I have thought long and hard about writing this post. Soon after Romy died I found it immensely helpful to put my thoughts and feelings into words, as a way of communicating with those who so kindly wanted to know how I was, and also to help me to process what I was living through. The positive feedback I gained from my posts helped me so much: thank you.
Writing this blog gave me so much in those early days. It gave me some sense of purpose outside doing my best to keep my remaining two children alive. It gave me something to do when I thought I would go out of my mind. It gave me connection to others who had experienced this mind blowing devastation.
That was around eighteen months ago. So why on earth did I stop?
There is a very simple answer to this question, but there are also others. What made me stop initially is the fact that in February 2015, almost seven months since Romy left us, I discovered that I was pregnant. Since I had been so honest and open about what was happening in my life, I felt unable to write the blog as I simply didn’t feel ready, or able, to share the news of my pregnancy. In fact, right up until the birth and afterwards, D and I realised to our chagrin that there were still people who hadn’t known I was pregnant. To anyone reading this who knows and didn’t realise we’d had another baby: I’m really, really sorry!
As you can imagine, this fourth pregnancy was very different to any of my others, for reasons you would expect and for others that were a complete surprise to me. It all felt so surreal and due to its close proximity to my pregnancy with Romy, at times they blended into one another and added to my confused state of mind.
My mother, never one to offer unsolicited advice or intrusive comment, remarked to me recently that I have been in shock for eighteen months, and this really struck a chord. It is now 21 months since Romy passed and only once I got through the awful marker of sixteen weeks with our newborn did I feel that my mind and my body were emerging from some kind of parallel universe. During this period of deep shock, everything froze. I couldn’t read, I didn’t write one line, life before Romy’s birth didn’t seem to exist and I felt completely alienated from anything creative, perhaps as I knew that I had to pour all my energy into sustaining the new life that we had created, and which I was carrying. I began to understand why so much has been written of pregnancy after loss. When you have lost a child, any subsequent pregnancy takes on a whole new dimension.
Once our new son had safely arrived, I felt myself withdrawing, disconnecting completely from my body, blocking things out of my mind and starting to try to convince myself that none of it had ever happened. This was made difficult by the fact that, having not held a baby since Romy breathed her last in our arms, I was being transported back every day to those four precious months with her. ‘I remember when she first smiled.’, ‘She used to love bathtime too’, ‘I remember this feeling.’ On more than one occasion I’ve referred to him as ‘she’ or ‘her’. I didn’t think he looked like her at all but once I somehow found it in myself to hang her picture back on the wall I realised that actually they do look alike. Our older daughter was adamant that the picture hanging on the wall was of her new brother, not her sister, and wouldn’t be told otherwise.
As January came and went, I descended deeper into an abyss I wasn’t expecting. This wasn’t post natal depression. I was thrilled with our new baby, bonded with him strongly and felt that he had practically saved my life. It’s not exactly a cheerful time of year anyway but I was dismayed at just how low I sank. Every time I had a particularly bad day I berated myself for feeling that way. How could I feel this bad when we had been blessed with a beautiful new baby? How could I be so ungrateful? But grief is of course more complex than this.
Somewhere in mid February 2016 we approached the dreaded marker of fifteen weeks and three days – the age Romy was when she died. A lot of my PTSD symptoms – specifically, the flashbacks, panic attacks and paranoia about the children – resurfaced with a vengeance and I began to feel real anxiety about something bad happening. But we got to fifteen weeks and three days and passed it. We passed sixteen weeks. We arrived at seventeen weeks, at which point the game changed again. Now, I felt my sense of loss deepen as I entered unchartered territory. The ‘I remember this…’ turned into, ‘She never did this…’, ‘I never saw her do that’.
Watching our older children playing with their new brother, it began to dawn on me that there is a big gap where Romy should be. Our elder two are nineteen months apart; the exact same difference in age as that between our younger two children. As I was putting our eldest to bed one night he became really upset, asked me where Romy was and told me he was worried in case she wasn’t okay. We spent some time talking about this before he tearfully told me, ‘But Mummy, there should be four of us.’ These times have been really hard. During my pregnancy, my sensitive boy asked several times, ‘Mummy, is the baby going to be okay?’ ‘What if the baby dies?’, ‘Will the baby still be here at Christmas?’ He showed mild interest in his little brother but remained pretty detached until just before Christmas when he blurted out, ‘Mummy, I don’t want my brother to die.’ Previously to this I had chosen my words carefully, never wanting to issue any guarantees I couldn’t follow up on, always being cautious in reassuring my children that it was very unusual for a baby to die, that usually, people are very old when their bodies stop working and that I was as sure as I could be that their brother was going to be okay.
As I searched my son’s worried, tear stained face that morning I threw all of that out of the window and said, ‘Listen to me. He is not going to die.’ And overnight, his brother began to connect with him, play with him and talk to him. Now he squabbles with his sister over who’s going to help feed him, find his favourite toy or try to make him laugh. I give thanks often for our decision to always talk about things with our children, to not shy away from the unpleasant aspects and the difficulties. A family that communicates is united and we would not be where we are today had we not consulted our children on their opinions and feelings along the way.
I was at the point of revisiting my GP to request the antidepressants we’d discussed previously, when I decided to have one more go at getting a grip. I started Pilates. I got a massage. I consulted a homeopath and a nutritionist. I pared down all the counselling to just one: our trusted Child Bereavement UK telephone counselor, Sue, who has been with us from the early days of our loss. Still, ‘I just don’t know how to get myself out of this hole’, I wailed at my poor husband. He asked me what I thought the answer was, if I answered my own question quickly, without thinking. ‘Write.’, I told him simply. And so here I am, writing myself out of a hole.
I made a promise to Romy that I would write about her, tell her story and make meaning of her short time with us. And so, a bit late to the party I am making a start on that mission, and the beginning is here. It does all feel a bit backward, coming as it does after such a lauded start back in 2014, but this writing has more than one purpose. It honours Romy’s memory and helps me to remember her and to heal. I hope that it helps others who have lost a child and also those who know parents who have lost a child. By writing about my experience I hope that it will make a small difference in enabling people to talk about child loss; a subject which I still find worryingly taboo.
After each of our children’s births we have buried their placenta under a new, specially selected plant in our garden. The rose bush I chose with the children to mark the site of Romy’s placenta is called New Beginnings; a beautiful apricot coloured bloom which reminds me of her as for some reason I chose to dress her in this colour a lot. It suited her peachy skin and stunning cornflower blue eyes.
At the time, I felt that the name of this rose bush was auspicious as we were looking optimistically towards new horizons in our life. I could not possibly have realised just how this name would resonate with me over the months to come. After Romy passed we moved house, the children started a new school, D’s business partnership dissolved and he began a new venture on his own, I turned my back on a decade’s work in fertility, pregnancy and birth. And, of course, we were yet again poised to welcome new life. A flash of inspiration gave me the title for this post and as I wrote it I realised that The Name of The Rose – a story by Umberto Eco and a film we both like-also has as its theme the song Kiss From a Rose by Seal, which is one we chose to play for Romy at her remembrance ceremony. If ever the baby is crying in the car, we put this song on and he stops immediately. We’ve tried several different tracks but he only ever does it with this one.
To my surprise, the mere act of writing is also helping me to rediscover a part of myself that I lost long ago. D and I were recently sitting at a beach café – a regular outing we promised ourselves: after all, what’s the point of moving to a seaside town if you’re not going to take advantage of an underpopulated weekday beach every now and then? Over coffee (me) and green tea (him) we were catching up with each other and talking about how we felt as Romy’s second birthday approached. I told him that I really, really wanted to restart this blog. Then I heard myself say it: “When I was younger, my dream was to be a writer.” I’m not sure who was more surprised by this statement, but as I reflected it all came flooding back. I wrote poetry, stories and plays. I entered writing competitions. I persuaded my school to put on one of my plays, which I directed my whole class in and acted in too. I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten this part of myself. What happened?
Since we welcomed our new baby and the shock of Romy’s passing begins to thaw, I have unlocked this part of myself and I now feel excited about writing. At this point I must credit a wonderful organisation, Mothers Uncovered, a Sussex-based creative support network for mothers (http://www.mothersuncovered.com). Each discussion group has at its core an arts related project or activity, and it just so happened that my local one was a writing group. Within this safe space, populated by some of the kindest, funniest, most supportive women I have met in a long time, I felt able to share both my feelings and my writing.
I have had every type of counselling imaginable and many, many different therapies but writing has helped me most of all. It has helped me to remember that aside from raising our children and being a supportive partner I do have a purpose, there is something that fires me up. I’m starting to feel a flicker of something like I used to feel, Before.
So, I have revisited this blog, given it a little overhaul and committed to it. I invite you to share it as I hope that in giving a voice to my thoughts and experiences, I’m sending a little bit of Romy out into the world to connect with others and to help them in their grief and understanding of those who grieve. There is so much to catch up on since I last wrote a post that I hardly know where to start.
People say that the first year is the worst. Actually I’ve heard that said about everything, from grief to marriage to starting a new business. In my experience, it’s not. I read all of Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s work on grief and grieving. I thought I’d skipped the anger part. I naively stumbled through the first year without Romy expecting it to be some kind of rite of passage which, once achieved, would allow me to return to some kind of semblance of my former self. Wrong.
Instead, I am using my daughter’s rose, New Beginnings, as something to inspire me and propel me forwards. I know now that every day of every year has the potential to be crippling, however much time has passed. I have to believe that Romy’s time here was meaningful, not just to me but to others. I have to see all the new beginnings in my life since she left it as her work, a breadcrumb trail towards my purpose and perhaps, in some small ways, of some help to others.