so....I am taking part in an incredible project this month! It's called "Capture your grief", and the idea is to take a photograph every day in October (pregnancy and infant loss awareness month). There's a set list of subjects to work through, and I will be adding to this post each day with my photos. So, you can either check back in regularly to see the project "develop...." or wait until October 31st and see the whole thing together! Thanks go to the wonderfully talented Carly Marie for this idea, learn more at capture your grief 2012
Day One: Sunrise.7.30am Chester 1/10/2012
Day Two: Before Loss Self Portrait
This is one of my happiest memories from being pregnant......I couldn't wait until I had a big enough bump to balance a cup of tea! (I know, small things...) I am so excited and joyful in this picture that I love it, even though it isn't the most flattering picture of me! What I am glad for, is that I can now look at this picture and remember how happy I was, not just feel pain at having lost that joy. Happy happy memories.
Day Three: After loss Self Portrait
I have chosen to use this picture for my after loss self portrait; it was coming up to six months after we lost him, and I still cried every day at this point. I could show you a picture of my grief, but that is too painful for now- there aren't many of them anyway. We did the skydive to raise money for the SCBU at Kettering General Hospital, where Bertie was born, lived and died-his home for life. When we signed up to do this, I really didn't care if I lived or died. It turned out to be the first day I really felt alive after Robert died. It was an incredible day....exhilarating, emotional....I felt so close to him the whole time, and no fear.
Day Four: Most Treasured Item
My most treasured item is Robert's life album. We bought it in Rome last year, with the intention of putting in one photo from his birthday each year until he was 18. Instead, it tells the story of his life, with all my memories and photos from being pregnant, scan pictures, all the "Dear Oglet" letters we wrote him, photos from his two days with us, cot card, name bracelet, and photos from the end. It's the one thing I would save in a fire, and is so precious to me. It took a while to put the last photos in, as I never wanted his life album to be "finished".
Day Five: Memorial
It didn't feel right to me to publicly share photos of Bertie's forever bed, so instead I have chosen his Bertie train for today. I've said before, this is something we always intended to buy for him, he was always going to have a wooden train set, so this was one of the first things we bought for him after he died. When it arrived, it upset me at first, a bit like his headstone did, because it wasn't how it was supposed to be, he would never play with this train. But now, like his headstone, it does bring me a lot of comfort. Plus, we have since discovered that he does indeed play trains!
Day Six: What not to say.
There were several choices for today, but this is the one that has really stuck in my mind , as it is the one that left me totally speechless. It probably isn't the worst thing that's been said to be fair, but it was on a visit to work, about 8 weeks after Bertie died, and it came from the mouth of a consultant colleague- yes, a doctor. What made it more shocking is he is normally great with patients, has a lovely bedside manner, I just couldn't believe he'd think that, let alone say it to me. To add insult to injury, he followed it up with "you'll get another one". It was so bad, it would have been funny, were I not so new to the grief, and therefore so fragile.
Day Seven: What to say.
The paper is blank. I am not saying say nothing-that is the WORST thing a person can do. What this picture means is, there are no magic words that take the pain away, you just need to be there. Say you're there, and mean it. Pick up the phone, come round. Hold my hand. Listen. Let me talk about Robert. Say his name....you have no idea how beautiful his name sounds from someone else's lips. Remember important dates- trust me, I won't be upset if you acknowledge his birthday-I'll be upset if nobody does. I am very lucky, lots of people in my life do all of these things, they know who they are, and I'd like to say thankyou to them x
Day Eight: JewelleryThis is the necklace I wear every day; It means as much to me as my wedding ring. The footprint is Robert's actual print, scaled down to fit. The stone is to represent both September, and the fact he's a boy, the tag speaks for itself.
I love it because it means there's a part of him with me every day, it's tangible, I find myself fiddling with it often, especially when I think of him. It's my version of a black armband. It is also my way of telling the world that I'm a mum, even if I don't look like one yet. If someone asks me about this, it's an opportunity to talk about my boy.
Day Nine: A special place
My special place is Tywyn beach, Gywnned, mid Wales. it's odd because I've never been a beach person before. But the first time I came here, I just felt a profound sense of peace. This is the first of many times I wrote his name here. The beach is so quiet and peaceful, often I'd be the only one there, so it would just be me and Bertie, bliss.
Day Ten: SymbolIf you receive a greetings card from us, it will be from the whole family- ie it will be from "Mark and Sarah", and you'll see this symbol too. It's to represent our son, to acknowledge that he exists, he matters, he is still part of our family. Some people will find that odd, but we don't care!
Day Eleven: Supportive family/friends
This is a very special photograph, a collection of faces, people who've all been there to support me in one way or another, forming the chain to help me out of The Pit. Without each of these people, and many more, too many to picture, I would not be at the point I am. It is so interesting to look at this and see how many of these people I have only met since Robert died. I have lost so much, but I have gained too. I know the love my husband and I share is enough to keep me alive despite pain so terrible I wanted to die. Because of some of these people, I still have faith, even though I have questions. Some of them are further down this road-they give me hope. Some are not as far-they make me feel needed. Some are sharing my journey-they are holding my hands when I stumble. Some don't know what to say....but know it's better to say something than nothing. Some are great listeners. Some just know when all I need is a hug. To all of these people.....thankyou.
Day Twelve: Scent
His bed. This is the only thing we have that he touched in life, this was his, and only his. It got me through the very early days, it was something I could physically hold, and feel closer to him. It helped me "sleep" for the first few days. I suspect it now smells more of my tears than my son. It doesn't matter, I don't often get it out now, but I know it is there, and it is his.
Day Fourteen: CommunityThese are some of the beautiful mummies I am sharing my journey with. Our babies would all have been about the same age, but if they hadn't died, we would never have met. We share a close bond because of our lost children and we are all so grateful to them for that. This is the first time we all got together, in May this year, about 8 months after our losses. I love this photo because we all look so happy, despite being so sad. It reminds me on dark days that it IS possible for me to feel happy again.
Day Fifteen: Wave of light
Day Sixteen: Release
The suggestion for today is to release balloons, or lanterns, but I haven't done that since Robert died, it just hasn't felt like the right thing for me. What I have sent up to him plenty though, is kisses- so here is me "releasing" one more.
"Do you catch my kisses, sent to you in the clouds above?
And most of all, my angel babe,
Do you feel my love?"
Day Seventeen: BirthdayI made this wreath for Robert's forever bed for his first birthday. I felt I wanted to do something to mark it, and not having any living children meant a "birthday party" was not on the cards. we didn't want cake, we didn't want to "celebrate" the fact he wasn't here. But, we did want him to know that his birthday matters. So, I bought and dried some sunflowers-they did ok for a first attempt, made the heart and decorated the wreath. I enjoyed making it in a lot of ways, but obviously, it is not what I wanted to give my son for his birthday.
Day Eighteen: Family Portrait
Today we had to find a way to incorporate Robert into our family portrait. We took this last weekend at the beach at West Kirby. It's tough, watching all the other little families take their photos, knowing this is the only way we can do ours.....at the same time, it is nice to have the opportunity to show him once again that he is always with us in our hearts and minds.
Day Nineteen: Project
Day Twenty: Charity/Organisation
Sands stands for Stillbirth and neonatal deaths; they are the charity for bereaved parents of lost babies, and they do an amazing job. They provided us with our memory box, and Bertie's blanket. I lived on their web forum in the lonely early weeks of madness, after Mark went back to work and I was too afraid to go outside. I met some of my current closest friends here. They have a support helpline, which I was too afraid to call, but knew they were there. After a couple of months, we braved the parent support group- these are held across the country and became my monthly goal- get to the next meeting, and I've survived another month. In addition to supporting parents, they raise awareness through their Why 17 campaign (17 babies die every day to stillbirth or neonatal loss) They support research into the causes of infant death, and campaign for improved midwifery and obstetric care.
Care Confidential are a counseling charity, supporting parents through wanted and unwanted lost pregnancies. they are not specifically a bereavement charity, but they do deal with this too. I found them myself after seeing my GP at my 6 week check, and admitting I needed help, I wanted/needed counseling as I wasn't coping. What she offered me was pills and a six week wait for "assessment" by the mental health team. At that time, 6 weeks wait was a lifetime, it could have been my remaining lifetime if I didn't find help sooner. So I found care confidential. They saw us the same week that I contacted them, and we were set up with two wonderful ladies, a counselor, and a doctor with experience in the neonatal unit, who also happened to have lost a niece. They guided us through a program designed to help us make sense of, and find acceptance of, what had happened to Robert, and what it meant for us. It became a safe place for us to go and talk, and they would listen, without judgement, and without well meaning advice, and for the most part, without tissues! What they did was reassure us that our feelings were normal, and ok. It was allowed to feel shock, anger, resentment, pain, fear, confusion....madness. Gradually, we found our way back to ourselves, our new selves, and I am not sure we'd have done it without their help.
Finally, Kettering General Hospital Charity Fund...or more specifically, the special care endowment fund. The wonderful people who gave my son 51 hours of life, helped us through his passing and made sure we had some mementos. Three of his care givers even came to his thanksgiving service. They have since given me new purpose by being the beneficiaries of the proceeds from our skydive, and my knitted hats.
Day Twenty-One: Alter/shrine/sacred space
We don't have a "sacred space" as such, most of his things are still in the nursery, and there are pictures and reminders everywhere. But, all the little bits and bobs we've gathered, or that people have given us, tend to find themselves here on the lounge windowsill- probably because that's where we spend most of our time, and I like to see them. This is how the space looked for his birthday, filled with the cards and gifts people gave us, his candle, and his wooden soldier, which I bought for the Christmas tree last year....perhaps this year I will feel like actually putting the tree up, and it can be hung on it.
Day Twenty-Two: Place of CareThis is our picture that best sums up the SCBU experience, with your baby covered in wires and tubes, an incubator separating you from them. The blue light is a UV lamp, which is why Robert is wearing goggles. He was like this for half his life, we couldn't see any of his features during this time. My hand in the picture gives you an idea of just how tiny he was- yet perfect.
Written on the back of this picture is "Robert Leslie Townend, The first photo. 18th September 2011"
As it was a few hours before I could get down to see him, this is the first glimpse I had of my son. It felt very surreal at the time, post anaesthetic, looking at a photo of this baby....I didn't quite make the connection he was mine. That of course changed, the moment I met him, incubator or no incubator, he was mine from that moment on, and I loved him with all my heart.
Day Twenty-four: Siblings
Day Twenty-five: Baby showerWe never got far enough along for a baby shower, but his nursery was almost complete, we started that early as we were so excited, and I wanted to do the painting before I got too big.......! Today it is exactly how we left it to go to my parents the weekend I went into labour-the dust sheet is still on his cot, the drawers are full of the clothes we'd bought. I just never felt ready or able to take it all down, doing so would have felt like an acceptance that it was never going to be filled. We still continue to live in hope that one day we will take the dust covers off. Without hope, we have nothing.
We've been looking for a reason to try light painting since learning how to do it on a course a few weeks ago, so this seemed the ideal opportunity. His name as a work of art for capture your grief? Perfect! It took us about 50 attempts, over two nights to get it right, and this is the best one. It was really lovely actually to dedicate two whole evenings to just thinking about doing something for him. I really hope he is showing off about this, because I sure am!
This detail is from us saying goodbye. I won't share the full photo. In it his daddy is holding him, this is my hand holding his, well, his holding mine really. His grip was still so tight at this point, I can still feel it. After this we swapped over for the final moments. The blanket you can see is his SANDS blanket, so lovingly knitted by a volunteer we will never know, he is still wrapped in it now. Perhaps this explains my drive to knit them for other babies. I've talked about this memory in detail in another blog, so I won't say any more today.
Day Twenty-nine: Music
Precious Child, by Karen Taylor-Good. This song is so beautiful, the words, the music, the voice. It was written by Karen in memory of her nephew, and the words just sum all up perfectly. In the early days of madness, I would play this song on repeat for hours on end. Now I can't listen to it without tears.
To hear the song follow this link to you tube:
Day Thirty: Your Grief
What do I want the world to know about my grief? Simply this.
Day Thirty-One: Sunset
Taken at Tywyn Beach, my "special place".
So, that's it, the whole happysad, bitter-sweet, wonderful/terrible project. This isn't Robert's story, it's mine; my heart on my sleeve, my journey in a nutshell, my life in a month. I hope my readers have gained something from sharing it with me. Those that know this pain, who "get it", I hope you found it comforting, I hope you smiled as well as cried, as I did sharing the journeys of so many others. Those who don't know it, I hope this project gave you a little insight into how it is. For me, it's been a real mix of emotions. Some days have been easy to do, others incredibly difficult. Some have made me think about memories and feelings that I usually choose not to think about. Overall, I am incredibly proud of myself for doing this, and am very grateful to all the other angel mums who took part and shared their journeys too.
For Bertie, as always.