Living With Grief

A Leap of Faith

Leap Year (noun): A year, occurring once every four years, which has 366 days including 29 February as an additional day

Yesterday was a leap year and some of you may have seen on Instagram that I have a tradition: I write letters to my future self. I’ve done it for 4 leaps now (2008, 2012, 2016, 2020). Although I now cringe at some of the earlier ramblings, what I do love is that they start with James and I as young recent uni graduates. The letters then follow us through our 20’s, detailing our engagement and marriage (I ADORE how 29th Feb 2012, was just weeks before our wedding and I ask future me “did everything get done? I’ve been working really hard on the creative touches, did I pull it off?” and most importantly “DID IT RAIN?” Future Anj can safely answer: yes and thankfully, no!). The letters blissfully flow through our newlywed honeymoon years, before thunder strikes three times: baby loss 1, baby loss 2, baby loss 3.

My little stack of leap year letters

When the leap year hit in 2020, I was on bed-rest with Summer. I was 18.5 weeks pregnant, bleeding and in pain. I could tell that my third pregnancy wasn’t going to end well and so I decided not to write my leap year letter until the future was a tad more certain. I was right to do that – 10 days later, Summer was born and died. 24 days later, the whole country went into a nationwide lockdown. When I did eventually sit down to write the letter it was early April 2020 and I was utterly heartbroken. But the one thing my leap year letters have always been able to provide, is a space to dare to dream.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that dreaming is not at all in my character. I’m actually far too afraid of failure, too risk-averse to chase my dreams (so much so, that my first proper job in finance was in Risk Management – ha, I’ve never made that connection before!). I guess I’m quite practical. I grew up in a financially uncertain, single-parent household (my dad passed away when I was 11), but I also knew that I was academically smart. My plan was to use my brain to make money and to grow myself out. No-one else was going to be able to help me. Although that was in some ways a dream (and one I achieved), it never felt like it. It felt like necessity, survival. I grew up genuinely haunted by the thought that if I left the front door open to friends, bailiffs would come and take our things. Sometimes I look back now and wonder what I would have become, if I had actually dared to dream. I never get very far. It’s a fruitless exercise – that was not a childhood option open to me. But my leap year letters, they let me dabble. 4 years is a very long time, so much can happen in 1,461 days (I’m counting the leap year), 35,064 hours. And so I tentatively set some goals, I guess at the future. I still pepper the letters with classic Anjulie caution – I don’t want to set myself up for failure or utter disappointment after all – but I do try my best to be brave and honest.

This bravery and honesty meant I was scared to read my 2020 leap year letter yesterday. Although I (thankfully) now have a one year old child in my arms, I knew I would be transported back to my most vulnerable, yet desperately hopeful state. Yesterday though, I also felt sheer relief. Relief that I’m finally in THIS version of my life, the parallel universe where stuff actually went to plan. And so, I’m going to share parts of the leap year letter with you (written in 2020, to my future self, to be read 29th February 2024), because I think there were some important leaps of faith, clarity and hope. Some that I perhaps forgot and needed to remember after the death of Summer and before the eventual birth of Ellissa. I’m not sure if it will help any of you, but I hope it might.

7th April 2020

As usual, these leap year letters have brought such joy (and a little cringing!) and although (on the whole) it’s been another fantastic four years, full of things to be grateful for (which I’ll touch upon later), there’s no getting around the fact that the last 18 months, in particular, have been tough.

So Anj, true to form (you little planner, you!) you/me/we started trying for a baby at the age of 32, dead on schedule. But as we know, nothing else went to plan. I’m now so grateful for my 2016 leap year letter (which I didn’t read until Friday 6th March, when I was in hospital), because when you’ve sat where I am now, it’s easy to ask “should we have tried sooner?” and “did we wait too long?”. It’s easy to rewrite history and believe we’ve always felt as we do now. So having the 2016 letter is evidence almost, that we started trying for children when the time was right. Four years ago, we had both just got promoted, just started earning a comfortable amount and just started exploring and living our dreams – the time was right for doing that. It’s only more recently that we’ve felt ready or in want of a child. Ambitions achieved. Financially stable. Promotions sorted…I even got my driving licence last year. But it’s easy to forget that these are relatively new occurrences and that it hasn’t always been this way. So yes, we are ready now, but it hasn’t always been this way and my previous leap year letter makes that abundantly clear.

I’m beating around the bush. There’s only one thing I want to jump forward four years to know. But in true Anjulie / leap year style, I’m trying not to set myself up for a fall or disappointment, but here goes:

Anj, you’re 38 now. Do you have a baby yet?

What makes the here and now so difficult, is not knowing how it all plays out. I’m hopeful that the response is “yes!” and a smile, but if it’s a “no”, then I’m not sure how you’ve endured the heartache of the past four years. I have everything crossed for us.

It’s funny how much can happen in four weeks, let alone four years….

…But where am I now? I am three miscarriages later. November 2018 (6-7 weeks), April 2019 (11 week) and March 2020 (19 weeks and 5 days). This isn’t the only thing that defines me, but it certainly defines me right now. My heart aches, it angers, it breaks. Who knew this was in our fate? Who knows how much more there is to come? Well, YOU do.

I could write a whole book on this topic and my feelings, but I’ll refrain. Instead I’m taking faith that the future is brighter and that we’re through the worst of it (famous last words?), but I will share a quote (from my many bereavement books) that sums up how I’m feeling:

“Grief I’ve learnt (am learning), is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot… grief is just love with nowhere to go”.

And for Summer… My baby girl, my dream come true. Every mother should have a daughter and I had you. Your heart stopped beating, but my love for you did not. So listen out for my voice, I’ll still be talking to you. Love, Mummy xx

My leap year letter from 2020

You might recognise some of that writing. Two months after writing that letter, I didn’t write a book – I launched this website. And that quote about grief? That was one of the first things I added to the Mumoirs Home page.

Four years later, my leap of faith worked. Summer, I hope you’re still listening.

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