Missing our baby at Christmas

But then again, we miss her every day.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s been a whole year since our little baby passed away. We buried her on 23rd December, 2017. Every day this month has been an anniversary of sorts – the reassurance scan when I thought she wasn’t moving that much, the final scan, the angelversary, her birthday. December is a month long remembrance for us. I was dreading it but also longing it for it to pass at the same. We took part in the Novas Gift Appeal, we were lucky to have been given a little girl to buy gifts for. It felt good to do something for another child. When you lose a child I think there is so much left over love to give. It was nice to find a place for it.

Every day that passes takes us one day further away from her – but from another perspective it brings us one more day closer to when we will see her again in heaven. I wrote this as part of a university assignment for my Masters course.  It’s a one sentence essay – it’s not grammatically correct, but it’s my little prayer to my daughter for Christmas.

My refusal to mourn*

Why would I mourn you – you are not dead, you live inside me still; from the moment of conception your cells started to mingle with my own and like a chimera I can carry your DNA around in my body for the rest of my life, your cells have been transported all over my organs, a part of you is in every part of me, I carry your heart with me I carry it in my heart*, in the drum beat of my heart there beats a tiny part of you, in the breath of my lungs, your breath moves too, your name is in every exhalation, in every tiny signal of my brain there lie traces of you, your cells have reached deep inside my inner cortex so that in every movement, thought, idea and word, there is a reminder of you, although you are gone, your phantom kicks remain and my body bears the physical signs of you: the folds of loose skin on my stomach, the sag of my breasts, the loose ligaments of my hips, reminders that you were nestled deep inside me, and every one of my senses remembers it; the silence at your birth, the initial warmth of your skin, the aroma of the hospital room, the sight of your tiny but exquisite perfection and the taste of my own tears when I remembered you had already gone, my body recalls the pain of your birth but in that act I became your mother, some bonds are so strong that even death can’t break them,  our journey together is not ended, I will carry you with me always and I will hold you in my heart until I hold you in heaven.

*A Refusal to mourn the death by fire of a child in London by Dylan Thomas

*I carry your heart with me by E.E. Cummings

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To Aoife on your Angelversary

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My little count down to Aoife’s arrival. I loved changing it every week.

To my darling Aoife on your 6 month Angelversary,

Today you would be six months old. I wonder what you would look like. I wonder if your eyes would be blue, would you have brown hair like your daddy’s? Would you be able to roll yourself over yet? Would you have giggled and laughed a lot like your daddy does? Would you like being read to like I did? Would you have been a serious baby or a daydreamer?

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A tiny foot can leave a massive print.

All of the what ifs are rolling through my mind today, over and over like they have been since I found out that you died. What if I had been put on medication sooner? What if I had ignored the medical certificate permitting me to fly? What if I had never gotten on that plane? What if it had been noticed that you were in distress? What if? What if? What if?

But the what if I wonder most of all – what if you had been born alive – kicking and screaming and yelling to be noticed, larger than life and ready to begin your lovely little journey with us your adoring parents. We miss you so much. In trying to cope with your loss – your daddy and I talk about when you were in my belly. We try to remember your life for what it was – brief and wondrous. Although your foot print was tiny, it left a huge impact on our lives and on everyone else who was excited to meet you; your aunts and uncles, your cousins, your granddad in Ireland and in South Africa too – there were people all over the world awaiting your arrival with just as much eager anticipation as we felt. Aoife when you were alive you were so, so loved. Now that you are gone – you are still so loved and remembered every minute of every day.

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Booklet for Aoife’s mass at the Coombe Hospital on the day she was born.

When you were in my belly your daddy and I read Winnie the Pooh to you. I wanted to make sure that my baby girl would love books as much as I did. But mostly I just wanted you to hear my voice. Your daddy used to fall asleep and snore (yes – he snores a lot!) I used to sing a song to you too. The song was ‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.’ I changed the words to ‘You are my baby my only baby…’ The last part of that song breaks my heart now ‘Please don’t take my baby away.’

Even before you died Aoife, that part of the song made me sad. I just couldn’t contemplate the pain of a mother losing her baby!

I was absolutely fascinated by every aspect of you as you were growing inside me. Now, I am so glad that I have those wonderful memories. You were so loved and so wanted. I hope that you know how much your daddy and I wanted you.

You became an angel six months ago today. I remember the last time you moved. You stretched yourself across my belly as I sat on the plane flying home to Ireland where you would be born. The fact that you never felt pain brings me comfort. We know that you only ever felt love. I don’t regret one moment of your life. If someone had told me before I got pregnant with you what was going to happen and there was no way to change it – I would still decide to have you, but I would move heaven and earth to try to change the fact that you died.

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My baby’s perfect hands.

Aoife – when you are mother to an angel, one of the greatest tragedies is that people don’t like to talk about babies who have died. So I don’t get to tell people how lovely and perfect you were – about your lovely long legs and funny big feet, about your nose that looked like your daddy’s and your perfect hands. I don’t get to tell people that you used to wake me up in the middle of the night because you felt like dancing in my belly, or how you used to hiccup so much in the evening time. I don’t get to tell people how proud I am of my beautiful baby girl.

My identity as a mother goes unrecognised. A well meaning friend said to me on Mother’s Day ‘I hope you will be a mother one day.’ I wanted to reply to her and say ‘But I am a mother, I am Aoife’s mother.’

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Story book I read to Aoife when we were in the hospital.

Just because you are not physically with me Aoife, does not make you any less my daughter. You made me a mother and I carry that knowledge with me and it gives me comfort on days like today when my grief swallows me up and all I feel like doing is crawling into your grave just so I could hold you again.

Your daddy and I miss our darling little, sweet, pink rosebud girl. We wish we could have known you for longer – but you will always be our baby and one day we will see you again. Until then we hope that you are with all the other angel babies  playing in heaven and know how much your parents miss you.

Thank you for your brief but beautiful life and for choosing us as your parents,

love always,

Mommy and Daddy.

 

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Smashing my Grief.

There have been other ‘firsts’ since losing Aoife. St. Patrick’s Day was tough and that took me by surprise, I really wasn’t expecting that. As the day dawned, I remembered travelling to Dubai from Dublin airport when I was 16 weeks pregnant the previous August. As I browsed in the shops I put my hand on a ‘the leprechauns made me do it’ baby grow and considering buying it. In my head I was thinking ‘you’re 16 weeks now, you’re past the miscarriage stage.’ (Face/palm at my innocent naivety) But something told me not to – my mother was always so superstitious about that – never buying anything for a baby till the baby was almost home from the hospital. Heading into Limerick city for the parade I had a sinking feeling inside me, seeing all the families with their lovely children dressed in green just reminded me of what Adriaan and I had lost. I spent the rest of the day wrapped in a blanket in front of netflix nursing a broken heart and nibbling away at a bar of dairy milk. (Never underestimate the comfort of Cadbury’s)

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My niece and I on St. Patrick’s Day. 
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St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Limerick City. 

Returning to Dubai after three months in Ireland was going to be the biggest ‘first.’ For several weeks the thoughts of boarding the plane filled me with anxiety. The significance of the journey weighed so heavily on me. When I left Dubai I was 31 weeks pregnant, looking forward to seeing my family and excited about soon becoming a mother for the first time. What my breaks my heart now is that I know the last time I felt my baby move was while I was sitting on that plane. She stretched herself across my belly and probably died shortly afterwards. Days later, I was assured by the doctors in the Coombe that when Aoife died she would have felt no pain, she would have fallen asleep, slipped into unconsciousness and then passed away quietly. There’s some comfort in knowing that she never felt any pain, or ever will.

A long reroute through Budapest and then Kuwait probably distracted me a little from the anxiety about the journey. I chatted to the young woman beside who was returning from holidays. We discussed the medical emergency that had caused us to land in Budapest (thankfully the passenger was ok) and she told me that she’d been on a flight once when a baby died, luckily the conversation ended there as we were distracted by a captain’s announcement but in my head I was screaming ‘My baby died too!’ and my heart broke for that set of parents who lost their baby in such tragic circumstances.

Coming back to Dubai has been bitter sweet. Returning to Adriaan was wonderful, he had a beautiful bunch of roses waiting for me on the table in the apartment. But there are subtle signs everywhere that we were expecting our baby girl soon. That has been difficult to face. The baby shower gifts remain untouched in the baby changing unit, I can not bring myself to look at them just yet. The canvas I painted of an expectant mother now bears so much more significance.

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Canvas I painted as part of some art lessons I attended. The verse is from Desiderata it reads: You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees or the stars, you have a right to be here. 

The packing away of the maternity clothes, the dumping of the pregnancy vitamins, the pulling down of the scan pictures, it was the physical dismantling of our hopes and dreams.

There have been constant reminders of what we have lost. Shopping in the local grocery store, the friendly assistant said ‘Hi madam, how’s your baby?’ The last time he saw me I was heavily pregnant. In a quiet voice, I told him that we had a little girl but that she died, then I sobbed at the counter. The poor guy felt so bad.

Unfortunately, there have been a few other moments like that. Lately, I have been going to yoga. I was obliged to tell the instructor that I had recently given birth as she attempted to yank my stiff torso into weird angles. A few times since then she has mentioned babies and nutrition and I just didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth I just nodded politely and changed the subject. Sometimes it’s nice to live in an alternate world where people think I am a mother to a living baby. Yesterday, she asked if I was breast feeding. I started crying and told her that our baby died. Luckily we had come to the end of the class and I was the only one in it. There are some days the tears start and they just don’t stop, I cried the whole way down the road, then I cried the whole way through a massage afterwards. Getting up from the bed, I had a massive black eyes and looked like the joker from Batman – disheveled, oily and slightly maniacal.

Other ‘firsts’ have been less painful. Meeting other moms and dads who’ve lost babies has helped me immensely over the last few months. They are the only people who can identify with the pain and the depth of grief that losing a baby brings. All the moms that I have met have been so supportive and willing to meet up and listen to me rant and rave for a few hours. It is comforting to know that all the crazy thoughts that have gone through my head – went through theirs too.

A few days ago I met up with one brave mom here in Dubai and we booked a session at the ‘the smashroom.’ Together we took out our anger and frustration by getting dressed up in armour and smashing to smithereens pieces of crockery. Plates, mugs, saucers, dainty tea cups all felt the smash of my bat as I vented my sheer fury at the injustice of losing my child. As I threw pretty little espresso cups in the air and belted them with a bat I thought of all the stupid things people say and the accidental ignorance that surrounds baby loss. I frisbeed plates off the walls. I took a baseball bat to a glass water dispenser and screamed with pent up rage as it broke into tiny pieces.

Before entering the smash room, the assistant allowed us choose our weapons. I had taken a baseball bat and an iron crow bar. I picked up the iron crow bar and my friend and I took it in turns to bash an LCD tv. I went into wild woman mode and screamed out expletives as I smashed. I was pounding out my rage and also the stupid things people have said such as:

God will give you another angle (I know you mean angel but please learn to spell and my baby is an angel because she’s in heaven, you want me to have another dead baby? Thanks!)

Maybe your baby would have been sick all her life (The post mortem results showed that my baby was perfect and even if she was sick, which she wasn’t, I would have loved her unconditionally anyway)

She just wasn’t meant to be (Yes she was! Yes she was! Yes she was!)

We will get you your baby (This came from a medical professional – hmm…. what about the one who died? I’d like to get that one please!)

What was wrong with your baby? (Again – nothing, and if you told me that a member of YOUR family died, I would not ask how unless you offer that information because that’s just common manners!)

I pounded the crap out of that tv as I thought about the heartless things people who thought they were being comforting said. To the people who are surprised to hear that losing my baby felt just as bad as losing my mother. I do not bear any resentment towards the people who have said these things. Unfortunately, baby loss is a taboo subject in my experience so I can’t blame people for not knowing what to say.

Well I pounded and pounded and pounded till that tv had huge gash marks across it. The assistant then came knocking at the door and handed us a massive axe made from iron. I swung it up in the air and brought it crashing down on that screen as I roared out my frustration at the medical professionals in Dubai who never even asked what my baby’s name was.

It. Felt. So. Good.

Rarrrrrghghgh – I pounded and pounded and pounded until the sweat dripped and my clothes were sopping wet from the effort. Loud rock music was playing, helping to create an apocalyptic atmosphere reminding me of the Mad Max films. The whole experience was very therapeutic to say the least and cost far less than a counseling session in Dubai does. For anyone with a bit of pent up fury inside them – I would highly recommend a session in the smash room.

Losing Aoife is still very raw for Adriaan and I. We are still processing and trying to make sense of it – if we ever will? I am so grateful for the help and support I have gotten from meeting women through the different support groups Feileacain, A Little Lifetime, ALLF Limerick and in Dubai Little Angels. These brave men and women are still grieving themselves, but are willing to meet up and listen to someone else’s sorrow. If any good is to come out of this – let it be that in even when in deepest despair there is unity and love, and in time I hope that I can bring comfort to other people as they have have brought comfort to me.

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Dealing with each ‘first.’

Here is an article that I wrote in January for the Irish Independent online about losing our baby girl. If you’d like to read it – see the link here.

Remembering Aoife
Wrote this in the sand to remember our baby girl in one of my family’s favourite places: Ballybunion.

Dealing with the loss of our baby is the most difficult thing I have ever faced. I choose to write this blog as somewhere Adriaan and I can remember our baby girl, as a creative release and also in the hope that it might help someone out there deal with their own loss by reminding them that they are not alone.

It has now been over three months since Adriaan and I lost our much anticipated baby girl. I wish I could say that the grief is getting easier. Sadly, that is not the case as each ‘first’ brings it’s own set of challenges. By ‘first’ I mean the first time for something after the loss occurred.

I suppose one of the first milestones to cross was the due date. Aoife was due on 19th February. I had already read on the support pages that lots of mothers find this challenging. I was in Ireland so I planned to go on a walk with my sisters.

We headed out for our walk from Truagh and turned towards the six o’clock hills near Six Mile Bridge in County Clare. A light drizzle on a humid day woke us up and pretty soon we were strolling along at good pace. Up we walked through the forest towards Six Mile Bridge – as the weather was dull we didn’t meet many people. It did cross my mind a few times to wonder about what would the other Sinead be doing now, the one who lives in an alternative world where her baby didn’t die at 31 weeks. Would she be in labour? Would she have been induced? Would she have gotten to hold a little baby Aoife that was alive? Then the harsh reality comes back again – her little baby is not alive and she gets shoved roughly back down the long tunnel of remembrance that begins with those words ‘I’m sorry but you have lost your baby’ and she grounds herself in reality, again.

Another difficult ‘first’ is a big family occasion such as Christmas. Aoife was buried on 23rd December just two days before Christmas. As we drove down from Dublin with Aoife’s tiny white coffin resting between us on the back seat, the lights and decorations that adorned every shop window seemed silent mockery at our loss. Christmas for us will forever be tainted with that loss. Losing a baby at any time of the year is cruel, but Christmas is especially cruel – the season that is generally thought to be for children now has one less.

Christmas morning began shakily. The trauma of losing Aoife was still very much present in my body. It’s hard to describe the physical effect that losing a baby has on your body to other people who haven’t experienced it. The huge tapestry that is your life gets pulled out from underneath you, you are left stumbling trying to find your feet again, sometimes literally. My husband and I both felt as if we were literally stumbling in those first few days after leaving the hospital. At times, it felt like the ground was shifting around and we would fall off of it. Tiny things seemed excruciatingly difficult – walking over the bridge near my house filled me with anxiety. I could imagine the bridge crumbling beneath my feet and falling downwards into the engorged river to be carried off somewhere down into the distance. Taking a shower could take all morning, eating was an arduous task. Food lost its taste and seemed pointless. Meanwhile – the ground kept moving around beneath my feet as I tried desperately to cling onto anything for support. Christmas day passed and we prayed that the following day would be easier.

There have been many other ‘firsts’ since then and I can’t tackle them all in one post. I will write about them at a later date. In the meantime – we keep our beautiful baby girl in our thoughts always.

Always ours,

Always loved,

Always Aoife.

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