There’s alot of literature out there about surviving life after loss. I should know. In the hours after losing Evalyn, my Google search was that of a desperate, grieving mother:
How will I cope after losing my baby?
How to cope after suffering a stillbirth.
Stillbirth at 37 weeks +6.
Will I be able to have more children after a stillbirth?
What causes stillbirth?
How will I survive grief?
I put so much focus on how I was going to try and live through my heartache that I didn’t realise that parenting after loss is just as big a mountain to climb as the loss itself. Parenting after loss has so many aspects to it and no two people’s experience is the same. We have all lost our babies, yet we are all on different paths and because of this, we find ourselves parenting in different ways.
Firstly, we find ourselves parenting a baby who never came home. It’s easy for people on the outside of our personal struggle to believe that parenting a stillborn baby ends at the hospital when we have to leave them behind.
In a way, it is a blessing that we are still able to ‘parent’ our beautiful babies. In another way, it is heartbreaking. Yes, it is a completely different way of parenting but it is parenting all the same. We are still a mummy and a daddy. We still got to hold our babies and love our babies and we are still very much parents. We are just parenting invisible children. We don’t look like parents on the outside and because of this, it can be confusing for people to understand.
We may not look like parents. We dont get to push a pram down the street or shop for baby items. But we may pass the baby aisle and see something that we would’ve loved to have been able to buy our little one. We may not be able to talk about how our baby is growing up and developing, but we may want to talk about our baby and how they have developed and shaped our lives. We may not be able to drop them off at their Grandparents and miss them for a couple of hours. Instead, we will contemplate missing them forever. We may not be able to tidy up their rooms, but we can go and tidy around their graves or the special places where their ashes are wandering free. We may not be awake during the night for the early morning feeds but we may be awake because we miss them too much to sleep. We still parent our little ones in any way we can.
We are all on different chapters in a beautiful, twisted, novel.
Some of us will only get to parent the baby we lost. Some of us know that our baby will never have a sibling nor will we ever feel the little rolls and kicks within us again. Some of us already had children who are now struggling along with us to live without their brother or sister. Some of us will go onto have another child. Outsiders may consider this child to be our first child, our second or third. And we will politely explain to them that we do in fact have another who is sadly no longer with us. They may give us a sympathetic look but we will inwardly feel grateful that we managed to openly talk about our little one who, to a stranger’s ears passed away long ago, but to us we are very much still parenting.
So, who am I as a parent after loss?
Evalyn was my second child. So on my own journey, I have been tasked with parenting not only herself, but my five year old son also. And parenting two children who are physically in two different worlds is exhausting.
The hospital gives you information about where to go to buy books to explain death to your child in the hope it will help both you and them. It doesn’t. I went to the library and glanced through these books only to read that they explained death due to being old or being ill and Evalyn fell into neither of these catergories. So we just told Ieuan the truth. Evalyn’s heart stopped beating. We don’t know why but sometimes, babies just dont come home. It is very sad, but it happens.
And so began parenting after loss.
Every parent is different but I chose to be incredibly vocal about Evalyn. She was and is my daughter and she was and is Ieuan’s sister. I decided that the only way I would be able to parent both of my children was to make their two worlds overlap. Evalyn can’t be here physically so I made sure that there were physical reminders of her for both me and Nick, but more importantly for Ieuan.
She has the tree where we scattered her ashes. She has her little mint heart on the wall which I left there so it will always remain, in part, her room. Ieuan has his Ela Bear from the hospital and his new bear (“Arlo”) which we helped Evalyn buy him for his birthday. We make sure that our children are able to share the same things and experiences.
When we grew butterflies for Evalyn, we made sure that Ieuan knew it was very much a brother/sister project – Ieuan would help to grow them for Evalyn and they would fly up to her when they were released so she could look after them. Even now when Ieuan sees a butterfly in the garden he will excitedly run in and tell us that Evalyn has sent one back just for him to see.
We have two rose bushes in our front garden. One for Ieuan, one for Evalyn and we have created a friendly competition over whose roses will bloom the quickest each time.
“I’m going to win this time as Evalyn won last time,” Ieuan will tell us when the next bloom is due.
If we watch a film, Ieuan will run upstairs to get Ela Bear so she can watch it too. If he draws a picture, he will usually try and include a little ‘e’ somewhere on it. He will ask me every so often how old Evalyn is now and as the months continue to pass, he gets excited thinking that it will soon be her birthday and as much as my heart breaks with the thought of it, he is determined that he wants to buy her a cake and help her to blow out her candle on her first birthday. I already know that parenting Evalyn on her first birthday in the sky will be one of the hardest days to get through. I wish I could see it through Ieuan’s young, innocent eyes instead.
I don’t know if I am doing ‘parenting after loss’ right. I don’t even think there is even a right way to do it. I know that as Ieuan grows up, his questions will come with a better level of understanding and my answers will be given with a higher element of truth. I know that when he eventually has another sibling, his focus will perhaps be taken away from Evalyn a bit more and it will be up to Nick and myself to learn to adapt to being parents of three children instead of two and to make sure that Ieuan and his sibling still include Evalyn in their lives.
It is ultimately up to us as loss parents to determine how we want to parent our babies, our living children and any new additions should they come along in the future. And there is no wrong or right way when trying to adapt to this new style of parenting we are faced with. We will still wander this earth with the love for our babies still burning inside of us.
Because we are still parents. We always will be.
And in our new world that seems ever changing, that is something that can never be undone.