Living with stillbirth 10 months on

It's Baby Loss Awareness Week. Today, 15th October 2015 at 7pm, people all over the world will be lighting candles in memory of the babies who were lost through miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death.

It's been just over ten months since we lost our beautiful little girl. She should be here. But she's not. She's in heaven. She wouldn't want to come back if she had the choice. Oh how I miss her so much. I know I'll see her again one day, for now I just miss her and I wish she was here with me.

I can't believe it's been ten months since that terrible time. Live does goes on and life does gets easier. But the loss never goes away. It's like having a deep cut. Eventually the bleeding stops, the cut heals over and leaves a scar. It doesn't hurt anymore, but the scar leaves a mark forever.

Stillbirth. Wow, what a thing. You get through it but you never get over it. We both have a very strong Christian faith and we are part of an incredible church. That's got us through, but it doesn't change what's happened. I have seen people get mad at God and turn away from their faith in very tough times. I have heard people say they can't believe in God because of all the bad things that happen in the world. It's true. Bad things happen, much worse that what I have been through.

Do I believe God is Sovereign? Do I believe God could have intervened? I believe both these things. One day, when I am fully healed up, I will share in detail about how I reconcile my faith with the loss. All I know right now is that God has helped me and healed my broken heart. If I had ditched my faith in Jesus I would be in a very different place right now. Anyway, this is all for another post for another day.

This time last year I was heavily pregnant and packing up for a house move when I saw the baby loss awareness campaign on social media. It's so sad to see pictures of lit candles in memory of lost little ones. I didn't think that just weeks later my precious girl's heart would stop beating two days past her due date. 

On December 2nd 2014 at 5.34pm I was one of 17 ladies that day who suffered a stillborn. We took home an empty car seat from the hospital. We had to unpack the tiny pink clothes from chest of drawers in her room. We had to sit down with our two boys, age 6 & 3, and explain to them that their little sister, Annaliesa Gabriella, had gone to heaven straight from mummys tummy.

I was blessed that I was able to sleep most nights - I'm convinced it was an answer to prayer. During one of those early nights when I couldn't sleep I lay on the floor hugging and kissing her little clothes. I just longed for her so desperately. I was afraid I would forget what size she was or what she looked like. It was the darkest, saddest, lowest of times.

Those first few weeks were so incredibly tough. So incredibly dark. For me, there was no hope, apart from to cling to the only thing in which I knew, deep down, there was hope. Every day I made time to cry. I sobbed each day for an hour, crying out to God to help me. Sometimes I was angry. I was always real with my feelings. The carpet was soaked with tears each day. The bible says 'The Lord is close to the broken hearted' and I found this to be true. But each new day brought new pain. A new day to face without her.

The funny thing about stillbirth is that because you go from being pregnant to having no baby, sometimes you think you're still pregnant. I don't know if this is true for all ladies, but it was certainly true for me.

Boxing Day 2014. It had been barely three weeks since we lost her. Rich and I went shopping in Reading, wondering around like two lost souls. My post-partum tummy made me look about six months pregnant. My regular clothes still didn't fit but I couldn't face wearing maternity things. I lived in leggings and long oversized jumpers during that time. At least I'd started to wear make-up again, which helped disguise my puffy face.

Going round the Oracle with no real agenda I looked pregnant. People held doors open for me as they noticed my tummy. I avoided looking at prams and anything pink. I needed some new boots, so we had some sort of purpose for the trip.

"I want something smart but a bit sensible" I said to Rich, as I browsed the shoe sale of House of Fraser. "I don't want to look scruffy, but I do need something comfortable when I'm pushing a pram around."

Rich looked at me with deep compassion but said nothing. Then it dawned on me. There won't be a pram, because there's no baby. I felt cross with myself for allowing myself to trick myself. I couldn't make a decision about any of the expensive boots that were on sale so I got cheap boots in New Look.

Grief is a horrible thing. It's debilitating. You have to fight to carry on. We are blessed we had the boys, they gave us a reason to carry on - we had no choice in the matter. I was grateful for that, but at times I so wanted to be alone so I could just sob. I had very little capacity for anything other than the minimum that was required of me. 

Pastor Wes, senior pastor of our church, lost his wife to cancer 13 years ago this year. He wrote a book about it, (and the incredible story that followed) called Hope and a Future which I have read several times. He told Rich and I "grief is like a game of snakes and ladders, one minute you're feeling good, and the next you come crashing down." I found this to be very true. One minute I was OK, but the next I would feel the grief come over me like a dark cloud. Sometimes it felt like it was choking me and it made me feel physically sick.

Something else that grief robbed me of (for a time) was my ability to make decisions. Just like with the boots, I felt unable to make a decision about anything without consulting at least one person. We moved into our new house 3 weeks before the loss. I had great plans about how we would decorate it but I lost the desire. I also lost the ability to make a decision about anything. I could not think creatively at all.

My beloved food blog, Gourmet Mum, which was in it's fourth year remained untouched for three months. My kids love of pancakes inspired me to blog again so on 16th February 2015 I posted a recipe for Mini Hamburger Pancakes. It was a milestone and a great achievement that I was confident to make enough decisions about a recipe that I was proud enough to share it. That sounds so silly when I read it back, but it was a big deal for me.

It was about 6 months on while having a coffee with my friend Christelle in the dining room that I first started to excited about doing the house again. She had lots of ideas about how we could do up the kitchen and dining room on a shoe string. I was pretty blank at first but after browsing through a few pinterest boards I started to catch the bug. "You need to be in a creative space to be creative" she told me. "And then you'll get back into the blogging because you will be more inspired." She was right. 

One room led to another and it wasn't long before every room in the house had a short and long term plan for transformation. Every room but one. Annaliesa's bedroom. Once the clothes were unpacked and sent away the room became a dumping ground. A room with no identity. It's still like that now, and I like it that way. We are not hard on ourselves to make decisions about anything. Even ten months on we are still taking one day at a time.

Everyone is different, but for me I found I hit a very bad patch every three months-ish. It's a bit like seasons - in fact, the time periods have almost matched the actual seasons. The first three months, December to March were like winter, dark and cold. I had a very rough week around the three month mark - all I could think about was what she would be doing if she were here. We also got the results of the postmortem around that time. She died because the final villi of the placenta failed to grown and she didn't get the oxygen she needed. The odds of this are 500 to 1. The post mortem said 'healthy' and 'normal' with regard to everything else. It felt like such a waste, but I was partly glad that it was something out of my control. For some reason I was terrified it was something I had done. I was also grateful we had some sort of explanation as many stillbirths are unexplained.

March to June was like the season of spring in terms of grief. It was still cold, but there was hope. It wasn't quite as dark. We took a trip to South Africa in March with friends. It was a very significant time of healing for us. We also had the opportunity to present the money from Annaliesa's memorial fund to the kids at Kinder Kerk, the charity we had chosen to support which helps the poorest township children in South Africa. It was a deeply emotional experience, but an incredible milestone for us.

I will never forget standing outside in the sunshine after presenting that cheque. I sobbed because I missed my baby girl, but I also sobbed because her life was blessing these other children who were so in need. We had raised over £2000 in donations which goes a long way in South African Rand.

After another tough week in June, the 6 month mark, I felt like I had personally come to a whole new place. I was much brighter, I was back in (some of) my old clothes, back to blogging, fundraising at the boys school and mostly feeling back to normal. But I still missed her, and thought of her every single day. We had our annual church conference around that time. The theme was 'a new beginning' and it felt like a new beginning for us as we approached summer.

June to September was brighter in many ways. I was still taking things easy and quietly. I mostly spent time playing with the boys in the summer holidays. We had much to work through with them too. But when September came so did a rough patch for me. As the kids went back to school all I could think of was that I would never see my baby girl on her first day of school. It felt so painful and so unfair. During these times I would just keep a low profile, be easy on myself and make plenty of time to pray and to cry. 

And now it's October. The Autumn. The time of the harvest. I have sown many, many tears but I am now seeing fruit of peace and joy in my life. Ten months since I brought a baby girl into the world I had to leave in the hospital. Life goes on and life does get easier, but she's always missing. The pain and grief, while it does come in stages and waves, does get more bearable.

She should be here, but she's not. She's in heaven and she wouldn't want to come back if she had the choice. And I have peace about that. I still have questions, but I just have to put those questions on the 'why' shelf and move on. There's nothing I can do or change about the past.

I miss her. I wish she was here, but she's not. I know I will see her again one day. I'm not ready to go to heaven yet, but when I do I am so excited to see her. I can't wait to give her a hug and to see what colour eyes she has. I bet she is so beautiful. I hope she likes the name we chose for her.

I'm not one for sharing very personal stuff on my blog - I'm usually writing recipes! However I wanted to share my story of what life is like now, ten months after suffering a stillbirth, in honour of baby loss awareness week. I'm surprised at how much writing this out has helped me. I hope, that if you're reading, it has helped you in some way too, particularly if you have lost a little one. Please get in touch if it has. Leave a comment or tweet me

Lots of love, 

Filipa x