I only really have one New Year’s resolution, and it’s very hard to put into words. It’s something about low self esteem, something about being a ‘serious’ writer, about not putting my work down, about not referring to my books as ‘little’ as if they are insignificant. It’s something to do with, when people ask me who I was reading with at a this venue or that venue, about not implying that I was just filling in a space, that the main crowd draw was whoever else was there. It is something to do with letting go of people that aren’t quite making the mark as friends, of accepting that sometimes friendships change and sometimes they don’t last forever. It’s about saying loudly and clearly that I am worth more than that, that people can and do enjoy my company. And it’s about identifying those friendships where effort is made, where words are true, and love is tangible and it’s about embracing them, instead of trying to make broken things work out of a fear of rejection.
I have worked so hard to be taken seriously as a writer. But my low self esteem forces me to compare myself to every other poet on Facebook, every competition winner, every poet with a published book. I become anxious and start throwing stuff out into submissions left right and centre, desperate to catch up, desperate to not be singled out as rubbish. Part of the New Year’s resolution is to slow down. To see myself as a serious writer, to accept that I have time to work on poems and collections until they are perfect, to accept that I am talented, that I am skilled, and to not be embarrassed about it.
It’s not just about the writing, it’s about making choices based around what I/we want to do, what is important to me, not about what other people are doing and trying to fit in. This Christmas has been absolutely wonderful. It has not been without tears for Matilda. No Christmas will ever be without tears for Matilda. But this year, we decided to do some new things. We can’t join in with children’s christmas traditions, there is no carrot for Rudolf, no santa’s steps in the kitchen, so we decided to make our own traditions, or rather, we stole them from Iceland by giving each other books and PJs on Christmas eve. The Christmas eve Books tradition just seemed perfect for us, we stayed in bed late into the morning on Christmas day reading our books before going up to Matilda’s grave with a beautiful wreath and flowers. This is another tradition for us, and the first job on Christmas day. Then we came home and I cooked. I love cooking but have literally not had time this year to do any baking or cooking so it was an absolute pleasure to put Christmas tunes on and get to work in the kitchen. And guess what, we had our Christmas dinner on our knees in front of a roaring fire. Because we can! It wasn’t about doing the things we couldn’t do if we had children, that would be an empty celebration, it was about being happy with what we have and celebrating that, which felt right.
Social media is a bit of a mine field for the bereaved, and when I felt over whelmed by the pictures of what we’ll never have with Matilda, I stepped away from it and felt fine about that. Self preservation and self care is key, and part of that is the low self esteem issue, it’s about allowing myself to feel happy and contented with what I have achieved, with what I have in my life, with the people I have in my life.
We have started one more tradition this year. We went to Leeds General Infirmary to make a lovely fat donation to the Rosemary Bereavement Suite there. I’ve been trying to organise it for about a year, but with Chris having a new job he couldn’t take time off so it’s been difficult. However, it worked out beautifully and yesterday we made the journey, a physical and emotional journey, back to the place where we spent those few precious days with our daughter. I wanted to end the year celebrating the wonderful work of the staff there. I wrote a letter, which I have pasted below, and it was a good job I did because as soon as I tried to thank them, I started crying and couldn’t speak. Then we handed over £700 and told them about the Just Giving page which amounted to another £140. The bereavement suite cares for 60-80 women and their partners every year. These are women that lose babies from around about fourteen weeks, right up to neonatal deaths. Our new tradition will now be to send a package of baby clothes and blankets to the suite on Matilda’s birthday, and at Christmas too. We came away from the hospital reliving some memories. Chris found it hard. Although it was so strange to walk on the ward, to see the very physical markers of our time there, like looking at wrecks on the beach: the desk, the windows, the beds, the view across the car park, the faces of the staff, and to remember walking out of that ward without our daughter, my overriding feelings were of gratitude for the care we received, love for our daughter, and of putting things to rest, of doing something positive, and being thankful for the care of strangers.
2016 is going to be a strange year. I have already started to prepare for our last IVF, IVF no. 6 by getting back to Slimming world.My BMI is perfectly acceptable for the clinic at 31.1, but I want to lose some weight and get it down into the twenties. I’ve also stopped those naughty occasional cigarettes (day four today with absolutely no sneaky cigs today!) and I feel determined, as does everyone with a clean slate in front of them at the beginning of the year. My resolution is this: this is going to be my year to show the non dizzy, bumbling, jolly, neurotic side of myself, this is the year to be me and to enjoy being me, accept, live in the moment, follow the middle way. I shall see you on the flip side.
To the maternity staff
I wanted to write you a little note to say thank you. You may or may not remember us. We lost our little daughter at just over 27 weeks in April 2010. She was born by emergency caesarean, which turned into a crash section at the last minute. Sadly, although the team tried very hard to resuscitate her, Matilda Rose could not be saved. Matilda was an IVF baby, conceived through our one NHS chance, our first IVF, at Leeds IVF clinic. She was as precious as a child could be and losing her was literally devastating, our lives have never been the same. We are facing our final round of IVF (IVF no. 6) at Hull in 2016. We’ve had two eight week miscarriages but no live births.
There was an investigation after Matilda’s death, into the care we received at our local hospital, which showed a lot of mistakes and substandard care, mainly through miscommunication. After the results of the inquiry I did a lot of media coverage to raise awareness of stillbirth, and to encourage women to speak to their maternity team if they didn’t feel the baby was moving enough, and most importantly to not be afraid to go back if they still didn’t feel that things were right. One of the things I did was a Take a Break interview for which we were paid a fee. We’d like to donate that fee to the Rosemary suite here at Leeds.
I want to thank you for what you did for us when we came here. We had no idea what was going on and were expecting to go home again that day, in April 2010. We’d been told so many different things at our local hospital from ‘we should prepare to deliver’ to ‘you can go home now and just ring for an appointment in a week or so’. One person was telling us things were fine, where as the next was telling us things were very bad. We’d had to get angry in order for them to scan us, it was all so confused and frightening. However, when we arrived at Leeds things were so entirely different, I felt I could allow myself to be looked after. We were taken care of and examined so thoroughly, and the consultant was kind, but down to earth. The decision was made, within a couple of hours, to get the baby out by caesarean. There were lots of people when we went to deliver her, all of them so kind, and afterwards, staff took time out on their way home to pop and see how we were. They made a point of looking at her, telling us how beautiful she was and seemed to understand the significance of Matilda being an IVF baby; I think the anaesthetist was an IVF mum herself. Little things like that made a huge difference to our care. I’d never seen a dead body before I had Matilda, I was terrified to look at her to start with, in case she looked frightening. So to have the staff treat her like any other living baby, with no fear of touching her or picking her up helped me to feel I could too, because my natural reaction was that she was just my baby. I was a first time mum and facing these conflicting feelings of total love and terrible sadness and not knowing how to act. The guidance we got from staff members was gentle and careful and just right.
Staying in The Rosemary suite made such a difference to our grieving process. We were never once treated like anything other than parents, our care was no less deserving because our baby wasn’t alive, but at the same time we were not pressured into being near other new mum’s and dad’s who had been luckier than us. In fact people went out of their way to help me avoid seeing pregnant women and new mothers, I was terrified of being near them, and your help and understanding was much appreciated. The specially trained bereavement nurses who handled our daughter and dressed her; took footprints and photos, picked her up for me in the middle of the night; all of that special care made those few days we had with her incredibly precious. You don’t realise at the time that that is the only time you will ever get to spend with your child, the situation is so horrific it’s like being in the middle of a storm, but because of your care we have something beautiful to look back on. You cared for my husband too and didn’t make him feel he was any less deserving of condolences, of kindness and care. We’ve found a lot of people expected Chris to look after me rather than grieve for his daughter, we never felt that with you. You helped with the practical stuff too: the death certificate, getting Matilda blessed, clothing for her, toiletries for us. We’d thought we were going back home the same day so we had no supplies whatsoever.
The most important thing was that we had time. We were not rushed. If I’d wanted to have another day with her, I could have, but you helped us to move through those days. You promised us she would be cared for after we left and because of the amazing care you had given to us, I felt I could trust you all with my most precious thing in the world. Thank you so much.
It’s now coming up to six years since we lost her, and I am looking to find a little closure. So thank you for allowing us to visit you on the ward and I hope the money we’ve donated will help keep the Rosemary suite going, it is such a worthwhile place, one I would never have known about if we hadn’t been through what we have.
Thank you again
With very much love
Wendy and Chris Pratt
**featured photo: Henry Moore – seated women – at Leeds Henry Moore institute