So here's the thing, I'm a fairly average parent. And I am totally okay with that. I sent my kids to school dressed as a Pokemon and a Ninja for Japanese appreciation day. Let;s not get stuck on whether that's potentially inappropriate or not - it was all we had.
Unfortunately for them, it was the wrong day and they were the only ones dressed up. Only made worse by the fact it was the same day Jack was to be presented with an award in front of the entire school. Safe to say he refused to get up on stage. Once I stopped laughing I did feel bad, but Jack's response was priceless... "It's ok mum, you didn't mean it and it just means it's another day I don't have to wear uniform". He knows I tried. And that's enough for him.
When I was little girl I thought that when you grew up you knew everything and you became this perfect version of yourself. I idolized women in my family, thought they were perfect, that they never made mistakes. In fact I felt that way about a lot of the adults in my life. To me they were bigger and better than everything else and one day I wanted to be just like them.
As the years got on, I continued to make mistakes and beat myself up irrationally each and every time I did. Because I was supposed to be perfect. If I did't say the right thing, do the right thing, or be the person people thought I should be I felt like a failure and that was all that I could focus on.
My internal critic became my best friend and worst enemy all it once. It drove me to work harder, be stronger, be better. But it was a harsh and nasty voice when I made a mistake. Mistakes weren't allowed. To that critic, sending your kids to school dressed as fictional characters on a day they were to receive an award meant you were the worst parent in the world. And that you were failing in 'adulting'.
What I am slowly realising is that the nasty little voice that sits in the back of my mind constantly and some times comes from those around me... needs to back off. I make mistakes because I am still trying. I am trying to be better and to be something more.
No one knows how to be a parent straight away, and every knows the first kid is the one you make mistakes on. Happened to me and I've done it to Jack. It's how we learn, it's how we grow.
No one knows how to deal with a difficult situation until they're in it. They won't know the right things to do or say they'll just have to wing it. If they get it wrong or think later on they could have done it better... then next time they will. They have learnt something, they're growing.
I couldn't count on both hand and feet the amount of things I have royally messed up lately and some of them have been BIG. At the time it feels like it's beyond repair, that there is no coming back from it. And then you flip it on it's head and look at it from another angle.
I have learnt to not only learn from my mistakes so that I do not repeat them, but I also look at the way others react around me.
I recently made a massive mistake at work. I felt sick. My boss was not happy and rightly so.
I could not make sense of why it had happened, or how I had managed to do what I had done. That's just how silly this mistake was. I knew I had to try to fix it, to make it right but I had no idea where to start. I knew I had to own this.
I had a colleague on the phone to me all night talking me through different solutions, he knew I had messed up but he was supporting me through my efforts to try and fix it. He understood that it was just a mistake and that I would learn from it.
Once I saw my boss after the weekend. I was expecting rockets to go off. He wasn't happy about it, I had cost him a lot of money. Here's the part where I really started learning though... I felt so sick about what had happened and he could genuinely see that I was trying to make amends and that I would learn from it. He too, stood by me and said "WE will fix it".
In that moment I was able to see that not only were they both able to see that I had made the mistake because I was trying in the first place (most likely trying to do too much) but they could also see that I was still trying.
I don't want to be perfect. I want to keep making mistakes, I want to keep learning, I want to keep growing. It is through my mistakes that I have learnt my greatest lessons and grown the most.
Looking back, the adults I looked up to so much weren't perfect either. I just didn't see their mistakes as mistakes. I saw them through children's eyes - they were trying, they were working hard, they never gave up. They loved, they learned and they lived.
Sometimes I forget that it has taken me 8 long years to get to the point that I am at now. It has been a torturous road to get to a point where I no longer care about the opinions of others when I talk about my loss or stillbirth in general. And at times I admit that I forget that others aren't always on the same page as me and that it may take them time to get there too. Forgive me, it's part of being the fiery hot-headed Libran that I am. When I'm in, I'm all in.
You guessed it, this is going to be one of those self serving, annoying, you need to love yourself blog posts... but before you switch it off and get turned off by the overly cheesy photo and far too blatant title, hear me out.
I have been called lots of things over the years from fragile and meek, to angry and controlling. Recently I have been called two things that I struggle with - Brave and Strong....
It makes me think about what it is to be Brave... what it is to be Strong?
For many many years I always thought I was being brave and being strong by shouldering my problems and getting on with life. Not letting life get on top of me. But throughout those years I never felt strong. I appeared it outwardly but not once felt it.
I feel differently now. I don't know whether that is strength that I feel but for the first time in a very long time I have purpose. I am working towards something, I have goals, I have standards, I have a voice. I am finally starting to worry about myself.
Is it brave to admit that you have a problem and that you need some help? Why is that considered bravery? Is it not just being human to acknowledge that something isn't ok and that you need to change things... Are we not just looking out for ourselves when we speak our minds, voice our concerns and reach out to others?
At my lowest, I felt incredibly weak. Getting out of bed was an effort, dressing, showering, talking, eating... do anything felt like it was too much. On one particular night I drank so much to try and numb pain that I felt sick. Only to realise that it didn't stop the hurt. I got in the car. I was going to end my life. I planned to drive in front of a truck. I hit the freeway, with tears in my eyes waiting for a truck to drive towards me. No truck came. I drove to my doctor instead.
As I sat in her office I cried and couldn't talk. I told her just how bad everything had gotten. She begged me to seek some help and to use antidepressants to cut this vicious cycle of self loathing I had gotten in to. When I left I had promised her I would get help.
I didn't; not for at least six months after. I spent the next six months in a fog. I was operating in auto pilot. I shut myself off from everyone telling myself that it was a failure to admit that I couldn't cope. That I wasn't strong if I needed medication to get by. My kids suffered, Blair suffered. Everyone around me felt the affects of my 'strength' and not in a positive way.
To those outside of my inner circle I appeared to have it all together. I was a high functioning, successful, bubbly person. It was exhausting! Inside I was breaking down. I had no reserves left and it was only a matter of time before I found myself having a complete breakdown.
Eventually I gave in, I went against the voices inside me that told me I was weak and I asked for help. I went on daily medication for my depression and anxiety. I saw a counsellor once a week. I still do.
Initially I hated it. I felt like I should have been able to 'suck it up' and move on.
However, after a few weeks I noticed I was able to laugh without pretending. I was a more present mother, a more patient partner and more driven and focused at work.
Am I strong for doing that? I don't think so. I think there is an element of selfishness and self-love in that. I put myself first because I knew I couldn't be anything to anyone if I had nothing left to give due to the sheer amount of effort it took me to get through an 8 hour day. Am I brave for admitting this? No, I am honest.
I have received messages from people telling me that they find what I am doing in Ruby's name, strong and brave. I thank you, that is an amazing compliment.
What I ask is this... Please don't think of my actions as anything special. I am having an open honest conversation with you all. That's all, nothing more and nothing less. No change can come until we can all do that. There is nothing different about me to anyone else. I am a mother that struggles sometimes to be patient. I'm a partner that struggles sometimes to be affectionate. I'm a friend that struggles sometimes to be present. I'm a mother that loves her children dearly. I am a daughter, partner, friend that would do anything for anyone. I am a career woman.
I am a woman with purpose.
Love to you all, stay safe over Easter xxx
There is something that happens to a woman (I can't speak for the men) when they lose a child. Whether that be at term, half way though, early on or they lost the thought of a child...
After losing Ruby it took me an incredibly long time to realise what I had done to myself. When I lost her, I lost a huge part of myself as well. I shut down emotionally in order to protect myself from the pain I was feeling over losing her. But what I wasn't aware of then was that I was also withdrawing from the world and those around me.... including my kids. I was modelling for them the traits that I have always discouraged. I was teaching my boys that the best way to cope was to soldier on. That crying was a weakness and that talking about your problems did no good.
I experienced so much pain when Ruby died. I often compare it to the immense flooding sensations of love you have for your new child when it is born. Flip that completely on it's head and turn it into pain by the same strength... that's almost comparable to what I felt and do still feel some days.
Somehow though, I had to find a way to survive it. The only way I was able to cope was to shut it out and stay busy. For a very long time (8 years!) that worked. Well, worked is probably not the right word... it sufficed. I managed to wake up every morning and function to some degree.
I kept myself busy with work, the kids, the house, being a social butterfly. I couldn't stand silence and being alone. It left me with far too much time with my thoughts. And that scared me. Eventually the thought of having to deal with what I had locked away inside for so long terrified me so much that I refused to talk about any of it. Not just Ruby though, everything.
I lost the ability to voice my feelings and frustrations. I became completely dysfunctional in relationships I had had my entire life. Suddenly conversations with Family and Friends were strained because I didn't have the effort to make conversation, the effort to smile, the effort to pretend I was ok. I had become used to my solitude and fast paced manic lifestyle.
What resulted was my fall into a chronic depression. I began to experience things I never had before. Panic attacks, cold sweats, fits of rage and anger, crying for no reason at all, an inability to get out of bed or get motivated, the inability to connect with life and loved ones... Eventually I started to believe that the only way I would be rid of the prison I'd built for myself was to die and go and be with Ruby again. The only thing that stopped me each time was my boys.
I remember looking at Jack one day late last year and realising that he wasn't talking to me anymore. He wasn't as affectionate as he used to be. I felt like I was losing him.
It was then that I realised he was learning all the things I had been doing. That was the way he thought I expected him to cope.
The old "do as I say and not as I do" adage parents whip out every now and then does not work.... ever.
My gorgeous son was withdrawing from me and it killed me. I beat myself up for all the times I had snapped at him or Michael when they mentioned Ruby's name. I told myself I was a horrible mother for all the times I had given them an ipad to play with while we lay in bed because I couldn't bring myself to get out from under the covers. I told myself everything was my fault.
And then I realised... how, I still don't know, that I could change this.
I had to put in the hard work and get better. I couldn't be a good mum until I was ok within myself. So started my road to recovery which is a weekly battle still. At least not after six months though I can say that it is a weekly battle and not daily.
I began to talk, to a counselor. Not someone that knew me, that had expectations of me, or that I felt I would disappoint. Initially we talked about very little. I told her on the first session that there were places I was not prepared to go, she promised to hold my hand while we got to those places.
She explained to me that dealing with my grief was going to be like opening the lid of a coke bottle. I have shaken it up and kept the lid on tight for so long that if I ripped the lid of straight away I was going to explode... instead, we slowly twist the lid together, let a little air out at a time and then put the lid back on.
That is how I learnt to talk again, to cry again. I am not healed, I wouldn't even say that I am ok. Not yet. But I am trying, and I'll continue to try. Jack needs me too. My friends and family need me to. And I need to, I want to be happy again. I want all that hot fizzy air out of the coke bottle and to be able to enjoy my drink.
I want Jack to know that just because some things look hard or look as though they might be ruined, doesn't mean that they won't be amazing and worthwhile with some patience and persistence....
Let me preface this by saying that I am extremely grateful for all of the love and support that I have received from all of my family and friends over the years. The warmth and comfort you have all offered me has been immeasurable and I in no way want anyone to think that this is directed at them at all.
Jess Castree is a mother to two little boys and one angel little girl. She is the General Manager of a Plumbing Company in Melbourne. All round workaholic, perfectionist, over anxious, slightly neurotic woman trying to make it in the big bad world we live in today.