And so, our new baby son was safely born six weeks ago. It’s taken this long for me to have the will to write again, although I’ve jotted thoughts down as they arose and have again found many things surprising.
It was the perfect home birth. Four hours in labour and out he popped, small and perfect. Then a few cups of tea and a doze on the sofa before our other children came down to meet him. I know all too well the importance of a positive birth experience in the emotional recovery of the mother. I’ve experienced the bad side of this myself, but this time it was even more important that I had a good experience. Not just for my well-being but for my husband’s and children’s. We’d all seen enough trauma already.
So we were naturally delighted to meet the little boy whose purpose, it seems, is to give our family new hope. Friends and family have shared our joy and relief that things went well.
There is almost a pressure to feel happier than most new mothers. After all, we’ve had a huge blessing after such a tragic loss. Yet I feel as though I’m the least happiest new mother around. At times, it feels as though the very bottom of my world has fallen out.
Don’t get me wrong. There is no doubt of my maternal bond. I love this little boy, like all my children. I’m utterly devoted to him and protective of his well-being. I’ve not fallen into depression… not in the typical hormonal sense in any case. But the arrival of my new baby has plunged my grief into the depths that I feared.
It abhors me to even write those words, let alone feel them when all I should be doing is smiling with maternal contentment, sharing baby news, feeling happy with life once again. But that is how it is.
As before, I cannot allow myself to feel complete joy as otherwise I’m denying my Abi her share of attention, even if that is in the form of grief.
I took him to visit Abi at the cemetery when he was a week old. My husband and I just sat and quietly wept, unable to even look at each other because to do so would shatter the little strength we had left. There’s an unspoken tension as we both try to get a handle on this new wave of sorrow. Then Mother’s Day was almost too hard to bear; I felt guilty as I couldn’t face visiting her at the cemetery, I didn’t want to crumble as I feared I’d never get up again.
I’m quite relieved that my baby doesn’t remind me too much of Abi; I was somewhat scared he’d be the image of her. He has elements of each sibling and his own little face and personality. But having a baby in itself brings back the memories of having Abi as a baby. I even push him in the same pram I used with her, the only piece of baby equipment we kept. (The picture shows a montage I made back in 2001, before we owned a computer and digital camera)
I remember most the anguish and joy of having my first child. Worrying about everything and anything. Doing things right. Now, I remember my time with her and regret not taking the pleasure that I perhaps should have, worrying about getting her into a routine rather than just enjoying her for the moment.
I regret going back to work so soon, leaving her with childminders from just 16 weeks because we couldn’t afford to pay our bills on a single income and maternity pay wasn’t available. I regret putting my career on the seemingly same level of importance as my role as her mother. The expectation to be a ‘superwoman’ was something I found hard to challenge. My confidence as an employee was higher than my confidence as a mother at that time. Oh if I only knew I’d have just twelve short years with her, I would have done things so very differently… but that’s a common regret for any parent as the years fly by.
So, while I care for my newborn, I’m thinking of Abi as a baby, as well as the young woman she was growing into. No doubt this is just the tip of the iceberg of memories that are to resurface over the years.
I wish it weren’t so, but it’s important to know that having a baby simply doesn’t make everything alright.
We were five, then four, now five again, but just because the numbers are back up doesn’t mean that life is normal again, far from it. It’s possibly the hardest thing to try to explain or expect to be fully understood by someone who has not been through what I have … the death of their child followed by the birth of another. Though I know I’m certainly not alone.
I’m constantly asking myself where she is and why she had to go. I feel lost.
It’s been harder than ever to put my brave face on, as being tired leaves little energy for cover ups.
I yearn for her more than ever. She is here but not here.
The siblings can play together but she should be joining in too. To see her sister missing out on sisterly chats, and to see her brother missing the love from her is daily torture. To see their mutual joy in their new sibling knowing that Abi would be as much, if not more, joyful is heartbreaking.
I am worried anew for them and their loss. If I feel this, surely they do too in some way. My six-year-old woke up this morning and one of the first things he said, quite matter-of-factly, was that he’d like to die so that he can see Abi in heaven – what a thing for a parent to hear at the start of a day! And I can’t but help agree with him. He’s still missing her; she gave him lots of attention which he’s craving right now, with a new attention-grabber in the house.
There has to be a way out from these depths. I suppose it is time which will be my helper, letting me get used to our new situation. Yet, deep down, although I’ve not yet lived them, I fear the years ahead will be much the same. Always asking why she had to go, always looking for her, always longing for her. Wishing for that one last hug, chat or laugh.