Tag Archives: stillbirth

#15babiesaday Campaign

If you asked me any time before January 2011, how many babies were stillborn everyday, I imagine I would have said 3 or 4. To be honest I just wouldn’t have had a clue, but not knowing anyone or really hearing anything about stillbirth, I know the answer would have been low. At the time we lost Ewan, 17 babies a day did not survive in the UK. More specifically this means babies born from 24 weeks gestation onwards who were either stillborn, or died within 4 weeks of birth. SANDS had a campaign at the time called Why 17? Why on earth, in such a prosperous country, were 17 babies dying each day?

On the positive side, this rate has started to go in the right direction, however in mine (and a lot of other people’s opinion), it hasn’t reduced enough. In 2015, the UK was rated 24th out of 49 high income countries. Poland, Croatia and the Czech Republic all had lower rates of stillbirth than in the UK. I’m not an expert but shouldn’t we be leading the way rather than lagging behind Portugal, Slovakia and Estonia?

Today, June 15th, Sands have launched a new campaign based on the fact that STILL 15 babies die every day. Now to all you lovely blog readers, that statistic isn’t new. Since the beginning of the year, it is something I have mentioned almost every time I’ve written. I’m over a third of the way through my 15 races for 15 babies challenge. A typical topic of conversation now is ‘how many runs have you got to go’. Most people think I’ve done more than I actually have (is that a sign people are getting bored? I hope not!).

The charity has a number of different social media initiatives for the campaign including the obligatory selfie shot! Click here if you are interested in any 15 themed fundraising. Of course I am pretty chuffed with myself to already be on the bandwagon with my 15 themed challenge …. hmmm I wonder if they saw it and realised what a cracking idea it was! One particularly effective initiative has been a tweet they have sent every 96 minutes, highlighting that approximately every hour and a half a baby dies.

          

I hope that in 2 or 3 years time we there will be campaigns of ‘Why 13’ or ‘Why 11’ or ‘Why 9’. And then a few years later we will be celebrating having the number 1 rating, with acceptably low to non-existent numbers. Just how amazing would that be.

Although I say time and time again how blessed we are with our beautiful, amazing rainbows, there will always be a small part of us with Ewan. When I see Dylan and Jude playing together, laughing and wrestling (!) with innocent, wide eyed smiles, occasionally I wonder what Ewan’s smile would have looked like and how his laugh would have sounded.

And although I went onto give birth without complications and have two healthy boys, nothing will ever take away the pain that I felt, that even now when writing about I can still feel in my stomach and chest, when I was told Ewan’s heart had stopped. When he was born into silence. When we went home alone.

All the joy and happiness we have experienced as a family over the last 5 years, and hopefully will do in the many years to come will never erase our memories of Ewan.

If by sharing this post, a selfie or a Sands tweet or by making a donation or getting involved in any other kind of fundraising, we can continue to reduce the number of stillbirths, then Ewan’s life will have truly had a purpose.

http://www.justgiving.com/15races15babies

#15babiesaday

#1ofthe15

#15races15babies

#TeamSands

A Birthday Sunrise

A friend sent me a message today with this absolutely beautiful sunrise. Shortly afterwards she sent another message saying she had just realised the date and no wonder the sunrise was such a beauty. She then thanked me for always making her grateful for everything she has. Today is Ewan’s birthday. What lovely words to receive at what can be a very emotional time.

It’s that funny time of year again where we celebrate two birthday’s. One rainbow and one angel. Dylan was 5 last Thursday and today it is Ewan’s 6th birthday.

There are so many clear memories from 2011 that I can’t escape from. It starts in particular from the 13th January onwards. From then until next weekend I will catch myself at various times of the day thinking ‘this time 6 years ago….’. On Friday night I caught myself remembering back to being in bed 6 years ago. Night-time was when Ewan would usually be most active, but on that night he wasn’t. The trouble was, I didn’t realise until the following day.

Saturday was the anniversary of the day we found out his heart had stopped beating and that he had died. It was the day I first went to hospital because I was worried I couldn’t feel any movements. In sharp contrast to the events of that day, this year we were busy with Dylan’s birthday party. He was so excited and had been talking about it for weeks. Thankfully it all went smoothly and he had an amazing time. We hired a magician/entertainer and although the jokes and tricks were old hat to us adults, the kids thought he was hilarious. Although the day was filled with fun and frivolity, again I caught myself at 2pm driving back home thinking ‘I was at the hospital now’.

I imagine anyone who has been through a traumatic experience will be the same. I guess this will be the status quo for years to come. Memories like these will never be forgotten.

I do have some fun memories though (bizarrely). Last night I reminded Adam of when we were in the delivery room waiting for the midwife. He was trying to cheer me up and lighten the mood so started doing gymnastics (badly) on a stray yoga mat. It worked.

We always try and do something nice on Ewan’s birthday. Today after visiting the cemetery, Adam and I took a drive out into the countryside, to the hotel where we got married. We had a lovely relaxed lunch by a roaring fire. We have so many wonderful memories there and it was just a perfect time for us to be together.

The boys still don’t know about Ewan yet, so they don’t realise the significance of the date. This morning I was first up and went into Dylan’s room. He had just got up and was sat in the middle of his room. I just sat down beside him and asked for a hug. He climbed into my arms and he let me hug him. For much longer than a 5 year old would normally let his mother hug him! I also got a lovely hug and cuddle off Jude when he woke up. But being a mummy’s boy through and through, that was no surprise. I needed those hugs and thankfully they weren’t in short supply.

Which brings me back to my friend’s lovely message about being grateful for what we have. We will never ever forget our angel, our firstborn. We will never fully heal from the pain. But do we feel grateful? Absolutely. Every single day. I had the joy and pleasure of carrying Ewan for 7 months. He was loved and wanted. His two brothers are absolute blessings. That we were able to go on and have a family is a luxury that some people do not. We look at them every day and appreciate how lucky we are.

I think I say this every year now, but it is still important to remember. Hug your loved ones. Hold them close. Tell them you love them. Life is precious.

After 25 attempts at getting a family photo of us all looking in the same direction, this was the best we could get!

* Photo credit to the wonderful Dr Ruth Jeanes. Unfortunately for anyone wondering where this beautiful scene can be found in the UK, it is not! It was taken in Australia.

If you haven’t read my last blog, please take a look. I am hoping to raise £500 this year for Sands (the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) by running 15 races. My Justgiving page is below. #15races15babies

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

15 Races for 15 Babies

Taken by the fab Burnley Parkrun photographer David Belshaw

After finishing the Great North Run last September, I knew that I wanted to carry on running. I was blown away when family, friends and colleagues helped me to raise over £2300 for Sands, for running the half marathon and 2 x 10k’s in 2016. When I was unsuccessful (but secretly quite pleased) with the London Marathon ballot, I decided to be a bit more creative. There were plenty of other marathons to go for, but to be honest, I’m still not ready to put in the hours needed for decent training with the 3-4 hour long weekend runs needed.

Inspiration came through reading various posts from a brilliant Facebook group I was invited to join called Run Mummy Run. There are 30,000+ members all of varying running abilities, from 15 minute milers to ultra marathon runners. It’s a huge support network where stories and achievements are celebrated and no question is too stupid. Being part of this virtual running club has kept me going throughout the winter, a time when I have never trained before. Not at night any way. I only managed to pull on my trainers after the boys had gone to bed when it was dark, windy and wet outside because I knew thousands of other mums were doing the same.

So, onto my challenge for this year ….. ready? ….. drumroll …. (it should be no surprise really given the blog title!) … I’m going to take part in 15 races over the course of 2017.

Because I am now such a running geek (as I was politely informed the other day), all my races are on a spreadsheet. I haven’t signed up for them all yet – some still have dates to be confirmed, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that I will win a place in the Vitality Liverpool half marathon. Feel free to join me in one, or come out and cheer if the race is near you (warning – you need to live in the North!). The more the merrier.

Blackburn Winter Warmer 10k – 5th February

Crosby Beach 10k (Liverpool) – 19th February

Accrington Ron Hill 10k – 5th March

Vitality Liverpool Half Marathon – 2nd April

Lancaster 3 Bridges 10k – 30th April

Great Run Manchester Half Marathon – 28th May

Run for All Hull 10k – 18th June

Run for All Leeds 10k – 9th July

Great Yorkshire Run (Harrogate 10k) –  July (date TBC)

Run for All York 10k – 6th August

Blackpool Air Show 10k – 13th August

Run for All Bury 10k – 17th September

Lytham Windmill 10k – 12th November

Wilmslow 10k – 26th November

Longridge Pudding Run – 10th December

So why 15? Because every day in the UK, 15 babies are stillborn, or die within the first 4 weeks of life. Every day, the lives of 15 families are changed forever. Hopes are shattered and dreams are broken for 15 mums and dads to be. On Saturday it will be 6 years to the day when we were told that Ewan had died. And although I always say how lucky we are to have 2 amazing boys with us now, the pain I felt on that day and for the weeks, months and years that followed, will be with me until I take my last breath.

Stillbirth is not rare. This was a tragedy which happened to us and could happen to anyone. The UK’s stillbirth rate is still unacceptably high, especially in comparison to other lower income nations.

I want my challenge to be memorable and meaningful. To raise money for research and also raise awareness of stillbirth.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/15races15babies

I’ve even got one of those fancy text codes (I sound ancient writing that don’t I?!)

Text COXR51  followed by an amount of £1, £2, £3, £5 or £10 to 70070

Please share my Justgiving page and if you have a spare cash over the year any donations will be gratefully received.

My geeky spreadsheet!

#15races15babies

#TeamSands

#SandsSuperstar

 

 

A boxful of memories

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I once read an article about a mother who lost twin babies. She was sent home from hospital with a scrap of paper towel with the words ‘twin one’ and twin two’ and their birth weights. That was it. Nothing else. The scrap of paper was all she and her husband had to remind them of their babies. This was about 25 years ago. Thankfully things have moved on since then.

Creating and holding onto memories for a stillborn baby is one of the most important parts of the grieving and healing process. As the parents of a child which was never able to take its first breath, make that first step, utter a first word, experience the first day of school, the few memories we have are treasured and extremely precious.

Of course I have the memories stored away in my mind, but we also have a memory box filled with various things which all relate to Ewan. Things that are tangible that we can take out and look at.  I knew quite early on that I wanted to buy a special keepsafe. A beautiful box to keep everything in. An online search eventually took me to Reads Creations, a company making personalised wooden memory boxes. They had just what we wanted. And here it is. P1100237 P1100239

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We usually keep it in our wardrobe so it is neatly tucked away but easily accessible. One day I took it out and left it for a couple of days. Dylan took a shine to it and enjoying sitting on it. I managed to take what is one of my favourite but also most poignant photographs. When he is older he will understand the significance.

 

So what keepsafes do we have? Probably too many to mention so I’ll pick out a few for now.

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We received an overwhelming number of cards from family, friends and colleagues and struggled to find places to put them in the house. There were so many kind words and even those which said ‘I don’t know what to say’ still meant so much. Occasionally I will get them out and have a read through some of them. The photograph of my favourite cards is at the top – the pandas. It wasn’t even a bereavement card. It didn’t have any words, just a simple picture. Adam and I thought it summed up how we felt.

I still have cards to add to the box now. One of my dear friends sends me a card every year on Ewan’s birthday. She keeps his memory alive by recognising that he should have a card to celebrate like everybody else.

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This necklace holds a particularly strong memories for me. I was wearing it the day I went into hospital to find out his heart had stopped. I can visualise myself now, sat in a chair playing with it. I wore it again when I went to give birth and then to his funeral. I carried on wearing it for a while but started to worry I would lose it, so now have it tucked away for safe keeping.

 

p1100249Another dear friend gave me this cross-stitch a couple of months later. I can remember she gave it to me in what seemed to be a bit of an apologetic, ‘I hope you like it’ kind of way. I was so touched that she had gone to the effort of making something like this for us. It was incredibly thoughtful.

We have quite a few photographs. Obviously all his scan photographs are there, including one taken at the scan taken which determined he had died. I always feel a little bit funny about that one. Especially as I didn’t know it existed for a few months until my consultant handed it to me when I was pregnant with Dylan. We have all the photographs we took of him in the hospital. These are in a little album. They are mainly ones taken with our camera but some from the midwife too.

There is plenty more I could show you, but maybe for another day.

It’s at this point that I really want to acknowledge and thanks SANDS for their contribution to our memory box. If it wasn’t for the work SANDS did, particularly in the early days of the charity, then we wouldn’t have the memories we have now. It upsets me to think of the mother of twins in the article. Families left hospital with nothing and weren’t encourage to create their own memories. Instead it they were encouraged to forget and move on. SANDS worked hard to train professionals to make them realise that the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality didn’t work. Acting is though losing a baby never happened wasn’t going to help parents, instead it made it worse. By allowing parents to take photographs and hold their babies, it helped their grieving process enormously.

So for this I am eternally grateful.

Our memory box will also be a painful reminder of the loss of Baby Ewan, but it is also a source of comfort. A reminder of our support network and all the wonderful people who helped us through some dark and difficult times. It is a reminder that Ewan was loved and still is. And most importantly that his memory lives on.

Baby Loss Awareness Week

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Being a mum can be hard sometimes. Really hard. But not being a mum, when you really want to be. That’s a whole different ball game.

Tomorrow is the start of Baby Loss Awareness Week. If you asked me 6 years ago whether I’d heard there of such a week, my answer would have been no. If you asked me whether I would be sat up on a Saturday night writing about losing a baby, I would have thought you were mad.

But here I am. A bereaved mother. Unfortunately not alone, but one of many.

It is estimated that one in four women experience pregnancy loss. A quarter. 25%. Before our own loss, I knew of very few people who have been affected. In the few days following Ewan’s death, the number doubled if not tripled. People shared their own experiences or those of friends or relatives. Some were recent, others dated back 40 years. All too quickly, baby loss became far more common that I ever realised. Just less than 3 weeks after losing Ewan, one of my best friends received devastating news about her own pregnancy. The only slither of a silver lining being that I felt I was able to help her because of my own experience.

Talking about the loss of a baby is often taboo. I’ve often thought about why that is. I think generally as a society we don’t like to talk about death. We find it uncomfortable. People don’t know what to say to one another. Most likely for fear of saying the wrong thing. For some reason that is heightened when it is the death of a baby. Whether it is an early miscarriage or a full term pregnancy.

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Ewan at 12 weeks

As part of Baby Loss Awareness Week I am here to talk about it. Break the Silence. That has always been an aim of my blog, I just unfortunately don’t have the time to write often. But I’ll be honest, I do sometimes worry that people don’t want to read what I have to say about our experiences. I think I should write about jollier things. Silly really. If you don’t want to read, no-one is stopping you.

So unashamedly throughout this week I’ve decided to either write a new blog or share an old one every day. To commemorate but also to embrace. I’ll apologise in advance if they are upsetting (there is always a get out clause – you don’t have to read them). Hopefully for those of you who have ready my posts before, you will know that I try to look for the positives. You know that I consider us to be so incredibly blessed to have two amazing, beautiful, energetic and fun-loving boys, who have helped us to heal in so many ways. But know that we will never ever fully heal. Any bereaved parent will tell you the same.

Please take some time out of your busy lives to find out more about Baby Loss Awareness Week.  About the 24 amazing charities who are involved, who tirelessly raise awareness throughout the year and campaign for change.

http://babyloss-awareness.org/

If you know someone who has lost a baby, take time this week to acknowledge their loss. Whether it was last month, last year or 40 years ago. I am sure they will appreciate a hug or a few words so that they know you have been thinking of them.

Finally, if you can, join the Global Wave of Light on October 15th at 7pm. October 15th is International Pregancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Families all over the world will be remembering their babies who were taken too soon. Light a candle at 7pm and leave it burning for at least an hour. Post your photo to Facebook or Twitter to join the digital Wave of Light using #waveoflight

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A Great Run Up North

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 The day I was to run 13.1 miles for SANDS finally arrived! It’s not an over exaggeration when I say that I’ve been working towards this goal all year. 12 months ago I could just about manage 5km every week or so. Three days ago I quadrupled that effort and completed my fourth ever half marathon, my first in nine years. Most importantly due to the generosity of my family, friends and colleagues, my Justgiving total now stands at £2,278 for the SANDS research fund.

Here’s how my day went!

Adam and I woke up at 5.30am in our lovely comfy B&B room to the sound of Dylan singing ‘Bob the Builder, Can you fix it’?? He was ready to get up but we weren’t!! A few shushes and we managed to sneak another hour sleep before getting up. The owner kindly got up early too in order to serve us breakfast. We sat and chatted with a couple from Liverpool who were also going up to the run. I managed to stomach a bit of porridge, some fruit and yoghurt and poached egg, drooling at the sight of Adam’s amazing plate of sausage, bacon and black pudding!

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Breakfast done, we packed up and got on the road, exchanging ‘good luck’s with the Liverpudlian runner. On went the Rocky soundtrack to get me pumped and motivated. I’m a sucker for Sylvester Stallone’s boxing saga. It makes me think of the early days when Adam and I first got together. I’d never seen it before and he introduced me to each chapter over consecutive weekends.

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The nerves started to kick in as we approached Newcastle. We parked the car just after 9am in the city centre near the Metro and followed the crowds to the start line. Even though the race didn’t begin until 10.40am, with 40,000+ runners plus spectators, we didn’t want to risk being late. Dylan enjoyed seeing all the people and picking out the runners in fancy dress. I told him I wanted him to tell me about all the different characters he saw when I finished. We parted ways as they went to find a place to watch the start. I queued for my last toilet break and collected the safety pins for my running number that I’d forgotten to pack. I knew a few other people taking part but with the huge volumes of runners (it is the world’s biggest half marathon you know!), meeting up just wasn’t an option.

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I finally found my starting ‘pen’ after walking past thousands of others. Given my predicted time I was near the back of the pack. And then I waited, and waited and waited. The start gun went. I waited some more, the Red Arrows flew over, waited a bit more again and then 32 minutes after the start I crossed the line!

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Waiting patiently for mummy!

My first priority once running got underway was to find Dylan and Adam. We made sure that co-ordinated so I was on the right side for them to see me. After a couple of minutes I saw them, Dylan on Adam’s shoulders waving. I managed a high five with them both, big smiles all around and then after that I was able to properly settle into the race.

So, I haven’t mentioned the heat yet. How can I have got 500 words into this blog without talking about how incredibly flipping hot it was. We spent half of July staring out at rain dripped windows and in September suddenly the country breaks into an unexpected heatwave! That was the first real obstacle. Adjusting to a race that could have been in Nigeria instead of Newcastle. I took advantage of the majority of the first mile going under the city underpasses and then afterwards tried as much as possible to go along the shaded parts of the streets, although there weren’t many of these.

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We crossed the Tyne Bridge (always exciting) and apart from being hot, I felt as though the first 5km was pretty comfortable. Although there are A LOT of people running, I remembered why I love the Great North Run. For one the crowds are amazing. There aren’t many sections of the race where there aren’t spectators shouting encouragement, handing out jelly babies or ice pops. Secondly I love reading all the different running shirts and seeing who people are running for. Some people think that runners are crazy putting themselves through the torture and pain of training and racing, but it truly is an amazing sight looking at all the good causes and thinking how many charities will be benefitting as a result of this one half marathon. I saw a few SANDS runners. I didn’t pass many of them (it was generally them passing me) but for those I did, I tried to have a bit of a chat and motivational high five with them.

The heat aside, I felt like I was doing pretty well and enjoying myself until about mile 10. At that point I was thinking ‘all the hard work done, not far to go now, it’s only a parkrun (5k) which I do every Saturday’. I might even have stupidly thought ‘easy’! I think that caused me to hit the brick wall. My legs turned to jelly, every leg muscle ached and every joint groaned. Olympic walkers would easily have overtaken me as I stumbled along. The last 3 miles were pretty much pure agony. So rather than dwell on it (I want to wipe it from memory) lets skip onto the finish.

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YEY I finished!! The last mile along the seafront seemed to go on forever but finally it ended. I’ve got to give a massive thank you to the commentator at the end, who, at the time I rolled in was encouraging the crowd to give us a standing ovation and huge cheers. They obeyed, and honestly I felt like I’d just won an Olympic medal! Crossing the line I managed to keep it together physically and didn’t collapse! Mentally I almost crumbled and cried, but again just kept a hold of myself.

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After collecting my medal and bag, I eventually managed to make my way to meeting Adam and Dylan. It was too busy for them to stand at the finish, Adam instead keeping Dylan entertained watching the Red Arrows display. Hugs all round and an ice cream for Dylan (it has been a long day for him), it was great to see them both. It had definitely been the right decision leaving Jude with my parents, he would have enjoyed the planes but that would have been about it!

The journey home was long and tiring, but all in all it was a great day. My time?? 2 hrs 34. Not my worse and not my best. To be honest, given how I’ve felt over the past couple of weeks, I was happy to get through the full 13.1 miles and finish. Completing this was less about the time, and more about raising money and raising awareness of stillbirth. And for Ewan to know that I ran it for him.

If you would like to donate to SANDS, please visit my Justgiving page www.justgiving.com/runningforewan

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A well earned bath

A Kind Stranger

Today I went to work. And in some ways it was just like any other day. For the past three years, I’ve made sure I’ve been in work on the 14th January. For the simple reason that I want to keep my mind occupied. I don’t really want to dwell on the events of five years ago.

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2 day old Dylan

Four years ago today I was in hospital with Dylan who was then just two days old. I was on a ward with three other women (and babies). We had all arrived at different times and with intermittent crying babies and visitors, checkups from midwives and drawn curtains, we hadn’t really talked much.

Although I was struggling to feed my newborn, I was still ecstatically happy, But there was also a cloud hanging over me. At about 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning, I spoke to one of my best friends on the phone. We had exchanged texts since Dylan’s arrival but it was the first time we had spoken. I told her the gory details of my induced labour (painful but quick!) and gushed about how beautiful Dylan was. And then burst into tears. It was hormones mixed with grief. It was the first anniversary of the day I found out Ewan had died. We talked for a while and she comforted me. Eventually we ended the conversation and there I was, in my cubicle alone with my sleeping baby.

The curtain drew back and the lady in the opposite cubicle came in, sat down on my bed and gave me a huge hug. I clearly hadn’t stifled my sobs well enough and she came to see if I was ok. I can’t verbalise how grateful I was to her for that hug and just the kindness she showed me in that moment. It was just what I needed. I don’t know if she had any idea of how much I needed that hug. We talked a bit and after a while she went back to tend to her baby. She left later on that day and of course, never saw her again.

I caught my mind wandering today. As I walked into work I recalled what I had been doing on that morning and what I was wearing. I looked at my watch occasionally and couldn’t help but think back to what I would have been doing at the same time. And at 4pm I thought ‘by now I knew’. So whilst my brain can’t shut out the events of 14th January 2011, I try also to remember my positive memories of 2012 and of every year since.

Tip: If you are ever feeling a bit wobbly, don’t listen to ‘Bridge Over You’ by the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir. I had it plugged into my ears as I walked into work. I absolutely love it (and the fact that it kept Justin Bieber from getting number 1 at Christmas), but it’s a guaranteed tear jerker! And as I’ve written about before, I’m a huge fan of the NHS. I’m just hoping it was still dark enough so that anyone driving past didn’t notice me!

All the above aside, it has been a good day. I came home and had tea made for me and a wrestle and tickle with my rainbows before bathtime and bed. I tried to get a decent photo of them both to share my wonderful view with you all, but as usual failed to get them looking in the same direction.

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The Star on our Tree

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A lot people have Christmas decorations that are dear to them. Those which have picked up in foreign countries. Some which have been given as gifts. And of course ones which have been made with tender love and care by children or grandchildren.

Our most precious decoration doesn’t fit into any of those categories. Like most bereaved parents, we have a reminder on our tree of the baby, child or children we have lost. Some will get personalised baubles with their son or daughter’s name engraved. We have a simple white star. Not very original I guess. But it represents our memories of Ewan.

When I look at the star I think of many things. Mainly the last 5 Christmases since Ewan has been a part of our lives.

Christmas 2010 – I was about 29 weeks pregnant with Ewan at the time. We lived in our old terraced house and it was the last bitterly cold winter I can remember. Our street was frozen with snow for weeks and a couple of times when I couldn’t drive up the hill, Adam came to escort me on foot. He didn’t want me to take a tumble in my increasingly Weeble-like state. Of course it was a dry Christmas, but on the plus side I used it as an excuse to eat as much as I wanted. I probably signed off all our Christmas cards ‘Rachel, Adam and bump!’ and friends liked to point out how we should enjoy our last relaxing Christmas for the next 20 years! We were full of hope and excitement with what 2011 was going to bring. Our first baby. Three weeks after that Christmas Day, our lives changed inexplicably.

IMG_7998Christmas 2011 – We were in our new house and treated ourselves to a new Christmas tree. This Christmas we were full of hope again, but also some sadness, worry and fear. We didn’t have the baby we thought we were going to have. Instead we had spent the year grieving. But in the very same year, we were lucky to conceive again. By the time Christmas arrived I was about 36 weeks pregnant and had finished work for my maternity leave. Thankfully our pregnancy had progressed well and I knew I was going to be induced in early January, to reduce the risk of another stillbirth. My brother, his wife and our 18 month old nephew stopped with us on Christmas Eve, so we had the joy of seeing him open his presents in the morning. And although this didn’t replace Ewan, it helped a lot. I kept it together for most of the season, but remember watching the comedy film Nativity on my own one night. From seemingly nowhere a huge wave of grief rolled over me as I watched the performance at the end. I couldn’t stop thinking how Ewan wouldn’t get the chance to take part in a nativity, or in any aspect of Christmas.

Christmas 2012/2013/2014 – Now life really had changed for good. As everyone had initially predicted, the days of relaxing Christmases were over. Our Rainbow, Dylan came crashing into the world in January 2012 and from then on in, Christmas was all about him. And although we no longer had the pain of spending Christmas without Ewan, we still remembered him and knew he was watching over us from the top of the tree.

Last year I was heavily pregnant (again) and so it will be Jude’s first Christmas this year. My main concern has been whether he would attack the tree and pull all the decorations off. He is far too inquisitive for his own good. I’ve tried to keep as many baubles off the lower branches as possible. So far it seems to be working.

Ewan’s star is still at the top and to be honest I can’t ever see it being replaced. It is particularly special to us because the star was attached to his funeral wreath. Our lovely florist also sells various decorations and ornaments and she suggested we put it on. It was a wonderful idea and I am so glad she made it. I have to nip into the shop tomorrow, so I might tell her (if she’s not too busy!). I bet she doesn’t have a clue what her thoughtful gesture has allowed us to do.

In Christmases to come, Dylan and Jude will hopefully help me to dress the tree. I don’t know at what point I will explain the meaning of the star. When they will be old enough to understand I guess. But it will help to ensure that Ewan will always be remembered at Christmas, and never forgotten.

 

SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) are running a Christmas appeal and alongside it, the Star on Our Tree campaign. It acknowledges the fact that festive times can be particularly difficult for bereaved parents. They are inviting people to send photographs of their stars and decorations. Last year Ewan’s star featured on their Facebook page. You can also make a small donation of £5 by texting STAR31 £5 to 70070.

 

In in a bid to make sure you aren’t too down after reading this post, here is a photograph of my two beautiful Rainbows in their Christmas jumpers! Not quite looking in the same direction but not a bad effort (by daddy)

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Why I couldn’t love my post-pregnancy body

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After losing Ewan, I really struggled with the post-pregnancy weight. I’ll share something that could have been hilarious, if it wasn’t so tragic. Only 2 or 3 days after giving birth, I went to the wardrobe and pulled out some of my pre-pregnancy trousers and tried to put them on. Needless to say I failed…. miserably. Looking back it kind of makes me smile, that I thought all the weight would disappear once my baby had been born. I clearly blocked out the doughnuts, pizzas and general crap that I had eaten (unnecessarily!) over the past 6 months.

Those first few weeks were really tough. I was carrying around all this extra weight with a huge flabby belly. All I could think was that if I had a baby in my arms, I wouldn’t give two hoots! There would be a reason for my chubbiness. And quite frankly I know I wouldn’t care. I used to get quite angry. It wasn’t fair. I had lost my baby and to top it all off, I thought I looked a complete mess!

Adam and I didn’t eat awfully well initially. It was much easier to order Chinese, pizza or grab rubbish from the freezer that didn’t require any thought or effort. Ok that isn’t strictly true. We did have some lovely hearty food from kind family, friends and neighbours. But on the other days we ate crap! And we also drank a lot of wine! As is the case with alcohol, it dulls the senses. It wasn’t really ideal. But for a short chunk of time, it did help. Although it didn’t help with the weight.

Less than five weeks after Ewan was born, my brother got married. Before Christmas, anticipating that I would be 37 weeks pregnant by that point, I ordered a beautiful maternity outfit from JoJo Maman Bebe. I was so excited to wear it. But instead I ended up having to drag myself out in public to go shopping. My mum took me to a local department store. I half-heartedly picked a few things out and we went into the changing rooms. None of them fit properly and I just looked awful. I remember bursting into tears and mum giving me a huge hug. I just wasn’t in the mood.

A few days later, Adam and I went to the Trafford Centre. I can’t remember if it was a conscious decision to go late at night. I think I was still avoiding crowds as much as possible. We wandered around and finally after much looking, I finally found something I was comfortable with. It was actually quite a cheap dress from H&M, but it was the only thing that made me feel anything other than fat.

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On the days itself, I actually felt quite good. I bought a few nice accessories to jazz it all up. But when I look back at the photographs, the first thought I have is how big I look. Which annoys me! Because I actually loved the outfit, loved the accessories, loved my hair. It was a wonderful day, but also a tough day. I still couldn’t forget that I should have been pregnant. I saw some family and friends for the first time, which was emotional for us all. There was a pregnant guest (who I didn’t know). Watching her (or trying not to) was really hard. One of the most beautiful parts of the day, other than the ceremony, was during my brother’s speech. He talked about the people who couldn’t be at the wedding, Ewan being one of them. I was so incredibly touched.

You might think my moaning about my post-pregnancy weight is pretty irrelevant and a bit shallow. Why the hell was I worrying about how I looked given everything that had happened? It’s hard to describe. My best effort is this – I was in a tough place. To say I was low is a bit of an understatement. And under normal circumstances, how I look wouldn’t bother me too much especially if everything else was going well. But because of my mental state, being overweight as well felt like a bridge too far.

I did manage to lose some weight eventually, although within a few months I got pregnant with Dylan. How I lost my other pregnancy weights? That was a different journey and a different story, for another day.

Meeting Ewan – My Stillbirth Story

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As it is Baby Loss Awareness week, now feels the right time to share the next part of Ewan’s story. I have already written how we found out about losing our baby, and the weekend we spent at home before coming back into hospital to give birth.

Adam and I were checked into a normal delivery room. We sat on the sofa, waiting to be seen by Elaine, our allocated midwife who we had met on the Friday. I remember what I was wearing – I put on one of my nicest white maternity smocks. I felt like I needed to make an effort and look good. I also wore a necklace that one of my best friends bought me some time ago. I had been wearing it on Friday and I don’t know why, but it felt appropriate to wear it again.

At this point I just need to explain that one thing that got us through the next 12 hours (actually the next week, month and years) was a little bit of humour. It may sound absolutely bizarre in the context of what I am talking about. But when you are in such a terrible situation, humour keeps you sane. It reminds you that you are still alive. That the ability to smile and even (shock horror) laugh just stops you from spiralling down a gloomy black hole never to return.

So we whilst we were waiting in the delivery room, Adam started to fool around. To break the tension of why we were sitting and waiting. And mainly to try and make me smile and feel better! There was a yoga mat so he pretended to do some school-style gymnastics for me. I am smiling now just thinking about it. I commented that anyone looking in at that moment in time would think we were absolutely crackers. As the evening went on we sat talking about our favourite comedy programmes and quoting lines and jokes.

The next couple of hours just involved settling in and trying to get comfortable. Labour wasn’t really progressing very quickly and I only had a few pains. Elaine kept bobbing in and out. She had a lot of blood to take, from both Adam as well as me. This was mainly for genetic tests I think, to see if there was any reason they could find which would explain the death of our baby.

Elaine was just what we needed at that point. Adam and I smile when we talk about Elaine now because she had some bizarre topics of conversation, our favourite being her dog which had ADHD! She was chatty and upbeat and again kept us from slipping into the hole I talked about earlier. She was very experienced and explained what we would expect during and after the birth. At 8pm there was a shift changeover and Elaine left us. We met our new allocated midwife Paula as she came to introduce herself.

I’m a bit fuzzy as to the right order as to the next events. I was probably given a pessary and then went on a drip to try and kick start the induction. It worked. At about 9pm the pain suddenly hit me like a train. I remember getting out of bed to walk around and my waters broke. The contractions came thick and fast. With it came the feeling that I didn’t know whether I could actually get through this. Every woman will tell you that labour is tough, really tough. But for the vast majority of women, it is just about bearable because a) it doesn’t last forever and b) there will be a healthy baby at the end of it. That wouldn’t be the case for me.

I suddenly turned into an uncontrollable raging crazy lady. A brief conversation about pain relief (me asking for as much as I could get) resulted in Paula paging the anaesthetist to give me an epidural. I’m not sure under normal circumstances I would have got one so quickly. But this wasn’t a ‘normal’ situation. Adam was doing his ultimate best to keep me calm and help wherever he could. I don’t think I was very appreciative or accepting of any assistance. It felt like a lifetime before the anaesthetist arrived, but in reality it was probably only 15-20 minutes. My mum and dad had arrived at this point. I hate that they saw me in so much pain, but it was good to have them there.

The epidural was a bizarre experience. The anaesthetist was a gruff, Eastern European man. He had few words and was quite surly. Maybe he knew our situation and didn’t really know what to say. I was petrified when he gave me the instruction not to move, otherwise I could be paralysed. In such pain I didn’t know whether I could do anything but writhe around in pain. It went in successfully though and by the time he finished, my mum had managed to win him round with her light-hearted chit chat. He had softened to the point that he smiled as he left. Another clear memory.

Once the epidural kicked in, things calmed down to the point where I could lay on the bed and even managed to doze for a bit. I was aware of mum, dad and Adam sat round the bed talking. Paula popped in occasionally to check on us. At about midnight, I woke up a bit more and realised that the sensations I was feeling had changed and so we buzzed Paula. After a quick inspection she told me I was fully dilated and that it was time to start pushing.

It’s important to paint the scene a little bit more so that you can understand the emotions I am going to describe. Because it was midnight, obviously it was dark outside. We had really soft lighting; it felt like we only had a small lamp on and the other parts of the room were dark. It was quiet and peaceful. The word I really want to use is ‘serene’. Thanks to the epidural, I wasn’t in any physical pain for which I am so incredibly grateful. And it probably sounds bizarre when you read this, but I can’t imagine we could have had a better birthing experience given our circumstances.

Now you will remember that I said Elaine was great for the early stages and kept us upbeat. As labour progressed, it became clear that Paula was the perfect midwife to guide us through delivery and the hours that followed. When I think about Paula now, I have an unbelievable sense of calm. And feelings of absolute gratitude. To me she was like an angel sent to guide us through our ordeal. She was controlled and calm, kind and understanding. I know that this description might seem odd when I talk about Ewan as our angel, but I really can’t think of another word to use. And I am frustrated with myself that I can’t think of better adjectives to describe the impact she had on us. She was born to be a midwife. She was born to comfort grieving parents. I get incredibly overwhelmed when I think about her.

You may imagine that the physical act of giving birth to a baby who isn’t breathing is a horrendous experience. For many women it is. Especially for those why the baby dies during or at the start of labour. But we had some time to get used to our situation. We knew our baby wouldn’t be alive. I had an epidural so I wasn’t in pain. And it was the middle of the night. It was calm. It was dark. It was winter. It was peaceful and it felt like there was no-one else in the world at that time but me, Adam, Paula and the baby we were about to meet.

Our son was born at 12.44am on Monday 17th January 2011. It was calm and peaceful. No cry, no screams. There was silence. Paula told us it was a boy. I remember saying sorry to Adam. Why? I guess I thought he would be more upset because we had lost a son rather than a daughter (yes, stupid I know). Paula handed him to me to hold. Paula asked Adam if he wanted to cut the cord, which he did. I cradled my baby. Adam cradled us both. And we cried.

We called him Ewan Mark. Ewan (you may remember) was our favourite boys name, and Mark after Adam’s dad.

Time slowed for the next few hours. We sat with Ewan in the delivery room. We held him and kissed him. I asked Paula if we could bathe him. She said it would probably be a better idea not to, because his skin was so fragile. So we didn’t. Instead we dressed him together and wrapped him in a blanket. We took photographs and created memories. My mum and dad came into spend some time with their grandson. Paula moved in and out, staying in the background, and was there if and when we needed her.

When we were on our own, the three of us, Adam played some music. The one song that sticks with me is Beautiful Boy by John Lennon. Seeing Adam talking to Ewan about John Lennon and the Beatles just broke my heart.

At some point in the early hours mum and dad went home and we moved from our birthing room to the Serenity Suite taking Ewan with us in a crib. There was a double bed in the suite and after a shower, we tried to get some well needed rest. We were exhausted and drained, both mentally and physically. We probably only slept in 20-30 minute bursts. When we were awake we would kiss and hold Ewan, talking to him and each other. Paula kept popping in and I remember being in a half awake/half asleep state as she took my blood pressure.

As it started to get light, Paula offered us some toast. Isn’t it funny how I can still remember the taste of that toast now! It was dripping with butter and tasted amazing. I was so hungry.

At the 8am shift change, Paula came to say goodbye. I tried, but probably failed miserably, to thank her for all her help and support. I knew that she would go home emotionally drained too, and wanted her to be aware of what an amazing job she had done. We gave each other a huge hug.

It wasn’t much later when we asked to be discharged. It felt like it was time to go home. Although staff said that we could stop as long as we needed to, we wanted to be back in our familiar and comforting surroundings. Earlier, Adam and I had a discussion about whether we should bring Ewan home with us, or to leave him at the hospital. In the end, we decided not to bring him home. One of the midwives came in and asked us how we wanted to leave. Did we want someone to come and take Ewan away first, or for us to leave him in the room? It moved me that they asked such a question. I didn’t really want either, but we needed to make a decision. We opted to say our goodbyes on our own and leave when we were ready.

Walking out of that room was one of the hardest parts of the whole weekend. It absolutely broke my heart and I cried harder than before. We held onto each other and somehow guided ourselves out of the Birth Suite and out of hospital.

Our arms were empty, but we took Ewan home in our hearts.

Always loved and never forgotten.

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