At the start of the month I began my bereavement counselling. I was a nervous wreck before my first session and I didn’t know what to expect. I congratulated myself for arriving with plenty of time to spare, had a drink of water, reapplied my favourite lipstick and stepped out of the car. I could feel a sense of panic arise when the receptionist looked slightly confused when I announced my name and then couldn’t find it on the system. I was completely unaware that there were two centres, one for children and one for adults. Of course, I was at the one for children. I now only had ten minutes until my appointment and burst into tears. Without realising it, I had built up so much courage to drive to the centre and then take the brave steps of getting out of my car and walk through the entrance doors. Another lady who worked at the centre walked through the doors opposite the desk. She took me into a room, gave me a box of tissues and a glass of water. She explained the receptionist had got in touch with my counsellor and told her I would be a little late.
Once I had calmed down and the tears had stopped, the kind lady explained that she was on her way to the other centre so I could follow her. I half wished she was my counsellor.
Relieved that there was a space right outside the centre, I managed to arrive at the correct place just five minutes late. This time there was no calm drink of water or reapplying the lipstick but a mad dash out of the car and a run to the entrance. As you can imagine, I arrived pretty flustered. I met my counsellor in the waiting room and we set off to our room.
The room was calm and quiet with ambient lighting. There were two chairs with a cushion on each, a clock which I could see and a box of tissues. I had a mixture of emotions as I sat in the chair to the right of the door and had the chance to properly look at my counsellor for the first time. She was older than I imagined and I was intrigued to know her experience in counselling. I didn’t feel the necessity to ask because a, I was embarrassed that she thought I didn’t trust her and b, if I built a trusting relationship with her and she helped me, her experience was irrelevant. A stream of questions ran through my head, “Would I be able to trust her and share my darkest secrets?”, “Would she say the right things?”, “Would the counselling help me?” I didn’t have too long to dwell on these as I had paperwork to sign.
After completing everything, the hour long session was now only forty five minutes. I realised I couldn’t relax until I had been to the toilet. I hurriedly left the room, annoyed at myself for faffing around and wasting time, however the nerves and the water I had downed had made me pretty desperate.
Finally, I sat back down and put the cushion on the floor. As the counsellor and I looked at each other, I could hear nothing other than my heart racing. She said, “Over to you.” Silence. My mind raced about what to talk about. “Where the hell do I start?” I thought.
I started from the very beginning. About moving from Newcastle back to Yorkshire to start a family, getting married and beginning my new job the following day, still heavily concussed from tripping on my wedding dress and knocking myself out on the band’s speakers.
Over the next forty minutes, I managed to tell her everything, all the way to the present day. It was tougher than I thought and the tissue box was emptied. It brought up emotions and memories that were buried so deeply, it felt like my heart broke in two when they resurfaced.
It was the first time, I had allowed myself to think never mind say out loud everything that had happened. It felt good and I had triumphant sense of achievement. In the last ten minutes, we briefly summarised what had happened. The counsellor was full of empathy and thanked me for sharing everything.
In the space of forty-five minutes I had built a bridge of trust with this stranger. Despite my face being red and blotchy, my eyes red raw and being emotionally exhausted, I left my first counselling session feeling like a heavy weight had been lifted. It was also the first time in a very long time that I felt proud of myself. I had done it and made a big, bold, brave step in the right direction. I was going to get through this and out of the dark hole of grief I was struggling so hard to climb out of.
In March we had our first weekend away with Charlotte. We went to Malham to celebrate my Dad’s sixtieth birthday.
It was a fabulous weekend with my family and it was so much fun to get away and be on our first little holiday with Charlotte. She was still on oxygen at night-time but during the day we were able to enjoy long walks without carting the portable oxygen cylinder around as well.
When I was pregnant and before Esme died, I often imagined what it would be like going on holiday, the four of us. Connor and I would laugh about how much baggage we would have to take with us. Throughout the weekend I did have thoughts such as “Connor and I should be carrying a baby each” or “there should be two high chairs or travel cots” but the comforting thing was that I was actually ok with these thoughts. Charlotte had her own way of bringing double the joy.
Ever since losing Esme I have not been able to bring myself to have a family photo shoot done outdoors in the countryside with my dogs. A photograph, which when I was pregnant, I imagined I would have when the girls were born. As much as I would still love to have one, at the moment I am not ready. In Malham, my sister managed to snap a photograph of the three of us, just after our picnic in Gordale Scar. The photograph is beautiful and captures so much love, just like I imagined my family photograph would be. I love it when these little surprises happen.
By the time Mother’s Day arrived, I had a few counselling sessions under my belt. I learnt that there was no point in getting my knickers in a twist and working myself into an anxious mess about a day which was in the future. I began to learn to just go with the flow of the day. I learnt that it was ok to cry if I wanted or that it’s ok not to cry even if I feel like crying but don’t actually want to. On the days leading up to a certain event, like Mother’s Day, I endeavoured to be kind to myself. There’s no need to have any pressures or expectations about how the day or my feelings might unfold. Just go with it and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Connor’s Dad was over and my parents joined us for a barbeque and champagne. Connor spoilt me with a delicious breakfast, chocolates and a new t-shirt. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was more than happy going for a walk in the morning, going to see Esme and then sitting in the garden enjoying the sunshine. I had a perfect first Mother’s Day.
I can’t write about April and not mention Easter, when Charlotte was dressed up as the cutest pink bunny I have ever seen. The outfit was handed down from a friend’s little girl and Charlotte looked far too adorable for me not to show you.
Another friend came round for a playdate and mentioned Elle from Feathering the Empty Nest on Instagram, she thought I might have already heard of her. I spent that evening reading Elle’s story. Although I read her blogs with great sadness and a heavy heart that her and her husband too had suffered a loss, her posts also made me feel like I wasn’t alone and everything would be ok.
Whenever I am struggling and my grief becomes almost unbearable, I write in my diary. I had often contemplated sharing my thoughts and quite liked the idea of other people reading them. Inspired by Elle, I decided that day I was going to set up my own blog.
I chose the name when I was out walking the dogs with Charlotte. I started thinking about everything that had happened to me over the past year and what I could write about. It wasn’t surprising that I broke down in tears. I took a photograph of my face after crying and wearing a smile. A face which I had probably worn every day since Charlotte’s waters went back in June. I messaged it to my friends after telling them about my blog idea, along with the caption ‘This is my brave face’. My friend replied saying “that would be a great name for your blog” and that was that.
Once I had decided to start, I was filled with sheer excitement and felt ecstatic. I felt that I had found a purpose and couldn’t wait. For the first time in a long time I had found something I wanted to do for myself. But as I started making notes of everything I needed to write about, I also felt utter confusion as I couldn’t stop crying, I missed Esme more than ever, my heart ached and my arms just longed to hold her.
I went to meet a friend for a catch up and to discuss how her final plans were going for her upcoming wedding. I was fully intending to drive home. I had one white wine spritzer and it went straight to my head, but for the first time in a long time it felt good to feel a bit tipsy, and I was not afraid to let go of the self-control that had become my armour for so many months. Prior to this, I had barely had more than one drink for fear of not being in control of my emotions or grief. Over the course of the meal, I had three white wine spritzers, balled my eyes out in public and experienced that awful sickness that takes my breath away and freezes my world. I just about managed to tell her some of the things I was going to write. My friend was incredible and just listened. She didn’t say anything but just listened. I am so grateful to her for doing just that. Oh, and for also keeping me topped up with spritzers!
At my next counselling session I discussed my mixed emotions, how I felt so excited for starting my blog, yet I was confused because my heart hurt so much with grief for losing Esme. My counsellor was delighted that I felt excited and passionate about writing my story down and said “It sounds like you have opened your shutters and your numbness has begun to lift.”
I asked her to explain what she meant because there seemed to be a sense of logic around the phrase, but I was unable to get my head around it. As always, she replied, “What do you think it means?” I took a while to think and realised I had begun to acknowledge and accept what had happened. I had given myself time to think about the trauma of last summer and begin to understand that Esme had died. By writing my memories down, the numbness had started to lift. I think it was the numbness lifting that had caused confusion as I thought it had already started to lift. It felt like the biggest relief and made me feel happy to know that, this time, I was navigating my way out of the dark clouded fog of grief.
Writing about my journey into motherhood has been a therapeutic and cathartic way to channel my grief. It has enabled me to talk freely about my emotions, about Esme and about my feelings and how I survived since becoming pregnant with the girls. Writing gives me the time to think, reflect, accept and make sense of my life. When I was in the thick of it, it was all about surviving each day and praying and hoping that everything was going to be ok. When I write, I feel that I can let go, I can find inner strength and then continue getting through the day and being the best mummy I can.
At the end of April, we celebrated my friend’s wedding. It was a wonderful Spring wedding and we had a perfect day. All her planning had paid off and she looked truly stunning. It was our second wedding with Charlotte and it was great to put on our glad rags. Of course, a wedding with a baby is very different to the weddings we were used to. I luckily managed to get Charlotte to fall asleep quietly during the church service despite sweating that she was going to have a break down. However, the wedding breakfast didn’t go as smoothly. Charlotte started her tea just before the speeches began and proceeded to choke on some carrot and projectile vom just as the groom began his speech! With the help of the other guests grabbing napkins and Connor quickly whisking her out when she had finished, I’d like to think we didn’t cause too much of a scene. What a nightmare.
That wedding also brought with it one of my favourite photographs of the three of us. When I was pregnant, I imagined having a photograph of the four of us in church, celebrating Charlotte’s and Esme’s christening. Although the girls’ christening was a beautiful occasion, it was not how I would have planned it. It was the day before we took Esme off the ventilator and said goodbye to her. So I do have a very special photograph of the four of us, just not the one I imagined. I was taken by surprise when my friend sent me the photograph of the three of us sitting in church, waiting for the bride to arrive. It pretty much summed up how I thought the christening photograph would have looked. I find it comforting to know that although some of the things I look forward to happening most don’t happen the way I imagined, they do have their own ways of coming to find you eventually.
May was a very exciting month as Charlotte was fully signed off the oxygen and the tanks were collected. This also meant that we were fine to fly or get the ferry over to Northern Ireland to visit Connor’s family.
As we were going for a week, we decided to take the dogs and get the ferry over. It was the first time Connor had been home in a long time and it was so lovely seeing his family again. Charlotte was of course, spoilt rotten with cuddles.
We’re not normally that lucky with the weather in Northern Ireland but the sun certainly shone for us that week. Charlotte enjoyed many firsts, such as going on a ferry, sitting in a sandy nappy on the beach and eating ice cream. She loved every second of it.
It was also the first time I wrote ‘Esme’ in the sand. There was something magical about it and as I finished the last ‘e’, I was filled with love and pride for my little girl, wherever she was that day, although I imagine she’s never too far away from her twin.
The May sunshine also made it clear that Charlotte certainly was a summer baby. She loved her time outdoors, going for long walks and most of all playing in paddling pools.
At the end of May, I went back to work for a day, prior to starting again in June. It brought back many memories of being pregnant and the excitement of expecting twins. It was the drive there that I found the hardest. I had flashbacks of driving to and from work, listening to the radio and feeling lots of little movements in my tummy. It was difficult walking through the school doors and going into my old classroom and having the smells of the place triggering memories of feeling nauseous. However, after seeing everyone and having lots of welcome back hugs, I felt in a much more relaxed, happier place for for my return and was glad I had done it.
Spring brought many new memories, achievements and milestones. We were ready for a summer of birthdays, weddings and anniversaries.