Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Move

I can’t remember exactly when I decided to move away from London, but I’d wanted to for years and Robin had been looking for work elsewhere for a while.  We were also looking at houses in greater London for our expanding family, but it wasn’t easy to find something on budget.  Sometime between losing Robin and the spring I decided to move while I was on maternity leave.  It was perhaps a foolhardy thing to attempt to move away from my family to a new place where I had no friends or support.  But I was so determined to get away from London, give Sophie and I a new start and be by the sea – a long-term dream.

People often ask why Bournemouth – and it was mostly chance I have to say.  I did know people in Brighton, but it seemed quite pricey.  I knew it was the south coast I was after being and so worked my way along the coast until I hit Bournemouth – it seemed like a good compromise between seaside, countryside but a large enough town to have stuff going on.  So I started the usual trawling of websites and trying to work out the exact nature of places from photos and maps online.  I found a few hopeful places, sensible homes to bring up a child.  But I needed to go there.  In the March we were invited to a friend and colleague’s wedding in Devon the same weekend as Mum and Dad were invited to a wedding in Eastbourne.  So Dad booked a holiday flat in Westbourne, Bournemouth for a week so we could meet up after and have a look around.  I got details of some of the estate agents ready, but knew nothing about the place really – only a bit of research from the internet.

The drive to Devon and the wedding went well enough.  I felt a bit out of it as I’d not been with any large groups since having Sophie.  It was nice to see people though, some familiar faces.  Though it did seem like a thousand years since that life when I was working and Robin was alive.  I was beginning to feel more confidence in myself and how capable I was – staying away with my baby (who was 5 months now) having driven myself there – no one else to rely on or pass the buck to.  I only got my little car in the February, which was in part funded by very generous donations from Robin’s old school friends.  I had never driven this far before.  On the whole I enjoyed it – and it was even quite a pleasant drive back along the coast to Dorchester, where I met Mum and Dad, and then on to Bournemouth.

I can’t remember all of the things we did the rest of that week, but we looked in a few estate agents around Parkstone before I decided to try the other side of Bournemouth where you can get closer to the sea.  Southbourne has quite a few estate agents in the high street and I went in all of them.  I liked the high street.  It had plenty going on, but wasn’t too busy and there were plenty ladies with buggies around – it seemed like a nice family area.  I managed to find two houses I wanted to actually see.  The first was quite far from the high street, and while it was a lovely house with great built in cupboards and a roll top bath, it had a mechanics garage out the back, no real view and seemed quite far away from the shops.  The second was on a little one-way road just off Southbourne Road, near the station at Pokesdown and with shops around the corner and the high street a short walk.  It was all plainly but recently decorated and had views from the back which were open because of the railway line, meaning the next row of houses were further away than they would normally be.  That and with it being on the brow of a hill meant it seemed high up and light.

I went back to London full of Bournemouth thoughts.  I mulled everything over and thought the second house was much more suitable.  I didn’t want to wait and search further because of the time constraints.  We organized a second viewing and Mum and Dad came with me again for a daytrip.  We did all the things you are supposed to do – asked different questions and looked with a more critical eye.  I also walked down to the sea with Sophie to see how long it took while my folks drove around a bit seeing what there was to see.  We met up at the cliff top at a café there.  Being by the sea drove it home for me.  It’s where I had wanted to be for so long.  The air was cleaner and the views great.  It was a lovely place to bring up a child and make our fresh start.  Though we were not made welcome in the café, were refused hot water (to make Sophie’s food) and heard barbed comments about too many buggies being a health and safety risk, on the whole I was feeling very much like this was a place I could live.

I put in my offer and it was accepted.  The survey was fine.  It mentioned the windows needed painting soon and the sellers were nice enough to give me another £1000 off the price to cover that.   So then the clock was ticking.  I really had to move to Bournemouth before I was due back at work.  My neighbour who was renting was buying my flat, so that was easy and no extra fees to pay.  I had to use my current mortgage suppliers as I was on maternity leave no one else would give me a new mortgage.  But that was fine.  They were very helpful and I organized solicitors with them too.  It was all pretty smooth, though I have no idea why things take the time they do.  My completion date was in August – 3 weeks before I was due back at work.

By far the most difficult bit about moving was packing up my flat while coping with a baby.  I made a good start with the books, but found other things so awkward as the boxes began to get in the way – there was no where to put anything.   Baby equipment takes up so much room, and by this stage I did really need the playpen, high chair, playmat etc etc.

I would never have managed it all without my folks, and on the big day my good friends Miles, Wayne and Nick who all came to my rescue.  We paid for a van that Wayne was happy to drive and load – he was a total wizard at fitting things in there.  Dad hired a small van too and I had my car. It was very stressful.  I felt so bad that my friends were having to pack up the last things for me as well.  It got to a time where I had to leave to get to the estate agents in time to get the keys!  Nick came with Sophie and I in my car – it was good to have the company, and someone to answer my phone when the estate agents called wondering if I was going to get there soon as they wanted to go home.  We made it, just in time.

It felt very strange to walk into my new home, all empty and blank.  We had a good look around planning where to put things.  Some furniture I wasn’t expecting had been left in the front bedroom, so decided Sophie would be better in the little room.  It all felt very surreal.  A while later the van arrived and then Mum and Dad.  Miles, Wayne and Nick kindly set up my bed and Sophie’s cot before we all got fish and chips for supper and they left.  I think Mum and Dad must have stayed on the camp beds – it’s all a bit foggy now.  All I know is I had done this massive thing moving from familiar surroundings to somewhere I barely knew and had no friends and it was all sinking in.

The trains were louder than I had remembered too.  The next few days I was fairly distraught – wondering what on earth had possessed me to do something like that.  But it was still a lovely area.  The neighbours turned out to be really great.  We had more space and a garden with an apple tree.  And not everything reminded me of Robin.  It would be OK – wouldn’t it?

Well eight years on I can honestly say that I was lucky.  I landed on my feet.  What was a determined madness in some ways ended up being a really good move for us.  I’m not saying things have been easy – and it did take time to make friends and find my way, but I love Bournemouth now and am so glad I found the courage to go through with something slightly reckless and nutty.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Early Days

Early Days

It’s been a long time since I took the time to write anything for this blog.  In fact I think it will become something else really, more of a store of my thoughts and memories rather than a regular thing to entertain.  I have worried about how many others are doing a great job of blogging about living with the loss of a partner – that old story of how can I do any better than it’s already being done by others with more experience of writing than me.  However, I am not doing this primarily to talk to the world or compete for readers, but rather to keep memories of the journey safe for the future and particularly my daughter.

With that in mind I do feel the need to fill in some of the past eight years and I will try to do it sort of chronologically.

The early days of my life with Sophie are a bit of a blur.  It’s such a big thing getting used to having a new person in your life and to an extent I put aside my grief to deal with the immediate needs of a new baby.  We built up our own kind of weird dysfunctional routine.  It wasn’t perfect and neither of us got much sleep at night, and the only sleep in the day was when Sophie was in the buggy or the car seat, which meant I couldn’t catch up myself, as I was needed to drive the car or walk the buggy!   I got by somehow – with help from my folks who often cooked and provided much company to keep me sane.

I remember feeling so rubbish that when the health visitors came I wasn’t dressed yet – but I’m sure that’s what they expect.  I was proud of myself one time though for answering the door whilst feeding Sophie – not that easy to maneuver about to do that when you are a new mum.

As I got into the swing of it I began to go to post natal classes at the local health clinic in Raynes Park.  The mums that I met there were so lovely, and the sessions practical that I was swept up in the whole baby thing and happily so.  Of course grief and loss was always there, intangible yet so very real.  As I mostly just saw the mums with the babies it was OK.  I wasn’t too much of a sore thumb.  Some of the ladies had husbands who worked away or long hours too, so as we became friends and did more socially it was safe.  A safe loving group who were so happy to be mums and share that experience. 

During that time the days were OK – they had a pattern to them and I could cope fine.  The difficult and dark times were night.  I was alone with a baby who didn’t want to sleep.  Once or twice it was 3 or 4am before we even got to sleep.  There were times when I could understand how people can be tipped over the edge of sanity.  I’d never seen so many lonely cold dark hours of the night before.  I guess it was love that got me through – that and shear willpower.  Love for Sophie and the will to get through each night.


The postnatal group would go for a tea or coffee after the sessions at the health centre.  A small café where we had to sit outside as there were so many of us.  My first public breast-feeding happened outside this café, which felt like quite a milestone.  After the classes stopped we still would meet up.  The Raynes Park people would walk up to the common together, meeting others up there and again find nice spots for a cuppa and a place to feed the babes.  Time went by and our little ones began to take solids – so all the conversation turned to what we gave them, who made their own, what age you started solids etc etc.  It was like having my own hotline to the experts.  My own little support group – though I don’t think I realized at the time, but that’s kind of what it was.

Leaving them behind was the hardest part about moving away from Raynes Park and everything I knew.  When I made the decision to move to Bournemouth that was really my only regret.  Although so many of them have moved away since then, that I was glad I wasn’t left there with all of that lovely group leaving me!

So the end of the first chapter of Sophie’s life was perhaps that move.  Our lives were about to change again, but this first little chapter had been a bit of a cocoon in terms of being among familiar people and new friends with babies.  It had been an easy transition – being on maternity leave and just having to think about me and baby – mostly baby – didn’t take too much brainpower.  But I longed for a move – had been longing for it for years in fact and now I saw my chance.  So while on maternity leave I found a house, sold the flat, sorted timings, found friends to help me and moved to Bournemouth.  Nothing like a back-to-work deadline to spur things on!  But that’s a whole other story.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Birthday's and Anniversary's

Tomorrow Robin would have been 41.  But he will never grow old, get bald, wrinkly or face failing health.  Forever frozen in time at 33, that's how I will always remember him.  I do have lots of wonderful memories which I do share with my daughter as and when so she can build up a picture of her Dad.  But it takes a fair old effort to not feel sad and dwell on what we've lost every time some memorable date arrives.

We have developed a bit of a tradition where we put on some of Daddies music and have a dance around the living room.  We will also light a candle and have a quiet chat about it all.  Last year, for Robin's 40th we met up with his mum and sister, and his best friend Matt and his family, and we launched a rocket I'd bought him many years ago that had never been used.  It was a really warm day and we had a lovely pub lunch in the sunshine before heading to a quite spot.  Thank goodness Matt was there as the rocket launch was definitely a boy thing - but the kids loved it too - and it went so high we could imagine that Daddy might well have seen it.  This year it's still cold and wintry - no sitting outside pubs in the sunshine this year, but we will remember him in our own way.

When you loose someone - you don't just have Birthday's and Christmas to remember - there's that horrible day every year when you relive the loss.  However much you try to ignore it, you can't.  That date will always be there.  There was a year I was so busy with toddler Sophie that I had missed the fact that it was that terrible anniversary.  Until a friend texted to send her wishes.  We were out at the shops and it felt like the floor fell away.  I haven't forgotten since.  In a way by paying attention to the dates you are better prepared for what's coming.  Like the old adage - forewarned is forearmed!  It helps to prepare - like taking a deep breath to prepare for any daunting task.

And it doesn't end there.  There is Valentine's day, Mother's day, Father's day, school holiday's, family Birthday's and all sorts of other anniversaries.  Then there's every time Sophie achieves something new - swimming badges, awards at school, learning to roller skate, ride a bike and all the rest.  All of these dates and anniversaries bring home the fact that Robin is not with us, where he should be.  It takes every ounce of control I have to get through a school play in one piece.  Robin should be there to see all these things.  Why should my lovely girl have to grow up without her Dad being there to watch her plays and help her ride her bike?

And why should I have to face every noteable date alone?

As hard as it is though,  you have to try to remember the good times; to celebrate the life that was, rather than mourn the one that was lost.  So tomorrow we will talk about Daddy and the things he liked.  We will dance like idiots around the living room to The Cure.  We will light a candle and say a prayer.  We will celebrate the good man that Robin was, and who we miss so terribly.

It has been nearly 7.5 years since Robin died, sometimes it seems like yesterday, sometimes it feels like it was a different lifetime.  But we will always remember him and send him our love as we celebrate his Birthday.

Happy Birthday Robin - 33 again xxx

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Loss and Life

Death is a part of life.  There's no getting away from it, it happens to us all eventually.  We expect to loose our grandparents, and though we dread it and don't like to think about it, we know we will eventually loose our parents.  But we really don't expect to loose a partner when we are young.  Robin was only 33 when he was taken away from us.  I was over 8 months pregnant.  We were about to make the final preparations for the baby.  I was just about to begin my maternity leave - time to rest and prepare for the birth and the early days of motherhood.  Instead I was taken by a young policeman - blue-lighted (I think he thought I might go into labour) up to St Thomas' to say goodbye to my baby's father. 

I was hyperventilating by the time we reached the hospital.  A lovely nurse looked after me and my parents arrived a little later by cab.  I think there was paperwork, and a fair bit of time passed before I was taken through to see Robin.  He still had a tube in his mouth, but otherwise looked peaceful.  I was totally in pieces.  I couldn't imagine having a baby without him.  I sat with him for some long time.  Someone came in to ask a few questions.  The nurse came and went.  Eventually she gently suggested I leave.  I kissed Robin one last time - on the forehead due to the tube.  He felt cool.  And that was that.  My life was changed forever.  He was gone.  Our baby had no father - just me, and I was somehow going to have to bring this new life into my devastated world on my own.

I didn't sleep what was left of that night.  Just lay and listened to the very loud beating of my heart.  I was in shock.  I know that now, but at the time I just wanted sleep to take me.  I didn't want the next day to come because I had no idea what I would do or say to anyone.  But the days did come, things happened.  Friends came.  The funeral was arranged - we had to ask for a close date so that I could actually be there before baby arrived.  Robin's mum Angela was a huge help in those days - she was so strong, and Chloe, his sister too - who offered to be my birth partner.

The funeral went well.  It was a very difficult thing to get through, but it was such a comfort to have many of our friends and family there too.  Choosing the music had been hard, but it seemed to work, and there were even a few laughs at the choices.  Rob's best friend Matt had written a lovely piece too.  I had bought a book for people to write in - but wish I'd circulated it further now really as it looks quite empty where people wrote on a few pages only!

Sophie came into the world 5 days later.  Life followed the loss - though not in a totally straightforward way of course.  She had a bleed into her scalp due to the foreceps (she was back to back for those who know about these things, and that had made pushing her out very tough).  She stopped breathing from the shock, but luckily the staff at Kingston were very good and managed to revive her.  That was very hard though - after 17 hours of labour to not have her with me.  And because I'd had a spinal block at the end, I couldn't walk, so had to wait for a nurse to bring me to her in the neonatal ward.  It was 3am, 24 hours after I went into labour.

I think I was in shock.  I certainly felt in a daze.  Chloe had been with me all day while I was in labour, but now it was just me.  I felt disconnected from everything - even my daughter.  I had lost Robin, and gained Sophie (though she didn't have a name at that point).  But even the baby was not in my arms.  I was numb. 

The next morning I finally got to hold my baby - though she was still connected to tubes.  I had my first attempt at feeding her, and a lady who helps women with babies in neonatal took a photo.  I had needed a lot of stitches and was on plenty drugs, which added to the feeling of disconnection I think, but it all seemed so unreal.  I was kind of floating.  Of course I hadn't had much sleep either in the last few weeks - and only a few hours since going into labour the day before.  Soon feeling began to return.  Family and a few friends visited.  We both began to heal.  Sophie was out of neonatal, but I had to take her there for medication regularly for that first week. 

On my last day in hospital I was shown how to bath her - this hadn't been possible with the cannula.  Finally leaving the safety of that closed environment and bringing my daughter home was very emotional.  The world seemed so big and overwhelming, but back in my flat I felt safe and happy to be gazing into the smile of this new life.  I was devastated that she would never meet her daddy, nor he her, but she was so perfect I never wanted to put her down.

One life had ended, but a new one had begun and that was what I had to focus on now.  My life would never be the same again - it was virtually unrecognisable to me.  But I had to make it something good - for Sophie - for this new life.