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Trauma

Mental health and wellbeing

Maternal Mental Health Matters…..even when your baby died

‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.’

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Loss and mental health is something that people often ask me about: how does it impact? What help is available? Does it get better? I’ve researched academic articles and reflected on my own work and personal experiences and all I can say reliably is yes it does. But as with everything in life after loss, it is complex and completely individual.

Grief in itself is not a mental health problem (i.e. a diagnosable one) yet it impacts on our mental wellbeing considerably. It is a normal reaction to a painful, sometimes traumatic, event. A response that reflects the loss of someone or something meaningful. Someone we loved. Someone we will miss infinitely. We wouldn’t want to pathologise what is part of the human condition; to label it and to find ways in which to eradicate it. Grief is part of life and living as much as it is a response to death and dying.
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Pregnancy after loss

The beginnings of processing pregnancy after loss

I feel that this will be the first of a series of posts, since if I write about it all now, it could take days to read.  There is so much swimming around in my head about my nine months of pregnancy after loss, and I want to give it the time and space it deserves.  This is therefore a bit of an introduction for myself really – getting me in the headspace to pick apart what is ‘normal’ and expected and what I maybe need a bit more help with making sense of.  And I find getting it out on paper (or virtual electronic paper) is the best way….
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This diagram was something I sketched out at 4am on the day I went to hospital to be induced.  Knowing that it was likely to be a long process, I had planned to spend the day writing a blog post on my reflections of pregnancy after loss, the sense I made of it from a mental health perspective, and how I had managed the relentless 37 weeks to that point.  However, I ended up spending the day huffing, puffing and moaning about how slow induction was this time around, pounding the streets around Camberwell, climbing and descending the stairs of Kings College Hospital, bouncing on a ball, sniffing clarey sage and lavender, before finally flopping down with a book and a less than appetising hospital dinner.  I am not very patient as my face below shows: Continue Reading

Mental health and wellbeing

Dear Orla: Two hundred and sixty-five letters of love

“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

Pregnancy after loss

Pregnancy after loss at Christmas

* This was a guest post written for Tommy’s for their Christmas 2016 series of articles
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This Christmas isn’t as we hoped it would be.  We had anticipated having a seven-month-old baby that we could dress in various festive themed outfits and having a tree full of decorations proudly declaring ‘baby’s first Christmas’.  I look back at this time last year, around 18 weeks pregnant and how we kept exclaiming how different everything would be this year.  And it is.  But sadly, for all the wrong reasons.
Everyone always says that the first Christmas after loss is hard.   Christmas is a time of cheer, of celebration and happiness. But what if your heart doesn’t match this ideal? From early autumn, we are surrounded by advertised images of perfect families, engaging in activities full of cheer.  The expectation is to join in with the festive spirit and not be The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Yet how can I pretend to be full of the joys of the season when my soul feels so heavy?
This year has the added joy and challenge of ‘pregnancy after loss at Christmas’, which is not quite the same as ‘pregnancy before loss at Christmas’; and I can remember the latter so vividly since it was just one year ago. Last year there were lots of conversations about how different next Christmas would be, how special, how I should make the most of getting presents just for me since this would be the last year it would happen. Yet now all I really want for Christmas is for Orla to have lived – and for this baby to make it safely into the world. Continue Reading

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Tommy's Mum's Voice Award 2017

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I am proud and overwhelmed to share that I have been shortlisted for Tommy’s Mum’s Voice Award 2017.  This is an award that celebrates mums who have spoken out about their own pregnancy experiences, and in doing so have helped and given hope and support to others.  I am honoured to have been shortlisted alongside some other incredible mums who have helped me immensely through 2016 and who are all are worthy of winning. I feel so lucky to know them and their babies, and to be able to call them friends.
I have spoken out about losing Orla, my experience of stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy and pregnancy after loss, the impact that this has on myself and Andy and how we are learning to navigate life after loss and survive our heartbreak – all in the hope that it will make a difference in some way.  There is so little that I can do for Orla now that she is gone, but the love I have for her drives me to do anything I can to keep her memory alive, and to try and help others. It is something that I hope would make her, and our future children, proud.
I have openly shared things that I would never have done before, in the anticipation that I can do my little bit towards breaking the silence that I feel exists around pregnancy and child loss.  I believe talking is the thing that can make a difference.  My passion for improving mental health support for parents has leaked from my work life into my personal one (or rather, crashed into it), and being on the other side of services has meant that I have been given a new and very different perspective. For me, this makes this nomination all the more meaningful. Continue Reading