2019 started with a big decision for us: we’re moving house!
Despite appearances of a snap decision and an extremely quick sale; the decision was a long time coming. It’s fair to say that Andrew had to work hard to get me on board with the idea. I’ve had marmite relationship with our house: it’s been both my sanctuary and my prison.
Our house is a mid-90s build but we still had a lot of cosmetic work to do to it. When we came to chat to estate agents we realised that it now resembles Trigger’s broom as did so much to it in the end. We promptly moved in and repainted the whole house and as we were rushing we got it wrong. The biggest mistake was me misreading a paint chart and ending up with half of the living room lilac! We sort of just put up with it for years. The biggest job was emptying an old savings account and having Sharps wardrobes fitted in our bedroom. Oh and the other buying sofas that were just too cumbersome and dark for the living room; you just can’t tell how big something is in a showroom! We then set about a room at a time.
I’m a huge fan of George Clarke’s various renovation and small spaces shows and it was one such episode (watched with vino on an August bank holiday) that sparked the urge to really start getting things right in the house rather than “ok”. After staring at the half beige half lilac room I snapped and declared that “I f*cking hate the dido rail” and so fuelled by vino Andrew chiselled it off the wall there and then. Expertly supervised by Humphrey naturellement. It turned out that the whole thing was glued on and obviously we caused a much bigger paint job than we initially realised. This was the catalyst for sorting out the rest of the house. We upgraded the external doors with a local company as our experience with Safestyle UK was horrifying!
I hated the pine in the bathroom with a passion and the side had fallen off the bath so that was a big job to do before we brought babies home. There was no way I was bringing babies into the house if the bathroom wasn’t safe. I seem to have a knack of declaring I wanted something new only for the current version to break. I declared that we needed to do the kitchen and then the shelves started falling out. Andrew dragged his feet so much that we ended up booking the kitchen refit for when Ophelia was only 3 weeks old which meant that us two and the dog had to decamp to my parents for a week! All the laminate upstairs was replaced and in the end we replaced all the flooring in the house for new tiles, carpet and vinyl. We even changed the internal doors too – the house looks nothing like it did when we moved in 8 years ago.
During mat leave with Ophelia we got the living room revamped and last year we got the downstairs loo and hall, stairs and landing revamped too. The thinking being let’s finish off the house so when we decide to move we are ready to go and we don’t have to do much and we get to enjoy the house before the flit.
So how has the house been both a sanctuary and my prison? Well during the end of my pregnancy with Alexandra I sat and I waited and waited – on horrible cumbersome sofas that I couldn’t lie down on. I ached all over and just wanted the last few weeks to fly by so I could bring baby home. My due dates sailed past and still I waited. I could barely move as I was in so much pain from SPD, reflux and carpal tunnel. On that Monday night we left the house so unprepared for what was about to happen to us. We just expected to be admitted ready for our booked induction the next day; instead our whole world was turned upside down and it’s never righted itself. We left in such a flap that we didn’t even take a camera with us.
After our 2 and a bit days at the hospital we just wanted to get home to safety again. I couldn’t be in the hospital any longer but when we pulled up on the drive I realised that the house was no longer the same. I wasn’t bringing my baby home. Instead, we arrived empty-handed, battered and bruised. Andrew had to give me anti-clotting injections on those bloody awful sofas. The house had gone from my pregnancy prison to a brief sanctuary.
Home was safe. I could control who I wanted to see; this was my space and I felt in control of it. There was no-one to bump into; no-one to repeat what had happened to. Of course I had to leave for essential things such as returning to the hospital to get Alexandra’s medical death certificate, the town hall to register birth and death (where they write in pencil on the bound copy of the birth certificate that baby has passed away to combat identity theft – yes that’s an actual thing); the Job Centre so she wouldn’t be issued a National Insurance number (at least I think that’s why we were sent there); the funeral directors but Andrew could drive us and we could plan how to get in and get out without running into too many people. Slowly I ventured out on Humphrey’s walks.
I’d never experienced agoraphobia before but I definitely had it then. The thought of just popping out without a carefully planned route and timings was just unthinkable. I had to think about where I needed to be, what time and how I was going to get there without drawing attention to myself (because obviously I had a giant sign above my head saying MY BABY JUST DIED) and the fear was crippling. Losing Alexandra meant that I wasn’t in control of anything anymore.
One such carefully planned route was to the funeral directors to drop off Alexandra’s dress (I think) and to a fair where a fellow Guiding volunteer had a stall to fundraise for her trip to India. I’d walked through everything in my head but hadn’t factored in meeting the new vicar who naturally was chatting away to us all and asking the usual questions. “Can I ask why you didn’t get married in church?” Me: “my husband is a devout atheist” and you know what question is steam rollering its way into the conversation: “how many kids….” Thankfully, Steph swooped in to very quickly explain the situation. All credit to Rev Sue, she was mortified and didn’t try to sweep away Alexandra’s life and death with a nicety. She gave me her card and said if I never needed to scream and swear at God to call her. Now that was refreshing.
Going back to work and forcing myself into a routine eventually lifted the agoraphobia. Who knows if I was ready to get into a routine? In hindsight going back to everything so work, dog walking, Rangers only 3 months later wasn’t probably the best decision but I felt that I would be letting everybody down if I didn’t.
When we got Ophelia home the agoraphobia returned. Home was safe. I knew that no-one could glare at me for breastfeeding or say a comment when I did. I knew where the nappies were and I could work around our slowly establishing feeding and changing routine. Going outside was to go into the unknown. Every new Mum feels this but I think when you’ve brought home a baby after losing one it’s magnified. The shock of your baby not only being alive for longer than their older sister but actually coming home is almost indescribable. I didn’t know what to do with a live baby; this wasn’t what I knew.
So after 8 years we are moving on. 2015 was a year of crisis for us in so many ways: the sudden death of my Grandma, losing Alexandra and then my Grandad. We needed life to come to sort of even keel before we made big decisions and the Pinterest & Instagram inspired cosmetic upgrades provided welcome distraction and relief – it certainly paid off when we got our valuations!
I’m not really sure what eventually made me change my mind. It now feels like we’re in Groundhog Day and we desperately need a fresh start. The great McExit may well have happened earlier had I not got involved with Labour at a local level last year and found some more people on our wavelength in addition to just generally new people to talk to and to discover other loss parents .
At times it has felt like I’m breaking up with the house and the area and the reality is that is pretty much what we’re doing. It’s not you; it’s me no actually it’s both. We’re ready to move on.
Dear house; you’ll always be our first but it’s time we found a new house.