This week I caught up with (read: binge watched) The Replacement, and it reminded me of a blog post I started a few months ago and never got around to finishing or posting. Returning to work after the death of your baby is so complicated and multifaceted and there is no right or wrong time or way to do it. In fact, for some people it may not be right at all. However, I know that many have asked me what helped me, so it seemed a good idea to share what I did and what I have learnt from these last few months.
I returned to work six months after Orla was born. I could have stayed away for longer; in fact with the amount of annual leave I am now entitled to with the NHS, I could have stayed off for around 14 months (not all paid). However, for me, six months felt like the right amount of time. We had been away for three months, and once we returned, I knew that I needed the structure and routine of my job. To put this need into context, work has always been a huge part of my identity and plays an integral role in my self-worth and self-esteem. I see my job as a career, a vocation if you will, and it is something that involved many years of training and many, many sacrifices. I moved all over the country, to do jobs that were at times awful and paid a pittance, lived in house shares that made me miserable and then took out a massive loan to do a Masters degree that I hoped would help get me onto the allusive and competitive Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. That then took three years of hard slog, and being single at the end of it, I spent the next few years building my career and working my way up to the grade I am today. Whereas many of my peers started families very soon after qualifying, I busied myself with changing jobs and finding myself in a senior position and managing my own team. I felt confident and competent at work, so I really wasn’t sure how I would manage the shift in identity from ‘Michelle the psychologist’ to ‘Mummy Michelle who also wants to work as a psychologist and achieve the same as she did before she became a mum’.
This week it was officially announced that my midwife Michelle (yes, that is quite confusing!) is the London regional winner of The Royal College of Midwives Mum’s Midwife of the Year. I nominated Michelle back in the summer last year when we were away on our fundraising adventure and then promptly completely forgot about it until I got a message from her in December saying that she had won. Cue lots of tears from both of us! Michelle is wonderful woman and midwife; she is kind, compassionate, dedicated and passionate about her work. She has gone above and beyond in her duty to look after myself and Andy and I feel that we have a bond that will last forever. I am so honoured to have Michelle as my midwife and incredibly proud that she has won this award. She thoroughly deserves it and anyone who has the opportunity to have her as their midwife is very lucky indeed.
Michelle is a caseloading community midwife. This means that she runs a team of midwives who have a small caseload of women who they see all the way through pregnancy, birth and up to a month afterwards. This provides women like me with:
- Continuity of care. I don’t need to explain who I am, what I need or what my journey to motherhood has been thus far at every appointment. Michelle will always follow up on any questions or concerns I may have, and there is a sense of progression at each appointment – that together we are moving towards bringing our baby into the world.
“There is something very sensual about a letter.
The physical contact of pen to paper, the time set aside to form thoughts,
the folding of the paper into the envelope, licking it closed, addressing it, a chosen stamp, and then the release of the letter to the mailbox—are all acts of tenderness. Once opened, a connection is made. We are not alone in the world.”
—Tempest Williams (1991, p. 84)
Monday saw us write our two hundred and sixty fifth letter to Orla. Although not necessarily a significant number, it is one that marks a countdown of 100 days until her first birthday and that this is now into double instead of triple figures. It marks two hundred and sixty-five days since the day that she was born; the day that we officially became parents and met the most precious and beautiful little girl we had ever seen. Two hundred and sixty-five days of breathing, surviving and navigating life without Orla; of being bereaved parents and finding a way of parenting without our child. Developing an identity that acknowledges the gravity of what we have lived through, and continue to live through, whilst also looking to develop a narrative of hope, optimism and meaning. Continue Reading
As the festive period and 2016 draws to a close, it feels like a time for reflection, taking stock and thinking about these last twelve months as a whole. I think it is fair to say that it has been a tough one: the toughest I have faced so far. But I refuse to see it as all bad and I certainly do not want to turn my back on 2016 at midnight and write it off as the worst in history. This was the year that I became a mother, the one that I got to meet our precious daughter, who has changed me and my life beyond all recognition. It is the year that I have learnt more about myself personally and professionally than I have in all the 34 years that came before. And I hope that it is a year that has made me a better wife, friend, psychologist – I guess, just a better person.
Certainly, globally in 2016 there have been many challenging, saddening events, and some downright disasters; political madness has prevailed with Brexit and the election of Trump, there have been many high-profile deaths of much loved and talented celebrities. But sad things happen every day all over the world, many life altering and devastating but not national news worthy. This won’t stop in 2017; people will still die and wars will continue to be fought. When the clock ticks over to a brand-new year, all of our difficulties will not fade away and we will not be new and revived as if by magic. But maybe it is a time when we can think about how we hope to set new intentions, to find gratitude and strength in order to face, and learn from, the curveballs that life can, and will, throw at us.
Something that has really struck me the most since losing Orla is the huge impact that the reactions of others can have on you and your grieving journey. I am grateful to say that this has been predominantly positive; but I have also been surprised by how some words and actions have been painful in ways that I had never before imagined. In fact, the responses of others can be utterly devastating at a time when you are feeling at your most vulnerable. As humans, we always seek to understand why someone responds in a certain way: what are their intentions and what do they hope to achieve? We want to make sense, to put their actions into a box, so that we in turn can know how we should react both in terms of how we feel and what we do.
Yet this is actually a hell of a lot more difficult than it sounds. Once our own emotions are triggered and our buttons are pressed, our ability to hold an open mind in understanding others is diminished. We lose our own ability to mentalize. Mentalization is the one psychological model that I think has helped me the most in navigating life whilst grieving. It hasn’t fixed things or taken away the pain, but it has enabled me to (sometimes, not always) take a position of curiosity rather than being completely overwhelmed by hurt and anger.