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Letters To The Other Chair

To my rainbow babies…

Frankie is a mother of three; two in her arms and one in her heart.  She is the author of the beautiful picture book ‘These Precious Little People’ which helps to support children who have lost siblings during pregnancy or soon after birth.  In this stunningly raw letter, Frankie describes her journey to parenthood and the intense and mixed emotions that come with parenting after loss.

You can find Frankie on Instagram at @notyetoutofthewoods as well as @thesepreciouslittlepeople where you can find out how to purchase her book. Frankie is also a finalist in the Author Blogger category at the 2019 Butterfly Awards. Follow her page to find out how to vote for her when voting opens.

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To my rainbow babies,

When we first found out we were pregnant with you, it was, quite honestly, as well as a truly joyous moment, a relief. It meant that my body still worked – I could still get pregnant. That was all it meant at that moment. Just one box, ticked. Only approx 250+ anxious days to go. I don’t think it will ever be possible to explain to you the fear, the at times on-the-edge-of-your-seat terror, that I experienced during my pregnancies with you. Sure, your dad was scared too, but I was the one carrying you, our oh-so-precious cargo. I had already failed once in this task. And that failure is ultimately what is leading me to write you this letter. It is not an impossibility that you two and your sister could all be here had she lived, but I suspect it is unlikely, and that is something I will never quite be able to wrap my head around. I am greedy, I want all three of you here growing up with us, despite the fact that, pre-children, your dad and I only ever discussed wanting two babies, and I don’t think we would have planned to space them so closely apart if we hadn’t had such fear instilled in us that it was quite possibly now or never. 

But our journey to meeting you was most definitely a good scary. An exciting scary. A scary time with enticing glimmers of hope and joy that appeared whenever we saw sneak peeks of you, heard your heart beating merrily away, or felt you kick. And oh how we longed to feel you kick – every second of every day would have been ideal! Although every second of every day would probably still not have been enough to reassure us that you were going to survive. Because that is what we feared – that you would die. And that wasn’t us being melodramatic or overly-anxious. It had happened before, during the most seemingly perfect and blissfully happy pregnancy that had resulted in the unexplained death of your big sister at just over 38 weeks and 2 days gestation. 

You, beautiful boy of ours, might have emerged with your eyes wide open and making noise, and you spent a large chunk of time in your first few months if not years in this world carrying on that way (!), but we still worried (and probably will continue to worry forever more) that lightning can and does strike twice – that once again another precious and beloved child of ours would die. Those fears were nearly realized when you, our gorgeous golden girl, were born. You had your eyes shut and were floppy and non-responsive; you were warm but your skin wasn’t the ‘right’ colour. The parallels to how your big sister emerged into this world were not lost on me. I felt myself turning numb as I watched the midwives and doctor helping you to breathe and after you were whisked off to the NICU I had to try my hardest to trust that you were in safe hands, that you would be ok. Delivering the placenta in a room without you in it and expressing colostrum into a syringe for your first feed without you even being beside me was a surreal and humbling experience. My mind threatened to wander off to very dark places several times as we waited to hear if you would be ok, but I didn’t fall apart or become hysterical as I might have imagined myself doing so. 

I strive to be a loving and present mum, but I know that I fall short and let you down because too often I get lost in my own woes and worries. At times I might appear a little detached, cold even, but please know that this is something I do to try and protect my broken heart when emotions threaten to overwhelm me and open the floodgates to what can feel like a Pandora’s Box of unresolved, complicated grief. I’m sorry that you have a mummy who is essentially ‘damaged goods’. I hope you won’t remember me falling apart in front of the GP I eventually surrendered to as I sobbed that I wasn’t coping with your unrelenting demands on top of what was, by that point, undeniable depression and anxiety, that I didn’t think I could do it anymore. The years of broken sleep and emotional ups and downs caused by grief, three full term pregnancies in the space of four years, caring for a ‘high needs’ toddler as well as a baby with tongue tie, a house move to a new town, and my relationship with your dad being under some serious strain, had all taken their toll, and I knew that I was dangerously close to breaking point.

If grief is rearing its ugly head I struggle to hold it together – to be the calm and gentle parent I long to be all the time – I can be a bag of nerves one minute and fly into a rage or burst into tears in another. This is NEVER your fault. You, my darling children, deserve to know that you are so loved, you are so perfect to me, you bring me endless joy, even amidst the sadness and trauma that comes from your big sister dying. Some well-meaning people once told me that I shouldn’t tell you about your sister who came before you – which I vehemently disagreed with so completely disregarded – but there have been times when their words of concern and caution have returned to haunt me. In recent times I have thrown myself into writing and self-publishing ‘These Precious Little People’, a book for you and other children affected by the death of a baby to help explain about your big sister’s place in our family and hopefully bring you some comfort, but I can’t claim to be able to give you any answers. I know the book is helping other families, but the time I’ve devoted to the project and associated blog has at times taken my attention away from you both as my sole focus and that’s left me feeling torn as to whether or not I’ve done the right thing pursuing a dream of mine that is in tribute to your big sister at a time when you’re still so young and reliant on me; whether or not the book has even been good enough to have truly honoured her memory, whether it’s been worth all the hard work and angst. To add to my mother-guilt and insecurities, I do sometimes worry that you will question whether you are ‘enough’; that you will fear you are growing up in her shadow; that we have placed too much responsibility on you to ‘fix’ the unfixable. Iknow that you are not a replacement; I am well aware that it was never up to you to mend our broken hearts or ‘heal’ us. You absolutely did prove to be the rainbow and pot of gold appearing during the storm that was our grief; you have brought light and hope back into our lives like nothing else, but you are individuals who deserve to be regarded as such on your own terms, and besides, the storm hasn’t ended just because you came along. I’m not sure it ever will, and I’m sorry that you have to bear witness to that, as we do to the confusion and sadness developing over why you can’t have both of your siblings here to play with and grow up alongside.

I try and tell you each and every day all the ways that I love and adore you, I try and show you that you are all equally precious to me in your own unique ways, but I know actions speak louder than words. On the days I’m barely holding it together because my mental health is in decline, it’s you that suffers, and it’s you that I am most concerned about. The doubts about my ability to nurture you in the ways you need me to resurface alongside my grief; the guilt about being a terrible mother to all of you threatens to consume me and convince me that I am not worthy of you – any of you. I don’t want to fly off the handle because you are winding each other up and one or both of you is lashing out. Your behaviour occasionally being less than perfect is not a reflection of my inadequate parenting skills – it’s totally normal to find each other annoying as much as you delight in each other’s company – being one of four children I know this all too well! – and I appreciate you don’t mean to hurt each other, not really. I don’t want to be the nervous wreck that holds you back or sucks the fun out of your ‘one wild and precious life’. Your desire to explore all that the world has to offer with such an admirable and fearless sense of adventure is something that I never want to disappear, but it can be hard not to see the worst in every situation – the numerous ways in which you could be hurt or die. I try not to make you aware of the extent of my fears but I realise it must be frustrating and perplexing when I put a limit on just how many times my nerves can take supervising you as you perform gymnastics routines on our bed at home, or scale the dizzy heights of the tallest play equipment at the park and hurl yourself with unadulterated glee down the slide or fireman’s pole.

But the days when I feel lighter and more free to simply enjoy the two amazing little people who you are becoming, well, it’s impossible to describe the warmth that floods my very soul. I want to soak up every hug for far longer than you’re ever willing to indulge, capture just how cute and adorable you can be, burn your gorgeous gappy grins and giggles into my memory, and savour all of the special and sweet sibling moments. Even when things don’t go to plan I can laugh as well as roll my eyes; if tempers flare or accidents happen I can swoop in and pick you up to dry your tears and sooth your hurts or fury with confidence that I am what you need in that moment to feel safe and comforted. There will never be a day when I stop missing your big sister, but to my mind (and I hope yours too), that is just a measure of how much you are all cherished.

I love you (all of you) more than all the stars in the sky.

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