There are many things that many, many people say to you once your baby has died. I should imagine that they are familiar to many people who walk their days without their child – but also others who have experienced trauma or bereavement, of any kind.
“You are so brave”
Brave adjective ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.
I wasn’t ready for this.
“I don’t know how you do it”
I don’t know either.
“I’d be rocking in a corner if it happened to me”
Brilliant, am I getting this wrong, because I’m not? Trust me, I want to. Trust me, sometimes, I do rock in a corner.
“You are so strong”
Strong adjective able to withstand force, pressure, or wear.
We manage, we adapt, we respond to the things we cannot actually withstand. We withdraw, we hide.
I understand why it is said. From the outside, we appear brave, and strong. We appear able to do the things you never consider yourself able. But I was you once. I was you at every point of my life, up until the 14th January 2016. I think that often, we (as in bereaved parents) struggle to accept these descriptions, because of choice.
We had no choice. We still have no choice.
At times, I’ve felt weak. I’ve felt at my lowest, at rock bottom. Unable to cope. Unable to hold my head high. Unable to speak. Unable to breath. Unable to put one foot in front of the other. Overwhelmed with anxiety, with fear, with uncertainty, with grief.
I may not consider myself strong, or brave. But I consider myself empowered by Leo. By the excitement we had for him, by the love we hold for him every day, and by his ability to do good, even in his death.
Strong, Brave, Courage – these are words often attributed to moments that contain fear and anxiety.
Fear noun an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.
Anxiety noun a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.
The feeling of fear, for me, relates to the 15th January 2016. This was the day after I discovered that Leo had died, when I was 37 weeks pregnant, and the day before I started induction to give birth to him. A day of limbo, of waiting, of fear and anxiety.
I was terrified.
Words can’t really express the level of emotion I felt that day. I was in shock, I guess. I just sat there, staring at the living room floor, so incredibly aware of Leo’s presence, but the lack of it all at the same time. I was still carrying him after all, except he was dead. Just two days before, that was such a joyous feeling – watching him kick, feeling him hiccup. A feeling that is like nothing you’ve ever felt, something that when you think too hard, is beyond surreal and full of joyous wonderment all at the same time. Except now, I could feel him, I could feel the weight of him, the stillness of him together with movement from my body moving him. I could feel him pressing against my ribs, and wanting to gently move him, without hurting him, but terrified as I didn’t know what impact that had. I just had to sit, feel him, know that he was there, but start to process that he wasn’t either.
I was consumed by the fear of what was to come, what was to happen during birth, what would he be like, how would we cope, how, how on earth could I survive this.
Fear, without choice. Bravey, without choice. Strength, without choice.
I’m not sure there are adequate words to describe the lack of choice in those moments. I had no choice but to return home with a full term bump, with my baby nestled inside me, yet dead. I had no choice but to wait. To wait for induction, to return to the hospital, and wait some more. I had no choice but to have an induction, to feel the contractions, to give birth to my dead son, to feel him transition and enter the world. We had no choice but to accept the reality that had been thrust upon us.
His birth was such a positive moment. The fear of the day before had to be left outside the delivery room – it wasn’t going to be helpful. We were about to meet our beautiful boy. And from that moment, our life was changed forever and, with no choice, we had to navigate what it meant for us.
It was at this year’s Tommy’s Awards, when hearing of other people’s experiences, that I was propelled back to those emotions, and that day – the 15th in particular. Its somewhere I don’t go to often. But in those moments, I started to feel it all and I was overwhelmed not just by my own experiences and emotions, but those of others too. And then by Tommy’s as a charity – their desire to change things. The researchers who work with their support to fight, daily, in the face of others saying but its just one of those things, and babies just sometimes die, and there are no answers.
I sat there, and just about managed to keep my shit together (randomly, helped by a short spot of mindfulness courtesy of Izzy Judd), but vowed to keep pushing, keep doing something to help Tommy’s continue in their fight. I know we aren’t going to make millions, but a consistent, determined effort pays off eventually, right? So I came away, and had to sit on the emotions and work out what I wanted to do.
And one of those things is Ignite Your Lion Heart.
Ignite Your Lion Heart is a challenge, asking people if they would face their fear, even with a choice. You see, with choice, we can avoid the things we don’t like, that scare us, or make us feel uneasy. So with that choice, do we do it, or do we avoid it? Do we continue to say I can’t do that, not me, not ever, or do we think you know what, I can, I can push myself, because there’s people in the world who have to push themselves, without the choice that I have today.
I think we all have something that we never think we could possibly do. For me, its everything revolving around heights – Go Ape, in particular. Its just the start, but its been on my mind for a while to tackle for Leo, and whilst I feel stupid for saying I’m going to do something I’m scared off – I’ve tackled fear once, I can do it again. Along with other activities, I’m going to do it, I’m going to ‘Ignite My Lion Heart’, and (hopefully) be able to say, I did that. Me. Just me. That was ME. I DID THAT.
So, if you’d like to find out more, help raise money for the charity that day in, day out epitomises the spirit of the Ignite Your Lion Heart Challenge, come and join us.