Twinkle Twinkle Little Star*

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In the days and weeks that followed Conor’s death we received so many lovely cards and messages of support. These got me through the hardest days. The sound of the post arriving got me out of bed and functioning. There were masses said for our little family across the world. There were candles lit and flowers sent. The different gestures will always be remembered with gratitude. All the cards are safely stored in Conor’s memory box. One gift that stands out came in the form of an email. Friends of Conor’s Daddy named a star after our little boy. This was such an inspired gift. To me it represented life and light. Mass cards and flowers had become symbols of death. We took this star to our hearts. It was the perfect gift for our little boy whose Mummy used to sing “Twinkle Twinkle” to her ever expanding bump. Usually when someone dies we have something that reminds us of our loved one. I think of my two very different grandfathers when I see flat caps (farmer Grandad) & baseball caps (London East End Grandad). There was a young Irish woman whose funeral made the news recently after a tragic accident. She was buried with fake tan and a designer handbag. I’m sure her friends will think of her as they get ready for nights out. These symbols prompt memories and I smile now when I see caps. When a baby dies what symbols do we have? My belief systems have been challenged beyond all recognition and so I do not think of Conor as an angel. We do not know what toy he would have played with or which superhero he would have liked best. We have adopted a star as Conor’s symbol.  Like a star Conor has an ever lasting presence in our lives. Like a star we cannot hold him or touch him but he continues to shine a light on us.

I am the proud owner of various star shaped items inc a bespoke necklace bought for me by Conor’s Daddy and an ink stamp for remembering Conor in cards. There is a star on his headstone along with a lyric from The Smiths “There is a light that never goes out”. I hope that others will remember our Conor when they see stars. I hope that over time I will start to smile when the clouds part.

My gorgeous 5yr old niece came home from a party recently. She told her Mummy that all the star biscuits were gone and she didn’t get to have one. When asked why she liked star biscuits she replied “they make me think of Baby Conor”.  Biscuit cutters are part of my star collection. You’ll see they’ve been used lots in my quest to find the perfect easy crunchy biscuit recipe. . .imageimage image         image

I am still searching . . .

* Top tip:

Foxes Glacier Fruits worked best in the centre of the Stained Glass Biscuits. I used a BBC recipe http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/stainedglasswindowbi_87505. They were tasty but more of a Christmas biscuit.

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The Humble Apple Tart

image This is my Mother in Law’s apple tart. It’s Conor’s Daddy’s absolute favourite. No other apple tart comes close, such is his loyalty to his mother’s.  For this reason I would never attempt to make it. This tart has been made by generations of Irish mothers. I have memories of it from visiting elderly relatives during my childhood summers in Ireland. It is always baked on a dinner plate. No one seems to follow a recipe. The pastry is prepared by look and touch. The tart is ready when it looks cooked. It all sounds so simple. It’s miles away from my generation’s approach to baking with ingredients carefully weighed out on digital scales. Tarts have changed and we now have a year round supply of alternative fruits and additional ingredients at our disposal.

The approach to baby loss has changed over the years too. My mother’s friend lost her first baby over 40 years ago. She knows she had a little girl but did not get to see or even name her. She has only recently found out where she was buried.  Since Conor died I have heard of other babies lost within our families. My mother’s Aunt & Uncle lost a baby through a full term stillbirth. My mother does not know if they even knew if it was a boy or a girl. After giving birth the mother was told to say a “decade of the rosary” and forget about her baby.  Conor’s Daddy learnt of an uncle Seamus who died of a cot death aged 3 months (with 11 surviving siblings inc his favourite Apple Tart baker). We also learnt that Conor’s Irish Grandad had a sister (1 girl among 11 brothers!) who was stillborn. He cannot recall her name.

We knew that Conor had died just prior to his birth. On “bad news day” we learned that I would be induced and would give birth naturally. The term “Labour Pains” is well known but the physical pain did not come close to the mental torture of knowing that we could not bring our baby back to life.  Before Conor was born we were given information about creating precious memories with our baby.  We were given a memory box supplied by an Irish charity. This is now one of our most treasured possessions.  Initially the thought of taking photographs was frightening but I am so glad we did. At 10.31am on 10th August 2014 we got to see our little boy for the first time. He was 7lb 9 1/2 oz of perfection. It was both the proudest and saddest moment of my whole life.  We got to hold him, name him, wash and dress him.  We spent over 24 hours with Conor in the room with us in hospital. He was visited by grandparents, Aunts & Uncles. We met some of the kindest hospital staff inc midwives, doctors, a chaplain, bereavement and household staff. People spoke to us about our baby, they told us how handsome he was (like his Daddy) and were not afraid of our grief. There are no rules for a baby’s funeral and we were given choices. We opted for a small service in the hospital chapel followed by a burial at a beautiful graveyard north of Dublin.

I would like to thank the generations of Apple Tart making mothers (and Apple Tart eating fathers) who have worked to change how hospitals, the church and society handle baby loss.  Without them our baby boy would have no name, we would not have such treasured memories and would not have been able to bury Conor in a place of our choosing. Conor existed and kicked for 41 weeks.  Its by telling our story that I hope to heal my broken heart. 1/200 babies dies before/during/shortly after birth. 1/200 families leave hospital by the back door with coffins instead of car seats. There is no word for a grieving parent (like “orphan” or “widow”). I believe its our generation who can continue the work through the use of social media to give a voice to our babies and their bereaved parents.  My hope is that all babies lost are remembered. image

What’s in a Name?

Scone (sounds like “gone”) or Scone (sounds like “loan”)?  I’m a scone (“gone”) girl. Conor’s Daddy is a scone (“loan”) guy.  Its the same word with two different pronunciations. He likes nothing more than a sweet fruit scone and I like a savoury scone.  I was a bit selfish today and made simple cheese scones. They remind me of my lovely sister and take me back to the innocence of school Home Ec classes. Here’s the batch ….

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What’s in a name? An awful lot when you’re a Speech & Language Therapist from London with a mild ” Jonathan Ross” speech impediment living in Dublin with an Irish husband. Like any parents-to be, we spent much of the pregnancy discussing baby names.  Separately we listed our favourites and looked for names we had in common.  Straight away Conor’s Daddy’s No. 1 boy’s name was eliminated for fear I’d be saying “warwy” in place of Rory. There could be no R sounds at the start of names and so his No.2 name Ronan was also dismissed. I tested out my favourite girl’s name on my in-laws to discover Martha pronounced as Martyr giving it a completely different meaning. There were Irish names I knew my family would not be able to get their tongues around. The professional in me ruled out names with difficult combinations of sounds for fear our child would take forever to learn to say his/her name. I wanted a name to be familiar to teachers, interviewers and potential life partners.  Eventually we settled on our two top choices. It is heartbreaking to think that I’ll never hear Conor say his name or utter his first words. He’ll never write his name in a school book or CV. In the absence of hearing Conor say his name, hearing other people speak his name is one of the best gifts anyone can give us. This time, I don’t even mind how you pronounce it.

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1666638/classic-cheese-scones

*Top tip;

These scones are delicious with a bit of spice. I added a pinch of curry powder.

Salt

Salt is making a comeback. It got some bad press in the past but sugar is our new enemy. Salt has entered into a winning partnership with caramel but I wish it would leave chocolate alone. One of the most ambitious bakes in my new life is the Tea Cake.  While discussing the very tasty Tunnocks Tea Cakes with my lovely sister and brother in law I was set the challenge of recreating this treat. I had seen them being made on the BBC Great British Bake off.  While watching I wondered who in their right mind would attempt this at home. Its a few hours work for a very small yield (6 cakes). Yet, on a wet Saturday afternoon that’s exactly what Conor’s Daddy and I did. Here’s the proof:

image image The bake has three distinct elements; chocolate, biscuit and marshmallow. I had low expectations but I think we did a pretty good job.  Here’s the recipe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/chocolate_marshmallow_60410 This recipe adds 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the marshmallow. I think this is 1/2 teaspoon too much and takes away from the sweet goo. The salt works well in the biscuit though.

Since Conor died I am left with a broken heart. Some days it feels like a big gaping wound. During interactions with others it can feel like I’ve had salt rubbed into this wound. Words hurt. This was particularly apparent at Christmas with all the “Happy Christmas” messages along with “I expect you don’t want to know about Christmas “.  Yes, this was factually correct and no one intended harm but I wanted my life to be so different and it hurt to be reminded of this. It’s now hard to hear all the lovely summer plans. My summer will be punctuated with surviving Conor’s first anniversary, an anxious return to work and trips home to visit a very sick parent. I wanted these summer days to be so different. I anticipated days on the beach dipping Conor’s toes into the salty sea. Lack of words hurt too. Its every mother’s job to protect her child. Its my job to protect Conor’s memory. I ask that you speak Conor’s name. Tell your children about him and remember him as our son. The words “thinking of you and baby Conor” work for any occasion. Don’t be afraid to contact me out of the blue to tell me that you have thought of Conor. It may make me cry salty tears but you are helping to ease some of my pain. By releasing those salty tears you are adding a bit of sweetness back into my day.

*Top tip: Unless you like a challege, don’t bother making these! A box of  Tunnocks Tea Cakes from the shop will cost you  just €2.

No Recipe for Grief

Yesterday I made Irish Soda Bread. It’s Conor’s Daddy’s favourite bread and a very easy bake.  It’s the first bread I ever attempted when I thought bread was beyond the reach of the very amateur home baker. I followed Paul Hollywood’s recipe:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/soda_bread_24837.

With only 5 ingredients it makes a lovely old fashioned loaf from start to finish in 45 minutes. There’s even a handy wee clip on You Tube to follow to create this delicious loaf.  Give it a try!

Soda bread

I believe anyone can bake. A good recipe contains steps anyone can follow. It’s like a culinary treasure hunt. This appeals to my love of rules and predictability. Rules and predictability do not exist in my new life. There is no recipe for grief. I thought that like soda bread, grief contained just 5 ingredients; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  I thought that there were steps to follow to come out the other side. I thought that in the weeks and months after Conor died I’d work through each stage. I thought that I’d be healed by the time my maternity leave was up.  Grief isn’t like this. There are many more ingredients; fear, love, anxiety, loneliness, jealousy, guilt and incredible sadness feature heavily. There are no steps 1,2,3… and no predictability.  The different emotions approach like waves and sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.  While Conor’s Daddy is an all or nothing kind of man (“why just have one chocolate when you can have the box”), I was always very steady (“have one a day so the chocolates last longer”).  Grief does not allow you to be steady. I can experience the full rage of emotions in just one hour.  One of the biggest things I’ve learnt is that it’s not simply me working through grief, grief is working its way through me.  Grief does not seem to be following any steps or rules and the chaos is frightening. Since Conor died I have been working to try to gain some control back. My world and the people who feature in it are small. I am beginning to accept that life and how I live it is changed forever. I cannot predict what the next steps in my life are going to bring but I know that like a good loaf rising in the oven my world will slowly get bigger.

*Top Tip:

Wash your hands before you try to shape the dough into a ball. This will stop the dough from sticking to your hands making it easier to shape.

French Style Macarons

This week I met another bereaved mother. By now I know a small group of the most amazing women. We are all members of a club we didn’t want to join. We meet and tell our stories. We get to talk about our precious babies who didn’t get to come home with people who want to hear all about them and don’t mind how much the stories are repeated. We exchange photos, talk about who they looked like, what weight they were, how we picked their names etc. These are questions rarely asked by people outside of our club. We talk about how we’re coping with people who get it. We can rant about life without judgement. We all share the same love for our babies and a profound grief. We ask each other on “dates” with an ease I wish was there in my single days. These mothers have helped me to accept that am not alone. My daily emails with the first mother I met are one of the highlights of my day.IMG_0874I tackled French Style Macarons this week. They’d been on my to do list for ages. I now owned a baking thermometer and so there was no excuse. They required concentration and precision (whisking until the meringue reaches 50 degrees!). I felt particularly stressed and fearful this week. This isn’t a quick recipe which is exactly what I needed.  While following all the instructions my mind could be in the present for a few hours of pretty pink macaron making. Here’s the batch I gave to the other mother I met…

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Not only can I see how far I have journeyed in my grief, I can also see how far I’ve come since my “all in one” sponge cake recipes.

*Top tip:

Make the ganache before you make the meringues.  This allows it to set to a semi solid consistency.  I left mine to set over night.  This means there is no leakage when you come to pipe the filling.