Single Parenting after Loss – Navigating Grief

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Parenting alone comes with many challenges, but how do you manage when one of them is grieving a child? Siobhan Hughes shares her story on the Frolo blog today of single parenting after loss.

Welcome to a small window into my life. It’s complicated, unique and blooming fulfilling.

I am a single mum to two girls with a difference. My eldest, Niamh was born sleeping in 2008, and my youngest, my rainbow baby Isabella, was born in 2011. My pregnancies with both girls were vastly different, with Niamh I didn’t know I was pregnant – I discovered her crowning on the morning she was born after thinking I had a slipped disk in my back. In reality I had been in labour for 11 days. With Isabella I knew before I took the test.

When I had Niamh I was single and my relationship had ended months before so when I gained and lost her in the same day I was alone. I had some family around me but for the most part I was alone. My first experiences as a single parent were ensuring I had memories to last an entire lifetime and planning a funeral – it was surreal but I slipped into the role effortlessly.

When I gained and lost her in the same day I was alone.

At the time I swore I would never have another child because the fear of parenting another baby in the way I parent Niamh broke me, but then I met Isabella’s dad.

To say it was a whirlwind would be an understatement, but soon enough I was navigating my way through a pregnancy that terrified me with a partner who was never there. We separated when Isabella was 18 months old and even though it should have been a huge change it wasn’t – I was a single parent in a relationship and now it was official I felt like I could come into my own and be the Mum I had always dreamed I had been.

Most weekends I would take my toddler to play at her sister’s forever bed, tidying away fallen leaves and shrivelled flowers while I listened to Isabella play with her Iggle-piggle or her singing bear that played the tune of ‘My only Sunshine’, the song that I sang to both my girls as they were in my arms as newborns. It was bittersweet to watch but it also had this air of uniqueness that some people would frown at or even ridicule. To us it was our normal.

Fast forward a few years and Isabella had started preschool. She was and still is fiercely independent and would toddle off with no tears and barely a wave to me each morning, but once inside she would fondly talk of her big sister who lived with the angels and proudly tell anyone who dared to question her existence the intricacies of baby loss, because in reality how many children know that babies die and truly how many should?

On these days she would lay next to me at bed time and ask when I could bring Niamh home to live with us so that she could be her big sister here. My heart would break and it hit me it was the first time I felt like I had failed her. Her father had walked away immediately after we separated, his family had too, and my family weren’t close, so it was always just us and this memory of her big sister that she loved and grieved for equally.  

How many children know that babies die and truly how many should?

I try to celebrate the girls equally but sometimes the scale tips further for one than the other and that’s tough. I try to do certain things the same – Niamh of course gets flowers for her birthday and special days so I try to buy Isabella surprise bunches when I can and I always bake them both a cake for their birthdays, a tradition that seems to make her feel closer to her sister.

Sometimes Isabella asks if I wish that I could go back and save Niamh but in reality if I hadn’t lost Niamh I would never have met her dad and had her. It’s a catch 22 that I have no real answer for other than I wish both my girls were with me.  

The double role of a lone parent is tough, you don’t have anyone to co-parent with so all of the decisions are yours, including the consequences. You sometimes spend more time as the bad guy than the fun parent but when Isabella calls me her Mum-Dad, it makes me smile because it makes me look at what I can do. I work my behind off to make sure she can make her dreams come true, which includes hours at rugby training each week and glam parties for her, reading to her at night, baking the most amazing cookies and cakes, (if I do say so myself), and standing on the sidelines of every single match cheering her on like it’s the Premier 15’s final like a crazy person.

I know that she aches for more. She wants her big sister and she wants another parent. I watch her watching the dads at matches, trailing after her amazing coaches who adore her and seeing dad pick up their kids from school. I see her face crumble when she asks for the hundredth time why she doesn’t see her dad or why he left, or when she screams out with grief when she misses the sister that she never met but loves with her whole being, yelling at the world that it’s not fair that she isn’t here.

I have no response good enough to comfort her, that voice in the back of my mind that I’ve failed her all over again, but then I see her care for her friends when they are sad, I see her cheer with team mates when they score a try and light up when I tell her how loved she is or how she looks like her sister when she sleeps. I remember that while I am one of the most unique parents out there and although almost everyday I have a small voice in the back of my mind telling me that I’m not good enough, I remind myself how much of an amazing human she is and know I’m kind of crushing it too.

Isabella is ten now and I know that the pivotal part of her life where she will question everything is fast approaching. I’m striving to keep the magic in her life despite all the loss she has faced.

I know I’m immensely lucky because she is an amazing person and is open, accepting and learning to question everything so she can find out the secrets to the universe, but I also know that doing all of this alone and knowing that she only has me to lean on and learn from, I just hope I can do a good enough job so she can be the best she can be.

Although almost everyday I have a small voice in the back of my mind telling me that I’m not good enough, I remind myself how much of an amazing human she is and know I’m kind of crushing it too.

If anyone reading this is a single parent going through anything similar, know that its okay to grieve. It’s more than okay to let your children see you grieve, but equally it’s okay to let them see you thrive and be an amazing parent.

Whether you have support or you and your babies are your own team, you can and will be amazing. Shut down that voice of doubt and know that for all the hardest days, where the washing is too much or you feed them beige food because you are tired, there will be at least a hundred amazing days where they look in your face, smoosh your cheeks and tell you they love you, all with that crazy look in their eyes that tells you they are about to destroy the world and give you a few extra wrinkles.

If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this blog then you can contact Cruse Bereavement Care for further support.

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