I went to BritMums Live with a great deal of trepidation. I’d been in a deep depression since the death of my baby son Hugo in March this year, and developed anxiety issues that mean I sometimes feel unable to leave the house.
The kind and generous Kylie from Not Even a Bag of Sugar had offered me a ticket. I was interested in the Inspire sessions at the conference and how to utilise my blog to advocate for change, and raise awareness of issues.
The conference was the first significant thing I had done since Hugo died, so I was terrified.
However, I was determined to do this for Hugo so I put on my favourite dress, made myself look presentable, and got on the train to London.
I received a warm welcome when I arrived. I’d made eye contact and exchanged smiles with a few other women, but felt too unconfident to approach anyone. Mari had told me to look out for the Butterflies, but it all seemed so huge and overwhelming and I couldn’t find them.
So many women were cradling babes in arms. They were glowing, and seemed so bloody happy. I felt on the exact opposite end of the spectrum: my arms are empty, my heart heavy, and my face is etched with grief.
It began to feel too much: I could feel my heart rate increasing and tears pricking my eyes, so I made a run for the ladies’ where I started to sob and have a panic attack.
The first panic attack I had ever had was when the Hugo’s consultants delivered the news that there was no more hope for my precious baby, and nothing more could be done. Grief and trauma counselling is very difficult to find, and I haven’t yet learned how to manage the attacks.
A kind lady asked me if I was ok, but walked off when I didn’t reply. I wasn’t being rude, it’s just difficult to speak when you’re hyperventilating.
Another kind lady and her sister came along, waited for me to finish my sobs, gave me a big hug and looked after me. I’ll be forever grateful to Lucy at Capture by Lucy for her compassion towards a lost soul.
After Emma Freud’s heartening keynote speech, I got chatting to another group of bloggers. We traded information about the subject of our blogs. When I told one lady the main topic of mine, she told me it was a conversation stopper. She also said she was sorry about my baby, but also repeated the ‘conversation stopper’ comment several more times. I was so hurt by this insensitive comment. Taken aback, I felt so low and so lost I didn’t know what to say. I had lost my voice.
My son was born in February; I still count myself as a new mum. I’m as proud of Hugo as any new mum is of their baby and love to talk about him. I had always planned to show off my new baby to anyone and everyone. Talking and blogging about Hugo is the only way I can do that now. My heart is broken, in so many ways. I love Hugo so much. He is not a conversation stopper.
I came so close to walking out and going home. The event was too soon, I felt too sad, things were too raw, and I had surely made a terrible mistake by going.
‘The Power Blogging Can Bring to Your Life’ breakout session made me feel glad I stayed. The special ladies on the panel talked about finding and using your voice, the catharsis of blogging through major life events, and not caring what anyone else thinks. It was hugely resonant for me. I even found myself putting up my hand to talk about why I blog, the support I have found as a result and how it is helping others. I was beginning to find my voice.
I left the event on Friday feeling so much better than how I had arrived. Having now found my voice, I tweeted about the ‘conversation stopper’ comment and had lovely replies from fellow bloggers about meeting the following day. I arrived on Saturday feeling like I could take on the world – a total contrast to day one.
The Guardian website featured Ben Brooks-Dutton’s Life as a Widower blog last summer, and I wept through reading it. I never imagined I would be in a similar place less than 12 months later. I’d seen Ben on BBC Breakfast about a month after Hugo died. The powerful emotions of grief made me feel like I was going mad, and I was so grateful to him for saying it’s ok to not be ok. I had mixed feelings about Ben’s keynote speech because it cut so close to me, but I am glad I heard it. It was so full of love for his wife and for his son.
I found myself putting my hand up, and was handed the microphone. I wanted to thank Ben for his words, say how pissed off I was about the ‘conversation stopper’ comment and also thank him for breaking the taboo about bereavement. The round of applause I received after my comment was totally unexpected and very moving.
The deluge of bereaved mothers who approached me afterwards was overwhelming – in a good way. It’s an awful club to be in, but amazing to be able to speak to people who ‘get it’.
I’m touched by those who said I was brave for standing up. Those comments are kind, and there’s no false modesty in saying I don’t agree. I don’t think bravery and being pissed off should be confused with each other.
And believe me, standing up in front of 700 people is a whole lot less scary than discussing with your baby’s consultant about how and when your baby will die, leaving him behind in a mortuary, or watching his tiny coffin being lowered in to his grave.
I’m so pissed off and utterly furious about the hand life has dealt me. I’m riddled with guilt that problems with the placenta led to my vital organs having a meltdown that meant my perfect baby had to be born weeks before he was ready. Women can and do die from HELLP syndrome, and I know I am lucky to have lived to tell the tale.
For those reasons, I am more passionate than I can express about talking about Hugo, and channelling my anger, grief and frustration into helping others in his name. It’s his legacy. It’s the least his mummy can do for him.
The conference gave me the opportunity to meet, chat and have hugs with the hugely inspirational people who I admire greatly for what they have done and continue to do: Ben Brooks-Dutton; Mel from Her Melness Speaks; Merry from Patch of Puddles; Jennie Edspire and Beth Bone.
I met so many wonderful people on the Saturday, and enjoyed talking to you all. Thank you for coming to talk to me, and for starting a conversation.
I have made lots of new friends, and have lots of potential opportunities to make Hugo’s legacy grow and grow.
I’ve recently set up a website in Hugo’s name – Bright in Mind and Spirit. I’d love to know what you think, and to hear from anyone who would like to contribute.
BritMums Live delivered everything it promised, and more. I’m emotionally drained and exhausted, but I went away feeling inspired and full of ideas about my blog being an agent of change.
Even more importantly, I saw a glimpse of the old Leigh. The one who smiles, the one who can be happy, the one who is friendly and chats to people. I also saw a glimpse of the ‘new normal’ people told me about, and the Leigh who will emerge from the devastation.
The Leigh who is feisty, and speaks her mind. The Leigh who has found her voice, and who is not afraid to use it.