Bittersweet

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.

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Baked With Love Day

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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.

Thank you,
Conor’s Mummy xxx

I am not a new Mum

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.

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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”.

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Love at first noise

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.

Summertime

This is a delicious raspberry and white chocolate cake. I made it for a friend of mine, another bereaved mother on the occasion of her daughter’s 2nd anniversary. Loaf cakes are much more transportable than sandwich cakes and this cake needed to travel in hand luggage on a warm day.  Raspberries and white chocolate are a winning combination. It’s a fabulous summertime bake. This very simple recipe was taken from a wonderful food blog; http://www.kitchenfeasts.com. Do take the time to read this blogger’s story (hers isn’t for me to tell) and marvel at the recipes.

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Summertime is now a season of remembrance in my new life. My dear Dad & Conor’s anniversaries fall just 10 days apart. I have been anticipating these days since the temperatures increased and the days got longer. While others are planning holidays I’m wondering how to mark these two events and anxious about the impact they will have on my wellbeing.

Dad’s first anniversary was yesterday. He died peacefully at home aged 70. It’s not just a 70 year man old I miss. There’s a 30 something man rescuing me from the top of the climbing frame I wasn’t supposed to climb. There’s a 40 something man driving a nervous me and my bags off to University. There’s a 50 something man letting me drive his car for the first time. There’s a 60 something man coming to stay for DIY holidays. I am grateful for every memory I have of Dad and I. Yesterday I decided to spend the day doing what Dad might do if he was still here.  When staying with me Dad liked to take off for the day with a train ticket and the Irish Times newspaper. He would complete the crossword over a pint. So this is how Conor’s Daddy and I spent the day remembering and celebrating Dad. I only wish I had inherited Dad’s crossword ability.

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Conor’s 2nd anniversary is just days away. While it’s a baby we buried, I now miss the two year old who should be playing around my feet. Conor is ageing with me and I will forever miss the boy, the teenager and the man who should be. The circumstances around Conor’s death make his anniversary more complicated. Conor died 3 days before he was born. Everything about it is upside down. Are we marking a birthday or an anniversary? I find myself using both words to mean the same thing. Conor’s life was short but it’s impact on our lives is as big as the universe. A Mother’s love for her child lives on even after death. By marking Conor’s anniversary we get the chance to extend Conor’s presence in our lives and create new memories. This year my amazing sister (Conor’s Fairy Godmother) is coming to stay. We will join other close family members (Conor’s grandparents, Aunties and Uncles) at his grave to reflect. We will visit the beach where we brought him in his little coffin on the day of his funeral. We will write his name in the sand, a tradition his family and others have followed (thank you to all of you who continue to send us photos). Then, like at any birthday, we’ll have cake.

Conor and my Dear Dad are in my thoughts every day. Conor’s life and death has changed me forever.  Anniversaries occur just once a year but the build up to them is difficult. There’s a fear that time is slipping further away from the days spent with our loved ones. There’s a repeat of “this time 1 year/2 years ago” thoughts. There’s a sense of injustice. It should be a kiddies party being planned for Conor. I sometimes feel a pressure from others that I should have moved on by now. I will continue to keep moving forward (accepting there will be times when I feel like I’m going backwards) but I will never move on. I will embrace these days as the chance to remember and celebrate those who live on in our hearts.

 

Remembering Dads

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These are some fairy cakes (Conor’s Daddy calls them buns) whipped up quickly one evening to bring into work. I added desiccated coconut to the sugar icing. If like me you love coconut, then you’ll love these. I call them my “taste of paradise” cakes. Conor’s Daddy likes it when I make individual cakes as he gets to raid them before they leave the house.

This Father’s Day we need to remember all Dads. There are those of us missing our own Dads. There are Dads like Conor’s Daddy missing a child. I am also aware of mothers whose young childrens’ fathers are sick or have died. They are left wondering how to mark this day for their children.

This is our second Father’s Day without Conor in our arms. Sometimes the impact of baby loss on the Dads can be underestimated. Conor’s Daddy had bonded with his baby with every kick, conversation and scan. Names were chosen and he couldn’t wait to meet our child.  Thankfully our generation allows fathers to be part of their child’s care. In those hours we had in the hospital Conor’s Daddy showed his son a lifetime of love. He cut the cord knowing his son would not take a breath. He held and then washed Conor. He carried Conor in his arms through a busy maternity hospital past Dads with balloons and car seats. He showered him with kisses and held his hand. He carried Conor across the hospital grounds to the chapel and then out of the chapel in a coffin. He handed his only child over to the undertaker to be put in the ground.

Conor’s Daddy’s heart was broken on bad news day too. The two of us, new parents with empty arms returned home in a state of shock. We are now 22 months on. We have had to bear witness to our own and each other’s grief.  We are two different people and have grieved differently. A counsellor I know describes being on the same roller coaster but in different carriages. We don’t necessarily experience the same ups and downs. Over time we have learned to respect each other’s way of grieving. We both know more than anyone that there are no fixes or shortcuts. We have realistic expectations of ourselves and each other. What we do share is a profound love for Conor and a want to tell people about him.

This Father’s Day I will acknowledge Conor’s Daddy and I hope others will too. He misses the life he should be having with Conor more than anything. There are balls not getting kicked and stories not being read.  I will also remember with fondness and sadness my own dear Dad who taught me about kindness. This is the two of us, with me about the age Conor should be watching him paint…

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Once Upon a Time

Theirs was a love story like many played out across the world. Boy meets girl (though thankfully in Ireland it could equally be boy meets boy or girl meets girl). Boy and girl date before boy pops the question on a moonlit beach. Girl says yes and subsequently drinks too much champagne in celebration. They have a wonderful wedding day surrounded by family and friends (and June floods). They were overjoyed to discover two would soon become three. Their beautiful son Conor was born and they all lived happily ever after…

At least that’s how their story was meant to go. The genre of their story changed over the course of just one night’s sleep. The sudden and out of order death of their son turned their story into one of the greatest tragedies. No one is meant to bury a child. This was a tragedy our main characters didn’t know if they would survive. At times they didn’t want to survive such was the pain. To the rest of the world they looked just like the couple in the first few chapters but they were changed forever. The length of their son’s life didn’t matter, they had planned the rest of their lives around being three. Their new protagonist was missing. The boy who had kicked his way into extra time kicked no more. The boy they were ready to dedicate their whole lives to was gone. Life could never go back to what it was. Minor characters came and went from their lives. Thankfully many remained taking time to get to know our new characters and their new story.

However this is not the end. Theirs is once again a love story. It is no longer the conventional boy meets girl story but one with twists and turns and an unknown future plot. The love they have for their son Conor motivates them to keep going. Their love for each other is stronger for the experience of becoming parents to a little boy. They are finding ways to live as three even if one is invisible to the naked eye. A life lived, however short cannot simply be ignored or forgotten. It is easier to move forward in their new life by remembering and celebrating Conor’s life. There are millions of beaches still waiting to have Conor’s name written in the sand. There are stars to be collected and birthday cakes waiting to be baked. Their protagonist will always be at the centre of their story.

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Forever loved and always remembered – Conor Patrick.

Written on the occasion of Conor’s Mummy & Daddy’s 4th wedding anniversary.