Now you are 11…

Dear Sophie,

11 years today. I’m trying not to freak out that after the summer you might have been going to high school. HIGH SCHOOL. As everyone still thinks I look way younger than I am, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to have your high school teachers take me as your parent seriously. Then again, I think my feistiness would have come into action if needed!

I think this is the first year it has taken me this long to realise that the 16th January was approaching. Usually these posts I write every year are written way before now, and seem much more profound.

I guess time is a great healer.

I look back at the last 11 years and the journey you put me on. There is no doubt in my mind that had it not been for you, I’d most likely be teaching or working in an office. Instead, your presence set my life on a tailspin that I’d never have foreseen. Being pregnant with you, and the way I was treated and talked to by some medical professionals because of being pregnant with you instilled a new perspective and passion inside of me.

I’ll always be grateful for the lessons I learned at that time. Unplanned pregnancy knows no boundaries. No socio-economic class. No academic level. No age. And I thought my last resort would be much easier than it was. I felt ripped into two when you appeared in my life. I thought it was after your life was ended, but with hindsight I realise that it was the moment I realised your life had a possibility of existing.

I wonder what this day will bring. Last year, I received my application form to become a member of Girlguiding and start my leadership training. In previous years this day has marked unplanned ‘firsts’ associated with the work you got me into!

Hope that you’re having a party in heaven today little chica.

Don’t forget to dance the Macarena and make your Mamma Koala proud… ;)

Saying Goodbye…

After having a termination, I went through a period that I now realise was grief. It was something I didn’t really expect and because (I think) of the stigma and polarising ethical debate on terminating pregnancies no one really spoke to me about it. It made for a lot of surrealness to go through a process where no one spoke to you. It was like they spoke around you and what you were going through. Like we were playing a make-believe game of hospital.

Everyone who knew was either wanting to pretend that this would all be fine or wanting to help me be ok with it. But I think the real issue was that nobody knew how to talk about it.

I’ve since discovered that a similar problem exists with other forms of pregnancy and child loss. Miscarriage grief tends to go on in private when it happens early on, or is secretly whispered amongst all but a few. Miscarriage & still birth later in pregnancy is an isolating experience where people are afraid to say anything to you in case it upsets you, or to ask you if they don’t know what has happened. Or assume that you don’t want to talk about it because then you can forget about it.

Everyone is different.

Some people do not wish to think about their miscarriages as babies. They see it practically as nature’s way of stopping something because it isn’t meant to be. For others, they want to acknowledge each pregnancy as the beginning of life for their children. It can help to name their child so they have something to name their loss and therefore be able to grieve and move on.

One of the things I’ve learned through my study of sociology at university, and through my work in grief support and counselling is the role rituals have to play in expressing grief and moving on. Memorials, acts of remembrance, actions of grief can take all sorts of shapes and forms. I often support my clients in choosing some kind of memorial or ritual to acknowledge their loss and it is so often doing this that releases them from the burden of guilt or shame they’ve carried associate with loss. Doing it can be tough but after they have the change in them is very evident.

Some have chosen to have charm bracelets – a charm for each loss. Others have gone to a special place to release a balloon – sometimes with a letter to their child attached. I know people who have planted trees in remembrance. Some have held a small service with a close friend or partner or family members who know about the loss and lit a candle together.

At the end of this month, I’m travelling to York to attend a Saying Goodbye‘ memorial service. Andy & Zoe Clark-Coates have lost 5 children and their experiences have led to them establishing a memorial services in cathedrals across the UK where people who have been affected by loss during or shortly after pregnancy can come to acknowledge and grieve their loss(es). There is one in Edinburgh the week before, on Saturday 22nd September, 3 p.m. in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral (please note this is in the West End/Haymarket area on Palmerston Place NOT the one in the city centre next to John Lewis!).

My main reason for going is to see what it’s like – it could help some of my clients in the future. But I’ll also be using the opportunity to remember Sophie, even though I have already said ‘goodbye’.

I know some of my readers have lost through miscarriage, still birth and termination. So I want you to know that Saying Goodbye is around and it might be something you want to do as well. You can find out more details of the events on facebook.

Things I learned in Fraserburgh…

I got back from Fraserburgh this evening. Flip me, I’m tired, but what a lovely time! I think my favourite part of my job is getting to visit different places , encouraging the teams in centres and sharing stories. I’m kinda fed up hearing my own story, but I forget that the story of how I got into this work is new to other people. I forget the power of going first and allowing others to be liberated from their own stories of loss and the people that squashed their right to grieve. Or allowing others to realise how much their words of judgment can have a negative and paralysing affect on people.

At the end of last night, the two ladies who’d organised for us to come up said their thank yous to us, and they almost had me crying.

But the main thing I learned in Fraserburgh is this…

They mak fancy pieces, and they are affy fine!

The night before heading up to Fraserburgh, I was panicking that I’d forgotten my Doric (cue a question from a South African friend who asked me ‘Who’s Doric?‘ when I was expressing my concern regarding this which made me crack up with the giggles). Just so you know, Doric is not a person, but a dialect of Scots-English unique to the North East of Scotland. Thankfully, it came back to me quickly (and the ladies all spoke to us slowly so we could keep up)!

Fancy piece‘ is basically a phrase used to describe some scrumptious home baking – whether it’s a slice of chocolate caramel shortbread, a great slab of lemon and blueberry drizzle cake or a cupcake slathered in butter icing.

Well, the Brochers (people from Fraserburgh) are as I said great makers of fabulous cakes and bakes! And no sooner had you finished one ‘fancy piece‘ but you’d be offered another one because they are indeed, ‘affy fine‘.

I’ve seriously lost count of the number of cakes and tray bakes I’ve eaten in the last 24 hours, but I think my wardrobe could be at risk of me outgrowing it again as a result!

Until next time Fraserburgh – keep peckin awa’.

:)

Sophie the Girl Guide

A few months ago, I was helping a friend out by doing a little babysitting and ended up staying longer than planned so she could continue to get some studying done. :) Due to a fussy teething baby, I ended up taking their daughter down to  Rainbows. As we walked and skipped down the road singing ‘Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum‘ and ‘What shall we do with a drunken sailor‘ (I should point out that my friend’s daughter was dressed as a pink pirate for the Rainbows Hallowe’en party, hence the choice of songs) we passed parents who nodded and smiled at me as we got nearer the hall.

It occurred to me that they might not realise I was not her mother, and then I realised that I look (and am) old enough to be her Mum.

It was one of those ‘Oh my word, I feel old’ and ‘Beam me up to Neverland, I don’t want to grow up!‘ moments.

Later, I reflected that if things had been different I might have been taking my own daughter to a hallowe’en party at Brownies. I reckon with my background in guiding that Sophie would have be one too! With some more mental arithmetic I realised that I’m old enough to be the mother of some of my Guides as well.

Today my daughter might have been 10 years old, and she would likely have been leaving Brownies to go up to Guides this term. I’m pretty sure with her DNA we would be starting to deal with a lot of hormones kicking in as we entered the ‘pre-teen’ years and I would be talking about puberty, sex and relationships with her. Not to mention bras. And having to buy new clothes to cope with the growth spurts. Slamming doors. Melodrama. Tears.

It’s funny to think that I’d be ahead of all my friends on the parenting front, as this year a lot of my friends have started families or are talking about starting families. And I would have been through it before them. Crazy.

I think this may be the first year on the ‘Birthday anniversary’ that I’m thinking ‘thank God I’m not a parent!‘ as I’d be entering into probably the toughest phase of parenthood – the 10-16 years!

And I expect that tonight there would have a sleepover. Or to give it a more apt name: an ‘awakeover’.

I have no idea if you have awakeovers in heaven, perhaps you don’t even need sleep in heaven, so it’s one giant awakeover? I don’t know, and really I have no need to know (though I am curious).

The one thing I do know is that it’s very strange to think that I might have been watching my kid turn 10 today. 10.

Yes, that’s right. TEN.

Somebody pass the anti-wrinkle cream…

16th January always makes me smile, because I know that Sophie has left a legacy…

16th January 2008 – my first time running a sex education class on dealing with unplanned pregnancy to a group of fifth years (the year I was in when I got pregnant).

16th January 2009 – my first appointment with my post abortion client who I supported through a recovery programme.

16th January 2010 – the first day of my first time running a pregnancy crisis counselling course.

I have no idea what this day will bring, but I do know that this coming weekend we’ll be running the first pregnancy loss support training course in Edinburgh since Sarah & I became managers. Sarah’s head honcho for this course, but I’ll get to do a couple of the training sessions which I’m really looking forward to. The resources available to help people grieve after having a termination have improved so much over the last couple of years, and I’m really excited about that.

The Women’s Conference

Sorry for the interruption in the middle of the blog party! I thought I had already told about the date of the conference I was asked to speak at etc, but apparently I didn’t (apologies).

This is a women’s conference on Prayer & Healing.

Date: Saturday 24th September

Time: 9.30 a.m.- 1 p.m. (lunch included)

Location: Liberton Northfield Parish Church, Gilmerton Road, Edinburgh

Speakers: Heather Holdsworth & Laura Anne Mackay

Cost: £5

I’ll be speaking on prayer and healing after pregnancy loss. Though I have spoken at medical conferences about the work we do and training people who are supporting people in crisis pregnancy or after pregnancy loss, I’ve never spoken at an event like this. I really don’t know what to expect, and very nervous as neither my national partner or my local partner will be there so I’m going to be all on my own for this one.

Gulp…

Back in the days of Musings of a Koala (my old blog) I wrote about something that scared the crap out of me, and was shocked when the Director of the national charity I volunteer with, Joanna found the post and commened on it.

It was one of the encouraging words that lead to me sharing the journey I had into the work I do in more detail over a series of posts. I was totally overwhelmed by the response those posts got – not only from the number of folks in my church who eventually worked up the courage to ask me about it (most of whom I had no idea read my blog!), but also from a number of e-mails I got from people telling me about how those posts had helped them in some way. I really and truly didn’t expect it, but it gave me the courage to do what I’d been wishing to do for a long time and really be open about it and started this blog very aptly named ‘Learning from Sophie‘.

I actually didn’t explain the title of my blog until about a month after it went live.

One of the reasons I did inter:act is because I really wanted to be able to be better at public speaking, because I felt that maybe I needed to be to help mobilise the church to dealing with pregnancy crisis & pregnancy loss in a much more Jesus-like way.

It’s funny how common pregnancy crisis & pregnancy loss is in our country – it’s a common struggle. Yet I’ve gone to Christian conferences that have had seminars on supporting people who have been sexually abused, struggled with depression generally or with their sexual identity or with sex & relationships in general. And yet time after time people say “I wish I’d known how to help my friend” “I wish people had spoken with me about this before I got pregnant” and even “My minister advised me to have an abortion so nobody would find out I got pregnant out of wedlock“.

So last week I simultaneously wanted to both cheer and throw up when 2 women organising a Christian women’s conference in Edinburgh had said they felt they needed to have a session on the topic of prayer, pregnancy crisis & healing from pregnancy loss.

And that they would like me to give a talk on the subject.

Oh help.

I’m nervous for several reasons. Firstly, I really don’t want to mess this up. Secondly, I’m not a natural public speaker by any stretch of the imagination. Thirdly, I have no idea what to expect. Fourthly, I’m concerned they referred to me as an ‘expert’ on the subject. As my twitter bio says ‘I’m just a wee lassie fae Leith!‘ (and it’s true).

I do take courage though that the last time I was asked to speak at a Christian event (specifically to share the story of Sophie and the story of how I ended up in my current job) it went much much better than I ever could have anticipated, and heard months later how it had become a catalyst for number of exciting things that happened within that youth group. I blogged about it here and I said then that it had made me realise that sharing my story can help and make a difference in some way.

So I really hope that it will again.

Of course, I would appreciate prayer as I prepare to do this. One thing I really wish to do is to head up to beach to remember and honour my unborn child before the conference (which is in September) – I had hoped to do this in June but circumstances meant I was unable to do this. Plus if you have experience in speaking at these kind of events – please share your wisdom with me (I need it!!).

Trusting God

It’s no surprise that after an intense and encouraging weekend with my lovely City Church family, that the week started in a weird way.

Somehow in my mind I had managed to organise my week forgetting key elements that make this week different to my routine weeks.

But add to that the news that my friends’ baby had been rushed to the local children’s hospital and was in an isolation room? Forget it. I found it so tough to concentrate on tasks today. My mind and heart were pure and simple with my friends.

I find it difficult to trust God with the people I care about. I don’t like being helpless, I don’t like it when I can’t fix things and go in their place when they face challenges.

But trust is what I have to do. Have faith that God does listen to our prayers. Trust that God will bring justice. Trust that God will bring people through and out of their pain.

This weekend has also brought out a lot of ‘Sophie-related’ stuff back to the forefront of my mind. One of the speakers spoke about her experience of stillbirth, and how grief didn’t come until she had named their little girl (I can relate!). In brings me great comfort to know that she too thinks of her children in heaven. There was the abortion conference where my old consultant who freaked when she found out about my beliefs and basically refused to treat me was one of the main speakers. The only one out of all these Gynaecology specialists to speak about the emotional side of termination (excuse me while I lift my jaw from the floor…). Not to mention reading a book in my search for a better understanding of pregnancy loss. The book, written by a Psychotherapist from the USA is the first book on pregnancy loss that has resonated so strongly with my own experience of both STOP (that’s medic speak for ‘Suction Termination of Pregnancy’) and being told of my possible infertility.

I’ve actually been pulling away from counselling for the moment, purely because I recognise that my head is pretty out of synch just now. Partly Inter:act, partly the unsettledness of not having a safe place to call home, partly delving into an area of pregnancy loss that brings a lot of emotions in me, partly due to the ‘winter factor’.

And the fact that I am very aware that next year it will be 10 years. Combine with the very weird fact that on 16th January 2011 (what should have been Sophie’s 9th birthday), I’ll be almost exactly the same age my Mum was when she gave birth to me.

But I know God. And since I started working in the pregnancy crisis centres, he has brought such special moments on the 16th January every single year so far. I hold faith that something special will happen next year too, because if I know anything, it is that my God is a gracious God. :)

A new kind of loss

Our centre does all kinds of work. Although our main focus is pregnancy counselling for those unsure of whether or not to continue their pregnancy, over the years many of the centres have discovered the need for other relevant services.

Befriending. Maternity Clothes. Prams. Car seats. Baby clothes. Education. Post abortion recovery.

Miscarriage recovery.

For many years this was not a huge part of our work, as there was a support group for people who had experienced miscarriage in our area. And we knew that the Early Pregnancy Units at hospitals down the country provide support as well.

However at the beginning of this year we suddenly noticed more clients were coming to us to seek support after miscarriage…and we didn’t have enough people to support them. We started looking into other places we could refer them to. The hospital only took certain patients on for counselling – and there was a 3-6 month waiting list. There were no support groups. In fact, it had been an NHS service that referred their patient to us because of her desperation when she heard about the waiting list.

And so we realised…ok…we’re being called into something here.

Miscarriage is something that scares me. In fact, it’s the only part of this job that scares me.

I never struggled with the training in pregnancy crisis counselling, and I was fine with post abortion support. But as I started doing some add-on training in miscarriage support, I realised it’s the one part of my job I struggle to grasp, because I have never been through it myself. I’ve been a teenager, I’ve had sex, I’ve been pregnant, I’ve had an abortion, I’ve been told I may never be able to birth children of my own. I’ve never experienced miscarriage – not even in the sense of walking with a friend or relative through such a loss. So as we do role plays, and I try and step into the client’s shoes, I find myself totally lost.

I think I’m also scared about what they would feel about me if they knew that I’d had an abortion.

About 30% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.

So it is definitely something I need to learn more about.

And not just the clinical side of it all, but the emotional factors involved. It has been such a great help to read people’s stories and experiences of miscarriage and stillbirth because it is helping me to gain more empathy and understanding.

This is new and unchartered territory for me, and I want to tread very carefully.

As always, I appreciate prayers, testimonies, recommended resources you think might be helpful as me & some of our team navigate our new roles. And for members of our team who have already been doing it for years and are training us up! :)

More lessons in leadership

This leadership thing is tough.

For those of you who hopped over to Shelley’s blog last week to read my guest post (thank you to all of you who left me a comment, I really appreciate every single comment I get on any post I write) you might realise that I have a fair bit of insecurity regarding my current status in this area!

It has not been an easy ride.

I’m battling the whispers and memories of negative words spoken over me. Why is that you always remember the bad stuff? My friend Tam talked about this recently, and I can only echo my agreement with all she said in her post that day. The power of word is huge.

These battle scars are not ones that can be seen. And it is so easy for old wounds to be reopened.

Something that deeply concerns me is the lack of support and the unwillingness of organisations to open their doors to pregnancy crisis support, sex and relationships education and post abortion & miscarriage recovery. People seem to be scared of what I do. It seems to make them uncomfortable.

There is a huge generational gap in our organisation, and as cancer seems to attack (quite literally in some cases) I worry that with death or retirement our work is going to die too. And it is still so needed.

Something I’m trying to encourage the folks in leadership of centres across the country is making sure they have pastoral support, a team of encouragers and prayer warriors and to be training up the next generation.

I’m making that my own goal for this year.

Lead by example.

I want people to learn how to do my job – because if this year has taught me anything, it’s that even though I’m ‘only’ 26, I don’t know how long I have here. I need to be replacable! If I’m Moses, I need a Joshua, and if I’m Paul, I need a Timothy… :)

The one thing I have very little control over is financial support, pastoral support, encouragers and prayer warriors. About 99% of this form of support I receive through cyberspace. Lovely, but not ideal. I’m so thankful it has been there though. I don’t think I’d have got this far otherwise.

The nervousness of ‘shocking’ people. As I spoke to the group in front of me in the Highlands on Monday night, a few eyebrows were raised, some expressions stony…but eventually there were smiles (phew!). But the stigma and fear of being part of this kind of ministry seems to remain.

In the meantime, we end up having to turn away people needing our help because of the lack of resources.

I’m not sure if that makes me sad, angry or just decreases my faith….or maybe a combo of all of the above!