Swimming through grief by #TeamSelkie Di Heelas
Posted on Tuesday, November 26 2019 02:12:00 PM in News by Karen Lee
Many of us who swim do it for a variety of reasons. I swim because I love it, it's been a fundamental part of my life from an early age. Swimming has given me different experiences at different stages. It helps me navigate through life.
In January 2011 my husband and I (and the rest of our families) were excitedly looking forward to welcoming our baby into the world. It had been a long journey over a number of years; tests, investigations, small procedures and a number of failed rounds of IVF. But finally, after donor egg IVF, I was pregnant.
I had an uncomplicated, easy pregnancy, the same cannot be said for my labour. I was in hospital for an induction and we had the most wonderful little boy called Archie. Sadly, he and I had a very difficult time during the early stages of labour, I suffered a silent abruption and an emergency caesarean followed. Archie fought and fought to come into this world and despite the heroic efforts of the medical teams, to whom I am forever grateful, he lived for just 4 days. 4 beautiful days, the happiest, most wonderful, saddest and most heartbreaking days of our lives.
I swam throughout my pregnancy, mainly in an outdoor heated pool. But after Archie's death I struggled to go back, even though I knew it would do me good. A little bit of self sabotage I suppose, but I didn't really want to be in crowded spaces or bump into people who didn't know my baby had died. And swimming represented my before Archie 'normal' life and I didn't want to return to normal life, because life was not normal anymore and it never would be again. The longer I didn't swim the easier it was not to.
I realise now, that I had lost confidence in my body. I don't mean aesthetically – I felt I couldn't really trust it anymore. I had always thought I was pretty in-tune with my body, having done a lot of sport growing up I knew when to push hard, dig in, back off or rest. I simply could not understand how something so catastrophic went on inside me without me recognising it, until it was too late. I felt, and at times I still do feel, responsible. Although my rational sense knows this is not the case. Sometimes it is easier to have someone to blame.
Somehow we got through 2011 and Archie's first birthday.
Something in me, that I did not recognise at first, craved the freedom that swimming gave me. The water does not pity you or judge the correct level of grief, it is simply there.
Tentatively I started to swim again, initially indoors and then at Queenford Lakes encouraged by my sister Sarah, who was training for the Blenheim Triathlon. During those first few swims outdoors, it re-lit a spark within me, I found some freedom, a sense of calm. I got out feeling a little bit more like me. I understood that my love of swimming was as much a part of me as my love for Archie. And as Archie was forever part of me, it seemed ok to love swimming again.
I now swim year round mainly in lakes and rivers. For me the combination of swimming and being outside is restorative. It's where I catch my breath and it gives me the space to breathe and grieve. It can be meditative, contemplative and inward looking, it can also be sociable and full of laughter, it never fails to lift me.
There is something healing about being immersed in nature, you see things differently with a frog and a fish eye view. With swimming comes a heightened awareness of the natural environment, the subtle changes week by week of the seasons, the weather, the colours, the changes in light and, as the water temperature falls there's a physical awakening, an alertness of the mind and body, it's life affirming, skin tingling, shiver inducing and flipping freezing, and it makes the endorphins flow and my smile grow.
If I'm feeling a little wonky on the inside, I head to water, preferably outside; to a lake, a river or the sea, for a little dip, a paddle or a long swim, on my own, but more often than not with friends for shared adventures, with laughter, coffee and cake.
I am very fortunate, I am now a mum of three; Archie, and twins Ted and Barney. I am lucky, I have found my tribe, a sense of belonging and the thing that helps to balance me.