I’d like to tell you about a very special encounter I had last week. Conor’s little brother and I were out getting our groceries when we bumped into a lovely woman I used to work with (let’s call her Anne). While catching up over a cuppa and cake we met another woman (let’s call her Lucy). Lucy and Anne used to be neighbours. While they were exchanging news, Conor’s little brother was sitting on my lap smiling away at his new audience. Lucy asked about my little smiler before telling me to treasure every single moment with him. There was something about this woman that made me go on to tell her about smiler’s big brother. The moment I did her eyes watered and she told me about her own little girl who was stillborn. Her daughter would be now be 27 years old. Our stories (despite being 25 years apart) were identical. There we were, two strangers connected by love, loss and tears.
Lucy told me that the loss of her daughter was a pain like no other. While time has made it easier she said she’ll never forget her little girl. Lucy’s family continue to talk about their little girl. Her surviving children write her name on cards. This was all music to my ears as I contemplate a future with time slipping away from Conor’s little life.
I have often wondered if my grief is visible to others. I look in the mirror and see a changed woman since Conor lived and died. Looking back at this encounter, I wonder if I saw something in this woman that lead me to open up to her. Maybe those of us who have known such love and pain can indeed spot it in others.
I would like to dedicate my latest pink bake to a little girl called Rebecca who is loved and missed by her family. The Battenberg cake has been on my to do list for ages. It’s a winning combination of sponge & marzipan. I had put it off believing it to be a bit tricky but it’s much easier than it looks. It’s way nicer than the shop bought ones I remember from childhood. Maybe next time I’ll master squares instead of squashed triangles.
Always use gel food colouring rather than the cheap liquid colours. The gel won’t change the consistency of your cake batter.
I used the following recipe;
I want to write about something wonderful that happened yesterday. We brought Conor’s little brother to visit relatives. He cried when someone other than us, his parents tried to hold him. While he was happy to smile at anyone in view, he wanted to be in our arms. This is the first proof we have that he feels safe and content with us. He knows that his Mummy & Daddy are special to him and this is the most amazing feeling.
In the weeks after Conor died we walked to try to pass the time. There was one day I heard a young child call for his mother. It felt as though someone was ripping my broken heart from my body. Hearing “Mummy” directed at someone else hurt so much. I was a Mummy too but there was no living child going to call or need me.
I still cannot imagine anything worse than losing a child. Regardless of how many children a family has, the loss of a child/sibling leaves a gaping hole in a family and a lifetime of sadness. However, when it’s your first child who dies you’re also faced with a very real fear that you may never get to be parents to a living child.
For a long time after Conor died I struggled to be around families. It hurt so much seeing the special relationship between parents and their children. Each “Mummy” stung and left me feeling so empty. I was a Mummy too but my child was in the ground rather than playing by my feet. Other than immediate family (with whom I already had a special role as Auntie) I avoided being around friends or extended family with their young children present. I made a decision to be gentle with myself. If it caused too much pain or anxiety I avoided the situation. I came across a bit of criticism for this but life was hard enough without adding to it. It has meant I missed out on meeting new babies born in this time and missed significant milestones with others. However, it’s what I needed to do to survive.
I continue to miss Conor and I think of him every minute of every waking hour. There is a two year old hole in our family which will never be filled. However, there is now a living little boy who helps makes this Mummy feel special. His presence in our lives is helping us to re-engage with other families. He is far too young to speak but one day I might just get to hear those very special two syllables “Mummy”.
These are the Snowy Rocky Road bars I made when seeing my amazing sister over New Year. We both like white chocolate and when you add biscuits, marshmallows, dried cranberries and pistachio nuts the overall taste experience is incredible. I wanted to make something that would travel and last well (which these did; even surviving flight cancellations). I used gluten free biscuits so my wee niece could try them too. My amazing sister loved them.
Many people are in the throes of their New Years resolutions. Gym memberships are up, shopping baskets are full of colourful fruit and vegetables and wine glasses are empty. Unfortunately we can’t live off delicious white chocolate rocky roads all year!! For the most part I have had a healthy relationship with my own body. My adult weight has rarely fluctuated and I can eat without calorie counting.
While pregnant with Conor I watched in awe as my bump grew and grew. I was so proud of my expanding tummy and my B cup breasts. After Conor died I very suddenly had a complicated relationship with my body. I know from speaking to other bereaved mothers that I was not alone here. Within two weeks of Conor’s death I weighed less than my pre-pregnancy weight. Rather than feel proud that I fitted into my jeans I was heartbroken. I had no child at home and now my body showed not a single sign of ever giving life to my little boy. I had delivered Conor naturally so there was no caesarean section scar. There wasn’t a single stretch mark and my breasts had shrunk to their unimpressive A cup. It was only my feet that didn’t return to their original size. Yet all I had to show for being a mother was a shoebox filled with memories. I also struggled knowing that Conor had died inside me and that I couldn’t save him. Sadly lightening can strike when babies are meant to be in their safest place. In those early first weeks and months I had no appetite and only ate when food was put in front of me. For the first time in my adult life I hated seeing myself in the mirror. I looked like the person I used to be but I was no longer her. I know others who went the opposite way and over ate for comfort. One Mother said she ate lots to try to keep her bump as she had loved her pregnant body.
The pressure in the media for Mothers to get their figures back after giving birth is enormous. At this time of year there are adverts everywhere targeted at new Mothers. There are diets and classes to help Mothers get back into their jeans. While I totally understand that people want to feel fit and healthy after having a child, this pressure angers me. The adverts nearly imply that these Mother’s bodies have been occupied by unwelcome visitors. Pregnancy and childbirth is a gift that not all women get to enjoy. Women should be proud of any lasting changes to their bodies. These tell the world that we are Mothers and that our children lived their lives (no matter how short) within us.
I used a recipe from http://www.charlotteslivelykitchen.com/snowy-rocky-road/
Bittersweet; one of the words I use lots in my new life. I’m not using it here to describe any bakes (they are usually just sweet) but using it to describe how joy and sadness co-exist. When Conor first died life was just bitter. It was full of sadness, anger, jealousy to name just a few of the many emotions felt. My heart was so broken I didn’t think I could ever feel any joy again. I falsely thought that I could only feel joy once I stopped feeling sad. I asked those who were bereaved longer than me about a timescale for this sadness. I was disappointed to hear that you never stop feeling sad. However, slowly joy has returned to our lives.
Events and rituals that previously brought us great joy are now bittersweet; birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Christmas, family or friendship gatherings are the best examples. The fact that someone we love is missing from them is never out of our minds. It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy them but the enjoyment doesn’t stop us from feeling sad too. It helps when we can include Conor; a lit candle on the dinner table, a star decoration or a cake for Conor. Hearing others say they miss him too always warms the broken heart. I often need to withdraw from groups to reflect and simply be. This Christmas our tears will be those of joy for Conor’s little brother’s first Christmas but also those of sadness that Conor cannot be with us. This is our new life and I am starting to accept that it will forever be bittersweet.
These are the sweet fairy cakes baked in honour of Conor at our Baked with Love get together. They come with extra sweetness in the form of sugar icing and sprinkles.
November is a month of remembrance. It’s when we honour the memories of loved ones who have died. On Sunday 6th November I invite you to join me in this year’s Baked With Love Day. It’s an opportunity to share your memories (and your bakes) with family and friends. It’s simple, you don’t have to be an expert baker to take part (the non-bakers among you could always nip out to the shop). It could be your loved one’s favourite cake or in my case it’s something that I expected to be baking with Conor. Use the baking time to reflect, then put the kettle on, sit down with those around you and take the time to share your bake and your memories. After all, who doesn’t like cake?!!
Since Conor died, baking has become part of his story. In those early months it gave me a purpose during an empty maternity leave. Since the busyness of life returned, baking gives me valuable “Conor time” when I can reflect and simply feel. Baking was the inspiration for many Cakes for Conor posts. There is something very special in being able to make something from scratch to share with others. It really is an act of love.
This year I will be baking fairy cakes (called buns here in Ireland). They are the cakes of my childhood and something I’d expected to be baking with my children. As a child I remember waiting patiently for the cakes to bake and cool down. I remember the delicious smell coming from the oven. I remember the joy of licking the bowl of sugar icing. I remember scraping my teeth on the cake case to get out every last crumb. As a family we sat down together to eat cakes and chat. These really are special memories.
Do check out the Facebook page and let us know who you’d like to remember on Baked With Love Day…https://m.facebook.com/bakedwithloveday/
Please share with those who you think would like to honour their loved ones in this way.
Conor’s Mummy xxx
Visitors are starting to call in to see Conor’s little brother. I haven’t yet taken out the apron for any home baking. Instead I have discovered these Jus Rol Cinnamon Swirls. You simply take them out of their container, slice and bake them. You get a gorgeous home baked smell and they taste delicious. We ate them when my brother flew over for a day trip. They are a great cheat treat.
I am not a new Mum, I am a Mum to a new baby. I became a Mum two years ago to a very special boy who didn’t get to come home. I find myself having to explain this. I show Conor’s photo to anyone who comes to the house for them to see how real he was/is. So far the response has been amazing. One public health nurse became emotional and shared a story of loss from within her family.
I am however having my patience tested by people who know all about Conor. I’ve been asked questions like “is this the first boy in your family?” – NO!!! When asked such questions I hear “I have forgotten about Conor”.
Our babies did not get to leave their mark on others in the same way an adult or older child would. It’s probable his little life has been already been forgotten by some. I also know some people saw him simply as a failed pregnancy rather than a child who died. A number of people told me “all will be fine this time” when pregnant with Conor’s brother. I don’t think people say that to a widow/widower remarrying “don’t worry, this husband isn’t going to die!”
Last week was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness week. One feature of the month is that of remembrance. Bereaved parents want their babies remembered and their names spoken. This week gives us the opportunity to spread this message. Last week the House of Commons in the UK held a debate about baby loss. A number of MPs told their stories. There were bereaved parents interviewed on various TV shows. Articles appeared in the national press. Babies were named, pictures were shown and the enormity of our losses explained. This may only be one week of the year but for this week we get the chance to tell the world “we are mothers too”.
Last week we welcomed the safe arrival of Conor’s baby brother who made an entrance into this world kicking and screaming.
Pregnancy after loss is one hell of a journey. The positive pregnancy test brings feelings of hope, joy along with an over riding fear. Losing one child is horrendous. We didn’t know if we could survive losing another. Each hospital appointment took us back to bad news day. We asked our midwife to hide the screen during scans until she’d found a strong heartbeat. We had very regular scheduled appointments and were also visitors to A&E to get reassurance if something felt off. I became so tuned into my body that the doctor reckons I was being treated for a urinary tract infection within hours of acquiring it.
At 17 weeks I started to feel movements. Each kick, roll and hiccup would tell me that this baby was alive inside me. On the flip side during the quiet periods between kicks I’d wonder if he had died. He would promptly be woken up with sips of cold fruit juice. Night times were the toughest. Conor stopped kicking suddenly over night. Night times became a time of constant surveillance. On the hour I would wake and not sleep again until I felt movement. The worry was exhausting.
Our hospital consultant worked with us. We were told we had a “happy baby” growing nicely. He ruled out a whole host of pregnancy complications. The pregnancy was medically text book and physically identical to being pregnant with Conor. My shape was the same; a neat bump out the front. However, no one could guarantee that lightning wouldn’t strike twice. We held our breaths for 36 weeks. A decision was made to deliver this baby early. In the words of our consultant “We’ve gone far enough” We requested a planned caesarean section. We needed to arrive at the hospital and deliver this baby in the calmest, safest and quickest way possible. It was love at first noise meeting Conor’s little brother. In hearing his cry I yelled out “he’s alive”. Tears followed and an immense feeling of relief took over. Our stay in hospital was emotional. I sobbed leaving hospital by the front door with a car seat (I’d only known the back door with a coffin).
People use the term “rainbow baby” for a baby born after loss. The rainbow represents colour and hope in a storm. It doesn’t take away the storm. The new baby doesn’t replace the baby who died. We took hope from seeing rainbows during this pregnancy. We will always miss Conor who should be here poking and kissing his brother. Our rainbow baby will know all about his big brother. He will kiss his photo good night and visit his grave. I hope he will grow up within a culture of openness. Family members who have died will be talked about and remembered. I want him to know that its ok not to be ok. In the meantime we will enjoy every second with our rainbow. His presence has made our house a home. Being a parent of a living child is far more straight forward than being a bereaved parent. The challenge now is how to be a good parent for both our special boys.
Cakes will resume as sleep increases.