Daddy Time Again!

PrintI have written this piece for International Father’s Mental Health Day to try and bring a focus onto a part of a pregnancy journey that I increasingly feel requires highlighting. It is something that has come up more and more in what I do and in my own personal experiences more recently too. I do feel it necessary to make it clear though that I am not at any point attempting to make out that a father’s mental health in pregnancy is more important than that of a mother. They are equal, and I say this as someone who spends their days doing everything in my power to ensure that vulnerable women get all the care and choice in their pregnancy and postnatally that they deserve.

I’ve become acutely aware of mental health over the last few years in a setting of grief. Both my own and many of those who I have come to know through walking this path of fatherhood, to loss, through the myriad of grief and all it throws up, to recovery, finding the enjoyment in life again and with it a truly wonderful love.

The background is one of tragic experiences in how I lost my wife just over 5 years ago. She had been diagnosed with cancer mid way through the pregnancy of our second child Merlin. We already had a daughter Martha who was three at the time. The cancer interrupted what was otherwise supposed to be a wonderful experience. The completion of our family and the two children we hoped for.

alta5be49dba7ea5543873c85f7a101a594At the time, like many who experience cancer or who support partners through cancer or other serious illnesses, it became a blur from one week to the next. A routine kicked in and we went from treatment to treatment, then Merlin’s birth and then back to treatment again…and then the worst part happened. Mair went downhill fast, unexplainably with what turned out to be an aggressive secondary cancer to the lining of her brain. She passed away 3 weeks before Christmas 2012 and just 10 weeks after Merlin was born. I look back at pictures of myself now and I look ashen faced. Pictures of me holding Merlin break my heart. I have no love in my eyes for him at all. Only pain at what had just occurred. Totally and utterly lost at 32!

Now, over the years I have, I think, come to reckon with all that happened. I understand what happened, why etc. I acknowledged the low lows when they came, tried different methods to deal with these as they came, different forms of counselling, exercise etc. I have also, in my work with Mummy’s Star, been at pains to highlight that the care we received as a family from pregnancy, through diagnosis, treatment, palliative care, bereavement and beyond was second to none. It was! And for these things I am incredibly grateful. I hope to bring up Martha and Merlin to know this too. That even when bad things happen there are glimpses of good to be sought and drawn out.

In short I have never been one to try and soldier through with a sense of belligerence saying “I’m fine” when blatantly I wasn’t. I’m open to help and support and I see seeking support as a sign of great strength, not weakness, as much of society sadly portrays it for men.

Since the loss of my wife I think it’s fair to say I have grown. Grown to see and accept equally my strengths and the areas where I can improve.

In mid-2016 life changed in the most wonderful manner possible and in a way, I hadn’t really seen coming despite it staring at me in the face. After several years of great friendship, mutual understanding and appreciation of the challenges that life can throw at you and so so much more, I got together with Nicola and in an instant felt true love and happiness. I thought it had gone. The ability to smile from the inside out had been extinguished through tragedy I thought but here it was lighting up my life and that of Martha and Merlin.

I knew how happy I was, I knew I wanted to marry this girl and I knew I would love us to have a child together if we could.

We were very fortunate in that it happened quickly and in July 2017 we found out we were expecting our baby. We were ecstatic at the news of having this together

In my wildest dreams I never seriously considered, throughout my grief, that I may ever become a dad again, moreover how it would feel to go through a pregnancy, birth and fatherhood after my previous experience of it was so interrupted.

And so, something began that I always knew might, but never quite knew how it might unfold.

Firstly, seeing my partner pretty much hammered by crippling nausea, bed bound and unable to work for 15 weeks was tough. I felt useless to be able to accelerate us to that point where she could fully enjoy this, her first pregnancy. Secondly, here I was once again seeing the person that I loved unable to do much at all during pregnancy. An extraordinary sense of déjà vu. Nicola repeatedly said to me “Please try and focus on the fact that I am just feeling ill. I am not sick” She knew where my mind had gone. It had gone back. Back to the last pregnancy. Back to how it unfolded. I took her words and went with them but every few days I would again feel useless. Why couldn’t I help her feel better.

During this period, we had our first midwife appointment. The questions focussed on Nicola, how she was feeling, her hopes about the birth etc and then she was asked if this was her first child. She replied as she so beautifully does “We have two, but this is my first” Now I would think that this would prompt some kind of gentle enquiry as to the structure of our family. Nicola then followed this up to clarify to the lady that I had two children already. Again, rather than prompt some kind of “Oh, can you tell me a little about your family” which perhaps would have opened an avenue to perhaps give some background, if to not delve into the depths of the loss that had gone before…but no. What came out was “and they both live with you?!”

Yes, they live with me! I, a man, is responsible for the upbringing of his two children and has been for several years now, perish the thought. Why was this concept so unimaginable? A little more enquiry would have revealed that sadly my wife had passed away but here we are, Daddy, two happy children, his beautiful fiancé and they are expecting their exciting and eagerly anticipated baby.

Grrrrrrr!

Moreover, this should have been the point where a clear note should have been put in the notes “Dad has been through absolute hell and back during his previous experience of pregnancy – he may understandably have some fear of birth. Please be mindful of this and enquire every now and again”

But no. Nothing. It wasn’t acknowledged and so we move on

Thankfully by about 17 weeks, the worst of Nicolas sickness had lifted, and we moved to a new house with our pregnancy now fast approaching that significant stage. The 20-week scan. We get to meet our baby properly for the first time.

A special moment for us both for the same reasons and for different ones too. A chance for me to put behind the previous experience of the 20-week scan. The one that began the road to cancer. The day the first mention of “Its worth just getting that checked”

The day came and sadly it was a forgettable one. It was rushed, uncaring, deeply unpersonal and we felt let down. Several similar comments from our first midwife appointment were also made about the family structure and a similar shocked response was received.

In my mind we went into a room to meet and see our baby. A process I have absolutely no visual memory of whatsoever from 2012 and Merlin. I remember Martha’s 20 weeks scan like it was yesterday in 2009, but Merlin’s? Nope. There’s just a blank. A black hole!

As the weeks went on and our wonderful pregnancy progressed further, so did the interaction. The kicks and jiggles. The responses to Nicola’s voice and mine. Lying my head on her bump as we went to bed and feeling baby wake up. Rubbing her bump, reading the weekly updates on our app. Every Sunday morning Martha and Merlin’s excited expectation of what comparative sized fruit baby was, marked another amazing pregnancy week.

At about 28 weeks I think, I went back to see my counsellor for the first time in a while and talked about some of what I was experiencing, about the shared experiences, about the déjà vu about the memory gaps, the black holes.

This, she said, is trauma! This is what experiencing trauma can do!

These things I can’t remember, could and probably did happen and they are in there somewhere in my mind, but trauma has blocked me from accessing them.

I don’t honestly know if I lay on Merlin’s bump and chatted to him. I don’t know if I remember those intimate moments as pregnancy grows. I simply don’t know.

Trauma! It’s a bloody big word! And it’s one I have used over the years about what happened with Mair. That we experienced something traumatic…but did I ever truly take the time out to acknowledge what it meant? I mean properly meant? It’s a scar.

Who knows what else it has taken away from me. Maybe in time it will become clear

Thankfully, our pregnancy progressed smoothly. Nicola felt well, I sought some intervention to reckon with the thoughts I was having and we loved it.

Time raced forwards and suddenly, just shy of two weeks early, our little boy arrived. In the words of our amazing friend who delivered Flynn, Nicola laboured like a goddess.

Picture1Flynn arrived on Tuesday 6 March 2018…Mair’s birthday. Something that could rightly freak many people out, but for us and I mean both Nicola and I, we found the cyclical nature and timing of his arrival very comforting. The kids see it as a great opportunity to forever have double cake on Mair and Flynn’s birthday 😊 Our friend Nicolette who delivered Flynn was the person whom I established Mummy’s Star with 5 years prior…and who had once met Mair. Their shared experiences of cancer around pregnancy having brought so much comfort to Mair and indeed providing one of the founding support features that the charity now offers.

Flynn was born a great healthy weight and instantly fed like a trooper. Nicola took to breast feeding like a duck to water and seeing her feed him is a sight of true beauty that makes my heart pound.

Seeing the bond between them, his brother and sister and the feeling of us all together is one that I treasure.

A week after he was born I broke down in tears one evening, holding him in what was a mix of love for him, for this great happiness that I am surrounded by and in acknowledgment finally that this time around I am not doing it on my own as I did with Merlin. That this baby of ours is shared and the loneliness that I felt bringing up Merlin, is not now being repeated. I treasure late night wake ups because I’m no longer on my own feeding through tear-filled eyes.

I wonder now how on earth I did it 6 years ago. How did I juggle the complex emotions of grief and being a father? I don’t honestly know. I don’t know how I didn’t understandably crumble My only explanation is that Merlin being so tiny, I simply didn’t have the chance too and when he got older at about 3, that’s when I had my real struggles and when my mental health was at its lowest point and I began to push away those around me. Once the tap opened though and I began to talk, it was a flood of emotion with every counselling session spent crying over what had gone before. I talked before I got worse and that is whats key. We won’t always say straight away. We won’t always talk when asked directly a few times, sometimes we won’t even talk until we hit a crisis point but as long as we eventually do then we can help ourselves and be supported by others too.

This is an unseen and unacknowledged side of fear of birth for men and could be and is likely to be repeated in several guises, with different illnesses and situations.

Even after his birth, during a health visitor appointments at home, despite acknowledging knowing of the charity and what had led to its establishment, there has not been one question asked “How Are You Dad? despite me act ally sitting there in person!

Why? Shouldn’t this be part and parcel of postnatal care? The whole family?

To anyone reading this, please always ask mum how the dad is and better still, try and arrange appointments when dad can be there. Pregnancy involves two parents and sometimes it won’t be the words that leave someone’s mouth that tell you the full story. It will be the empty look in their eyes that shouts everything you need to know.

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Ireland’s Monumental Day

I haven’t really commented on the Irish Referendum on the 8th amendment to date as I have been finding the whole subject very divisive and seeing falling out over split opinions. A very tricky balance

I would like to share some thoughts as it does/will impact on what I and others do

The scenarios I see on a day to day basis often leave women diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy with one of the most challenging, damaging and emotionally scarring choices they could ever be faced with and that is whether to:

• Continue a pregnancy, receive safe treatment but with a shadow of doubt as to what a cancer is doing during the pregnancy if its not responding to that treatment

or

• terminate a pregnancy and give them a potentially better chance of long term survival by accessing higher strength chemotherapy, and thus being there for other children and their partner.

When women are advised to terminate without there being any clinical reasoning for it, it both upsets and frustrates me on behalf of the mum because it is such an awful thing to contemplate and should not enter the conversation unless absolutely necessary. I do a lot of work trying to stop this so that women are not drawn into a kneejerk reaction because they have heard the word termination.

When a woman is provided with a clear clinical reasoning however and her life is or may become in danger, if she then chooses to terminate, I support her just as I do any women who i help.

This is Pro Choice, Not Pro Abortion. There is a difference

It is an incredible difficult area as no 100% guarantee can ever be given to women in this situation.

Even when there are known, safe treatment options available in pregnancy and reassurances are given, for some it is simply too much for some women and they will choose to terminate.

The existing bill in Ireland, brought in after the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar from Sepsis in Galway in 2012, simply does not extend far enough to cover the kind of cases we see because we’re dealing with an unpredictable rather than a definite; will the cancer spread or not.

Furthermore it can become subjective because under the bill, the approval for termination requires the agreement of two senior staff. Here we run the risk of a decision being based on someone’s YES/NO viewpoint rather than what is best for mums long term safety.

The only time the bill covers it is if there is cast iron evidence that her life is immediately in danger either from the illness or from the mum herself i.e. she is deemed a suicide risk…again something that is in itself very subjective.

Whatever a womans decision, I support her 100% through it and beyond and will continue to do so.

As CEO of an organisation involved in maternal health I believe I am there to support women and above all respect women’s choices and their rights to have them, irrespective of whatever my own personal opinions and I want the women I support to know and have the confidence in this.

They have enough to contend with as it is without worrying whether the professional sat opposite them believes what they are doing is selfish or not.

I know many women who have made both choices and I think they are all equally remarkable.

Some have survived and are doing well, some now have secondary cancers and some are sadly no longer with us.

They are mums who I support and always will because of the situation life has put in front of them, not because of the choices they make.

#RepealThe8th

Family of Five

46DABE8F-ADB3-4B41-BCC9-F5AC80DF7196.jpeg

It has certainly been a while since I’ve been on here or felt the draw to write but to be honest it’s been for wonderful reasons.

Meeting Nic in 2016 changed so much beyond my wildest dreams after what’s happened these last few years.

As a quick synopsis we got engaged when I went out to get her in KL last April and quickly it was evident that this new family unit of 4 was going to become 5.

Flynn Joseph entered the world on March 6 2018 to our utter delight and I cannot begin to describe the onrush of emotion that it set off. Just incredible.

His arrival coinciding with Mairs birthday was just uncanny but felt right and so special in many ways to us all. A circle completed in a way.

Ill write on here again in the coming months as I contribute to International Mental Health Day in June but for now I just wanted to share that it’s a happy place.

 

 

 

Peace or Pain?

martha-and-merlin_115Whats that all about then?

Tattoos, that’s what!

Folk seem to either love having them done or hate them but grin and bear it. I’m a lover. Thankfully I don’t find them painful. I actually enjoy the sensation, the scratching. Maybe I’m just weird.

The reference to tattoos though is a real-time analogy of sorts. An analogy in reference to today. Mair’s anniversary! (and as my sister will tell you, I love a good analogy. I’m full of them to the point I’ve just used the word three times in quick succession),

No I don’t love Mair’s anniversary. Of course I don’t! But my focus on the day itself is perhaps unusual….just as is my take of getting a tattoo done.

It’s about those dates. Those key ones in the calendar. The spiky ones that you can see a mile off and they roll round each year bringing with them new-found surprises. How are they going the bite us in the arse this year.

On the 19 November I had a wobble. A right bloody wobble too!

I had spent the day with my fab sister, watching the rugby (autumn internationals), Martha pottering around with her Lego and Merlin being especially cuddly as he had come down with something. We were all relaxed though.

In the midst of one conversation it became apparent that this was the time! We had entered the period of time that was the beginning of the end 4 years ago. The three weeks spanning 19 November to 6 December which saw Mair go from seemingly recovering from her chemotherapy session in the usual manner, to the realisation that something else was happening and her health was actually declining rapidly before our eyes. A period of time that would ultimately end with Mair tragically being taken from us by a rare, vicious, rapid secondary cancer, the likes of which left her medical team bereft, stunned and heartbroken in equal measure.

I went home leaving the children at Verna’s as i had a race the next day and as the evening wore on I realised the similarities to today.

Back then in 2012 Merlin had been very sick with broncholitis. I was looking after him downstairs, propped up on my lap trying to console him and keep him settled. I had the rugby on. Again the autumn internationals. Wales were losing to Fiji. A game Mair should have been watching next to me, screaming at the ineptitude of her players….but instead she was upstairs, bed ridden.

I cried a lot on Saturday evening at the similarity of the circumstances to this day compared to 4 years prior. How do these things come together. Just bizarre.

And this isn’t the first time that a date in this period has caused understandable pain at the recollection of events.

Bizarrely though it’s never actually today!! Never the 6 December! Never the day she actually died! Why?

Well I guess a day such as an anniversary can be seen as one of a person, in our case Mair, either being taken, robbed…..etc from us. Or as I see it, the day they ceased being in pain. The day they were at peace finally. No one ever wants to see the person they love suffer, least of all over a long period of time, so in my eyes she wasn’t suffering any longer.

Anniversaries can be filled with pain, with a feeling of injustice, with an overwhelming sense of loss. I think I find these emotions in the build up. The points where the bad news came, or where a little hope crept in only to then be dashed and the reality of her decline came smashing back in.

Today though is a day I am thankful that she suffered no longer. In her words as she said when she knew she would die “If it was my purpose in life to have two wonderful children then so be it and I will die happy”.

Today was Mair’s ‘so be it’ and I over the 4 years I think have slipped into that focus

So back to where I started. That peace or pain again – I’ll be spending today, her fourth anniversary, being tattooed! Continuing work on two sleeves symbolising  places that bring me peace and balance – The Isles of Arran and Skye. Skye on the left where Martha’s bumblebee is and Arran on the right, beneath Merlin’s dragon!

Today is peace for me, for Mair but I recognise too that today won’t be for everyone else. It will represent pain just like the tattoo would to others.

The 6th December!!!

That Happy Day :)

11323594105_4f13bf21a5_bToday marks Mair and my 9th wedding anniversary, and I am once again in the beautiful Lake District surrounded by the fells, the water, the inevitable cloud and everything that makes this place so special.

I say marks rather than marked because ever since she died I have always found myself in the habit speaking in the present rather than past tense and despite her tragically no longer being here on this earth, the 27 October will still always be that day of ours. It will never cease to be.

Understandably I know many people, my fellow widowers included struggle with wedding anniversaries and the loss it reminds people of. The days that should have continued, the further memories that would have been created.

That my way is different is not a criticism. Its just my way with this date.

I struggle to see that day in 2007 and each anniversary since, even those without Mair as anything other than that it was awesome. A casual feel to a special day surrounded by friends, scattered around the lawn of Briery Wood Hotel as we made our vows, the eerie yet beautiful sound of ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ on the garden speakers. In the midst of that still autumnal day, a solitary gust of wind brought golden leaves down on us which was Mairs Daddy silently blessing us with a whisper 🙂 No pomp and ceremony. no stress or worry in planning the day. Just our day 🙂

Yesterday as I stood on the pier in Bowness with Martha and Merlin we looked across the water and out of nowhere  a sudden gust of wind brought a scattering of little golden yellow and brown leaves onto the water surface and my mind was instantly taken back to that moment 9 years before. I smiled so much I had tears in my eyes and I then explained to them as they watched it, that just the same happened to us. They both looked out at the water in wonderment and it was yet another magical moment shared.

A year ago, as much as I again focused on the memories of a fabulous day, I otherwise was not in a very good place at all. I was beginning to feel very lost, unfocused and really just unsure about a lot of things. Amongst other things, the Lakes had become a place I couldn’t bear to step foot in because it was simply too painful. It held too much time spent there for it to be shaken off and become bearable again.

Here I am though in my hotel room in Newby Bridge, the children fast asleep in the bed behind me and we’re looking forward to a lovely day. I just booked it without much thought and maybe there in lies the secret. To not think too long or hard but just do what my gut says.

A year has made a huge difference. It has brought clarity of mind, a realisation that living in the here and now doesn’t mean forgetting. I have the most incredible love in my life who has made anything feel possible again where once things were ruled out. Overall an outlook of positivity and excitement in regards to everything. A perfect balance between remembering and treasuring what Mair and I had, and at the same time looking forward to what the future holds in store 🙂

Maybe it was just that small steps were needed in order to for me to feel able to venture back here, maybe it was an open mind, maybe an amount of hurt was actually needed in order to aid the healing. Who knows.

What I do know is that even though I don’t spend an awful lot of time here anymore, the Lakes will always hold a very very special place in my heart ❤

Today we will go to the Manjushri Buddist Centre at Coniston Priory, a place that brings so much peace and balance during the difficult times but also where in happy moments of relfection it brings a closeness.

Afterwards we’ll have a day of exploring museums and maybe seeek out a stone circle or semething. Whatever we do, we’re enjoying the day today

Happy 9th Anniversary Mair.

Pottery for 9 🙂 xx

A Key Unlocks!

IMAG4265Its Summer time and I’ve just returned from yet another wonderful visit to Scotland with my two children. Not the islands this time but the coast still in Dumfries and Galloway.

I remember a time, after Mair passed away where the mere thought of a whole weekend on my own with the kids filled me with dread as I found it all so tiring from the emotional onslaught that had been recently experienced. Now though I treasure that time. The exploring we do, the places we find, the almost spiritual connection we make with places. That fine balance of having Mair in mind and in reflection but at the same time focussing on the moment that this is us, our little team and we’re doing pretty well in the grand scheme of things. It was wonderful to be joined by my sister Verna for the latter couple of days and for her too to share in the joy that is the kids on holiday and them wanting to show her places such as the

The build up to the holiday, the weeks prior, had seen a number of very significant changes in our life which, while some had been coming for a while, had a real impact when they did.

The house that Mair and I had was on the market for some time. The children and I had moved in October 2014 to a new place as I needed to be away from the constant reminders of the decline in Mair’s health. I felt it important that the children and I started a fresh, without forgetting. We were a little team of three and we needeed new roots. The positive memories came with us in droves because it was after all the wonderful home we had made out near the peaks and begun making so many fabulous friendships.

So we moved……and I promptly began a complete delayed meltdown. Grief came rushing forward, which I wrote about in the The Lead Cloak . It was relentless and what then became a saga of a house sale lent to exacerbating this feeling. I felt trapped in a past that I wanted gone. My memories of Mair of a happy, caring and truly amazing person, full of life, zest, giving and compassion. I didn’t want my memories to be those of illness and ultimately her death in respect of that house.

Life generally was full of ups and downs, stops and starts, it’s on, its off, happy, sad. enthusiastic, bored, understood, insulted. The ups bizarrely seemed to coincide an offer on the house being made and accepted, the downs with that offer or sale falling through. The Autumn/Winter period last year especially I was up and down like a yo-yo, sparked by a sale falling through weeks before completion. It impacted me so much to the point I stopped looking after my own mental health. When something fell through I felt I was fish hooked back into that place again that I wanted to get away from. The bright point in amongst this time was a trip to Arran with the children which just melted my heart and reminded me of what was really important. Happy doesn’t always hide the sad tough moments through.

Thankfully a bit of a reality check and some harsh words helped snap me out of it and I began the year with a new zest, having started getting some professional support again. I started running again, having completely lost my enjoyment of it 9 months earlier, and this gave me back my clarity of mind that I had missed so much.

The advent of Merlin beginning nursery earlier this year could have signalled another meltdown, but as I stood there in tears watching him walking off, wishing Mair was there to see him, a friend covered me in a hug, took me for coffee and then shared some words with me that would ultimately put so much unexpected spring in my step.

052Another offer came in, it all looked good, the price was good, they wanted it to happen quickly and then bang. Fallen through again. Arrrgggghhhh. As if it wasn’t bad enough already some fucking genius then decided to put Mothers Day on Mair’s birthday. Both of those days tough enough as it is without combining them both. So there it was. Dragged back again just as I was able to see light and a new chapter beckoning.

Thankfully the running continued and I had a good outlet, achieving plenty, feeling healthy, eating healthily and above all relishing the time with the kids.

Finally it happened. The offer came in. It was good. Then another offer came in. They were competing and finally I accepted. This was it. The house was going to go.

The chapter was coming to an end, mirroring some other events too.

And there it was! The children finished school and nursery for the summer, the inevitable happened and the house sale was finally complete. The house was gone! It was no longer ours.

I expected to hand the keys in, walk out of the estate agents and go buy some prosecco and feel huge relief.

Instead I felt sombre, reflective, even slightly cross with myself for willing the house away so much when it had at one point been so filled with joy.

This though quickly turned to happy thoughts as I remembered that all those memories have come with us and I spent the afternoon looking through images of that time, of Martha so young, of Mair happy and healthy and not to forget Angus the cat who joined us in that home and was glued to Mair.

As the house sale completed on the 17/18 July I felt a sea change in me. I had built up so IMAG4289many walls,barriers, doors around me since Mair’s death, albeit subtly. Created places where I would hide away  and shield myself from the world almost saying “NO. You can’t come in here. I’m not sharing this with you. My safe place”

But a key had been found in the midst of this event. A key which will become more clear in the fulness of time. In an instant those walls and barriers crumbled around me and those doors that seemed locked forevermore suddenly swung open again. I feel freer, more open and safe than I have felt in longer than I can remember and I find myself smiling to myself on reflection of this on a daily basis. Life feels balanced again

A Chapter has closed but just like a book, you don’t forget what you’ve read before when you begin the next one; That new chapter which a key has unlocked 🙂 xxx

 

Normality…even when cancer arrives!

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Recent blog I wrote for Mummy’s Star #CancerandPregnancy Awareness Week which was featured in Huffington Post:

The 18th June! A day which is forever embedded in my memory.

 

The day I dropped my wife off for a routine antenatal appointment, thinking she’d only be a couple of hours. The day I went to the park with our daughter Martha while Mair was in hospital only for the world to stop at 10:28am. Mair rang and said she’d just been told she had cancer!!

 

“What??” was my response at the time and I still find myself astounded now thinking back to what became a blur of a day.

 

Four years on this week and I have found myself reflecting a lot. I always do this time of year for obvious reasons but this week I guess more so than previous at it sees the annual awareness week take place of the charity Mummy’s Star which I founded in Mair’s memory, to support pregnant women with cancer.

 

We’ve focused this year on how to maintain normality for women and I think its vitally important to highlight the huge amount of positives in our journey, despite the tragic outcome that was to come in the following months.

 

When Mair was diagnosed our world fell apart because of the uncertainty that this threw up. Having never heard of anyone being diagnosed with cancer in pregnancy before, let alone be treated for it, we were worried. Would it affect the baby? Could we even continue with the pregnancy?

 

Despite these worries the team were quick to provide the reassurances and the plan for treatment proceeded.

 

The bigger impact at this stage however was that Mair suddenly felt robbed of her pregnancy, her experience that suddenly wasn’t going to be as it had been with Martha 3 years earlier. She didn’t think she could enjoy the pregnancy as she has previously. Ongoing chemo was to interupt this on a regular cycle, the prospect of not being able to have a home birth and of course the hammer blow to her of not being able to breast feed again.

 

Step forward, our midwife Helen Howard!

We sat in a nice cool room, were given sandwiches and a cup of tea and were asked the simple question…”So, what would you like?”

 

Cue the reaction…”What? There’s Choices? She’s Got Cancer!!” In one simple question the world seemed to tip back in our favour. We suddenly had choices again that a week before felt like they’d been ripped away.

 

As I type this there are tears rolling down my face because I remember that meeting so clearly. I remember seeing Mair for the first time1 hour before birth since her diagnosis with a smile on her face. This lady had just handed control back. Something that is deeply underestimated in this situation but is absolutely priceless.

 

We actually could have had a homebirth however in the end we decided to have a hospital birth due to early induction to be able to recommence treatment, but the point is that it was on the table as an option. That is so important. Don’t make decisions for people. Make the decisions with them, inform them and the best solution will prevail.

The next thing was breast feeding. Having breastfed Martha for over a year, the possibility of Mair not being able to breastfeed again was almost as devastating as the cancer diagnosis itself. Nothing could replace that for her however suddenly a magic alternative was available.

Helen talked to us and explained about donor breast milk and that we might be able to get it for our baby. We’d never heard of this before, knew nothing of milk banks and all the rest but by the end of that conversation it was the best thing ever. Our little baby was going to be able to get the same start in life as his big sister and that meant the world to us both. Again, it was that bit more control coming back our way.

 

The final piece, but I would say the most significant was the regular monitoring of Merlin!

Every third Thursday was going to be chemo day, beginning on Thursday 28 June and that first trip to the hospital I remember stopping countless time on the drive there because she was so sick from fear, but we went in, had her treatment and were done. In advance of the next session though, the Helen and the team at Tameside Hospital arranged for us to come in earlier. There they had Mair lie on a bed, hooked her up to the baby monitor and there we stayed for an hour if not more to listen to his heartbeat. I cannot put into words fully how big an impact this had on Mair. It was like she was given her whole pregnancy back in an instant. There we were listening to our baby boy, his heart beating away happily. We knew he was doing well.

 

On the way out of the hospital then on each of the remaining sessions, after listening to our baby first, we ‘popped in to have chemo’! Those Thursdays were no longer about cancer, drugs, side effects….they were now about our baby! We were once again excited expectant parents and we were looking forward to the arrival of our baby boy and Martha’s little brother.

 

The remainder of the pregnancy went very smoothly, Mair’s induction all went to plan and she delivered to the minute, at 8pm exactly on Monday 24 September 2012, just as Helen had predicted only a few hours before.

 

In the upcoming months after this, our world would once again be turned upside down, never to be the same again following the sudden loss of Mair from a rare secondary cancer spread, but I would ask that the positives be remembered here;

Of how a simple meeting and a simple question from a truly wonderful midwife gave Mair her pregnancy and her enjoyment and focus on it back and firmly placed cancer in the background.

 

The charity was originally launched in 2013, a year to the day she was diagnosed in because I wanted the day to eventually figure for a positive reason rather than that day that began to take away.

 

It’s slowly becoming a good day.