

It used to drive me mad when people said…everything happens for a reason.  I can’t believe that, I can’t believe there is a reason that my innocent newborn baby had to suffer and die.  What I do believe is that it is sadly, the nature of this beautiful but cruel life, and there is not always rhyme or reason.  These days people say lots of things that could quite easily trigger me into feeling angry or hurt, and sometimes they do, but mostly I have learnt that not everyone understands how it feels to lose a baby, and I can’t expect everyone to say and do all the right things.  When people ask how many children I have, or whether this my first, they are difficult questions to answer genuinely and gently.  When I have said that I would like lots of children, many are quick to say: “Wait until you have one…’” and I think…”I have!” When I say I’m tired from my pregnancy and people say: “Wait until you’re up all night with a baby”, I think…”It’s got to be better than being up all night in tears with an empty crib”.

The best present anyone ever gave me was….we have a house full of Winterey and Wolfey gifts, paintings, drawings, jewellery, candles, homemade frames, blankets… the list is endless and I cherish them all.  The things I treasure the most however, are the objects that we bought home with us from the hospital in the memory box.  Hand and footprints, a tiny teddy bear identical to the one we left with our son, endless photographs, the clothes he wore as he died that hold his scent in a sealed bag, the blanket we envisioned bringing him home in, the wolf hat we bought for his announcement photograph.  And his lock of hair in a tiny bottle, the only original, real part of our baby that survived the life to death transition.  These are the best presents I could dream of.

The most important that I’ve learnt is…that grief is lifelong and not linear.  I will always grieve for my son because I will always love him and miss him.  Some days I wake up and sit in his nursery and smile and feel thankful for his existence, and some days I wake up and sit on the kitchen floor and cry and feel angry and cheated for his death.  Grief isn’t always what people expect it to be.  The idea that when a loved one dies we cry and feel sad, then slowly recover over time until we are better – that is a hocus pocus and misguided Westernised interpretation of grief, in a society where we live by calendars and dates and want everything that is difficult to be politely put in a box and wrapped up with a nice bow.  I barely cried at Winter’s funeral, the room was heaving with family and friends, my husband carried in the tiny white coffin with such gentle honour, and the speeches and songs were bursting with pride and love.  Yet 18 months on, and I still have moments where I lay in bed and sob my heart out.  People have suggested counselling and anti-depressants, and while they certainly have their place in times of suffering, there are moments when I want to say: “I am not depressed, I am grieving my child”.  I have healthy, balanced emotions, I continue my life, I cry for my son.  Nothing about that is unusual, it is our misunderstanding of grief that is often the problem.  When you lose a baby, you lose a lifetime of memories and nothing can fully heal the animalistic emotional trauma that comes with that.  I’ve learnt to honour my grief, be patient with it, allow it, and to gently educate misguided judgement.

Losing a baby so entirely unexpectedly, and suffering two cruel miscarriages so soon after, leaves a fear that has long settled into your bones.

I worry about…never having a baby with me on earth.  After losing Winter I have fallen pregnant three more times.  The first two sadly ended in miscarriage, a heartbreak that when piled on top of extraordinary grief felt unbearable at times.  The third is a baby that grows contentedly in my womb, that is kicking this very moment as I type, a baby that is due to arrive in our arms in August.  But pregnancy after loss is exhausting and terrifying.  Losing a baby so entirely unexpectedly and suffering two cruel miscarriages so soon after, leaves a fear that has long settled into your bones.  I’m frightened my baby will die.  I worry about it all day, every day. So far everything appears well, but as my excitement grows, so do the stakes.  I want this baby with ALL MY HEART.  Thankfully the wonderful NHS has realised the stress that comes with pregnancy after loss, and I have been looked after with exceptional kindness.  And I’m working on worrying less…

I wish…my son had lived.

Motherhood is….not always about changing nappies and night feeds.  Motherhood is about utilising and spreading the love that comes with being a mother.  I know lots of mothers without children, whether they have birthed them and buried them or are still waiting for their miracle, we are mothers in an unconventional way. It is possible to have the qualification without the experience.  Loss mothers are creative in their motherhood, they find different ways to show their love and raise their children, by decorating gravesides and putting ashes and urns into weighted teddy bears, getting inked with memorial tattoos and making jewellery and prints out of baby names and quotes.  We are always here, a mother trying to feel like one.  When I walk down the street, my son is painfully invisible from my hip. I don’t look like a mother because my child is not present, but I am a mother, and everyday I do my best to make my son proud and share out all the extra love that his little life gifted me.

Work is…I love my work as an Infant Teaching Assistant.  I am surrounded all day every day by young children, and rather than find this a great source of pain after losing my own, I can instead thank Winter for making me better at my job.  I know I have been robbed of the chance of seeing Winter upset as he leaves me for school for the first time, so I can soothe those I work with instead.  I can’t help Winter to fasten his coat or write his name or count to ten so I put that energy into helping those I work with.  When we make Mother’s Day gifts with the children, my heart feels broken, but simultaneously I love to help them create something special for their own mothers, because I know how truly special it really would be to receive such a gift.

I want my child to know that…he never leaves my thoughts. I’m eternally proud of him, I think he is an absolute badass and he is my greatest inspiration.  Death ends all except love.

You can follow Life of Pea on her blog and Instagram

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