Our beautiful baby daughter Anabelle was born sleeping June 2010.
Blessed with the screaming arrivals of our gorgeous rainbow sons,
Alexander October 2011, Zachary November 2013 and Lucas July 2016.

After Anabelle - Raising Rainbows
Heartbreak. Joy. Death. Life. But most of all Love.

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Decade I Called My Twenties

The first week of April we came home from my 30th birthday holiday. At Christmas Jon surprised me with a booking for EuroDisney; I had never been to Disneyland and going for my 30th had all I'd gone on about for about two years! We were not disappointed, we all had a magical beautiful time; the sight of the castle took my breath away, Xander just about loved everything, discovering Buzz Lightyear, Cowboys, and the sheer excitement of every ride, especially driving a car!  Zac mesmerised by the parades and characters and spent much time shouting and waving at them, adding the word 'Wow' to his vocabulary! Jon loved seeing the children's reactions and the awesome fireworks show at park closing time. We had a special super holiday.

But as always, our little girl was missing and we felt it; we felt it walking through the park surrounded by little girls in their favourite princess dresses,  wishing our little girl was dressed in a princess dress too. We felt it walking through the stores with aisles lined with Princess Belle dolls and toys. We felt it when we mentioned how we would've been duped into buying her so much with her name on while we were there if she had been with us, handling those toys for just a moment and wishing we could be duped anyway.  We felt it when a bolt of grief hit hard in the chest out of nowhere in those stores. We felt it when Xander identified a Princess Belle doll and said 'like my sister'. We were reminded (as if we ever forgot) again that even during our most magical times that there is a gaping hole in our family, and she is missed, so missed in everything that we do. 

Naturally these last few weeks I've been reflecting a lot on my twenties. The decade of huge fast paced changes; no way could I have predicted at 20 how my life would be at 30. Of course I had no idea what that decade had ahead of me, no-one ever does but I look at my 20 year old naive blissfully unaware self, looking so young and carefree, knowing now that just five years later my world my heart would be blown apart and never been the same again, that I would never be the same again. At just 25. That is when I grew up. 

This was my twenties. 

Age 20
Age 20 and in my second year of university. Feeling like I was now a 'grown up', living on my own, well on my own with friends. The uni year my school boyfriend and I broke up and I thought I knew what it felt like to feel heartbroken, but of course I didn't have the first clue and neither was I grown up. At the time I felt he had ruined university for me; transferring from his to mine at the end year one, so we were no longer apart, just to cheat merely weeks later and then me be stuck with his presence for two years. It bothered me so much at the time, it hit hard, I reacted badly. But now, ten years later I rarely think of that time in my life, there is no denying I was hurt at the time, but now I know he was just a silly little boy and I equally immature.

The very best, and very worst of my life so far was still yet to come.  Age 20 I 'met' Jon, on faceparty, if anyone can remember that, quite accidentally.  A random message turned into a year of email pen-palling. Who could've predicted then he would be the man I married four years later, and had my babies with. Age 20 was a year of big change, as was most years of my twenties. 

Me on my 21st birthday
This was me on 21st birthday, never mind my 18th, this was the birthday that felt like the proper coming of age this time! I look at this picture and can't believe how slim I was - that dress was a size 10, and a size 10 I am no more! Pre-babies and pre-caesareans. Twenty-One was a good year, I LOVED being 21. Days before my 21st I really met Jon, after he begged for months to move from pen-pals to a drink in real life, I finally agreed for our birthdays and we clicked instantly. A quiet after work drink turned into a whole evening of chatting and laughing, and I think we both knew right there and then we were onto something pretty special. The next night I went out dancing with a friend and phoned him to pick me up at the end of the night, he started visiting me at uni, we pined the gaps in between and within weeks I just knew he was 'the one'. Age 21 was a summer of day-trips, memories of listening to Jem and the BEP's and feeling totally and utterly in love. Age 21 was the beginning of the makings of our family as we know it today.

Graduation Day - Age 21
Age 21 was the year I finished university, qualified as a teacher and couldn't quite believe I was old enough to be so responsible! Fresh-faced and newly qualified I was excited about a career in teaching; within the first year I fell into a special school on supply, fell in love with the job and carved my way into an aspect of teaching I hadn't considered before. I still teach in a special school, love the kids I work with and nine years later I feel somewhat a nearing veteran in the profession. Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration with 38 years of service left before my state pension becomes available, but you get the point!

The day we got engaged! Age 22
Age 22 and things got serious. A few weeks after my 22nd birthday, Jon and I moved into our first house together; a lovely little two bed that we loved calling ours and remained our home for 7 years until we outgrew it with our expanding family. A few weeks after moving in together Jon proposed; he ran me a bubble bath and cooked tea while I had a soak, and I came downstairs (with wet hair, wearing pyjamas) to candle lit spaghetti bolognese. Pudding arrived on the table in a plate covered bowl, and when I took the plate away inside the bowl wasn't pudding but a box with my ring inside. And of course I said yes!  Age 22 we set our wedding date for a little over two years later, and got a little kitten, Fiz, to join our home and went on a little driving holiday jaunt to Renne in France.

Age 22 I secured my first teaching contract. After two terms of full time supply in a special school I applied for a part-time permanent contract at another special school closer to home. Never did I believe I would get the job,  I was very newly qualified with only two terms experience of teaching PMLD and SEN, but get the job I did! For the next few years I worked three days a week at my new school and continued working two days a week at the school where I had been supplying, until going part-time at my three day a week school after Anabelle.

Age 23

Age 23 was all about  being young, care-free and wedding planning. It passed by in a blur of dresses and themes, fushia pinks and white roses. My sister turned 18 that year and she, me, and Mum went for an Easter week in Majorca. Fiz was still a kitten and we took hundreds of photographs of her and celebrated her first birthday - oh how times have changed now - poor neglected ignored in comparison cat!

Its the year of my 20s I remember the least about, probably the quietest year for me with the least of milestones. That summer we took our August holiday in Cumbria, just weeks after Jon had been made redundant; it was a stressful time, with enough redundancy payout to last just three months living, not to mention less than a year to go until our wedding and the saving/spending for that the pressure to get another job was on. Just in the nick of time, as those three months were up he secured a new job, at a company that has seen good career progression for him and couldn't be more family friendly for which we've been grateful for these seven years since!

Our Wedding Day - Age 24

Age 24. It was a beautiful year, so many happy love-filled memories. The year I married Jon. No longer a Villars by name but now a Morgan.  For one day I felt like a princess, in a beautiful big white ball gown dress. Infact just this week, Xander took notice of the photo on the wall in my parents house and told me it was when I wore a princess dress. It really was a magical day, everything about our relationship felt different, even better than it already was. I was so proud to become Jon's wife that day, just as I am still.

We honeymooned in St Lucia, which was just spectacular (if we ignore the two week stint in hospital for Jon on our return with a 'lucky to be alive' pulmonary embolism!) and on our return (after said episode) we settled into our new little life of Mr and Mrs.

Age 24 I was pregnant for the first time. Beyond excited about the prospect of becoming a Mummy, parents. We were newlywed, expecting and everything felt complete. Oh how little we knew.

I find it enormously difficult to reflect on the next few years.

The day Anabelle was born - Age 25
Age 25 marked the turning point for the remainer of my twenties and indeed the rest of my life. The most life-changing, soul-changing significant life event I think I'll ever go through. I was so young and naive, young and excited, newlywed and on top of the world, and in moments that world shattered around me. I feel cheated of my youth. I aged before my time, the person I thought I was changed beyond all recognition and our fledgling marriage faced its greatest 'for better or worse' truth of our vows before we'd even been married a year. Age 25 at 32 weeks pregnant, we lost our little girl, buried our baby and I've never been the same since.

Anabelle, my beautiful precious first born, still my only daughter.  So tremendously missed. I said age 20 I had thought I'd experienced what it felt like to be heartbroken; Age 25 I really knew what it meant to be heartbroken, grief-stricken, traumatised and never really truly be healed or fixed.  Age 25 was a bleak, bleak year and I still struggle with the 'foreverness' and maybe always will.

The day Alexander came home - Age 26 
Days before turning Age 26 I found out I was expecting another baby, eight months after Anabelle had died. Of course I would not change a thing about my rainbow boy, but in hindsight it was far far too soon. We were an absolute mess. It was a hugely fearful stressful pregnancy, of course it was always going to be, but so soon after her death neither of us were emotionally or mentally well equipped to deal with it.

But oh that boy, my Alexander. My rainbow precious beyond words baby. He lived, he came home. I love that boy so much I could burst. He gave us reason to smile again, laugh again, to live again, to heal some of that raw all-engulfing pain. There is a gaping hole in our family but we're forever grateful, blessed and in awe at these two little boys we have now that encompass it all with rainbows.

Age 26
Age 26 (still pregnant with Alexander) we celebrated, for want of a better word, Anabelle's first birthday by fundraising for Sands. When we first started planning and decided we would hold a fete in her honour, a friend and I thought we were being overly ambitious setting a £1000 target. Never in a million years did we think we could've achieved or set our sights on the just shy of £10,000 total that we finally sent off to Sands in Anabelle's name. I was totally blown away at the reach my little girl had had and have been periodically the last few years since.

I always said I would plan another event, albeit more low-key, for her 5th birthday. Her 5th birthday is upon us in just two months now and currently I'm not sure I'm in the right head-space this June to pull any fundraising off at all. Currently I feel like I'm going to be enormously letting her down but at the moment I feel very fragile and wary about June and I'm not sure this is the year for it.  So it may not be for her 5th birthday after all, but I will fundraise for her birthday again.

My 27th birthday
Age 27 was all about being Alexander's Mummy. I absolutely loved being off on maternity leave with him. Our photos from that year are hundreds upon and hundreds of him. (Well, and have been since!) Not wanting to miss a moment or a memory of him. Spending so much time still pretty terrified we still weren't really going to be allowed to keep him. We couldn't believe our dreams of being earth parents had come true.

This photo is one of my favourites; Alexander's Dedication Day. The only day such as this Anabelle had, the only day she was ever going to have in Church, was her funeral, and we needed something so different for Xander. We needed it for him and we needed it for us, to carry our baby down the aisle in a different way. Celebrating and giving thanks that we had this baby in our arm instead of a box. In this photo we look so naturally happy and proud. Our boy.

Alexander's Dedication Day - Age 27

The day Zachary was born - Age 28

Age 28 was another busy year. We discovered we are expecting again, this time Zachary was on his way. This time is was still terrifying, still stressful but somewhat different; this time we felt better equipped to deal with the strain of pregnancy after loss, and with a rainbow baby still less than two years old we were pretty well distracted too. Zachary arrived, screaming, and instantly felt like he had always been here, the perfect fit, our darling rainbow Baby Small.     It was another wonderful maternity leave, learning how to juggle the needs of two small people and give each the attention they need. But in-amongst the angst of hoping I'm being enough for both of them there has been the beauty of watching their brotherly relationship grow independent of me. They were brothers in arms from the word go; a fiercely protective Xander of his baby brother from the moment he came home, a mesmerised Zachary watching Xander's every move from the moment he could take notice. And so it has continued. Today they are as thick as thieves and have each other's back - also known as Xander sneaking Zac the things he wants and there is nothing more beautiful than the sound of them shrieking with laughter as they play their games together.  Age 28 was a year our family grew some more.

Age 28 and I had the once in a life-time opportunity to attend an event at Number 10 Downing Street. It was a huge privilege and shock to receive an invitation to a Sands reception. It was quite an adventure, with hospital bags and notes packed into the car with us. Travelling for a half a day round trip to London, at a massively 36 weeks pregnant, but it was an adventure that could not be missed!  It was completely surreal walking through that door and into the residence of the Prime Minister! We went up a huge grand staircase, with portraits of all our previous PMs on the wall and spent a few hours eating canap├ęs and mingling with too many people affected by baby loss, too many other bereaved parents. It was humbling that a few people recognised me from this blog and I could not have been prouder that I was able to visit a normally locked down world famous building for and because of our beautiful girl. That night was completely about being Anabelle's Mummy and it was a wonderful feeling, to honour her. That Tuesday I was in Downing Street, the next Tuesday Zachary was born.

Another Graduation - Age 28
Age 28 and I graduated again. Finally finishing the post-graduate diploma I had started when pregnant with Belle. I'd been half way through when she died and course I needed to defer until I was in a space, and the course back in the place where I could see it to the end. I burnt the overnight oil many a time to finish that Diploma and passed with Merit. I felt pretty chuffed that day! Another two years on now and I'd like to complete the credits I need to get my Master's next, but with a baby (ok, he'll have to be called a toddler soon) that (still) doesn't sleep through and showing no signs of doing so any time soon, currently I do not have the energy or time to embark on anymore essay writing. But definitely something on the back-burner for the next decade!

Age 29

Age 29 and no signs of slowing down the pace. We spent the final year of my twenties house-hunting and subsequently renovating before moving in just before Christmas. Our lovely little first home two-bed had been outgrown, there was no room for the boys to play, we were drowning under the copious amounts of stuff we now owned, and well toys and it was time to move on.  We didn't quite mean to take on a renovation but in our inexperienced naivety the lick of paint and new carpets we thought this house needed was never going to cut it in the end. After a few years of pining to move back to Cwmbran, and six months, one week and two days after sale completion of much hard-graft, tears and tantrums we moved our family into our new home; a home, number 21 and now named Mehefin, where even Anabelle 'moved' with us.

My 30th Birthday
And now I'm 30.  My 30th birthday was a freak summer weather day for the first week of March and we spent it with friends and their children at the beach. It was just lovely, different and special. A month of birthday celebrations that finished with the most memorable of holidays in Disneyland Paris.

It was a bizzare feeling, knowing my twenties were coming to an end and this whole new decade and chapter was opening up for me. At 30 I feel more 'life' settled now, more sure of myself now; on a good day I know who I am and who is important.  I know what isn't going to change, I know there is thread of pain that will weave its way through my life, but I also know I have a whole load of everything too - my 'little and broken, but still good' family.

Just as I had no idea how my 20s would unfold, the same is true of my 30s; maybe there'll be just one more baby, maybe I'll complete my masters, maybe we'll extend the house - but mostly I think it will be about being Mummy and watching these children grow, filling our lives with love above all else and praying I keep them always. There is a whole loads of maybes and unknowns, I can only hope there'll be no life-changing trauma as there were mid-twenties and that on the whole this decade will be a healing and calming experience.

Reading back it really has been a full on ten years. I can't believe the next big birthday will be 40. *gulp* - lets start filling the next ten years then!

Disneyland Paris - Age 30


Unknown said...

Great post Caz. Thanks, as always, for sharing your journey. What a beautiful woman and mother you are. Wishing you a great decade ahead and sending you much love and peace for the coming few months in the run up to Belle's 5th birthday.

Lulu said...

That was an amazing post. I'm so sorry that Anabelle isn't here on earth with you now. I feel your pain so clearly though your words and I can see how cheated you must feel of your little girl and the life you should be having with her now. I am so happy for you that you have been blessed with two beautiful boys but I know that does not take away the grief or the longing. Thank you for sharing your painful but joyful personal journey and wishing you peace and happiness for the future. x

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After Anabelle - Raising Rainbows. I'm Caz, Mummy to beautiful angel Belle and my wonderful rainbow boys, Xander, Zachy and Luc. Wife to Jon. Twitter @cazem Instagram @cazzyem
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