Staying married when you’re mourning

I realise not everyone who reads this is married, or even in a relationship, and we all have unique experiences, but I wanted to give my perspective of marriage after loss, which some may relate to or take comfort from.

One of the first things we heard after Abi had died – quite unbelievably really – is that ‘most marriages fall apart when a child dies’. It’s true, we heard this and read this as we were handed leaflets about getting ‘help’.

So, as well as coming to terms with the huge shock of losing Abi, we then faced the ‘likelihood’ that our once happy life would be forever shattered by her death and no matter how hard we fought it we’d be so broken that we couldn’t stay together. Our lives literally torn apart.

It was, to say the least, a very bleak time.

Yet here we are, four years after Abi’s death having just marked our 18th wedding anniversary.

It’s undeniable that the huge stress of death – and the death of a child – has an impact on a relationship. One day we could be so close we were almost the same person, the next we seemed to be poles apart as we rode out different waves of grief.

Because the loss of a child changes you, it’s inevitable that it changes your relationships too, and the relationship with your spouse or partner is often one of the closest you have apart from the one with your child.

The love we felt for each other hasn’t changed, if anything it’s stronger and we don’t argue about ‘silly’ things anymore (well, not as much). We are quicker to forgive. We move on to finding joy again as quickly as we can.

But that’s not to say we haven’t had a tough time of it. Our marriage is strong, despite the stress, but it’s changed. Your child’s death changes not who you are but your outlook; the things that are important to you shift and grow. You can so easily live on two different parallels though:

One of you is grieving ‘too much’. The other is not grieving ‘enough’.
One of you may want more children. The other doesn’t want another child (and risk more heartache).
One of you may want to move house. The other may need to stay put.
One of you may find it hard to work again. The other may seek solace in being busy.
One of you may want to talk about your child every day. The other may not want to be reminded.
One of you may find faith. The other may lose it.
One of you may fall out with family. The other may be the one who keeps family close.
One of you may take offence at misguided comments. The other may be forgiving of others.
One of you may want to campaign for injustice or charity. The other may want a quiet life.
One of you may crave intimacy and reassurance. The other may find it hard to express love.
One of you may openly develop depression and anxiety. The other may hide their true feelings.
One of you may laugh. The other may cry.

From these examples it’s easy to see how a couple can so easily find a void in their relationship as they try to find a place for their grief.  These don’t all apply to us but elements of each do, and I’ve heard from others who have found the same.

The strain is immense yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end.

The hardest thing for me in the first couple of years was not that I’d fallen out of love or that any of the things above were too much to bear. It was that my own grief was so consuming that I wanted to leave to find the space to ‘be with it’. I had, I suppose, several ‘fight or flight’ moments and the grief was constantly telling me to run!

I could be overwhelmed by the smallest things – sorting a pile of washing – and just want to run away from it all, because I didn’t want to sort washing for us all who were alive, I wanted to sit in a quiet room and grieve for my daughter. I wanted to cry and wail, curl into a ball, not pretend I was okay and go through the motions of life.

I wanted to start afresh. Where I wouldn’t have to look into my husband’s eyes and know that he is hurting too, where I wouldn’t see Abi’s birth, life and death in his face every day, where I could give myself new things to look at that would ‘mask’ the painful memories. At times, this feeling was suffocating but I pushed through it.

I knew that, for me, leaving was not a healthy option. I ultimately loved my husband, and we had other children, but my grief was constantly whispering in my ear that I would be better off letting it run my life. I could leave if I wanted but I knew I’d be left alone allowing the grief to eat away at me, it would always be the reason why, it would redefine my whole life. And it was that which stopped me, in those deeply depressed moments, silently crying over the washing basket as I wrestled with myself.

My marriage has survived so far and we are together because we want to be, we love each other, we desire each other, we treasure our family. The grief has found a place and we seem to have adjusted, but I always have a nagging doubt in my mind as I hear of ‘delayed reactions’ where one of the parents has a crisis later on in life.

As you know, we have added two more children to our home, both so quickly after losing Abi, we barely had time to breathe! Yes, it’s been the most wonderful blessing but we have also had to find a place for our marriage amidst the sleepless nights, weary bodies and minds and fractured nerves! Having another baby doesn’t ‘solve’ any problems if you’ve lost other children, if anything it creates new ones, but it’s still such an amazing part of our life and I know that God has turned our pain into a blessing.

There’s no denying that while we try to be fair, we treat our younger two differently to how we treated our first three when they were younger. There’s more love, fewer rules! We don’t love them more than the others, just differently. Our parenting style has shifted, we still have the same principles of parenting, it’s just we perhaps give them more of our time and are more patient and forgiving. We don’t fret about the hours of sleep lost, and now treasure the little ones running into our bed in the middle of the night for a cuddle. We’re of course also experienced now we are older and know what we’re doing. My husband is an amazing father, he always has been but he takes an even more active role in parenting now and helping around the house. It’s things like this that help keep a marriage together when you’re juggling so much.

The statistic that most marriages break up after a loss hasn’t actually been proven, yet it still remains something people believe. Of course, some marriages do fall apart but the death is likely to be one of a number of factors that decide the relationship is over.

Like any difficult time, in a marriage it’s important to ride out the waves together, even if that means you’re not on the same wave, as you’ll both be together when the waters have stilled again. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or even today, and I don’t know how life will affect us, but I think I know now that we will always try to stay together, and I feel blessed we have made it this far!

 

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My 9-year-old son came home from school with his ‘life quote’, which sums it up very well. He explained that no matter if your car gets dented or broken on the journey (if someone dies), you can still rebuild your car so that you can carry on.

 

 

What being a mum of 5 has taught me about having babies

I know I say it a lot, but I have given birth to five babies. That’s quite a few! I often wonder how on earth my body grew and birthed these little humans! Knowing all too well how hard it is to get pregnant and the worries for nine months until the baby is safely in my arms, having five children is really something I celebrate every day, even though being a mum is exhausting and has made my tummy very wobbly!

I hear lots of new parents worrying about some of the main aspects of pregnancy and parenting – that is the birth, feeding and sleep. So, I considered what I did with each of my children and how it has affected them as they have grown up.
Continue reading “What being a mum of 5 has taught me about having babies”

I’m weaning my baby, see you in six months! 

So I’ve made it to the six-month mark. Hooray!

As much as I love newborns (I’ve been blessed to have five after all), I find it exhausting, especially with a toddler too. I know that six months is a key stage when weaning can get more established, the baby might sleep longer at night and is generally more sociable (i.e., I can give her to someone else for more than an hour!). It might sound harsh, but as much as I love my bambinos, being a parent on call 24/7 is the hardest job there is.

Weaning means I can get out a bit more…. oh, hold on, I’ve just remembered, no, it doesn’t!

You spend the first six months with your new baby pretty much at home or only visiting a few places due to fitting around feeds and sleeps, feeling generally knackered and drowning in nappy changes and washing, and frankly, CBA (can’t be arsed) to organize yourself to go further than the local shop…

…to gallop into the second half of the first year to find yourself spending it pretty much in your kitchen. Suddenly, the thought of breastfeeding on the sofa watching daytime telly because you’re pinned under a cranky baby seems appealing. You realise that all the progress you’ve made is swapping one room of your house for another.

When my husband comes home from work and asks me in a jolly ‘I’ve-been-out-all-day talking-to-adults-and-drinking-hot-tea-in-peace’ voice what I got up to today, I look at him ‘adoringly’ with bits of apple puree in my hair, milky dribbles on my shoulder and a cranky baby on my hip whilst stirring a pot of random homemade sauce on the hob and say ‘not much’.

The feeling of being unproductive is pretty dire for me, as I like to feel I’ve achieved something. When I look back and realise that all I’ve done is feed, change and wipe up all day, it’s not really much to shout about. Yes, there are fantastic moments scattered throughout all that, I have brilliant quality time with them, but I can’t help feeling that most days I’m a robot doing the same thing from breakfast till bedtime.

Let me explain the average day. By the time the baby has had breakfast and been changed, the toddler wants changing. Then I need to get dressed and have my own breakfast and clear away the breakfast things that the others left behind. Then the baby needs her mid-morning bottle, and she wants a nap. Then the toddler wants lunch. Then the baby wakes up and wants her lunch. Then they both need changing again. We have about an hour or so before she wants another bottle and, oh look, it’s 3pm; Joe will be home in a minute and I have to collect Jen from school. We go outside, briefly, in the car to collect her. Then whip up a culinary masterpiece that they all will love quickly make a meal that they are guaranteed to moan about, and give the baby and toddler a snack. I change them both, then it’s 5pm and the joys of getting the meal on the table.

Winter makes this much worse as it’s a case of how many layers can you put on a wriggly baby and toddler before dragging them out into the cold? I find myself saying ‘Oh it looks like it might rain’ so often I swear they will become phobic of all weathers that aren’t mild and sunny (though not too sunny as that’ll involve Factor 500 suncream and hats and gallons of water).

Admittedly, it’s easier to feed older babies on the go these days with ready-made milk and food pouches, but it’s the physcial time it takes to get out. By the time I’m ready to go out someone is hungry or needs changing. I promise myself every day that ‘tomorrow’ I’ll get up at 6am and be super organized, but it never happens.

Just like after the birth, I know this will get a lot easier as they get older, but for now, the children don’t care so I might as well hibernate till spring!

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I can’t let go of my children’s toys!

We’ve been having a bit of a clear out, which we need to do fairly frequently with six of us in the house. Our boys’ bedroom had become very cluttered with toys, clothes, books and teddies. We tidied it up but decided that as the large buckets of teddies weren’t played with much at all that we’d get rid of them.

Ha, well it didn’t quite work out that way. These were toys we’ve become so used to seeing and picking up that we’d stopped appreciating them. But as we were putting them into bin bags for the charity shop, we were sighing sentimentally over almost every one of them.

My husband was being more assertive about it but I suggested we put them aside so I could go through them again. So they were put into the baby’s bedroom to be ‘sorted’ later (aka taking the clutter from one room to another).

Then we decided to store them in the loft for ‘another time’, only I didn’t want to do that as they might get damp or ruined, and I didn’t like to think of them all abandoned up there (can’t you tell I’ve been subjected to Toy Story on loop this past month!).

So, a few weeks later, I sorted them out yet again! I found an old drawer under the cot and decided to put them all in there. After all Naomi might want to play with them look at them briefly one day! I did manage to make a bag of stuffed toys for charity, but I kept most of the ones we were originally going to put away or donate!

20161130_202240.jpgWhat’s wrong with me. They are just toys!

But are they?

There are a number that we’ve had since before we were married 17 years ago. (Mr Happy and Mr Bump my husband, then boyfriend, bought me. Dastardly and Mutley were picked up during one of many leisurely shopping trips.)

wp-1480537659107.jpgThere are some that belonged to Abi, that I can remember her choosing, holding and us buying (lots of YooHoos, Moshi Monsters and a Puffle).

There are Beany Babies toys that we bought from the regular stall at the annual village fair. Nintendo toys and lovely soft Keel pets.

There are toys that remind me of places we’ve been as a family (Pidgey Pidge the pigeon from our last London trip in 2012 for example).

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All toys that brought memories to mind.

I can’t even store them away. I want them to be accessible even though I could use the space for other things.

The children don’t look at these anymore. Jake, our toddler, might play with a couple (ie, empty the draw all over the floor and then abandon the game for another area of destruction!). They occasionally take one to bed, but really, who plays with all these stuffed toys anyway? They are such lovely things to buy but once you’ve got them home they just become part of the clutter.

What makes it worse is that I was never a cuddly teddy or even a dolly kind of child, it seemed babyish to me. My Barbie had a professional career in the City (and also a beautiful ballgown in case the career didn’t work out and she needed a Prince Charming!). Though you wouldn’t think that now if you saw what has become my secret stash!

As I found myself unable to part with many of them, I had to accept that it’s my relationship with these toys, and the memories they give me, that is what is stopping me getting rid of them. What does it matter, they’ve been with us this long, they might as well stop a while longer!

Tell me I’m not alone in this hoarding of kids’ stuff. Do you have any of your children’s toys you can’t bear to part with?

A grand day out – what Mummy did on her day off

With having to stop breastfeeding Naomi, I knew I would feel sad about it – the transition to the next stage is always emotional. However, I decided I’d focus on the positives, one of which being able to leave her so that I could have a break. Six months with a baby 24/7, not to mention the nine months of pregnancy and three other children to look after is tough. And as much as I adore my children, having some time for me is essential to my mental well-being.

So I’d asked my in-laws (who absolutely love spending time with their grandchildren) if they’d have Naomi for a few hours. They jumped at the chance and made it very easy for me to leave her. I knew she would get their undivided attention.

I was unsure what to do with my day off. I had about five hours of freedom and I know all too well that this isn’t that long! I wanted to use the time wisely but also not overload myself.
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The hypervigilant mumma – will I ever switch off?

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So we’ve been a bit ill again.

Jake’s been the worst hit this autumn. Normally a very healthy child, he’s had a chest infection, sickness and now another cold virus that has brought him out in itchy hives.

On Saturday, I was home alone with Jake and Naomi. Daddy and Joe were at the football, and Jen had gone to a friend’s house. I was making a good dent into clearing up, as we have moved Naomi into her own bedroom, and I then needed to change Jake. As I was doing so I noticed raised red spots all over his legs which he wanted to scratch. I was quite alarmed as it’s most unlike him and he’d been eating well all day.

I undressed him and found more of these strange red marks on his arms. Worried, I phoned 111 and within half an hour I was talking to the consultant on the phone. With Jake not having any worrying symptoms other than this itchy rash, she was happy that he didn’t need to be seen and said it was likely viral or a reaction to something he’d eaten. As he had had another cold, I put it down to that. It was what is called ‘nettle rash‘.

Thankfully my sister lives close by so she was able to pop out and get me some Piriton and Calamine lotion. And, once dosed up, the rash started to look less angry.

I phoned Daddy at the football game. While I didn’t want to disturb him, I knew that he’d want to know this had happened. He was understandably worried but I reassured him that I was keeping a close eye on Jake, who was watching all the telly and eating all the chocolate at this stage!

As I sat there, I considered the state of hypervigilance we are living in. With young children, it’s natural to be anxious – it’s how we survive, but our personal anxiety runs much deeper now. I am so close connected to them that I almost feel everything they do, trying to absorb their pain or unhappiness. We are ready to act in an instant, we never switch off and we are always on guard. That’s not including the times when they get ill, when it goes into overdrive! Sometimes I feel like I might collapse with anxiety.

It is exhausting – physically and mentally.

Continue reading “The hypervigilant mumma – will I ever switch off?”

My Sunday Photo: Tootsie! 

It’s been a mixed week that started well and ended up with seasonal tummy bugs and colds, so I’ve not been able to blog as much as I’ve wanted to.

Browsing my photos from the week, I was reminded of capturing Naomi having a good old suck on her big toe! She loves putting things in her mouth and loves her dummy so I suppose a plump toe was just as appealing!

A life lesson can surely be made of this: If life gives you lemons, look at a picture of a baby sucking her big toe!

 

I’ve linked up with #MySundayPhoto at Photoalife. Darren has posted a stunning picture of fungi (yes, you read that correctly!). There are some brilliant photos this week so do pop over and have a look!

Stop breastfeeding easily with these 5 essential products 

There’s lots of advice out there for starting breastfeeding but not much about what happens when you want or need to stop.

Last week, under doctor’s orders, I stopped breastfeeding my baby. As it happens, it was the day she turned 6 months old. Having had two children close together and my fourth child feeding until he was 16 months old, as much as I treasure breastfeeding, I was feeling worn out with it.

Despite being on antidepressants and battling anxiety, I was determined to feed my baby until she was 6 months if I could. Each week that went past was a personal achievement. I can honestly say that while she was an absolute dream to feed, and thrived, I didn’t. I felt awful. Perhaps my body is finally saying enough is enough!

So, having given her a few bottles in the day, which thankfully she took well, I was encouraged to keep going. I knew that once I had started the new feeding routine I would want to do the full transition. I also knew what I was in store for… engorgement, discomfort, emotional imbalance (aka moody!). But, being a pro at this by now, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so any readers can get ahead and avoid the inevitable gripes that go with this.

Continue reading “Stop breastfeeding easily with these 5 essential products “

My Sunday Photo: Reach for the stars

Not more fireworks?! This photo was taken last weekend at my in-laws. It’s a bit fuzzy but really captures the impact of a rocket going off don’t you think?

I’m not a great fan of fireworks and neither are my children, but every year my in-laws buy a couple of family boxes and we set them off in their back garden. Only my son was brave enough to stand outside with them while my daughter, toddler and baby and I sat and watched through the open patio door. My toddler freaked out and needed to cuddle up the entire time. It is rather scary. I mean, in his world, why are rockets suddenly going off in Grandad’s garden?! But by the end, when he realized he was safe, he’d settled into it. The baby slept through the entire thing!

It’s always nice to get together, but I’m quite glad Fireworks Night is over!

I’ve linked up with #MySundayPhoto at Photoalife. There are some brilliant photos this week so do pop over and have a look!

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The fine line between love and hate

Shocking celebrity deaths, Brexit and now Donald Trump… if anything, you can’t say 2016 has been boring!

Trump is not a man I like, his views worry me and the fact he now is one of the most powerful men in the world worries me even more. However, through the how’s and why’s, I’m trying to believe that much of what he has said in his campaign is hype, to attract attention, to get people engaged in whatever shape it takes – a bit like a child being told off for being naughty because negative attention is better than none.

Seeing the news about violent protests and lives lost following the election of Trump, I was reminded of this post I wrote 18 months ago, after the Conservatives got into power. Yes, I’m afraid nothing changes, and we are just as sore losers when things don’t go our way.

Whether someone throws a stone at someone who doesn’t agree with them, sends angry messages online, or gossips behind their back, the physical impact might be different but the basic emotion is still the same – hate.

Trump hate. Political hated. Social hatred. Many of us wonder where this comes from. Why, when we all want to live, prosper and be happy, do we end up caught up in these vicious battles?

I wonder if it is because hatred starts at home. Hatred starts with just two people.

Continue reading “The fine line between love and hate”