So what do you buy for your beautiful three year old? Something plastic fantastic? A lovely new outfit? Maybe a bike? Or a exquisite Folio edition of The Wind in the Willows? Well clearly not the last one, it’s a little sophisticated for a three year old.
Well if the Eldest was still here I suspect he wouldn’t want it either, but it’s what I’m eyeing up for his upcoming third birthday.
I’ve always read to him at his grave. When he died, one of the many, many things I mourned was the fact I couldn’t share with him my love of books, that I couldn’t read to him. But a friend gave me the confidence to read to him at his grave and I’m so grateful that we did.
We read lots of different books, none of them age appropriate….The Witches at six months? A Child’s Christmas in Wales at nine months? But it was a lovely way to feel close to him.
One day we started reading The Wind in the Willows. T’other half read it, and did a brilliant job of all the voices. We loved reading it. It had a special resonance as it was a book we had both loved as kids, and one my Dad had loved too.
I had only remembered all the mad japes and escapades…poop, poop! I hadn’t recalled a chapter called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. T’other half started reading it, and immediately it became clear it was very different to the rest of the book. Lyrical, meditative….some might even say a bit psychedelic.
And then we got to passage that stopped us in our tracks and spoke so clearly to us…..
`It’s gone!’ sighed the Rat, sinking back in his seat again. `So beautiful and strange and new. Since it was to end so soon, I almost wish I had never heard it. For it has roused a longing in me that is pain, and nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go on listening to it for ever…..’
It’s how I feel. His time with us was so short, and his passing caused so much ongoing pain, but not for one second would I not have done it. If I had to choose, even knowing the outcome would be the same, I would do it all in a heartbeat. He gave us such joy and continues to inspire us. Of course, I would do anything to see him again, even if only for a minute. This quote seemed to sum it all this up.
It’s why this is going on his headstone. It’s why instead of buying something plastic fantastic, I want to buy him a Folio edition of Wind in the Willows. We can also read it to the Rainbow when he is older. Eventually, we can pass it to the Rainbow to share with his family, and it will become a treasured family heirloom. Another way for the Eldest to be remembered even when we have gone. So it turns out that’s what you buy for your beautiful three year old; a way to ensure their memory lives on.
I’ve had a few blog posts circulating for the last two weeks, but something happened that has blown them out of the water.
On Friday, I went to the GP and was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression. That’s a big sentence for me to write. It
was also a big thing to have gone to the Doctor’s and said the words, ‘I’m struggling….’
Over the last six months, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, which I’ve mainly put down to the craziness of having a newborn. But the downs have got longer and encroached into the good periods. I’ve struggled to enjoy the little free time I’ve got, and I’ve been very weepy. I also spent 95% of my time feeling guilty about one thing or another.
At the beginning of last week, after a really rough 10 days, I realised I needed to talk to someone, so I went to the GP.
I was surprised that within 2 minutes
she diagnosed me with PND and wanted to put me on anti-depressants. Especially as the NHS website says that counselling or CBT is usually the first port of call. I know that counselling works for me too, as we had it after we lost the Eldest. Yet it wasn’t mentioned at all during the consultation. It was only when I walked out, I realised this.
The GP while nice gave me advice which seem predicated on having family nearby who could help on a daily basis (despite me telling her otherwise).
Having now seen the Health Visitor (who was a bit more helpful), though I realise that this is really a path I’m going to have to find my own way through, with the support of my partner.
As soon as I mentioned this on Twitter, within minutes I had lots of people reaching out through the #PNDchat hashtag, and the lovely @PNDandme. It was good to know that other people are out there who understand and can support me. I hope in time, I can offer the same sort of support to someone in my position. I know it won’t be easy, but I will find my way through this fog.
Today I went to a BBQ. It was a great way to meet up with a big group of friends who’ve been part of t’other half’s whole life, and for most of my adult life. They are a great bunch, and have been fantastic over the last three years.
When I got pregnant with the eldest, two of my friends from this group were also expecting. I was suppose to deliver last, and a couple of months after my two friends. I ended up being the second to deliver only two weeks after one, and two weeks before the other. Once we started having problems, I always felt a bit guilty that we were a very stark reminder to them of everything that could go wrong. It was all our first pregnancies, and I worried it sort of took some of the first time naivety away from them. But they were great and very supportive.
Considering how much they had going on in their own lives, they were particularly good after we lost our Eldest. We have seen both families since losing our eldest, and there’s always been that sense of our little one missing. But we haven’t all been together….
….we arrived at the BBQ, and loved introducing the Rainbow to those that hadn’t met him, and reacquainting him with those he had. He had his afternoon nap, and I enjoyed catching up with old friends.
At one point I watched as our friends two toddlers played together, and it him me hard. He wasn’t there. He should have been there. He would never be there. They would all grow up, and he would forever be four days old. One of the other Mums saw me looking at them playing, came over to me and said ‘I know what you are thinking….’ It was like she was reading my mind. I headed to the loo for a moment to myself, and cried over the boy I miss with every ounce of my being, the boy who will never grow up, who’ll never play with his little friends. Some days it hits you so hard, it’s like it happened yesterday. Some days it’s things you don’t expect that remind you. But every day, is a day of loss.
Last week, t’other half and I had our first night out together since the Rainbow had arrived. It was my Christmas present from last year; tickets to West Side Story and dinner beforehand. To say I had been excited about this, would be an understatement!
Our first ‘night out’ after we lost our eldest, had been to see Moonrise Kingdom with some friends. I remember clearly sitting in a bar before the cinema, bewildered at how I had ended up there, and why I wasn’t at home tending to my beloved baby. I spent most of the evening, trying to turn every conversation back to our Eldest.
This time round, I was able to relax (once I had the text from Grandma to say the Rainbow was asleep!) I felt that it was a night out that we had properly ‘earned’ after five and a half months of sleepless nights and always putting the Rainbow first. It was an opportunity to stop being Rainbow Mam and Dad, and just be me and him.
I love West Side Story, but I haven’t watched it since losing our Eldest. I wasn’t quite prepared for how much it resonated with me and our story of loss. It’s a story of tragic love, not baby loss, why should it speak so directly to me? But it did.
The stage production differs slightly from the film. There is a ballet sequence, where Maria and Tony dream of a world where they are able to be together. It reminded me of all the dreams we had for our Eldest, of the blind hope in the face of the worse medical predications, and how above all, t’other half and I held each other’s hands through the bleakest of all moments.
But the moment that resonated the most, was when Maria holds Tony as he is dying. It brought back the moments as our Eldest died in our arms. There is nothing that can ever prepare you for holding someone you love as the life slowly ebbs away from them. We tried to make sure his passing was peaceful, we told him of how much we loved him, and how special he was. It was important to us both, that the last sounds he heard were our voices talking and not us crying or sobbing. I’m proud we both managed to do that.
So as I sat in the theatre last night, with my pretty dress on, holding t’other half’s hand, watching actors pretend to die and to grieve, it reminded me of what sadness I will always hold in my heart, and how far we have come in the past two and half years.
I’ve debated about writing this post. But it’s been a big part of the early months with the Rainbow and I think it’s something we should be more open about.
My eldest’s difficulties were a result of a placental dysfunction. What caused that is less clear, but in my less sane days, I struggle with the thought that I failed him. My body couldn’t nourish him and let him thrive.
At least when he was born, he only had my milk. Dutifully hand expressed every three hours in my hospital room, while holding a picture of my beauty. Delivered by t’other half to the Neonatal Ward and tube fed by the amazing nurses.
So when pregnant with my Rainbow, there was no discussion about feeding. He would only know my breastmilk. People who formula fed, were at best misguided, at worse stupid. (I’m not proud of this attitude but I didn’t know any better).
So when he was born, we tried to latch him on. But he was technically premature, he was delivered by C-section (for medical reasons) and he was a super sleepy baby. For all these reasons, getting him latched on was nigh on impossible, but every two to three hours, I would try with help from the midwives. But it was OK, I could hand express until the Rainbow improved his suck. I was an old hand, and then my milk would come through and everything would get easier.
Oh the blind optimism of a Rainbow Mam. I wasn’t producing enough milk, despite moving onto an industrial electric pump. We were advised to top up with formula. We did, but to avoid any future difficulties with the latching we cup fed. Ever tried to cup feed a sleepy newborn? It’s not the easiest of jobs!
The Breastfeeding Specialist gave me lots of help and advice. I also got a home visit booked in. And anyway, once my milk came in, it would all get easier.
First day home, first thing I’m asked by the Midwife: ‘Has your milk come?’ No. This continues to be the question for the next 10 days. Each time I go to sleep I expect to wake up with inflated and painful breasts. But it never does. Each day I get more despondent.
At each feed, I try to get him latched on, it never works. I then express, we cup feed that and top up with formula. It is never ending. Eventually we cut ourselves some slack and change from cup to bottle. This us the only ‘break’ I give myself. This goes on for SIX weeks. I get home visits, I go to every drop in clinic, and do everything I’m advised.
Eventually the breastfeeding Midwife tells me ‘It’s time to be pragmatic’. I need this. I need someone to tell me I can stop. Because I won’t. Because formula is bad. Because breast is best. Well yes, it is. But if you don’t produce enough milk, formula is a lifesaver. In another time my rainbow wouldn’t have survived. Because yet again my body has failed my baby again. I can’t provide him with nourishment.
Why didn’t my milk come in? Who knows. I did everything you are meant to do. They think it might be the C-section. It could be my ‘poor obstetric history’ (the understatement of the year). It could be an underlying medical issue. It could just be ‘one of those things’.
Yet, despite all this, I still feel tremendous guilt. Whenever I whip out the bottle, I want to explain to anyone around, that it wasn’t my choice. Five months on, I still feel the need to do this.
Yes, we should celebrate breastfeeding. And yes it is best. But we shouldn’t shame those of us who for whatever reason can’t or don’t. It’s this sense of shame that made my failure feel so much worse.
We should give woman who formula feed better advice. I was given very little advice and what I was had massive disclaimers telling me I really, really should breastfeed. This made me feel worse.
But the worse thing, is that just at the point I should have been celebrating the birth of my rainbow, I spent too much time dwelling on how my body keeps failing my babies. When I should be grateful that this time round, there was an easy way to solve that problem. If only there had been such an easy solution for my eldest.
Five months on, my now wholly formula fed baby is happy and thriving. I still feel guilt and a bit of shame about my inability to breastfeed, and that my body continues to fail my babies.
Update: 12 August. I should make it clear that the NCT didn’t say we couldn’t attend antenatal classes, but that I interpreted their response to my query as gently suggesting that private sessions would be more appropriate
Before I got pregnant with the Eldest, I looked forward to antenatal classes and baby groups. Here I’d make lots of friends who we could share the parenting journey with. I dutifully booked onto a NCT antenatal course….and cancelled it when it became clear that we would be lucky if we got to a live birth.
When I got pregnant with the Rainbow, I had two bad experiences with antenatal classes. The NCT made it clear (in a very nice email) that I wasn’t really welcome at an normal antenatal class (although I could happily have a one-to-one session which would negate the whole point of meeting people). As for the NHS ‘Parentcraft’ classes, I left the first one, five minutes in, in floods of tears. So no opportunities before he arrived to meet other parents-to-be.
Once the Rainbow arrived, I felt a bit isolated. I didn’t know any other Mams near me, and I didn’t know how to meet more. But I’m lucky, my local Sands group runs a Rainbow Baby Group. Here I met other Mams trying to navigate the tricky rainbow waters. That group helped give me confidence to try other groups.
It’s hard. Go to a normal baby group, and you’ll always be asked ‘Is he your first?’ I always answer honestly, and people don’t always know how to respond. They are often uncomfortable. But why should I isolate myself to save others social awkwardness? Thanks to the confidence I got from the Rainbow Babies group, I’ve adopted this attitude: It’s other people’s problem if they are uncomfortable, not mine. For my own sanity, and for the Rainbow, I have to make the effort to go to groups and classes. I’ve done a baby massage class, and the other Mams were open to hearing my story.
Once baby groups start again after the summer holidays, I’ll be looking to find other ways for the Rainbow and I to enjoy the second half of my maternity leave.