Mothering Sunday may have been and gone, but it got me thinking about mothers, fathers and parenting in general. I still class myself as a mother and Jamie as a father, but just how exactly would I describe our parenting style? I mean how do you parent a child who isn’t here?
When you think of parenting a baby, you imagine a world of cuddles, cute sleepsuits, feeding, bath times, nappy changes and most likely, sleepless nights. When you think of basic parenting on for young children it’s all about getting them to eat their greens, learning through play and reading bedtime stories. For many families, my family included, this isn’t (yet) the parenting world I’m a part of.
It hadn’t fully dawned on me that our parenthood was still a valid parenthood until I received a well written card from a friend. Her words were that whilst this mightn’t have been the motherhood I was hoping for, it was the bravest type of motherhood there is. Well that sentiment made me bawl my eyes out for obvious reasons and it also kept rattling around in my head all day, and it did something to me. The next day instead of lying in bed and thinking I had another long day to get through, I got up, got showered and dressed and just got on with my day. That sentiment had given me motivation, the motivation being that I was still a mother and that title was still mine to wear. Now don’t get me wrong, when I say I got on with the day I didn’t move mountains at all, but I did clean the house and write a list of things that I wanted to do to whilst on my maternity leave. My family had been telling me this all along, but for some reason I didn’t quite believe them, it was like I thought they were just saying it to protect me and make me feel better. Looking back I’m not really sure why I thought that as my family are the type to share brutal truths!
On reflection this list was my version of how I planned to parent Beatrice. Some of the items on the list were small, like making personalised Christmas decorations and raising money for charity, displaying a photo of her next to my bed and finishing off the nursery. Of course I didn’t finish the nursery in the sense of going out and buying a cot after having had a stillbirth (I’m not completely bonkers), but what I did do was to add the finishing touches to complete the room. Now when we use that room it doesn’t seem quite so vacuous, instead it’s a peaceful place to just sit, read, write a blog post and feel close to her.
One of the items on my parenting to-do list was to plan her funeral service. Planning the funeral was a really big deal to me, as this was likely to be the only time I’d ever really plan anything for Beatrice whilst she was there. It didn’t matter to me that she wouldn’t be able to remember or even see any of my efforts, only that I got it all just so. From the special roses we had for her casket, to the flower seeds and the colour of the tea lights we gave out, even to the outfit I chose to wear on the day, everything was carefully selected. I’ve mentioned before that lighting a candle is our way of showing that we’re thinking of her and that we miss her (yes we do go through a lot of candles in this household), because we don’t get to scoop her up and give her a hug and a kiss like other parents can.
Some of the items on my list were much bigger such as to finish landscaping the garden. This item is in fact so large that it’s still ongoing, fingers crossed we’ll be near completion this weekend! I fully appreciate that landscaping a garden may seem like a very abstract way of parenting to the majority of people, but ultimately it was when we found out I was pregnant that we made a real effort to improve the garden. One of the things people do when they’re expecting a baby is to imagine all the things they’re going to do with the baby once they’re born. For Jamie and I, me especially as I was planning out my maternity leave in my head, one of those imaginary scenarios was all of us playing in the garden in the summer. And not the weed covered, rubble piled high garden we had either. A beautiful, flower filled garden that had a lush green lawn for the baby to crawl around with the pooches and an outdoor living area for our family and friends to enjoy with us in the summer (clearly this was my scenario as Jamie’s was and probably still is mainly focused around a man cave). For this reason landscaping the garden is still a huge focus for us. I still want us to be able to enjoy our garden, just like we intended to with Beatrice. I want to lay out in the sunshine and be proud of our home and our family, just as we originally planned. It’s about making her the reason we do, not the reason we don’t.
Aside from the never ending task of the garden, writing this blog is a huge part of my parenting. I actually find it really hard to articulate what I’m thinking and feeling verbally when it comes to Beatrice, not necessarily because I’m scared or anxious to talk about her, but because the words are all jumbled in my head. Writing this blog not only helps me to articulate myself and help process my grief (or so my counsellor says), but it also allows me to share Beatrice’s story with the world. Since pressing that publish button I’ve lost count of the number of people who have contacted me to share their story of baby loss. Most of these people are mothers themselves, but there are also fathers and siblings, some who have lost recently, some who have lost years ago. It gives me immeasurable pride (as well as sadness) when I receive these messages, knowing that I’ve been able to provide comfort and a safe space to share their story, simply by sharing part of Beatrice’s. This was one of my main “goals” when starting this blog, to provide not only support, but also hope for families who have lost a child/ren.
So you may have noticed a pattern emerging from the parenting examples I’ve given above. Essentially what it boils down to when parenting a child who is no longer here, is it’s about keeping their memory alive and still feeling love and pride, even joy in amongst the sadness and grief when you think of them. This can feel really hard at times, but let’s face it – parenting is hard!
Saying her name, telling her story, continuing with our family plans for the home and writing this blog, these are all the ways that help me to parent Beatrice and include her in my everyday life.