‘Everything changed the day Conor’s heart stopped beating’

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– How I kept going after the death of my baby

Imogen writes Conor’s name in the sand.

I am a mother to two beautiful boys. My first son Conor was stillborn at the end of a textbook pregnancy. His death was sudden and without warning. Grieving for the boy who didn’t come home is complicated. I grieve the innocence of my past along with the absence of my son from my present and future. In those early months I didn’t know if I would survive or even if I wanted to survive, such was the depth of my grief. Everything changed the day Conor’s heart stopped beating. I am learning that keeping going isn’t about rebuilding my old life – it’s about building a new life. Two years on from Conor’s short life and subsequent death, I can now reflect on what helps me to keep going…

Knowing I am not alone
Sadly about 1 in 200 babies die before, during or shortly after birth. While most parents leave hospital by the front door with car seats, I left by the back door with a coffin. Thankfully the bereavement team in the hospital I attended put me in touch with two baby loss charities; A Little Lifetime Foundation and Féileacáin. I attended support groups, joined online forums and made friends with other bereaved mothers. While all our stories are different, we all share a broken heart. Hearing the two words “me too” has been life saving.

Accepting that grief has no instructions or time frame
In the weeks and months that followed Conor’s death I had unrealistic expectations of how I should be functioning. There were days it took all the strength I had just to get out of bed. Grief comes with no instructions and its chaos is frightening. Not only do I have to work through grief but grief also needs to work through me. I grieve because I love my son and so I will never stop or nor do I want to stop grieving for Conor.

Telling my story
I was left in a state of total shock following Conor’s sudden death. Antenatal classes did not prepare me for making decisions around a post mortem and funeral just hours after delivering and meeting my beautiful boy. In an effort to process what happened I found myself telling and retelling my story. I also read and reread stories of baby loss. I was inspired by other mothers to start writing my own in the form of an online blog. cakesforconor.com explores my relationship with grief. When I click the “Publish” button I feel listened to. It allows me to tell the world about Conor and has helped me connect with other bereaved parents.

Hearing Conor’s name
All parents want to protect their children. I find myself wanting to protect the memory of my child. I fear that Conor will be forgotten. Very few people got to meet him and no one else got to know him. This lack of shared stories makes grieving for the boy who didn’t come home complicated. I think some people are afraid to mention Conor in case they upset me. However, hearing family and friends speak his name is like music to my ears. It tells me that he is remembered.

Finding peace by doing something I enjoy
In the early months after Conor’s death, I could find no escape from the pain of grief. One day I noticed apples falling from a tree in the garden and decided to bake an apple cake. I figured if my hero, the cook and TV Bake Off judge Mary Berry could survive the sudden death of her son then so could I. For those few hours kneading, mixing, frosting and, of course, tasting, I found peace. Attending a beginner’s baking course was the start of my re-engagement with the outside world.

Accepting that my relationships have changed
I have a very pro-active manager who on hearing the news of Conor’s death sought professional advice on how best to support her employee. She was told to keep in touch even if it seemed like she was being pushed away. The people I spend time with now are those who continued to send “thinking of you” messages without the pressure to meet up. They are those who had no expectations of me to be anything other than how I was. Conor’s life and death have changed me so maybe it’s inevitable that relationships would change too.

Moving forward with Conor
The bereaved can often feel a pressure from others to move on after a loss. In the past, parents were advised to forget about their baby who died. Believing it was for the best, babies were taken away from mothers after delivery. Parents did not get to see, hold or name their babies. While this was not that long ago, it is unimaginable to my generation. I have very precious memories of time spent with Conor in the hospital. I have photographs along with his hand and footprint. I am able to move forward by finding ways to bring him with me. I tell our second son all about his big brother. I write Conor’s name in the sand, decorate my cakes with his star symbol and light candles. Conor will be always remembered as the little boy who made me a mother.

Lots of tissues
People comment on the dignity of the bereaved at funerals. However, in reality, grief is ugly. Behind closed doors it is swollen eyes, a snotty nose and blotchy face. Two years on the sobbing is no more but tears still fall freely. Tears now fall from eyes framed by waterproof mascara and I go nowhere without tissues.

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