A Gloriously Imperfect Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve and I’ve stolen a few quiet moments, having just dispatched P off with both children to deliver Christmas cards to our neighbours. All is quiet and peaceful (for the next seven minutes or so, anyway).

I wanted to take this moment to thanks all of my lovely readers for taking the time to follow, read and comment on my blog. It really means the world to me and I’m so grateful.

I’d also like to wish you all a Gloriously Imperfect Christmas.

This may sound like a less than appealing toast to you, but I want it to act as an anchor and a reminder to us. At this time of year and more than ever, Facebook would have us believe that every person we know is living their dream life. Impeccably behaved and immaculately dressed children greet us warmly whenever we consult our smart phones. Homes seemingly worthy of double page spreads in lifestyle magazines may cause us to look around at the dust under the sofa and the smudgy handprints on the windows, not to mention the crayon on the walls. How come everyone else is living a perfect life?

The thing is….they’re not.

Social media shows the edited version of our lives. That beautiful Christmas tree you saw online? The one with the gorgeously matching adornments and little silver bows? It looked like that for twenty seconds, max. In reality, anyone with small children will find that by now a third of the ornaments from the tree are on the highest branches only and the remainder all over the house . The most commonly uttered phrase at this time of year for parents of under-fours? “HOW MANY MORE TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU NOT TO TOUCH THE TREE?!!!!”

Hours of shopping, wrapping and spending will be unveiled tomorrow morning and it will hopefully be magical for all. But in reality, kids will start bickering before long. There may be family quarrels, broken toys and definitely missing batteries. Chefs will get stressed, food may get burned. Someone will usually be sent off to find cranberry sauce in a petrol station. Gorgeous little Christmas outfits will have chocolate smears over them before photos are taken and children will get bored and restless despite Santa’s generosity.

But you see, all of these things make Christmas special. The squabbling with your brother despite the fact that you’re both in your thirties? All part of the tradition. These moments happen in all families and yet are somehow unique to us all. We all have our own set of customs and characteristics which define Christmas memories of past, present and the future.

It doesn’t matter if there aren’t enough chairs or the turkey is dry. What matters is noticing the magical moments within the festive mayhem, making memories with the ones you love.

Expecting perfection will probably result in mild disappointment at best. Comparing your life with someone’s filtered Facebook pictures may well leave you disheartened. There’s no such thing as a perfect Christmas, or a perfect anything for that matter. I think it’s best to welcome that from the beginning and embrace the inevitable pandemonium that the festive season brings.

So this year, I’m wishing you a Gloriously Imperfect Christmas. With lots and lots of love from me and mine to you and yours.

Love
Rachel

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ps… that’s a picture of our tree. I replaced the ornaments specially and if you look very closely, you can see some blue crayon scribbled on the wall to its’ left. Marvellous!

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Not Just Me

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.” ~Maya Angelou

In a few weeks my blog will be a year old. Writing it has been a hugely cathartic experience for me in many ways. Mostly it’s shown me how many of us hide our struggles from the outside world and pretend that we’re fine when we’re anything but. I know this because you, my lovely readers, have told me so.

I think I’m a more compassionate person now. Before I might have taken mild offence at the mother who doesn’t return my smile at the school gates, for example. I’d have thought her stand-offish, cliquey or rude. Now, more than ever I remind myself that everyone is struggling in their own way and we never know what’s going on behind the scenes.

I’ve learned so much in this past year, about myself and about others. I know I’m not alone and I hope that If you’ve been following my blog you’ll feel the same.

Sharing your personal thoughts on the internet is a bit like writing an intimate and private diary and then handing out photocopies in the playground. I quite often go to kids’ parties and wonder if any of the other mums read my blog or think I’m mad for airing my dirty laundry in public. I frequently have moments of panic at the realisation that thoughts kept private by most people are in the public domain in my case.

When these negative or self-doubtful thoughts hit I always remind myself how supportive my readers are and of the messages I’ve received from women who thought they were the only ones who find life hard, comparing their lives with others and coming up short. Women who felt I’d written their own thoughts for them. Imagine that? When push comes to shove we really are all in the same boat. We just need less pushing and shoving and more holding on to one another, really.

The past month or so has been very tough. I’m looking in to ways to cope with the being a far more sensitive person than I used to be, but at the same time I’m trying to look upon this character trait as a gift. Yes, I get far too affected by news stories and by the struggles of others and this often brings me to my knees. But at the same time I find helping others as much as I can to be healing for me. The fact that evidence points to this blog helping other people is really rewarding.

It’s with this in mind that I want to share something that’s been on my mind today. I have a very strong feeling that I’m not alone in this feeling either.

Yesterday was a brilliant day. I threw an end-of-term/Christmas party for Monkey’s new class. The children really had a fantastic time and it was lovely for the parents to get together too. I sat down in the evening and reflected on the success of the day; how the mums at the new school are so lovely and how happy I am with the school. How settled Monkey is after his first term and how glad and grateful I am that everything is going so well. I looked around me at my house and my amazing husband whilst my beautiful children slept upstairs and I felt….panic. And fear.

Yes, that’s right, panic and fear.
These are the two feelings which generally follow moments of joy for me. Panic that things are too good to be true and fear that something terrible will surely happen. Feeling happy makes me feel vulnerable. So, so vulnerable.

I am so fortunate. I am so blessed and so grateful and I have so much to lose. It’s overwhelming sometimes. I’ve also experienced a lot of darkness in the past two years and this has served to really illuminate the bright times. I think living in shadow makes light brighter when you finally reach it. I’m much more grateful for the joyful moments which in turn makes me afraid.

Some pretty awful things have happened in my life, most of which I’m not ready to share yet. I know that terrible things can befall good people and I’ve discovered first hand what it’s like to have your world fall apart in an instant. It’s difficult not to flash back to hard times, especially when there’s an abundance of joy.

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One of my favourite writers, Dr. Brené Brown talks about this in her book, Daring Greatly. She calls it Foreboding Joy:

Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment will be too difficult. We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster.”

Vulnerability is the key here and it’s behind the tendency to try to dress-rehearse tragedies in order to prepare yourself, should anything terrible ever happen. It’s a waste of time, it really is and it sucks the joy out of life. Your brain doesn’t realise that the tragedy isn’t actually happening so your stress levels rise and and you’re stuck in a state of fruitless anxiety for no good reason. Goodbye peace and hello anxiety.

Dr. Brown recommends “leaning in” to vulnerability rather than fighting it. She says that gratitude is the antidote to Foreboding Joy:

The shudder of vulnerability that accompanies joy is an invitation to practice gratitude, to acknowledge how truly grateful we are for the , the beauty, the connection or simply the moment before us.”

I’ve been working on this, and it really does help. When the panic sets in I remind myself how grateful I am for my blessings. I focus on my breathing and I remember that it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s uncomfortable and difficult but necessary.
Being grateful helps to diffuse the dread and gets my mind back in a positive place.

It’s ironic, really that sometimes happiness can hurt. It’s the wrong order of things. Allowing yourself to be happy when it hasn’t been your default setting of late requires concentration and feels risky…like tempting fate. It’s all of these feelings that make us human.

So my plan is to stop giving small things big shadows… stop standing in my own light. I will remember to enjoy the wonderful moments and be grateful and not fearful of them. Because life is a hard, beautiful, joyful and painful teacher and lessons are everywhere.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this post, especially of you’ve had a “me, too!” moment reading it. Please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Leora’s Story.

Today I’m sharing a guest post by Leora Leboff.

Leora is an Aromatherapist and massage therapist specialising in pregnancy. This special interest was sparked by the devastating experience of losing a baby in 2003. Leora has two children aged 12 years and 7 years old; her two energies of inspiration. Her website is www.auraholistictherapies.com.

I’m taking the step of including a trigger warning here. This is a very sad story of infant loss due to termination, so if you’re not up to reading on, please put your own self-care first. I have close friends and family members who have had to make the devastating decision to end their pregnancies for medical reasons and I hope that Leora’s bravery in sharing her story will help others realise they’re not alone.

In loving memory of baby Harry, who joined the angels ten years ago, today. Sleep tight and sweet dreams.

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Loneliness. It’s been a recurrent theme since losing Baby Harry.

From the moment I was told at my 20 week scan that my baby had a series of anomalies and that I may need to terminate the pregnancy. Not long after I knew I was expecting him, I had instinctively felt something wasn’t quite right. However, it didn’t make the process any less shocking as I wished at the time that my instincts had been completely wrong. When the anomaly midwife sat my husband and me down in a side room, I didn’t know how to process the information I was receiving.

In the coming days I was surrounded by my loving husband and the dearest of friends, but I felt lost and alone. I didn’t sleep for days, my mind buzzing with possible decisions. Or maybe I didn’t sleep as I just wanted to spend more time with my baby.

In the weeks and months after, I found it hard to burden anyone with how it feels to have the bottom of your world swiped away from you in this way. Sometimes the loneliness was welcome. After the termination when I was recovering, often it was almost too much to get out of bed to pick my son up from nursery. I just wanted to stay curled up under my duvet, away from the world and work through the pain.

I did try to keep myself occupied while I was signed off work by organising a 75th birthday bash for my Dad. I’m so happy that I did this for him, as just three months after Harry was born my Dad suddenly and unexpectedly died from a heart attack. Let’s just say it was a truly challenging time as three months prior to losing Harry, my Mum had lost her run in with cancer and also passed on. So when a cuddle from my darling Mum was most needed, she wasn’t there – loneliness. Three different kind of bereavement within 6 months of each other to deal with. My friends were amazing and my husband a huge support, but as I said it felt difficult to burden them with the indescribable intensity and confusion of emotions that were hurtling around. Luckily I started seeing the women’s services counsellor via the maternity unit . She was a darling and literally a life saver.

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Another form of loneliness or isolation has been present for me over the years; something about this particular form of baby loss. Losing a baby through anomaly and termination is often not included with other types of baby loss. I recently sponsored a colleague who was taking part in a charity event for miscarriage, still birth and neonatal death. I sponsored her because it was for a hugely important cause that is close to my heart, but I did feel a twinge if sadness that anomaly and termination was not acknowledged.

Perhaps it is because when you lose a baby in this way you have had to take an active role in the process – to actually terminate the pregnancy. How incredibly hard it was taking the medication that I knew would end the life of my baby. Up to 20 weeks you have to take medication, after 20 weeks an injection is given to the baby to ensure s/he is not born alive.

This is just one of the painful realities involved with termination. How my little boy lived to 20 weeks in utero was amazing; he had brain, heart and kidney anomalies. He didn’t appear to have a stomach and when he was born they were unable to tell us if he was a boy or girl as his genitals were malformed. We had to wait until the results of the amniocentesis came through a week or so after the birth to be able to name him. He had Patau Syndrome or Trisomy 13, a chromosome abnormality. My pregnancy had become a 1 in 5000 statistic.

As the years have moved on, the loneliness has continued as it is socially expected that past events are consigned to the past.

Only recently the full understanding has hit me that our lost babies are not meant to be forgotten. Why else were we given pictures of him dressed in a little angel style outfit, and his tiny hand and footprints? I want to remember Harry; he is part of our family. My daughter never knew her other older brother but my eldest son, who was 2 when Harry was born, cried deeply last year when we went to visit his grave; he cried for the brother he could have shared time with and the older brother he could have been.

It’s not about forgetting. In my experience it is about moving along to a place where it’s a bearable memory and the physical and emotional trauma, which may be unique to this kind of baby loss, is worked through and acknowledged with kindness.

As a massage therapist, I chose to take a special interest in pregnancy and I teach infant massage. When I trained in pregnancy massage, my counsellor asked me, “isn’t working with pregnant women like nails going down a chalkboard?” For me it was the only direction I wanted my work to take. Over the years I have treated and supported women who have experienced still birth, miscarriage and fertility issues. My heart is with them.

Today is the fifth of November and ten years since Harry was born in stillness and soundless.

Harry is buried in a Woodland Memorial near Bristol and we visit him a couple of times a year to see the maturing trees. Strangely the tree near Harry isn’t growing as vibrantly as the others. I recently went there with my son and he commented that perhaps the tree is reflecting that Harry died so young; neither of them can grow up. One thing I do hope, that he’s not lonely.

Yesterday we visited Harry’s grave with a big family cuddle. Today I plan to be reflective and at peace with my experience.

I hope that sharing my story will honour Harry’s memory and raise awareness of this fairly unspoken kind of baby loss.

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The charity Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) is the only charity in the UK to support the 35,000 women a year who are told after screening that their baby may have a serious foetal anomaly www.arc-uk.org. Donations can be made via their website.