Welcome to my blog journey of Wellness after Loss.
“It is only in darkness that we can see stars”
This is the post excerpt.
Welcome to my blog journey of Wellness after Loss.
“It is only in darkness that we can see stars”
Sleep in our life is generally not focused on, yet its one of the most powerful, natural healers we have within us. In times of grief, sleep is even more integral in healing the body than any other times, yet can often be the hardest thing to do.
Grief is all encompassing, it takes over every cell in our body, leaving us depleted, anxious, and overwhelmed. When I came back from the maternity hospital I had spent two days in, I was completely lost, confused, and exhausted, more emotionally than physically, and that can be the worst kind of exhaustion, because the mind is so full and over worked, yet the body is on edge, hyper sensitive, and full of grief.
Sleep for me was a place I eventually went to when my body just gave up in the evenings, I would eventually fall into a sleep of confusion only to wake some hours later, in total emptiness for those first few minutes I had ‘forgotten’ my grief only to be flooded back with it some minutes into my wake, this was a pattern I had fallen into, I became asleep when awake and awake when asleep. Totally all over the place. Little did I know this was normal.
Sleep is needed for the body’s repair, without sleep we cannot recalibrate our body or our minds, we cannot re-charge, and our body’s homeostasis is out of balance. In grief our body holds the experiences of our grief deep in our cells, we are restless, unsettled, tired most of the time, yet awake for hours during the night, when our brain is in “chimp’ mode and overactive with thoughts of immense sadness.
What can we do to help ourselves, NOT ‘get over’ our grief, NOT ‘forget’ about it for a short time, but to move through our grief, feel it, allow it to be there, allow ourselves to feel sad.
Sleep is about quality not quantity, being kind to yourself, and allowing the grief, instead of pushing it away, if we push it away it goes ‘somewhere’ and comes back out time and time again.
Its January 2019, Winter in Ireland, and yes, I am sea swimming in a bikini. The journey of grief and loss has its place, and my journey is no more complicated, no sadder, no more tragic than another’s story, the only difference is, I write about it, and the reason I do, is because I hope my writings can inspire, help or motivate others to know there is life and hope after loss.
Why did I start swimming? My birthday is January 1st. Instead of a big party, a lunch out with friends, wine and the works, I sat for a while and thought, Ok Alannah you are turning 43, what is it that you love?
Easy answer for me…I love nature, I love the outdoors, I love breath in the body, I love early mornings, I love a challenge, I love my friends, I love my little family and I love simplicity…. so for me it was simple…A New Years Day Sunrise Swim!
I invited my friends, their kids & dogs, whoever! and those who came, came, it was perfect, It was cold but dry, dark turning light, exhilarating. Everyone arrived sleepy, solemn, shivery and unimpressed, a lot of huffs and puffs….we sat and faced the sea & the sunrise and practised our breathing, calmed the body and mind, silence befell, all you could hear was breath.
Then it was into the water, the cold Irish Sea, for a plunge, a dip, a swim, a whatever….This powerful natural resource we have at our finger tips gives us healing beyond any other. It offers increased energy, better sleep, heightened focus, improved circulation, increased willpower, reduced stress levels, greater tolerance, faster injury recovery, enhanced creativity, stronger immune system, control over mental chatter, inner strength and calmness. All from a natural resource available to all of us, all of my learning about the breath and the healing from the cold water have come from Wim Hof an extraordinary man known as the Ice Man, a Dutch extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand cold and extreme temperatures, known as the Wim Hof Method of breathing techniques.
What I saw on the faces of my friends as they ran out, a look of pure delight shouting “I did it!” “Wow” “that was amazing…..etc” And that it is….we brought hot flasks of tea, we dressed and we chatted as the sun rose behind our backs, the dogs and kids ran around. It was a coming together, a belonging, a collectiveness of people brought together out doing something that made them feel empowered, alive and energised. I have since tried to swim most days, the days I can’t, I accept life gets in the way, the days I can, then I do. I am an ordinary person, who has been through hard times, I don’t claim to say anything is easy, I do however know the benefits of a healthy body, I do know what its like to feel so much grief in my body, that I can barely move, I know how long it took me to move through my grief and I know at times it felt too hard.
But I also know I am lucky to be alive, to have my breath, my little family, I am able to move my body with less pain and I have choices on this earth, choices to live life to the full and not to live my life in the past.
I read a lot about the ‘business’ of Christmas and the ‘how to guide to survive Christmas with your family’ all good intentions of course, and all tongue in cheek & humorous. Spare a thought however to the lonely folk, the ones who have nobody to call family. The children who have lost their parents, the elderly who have lost their lifelong love. And the parents who have lost their babies.
There are many who have tried for more babies after a loss, but were never blessed with live children. I come across these mums and I see broken hearts, broken dreams, broken ‘could be’s’. I see sadness in their eyes, lost hope and loss.
The loss of a baby is one that is not easy to explain, and for many mums, its a turn that took place in their lives that changed them forever. I dedicate this little piece of writing to those mums who’s babies never stayed, and who after losing a baby were never pregnant again, I dedicate this to their heavy hearts, their sad eyes, their empty cots and their Christmas without a little stocking under the tree.
I will start with my own story, I am blessed to have an 8 year old, then two years ago I lost my baby girl, I named her Sally, she is buried with my parents.
One question nobody ever asked me after her loss, or since, “Alannah would you ever like another baby” the reason is because I was a single mum. And only out of the goodness of peoples hearts, their thoughts instead were “phew isn’t that a relief, how could she have done that by herself” two children with no fathers.
Those words were never said, but thought, it was always and only meant out of the goodness of people that they felt this for me. What I did find disappointing is that nobody asked me whether I wanted more children, if you had have asked me, the answer was a screaming shouting YES! I love children, I would have loved a tribe of them. But that was not meant to be and I am in a place of acceptance, and peace that I will not have more children biologically, I am just about to turn 43, and I know my body it is changing…coming to the place acceptance was hard.
Christmas is not an easy time for loss mums, for those who lost babies around this time it brings up memories of Doctors appointments where they find no heart beat, waiting rooms of happy mums yet you know your baby has an illness that will not see them live past birth, devastating scans, grief and pain. It brings up a loss felt so deep its like somebody cut you open from the inside out and pulled out your heart. Every cell in your body aches, you feel pain where you never did before, the pain is the grief that sits in the body after a loss and has nowhere to go…..it builds up, it manifests, and it grabs onto the body to stay alive.
As a mum, I offer this to other mums who are in the midst of their grief and loss, grief does not end, does not go away, but you find a way to navigate through it, the early days of pain are intense but do ease. Its normal to not want to get out of bed, move or be social in every day life. Its normal to want to shy away from the “festivities” Christmas is hard, and you are going to struggle, but as every year carries forward, the pain becomes a little less intense.
If you are reading this as a friend of a mum who has lost a baby, perhaps a small bit of advise, check in with that friend, she may push you away (more than once) keep checking in, ask her her baby’s name, ask her would she like to talk about her pain, ask her would she like to take a walk with you, ask her is she ok……
Loneliness is real, it comes in the form of loss and grief, in these short cold days over Christmas I wish all mums and dads well, take walks in nature, breathe, eat healthy food, rest your tired body, talk to someone you can confide in and who will listen. Take a moment to pause and think of the parents who never had the opportunity to celebrate the birth of a live baby, to never put a small stocking under the tree at Christmas or to never write a letter to santa. Bare a thought to the parent who this Christmas Day will visit a small grave instead.
Ouch just writing it causes me to shift in my chair, SHAME is a word that has neon lights brighter than the moon glaring down on me…Shame is something I have carried with me for much of my life, in fact for as far back as I can remember. Nobody taught me shame, I created it within myself, I held it close and I owned it.
The shame of being the skinny kid, the non eater in our family, I drove my mum mad with my non-eating, yet I managed to live quite successfully on fresh air and sugar! growing up in Bath England, my memories are sweet a beautiful simple home, in a beautiful city. We moved and travelled around the world for two years when I was 7, this was when I had my first taste of travel, cultures beyond the streets of bath were upon us, adventures only seen in books, looking back it was the most influential experience my parents offered my sister and I, lucky us, because their lives were taken short, tragically, so I am lucky to have those memories.
My shame gremlins have been in my pocket my whole life, they make sure I know they are there, and they used to raise their heads often, it was only when I started my own personal work on myself later in life, and for the first time, started to face my life story, speak my story and own my story. I thought by speaking my story that was enough to face my shame gremlins, but I still get surprised how prevalent they are in situations I don’t expect. So by writing about my shame, my feelings of discomfort, and sharing it with others, I only hope it is helpful, and not a hindrance. Shame hit me hard after the loss of my baby, my body failed her, I let her down, I am not good enough, I didn’t deserve her, these were all ‘normal’ thoughts that swirled around my head for some months after the loss, I hated the discomfort I felt, I hated myself for what had happened, how it had happened, I blamed myself completely, I became lost in the confusion of the loss, I became angry, depressed, lost in my grief, and I felt alone. I know there were friends and family out there who tried to help, but my anger and personal disappointment pushed people away.
I have shame around my relationships, my choices and my actions, I am hard on myself, harder than I ever realised I was, I am my own worst critic, we all are. So, in working with my shame, staring it in the eye, and most of all, finding compassion within myself for the first time, has helped me to dim the neon light of shame, and expose it to the light, making it less intense and less powerful within my body. Bereavement trauma has been a theme in my life throughout, and I have often wondered why?….are we given situations because we can ‘handle’ them?…. no, life is life, and death is death. And on a very long, dirty, twisty road of confusion within myself, I have come back to the start of that road and realised that I am blessed, blessed for what I have experienced and blessed compared to so many others who’s lives have been devastating.
I face my fears every day, I wake up with a new attitude of hope and excitement that this will be a good day, I have a beautiful simple life, my shame sits patiently within me, always ready to jump out, when I least expect, its up to me to be ready for it, and my readiness is based around compassion, trusting myself, surrounding myself with those I trust and those I know care about me, I learnt to keep away from those who do not have my best interest at heart. I also learnt that the compassion comes from nobody other than myself, and my own ability to quieten my inner critic at times of shame, anxiety and worry, those are especially the times when I look for kindness within myself. The loss of my parents and baby have taught me many lessons, and one of those is to LIVE. They are not here, but I am, so what can I do to make a difference, albeit small.
I am not perfect, but a work in progress, my deepest enjoyment is to learn about life, be a mum, listen to others stories, respect nature and hopefully give a small nugget of hope as a Psychotherapist, back to those in the counselling room who see only darkness.
New Beginnings come in all shapes and sizes, my new beginnings have started from a place of loss, but were it not for the loss and sadness I am not sure would I be where I am today, so for that I am grateful. 2018 marks the beginning of my career as a Trainee Counsellor & Psychotherapist, incorporating body and mind health and wellness, Fit Body Fit Mind. My work with clients is a privilege one I do not take for granted. I hope with my life’s experiences I can help others face theirs.
My life, a little unconventional is how I ended up where I am today……
I was born into a family in Bath England with a big sister two years older than I, a simple, fun family not without its flaws, my adventurous parents sold all they had and took us both travelling around the world, my mother home schooled us while travelling. But what our education was, was the experience, we saw wonders beyond dreams and story books. We climbed mountains in the snow, wearing runners and ponchos well before there was ski trousers and ski jackets, we had sherpas carry our gear, and on the tricky slopes, (I was 8) I was carried on a sherpas back to stop me from falling off the mountain, we ate porridge in the evenings and slept in monasteries with barely any lighting and no heating. We were the only fair haired, pale skinned people on the mountain, to which we received much curiosity, I am still bought back to the smells, the cold, the wet feet and the ice cold finger tips. Although it feels like so long ago, my love for nature, snow, adventure, and the outdoors is still strong. My parents were brave, they took chances, they LIVED! As Elizabeth Kubler Ross says “Most of us fight and resist loss throughout our lives not understanding that life is loss, and loss is life”.
My mother died shortly after we arrived home from our big travels, tragically killed in a horse riding accident in the Royal Dublin Society Horse Show in 1986, I was there when it happened…… a ‘freak’ accident they called it. Many elders remember that day, none as clear as my sister and I, we followed her ambulance to the hospital, watched as we were told she would not survive. She died that day….I was eleven.
when I was 17 I was left homeless, and went to live with an old aunt in an old house, it was cold, damp, and lonely, but my aunt was a wonderful woman, and I knew I was safe, I finished school and packed my bags and headed for a warmer climate…Australia.
Years later I was awoken in the middle of the night by a call to say my father was in ICU…I arrived in Dublin early the next morning, and taken straight to my fathers bedside by my sister and uncle in time to turn off the life support machine…….it was 9am in the morning.
When I returned to my life, home, job in Australia, I finally realised I had been living in an unhealthy relationship, neither happy nor supportive, so I packed my bags left my life in Australia after 10 years behind, and moved home to Ireland with nothing except a suitcase and my self-esteem.
Since being home I was blessed with a baby boy, who is now eight, and two years ago a baby girl. My baby girl died. Sadness flooded back into my life, but I found peace by burying her in my mothers grave, with my fathers ashes, I knew my parents would take care of her.
My journey to now has been a bumpy, twisty, pot-holey road of chaos, sadness heartbreak and tears, but it has also been a journey of hope, inspiration, strength, learning, belief and new beginnings. If I can help just one person see the light where all there is, is darkness then thats my job well done. We all have choices in life, we don’t all choose what happens to us, but we get to choose how we respond to those life challenges.
If you are a mum, and you have children who play sport on the weekends with training during the week, and your their designated driver, water carrier, jacket holder, food supplier and all-round super mum who does everything including supporting them from the side-lines in the pouring rain, blistering sunshine, snow and ice, then heres the blog for you.
What can a GAA Ma (pronounced GAAAA MAAAA) do for herself, while standing beside the pitch, watching earnestly as your son/daughter plays her chosen sport. One word I have for you “lots!”
I have a son who plays Gaelic, favours hurling over the football, but still has weekly training and matches and I’m his mum who supports every time. If you can see me on the sidelines sometimes I am doing laps around the pitch with our two small high energy dogs, they get a walk, my legs move. If It is match day, and I am a spectator, I spend the hour or more doing standing still exercises without anyone knowing…it works a treat.
So, heres a few of my secrets…….
For all you know I am just standing there…right?…wrong…. I am not! firstly if you stand for a long time, on concrete especially, you will get a chill up your legs, slump your shoulders down, and your pelvis will go out of line, you will lose your good posture and look like about of date scarecrow.
Not attractive nor good for your body, your core, your posture or your health. So I am going to give you a few tips and pointers to think about when your “standing around”
Winter is coming, and we get cold on the side-line try these few simple effective exercise for yourself, or contact me for more info.
Remember….you can exercise the body when your not officially exercising….like hoovering the house, gardening, cleaning the car, many ways to work out when your not officially doing it! think about it!
Happy fitness on the side-line Mums!
Life is a messy and bumpy navigation. Two years ago today, I delivered my second baby, a tiny little girl I called Sally. Since her loss, my life feels different, I appreciate life more now, and the fleetingness of it. We don’t get to choose who stays or who goes, but we do get to choose what we do while we are here. How we behave, and how we treat others along the way. I write not out of sadness or pity, but out of gratitude for what Sally has taught me, and is still teaching me. Since her loss, there has been much pain, but out of that pain, flowers have grown, the sun continued to rise in the morning, rain still fell and the seasons still changed, in all that I learnt how to dance in the rain.
Its not the anniversaries that leave me missing those who are gone, but the every day. I miss that my father never got to teach my son how to carve wood, I miss a simple cup of tea and toast with my mum or dad, I miss the beauty of simplicity.
Sally taught me that we are all broken one way or another, we all have pain, it just comes in different forms and flows in different ways……..who knows who I would be now if it were not for my life, my twists and turns, and my bumpy road maps.
I have taken turns that still confuse me, decisions that I would not take again, but through the pain of them, I have learnt about myself, I am a canvas that the artist is never finished with, a continual work in progress. I am learning who I am and what I am. Each day I look for something new in the simple things, although I look at the same beauty in nature and in life, every day I choose to see something different, I make time for that, I stop, I listen, and I breathe, every day this allows me space to be grateful. It also allows me space to live in the now.
Today is just another day, but I will be quietly thankful to you Sally for all you have taught me, for what you have inspired me to achieve in these past two years, and what you will continue to motivate me to do. It is you that made me move, go back to college, learn, study and read again, to be more present. It is you that pushes me every day to be kinder to myself and to others, and to be a better mum to my son.
To those who have just lost their babies, who will lose babies in the future, and those who have lost them many years before, I send you loving kindness, strength and compassion.
I am not my past, but my past has made me who I am today……