My name is Pete and I’m the founder of the charity Mummy’s Star.
Recently I took over the Make Birth Better Pages for the day to talk about my experiences over the last 6 years in a series of mini blogs. This is all of them summed up in one.
If you haven’t been on my blog before let me introduce you to my fiancée Nic, Martha (9), Merlin (6) and Flynn (8mths).
Today is a happy place however 6 years ago my family went through unimaginable tragedy after Martha and Merlins mum Mair died from cancer just 5 months after being diagnosed and just 10 weeks after Merlin was born.
Yes! You’ve worked it out. Cancer and Pregnancy!
What on earth?!
That’s exactly how we reacted.
The experience of diagnosis in pregnancy was so unreal, scary and confusing but thankfully we were well looked after in pregnancy and post partum too.
I was a very active Dad anyway and so quickly got used to juggling them both with Mairs needs in terms of care. Sadly when Mair actually died my day to day logistically didn’t change. It was the emotion/grief that was the tough part.
Now if I backtrack slightly to before Mair died….I knew in my heart I was wasn’t bonding with Merlin.
I find it hard not to get upset seeing this pic of Merlin and I and me looking so cold and loveless but it was the reality of where we were. I felt so torn between him and Mairs’s health/needs. I felt like I was searching all the time for how to prioritise when the reality was I didn’t need to. I finally crashed one evening when chatting to Mair on the sofa and it became very apparent that I needed to seek some help. I had done what sadly many men do in situations like this. I was being tough and strong for for my family and “not wanting to seem weak”
I started to talk and a monumental weight lifted. Yes a heartbreaking tragedy was about to unfold in front of us but I cannot underestimate the power of seeking help. I wonder sometimes how I would have coped without it. I guess the reflection here when I look at these pics is that when someone smiles, always always look in their eyes and if they say they’re fine, ask them again. Eyes tell you so much about where a person is at and can be an in to them opening up.
The 2 pics above are taken 6 years apart to the day and us watching Ireland beat the All Blacks 🏉 I love this little rascal so much
After Mairs death I continued to receive regular counselling and it helped me through some of the darkest times of grief but also in some of the happiest moments too (because then I’d feel guilty for feeling happy)
The kids grew, I grew emotionally and in the summer of 2016 my friend Nicola and I got together 😍 (not before time too I might add) and we were a happy family of 4.
I had never had reason to consider what becoming a dad again would be like and that’s quite understandable given what had happened….but the moment we got together I/we knew we would love to have a baby. She broke down so many barriers I had built around myself and I felt truly and utterly happy 🥰
We got pregnant really quickly and we’re just over the moon that we were going to grow our family. Martha and Merlin bouncing at the prospect of having a little bro or sis.
Nic has a rough time of it for the first 20 weeks. We’ve since been told mild HG 🤢
From my perspective this was perhaps the start of the unexpected. Seeing my loved one sick or ill in a pregnancy setting again. It was horrible. Feeling useless and the deja vu was suffocating.
The even harder part was around the corner.
The magical pregnancy we were enjoying began (subtley) to highlight the trauma I had actually experienced 5 years prior.
I had complete black spots on my memory. I would rest my head on Nics bump (baby plum)…and then realise later that I have no visible memory of doing the same when Mair was pregnant with Merlin. I would chat away to bump at bedtime or sing….but nothing in my head from Merlin. It was heartbreaking and scary at the same time. I went back to my counsellor in a panic wondering what on earth was wrong with me and that is when I heard the word #trauma for the first time!!
I cried uncontrollably that day at what I had lost. I’d lost so much of that previous birth experience.
Now I’m delighted to say that our baby boy Flynn was delivered safe and well by our amazing friend Nicolette Peel in March this year and that was a moment of pure and utter joy 👶🏻🤰🏻😍
The post partum period saw a new series of things raise their head. More evidence of birth trauma that just caught me so off guard.
About a week after Flynn was born I was sat on the sofa one night just rocking back and forth. Nic offered to take Flynn from me so I could rest but I just refused to let go of him. My thoughts in that moment: I couldn’t hear Nic.
How could there be someone else to share parenting with?
How am I not his everything as I was the last time I held a baby in Merlin?
I couldn’t accept that this time was different!
That this time I wasn’t going to be doing it all on my own like last time.
That we were all here to enjoy being a family of 5 together. It was such a horrible feeling.
And then to compound this, the more time I spent with Flynn playing, cuddling, soothing him, I realised how much I had lost with Merlin or more importantly how little of that early time I remember with him. The little noises, the first cries, the snuggling. My heart breaks just thinking about it and when I see memories show up on Facebook of Merlin as baby now, I really struggle to fight back tears. I just miss him at that age so much.
I went into a something of a trance recently while watching Merlin in a swimming lesson and when he came out I nearly burst into tears on his shoulder about how many of those early moments feel lost. This is my experience of birth trauma and it is just horrible, almost crippling at times.
Now please don’t be confused into thinking I am envious of Flynn getting that time when Merlin didn’t because in my mind I know that Merlin probably did. It’s the fact that the memories are gone which is the hardest thing to comprehend.
I have my outlets. I run, I box, I publicly speak about my experiences, I write when I have time and it is cathartic. The challenge is just that it’s all still unfolding in this first year of Flynn’s life. The reflections come, the tears continue flow, the guilt still consumes at times but I’m aware enough to now know what it is and so I can keep an eye on it like a devil on my shoulder.
So, in a nutshell or maybe not so, that has been my experience of #birthtrauma.
Delayed, unexpected and crippling at times. Perhaps not a typical depiction of birth trauma but one that will effect people nonetheless. And similiar could happen without a bereavement too. A previous traumatic birth or illness around pregnancy could cause similiar.
I have channelled my experiences into positives be it through setting up Mummy’s Star or increasingly by openly sharing through public speaking and education sessions.
We are a loving family of 5, Martha and Merlins mummy is remembered with every passing day but most importantly we talk. We talk as a couple, we talk as parents, we talk as a family and when I need professional help I seek it.
Thank you for reading my ramblings
#birthtrauma #maternaldeath #makebirthbetter #dad #cancerandpregnancy #howareyoudad #maternitycare #family #itsokaynottobeokay #fathersmentalhealth #movember