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’.
Looking back at my diary entries from this time seems like a lifetime ago; this pregnancy has moved incredibly slowly for me: each week, day, sometimes hour, feeling like a lifetime. However, what I do remember of the first trimester was the safety of the secret bubble. Only Andy, myself and our midwife knew that we were expecting baby number two, so the only pressure we felt was from ourselves and our own internal dialogues of anxiety. We were away in a foreign country, undertaking an epic adventure in Orla’s memory with Andy cycling the length of the Pacific Coast of America and me driving as his support vehicle. Each day was busy, offering much needed distraction and we had no one else to worry about.
However, I feel that I am also viewing this period with rose tinted spectacles, since as time has progressed, I have found pregnancy after loss to get harder and harder with each milestone reached and the next set in front of me. The first trimester was tough; for example, I wouldn’t recommend driving 4000 miles when suffering with pregnancy nausea and tiredness (there were lots of stop offs at scenic viewpoints for a bit of dry heaving and then napping over the steering wheel). I also found the lack of access to the food I wanted when I wanted, as well as the rest of my home comforts, incredibly difficult. Continue Reading
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 I edge ever closer to the third trimester, I feel just about ready to write something more about pregnancy after loss. Although I have written smaller pieces via Instagram, there has been something of a block between that and getting something more thorough and robust onto paper. I could put it down to being busy; returning from the States, announcing this pregnancy to family and friends, going back to work and then our first Christmas without Orla. But in reality, I think that there has been something bigger stopping me. My own mind.
It’s as though I fear that if I commit anything more substantial in writing, that this will be the end. That somehow I will cause everything to come crashing down around me. ‘Magical thinking’ in psychology speak. Except that the outcome would be anything but magical.
I can without a doubt say that these last few months have been the hardest of my life. The pain of losing Orla has remained as an ongoing hum, ever present, always occupying space in my heart and head. One that intensifies at times, just as I feel it always will. I found that once the initial horror sinks in after loss, the numbness wears off and the despair hits, you become acutely aware that the worst thing that you could have imagined has happened. You can no longer fear it, since you are living it. You cling onto life with your fingertips and grapple and grasp to find something, anything, that will give you a shred of hope that things will be okay. You go to the darkest places of your mind and soul and you wonder if you will survive. And you do, one day at a time. In many ways, I felt that I had already faced the worst, and therefore if I could still wake up and put one foot in front of the other, I would somehow be okay. Continue Reading