Take all your problems & rip ’em apart

Take all your problems

And rip ’em apart

Carry them off

In a shopping cart

Be like the squirrel, girl

Be like the squirrel

– “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes

It’s not a well-known song, but “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes is a song to live your life by. It tells the story of Janet, who has been having a tough time lately. But as she’s walking one day, she sees a squirrel storing up nuts for winter. She notices the way the squirrel brings the nuts to her nest one at a time, and eventually manages to store up as much as she needs.

Clever Janet sees this as a metaphor, and realises that if she takes the “one acorn at a time” approach to her problems, they will be more manageable.

Okay, so it’s sort of a silly song. A hard rock riff and an entreaty to be like the squirrel. And it also might be something that we all already know implicitly. Of course it makes sense to break problems into smaller pieces to make them more manageable. But knowing something doesn’t mean we always do it.

So what are the problems that sometimes overwhelm us, and how can we “be like the squirrel”? Here are some situations where being like the squirrel has helped me.

 

Grief

Regular readers of this blog will know that I keep banging on about the death of my grandmother, who brought me up in my early years. It’s been a couple months now but sometimes I’m still suffocated by sadness and I just miss her so much. I had read about it before, but now I know firsthand, that grief never really goes away. Some days are better than others. Let each moment of grief be it’s own little acorn that you acknowledge. I’ve been allowing myself to feel sad when it happens, rather than trying to just carry on, even though that sometimes seems like what everyone expects.

Work

I work part-time but I’m pretty sure I’m still doing a full-time job and then some. I never, ever get to the bottom of my to-do list and sometimes I worry that I’m not keeping up well enough and I’ll get in trouble. But actually, everyone is just as busy as me in my office, and we’re all doing our best. So I just take one small task at a time. And I try not to multi-task, because that is a way of doing lots of work but never finishing anything.

Money

I also, like most normal people, do not have as much money as I would like. I have a lot of bills, like childcare, to keep up with. And I’m not very good at budgeting or saving. If I try to impose an austerity regime on myself, I’m going to (a) be miserable and (b) fail at it anyway.

So my acorn approach is to just think a little harder about each time I want to do something that costs money. How much do I really want/need this thing? Is there a way of doing it cheaper? And each time I manage to save some money by thinking it through, that is a small success.

My house is a tip

This is one that I get pretty stressed about. We have too many toys, but it hurts my heart to get rid of things that were loved when my children were smaller! Am I the only one who gets sentimental about brightly coloured plastic?

Sometimes I start planning to get organised, but am discouraged by the enormity of the task. One thing cascades into another until I just don’t know where to start. Saying I would just do one job becomes just as difficult as trying to do it all at once.

So I’ve started taking a more novel approach and applying complete and utter blinkers to certain bits of mess. Instead of focusing on doing small jobs that might ultimately add up to a tidy house (neeever gonna happen), I just focus on the things that really need keeping up with. The dresser near the front door always gets piled up with loads of random crap. Fine, I’m ignoring it. But I’m going to keep up with the washing. Sort of.

I wish I had more close friends

Becoming a mum changes your social life forever. I used to constantly be with friends, and I had a different friend for every situation. I could call up my “going to the theatre friend”, my “going on holiday” friend, or my drinking buddy. When I had my kids, I grew apart from some of these friends, either because they had kids too and also had no time, or because we were now living such different lifestyles.

I have found it difficult to make mum friends in my local area, and only have a couple ladies who I consider real friends and not just acquaintances. I sometimes feel pretty depressed that I can’t find a group of friends to hang out with at a moment’s notice, or even just that I feel so socially awkward  and isolated among groups of mums on the school run.

But you know what, it doesn’t even matter. Quality over quantity. I’m putting more energy into the little acorns I’ve already collected (the genuine, proven friends). And every time I feel awkward on the school run, I’m just going to carry on saying hello to people even when they don’t respond, and smiling at them all like some sort of maniac.

I’m a shouty sweary mum

When I get stressed or worried or upset or hurt, I shout and swear. That is my reaction. It’s something I’m working on. But I still sometimes step on a bloody lego brick and then turn the air blue in front of my children.

Or when my 5yo is completely ignoring my entreaties for him to stop chewing on a fidget spinner before he chokes on it, and the 10th time I ask him I shout, FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP CHEWING ON THAT BLOODY THING OR YOU’LL END UP IN HOSPITAL!

I am aware that this is not ideal parenting. Judge me as you will.

But I’ve also gotten better and better at showing more empathy with my children. When they get upset about something like misplacing a small plastic junky toy, or because one brother knocked over the other’s tower, I’ve learned to say “I’m sorry honey, I know you worked hard on that tower”. Instead of what I’m thinking, which is “get the f**k over it already”.

So every acorn of positive parenting, every time I offer some extra praise, is one to add to the pile that is making up for the fact that my eldest definitely knows all the swears and how to use them. I’m also working on replacing my swears with rubbish replacement words too. Like “oh FFFidget spinners” or “GoddaaaaarNit”.

Do life’s little problems sometimes get you down? What problems could you add to this list, and how do you deal with them? Here is the song, btw:

Tammymum
The Pramshed

Five ways running could make you happier

I am not a runner. I could never be a runner. My boobs are too big and my ankles too weak. I hate being out of breath. It’s boring. It’s too difficult. It’s raining / hailing / snowing outside.

These are the things I used to tell myself about running. But, more recently, through sheer desperation to get fit in a way that fits around work, parenting and a budget, I started running. I did the Couch to 5K programme, which involves interval training, starting very gently to work up to 5K.

My friends were impressed that I was running 5K. They asked me if I’d thought of doing a 10K running event. NO WAY! said I. Why would I want to do a silly thing like that? I don’t need to prove myself.

But shortly after that conversation, The Children’s Society asked me to run the London Vitality 10K and blog about it in support of their work. My blogging obsession converged with my newfound running skills and a desire to help the charity, and thus began my 10K training journey.

With less than a month to go until the big day, I’m actually amazed at the progress I’ve made. Yes, there have been setbacks: illness, work commitments, very inclement weather and even grief. But at the same time I’ve proved to myself that I can run 8K at a decent speed (and if I can do 8k, what’s another 2k?), and have increased my speed at running 5K. I’m now confident that, barring any disasters, I can complete the 10K on the big day before they close the course (i.e. in less than an hour and a half).

And I want to urge everyone to give running and especially training for an event a try. Unless your GP tells you not to, I believe that anyone can run. And the benefits are about more than just fitness. Here are some of the serious and less serious ways that training for this event has improved my life:

Mental health

Before my training really took off, I was suffering from some serious anxiety problems. But since I really started amping up my running efforts, the anxiety has just disappeared. The running has also been absolutely essential in helping me deal with my grief at losing my grandmother recently. She is my number one top most loved person other than my husband and children. Running has given me space to contemplate and address that loss.

Perseverance

I am so surprised and pleased with myself for sticking with my training. I never do as much as I want to or hope, but it’s clear that there has been an improvement since I started this journey in February. Some people doubted my ability to train for such an event, but I’ve proven that Marty McFly (from Back to the Future if you were born yesterday) is right: “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything”.

Confidence

I haven’t lost a single ounce of weight doing all this running. Mainly because it makes me mega hungry and I just can’t be bothered to diet on top of all the other stuff going on in my life. But my clothes fit better, my rear end is tighter and I just feel better. I’m technically overweight according to BMI scales (which I don’t entirely agree with), but the running has proved to me that health and fitness isn’t just a number on a scale.

Fashion sense

Running clothes tend to be brightly-coloured and tight-fitting. I have a bright green top, skin-tight running tights and day-glo orange running shoes. Nothing will make you feel more daring than dressing in a ridiculous clashing ensemble composed of bright colours and spandex. It’s made me a bit more confident in my style generally. See featured photo for a representation of the sheer blinding colour of my trainers.

Washing

My commitment to running has increased my commitment to doing the washing because:

(a) Running clothes are expensive. I have two sets and I’m not buying any more. So they need to be washed.

(b) They’re smelly.

And you can’t do just the running clothes as they don’t make up a full load. So I’ve been totes catching up with my washing just because running forces me to do the washing.

And by catching up, I mean the hamper is merely full, rather than overflowing.

I’m running 10k on 29 May and it’s going to be bloody hard work. But the money I’m raising will help children and young people suffering from mental health problems, abuse, debt and a whole host of other rubbish things. If you’d like to help The Children’s Society improve the lives of these kids, please check out my JustGiving page.

Big Girls DO cry

Sometimes, life is just a bit too much. Sometimes things are a bit crap. I’m not going to define what crap is. It might be catastrophically crap; it might be an everyday, yet relentless sort of crap. But it happens to all of us.

My current sort of crap is the type that is little things piled on top big things that all conspire to crush me.

The big one, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, is that my grandmother is dying. She brought me up when I was little and is one of the people I love most in the world. She has been unresponsive for months now and we’re finally moving her into hospice care. It has been difficult: missing her already but not feeling I’m allowed to grieve until she’s truly all-the-way gone. And I have yet before me the task of learning how to exist in a world without her in it.

The second biggest one is that I keep having these weird episodes in which my heart pounds and races. The other day one of the episodes lasted a full 10 minutes and my Fitbit said my heart rate was 194 bpm. I ended up spending that night in A&E, but they didn’t find anything wrong beyond a slight arrhythmia – which is apparently pretty common. So I’ve been worried about my health. Do I have a heart problem or is a stress/anxiety thing? I don’t know yet.

And then there are lots of other little/big things. Getting called in by the headteacher at school to meet about my son’s “behavioural issues”. The mum that snubbed me at the school gates. Running behind with work deadlines. Feeling emotional at work and fighting back tears at ridiculously inappropriate moments. Feeling fed up with blogging and yet not truly wanting to quit.

I’m sure all of you can relate to some of this. Big problems, little problems, 1st world problems – whatever. There is no hierarchy of problems. The fact is: if they are upsetting you, affecting you, making it difficult for you to function as you would wish, then they are significant.

Ignoring these things, downplaying them and telling yourself to get over it is not going to help. You need to confront these feelings head on. To say, “this is the way I’m feeling, and that’s okay”.

But at the same time, we all have a lot on our plates. I know there have been days when all I wanted to do was curl up on the floor and wallow in my grief. But I didn’t. Because I couldn’t. I’ve got small people to look after. And if I lay down on the floor they are going to jump on top of me and demand to be flown around in the air.

I have a job that needs doing because I have a mortgage that needs paying. I have other friends and family that need me to be there for them. As much as I’d like to, I just can’t give up. I can’t mentally check out and take a holiday from all of my responsibilities.

And so the pressure of all of my troubles weigh on me and are compounded by my need to keep on going even when I want to quit.

But the other day, after I’d spent the night in A&E – when I felt tired and lost and lonely and sad and fed up – I had a revelation. My husband was at work. My kids were at school and nursery. I’d called in sick to work because I’d been awake all night in hospital. And when my grief pricked me in the eye, I let it. There was no one there to see.

So I cried.

But I didn’t cry like a grownup. I didn’t cry the way you cry at a sad movie, with tears running down your face quietly and the odd little hiccup. I didn’t cry the way you do in front of other people, when you are desperately trying to stop – trying to hide it – apologising for your crass display of emotion.

I cried like a child. I screamed. I moaned and groaned and probably sounded much like a cow giving birth. Nobody could hear me. So I let every messy feeling pour out in tears and great wracking sobs.

And when my tears dried up and I was tired of railing against the universe, I simply stopped. And it was like a great weight had been lifted.

I’ve since been doing a bit of googling about crying and apparently there is scientific evidence that crying releases stress. Tears actually contain stress hormones that are leaving your body when you let them go.

Ever since my big cry, everything has seemed easier. I’m not crying at work anymore. I’m not feeling as tense around my family. I’m able to keep doing what I need to do while I weather my personal storms. I had thought if I didn’t cry, I was being strong. But really I was stifling all of the emotions that scared me, instead of facing them. When I didn’t let them out, they festered.

So I’m not going to start making crying one of my big hobbies. But it’s comforting to know that I can – and should – cry when I need to.

Crying is okay AND it helps. So the next time it’s all a bit (or more than a bit) crap, send the family out of the house, close the curtains, put the kettle on, and let the tears flow.

Mindfulness and coping with grief

Trigger warning:  the topics of losing a loved one and teenaged death are discussed in this post. 

I am going through a tough time at the moment. My grandmother, who raised me in my early years, is very ill. She is unresponsive in hospital, and it’s looking like I’ll never get to speak to her again. So although she is not completely gone yet, I am already missing her. I will probably be writing a few posts about my grief and in tribute to her when the time is right. In the meantime, I asked the wonderful Hayley from Mission: Mindfulness – the blog to share some thoughts on how to cope when we lose someone who means the world to us. Hayley’s thoughts here are helping me every moment that I wish I could hear my grandmother’s voice on the phone.

A guest post by Hayley from Mission: Mindfulness: the blog

Dear Reader,

Nicole wrote to me a few weeks ago asking me to write a guest post for The Mum Reviews blog. Nicole is a blogger buddy of mine who I didn’t want to let down, and I was honoured to be asked. I really wanted to write something that fitted with her remit of mindfulness and suffering a loss, yet I was fearful of writing such an important post. I am certainly no therapist and not an expert in grief management, but said I’d have a think and get back to her. And then yesterday I knew what I wanted to write, so here it is.   

********
Today was the usual busy morning at our house.  Porridge being served.  Bread being toasted.  The radio blaring out.  The kids were, well, just being kids really …

And then suddenly an unexplained and unanticipated sadness hit me – coming from what seemed like nowhere. I was transported to a different place and time. But, as I tuned into the song on the radio, I recognised what was going on. Oasis’s “Masterplan” had started to play. My chest felt like I’d been squeezed too tightly in a big, unsolicited hug, and my eyes prickled in the familiar sensation I feel when tears are close.

Although nearly 20 years ago, the power of music was able to vividly remind me of a tragic event. A time when the fragility of life became palpable to me.

The time when my older sister’s boyfriend was suddenly taken from the world in a tragic car accident.

We’d all had a fabulous summer – working and playing together. It was the era of Britpop, and some of us were enjoying the twilight of our teenage years, while others were embarking on the beginning of their 20s. I recall the new Oasis album had been playing A LOT as we drove around the country roads of Lincolnshire, causing great debate. Some of us loved it – Adam, my sister’s boyfriend, being one.  Others of the group were not so sure.

That I remembered all of this as if it were yesterday is testament to how powerful music can be. At that moment, the sadness of losing Adam seemed as raw as it had at the end of the 90s.

And yet Adam had not been my sweetheart. Nor my son. Nor my grandson. Nor my  brother. Nor my best friend. And so I can only begin to imagine how many times, and how intensely, this happens to people who were these things to him. And as my thoughts overtake me, whisking me away from my residual feelings, I wonder: how did they cope?

Of course it would be crude to speak of a hierarchy of grief. Yet in reality it seems that the rawest of emotions come when a person is taken from us too young. By this I don’t just mean someone of a similar age, or younger, to the beautiful Adam, but even someone much, much older who still also seems to have so much life and living left. That sense of injustice and anger which mixes with the deep sadness of the grief must be an almost overpowering blend of emotions.  Understandably these can lead to very dark thoughts.

Until recently it has seemed the norm in our culture – in keeping with the idea of the British “stiff upper lip” – not to allow these thoughts and emotions to consume us. Rather, to distance ourselves from them as quickly as possible, to distract ourselves, or worse still for our “inner critic” to take over and berate us for not “coping” as we perceive we should.

Instead, Rumi, the 13th century Muslim poet (much quoted on Mindfulness courses and retreats) offers a different perspective. The suggestion is to allow these feelings and thoughts to freely come and freely go.  Without judgement.

To be with them for a moment or two. If that feels okay at that particular moment in time. To view these thoughts and feelings as passing guests and treat them accordingly.

This principle, so important to mindfulness, is eloquently described in Rumi’s poem The Guest House. 

The Guest House

Translated by Coleman Barks

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Wishing all who are going through difficult times at the moment much love.
Hayley xx

Blog:  www.missionmindfulnessblog.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/missionmindfulnessblog
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/mummy_mindful
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/mission_mindfulness_blog/

Tammymum

‘You are my son. You are mine and I am yours, regardless.’

*Trigger warning: stillbirth/baby loss*

This beautifully written and heartbreaking piece is a guest post by Natalie Louise Oldham. You can read more of her writing on her blog, AfterOtis.

It was 7 November 2015 when we saw those two pink lines on the pregnancy test. As soon as I saw them I loved you. The second I knew you existed, I knew I would die for you … but I was scared! I didn’t know what people would think about me having three children at 22. I just knew, in that moment, that I wanted you.

I started telling family and friends pretty much right away, because if something had happened to you then I didn’t want to ‘do it’ alone –  I knew I would need their support to get through it. I told your big sisters a few days after finding out too. I cannot begin to tell you how excited they were to have a baby brother or sister! Cora and Maisie pretty much had your future planned out by the time I was 7 weeks pregnant with you. Cora wanted you to be a girl, so she could call you Rapunzel and dress you up. Maisie wanted you to be a boy so she had someone to play Spiderman with (she is seriously obsessed!).

Everything went amazingly well. I did have a small bleed when I was around 9 weeks pregnant with you, but a scan showed your strong heartbeat! Fast forward a few weeks and I had a dating scan confirming that we were 14 weeks pregnant; you were perfectly formed, perfectly healthy. I had no reason to worry. We were SAFE.  

We reached 18 weeks and curiosity got the better of me (I say I wanted to be prepared, but I just really wanted to know who you were). So I had a gender scan and found out that we were expecting a little boy – you are my first son! I cannot tell you how happy it made me, knowing my family was going to be complete. I had my princesses, and now I had my prince. We started thinking of names for you. We had Hughie, Lennox, Otis and Alfie on our list. For a while, you were Phoenix, but after a close friend named their baby Phoenix, I changed my mind.

I’m not a very decisive person at all, so I didn’t choose your name for a while after. I wanted to be sure that it was perfect for you; that it was YOUR name; that, when you were born, I couldn’t imagine you having a different name. I completely believe, in hindsight, that I made the perfect choice.

At 20 weeks, I attended our anomaly scan. I wanted to wait until we had this one to make sure everything was okay before spoiling you rotten. You passed with flying colours! Perfect in every single way, growing well, nothing at all wrong with you. How lucky am I?! I was definitely safe at this point.

I started shopping straight away. I bought your cot, your pram, a LOT of clothes, a breastfeeding cushion, decorations for your nursery (for which your older sisters chose a ‘jungle’ theme) …

On April 11th, at 27 weeks pregnant, you decided to give us a scare and you wanted to come Earthside, but it was way too early. The doctors managed, after 3 weeks of continuous trying and constant contractions, to stop my labour completely. You had some more growing to do yet. I had a scan a couple of days before leaving hospital on May 11th and you were still perfectly healthy. It was amazing! I loved seeing you grow, and watching you thrive.

I went home. On May 12th, I moved house – I needed somewhere bigger so there was room for you. The first thing I did that day was organise your nursery. As I said earlier, the girls had picked a ‘Jungle’ nursery theme for you and I couldn’t wait to see it completed. I decorated your walls with animals, I put up your cot, I put up your wardrobe and your chest of drawers, I put up your moses basket and laid down your rug – your nursery was ready for you to come home to. It’s such a cute nursery.

On May 15th, mummy got poorly and I was admitted to hospital. JUST to be on the safe side, and after orders from my consultant prior to being discharged a few days prior, we had a growth scan to make sure you were coping okay. It was scheduled for the day after, on May 16th.

I loved seeing you on that screen again. I couldn’t wait to hold you in my arms but I had NO idea that it would be only a couple of weeks later …

You arrived Earthside on June the 3rd, 2016. You had the most beautiful little button nose, perfect little toes, quirky elf ears and your daddy’s lips. You weighed 5lbs, 1oz, and you measured 54cm long. You were, and are, pure perfection. I had spent weeks growing to love you, getting to know you. The second I laid eyes on you, I fell in love with you all over again …

There was just me, your daddy and our midwife Nicola present in the room when you arrived. Your Grandad Anthony waited in the room next door, excited to finally put a face to your name – Otis. You were born, as the sun was rising, at 4:19am. We spent the morning cuddling in the hospital bed in the delivery room, before being moved into a different room next door. Your Grandad Anthony came in the room to take pictures of us and to give you a massive cuddle – he held you just as he held your big sisters. I saw the love he has for you in his eyes. He is so proud to have another Grandchild.

Later that day, your two big sisters, Cora and Maisie, came to meet you. They were SO excited. They had felt you kick, they had helped choose your name, they had decided on your nursery theme and had been shopping for clothes – they could not wait to have their baby brother home. The second they saw you they fell completely in love with you. They held you, they kissed you, they poked your teeny toes and stroked your perfect little hands.

A photographer came the day you were born, to take pictures of you, your daddy and myself. They are AMAZING! You look so beautiful in each and every single one. Mummy looks a little rough, but that’s to be expected I suppose!

Your aunts Zoe and Jayde, your Godmummy Mel, Grandma Sam, Grandma Thelma and Grandad Bernard came to visit you, too. They all held you; they all kissed you; they all fell in love with you. You are SO loved!

The night you were born I slept with you beside me. I sang to you the same lullaby that I sang to your big sisters the night they were born; I read you a story – the same one I read to you for the 35 weeks you grew inside me; I held you to my chest, your skin on mine, as I nuzzled your perfect head of fuzzy, black hair.

We spent 3 days in the hospital together. Your daddy came up every day, all day, to stay with us. He waited on mummy hand and foot! I had food when I wanted, I had drinks when I wanted … I truly relished every single second I had alone with you, though. I treasured every moment because I knew I would never get that back once we were home.

Then it was time for us to go home! It was about 10am that your Grandad came to get us ready, to help me dress you and to put everything in the car. It took me an hour to dress you into your coming home outfit. You were so fragile and I didn’t want to hurt you. Your Grandad placed you on the bed in front of me, I gently unwrapped you from your blanket and slowly took off your baby grow. I took in every last inch of your beautiful skin. I tried to remember every last tiny detailed feature of your perfect body, from the shape of your eyebrows to the creases on your feet, because I knew you wouldn’t stay that way forever.

You were such a teeny newborn, but so perfectly formed. 

Daddy arrived. We were ready. I wrapped you up tightly in your blanket and I held you to my chest. I cuddled you and gave you a kiss on your forehead, before telling you I love you and laying you down.

Grandad picked you up and he carried you out of the room, down the hall past the nurses station, out of the doors, in to the lift, down to the door. He placed you, so delicately, in to the back of the car.

I looked around me and saw all the windows. I knew that, behind those windows there were new babies everywhere. I knew that people were also celebrating the arrival of their bundles.

Everything was perfect. YOU were, and are, perfect. But taking you home that day, it broke my heart.

It broke my heart because you had just been placed in to the back of a car that would take you to a different home than the one I was going to. I was going to MY home, and you were going to YOUR home, at the Chapel of Rest.

You see, my sweet boy, you were born into the arms of angels. You were born without a heartbeat. You were born forever sleeping.

Instead of registering your birth, I registered your death.

Instead of bringing you home in a car seat, I brought you home in a moses basket in the back of a funeral car.

Instead of organising your Christening, I planned your funeral.

It was as perfect as a funeral could be. I decided to carry your ‘Jungle’ nursery theme through to your forever bed, so your coffin was decorated with animal stickers. Maisie and Cora loved that touch. We sprinkled glitter and stars on your coffin after it was lowered, because you are OUR little star. Your big sisters lit a candle that was placed beside your coffin in the church for you, so they were involved in the day and that was their way of saying goodbye. We had our family and closest friends with us to say hello and goodbye to you, all in the same day.

The silence from people in the church as we walked in, your Daddy carrying your coffin in his arms to Over the Rainbow, was deafening.

I, somehow, managed to stay standing through the service and by your graveside until Otis Redding – ‘Dock of the Bay’, started playing. That’s because it was the song we decided to listen to as your tiny, blue, jungle-decorated coffin was lowered into the ground.

Every single day since has been a struggle. I survive because I have to. You have two big sisters here on Earth who depend on me; who look up to me; who NEED me. I survive because I don’t want them to lose their mother, as well as their baby brother.

I’ve been on autopilot since I was sat in the office of a neurosurgeon at 34 weeks pregnant being told, after a pretty problem-free pregnancy, that you weren’t going to survive beyond birth; that, as soon as you were disconnected from my oxygen supply, you would suffocate and die, in front of me. You wouldn’t be able to breathe by yourself. It was inevitable that you were going to pass away and the chances of you making it beyond the next few days was next to nil.

I spent the next few days in turmoil. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to make the most of having you, alive, with me. But, I knew that you would soon be ‘gone’ … You gave us 7 more days of love before you grew your wings. Your little heart stopped beating, after the most courageous fight, at 35 weeks gestation.

During those 7 days, I had ordered your burial outfit. It got delivered on the 28th of May, while you were living and kicking inside me. I received your memory box on that day, too. The pain I felt in my chest when opening the door to those deliveries is a feeling beyond comprehension. Knowing that you were alive and I was here, partially planning life after your death; I felt like an awful mum.

I WANTED to remain hopeful that you would survive, but there was no chance, Otis. Over 3/4 of your brain tissue had already been destroyed because of a nasty tumour and several haemorrhages, and you had just been diagnosed with a blood condition that, even if the tumour and haemorrhages didn’t result in your death, meant you were incompatible with life. There was absolutely nothing anyone could have done.

It’s hard. I keep trying to put into words how I feel, but nothing justifies this pain of having to live without you.

Instead of reading you bedtime stories in a cosy chair, I read bedtime stories for you sat at your graveside.

Instead of buying you toys, I buy you flowers for your grave.

Instead of cuddling you to sleep, I cuddle the blanket you were wrapped in from birth until the day of your funeral to sleep.

Instead of watching your big sisters dote on you, I watch them cry over missing you.

Instead of kissing you goodnight, I kissed you goodbye.

People have often asked what they can do to help me since you passed away. The truth is that there is nothing anyone can really do to make this better, but simply be there. There aren’t any words to console me, or to justify what has happened. There isn’t anything anyone can to do ‘cheer me up’ … but the presence of those who care is beyond appreciated.

One thing that DOES help my heart is when people acknowledge you – when people write your name in birthday cards, Christmas cards, invites; when people write your name in the sand when they travel, so a part of you is travelling with them; when people talk about you and the fact that you LIVED; when people sit beside me in silence, and just hold me; when people ask to see your special things – your babygrow, your pictures, your hospital band; when people have turned up with food, with face masks and bath salts to try to help me relax; when friends have offered to sit and have a night in, and they spent the night talking about you …

It has been 7 months since you left. We will soon approach your 1st birthday, and I hope that people acknowledge you that day; I hope that people honour you on your special day.

You fought SO hard. I am so, so proud to be your mummy. I am beyond honoured to have carried you and I am blessed that you chose me.

Please, let it be known, sweet boy, that if I could choose you – if choosing you then losing you meant having the chance to KNOW you and to LOVE you – then I would choose you again in a heartbeat.

You are my son. You are mine and I am yours, regardless.

Otis Dominic Anthony Cullen: you are missed beyond words and loved beyond measure. I hope you’re sleeping peacefully, sweet boy.

Love, Mummy x

****

Natalie is generously sharing her story here and on her blog because, in her words, “Miscarriage, stillbirth & infant loss should NOT be a stigma, should NOT be a taboo – those precious babies should be more than just a statistic”.

If you know someone who has experienced stillbirth/baby loss, you may like to also read Natalie’s piece, ‘What not to say to a bereaved parent‘.

If you have experienced a loss and need support, you may find the SANDS charity’s resources useful.