Tomorrow the people of Ireland will vote on a proposal to change the constitution. The proposed change concerns the regulation of termination of pregnancy (abortion). The No campaign seeks no change to the current constitution in which termination is illegal in all cases apart from imminent danger to a mother’s life. The Yes campaign is looking for a change. Should the Yes side win, the constitution will allow for abortion to take place in a greater number of circumstances. This post will not be about how I might vote but about what it’s been like to witness the campaigning as a mother of a baby boy who was stillborn. The referendum is everywhere, it’s in our papers, on our radio/TV and in our streets. The campaigning has been nasty at times and difficult to witness.
I have bereaved friends who sit very strongly on the Yes & No sides of this referendum. I also have friends who are undecided. Discussion around the referendum has been so divisive that it has been banned from the social media bereavement groups that I am part of. One of the arguments for the Yes campaign relates to foetal fatal abnormalities identified in scans at 20 weeks. It looks to give parents the option of terminating such pregnancies in Ireland. I have met couples who travelled to England for a termination following such a diagnosis and also know couples who continued with their pregnancies. They each did what they believed to be right for their families. While the campaigning is divisive, both sets of couples share the same grief for their babies who couldn’t stay.
There are posters all over lampposts. Some of these show scan pictures of babies in the womb. These take me right back to bad news day and the scan that confirmed Conor’s death. My walk to town is now filled with images that are traumatic. There are parts of Conor’s story I never want to forget but equally there are parts that I don’t want to revisit.
While I can totally appreciate the position that some women find themselves in with a crisis pregnancy, the idea of an “unwanted pregnancy” triggers so much. My baby was so very wanted but he died anyway. I also know couples who have their lives on hold as they try to conceive a precious baby.
I can’t wait for this referendum to be over. I am counting the hours before the posters come down and the airwaves no longer focus on babies. I just hope that whatever the outcome the bitterness that has been associated with the campaigns will morph into kindness. Behind all of this are stories of women & babies who deserve to be treated kindly. I urge any of you, whatever your beliefs to reach out to those who like me may have found it difficult to witness this referendum.
By the end of this month we should be living in a new house. We’re moving to what we expect will be our forever home and I can’t wait.
I’m excited about the move but I also wonder how I’ll feel as I close this door for the last time. This house has been the setting for so much of my life story to date. It’s been home for 14 eventful years. It’s the house where Conor lived and kicked but also the house where he died. It’s the house we planned to sell when pregnant with Conor but only now have the energy and decision making abilities to do so. It’s a house that has witnessed so much raw emotion I’m surprised I never caused a flood with all the tears. It’s a house I felt safe in even when we returned from the maternity hospital completely empty handed. It’s the house I hibernated in when the world outside was too scary. It’s also the house my dad visited on his many DIY mini breaks. It’s where he taught me how to paint walls and fill holes (a technique very similar to icing a cake!)
I am ready and eager to move. If you stand in a particular spot in the new house there’s a little glimpse of the sea that’s at the end of our road. I’m also ready to put myself out there to meet new people. I am hoping to find play mates for Conor’s little brother. On the whole I find interaction with strangers easier than with people I sort of know. I have no expectations of their expectations of me. The new neighbours will only know the new me so there can be no comparisons with how I used to be. I do wonder however how and when I’ll tell any new people that I am a mother to two special boys and not just the one they can see and hear. If I delay telling them will I give the impression that Conor is a taboo subject. Yet if I tell them straight away do I risk scaring people off with my dead baby story. I have got so used to telling it that I forget how it shocks others. I hope I can get the balance right and that my story is heard with kindness.
I do not feel that moving from this house means I am moving on from Conor. There’s a beach just 5 minutes walk away waiting to have his name written in the sand. There’s a new oven waiting to bake cakes for Conor. There’s also a railway that passes by our new house and Conor’s graveyard. I’ll think of him (and Dad who loved that train journey) every time I hear the trains. In the meantime we had road repairs outside our current house. I crept out under the cover of darkness and left a permanent reminder of the two amazing boys who lived here; our little star and his rainbow brother.
I recently attended a charity ball run by and for the A Little Lifetime Foundation (ALLF). I shared a table with a loss Mum friend I met through the ALLF support groups. It was the first big social event in my new life. I went all out and had my hair and make up professionally done. I wore a fancy dress and heels. I hobbled my way into the function room surrounded by the glitz and glamour of my fellow 400+ ball attendees. I even won a little spot prize but unfortunately fell short of wining the top raffle prize of a trip to Barbados. It was a wonderful night and I felt honoured that so many came to support the charity that supports us.
I made a new discovery that night at the ball – I’m missing my groove. I was never a great dancer but would always have spent time on the dance floor at weddings and parties; my only goal being to move in time with the music! I am not sure where my groove has gone. What I do know is when the band started playing I didn’t feel or connect with the music, instead, I could feel a physical tension in my body rise up from my by then sore feet. Since Conor died I find I can no longer “let myself go”. Maybe the band Deee-Lite were right when they sang “Groove is in the heart”. If the heart is broken what chance does groove get? It’s not just dancing but I rarely ever laugh out loud even when my brain tells me that something is really hilarious. Will this every come back? There was a time I could never have imagined getting all dressed up and enjoying a large social event, so I expect it will. Learning to live with grief is a longer term challenge than I could have ever imagined. I am constantly finding ways it has changed me and some of these have taken me by surprise. Maybe my groove is simply taking a break to allow the heart to do some healing.
Here are some mince pie twists that were made for a group of special Mums. I now help to run an ALLF group for Mothers parenting a new baby following a loss. I lead a singing and music session with the rainbow babies and this is followed by a cuppa, a chat and of course cake. It’s a wonderful way for me to feel I am giving both my boys my time. The babies have fun and they have no problems feeling and connecting with the music.
This is likely to be my last post before Christmas. I would like to take this opportunity to wish the readers of Cakes for Conor a peaceful Christmas surrounded by love. Thank you for all the encouragement over 2017.
The recipe for the mince pie twists is from http://www.jusrol.co.uk
To my Darling Conor,
Happy birthday to you. Can you believe it – 3 years!! That’s a whole extra finger to hold up Conor. ‘Three’ is a much harder word to say than ‘two’ but I’ll help you.
This year we’re missing not just a son but also a big brother and I have found your 3rd birthday even harder than the first two. We had a special day to celebrate your little life. We got you a blue star balloon, new plants and Mummy lovingly gave 3 coats of varnish (one for each year) to the Big Brother plaque that your fairy godmother had made for you. We wrote your name on the beach we took you to on the day of your funeral and ate birthday cake (there’s always cake) with your grandparents & Auntie. Lots of people sent us messages and others wrote your name in the sand too. It lifts my spirits to have you remembered in this way.
We are finding ways to include you in our little family. Your little brother looks at your pictures, hears your name, visits your grave and pulls at my star necklace (my lovely niece says that’s how he can touch and play with you). I continue to be your over protective Mummy Conor. I include you in conversations so everyone knows I’m a Mummy to two special boys.
What a year we have had together though Conor. Come here til I tell you all about it…
Can you believe it; we made it into a national paper? Here’s our Irish Independent article….
You won’t know this but when I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer as I used to love writing stories. I could never have imagined that one day I’d be in the paper for writing our own story.
What an adventure we have had travelling the world Conor. Together we have touched down in 84 countries! I can’t believe that Cakes for Conor has had been read in so many places (in blue on the map). You are world famous my darling boy. When you were growing inside me I always hoped you’d have a curiosity about the world and a lust for travelling.
We had the first “Baked with Love Day”. People baked cakes and shared them with family and friends to remember people who have died. We remembered you and Grandad John with our friends. We’re going to have another day later this year. Mummy wants your legacy to be one of remembrance. It’s easier to move forward by remembering.
Your little brother and I have set up a Rainbow Baby & Parent Group. I do the bad singing and he does the giggling. We fly past your star in the “Zoom Zoom Zoom, we’re going to the moon” song. We get the chance to eat cake (!) and talk about all our children at it. It’s the first thing I have done where I feel like I am giving time to both my special boys.
This is a long letter but there has been so much to tell you. I am so very proud of the impact you have had on not just our lives but on the lives of others Conor. Let’s see what the next year will bring. I miss you so very much and I love you to your star and back (the long way round). Happy birthday with love from your Mummy xx⭐️x
We are days away from the anniversaries of both my Dear Dad & Conor. Without checking today’s date I can feel my mood changing. One minute I’m crying, next I am cranky and then I am ok again. This cycle repeats itself throughout the day and has left me exhausted. It is like my wellbeing is in synch with the change from sunny to showery weather conditions. These are days I want to simply get through yet they are lives I also want to celebrate.
Time is a strange concept. It’s 3 years since Conor lived and died. Sometimes those three years can feel like just 3 days ago while simultaneously they can feel like a lifetime. I am getting closer to accepting his death without constantly questioning “why?” There remains a sadness and a Conor shaped hole in our lives. There should be a 3 year old boy getting excited about his birthday. There should be a 3 year old boy requesting a cake decorated with his favourite character. My memories of Conor are becoming more hazy over time. I am also struggling to picture what he might look or be like as a 3 year old. Like other bereaved parents, I grieve the future that we’re not getting to have with him. In the absence of more tangible memories, I cling onto Conor’s name. Holidays are spent writing Conor on new beaches. His name spoken or written by others tells me that while specific memories may be fading, Conor is a little boy whose life mattered.
This year we will mark both days. “Dad Day” is one of remembrance. We’ll spend the day doing things Dad liked to do when he came to visit. We’ll attempt to complete the Irish Times crossword over a pint in one of Dublin’s old pubs. We’ll raise a glass to my Dear Dad and our boys’ Grandad John. I’m never quite sure whether to refer to Conor’s day as his birthday or anniversary. The two events are wrapped up in one day. In the spirit of a birthday I’ll make a cake for Conor (watch this space for a photo). We’ll visit and tidy his grave before writing his name on the beach.
In my head I have been thinking of all I would like to say to both my Dear Dad & Conor but my words don’t yet do it justice. I miss them terribly and I love them to Conor’s star and back. I hope they would be proud of their daughter and mother for their presence and absence in my life has shaped me into the person I am today.
Currently the news seems to be full of stories of people being murdered while going about their everyday activities. Tourists and workers have been knocked down by vans. People having a Saturday night meal are being stabbed. Young people going to concerts are victims of homemade bombs. Attacks come with no warning and lives are changed forever.
I can no longer watch the news as simply a spectator. I now “feel” the news. I am taken back to my “Bad News Day” and one by one feelings of shock, fear, anger, loneliness, sadness wash over me. I cry for those left behind. I picture families getting the calls no one ever anticipates receiving. I can’t possibly know what it must feel like to lose someone to such a violent death. However, I know the pain of a sudden death and the loss of a future. I know that while time helps, that pain will never go away.
People are shocked by such events. They become topics of conversation in homes and staff rooms. People are quick to say that we cannot let terrorists win. They announce that we have to choose love and not fear. It must be “Business As Usual”. I say it’s very easy to speak this rhetoric when you haven’t been directly affected by the loss. Of course the general public need reassurance but sometimes I wonder if it comes at the expense of the bereaved.
By now I have got to know a number of bereaved people. One thing all of us have had in common (regardless of the circumstances of our loss) is a sense of isolation that comes with knowing our lives have come to a standstill while life goes on all around us. W. H. Auden’s Poem “Stop the clocks…” words this perfectly.
I think regularly of those left behind from such public deaths. I wonder how they feel as the world around them rushes to get back to business as usual. I hope they are not alone as their own lives fall apart. I hope their loved ones are remembered for their lives and not just their deaths. I hope they know that right now it’s ok to feel shock, fear, anger, loneliness, sadness, anger and to not always choose love.