Leaving my girl behind
“I didn’t want to leave her behind.”
All day yesterday, I had been thinking deep thoughts about what I was doing with my life, other than ‘being mum’. The main thought being, “Why did I feel this need, urge and dedication to be connected to the neonatal unit?”
It has now been three and half years since Esme died. Within those years, I have become a veteran for the unit and attended meetings about Family Integrated Care, spoken at neonatal training sessions and Bliss conferences, set up Campbellinas, a non-profit organisation which supports neonatal units in the Yorkshire region, became a volunteer for Leeds Teaching Hospitals neonatal units and set up a Community Interest Company, Be More Chazzy, which offers support to families who have been on the neonatal unit.
I have felt such pride and passion for being a part of all of them, but alongside the courage and achievements, they have also brought great pain, heartache and longing for things to have been different. I have often been confused by this conflict of emotions and recently spent many snatched moments questioning why I felt so strongly about being involved with the neonatal unit.
Yesterday evening, my yoga class was all about practicing Dharana, fixing the mind to one specific point. Throughout the class, my mind kept drifting back to thinking about this hold the neonatal unit had on me. Towards the end of the class, we began a breathing meditation and the answer to this question came to me, “I didn’t want to leave her behind.” An answer I had searched for since leaving the neonatal unit.
I opened my eyes to feel the tears of raw pain of realisation rolling down my cheeks. They became heavier and landed in droplets of sorrow on my leggings. I grabbed my water bottle and escaped out of the room. I couldn’t help repeating the sentence, “I didn’t want to leave her behind,” over and over in my head. I could feel myself starting to choke back the tears, and a need from deep within me to wail. To wail the heartache of losing a baby. The sound, like a wild animal in pain, that no mother should ever have to hear or cry.
The tears of heartache poured because I realised I’ve never been ready to live my life without feeling physically attached to Esme in some way. The neonatal unit and her gravestone were all I felt I had. Seven weeks was what I had to hold onto of Esme’s life out of utero. I only ever knew how to physically mother her in the neonatal unit and I felt such desperation, devotion and longing to continue this.
Since losing her, I’ve now realised I’ve felt trapped and terrified with torturing thoughts of her life been gone and lost forever. Frightened and unable to release the hold that if I wasn’t involved with the neonatal unit then her life would be forgotten and I was no longer able to mother her or worse, more harrowing thoughts, that she existed.
It has haunted me and even now if I think about it, I feel physically sick that I left my baby’s body behind. Fortunately, there is some degree of comfort knowing that where I left her, was the same room that I held her and witnessed her take her last breath. It was just her beautiful shell lying there in the crib, wrapped in her blanket with her favourite toys. I didn’t abandon her.
Walking away from Esme on the night she died was the hardest, most heart wrenching thing I’ve ever had to do. Maybe that’s why it’s taken the longest to come to terms with it. By doing so much work for the neonatal unit, in such a short space of time, has filled me with much reward and gratitude towards everything the unit did for my family. In many ways this is what has got me through my first years of losing a baby. I felt the relationship I had with the unit was my way of mothering Esme and that time was for me and her to hang out. Although this has brought me great comfort, I can no longer ignore the internal pain and how I honestly feel. It’s time to acknowledge and honour my feelings.
As I stood outside my yoga class in the welcoming gusts of storm Ciara, I noticed that there was something different about my tears, my body, my heart and my head. They were no longer filled with only grief and pain. From saying the sentence out loud, “I didn’t want to leave her behind,” I felt a heavy weight had lifted off my shoulders. That was it! That was what was holding me to the neonatal unit, the fear, feeling and acceptance of leaving her behind. I experienced a sense of uplift, relief and above all, freedom.
I no longer need to be attached to the neonatal unit to feel a connection with her. The freedom of feeling ready and being able to move forwards without the connection and memories of the neonatal unit being the only way to mother Esme has felt invigorating, powerful and a relief. Now that Charlotte wants to know all about her twin sister, Esme’s little life and legacy has never been so talked about. It’s beautiful.
I have reached a point in my grief and in my life where I want to and I’m ready to move forwards and leave the trauma of the neonatal unit behind. Yes, I am aware that the pain of the neonatal unit and the memories I have there and of Esme will never fade but I am now conscious that they are no longer at the forefront of my mind but have gently moved to one side. To a place where I can dip into them when I’m ready.
It’s now time to focus on my family, my mental health and through my psychotherapy, recovering from the trauma and loss I have endured.
It’s a very strange feeling making this big step as my time on the neonatal unit turned my life upside down and changed it forever. I have met so many incredible, inspirational human beings, both neonatal team and parents. I am honoured to have played a part in their lives when they have felt most vulnerable. I’m now looking forward to continuing my relationship with the neonatal unit through Charlotte and together, exploring and learning about hers and her sister’s start to life.
I can’t help but feel excited that without experiencing the neonatal unit and without losing a baby, I would never feel so ok about being so strong yet so broken at the same time. Being compassionate to myself and true to my feelings is now my priority. For the first time in my life, at thirty two years of age, I’m learning to be kind to myself. It’s a good feeling.
As for mothering Esme, this might include a few trips to the garden centre and building her, her own little garden. Let’s just hope her mother keeps the plants alive!!!