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Navigating grief as a new parent

Our son was just three weeks old when my Grandma died unexpectedly. What followed was the hardest time in my life.

We were very close. She was more of a mother figure to me than a Grandma. I called her Aud and she called me Moonbeam because according to her “I light up every room with my smile.” Looking back now I realise that was also true of her. 

 

 

My husband Jordan and I stayed with Audrey aka Aud when I was six months pregnant and I loved every minute of it. She was so excited to meet her great grandchild and had knitted a monkey especially for him. 

 

This is my first experience navigating grief as a new parent and it’s unlike anything I could have ever imagined. It took so much to get our rainbow baby earthside so Aud’s loss is utterly devastating.

 

Aud met Teddy on a video call when he was a week old alongside my cousin Elodie. We ended the call saying how much we loved each other as we often did, and shared our excitement about them meeting in person soon. When she passed away it was as though my world went from technicolour to black and white in the blink of an eye. I felt immense guilt being happy around Teddy, and equally guilty when I was sad. I was just discovering who I was as a parent, only to feel lost without her.

 

Looking after a newborn with little to no sleep while not having time for yourself is unimaginably hard, even without grieving. I took care of our son alongside Jordan but everything else like grabbing a shower, getting dressed and brushing my teeth felt like incredibly hard tasks. 

My heart was breaking as my postpartum body was healing. The pain after my birth was so excruciating that walking was hard in the weeks following. I was administering daily injections to help restore my iron levels as I lost a litre of blood in childbirth.

In between changes, feeding and settling him to sleep, I remember not knowing what to do with all the love I had for her, but being certain that she would want it poured into Teddy. Grief after all is love with nowhere to go. 

 

Shopping for a funeral dress with a newborn baby was awful. But being honest and telling people that I wasn’t okay, but would be in time, was vital for me. My friends and family, especially my cousin Laura have been an important lifeline. 

 

Jordan planned a visit to the beach ahead of the funeral and it felt like I could finally breathe out. Being outside and listening to the waves break made such a positive difference. We invited loved ones over to meet our son and share positive memories of Aud and that helped us feel seen and supported.

A week later we embarked on our first family road trip for the funeral and it was very stressful travelling with such a small baby. We booked a cottage to stay in and having that space for the three of us was essential.

 

During our last visit with Aud we had a photo of our son’s ultrasound scan with us, this time we had our son with us and a photo of her with us instead. 

I remember crying in the shower listening to Jacob and the Stone by Emile Mosseri the morning of the funeral. It captured how heartbroken I felt in that moment and that the day I had been dreading was finally here.

 

Having to take a baby to a funeral isn’t something I wish on anybody. We took the monkey she knitted with us. I couldn’t walk or stand well, so Teddy’s pram acted as a walker for me. I leant on the church pew in such pain but was determined to show my respects. He got hungry during the service and so I moved to the back of the church to bottle feed him while listening in. It was a poetic reminder of life continuing on and I think Aud would have loved him being so vocal.

 

People meeting Teddy for the first time at the wake was incredibly painful for us, that’s not how we wanted it to be. But she would have loved bringing everyone together. Aud’s last gift to me was our son’s first. At the wake I was given a duck she’d knitted for Teddy, accompanied by a signed copy of Arkwright the Duck by Sue Wilkins which is a story set in Belper where I was born. It broke me.

 

Despite everything, we managed to make some beautiful memories there. Teddy rolled over for the first time at the cottage, he met Laura and her fiancée Rhian and we took him to places that Aud loved.

 

Due to a number of factors my milk supply never came in fully. We realised that Teddy loved being bottle fed and that I was exhausting myself with the combination of breastfeeding, pumping and bottle feeding. It was all too much. The grief plus the stress of breastfeeding was impacting my mental health and making me feel like a bad Mum when I was anything but that.

I was jealous of those around us having ‘normal’ newborn experience. I just wanted to be Teddy’s Mama. Walks outside really helped to break the day up and give us that mental headspace we needed to navigate everything.

 

I was interviewed by the BBC about the power of nostalgia and Aud and it felt amazing keeping her memory alive. Her passing brought up a lot of memories of my own childhood and made me appreciate even more how big a part she played in the person I am today. 

 

 

Teddy started to reach important milestones and I found myself getting the urge to call Aud and tell her something joyful or ask for her advice but constantly had to remind myself that it wasn’t possible. That she lived in the past now. 

 

We embarked on our first family holiday to Gran Canaria when Teddy was three months old and it was just what we needed. Teddy splashed in the pool for the first time and Jordan and I got massages while the other watched him. During a gorgeous sunset yoga class on the beach tears fell down my face. It was the first time I had done something for myself, for my body in a long time. But I also felt very connected to Aud at that moment. 

I called Laura and she was feeling the same. Life was continuing as normal but we both missed her terribly. Having someone who just gets you in those moments is essential.  

 

The last messages I have from Aud are her giving loving advice on postpartum self care and expressing her love for our large family.

 

There’s a beautiful poem that my aunt Melissa shared called Loss by Donna Ashworth that says “If you carry someone in your heart you can take them with you anywhere you go” and I think that’s very true. When I miss Aud I say “I love you” outloud no matter where I am. I also have a bracelet with her face in the pendant which I wear everyday.

 

Jordan has been my north star in dark times, pulling me close and telling me it would be okay. He’s given me the space and time to grieve in my own way and taken the lead with childcare when I’ve needed time to cry, journal or practice selfcare.

 

The animals Aud knitted for Teddy are on display in his nursery. He loves them. We talk about her all the time and have tracked down toys from my childhood that I played with at her house to keep her memory alive. 

 

 

Grief looks different for everyone. I love talking about her. It’s a beautiful thing to have known and been loved by someone like her and have so many wonderful memories to share with our son for years to come. 

If you find yourself in a similar position I’m so sorry for your loss and please know that it does get better in time.

 

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