One Year since we shared Olivia

This morning as I opened Facebook, I was greeted with my memories of this day in past years and there it was: my Chiquita's footprint and the post that changed everything for the outside world. Clearly, our families, close friends, colleagues and other acquaintances we've gathered in 10 and 11 years living in London knew about Olivia; but for most of you reading, today last year was the day you found out that our daughter died three days before she was born.

As we went to drop the Olivia Day flowers on her bench we were talking (mostly me and in my head) about how life has changed since we "came out" here in the online world, and I wanted to share a few reflections that are both ranty and heartfelt:

People don't always read what you write: That picture of Olivia's footprint had a lot of great and bad reactions but one of the ones that shocked me the most was a girl I know very little (she's actually quite nice) congratulating me and sending me blessings for the arrival of my baby. To be fair, besides being quite shocked, I actually laughed at how clueless this person was. One of my best friends wasn't amused so she contacted her and gave her a nudge in the right direction and then she deleted the post and said nothing else. So, I want to start my reflections with something light and applicable to a random picture of food or to the hardest thing you've had to share online: People don't really seem to care that much of what a posts says!

Social Media is not all that bad: I am and have always been quite scared and even against social media because of the lack of accountability it has (the internet in general has this problem), how everyone seems to share only the most amazing parts of their lives creating unnecessarily high standards for others and how impersonal it all feels for the most part, even though it's supposed to bring us all closer. I have been pleasantly surprised the last 365 days, social media is where I've found some of the most supportive people in my life and have started some of the most meaningful relationships with people I might never meet in person. People that I've known my entire life have been great at reaching out from differentparts of the world and lifting my heart when I least expect it; and some have shared some pretty hard times they themselves went through but never wanted to share before. Yes, the internet can make us all feel quite alone but it can also make you feel constantly hugged, give you endless resources to share with the world when you simply can't come up with the words and validate new and old friendships.

People mean well, but they have no clue how to express themselves (this is the ranty one): I always feel bad for people that have to hear about Olivia's passing from me or Pierre right then and there, because this is happening real time face to face and nothing could prepare them (or us!) for what comes out of their mouths. I always give people the benefit of the doubt and as long as they don't say something horribly bad, I tend to let go of things they said that were not nice or helpful since they were caught off guard... Online, however, I was and still am impressed by the lack of tact some people had when I first posted this and for a few months after (and even now to some extent). This is happening online, I have no clue who is reading this so you can take all the time in the world to write something thoughtful if you need to say something... You would imagine that people did that before commenting on the picture or sending me a private message or email... Let's be fair here, for the most part every comment and message I've received (even if I still haven't responded to most of them) was nice and supportive. But there were a few (one in particular) that still haunts me and maybe one day I will contact those people directly, or maybe I'll just (hopefully) magically forget that specific one and stop talking to myself as if I was talking to that person. Lovely people of the internet, please keep in mind that you are lucky, because you have the luxury of time! It wasn't easy for me to share this a year ago and its not easy for me to keep sharing, but I simply couldn't go back to posting pictures of food after my daughter was born and pretend nothing happened. So, think and almost sense check with someone else what you will say to someone going through the worst moment of their lives, once you write what you want to say, it is out there and once the person reads it, they can't go back. Close friends or mere acquaintances, words have a big effect on all and specially the vulnerable, so what you say might have repercussions bigger than you ever intended. I want to MEGA thank everyone that has reached out to us as this is quite an isolating thing to have happened and nobody can truly understand unless they are unfortunately walking the same path. A lot of people have tried and sent us messages of love and support truly thinking about all of this with empathy; you have made the beginning of our new life less bad. 

Olivia isn't alone: I've said this many times and I'll say it again, until the 16th of June 2016, I've never heard of a baby dying before they were born after 6 months. Even in the 6 months mark I've heard of 2 people and until this day I want to hug them and tell them I'm sorry. Those two experiences I've heard of where my milestone of "we will be safe once we pass this" so once we did I was even more relaxed than before. We were untouchable, not because we were special, but because nobody can touch a baby inside the belly after a certain number of weeks as they are in the safest place they can be. I was, unfortunately, quite wrong. In the UK 15 babies a day die before, during or shortly after birth and even though this is a horrible statistic compared to other "developed" countries, I can only imagine the horrid numbers in the rest of the world. In Venezuela, the amazing "third world" country I'm from, things like these don't happen - or at least they are not talked about. At times I'm annoyed because I'm sure everyone back home (or anywhere else for that matter) thinks I'm a glitch in the system and that they too are untouchable because something must've gone wrong with me or something was missed. You are right, something went wrong with my placenta and something was missed, but it was easier to see in hindsight and I do try to manage the what ifs that go around my head had I had different care or more scans like they do in my "undeveloped" country. One thing is for sure: Olivia is sadly not alone. She is in magic land with her friends and our families that have moved there as well; she will be joined by many more that shouldn't really be there and I wish this would stop for everyone, but I don't think it will any time soon. With this I don't want to scare anyone, but I do want to empower mothers around the world: fight for what you want during your pregnancy and remember, nobody knows your body and your baby better than you so PLEASE repeat that mantra and wear it every day of your pregnancy. If I'm scaring people, better to be a paranoid pregnant lady with a living baby than a carefree one with no baby in your arms, right?

Anyway, after much much digressing here I want to start wrapping things up by by telling anyone that might be joining this terrible club that it gets less bad (better implies a good base). Whatever you feel today will morph into something different and even though grief will still attack you in random days for the rest of your life, you too can carry this with you in a way that doesn't destroy you. Use everything wonderful that social media has, search the topics you are thinking about even if they sound crazy obscure, there will be someone out there happy to connect with you. Share whatever you want to share as long as it has a purpose for you and it adds to your life. Never forget that you are not alone here and your baby is not alone there, both places are packed with people to keep you both company and try to make the load less heavy whenever and however possible.

Internet, you have been great for the most part, thanks for reading, crying and laughing with me about Olivia and life in general. To those people who have reached out telling me how they wish I could be happy again, know this, I'm very happy. My life has changed forever, just like having a missing vital organ or limb, Olivia is and will always be not here. That doesn't make me a miserable person for life, I think I'm still the happy me that tries to be optimistic, overly cheerful and dare I say funny, food obsessed person. However, life did change and with that I find myself being all those things but in a different way. I feel things much more intensely (if that was even possible), I appreciate the good more than before and hurt for the bad way more than before. The sweet moments tend to always have a bitter moment where we will always be reminded of the daughter who was supposed to be here for her first day of school this year, but never will be. Them they turn sweet again because Pierre and I have each other and she makes us both smile.

Olivia dying is by far the worst thing to have ever happened to us, but her life is so far the best part of ours and whilst we will always miss her and grief her absence, we will always aim to finish a hard moment with the biggest smiles because she was here.

Olivia's party

2nd of August 2016, we woke up and were unable to move from bed for a bit because I had another morning crying and Pierre comforted me but also joined me in the sadness/anger/desperation of the day. Normally I would've allowed myself to stay in bed however long I needed to in order to function; but that day was different because our family was going to arrive any second and we were going to make our way to Mortlake crematorium where we were holding Olivia's service and where her body was going to be cremated.

I remember talking to people and reading a lot of posts and books in the baby loss community about the day of the service. We all become so obsessed in all the little details (like organising a party) that adrenaline will carry you through the day. Everyone gave the warning that a sharp slap of new grief will come over towards the end of the day, and that made sense to me. I mean, that day, regardless of burial or cremation, you will no longer be able to see or hold your baby in the baby form ever again... I'm sorry if it sounds harsh, but I thought that all day I just never said it out loud.

Going back to when we started planning the service (yes, it took an insanely long time after she was born and it had to do with the hospital organising things and me not being able to do life). We decided that we wanted to make it as much of a joyous occasion as possible, just like Olivia's parties would've been. We asked all our friends and family to wear bright colours and some of my friends collected Celebration Snickers so we could give them as "favours" on the day. We went and met with the loveliest lady, Natasha, at Mortlake and she helped us carving out exactly what we needed/wanted to honour Olivia. We decided to have reverend Christina Beardsley lead the service with us as she was the same person who baptised Olivia and although she wasn't catholic, she was epic and I love the idea of women leading the service. Christina and I had many e-mail interactions deciding on music, format for the program and readings for the day. I was very invested in organising this and then at times I got a reality check of how incredibly messed up it was to be picking up an urn for my daughter's ashes and I would go down hard and be useless for a bit. Tip for anyone that has to go through this: Rely on the good friends that will do anything to help make that day (and your life) better, we would've never been able to do that day without them.

So, the day finally came and everything went as planned: Friends and family were there in all bright colours and brought yellow flowers to show love and support. We brought a BIG bag of mini Snickers that Olivia's grandmothers had neatly tied in pairs and I was holding firmly to my bag which contained a roll of toilet paper for all the crying, a sweater and a folder which contained a letter that I wrote and rewrote after Pierre's comments. 

It was lovely seeing the people that could make it as the last time I saw most of them I was happily pregnant or on my way to the hospital to make sure everything was ok on the 16th of June. I'm sure they were as nervous as we were to see them, but it was therapeutic to be with them and to cry with a few of them. Some of our epic midwives even made the trip! The place was packed and it made me smile to think that people wanted to support us and show Olivia her love.

When it was time to enter the chapel I felt like I couldn't walk... We had a version of her song playing and I have no clue as to how we were able to walk to the front and breathe. We chose not to have Olivia's coffin on display as I don't think I could've handled it; I was also well aware that I might have tried to open it and run away with her, so we decided against it. Instead we had a big candle as Olivia's presence. Everyone sat down and the service began. Christina said a few words and then my sister and two of my closest friends read poems we had chosen for the day and they did a stellar job doing so. We then had Pierre's sister read a letter she wrote to Olivia and it was beautiful and her courage made me feel that I too could go up there and read something I had written for the day.

It was our turn next and to this day I have absolutely no clue how I managed to read everything and I apologise for everyone who heard only snorting from me on the microphone. One thing for sure, I don't remember anyone else's face except my own mom's when I was about to start reading and my friend Rich because I focused on looking up just to him as he was a direct line and normally has a super smiley face. I remember nothing except the laughs at something funny I might have said and Pierre being besides me.

After that we all went out and Natasha had organised all the flowers beautifully and a massive plate full of Snickers that nobody was touching. Because we are in England and the day had to match my mood, we had that typical rain that is just enough to get you soaking wet because you think you don't need an umbrella. I made it perfectly clear to all that I would not leave until people took the chocolates so they all went in and from then on it was a nice get together amongst friends. We went to The Tapestry nearby, had food and juice and then everyone went their separate ways. We went for lunch with our families and close friends and then a few came back to ours and we just coexisted and talked about everything, just like you do after any party.

2nd of August 2016 at the Mortlake crematorium

2nd of August 2016 at the Mortlake crematorium

2nd of August 2017, we had an Olivia day. We woke up and had breakfast and then I had an unexpected breakdown on the kitchen counter looking at the only video I have of Olivia kicking my belly... The weather matched our moods perfectly so it was grey and raining for the most part of the day. We stopped to buy flowers, one bouquet for Olivia and her friends at Mortlake and one for Natasha, the lovely person who made the day work. We took our time to get to Mortlake and stayed there for a while in the lovely garden they have for babies. Pierre had his own breakdown and we both just hugged in silence because there is nothing that we can say to each other at this point as we know what the other is thinking and nothing makes us feel better. We then went to visit Natasha at her office and talked to her for a bit before we headed back home were we had a great rest of the day eating, talking and watching movies.

Thinking back on the day I have to say I think everything went great and that it was as lovely as a service can be. Specially when the service is for your daughter... but I did miss friends and a lot of our families that couldn't be there on the day, so I've decided to share the letter that I read on the day so that those of you who missed it can also take part on the day.

"Most of you didn't get a chance to physically meet Olivia, but all of you knew her through me from the day you found out she existed... But, just in case you weren't paying attention for the last almost 10 months, I want to tell you a bit more about who our awesome daughter was:

She clearly loved exercise as we ran the NYC marathon together and she was always up for a walk and preferred when I stood up (we both hate being still or sitting down for long periods of time) so she jammed her little foot in my ribs when I sat for what she deemed as too long. 

Like her mom, she LOVED food and would always do a little dance when we had breakfast, lunch and dinner. Like her dad, she had a big sweet tooth but since I don't, I tried to fight it and give her fruits… She fell for oranges for a bit but as a lot of you know, all she really wanted was a tiny mini snickers from the celebration box... I think that actually was her favourite food! 

She was more patient than both her parents and I remember losing my temper and Olivia kicking me to relax. She also didn't like when her dad sounded stressed and would very sharply let me know with the same kicks! But then Pierre would talk to her about the day's adventures and all was ok with the world again.

Our Chiquita loved music and thankfully never reacted to when I played Justin Bieber, instead, she always danced to the songs her Papi played for her (she had an intelligent music taste, as I call it). She even has her own song: De Bussy's Clair de Lune in piano, which we played when she was born and when her grandmothers and one of her aunt's met her. 

 She liked to sleep, as she never kicked me hard enough to wake me up at night. Olivia was actually a morning person just like me and would be very happy when we jumped out of bed and started our day with smiles.

When she was born, we could see so much more of us in her than we ever thought possible. She unfortunately had my nose (although everything looked perfect on her), the top of my mouth (the M that her aunt and grandmother also have) and Pierre keeps saying that the rest of the mouth was his (still up for debate). The length of her hands and feet were 100% from her Mami, but her actual hands where her dad's in a tiny scale... I'm still in awe of how much I can see her hands when I look at Pierre's. She was perfect, all 51 centimeters of her... Oh, she had the longest legs!!! 

We keep saying that there was something in her expression the few hours we had together, which made it clear that she was going to make us work hard and that she could've ruled the world in her sleep... Unfortunately, the world wasn't ready for that much power, so she went straight to heaven, where she is taking care of very important Angel business.

Sadly, we will never get to see our daughter's eyes or smile, we will never hear her cry or her voice calling us Mami and Papi and there are millions of firsts that we will never be able to have with her. But, she will always be our first daughter and we will love her every day for the rest of our lives as if she was here and we would have had the chance to presence her life! I constantly thank Pierre for giving me Olivia. She was and is everything I've ever dreamed of and more and the time that we spent as a family was and is the best hours of our lives.

 Everyone has kindly asked what they can do to help and we are thankful beyond words for everything all of your have already done. However, there is something that I actually want to ask everyone: Please, let us talk about our daughter forever. Never act like she didn't exist and like I didn't share almost nine magical months with her. Don't forget that I also gave birth to her and had the honour of meeting the tiny human that turned me into a mother. Don't shy away from the subject of her life thinking it would make us sad, instead celebrate her and the family that we were and know that we are the happiest when we hear her name and get to share and talk about the joy she gave and gives us. Yes, we will sometimes cry and that is just because not a second of our lives go by when we don't miss her.

We were physically together for a few hours and that will never be enough but we will ALWAYS be a family and she will ALWAYS be our first Chiquita and we are infinitely proud to be her parents."

Thank you to everyone that came on the day and to those that have helped us survive this new life. Thank you to those who understand that grief for your child is not a phase but something that you live with so there is no expiration date or a day where we can say: it's all great now! Of course some days are easier than others and the bad days are thankfully fewer than before, but the sharp pain and reality can still sneak up on you when and where you least expect it. It will be like that for life, thank you to those that understand that and know that a year is nothing when it means living without one of your children, regardless of how long they lived. 

2nd of August 2017 at the Mortlake crematorium. This is a tree that has memorial leafs for babies gone too soon. Olivia is in a VIP position as she is surrounded by her friends, the babies of some of the Awesome Mums from Sands. We call their area "the hood"

2nd of August 2017 at the Mortlake crematorium. This is a tree that has memorial leafs for babies gone too soon. Olivia is in a VIP position as she is surrounded by her friends, the babies of some of the Awesome Mums from Sands. We call their area "the hood"

Random Acts of Kindness

I have been writing a lot, both to Olivia and to the universe, but to be fair I haven't felt like sharing in a while. I feel that the last couple of times I started something here I was angry at something and I don't want to turn this into a ranting only space. So today, and because my friends and family back home need every possible reason to smile, I want to share the massive power of kindness from strangers.

On the 26th of April Pierre was on his way home before me and as it was nice and sunny I asked him to stop by Olivia's bench to check that the flowers we planted were giving us any signs of life. Amazingly, he found something even better when he got there: our first ever (and so far only) "Bench mail"

You've got Bench mail!

The yellow tape, the fact that it was a Mind charity card and the lovely words on the front were the most amazing surprise. When I got his message as I was 3 stops away so I literally jumped out and ran home once we got to our stop. During the time I received the photo and the moment we opened the card I had so many possibilities going through my mind, but the top 2 were:

1. The council has finally realised that we've been doing some "guerrilla gardening" around the bench and they are telling us to stop in the nicest way possible.

2. Mind charity got wind that I wanted to volunteer for them during maternity leave and that I wanted to make them my charity of the year before Olivia died (sorry, Sands and Tommy's have taken that spot forever), and they were asking me to please still help them.

I was wrong in both accounts and reality blew me away in ways I can't describe. Below there are pictures of what we found written inside a Thank You card:

To this day I still can't shake (nor do I want to) the feeling of happiness and pure amazement I felt when I read that card. I mean, I think I'm a pretty nice person to everyone and I have a lot of friends who are truly amazing in the most selfless ways; but this was something else. A complete stranger took time off their day whilst visiting their family from Australia to let us know they were thinking of us and that they liked Olivia's bench and flowers. Are you with me here? Can you believe this!!??? 

Naturally I needed to respond, but I had no idea how I could reach Christine or if she was even still in London! Nevertheless, I wrote her a letter, put it in a ziploc bag just in case it rained and left her a little yellow freesia (my favorites) and added some tulips the day after (we checked before and after work to see if it had been picked up. This time I included all my personal information just in case she ever wanted to meet, but I had very low hopes that this would ever be picked up...

My hopeful response!

My hopeful response!

AMAZINGLY, I was wrong and Christine did reach out on e-mail and after a few exchanges of e-mails and texts, we decided to meet on the bank holiday Monday at a cafe near us because we were going to be away for the weekend... This was truly exciting and I felt like I was in a movie but finally it was on the good side of things.

Pierre and I spent the weekend on the beach and we managed to have a really good time, we enjoyed the much needed sun and we spoke about the amazing people Christine and her husband Silvio must be. I for one thought about Monday non stop and was quite nervous as to what I would say to them to make sure I could communicate just how thankful I was (and am) for them.

Monday arrived, we landed in London and went home for a quick shower and change before we went to meet our new friends.

Christine and Silvio both have kind eyes and smiles and as soon as we arrived it was as if we knew each other all along, hugs all-around and a mixture of smiles and tears (mostly from me at this stage!). We got coffees and pastries and we talked about everything, family, life, death, babies, food, politics and each other. They told us about them and the epic life they have in Australia and we made plans to visit them one day. Christine and I both cried when we talked about Olivia and we shared with them some of the most precious things and memories we have of our little awesome daughter. 

Christine, Silvio, Pierre and I

Christine, Silvio, Pierre and I

These people changed our lives for the better and I can only hope that one day I could potentially do the same for someone. I even day dream that the flowers we leave on Olivia's bench every 19th will bring even a tiny bit of the joy that Christine and Silvio brought to us that day. 

For everyone reading, please never underestimate the power of a single act of kindness and the effect it can have on someone's life. We all have struggles and we all sometimes need to be picked up from bad and low places. At the same time, I'm sure everyone reading would love to make the world a better place but might not know where to start. Know this, if every one of the people who follows me on social media would do a random act of kindness then we could potentially make 3171 people smile - I think that's quite a bit impact and one that we should all be proud of.

I for one have always liked the idea and I do things every now and then for random people, but after Christine and Silvio changed my life I have decided to add this to a formal monthly good doing, along with Olivia's flowers. I'm happy with the idea that I can make someone that doesn't know who I am smile and have warm and fuzzy feeling for one day of their lives.

The world can be a horrible place, but people like Christine and Silvio truly show that humanity is also amazing and we have an incredible amount of good to give; we just have to go for it!

Olivia Bear

I actually had another post ready on the 18th of April that talked about the terrifying feeling I get when I sense that the world thinks that I'm fine now because I seem to be like my old positive and bubbly self. I hate that. I hate that people feel the need to see an ending to this journey and, even if they are well intentioned, want to share with me that they are happy that the storm passed. Just like the line "life is a journey, not a destination" I wish everyone understood that there is no such thing as this "chapter" being closed; I will forever be working on my Olivia grief and that is very much ok. Forget about what you think is normal, healthy or makes sense; all those terms went out of the window the day my daughter died. 

I decided against publishing that post as, even though it is full of truths, it felt like a very long rant about people that hit a button that they shouldn't have... Instead I've decided to post about one of the most amazing things that has happened in a while.

World, let me introduce you to the epic: Olivia Bear

One of the first times I talked to Paula (Juliette's mum and one of the most amazing people ever) on the phone she told me about another mum at Sands that had made a weighted bear so that her other children could also hold their sibling. I always thought it was a great idea, but no clue how I could do it as I'm not very crafty. Then one day, my friend Marisa told me about Molly Bears, an amazing charity that was created by a mum like me for mums like me. Bridget Crews, Molly Christine's mum tells their story do on their page:

"We lost our angel, Molly Christine at 34 weeks, on May 30th 2010. I had not felt our active girl all day on the 29th. That night I went to the hospital to get checked and make sure Molly was alright. We were told that our precious daughter no longer had a heartbeat. She died from a tight true knot in her cord. Devastated would not even begin to describe how we felt.

I was given a weighted teddy bear from a dear friend from high school. This bear weighed three pounds. In an effort to have a bear that weighed the same as Molly, I bought a shell and a package of rice. In the middle of the produce isle, I carefully weighed rice, fluff and the shell. I am sure people thought I was crazy, but I did not care. I went home and with my children and husband, we created the very first Molly Bear. For the first time in weeks, I was able to sleep holding her. It was then that I knew I had to find a way to help other angel families."

Sadly, there is quite a demand for weighted bears, so they only open the orders once a month and there are only 150 spaces. After much thought, and many nights of holding my own teddy bear (Osi), I sat on my computer the minute the order forms went live in January 2017 and ordered my very own Olivia Bear. 

The process was simple and they ask you to give any details you might want to be a part of your Bear, with weight clearly being the most important. I included a lot of things and hoped that I was doing the right thing and not adding another layer of grief when I was reminded that it was a bear I was holding and not my daughter.

Then, a few days before my birthday a big box arrived home and there it was: the most amazing Bear I had ever seen (and I've had A LOT of stuffed animals in my lifetime). She was made by Jenn, Mommy of Hope and Grace, 25th of April 2012. I wish I could contact Jenn and thank her for making Olivia Bear so perfect. I would also tell her how sorry I am about her daughters Hope and Grace not being here and then I would just like for her to talk to me about her life and their life. It's so comforting to talk about your children to people that want to listen for real and that are, or have been, in a similar position to yours. Jenn, you are amazing and I hope I can ever give to someone the comfort you have given me.

Holding Olivia Bear is truly magical and it really helped me go back to the few hours I had with Olivia. Sometimes, depending on how vulnerable I'm willing to feel,  I hold her and close my eyes and I'm transported to the hospital when it was just the three of us. Two of my friends have held her and they have both commented on how Olivia was indeed a "sturdy" baby judging from her Bear. I love that! She was born with a normal newborn baby girl weight: 2.76 Kgs. I had somehow forgotten how heavy she actually felt, until I held Olivia Bear for the first time.

So, here she is, the little Bear that makes my heart feel better for a little bit. She has her own pillow where she sleeps every night and in the mornings, after we make the bed, she chills between our pillows holding the picture of Olivia that normally sits on my bedside table. Osi is always besides her, holding onto the little pillow that was with Olivia in the hospital.

My arms were and are, quite literally, in pain for not being able to hold Olivia again and I know that sadly that won't ever change. But, holding Olivia Bear makes life a tiny bit less painful and I will take that with open arms and big smiles.

Changing Seasons

Spring has been knocking on our door for a few weeks now and everyone is very excited to be able to change coats, have longer days and the promise of more sun in our lives. We are a bit confused about our feelings towards the change of seasons in our household. I am clearly excited to have more sun and light as it truly makes a big difference in my mood and how I can tackle a bad day; but I'm also sad to see that time keeps going and we are moving further away from Olivia and closer to one year without her.

This time last year we were supposed to be back home in Venezuela for my Godson Rodrigo's baptism and my mom organised an amazing babyshower for me with all her and my friends and I was going to spend my birthday surrounded by family for the first time since 2007. Annoyingly, Zika arrived in our lives and we had to change our plans and decided to go to Los Angeles for a "babymoon" as it's a cool place that has sun and awesome friends. To be fair, we had an amazing time in LA, Olivia LOVED the food and we got the only existing video of her dancing around to her Papi's voice. This week last year was also the last time I had an amazing night's sleep as I remember waking up on our third night away and I told Pierre: I think we arrived to the uncomfortable sleeping time of pregnancy. We took some amazing pictures together, Olivia danced for her Tía Titi and Pierre took the only artsy picture of my bump. I only smile when I think of how insanely happy I was then, the sun was shining, the three of us were together and healthy, we truly were on top of the world. Fast forward to this year and I still haven't had an amazing night sleep again as my mind now provides the discomfort and my dreams, whilst much much better than the early days after Olivia died, are still quite a horrible copy of our life without our daughter.

The sun is shining again and the days are getting warmer, so wardrobes need to change... I've thrown out three sweaters I used to love that I wore for the most part of Spring last year. The first one to go was the one in my backpack the day Olivia died, I put it this Tuesday as I was getting ready for work and I just felt dirty wearing it. Whilst its not a maternity sweater, I was able to wear it a lot and being bumpless just felt wrong and like the sweater didn't belong. I remember the happiness of having to change my clothes last year and rocking all different maternity outfits and having 7 different "Baby on Board" badges just in case I changed last minute. This year I just stare at those pins, offer them my seat in the tube, wish them luck in my mind and hope that one day I can be them again.

On August 2nd 2016 Olivia was cremated and we held a service that felt like a celebration of her life, the memories of that day make me smile more than they make me cry. So many friends and family came, all dressed in beautiful colours (we asked them not to wear black) and all of them thinking of Olivia and giving us some much needed love, support and smiles. Four of Olivia's Tía's read something on that day: My sister, Pierre's sister and my friends and chosen sisters Bea and Beth. I read a letter from Pierre and I to the world and still I have no clue how I managed to read the entire thing. 

Beth saying: "Hold on - the Spring will come." is all I hear when I walk around London and see the flowers blooming and the kids playing outside. I feel a crazy mixture of happiness and dread over the idea that life left me and Olivia behind. I don't want to see kids playing outside, I want to see MY kid playing (or crawling at this stage) outside. I don't want to be surrounded by happiness, hope and life; I want to be happy, feel hopeful and be with Olivia here alive. Spring normally brings amazing things for everyone, myself included, but this year I haven't been able to really feel or truly appreciate any of the good. Then I hear Beth again saying "Be brave - the Spring will come." and for a few minutes I breathe deep try to smile for real and think that Spring will hopefully arrive one day for me, just not today.

I was having a particularly bad week last Tuesday when I walked to work and the weather was truly epic. I left home feeling heavy hearted and decided to walk to shake it off. Sadly, I couldn't cheat my feelings and whilst I was hiding in a quiet corner crying behind a curtain, I was talking to my friend and fellow Awesome Mum Marisa. She is the mum of two beautiful girls, Bebe who she holds in her heart and Adelia who she holds in her arms. Marisa is one of the wisest friends I have and I was telling her how annoyed I felt at people telling me how strong I am because, I don't feel like this is not strength, this is necessity. If I had another option I would take it, but the world keeps moving and I have to survive, so I need to keep walking. Marisa then said: "That's so true, as long as we're alive we're forced to make it through. But you do have control over how you go through it and thats where you shine as you're still full of love, life, laughter, and strength. seriously." and just like that Marisa made me feel truly strong and that Spring might actually come for us, even if its just for a little bit at a time.

I took this picture walking on my way to work, it was an epic weather day but a big wave of grief hit me later on...

I took this picture walking on my way to work, it was an epic weather day but a big wave of grief hit me later on...

Aaaaand breathe...

I feel deflated, Pierre is away for a week working for the first time since Olivia was born. Last time he went away, he came back early as a surprise and I remember getting so scared when I heard someone opening the door that I thought I was going to go into labour. Last time he went away I was with Olivia and I was washing and ironing all her clothes and the whole flat smelled of excitement and delicious baby friendly detergent. Now I am completely alone and her room as boxes with her stuff but she's not here. Once Pierre landed and I was no longer scared about his journey, I have kept myself busy with exercise (I ran outside for real for the first time since I got pregnant with Olivia and it was quite emotional), work and seeing friends. I am definitely in better shape than I expected (YAY), but I find myself  missing Olivia in a very different way this week; one that is just between us.

So, today I will focus about work again because I simply can't deal with everything I'm feeling this week. Apologies for the cop out on this post, I still hope it does help another parent in my situation.

Work is better in the sense that I am actually able to work for real now and I don't go to the bathroom and cry very often, I think I've only broken down in the office four times in Feb so big milestone. I had three more people ask me about Olivia and I think that I mastered my responses in all those scenarios. It helps that the people were lovely once they learned where is Olivia, so if you ever read this THANK YOU! 

My awesome colleague Nicola suggested I share the e-mail I sent to people at work when I went back and after much consideration, I though it would be a good idea to do so as it could potentially help others set the right expectations. I was terrified of coming back to work and even today walking through the doors is daunting; but I know everyone was also scared and I like to think I helped break the ice and the fear of the unknown by reaching out. E-mail below:

"Hello work family!

I hope you had a great time off with your families over Christmas and that you're welcoming 2017 with open arms for the awesomeness that we all hope it to be.

So, after 207 days of being away I'll be coming back to work on Monday (the 9th) and unfortunately with very mixed feelings. Yes, I am happy to be back with all of you and let's face it, I can't wait to be fed again! But as you know, my maternity leave hasn't been what it should have and instead I've been trying to find a new normal whilst trying to maintain my spark. Needless to say, it's not easy and I haven't found a new normal yet (or maybe I have but I refuse to accept it). 

But, in the spirit of transparency and hoping to set myself up for some sort of success going back to work, I just thought I'd share a few thoughts with you and make sure you all know where I'm at:

- I'm still me but very much changed. Yes, I still talk too much and hope at some point to be loud again and celebrate all the small things that nobody tends to care about. But I am also irrevocably changed and not always for the better. I'm very uneasy around new people that don't know about Olivia's existence (which is why I want them all to know) and even though I might not show it I now believe that if I put water in the freezer, it won't turn into ice. Still, I'm trying my best to stay an optimist even if I'm faking it sometimes.

- Please don't feel like you can't talk about Olivia. If you have anything you'd like to say at any point, next week or in seven years! This crap storm is very straight forward, I was perfectly pregnant for nine months and that was all Olivia physically got to live. I am still a mother and I will always think about her every day. Yes, I am very emotional at times and if you mention her I might break a bit BUT it is a good break, the kind that I want to get used to because I'm the happiest when I know she wasn't forgotten, and her name is my favourite word to hear. My worst fear is that you, my family and friends, act like she didn't exist because she didn't get to stay - PLEASE don't do that! If you feel something, say something (if you want, not because you want me to feel you do... Forced feelings are never nice). Definitely be ready to hear me mentioning her and my pregnancy at times, because she and that period are happy times in my life.

- I loved being pregnant and I was great at it. So if anyone wants to bitch about pregnancy things, or wants to use my master excel doc on the baby things you need,  or has questions about labour,  please just ask. Soldiers still went to war, even if they came back with chopped legs and arms.

- I will never have moved on from losing Olivia. I ask you to please never make a statement that has the following: "at least", "silver lining" or "positives" about this. I know you will all mean well, but there is truly nothing positive or "at least" from losing Olivia and that will never change, even if I'm lucky enough to go on and have more kids that hopefully get to stay with us. I have no doubt I will live a very happy life and go on to do many things I've wanted to do and more. But, there will always be an Olivia-shaped hole in my life and that is ok (not really, but you know what I mean), as I don't want to ever pretend that she wasn't here. She was very much part of the world and through me, Pierre and everyone that is willing to carry her - she still is.

I know this e-mail feels long and intense, but I have loved coming to work every day before this happened and I believe that by sharing this with you, my people, I am giving us a better chance to succeed in our new relationship.

Last but not least, please read the attached story, which I have typed up. It's from the book Three Minus One and was written by Corrine Heyeck, a mum just like me, after losing her daughter Brenna. I feel that she truly explains life after baby loss (or any major loss really) and she even includes food! It would really mean a lot to me if you read it.

I'm definitely looking forward to seeing and feeding you all again.

Cheerios and see you on Monday,

Mariana"

I'm not sharing "Onion Bread" in this post as this is already a very long post and Corrine and Breanna's story is too perfect and I feel it too strongly for it to be buried under my words. I promise I'll post it soon. 

I have to say that the response to that e-mail I received from everyone at work were amazing and they truly give me the strength to go back every day and show up. It sounds simple enough, but having a life when I still have days when I don't want to open my eyes and face reality, is hard and going to work seems impossible and pointless. It has been thanks for my friends, colleague, new found friends that I am able to show up and be any version of me I can be on the day. 

PS: Pierre's birthday celebrations went great, but it was all way more emotional than any of us had anticipated. I've always LOVED birthdays, but I'm terrified for mine to arrive this year.

 

My usual running/walking route but with a long stop by Olivia's bench

My usual running/walking route but with a long stop by Olivia's bench

The Burst of My Safety Bubble

Ever since Olivia was born I've lived my life in a safety bubble that I could mostly control and decide who gets in, for how long and with what purpose. Well, with my return to work on the 9th of January that bubble and its safety stopped existing and instead I, like any other human, am at the world's mercy.

I've started writing this post at least once a week since I started work and every time I have to stop because I simply can't focus, so apologies if it still feels all over the place! It's very interesting reading all my attempts and seeing the range of emotions that I have gone through in the last 4 weeks. I am lucky enough to work at a place that takes great care of its employees and to be part of a team who have been incredible and who loved Olivia from day one. Also, I have incredible friends at work so when I need some real life support, I just have to walk to a desk.

Week 1 --> Two amazing friends got me yellow and rainbow flowers on my first day back, I had food with some of the people I love most in my office and the weather wasn't too bad, so I felt that I started with the best possible foot. Then that same week I had the worst day recorded in January, I woke up very sad and when a therapy session had to be rescheduled I just exploded crying and even had to stay in a bathroom for 20 minutes until I could breathe properly again and walk to my office to meet with Pierre... That day was hard and I had to go home early, put on my pj's and go back to square one of my bubble: cross stitching and TV.  First week back and I could only do 2.5 days. 

Week 2 --> Most of the people in my team were away so the week was going to be a long and lonely one but my main objective was to be physically there for the whole week. The week started fine and then it took a massive detour: someone saw me in the kitchen and asked me extremely excited: where is your baby? When am I meeting her!!!??? I wanted to disappear... Pierre, thankfully, was there and pulled me to the side asking me to show him something. That day I was able to stay out of the dark hole and my week kept going. Then, two days after, someone was shouting on the phone YOU ARE HAVING A GIRL! repeatedly, and whilst I know nobody's out to get me, sometimes they do. So I went to the bathroom and cried for a while and then walked home for 2 hours. It wasn't a great week, but I went to the office for 5 days and had manageable bad days. Also, we got to Olivia's 7 month mark and shared the perfect quote for her flowers from a kind colleague who reached out.

Week 3 --> Pierre's birthday is on Thursday so I focused on preparing surprises that will celebrate how amazing he is and how lucky the world is to have him. He's never been big on birthdays and this year life has given him something to be even more disengaged as Olivia should be here to marvel with his candles. So, I will focus on making sure we enjoy life throughout the month, because we deserve it, Olivia wants us to and life is simply too precious not to be enjoyed when possible. I also sent my first external e-mail and it felt as exhausting and rewarding as crossing the finish line of a marathon. Again, I had some bad moments where I had to either go to the bathroom and cry a bit or leave the office and go for a walk because reality got too much to bare.

I am now on day two of my 4th week back at work and my predominant feelings/learnings are:

I don't feel safe, but I'm gaining territory --> Whenever I go to a common space in the office (and there are many) I feel like a walking target. I feel that any second someone will jump and ask where is Olivia and I'm never ready for that question or its answer... I have seen people looking at me and staring at my babyless belly and as they start walking towards me I run away. I am a friendly person and I like talking to people, I just can't bring myself to be kicked by that question. But, it's not all bad! I have now gained confidence in one space besides my immediate team and I see that as a massive win.

People surprise me every day --> I don't want to dwell on this, but I am still in shock with how many people know about Olivia and have said nothing except the most uncomfortable hello when they have no option because the lifts open and I was there. Yes, I know nobody knows what to say and nobody wants to hurt me, but let me say something world: Saying nothing about Olivia and acting as if everything is normal for me and I came back from holiday hurts INFINITELY more. And then there is everyone else that has been magnificent, they are the reason why I still want to come to work every day and will battle to make this place feel like home again. My friends and immediate team have always been amazing and I never doubted they would be, but having so much support out of my bubble is priceless. Then there has been this group of people that I barely know that have reached out to say: I read your e-mail (I sent one before I came back to make sure everyone understood where my head was at) and I just wanted to say I'm sorry. They have cried or almost cried with me, they have asked questions and given support, but most importantly, they have given me Olivia time and the thought that she is present and she existed even for those people that didn't know her when she was in my belly - THANK YOU!

Grief evolves but not in a linear way --> Imagine the craziest ride you ever heard of, with crazy loop, ups and downs and even surprise curves. Well, grief is very much like that and being out of the safety bubble only makes me be more apprehensive about what's to come. I can feel things evolving to a place where sadness doesn't control me but I always have it with me in an uncomfortably comfortable way. I have days when I feel that I'm on top of things and that I am ok and even in a good place; and then my brain let's me in on the reality that it tries to mask: I was 9 months pregnant and my daughter died... And for a while I can't breathe and then I cry just like I did in those early days. But then I get back up and I wasn't able to do that for a long long time after Olivia was born. So I think, that I will never have a linear happy life, but I will be able to get back up when reality tries to throw me back to that deep black hole.

My days are better when Olivia is around me --> Week 3 was a success on my book and the one different thing was that I talked about Olivia with many people that wanted to know about her and show support. I was even happy at times because I got to work but also be a mum; almost like my two worlds could co-exist. I'm not expecting the world to always talk about Olivia, but I am glad to know that some people always will and that my secret weapon is being close to her out loud. She's like my secret weapon!

I have been awful at posting here and I don't want to neglect this space, so I'm committing myself to at least one post a month (hoping to make it 2), because I simply feel better when I stop and have some Olivia time with the world, even if the world doesn't read this (Hello! to those who do).

2016

I have always loved the New Years celebrations, even more so than Christmas. As a Venezuelan, I love all the crazy traditions that we do when the clock strikes midnight (run around with empty suitcases for a promise to travel next year, hide money and then find it so you can find money next year, eat lentils, eat 12 grapes, etc.) and I've always done a few of those myself. This year however, I don't have the strength or the willingness to be happy and celebrate that 2016 will be over in a few hours.

The world is delighted that 2016 will be over soon as most people think this was the worst year so far in their lifetime; and I won't argue with that because I don't know those people and I have no clue what they've been through. But, I can't say that 2016 was the worst year in my life and I actually dread that this year will come to an end as I feel that the world will be leaving Olivia in 2016 and for me and my family, she's here to stay.

My 2016 started amazingly surrounded by my family and everyone being delighted as they all found out I was pregnant on the 27th of December, so the news were still fresh. The first six months of 2016 were among the best of my life! I was happy beyond measure, we traveled a lot and saw family more than we normally would and I had no fears in my little bubble as Olivia was safe in my belly and she will soon be with us and life was going to be even better than we had dreamed of. Two weeks before Olivia was born, I remember telling Pierre that I truly thought our lives were perfect and how proud I was of both of us for everything we had accomplished in life so far as not everyone does that in a lifetime. Sure we both have plenty more ambitions, but in that moment there was nothing else I wanted besides the three of us to be together.

So yes, the first six months of 2016 were AMAZING and of course I was sad that a lot of famous people I like (David Bowie, I love you) moved on; but in MY life and MY bubble everything was as it should be.

The Second Act of 2016

My life changed for the worst on the 16th of June 2016 when I heard the words "I can see the heart very well... and it's not beating" - Nobody should ever have to hear those words, no matter who you are or what you've done in this or other lives... If you, like me, have been told that line or something similar: I am sorry beyond words.

Olivia was born on the 19th of June, so we still had to wait a few days before meeting her.... So I was still pregnant but Olivia wasn't alive and I could tell the difference. That Friday Pierre and I left the hospital and went to the supermarket because that normally makes me happy and the very nice cashier joyfully asked staring at my belly: Nice! How many weeks are you? or maybe it was Nice! Not long to go! (yes, everything from that day is a blur). I panicked and made noises that made her believe I spoke no English so I then broke down and ran outside...

Not everything was bad at the hospital though, we met some of the nicest people that made hell a more gentle place and helped us in each step we had to take in order to meet Olivia. Of course, the hospital also gave us the best moment in our lives and that's when we finally got to meet the perfect human that had been growing in my belly for nine months. Those hours of all three of us together are the most precious ones I'll ever have and it makes me smile most of the time as I can almost feel her hand on my face. But that doesn't last very long as I'm reminded quite fast that those hours will all we have together and they are a memory, not something we can do again by simply walking to her room. That reality makes life simply unbearable at times.

I wish I've never met any of the people I have or done any of the things I got to do because Olivia isn't here. But, those people are my lifeline and I know I really believe that I would've still met them in a playground and we would still be friends and our kids will still play together - Only we would have been able to see all of this and not just imagine it happening wherever they are. 

Yes, parts and events of 2016 makes everyone believe that this is the beginning of the end and that the world has gone mad; and yes it is always easier to focus on the bad that's being thrown at our faces than dig ourselves out of the pile of shit we sometimes are under (and let's be clear, sometimes all we need to do or can do is sit in the crap and wait a bit before even trying to come out). But, I have always tried to hold on to the full part of the glass and in the last 6.5 months it has felt like such hard work that I sometimes fail and go back to the empty part. However, I always have to try because life still gives me great things every day and I just have to try to push the crap and see them. Clearly, I feel like a fraud most of the time and that I'm forcing myself to smile or walk when I just don't want to - But, sometimes I do want to smile and I do walk and even jog and that is really all I can hope for. So I will keep trying.

Leaving 2016 is something I don't really want to do, I am not interested in any of the celebrations I have always loved and I am dreading moving away from the day the three of us where all together and I held Olivia and was able to stare at her. The world keeps trying to think that I will move on with time and the new year gives it the time weapon and I hate that: Hello world, I will never move on! I will learn a little bit everyday about living here whilst my daughter is in heaven, but things will never be perfect and I'm coming to terms with that; so please stop pushing me going to a destination that doesn't exist for a mum like me. Also, please don't think that I should be "better" because it's been X measurement of time and understand that good or bad isn't a metric you can measure for people as those states are in the eye and life of the beholder. My good or bad are mine and it won't change because someone else is in a better or worst place than me.

Every day from the 19th of June 2016 has been sad because it's one more day that we spent apart and that is a very empty half of the glass and one that I will revisit as long as I live. But, every day from the 19th of June is also one day closer to when we are together again and whilst I won't rush it, I will be happy whenever it comes and I hopefully wake up with you crying and I'll finally get to pick you up, calm you down and look at you alive and well. That is the full part of the glass and the one that makes me live and smile when I do.

So, I will welcome 2017 as it will bring us closer to being reunited and any day I get to spend with Pierre and the people we love is a great day. But, I will never hate 2016 nor will I ever be happy that it's gone, as it taught me what unconditional love is and that I still get to parent my child even though we are not in the same place. 

2016 you have been epic and horrible but THANK YOU for giving me a perfect daughter that I will love in this life and forever. 2017, you better be awesome and don't bitch slap me because I'll slap you back! 

I love that one of my best nine is a moment of perfect happiness, Olivia's babyshower!

I love that one of my best nine is a moment of perfect happiness, Olivia's babyshower!

Six Months Have Gone By...

Hola Chiquita,

I still can't believe it's been six months since the first and last time we met and we got to hold you. We should be taking too many pictures of you to send to your grandparents, aunts and uncles and we should be celebrating all your baby achievements. Most of all, you know how excited I was to be able to give you actual food so we could explore all the flavours of life together... This all should be happening this month.

Instead here we are in an Olivia-less world that at times seems rather pointless. As promised, I went to your bench and stayed there for a while just thinking about all the what ifs and looking back at the last six months of my life. The quote for today's flowers was amazing:

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day whispering, 'I will try again tomorrow.'”Mary Anne Radmacher

So Pichona mía, what have I actually managed to achieve in the last six months since we last met?

I've managed to watch quite terrible TV shows to make sure hours are actually going by whilst I've masterfully finished two cross stitch things and going strong on the third one. As you know your Papi sometimes travels for work, well we managed to visit eight countries and 11 cities which has been quite a nice thing to do. We always brought your little pillow and Osi with us so we were never too far apart. 

In the last six months I have mastered the art of fake living and surviving, my most dreaded question is "How are you?" because nothing ever seems right to answer that will truly say how am I for the rest of our life. But, I've gotten very good at replying anything and moving on from a question that might seem so innocent but that feels daunting to me. I have shared you with a few people that have asked me if I have any children and I'm extremely proud to say that I've managed to tell them about you without breaking down for days.

I'm sure you can see and feel us from wherever you are, so you clearly know what's going on in our lives. Your Papi and I are as ok as we can be, some days are good, some days are bad and some days are quite horrible... But so is life, no? You'll be glad to know that I am very good at not holding grudges as much as I used to thanks to you. A lot of people have said very wrong things and I have actually let go, forgive and forget. No, not all friendships will ever be the same, but moments like this show you people's true colors and whilst many things will change, I don't hate anyone, and like we say in Venezuela: Puedo llevar la fiesta en paz.

We miss you SO much Olivia, not a second goes by when I don't think I'll give anything to be together or even hold you a little bit longer...

I wanted to tell you all this great things that I would hope to have achieved in the last six months Pichona, but I'm sorry to disappoint... No, I didn't manage to get my UK driver's license how I said I would when we discussed what I would do during my maternity leave, and I don't think I'll be running 12 half marathons like we planned anytime soon. 

But... and I know you are not supposed to start a sentence like this... We have managed to stay alive, and whilst it sounds obvious, it has been extremely challenging at times. I know you will be proud of us for this, but most of all be proud of the fact that in the last six months we have actually managed to smile and even laughed until we cry. It has been harder than ever, but we have been able to see some beauty and life and I think your Papi is able to stop and enjoy the little things more than before. For my part, I've become even more obsessed with nature and the sky. So Hijita amada, we are surviving and smiling because it would be unfair that we got to stay and we didn't try to at least make the most of our time on earth for you. 

One last thought before I go... Saying hello and goodbye has been and I hope that it will be the hardest thing we will ever have to go through in life. But, know this: I will do it all over again even if I'd known the outcome from the beginning just for that moment when I got to hold you and finally meet you. I've been painfully aware lately that not all parents get a chance to meet their babies, so I am counting my blessings, even in the middle of quite the shit storm.

The memories and feelings from those hours with you will have to last me this lifetime and I will relive them as often as I need to so they can keep me going until we meet again.

Te amo más que ayer y menos que mañana

Tu Mamá