June was a big month for spending time away from Charlotte.
As much as I dreaded leaving her and working full time for the next seven weeks, returning to work wasn’t as bad as I thought. The hardest part of the day was saying goodbye to Charlotte and I would have to play the radio very loud for the first five minutes of the journey. When I was at work I enjoyed seeing all my colleagues and had time to be ‘me’ again; eat my lunch slowly; drink hot cups of tea and go to the toilet in peace.
There were moments when I was at work that I really struggled with my grief and missed Esme. When this happened at home, I would have my own ways of coping, but at work I was out of my comfort zone. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my work colleagues for their compassion and the support they gave me last summer. I couldn’t have got through it without them.
In June, I also had my first weekend away, celebrating my sister’s hen party. Being chief bridesmaid (my first time being a bridesmaid, a life-long dream, so I’d rather go by “chief bridesmaid” than “maid of honour”). I’d had it planned since November, so I was very excited to be staying in luxury converted barns in Northumberland. It was a brilliant weekend and I was so busy that I didn’t have much thinking time to really miss Charlotte. Unfortunately, it was Father’s Day weekend so I was a little in Connor’s bad books. I had planned something, though, for when I returned and I managed to reclaim some brownie points by hiding presents underneath our bed for him to open on the Sunday morning. Cuddling Charlotte when I returned home was one of the best cuddles ever. I had missed her.
On the 25th June it was Connor’s birthday. In comparison to the previous year, when Charlotte’s waters had gone two days earlier, we had a wonderful day celebrating and eating cake.
July was one of my favourite, busiest months of the year.
It was a big month for Charlotte and me. I turned thirty on the 6th and on the 10th Charlotte became the grand age of one. We’d planned a joint birthday party in the village hall, and, in memory of Esme and to raise money for Campbellinas, we had a Campbellinas Bake Off.
The morning of the party, I took the dogs for a walk and went to see Esme and give her a birthday balloon. It felt good to go and be with her on her birthday, just the two of us. I enjoyed having my time with Esme and after seeing her, felt ready for Charlotte and my day of celebrations.
The day was a scorcher and an absolute success. Connor and a friend did a fantastic barbeque, we had a bouncy castle, plenty of prosecco, some amazing cake entries and all of our family and friends came. The day was rounded off with a competitive game of rounders. We had the best time.
On the 15th July it was my sister’s wedding. I think I was more emotional that morning than for my own wedding. I felt incredibly lucky that my Dad was able to walk my sister down the aisle, but I felt nervous that Esme would be brought up in the speeches and possibly I wouldn’t be able to hold it together. I also felt upset that Esme wasn’t here to be a flower girl with Charlotte, just like we had planned when I was pregnant. I guess these are all pretty big reasons to feel emotional. I phoned and messaged my friends, had a good cry before I had my hair and makeup done and felt more emotionally stable, excited and ready for the day.
The wedding was so perfect and such an incredible day. My sister made the most beautiful bride and I had an absolute blast being bridesmaid for the first time, a role I thought I would never achieve. I was relieved that, after all, Esme wasn’t mentioned during the speeches and I managed to hold it together, crying only happy tears, although I forgot my tissues and Connor didn’t have any to hand so I had to resort to the tablecloth. I did have a cry with my bestie in the toilets before the dancing properly started. I felt much better for it and decided it was time to leave the wine and to get on the gin!
July was wonderfully rounded off with one of my best friend’s weddings. It was superb, the bride looked radiant and we all had a wonderful time celebrating.
On the 10th August we flew to Northern Ireland for the weekend to celebrate my sister in law’s thirtieth. This was Charlotte’s first time on an aeroplane. I was so excited to fly with her. It was a big day as it felt we had waited a long time for her to come off the oxygen before we could fly. I had a great time teaching her the ropes of duty free shopping and she was an absolute angel on the flight, sleeping the whole way. I’m not even sure she realised when we took off or landed. It was yet another fabulous weekend seeing Connor’s family.
It was nearly a year since Esme died and I wanted to plan something to celebrate the day. I decided on a picnic. I thought with a picnic, it doesn’t matter where you are or what the weather is like. I looked forward to ‘Esme’s Picnic’ becoming our first family tradition and felt like a weight had been lifted once I had decided what to do to celebrate my little girl’s life. I had something to focus on. Charlotte and I went to Waltons Mill Shop to choose some fabric to make bunting. I had a great time selecting it and rather than just making bunting, I got a little carried away and made napkins and placemats too.
In the days leading up to the 30th August, I was apprehensive and everything that had happened the previous year felt that little bit more painful and closer to home. I missed Esme a lot and my heart and arms longed to hold her. As I had learnt from my counselling, I rolled with it, taking one day at a time.
As I imagined, Esme had planned a very sunny day to celebrate her anniversary. We went into Wetherby in the morning to buy food for the picnic and stopped off at our favourite cafe.
In my head I thought I knew exactly where I wanted to go; it was a sunny, grassy patch by the river. However, it was well over a year since I had been to this spot, so when we finally arrived I don’t think Connor was too impressed that everywhere was overgrown and there was no idyllic picnic location in sight. As we trekked back up the long hill we had just walked down, I had to keep stifling my giggles. By this time, Connor was hungry, sweating, and his arms and back ached from carrying all the picnic gear. Once we arrived back at the top of the hill, we were in fact in one of my favourite places in the world. I don’t know why I didn’t think this would be the best location in the first place. We gladly set up camp and enjoyed a very delicious picnic.
I’m excited that, in years to come, hopefully Charlotte can have fun planning her sister’s picnic, such as where it will be, what we will eat and who she wants to invite. Although I have many heartbreaking memories of that day and the days leading up to it, I didn’t want it to be a sad anniversary. I don’t think Esme would have wanted that either.
In the first two weeks of September we went to the South of France with my family. It was the best first holiday with my daughter that I could ever have hoped for.
There was one day when I felt I took a huge step forward towards listening to myself and being kind to myself.
I had woken up and while scrolling on Instagram I saw a beautiful picture of a mother cuddling her twins. From that moment a black cloud hovered over my head. I became irritable and in a bad mood. Everything seemed that bit harder and without knowing it I had gone into my survival mode in which I just get on with being a mother and chat to everyone like I am fine, like I would normally. I didn’t want them to know that I was suffering, I just wanted to get through the day.
When my Dad excitedly suggested going out for lunch, it threw me off course and my heart sunk. I didn’t know why. On any other occasion, any other day, going out for lunch would seem like an excellent idea. But as I got ready, I could feel myself falling deeper down a black hole. I didn’t want to get ready, or leave the villa, or sit in public. I just wanted to get on with my day as I had mentally planned it.
I put on my dress and some makeup and just stood, vacantly staring out of the window, aware of the distant noise of everyone else getting ready and gathering at the front door. I could feel tears prickling the back my eyes, urging me to open my heart and cry. But I fought against my mind and tears, trying to persuade myself I was fine, it was just going out for lunch. Despite holding my breath and begging my tears not to spill, they began to roll down my cheeks. I gave in and acknowledged I couldn’t go out for lunch. But my next hurdle was working out how to tell everyone. I didn’t want anyone to see my tear stained face and hear my choked voice. I could barely breathe let alone talk.
Everyone was gathered on the stairs, ready to leave (my bedroom was next to the front door). I walked out and said “I don’t think I’m going to come, not today. I’m just having a hard day” and that was it, my family were completely ok with the decision. No questions were asked, it was just accepted. After they left I had a good cry. It was a strange feeling knowing that I couldn’t go out for lunch but also a relief to figure out that on days when I’m struggling, the best thing to do is listen to what I really want to do and take things easy. I started to relax and feel happy, and also pleased that I had not forced myself to go out and put myself in an uncomfortable position. I felt thankful and proud, too, that I had had the courage to say, “I’m not coming today”. I allowed myself time to write, to grieve and for my broken heart to mend.
When we returned from France, I was ridiculously excited that our Shetland pony, Ben, was coming. We had found some stables for him in the village and I couldn’t wait. On the 24th September, I got my own pony. A day which had always been a childhood dream.
I successfully delivered my speech to over one hundred health professionals about my experience of Family Integrated Care at a Bliss Charity conference day. I practised many hours in front of various groups of family and friends, including Charlotte and her teddies. I shared my story through tears, smiles and the most wobbliest legs I have ever experienced. But I did it and it was one of my proudest and bravest moments yet.
To round off my year of firsts, on the 28th September I had my last counselling session. It was a very strange feeling after spending the last seven months baring my soul to this lady to just say “Thank you, bye bye,” walk through the doors and that was it. I felt sad as I had made a good friend, built up a lot of trust and looked forward to our sessions, but it was also very uplifting to know I had done it, and I had done it for myself and my family. I was in a much stronger place than I had been seven months earlier and I felt like a different person. I certainly had a spring in my step and my chin held high that day.
No need for a brave face.