Elle from Feathering The Empty Nest is quite simply the most brave and inspirational lady. Since her baby boy, Teddy, passed away in May 2016 she has been raising awareness of the issues affecting those who have lost a baby and it’s how we came to learn that this week is Baby Loss Awareness week.
Elle is back today to talk about coping with grief and how she learnt to look after herself after losing Teddy.
This year Baby Loss Awareness week has brought up an overwhelming amount of intense emotions for me; understandably so as you might imagine. I think it’s because the focus this year is about the support that bereaved parents receive; how can they be helped at the start of their grieving process? Of course, the idea that you will “move on” is not one that I can ever, or will ever, believe to be true. I always tend to tell people that I am doing my best to move forward, but never on.
Support is a huge part of being able to move forward in your life when you are faced with the loss of a pregnancy, child, or any loved one. It’s the things around us, and the people around us, that help us to see a way through; a crack of light in the darkness. A quote I have used before and will continue to use when I write about my loss of Teddy and how I came to realise there must be a way forward is this; “There is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in”. Those were words that spoke to me on some of my darkest days; that told me it was ok to be grieving and to be placed in this new life that was far from the perfect family one we had envisaged. Those words told me that I could find happiness again, in some form; but that I just needed to allow that help and support around me let the light back into my life.
I have reflected hugely on the things I have done to help myself since May 2016. The things I have been drawn to doing; consciously or unconsciously to start to help heal my broken heart. It’s not that there wasn’t support there for me when I needed it; the hospital, the doctor’s surgery, the midwives, the hospital who cared for Teddy; everyone offered it. I just didn’t feel like I, personally, wanted to “talk to anyone” (in a professional sense), and that I couldn’t face any groups of bereaved parents; not just yet. I wanted to find my own way, to do the things that made me feel like, well me, again. A process of healing myself when I felt like no one else could.
It’s no secret to anyone who has read my blog, or previous blogs here that I used our home as my creative outlet in which to focus my mind. Losing Teddy made me feel purposeless; my arms were empty and my heart was beyond heavy. The life we had planned hadn’t come to fruition and I found myself catapulted into this new existence; one where I was a mum, but I didn’t have anyone to look after. With that as my reality, I knew I had to find a focus and a purpose somewhere; so, the house got it, big time.
We had already been renovating and making changes to the house, but with me staring down the rest of the year on maternity leave and no real plan of how I would even contemplate to return to my career, the house became my “thing”. It was always a passion, but now I had the time (let’s face it, more bloody time than I could have ever imagined) to get on with doing everything I had wanted to do. I painted, I upcycled, I sewed and I hunted through antiques markets. It stopped my mind from racing and kept my hands busy; I felt as though I was achieving something. Yes, there were the moments where my grief engulfed me once more and it took everything within me to swing my legs around to the side of the bed and actually get up in the mornings, of course there were.
It was fairly early on in this process of grieving for Teddy that I realised after the initial shock is over for everyone else, and the cards, phone calls and messages stop flooding in; you are left to live out this new life and you have to make the best of it. With my husband back at work after just three weeks following Teddy’s death, I spent my time filling my days and time so that I wouldn’t be left with nothing to do. I have always been such a busy person, and had such an intense job that involved rushing around. I have never been a “sit on the sofa all day and watch box-sets” kind of girl; in fact, I don’t even think I have watched a box-set in my life? (I hope we can still be friends?) For me, sitting and feeling sad just wasn’t the answer. I needed to feel as though I was doing something; and this home saved me, more than anyone will ever know.
Of course, in grief it is so easy to focus on looking after our mind and our emotions, that we often forget to look after our physical body. Full term pregnancy, and labour, was hard on my body. It didn’t feel like my body anymore; and I know that lots of women say that after they have had a baby. I often describe it to people as feeling as though I had been taken apart and put back together again, except the pieces were all in the wrong place. Add grief, shock and ragingly confused hormones on top of that, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for body-confidence disaster. I quite literally hated myself when I looked in the mirror. Having Boris (he’s a pug/ best friend by the way), gave me a reason to get out every day. So, we walked, and we walked; and the more fresh-air I got the better I felt. At first our walks were slow and I felt tired; emotionally and physically (and some days I still do); but we picked up our pace, and we walked a little further each day. After a few months, we were back to walking for over an hour each day. The time on my own (well, with Boris) gave me time to reflect and just enjoy the outside world; away from screens and people. We would walk through woods and fields; sometimes I would cry my eyes out, and other times I would reflect on how lucky I was to have been blessed with Teddy at all. It was clear to me that the more I walked, the better I felt; physically and emotionally. I couldn’t be without that time now.
I ventured back to yoga about three months after losing Teddy. My yoga teacher had become more of a friend since I had told her about Teddy, and she encouraged me to come back to classes when I was ready. My physical body didn’t feel ready for much I must say; but I went back nevertheless. She told me about a class that she taught locally that was on a Wednesday morning in a village hall; very different to the yoga-studio-come-café environment that I had been used to. The class was small, everyone seemed a fair few years older than me; most were my parents age. Although I was terrified walking into a room full of strangers; fearful of the questions they might ask me or conversations they might start; I did it. I felt like I had to do something for me again. Soon I was going to classes twice a week again. I’ll be honest, I relished the anonymity; the chance to just be “me”, not the lady whose baby had just died. No one knew, apart from my teacher, and I was actually really happy about that. Yoga has been so healing, and has helped me so much to strengthen and nourish both my body and mind. I honestly do not know where I would be without it, and I never imagined in a million years I’d say something like that; but here I am. I guess, what I am trying to say is that if you want to, and you haven’t yet tried it; just give it a go? You can thank me later.
Lastly, and I shall call this “My Ode to Instagram”; social media saved me. Yep, that very platform that we all love to hate at times; that was what spoke to me in my darkest hour. I know, I can’t believe it either?! The thing is, I felt alone; so alone. Whilst I had tentatively shared a couple of photos, quotes and our fundraising page on my Instagram page; I hadn’t realised the community that were already sharing their stories through Instagram. A community of women who would come to be my “real life” friends; people who truly understood my feelings, for they were living it too. I began to follow a few feeds of women who had lost their babies in the six months or so before me; by searching hashtags. After that Instagram thankfully got the gist of what had happened in my life and started throwing suggested feeds my way. On a day that I must have been feeling particularly brave, I reached out to one of those women who was already writing about her loss (Michelle @dear_orla) by commenting on her photo; it was a simple “Me too” kind of comment. Her daughter, Orla, had been stillborn two weeks before Teddy was born; and my comment prompted her to get in touch with me by sending me a direct message. She was setting up a WhatsApp chat group; for seven of us; all had lost babies very recently, and she asked me if I wanted to join. We called ourselves “The Warriors”, we still do; because we are. These women reached out to me and understood my darkest moments; they became confidantes, a place to rant and quite simply a place where I could say something and I knew that the answer would be “Me too”. As we all began to talk more, and write more on social media, more women appeared. “Me too” was the resounding message that rang in my ears. Women who had lost a baby, or their friend had, or their Mum had lost their sibling years earlier, or their sibling had just lost a baby. So many women; all wanting to talk about it, because they needed an outlet and a place to do so without feeling as though they were the only ones. It was Instagram and The Warriors that encouraged me to write more; to start my blog and share on blogs like this one. To use my words not only to help me heal, but as a way for thousands of women to feel like they are less alone, and to perhaps start their healing process too. That’s human nature, isn’t it? We want to find common ground, we want to know that there is someone out there who has been through what we’ve been through and has the same understanding of what our situation feels like. When we stand in a crowded room and yet we couldn’t feel more alone, we simply want someone to raise their hand, open their arms and say “Hey, don’t worry. Me too.”
A report by MBRRACE-UK in 2016 showed that 15 babies die every day in the UK (Stillbirth or Neonatal Death). The 40 charities involved in Baby Loss Awareness week are dedicated to reducing that figure, and to improving the support and resources for families who experience the loss of a baby.
You can find out more about Baby Loss Awareness Week at www.babyloss-awareness.org