Monday, 11 June 2018

''I'm sorry there's no heartbeat''

"I'm sorry there's no heartbeat" - the worst words you can hear at 41 weeks pregnant. It happened to us and the next morning I delivered our beautiful stillborn daughter Elsie. 

They say that when a mother loses a child they lose a part of their self too, no truer word is said.  I became engulfed in a pool of guilt, grief and depression and I was a shadow of my previous self. When I lost a part of me due to losing Elsie, I wasn't the only one affected though. My husband Russ lost the wife he had married, as well as his child, my parents and in-laws lost a grandchild and lost me too.  I'm still not back and doubt I ever will be, but I'm closer to rebuilding myself and rebuilding those relationships than I would have been without the help of Footsteps Counselling and Care.

Three months after losing Elsie we became pregnant with our son James.  The pregnancy was difficult, not only with the fear of experiencing another stillbirth, but also accepting that another baby was on the way when all I wanted was to have my little girl with me. I began staying at home more, especially when my bump began to grow, as I was terrified of what people would think of me getting pregnant again so soon. I imagined that people would be saying "blimey she's got over losing that baby quickly, she's moved on." I found it very difficult to bond with James during his pregnancy. People spoke to me about grief counselling services but I didn't want to admit that Elsie had gone and I knew I wasn't ready.

James arrived two weeks before Elsie's first birthday and he looked just like her - absolutely gorgeous! I waited for the rush of love and pride which I had felt when I first held Elsie to come but it didn't. I put a smile on my face for the first pictures and the weeks and months plodded on with visitors saying how lovely he was, how proud and happy we must be...but I wasn't. Instead, when I put him to bed at night, I was apologising to him for ending up with me, a fraction of the mother he deserved. I knew something wasn't right and I wanted with all my heart to love and cherish James guilt-free so I got in contact with Footsteps Counselling and Care.

I received a course of counselling sessions with a lovely, approachable counsellor at Footsteps Counselling and Care.  From the first appointment, I was made to feel at ease and I just openly talked about anything and everything. We discussed not just Elsie, but how my work life was, how my relationships with James, Russ and my family were and how I felt about myself. I did a lot of beating myself up in the sessions as the guilt I felt was so strong and I felt like a failure as a woman. However, week by week, I was beginning to come to terms with what had happened and, most importantly, I began letting myself love again and allow myself to get close to James. We now have an amazing little boy who talks about baby Elsie and is starting to understand that he has a big sister who isn't here with us but will always be part of the family, and I don't feel bad about letting myself love him and telling him so.

We are currently expecting a little brother or sister for Elsie and James and this time I've allowed myself to enjoy it, be proud of my growing bump and when people ask if it's your first baby etc, I tell them proudly about Elsie and James. The anxiety is naturally there but I'm now able to think more rationally about things rather than jumping to the worst-case scenarios.

This is just our story of how Footsteps has helped us, one family. The one thing I was so surprised at when we lost Elsie was how many people came to us and said "it happened to me or my wife, my sister, my daughter" and I can now see how valuable this service is to other families.

Friday, 24 March 2017

I K n e w I t W a s G o i n g T o B e B a d ..... B u t N o t T h a t B a d ! !

Image result for one in 40,000 AFE

I was 32 weeks pregnant when I started to bleed...

I’d been here before with my first child… I knew it was placenta previa before I had even had the diagnosis. It wasn’t a large bleed, but I decided to head to the Womens Centre where I would get checked out, monitored and then sent home with instructions to “rest” (yeah right, I have a 3.5 year old too!) 

Before I knew it the midwife was urgently contacting the Consultant and I felt another gush of blood. I called the midwife back and this time she bashed the alarm and every available midwife and doctor literally came running. All of a sudden I was being prepped for theatre and it seemed as if baby might arrive before my husband would be able to get to the hospital! At this point I was scared. Very scared. Bizarrely though, all I could think of as I was being rushed from Triage to Delivery room was my car…..! I’d just parked it in the multistory car park and if I went into surgery now how much was it going to cost to get the car out again when I could next drive it (stupid really as reality is my husband drove it home the next day!) Fortunately this bleed stopped and I was left to rest on delivery suite overnight and transferred to maternity ward the following day…. And there I stayed for a very eventful 6 weeks. 

Two weeks later, at 34+6, it was decided that it would be best if baby were born, by elective c-section, to prevent further risk of bleeds. She had been inside long enough for the steroid injections (ouch!) to work and with the added complication of Obstetric Cholestasis it was deemed safer for baby to be born than remain inside. I was dreading the birth as I had this horrible feeling something was going to go wrong ….. 

I remember seeing my baby girl being shown to me over the sheet screen and feeling immensely proud. However, moments after that I suffered an amniotic fluid embolism. Cardiac arrest. I’d not known “what” the bad was going to be the day she was born, and not in a million years could I have guessed AFE – I had never heard of it before, yet it happened to me and I was very ill for the next 4 weeks. Immediately I was intubated and surgery continued for 8 hours. I woke 36hrs later, on intensive care unit, to the news that I had had to have a lifesaving subtotal hysterectomy due to an Amniotic Fluid Embolism. 

But …. at least I had woken.

 All my family were gathered in the hospital, as it was touch and go, I might not have pull through it - statistics told the staff that my chances were not good! Yet, here I am today writing this blog.

 It’s not been easy. Far from it. I spent the following 4 weeks on a potent cocktail of IV antibiotics from a highly resistant infection. I had tubes where I should have already had tubes of my own and felt so mixed about inside I wondered quite how the anatomy was ever going to function fully again. 

Emotionally I was a complete mess and this lasted far longer than any of the physical difficulties I faced. Midwifes all around me were so utterly amazing. They sat, they talked with me, they hugged and some even shed a tear with me. Most said words to the effect of “only read about AFE in textbooks at college” It’s that rare and “lucky to be alive”! 

I had such a range of emotions. I was truly humbled in the immediate aftermath. I could not get my head around how the hospital had fought for soooo long to keep me alive. 

Why did they not just give up?

 I felt robbed. Now, having said that I also feel guilty, for I am alive

I never did get to experience a newborn cuddle with either of my babies, as either they or I were too unwell at the time. I will never again get the chance to be pregnant and have another chance of those magical first snuggles. 

Yet, overall, with almost 4 years having passed, I can honestly say the whole experience has made me stronger! I live in the moment more. Sound like a cliché? I suppose it does, but it’s true! 

I am happier now than I have been for the last 20 years! 

I have a husband and two girls who I love to bits. 

We are happy as we are.

Counselling and scrapbooking my experience have helped immensely to allow me to put the experience of 2013 behind us. When I do feel the need to remember, I will get the scrap book out, look at the photos my own mother took of me in intensive care, read the letters, the emails and personal accounts from friends and family. Then, I close the book. Carefully place it back on the bookcase and leave it there until the next time I need to remember.

The duration between each “need to remember” is growing. In fact, I think it has almost been 8 months since I last felt the need to get the scrapbook down off the shelf.

I can finally let go of the memories that dominated my every waking hour content in the knowledge that it is all safe in that book.

 #endafe | | 27th March 2017 AFE Awareness

Image result for afe foundation

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Why Counselling?

Recently I read an article by the daughter of a lady who had given birth to a baby girl 40 years ago. Sadly the baby died at 2 days old and the mother had never spoken about it until very recently. The daughter was vaguely aware of this child but as her Mum had never talked about her she knew little of the circumstances and was shocked to learn that her Mum had never been told anything about why things went wrong at the end of a healthy full term pregnancy, only a hazy memory of losing the placenta and being pushed back on the bed screaming. The funeral was arranged by others whilst she was still in hospital, without her even seeing her baby, and no-one ever talked about her. The daughter had recently had a baby herself and was upset when she realised her Mum had never had the chance to grieve over the loss of her baby and had carried the heavy weight of her sadness and trauma around with her for so many years. This had impacted on her relationships and she had subsequently gone through an acrimonious divorce.  

The birth of her grandchild had prompted this lady’s memories of the baby that she had lost. Traumatic events can result in people burying their emotions and unconsciously they work hard to keep them locked away because the feelings of grief, fear and loss are too hard to bear. This can be an effective coping mechanism but these repressed feelings are still there and can have a negative impact on how people live their lives.

Hopefully these days we have moved on and much more understanding and support is available when someone loses a baby.  Losing a baby can be so terribly painful and whilst National organisations and social media have raised awareness and sensitivity many people still feel they cannot share the agony of their grief. Family and friends feel helpless in the face of what no parent should ever have to go through or are worried about saying the ‘wrong thing’ so say nothing. Parents are left feeling isolated, that they should move on but cannot, very sad and burdened by their grief.

Research shows that counselling is an effective way of providing help to people who have suffered the devastating loss of a baby or small child. Grief can be profoundly destabilising and for some people so devastating that it can lead to depression, anxiety, hypertension and substance abuse, social isolation and loneliness.

Footsteps Counselling and Care is a charitable organisation that offers counselling to anyone in Gloucestershire affected by pregnancy or baby loss. Counselling can provide a sense of safety in a neutral place with someone who understands, enabling people to safely explore their feelings and emotions around their sadness and grief. This can provide a great sense of release, allowing some healing and the strength to move on. Feeling listened to, understood and accepted can be very powerful and therapeutic.

Image result for counselling

If the work of Footsteps Counselling and Care resonates with you and you would like to support us in any way please do not hesitate to contact us.

Footsteps Counselling and Care
51 Westgate Street

01452 308618

Find us on Facebook,  Twitter & Instagram
Donate here.

Registered Charity # 1152972

Monday, 27 February 2017

Monday, 30 January 2017

Loss and the impact on close relationships

Grief has been explained to me in many ways. One picture that stays in my mind is the one where it simply starts at one stage, goes through many others and ends in another. If only it was that simple....
Image result for stages of griefNext to this one, is what I think represents it in a better way, a tangled web, all over the place, going backwards and forwards along the stages at any time.

I look at it as a roller coaster ride with its twists and turns, clinging on for dear life at some points, and just sitting on the ride in others, and this gets pretty complicated when there is more than one person involved in the grief.

 Image result for rollercoaster

I wanted to share my experience of loss and the impact it has had on my relationship. Me and my husband had just been married a few months, we had two children, one from a previous relationship, and we felt pretty content about everything, so thought that maybe we could add to our brood.

I got pregnant soon afterwards, but then I couldn't have predicted what happened next, we were newlyweds, contented, in love and looking forward to the future together. Not at one moment did I think that baby loss would come into the equation ever. Now we had been through things that had tested us before as a couple, and we got through them, but this was on a whole new level.

The roller coaster we were both on, sometimes took a different turn, so we weren't in sync, sometimes it did a loop, sometimes it shifted to place that I wasn't expecting, many times I wasn't even strapped in and sometimes my husband wasn't even in the same carriage as me.

At first, I didn't quite understand why we felt differently, at different times, which meant the roller coaster was on completely different tracks for a while.

I have always been a very open person, I like talking and writing things down as I can see the benefits in doing this for me. My husband, on the other hand, doesn't really like talking, shuts himself off a bit from the world and keeps a lot to himself. We were experiencing the loss differently, and that was hard to accept.
All this seems rather negative, but there were many times that my husband was alongside me in the carriage and we were just riding it together. At this point in time years have passed, we are still on that same roller coaster, but it's steadier right now.

Image result for couple silhouette argueI don't think any loss is the same, so for two people to feel the same about a loss didn't really happen the way I expected it to. I didn’t think logically back then, it didn’t even occur to me that of course, we would be feeling differently, because we didn’t experience the exact same thing. Just one example is that I had feelings connected to what my body went through, and my husband didn’t, so how rationally could I expect him to feel the same as me? I wasn't rational at all.

When I was in that situation nothing really happened the way I expected it to, and nothing meant sense to me. It is only now that time has passed and we are further on in this roller coaster ride that I can try to understand. I feel as a lot of the steadiness has come from opening up and sharing our feelings together, whether they are different or the same, without taking things personally, without thinking what or how we should or should not be feeling, but just feeling.

However, this has been a huge challenge and has taken time and effort from both of us, riding the roller coaster and trusting in wherever and whatever way it took us.

I have found that grief for me is not like the first picture at all, although it may be for some people. The roller coaster has been a good way of understanding our loss, and one day I hope it comes to a gentle stop, so that we can both get off it together.