Written October 2020
Our babies were born prematurely in November 2019. One of our little boys died the following day, and our other little one lived for four and a half months before he died in April 2020.
I have been a primary school teacher for ten years. I had to leave my classroom suddenly one morning in November 2019 when I noticed some bleeding. My teaching assistant covered the class while I went to get checked at the hospital. I never managed to finish teaching that lesson as my boys arrived ten days later.
My maternity leave plans got blown out of the window and in November my leave began, earlier than expected. We spent 18 weeks in NICU. At the time I felt cheated – I was spending my maternity leave in an intensive care unit with one baby gone, and one struggling to survive. In April, when our second little one died, we felt empty. How would we ever come to terms with what had happened to our family over the last five months? How would we go on without our children?
Five weeks later I needed to discuss my return to work with school. My part time request would not be able to be accepted and I would need to go back full time if I wanted to return. It was a stressful week talking to the unions and trying to work out what to do.
My mind was all over the place – it was hard to even get out of bed.
I eventually agreed to return full time and to just take a day at a time.
I recently returned, just over nine months since I had to leave my class that day in November to get a check-up. These first few weeks have been more challenging than I ever could have imagined. Going back to ten hour working days leaves me with little time to rest or to continue to process what has happened.
Grief is overwhelming and exhausting. It’s now six months since we lost our second little one and although I am now mostly able to function and put one foot in front of the other, my brain is still foggy and I continue to feel a deep sorrow which is like a very heavy black rucksack that I’m having to carry around with me.
Because grief is a like riding a storm, I still have days where I feel paralysed and struggle to talk to anyone or move from the sofa.
I sometimes glaze over in class and my mind goes blank. Last week this happened while I was teaching a maths lesson and I froze, began to shake and had to leave the room as my mind had taken me back to the moment when one of our boys was taken away from us. I managed to get to the school office where I broke down and felt real panic. It was a scary experience.
Much of the motivation I used to have for my job has disappeared because, since our boys, nothing seems of any importance. I am conscientious so I still work hard but the ‘spark’ I used to sometimes get from teaching definitely isn’t there at the moment. How can I be happy teaching other people’s children when I can’t go home to my own babies each day?
I cry a lot at work. Before the children come in, at break time, at lunchtime and after school. There are days when I manage to hold all my tears in only for them to explode out of me when I get home. Other days I’m not so strong and I sob at my desk wondering how I’ll get through the next ten minutes.
Two boys in my class have the same name as one of my babies. I have to say that name tens of times each day, and it feels like a little dagger piercing me each time I do. While I was setting up the classroom in the summer holidays, I found it unbearable sticking fresh new name labels onto the children’s trays knowing my boys would never have a tray. These are just some of the examples of how everything I do, especially at work, brings me back to my boys.
My teaching assistant and some of the other teachers I work with are very supportive and kind, which is a real help. Another help is the bereavement leave I plan to use to break up the coming months. However, despite these things, I am wondering whether full time classroom teaching is going to be manageable for me long term now.
If I’m really honest (which I recently promised myself I would be), is it what I want? I know life isn’t as easy just doing what makes you happy - after all, we have bills to pay – but knowing, loving and losing my boys has changed my perception on life dramatically. I now know what is important and after everything I’ve been through, both physically and mentally, over the last nine months, I’m starting to realise that maybe I deserve a break. Maybe I need to ask myself: What will help me right now? What will bring me a little bit of happiness? What can I do that will help me to keep my boys memory alive while helping other families in similar positions?
Maybe the answer is finding a part time role or working in another field of education. Maybe it’s a complete change I need, a new direction? Or maybe I need to give myself time and permission to not be ok and to take however long I need to work things out.
Nothing is certain - everything feels complicated. But what calms me is just taking a moment to sit quietly, connect with my boys and feel the love we share. I know they’re saying,
It’s OK Mummy, you’re doing a great job. Be kind to yourself – we will always love you.
No one can take that away from me – it’s what keeps me going.