#8 Finding My Tribe
In those early weeks after Ellis died, I found myself scrolling through hundreds of profiles on Instagram; just looking and hoping for someone to help me, but not really knowing what help I needed. I had been told all about Sands, and even offered therapy through my GP, but neither of these things felt right for me at the time. Back then, Sands groups felt too much like an awkward AA meeting and I think I felt I didn’t need therapy, that I wasn’t “that” person, thinking I was above all that or stronger than that - both utter rubbish in hindsight! But I knew I needed to find something, someone that knew what I was feeling, to feel less alone as a mother in this new found grief. I happened to come across two wonderful people: Claire from Awaken Yoga, and Lucy from The Rainbow Running Club. I think it’s fair to say that these two women saved me!
Claire is a mum of two, but like me one of her children was stillborn. Claire is also a yoga teacher, and just about the time I found her on Instagram she launched her yoga retreat day for bereaved parents. Claire was so easy to talk to; she was kind, patient and best of all when she said “I know how you feel”, I believed her! The yoga retreat day was to be a day of relaxation, yoga, meditation, reflection, healing and nourishing food. In my fragile state this felt perfect; what made it feel even more special was that I knew every woman in that room would be just like me, they would all know how it felt to lose a child. I signed up straight away with barely any hesitation, but as the day approached, I started to feel very apprehensive and anxious about what I had actually signed up for.
On the drive down I remember thinking countless times just turn around, go home, you’ll just embarrass yourself, you don’t need this. Well, I am so glad I didn’t turn around that day. It gave me so much whilst also teaching me a great deal. I also met some incredible women who very kindly and bravely shared their stories with me.
I drove up the driveway toward a very grand house, and sat in the car taking a deep breath! As I walked in I saw Claire, she gave me a huge smile and an even bigger hug. I took my place, towards the back of the room as I am no yoga master, and waited for the other ladies to arrive. I remember feeling like I was in some kind of strange other world, like I was here but I wasn’t supposed to be. It almost felt like I was imposing but then I’d have this huge hit of reality, nope you do belong here because yep, your child died too… worst club ever.
The morning’s yoga felt really good; I felt like I was so tightly wound up that a good stretch was just what I needed. We then did a sound bath, and oh my goodness… it was one of the most relaxing and soothing things I have EVER done. I was transported to such an out of body state that I can’t quite describe it; I wasn’t fully asleep, but I definitely wasn’t awake, it was surreal but so lovely. Afterwards though I felt a huge wave of emotion come over me, as I excused myself from the room the tears just poured out of me. I fell to the floor and sobbed. It was like all the emotions I’d been holding in since Ellis had died, both physically and emotionally, just took over me and the only way to let them out was to cry. Even though I’m sure Claire’s intension was not to make me cry I’m glad it did. It felt like part of the therapy of the day. It also shows how important letting your emotions out is, to feel that release from your body is good for you.
After a scrummy lunch we did some more yoga. The day ended with a releasing ritual and closing ceremony. I know… what on earth is that? When I first read this I didn’t have a clue what this was either, but then to be fair a lot of yoga and meditation was new to me, so I just went with it. Claire asked us to form a circle and on a piece of tissue paper right down one word, a word that explained or expressed an emotion towards your lost child. We rolled the tissue up into a tube, then one by one we lit the tissue and as the tissue got to the bottom it did something I’d never seen before - it floated up, the flame went out and then and the tissue was gone. Claire’s reason for doing this was to allow us to try and let go of that emotion, be it sadness, guilt, anger… to see it just float away!
The only thing I found hard and a little unsettling about the day was that none of the women there had lost children recently. Not that that is or was a bad thing because obviously grieving doesn’t have a time line; it’s not like after 4 years that’s it, grieving over. But after talking to the women and sharing my story and explaining to them that I’d lost Ellis 4 months prior, I got a lot of “oh wow, you’re brave”, “out so soon”, “I could barely function for months”, and then when I mentioned that the week before we’d been at a friend’s wedding, I received more shocked faces. I have to say at the time I felt angry, almost like they were saying I shouldn’t be there, I should be at home crying into my pillow; the fact that I wasn’t made me a bad person, a bad mum, and maybe I didn’t love my son as much as they loved their lost children. But then it dawned on me, most of these women had lost their first-born child. As I’ve mentioned before when trying to find support, I’ve not met or spoken with many women who already have a child at the time of their loss. For me, I couldn’t spend hours or days crying into pillows because I had to be up for the nursery run, to cook my daughter’s dinner, to go on playdates with her friends because, unfortunately, life goes on regardless. Of course, I’m no longer angry at those women, the anger didn’t actually last long - in fact I was over it almost as soon as I felt it. However, for that moment I did feel very uncomfortable and I guess it just emphasises that support needs to come in all shapes and sizes. I’ll be forever grateful to Claire for that day, it taught me so much, but also allowed me to grieve - properly.
Then there is Lucy. Wonderful, sweet, caring, supportive, Lucy! She is the founder of The Rainbow Running & Yoga Club, for all women who have experienced baby loss and/or infertility in one form or the other, to meet up for a gently walk, jog, or run, followed by a good old chat - oh, and there is always cake!
I found Lucy about a month after Ellis died whilst scrolling through Instagram late one night. She had just launched the website for her new club and I loved what I saw. She was offering a safe space for women to get together, to exercise a little, and share as much or as little as they wanted. The twist on this club is that you don’t need to walk, jog, or run, to come along. You can just go for the cake, but whatever you do, you know that the women around you have been through similar experiences and you will definitely find someone to share your story with. I sent Lucy a long email explaining what had happened to us and that I would love to come along to her first event. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what to expect or what I thought it would achieve by going, but I knew that I wanted to go.
So, on one fairly chilly Sunday in September I made the hour-ish-long journey up to Hertford, all set in my running gear. When I got there, I could see lots of women in their running gear but not really talking, just huddled with the people they came with; I had gone solo so just had myself to talk to. I saw Lucy and introduced myself, and then eventually struck up the courage to speak to a couple of ladies next to me. It felt so odd, like the first day at a new school or something. I knew these women and I would all share a similar story in some way or another, but I also found starting a conversation about it very awkward; I’m not generally good with being alone in a crowd, I may come across as confident but that’s only once I know my surroundings - I like to survey the land before I dive in.
Lucy soon got things going and I jogged (very slowly) alongside a lovely lady, and after a few niceties we began to share the reason we were there. The jog soon turned into a walk. If you remember, I’ve said before I’m not good with running, breathing, and talking! That’s when my barriers started to come down. This lady’s story was of course different to mine, but the end result was the same - neither of us came home with our babies, and it felt so good to share experiences even if they only had the smallest bit in common. We finished the run and went across to the venue for a drink and some cake! As usual, in a crowd there are always a few characters who are a bit louder than others, or make themselves known, and this crowd was no different. I wasn’t, so I grabbed a tea, water and cake, and sat down next to the lady I’d been running with. Before long we had a little huddle of people around us, a real mix of different ladies and stories, and again, one common theme – heartache. We all shared our grief, cried a bit, but also smiled and laughed. It was such a lovely feeling, I didn’t want to leave!
On the drive home I had a new-found confidence, confidence that I had found people who I could really share my story with, to speak freely and safely about my son, and my feelings, without getting the obligatory head tilt of sympathy. I was eager to get signed up for the next event, and the next, and the next!
Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 and lockdown, Lucy hasn’t be able to run any of the running events, but has still managed to bring people together virtually for various online events, some of which I’ve had the privilege of joining. What I have realised is that these events are just good for me in a mental and physical sense, but also these events give me “days out” with my son. I don’t get to go on days out with Ellis like I do Ruby, so when I get to go to events like this, even when they are just via my laptop in my lounge, it feels like it is my time with him. I get to really reconnect with him and that is what makes them so special, and is the reason I will continue to do them as and when I can. I need my Mummy and Son time just as much as I need my Mummy and Daughter time.
I know that social media gets a lot of stick and I don’t deny that it has a nasty side, but for me social media saved me; it made me feel less alone at a time when my world fell completely apart. The little squares on my phone gave me comfort, support, and best of all - friendship. When a baby dies you are often surrounded by silence, but thanks to these two amazing people I was able to find my voice, Ellis’ voice, and because of these lovely ladies and many others, I am now able to speak more confidently about my son in a way I never thought I would be able to do.
So, to Claire and Lucy, somehow thank you doesn’t quite seem to cut it, but I’ll be forever grateful to you both. You’ll never know how much your kind words have helped me - thank you for helping me find a way to parent my son