I am not the world’s most confident person and it’s safe to say that public speaking is not one of my strengths.
Standing up in front of people, be it friends, colleagues or complete strangers has the power to get my heart racing and my stomach churning and is honestly not something I would usually volunteer for.
This was a particular problem at nursing school when it seemed that almost every week we had to stand up in front of everyone and give some type of presentation or speech. I still remember one particularly embarrassing day when I was required to participate in a group presentation where we each had a slide of the presentation to discuss. When my turn came I took a deep breath, looked up to begin speaking and promptly panicked and ran out of the room.
Unfortunately for me this wasn’t an isolated incident.
So when I received the email from BritMums to say that I’d been selected as one of the BritMums Live keynote speakers I was conflicted to say the least. On the one hand it was a huge honor that, out of the thousands of posts nominated it was one of my posts that had been selected to be part of the final twelve. On the other hand I knew that standing up in front of a few hundred people was about as stressful a situation as I could put myself in and I knew that just going to BritMums Live was going to be difficult enough without purposefully engineering panic-inducing situations.
However, the more I thought about it, the more excited I became about the opportunity to share my writing with people who may otherwise not read this blog. I write because I want to share my experiences and talk about issues that I feel passionately about with baby loss being one such issue. I truly believe that the only way to break down the barriers bereaved parents face is to talk about the babies that have died and to refuse to be silenced.
In the end it was thoughts of those lost children and their grieving families that persuaded me to accept the invitation to be a keynote speaker. I would screw up my courage, squash my fears surrounding public speaking and I would get up on that stage and read my post for them. Although my post was only about one baby I knew that it was an experience that far too many parents have been through but feel as though they cannot talk about.
Equally, although I was only one voice and alone I can’t do much at least I was refusing to treat the loss of a baby as a taboo subject; something that mustn’t be spoken of for fear of upsetting or offending those who are fortunate enough to not have lost a child.
My knees wobbled as I stepped up onto the stage and as I arranged my sheets of paper in front of me I was aware that my hands were shaking. When I looked out into the room I could see dozens of faces all looking at me, quietly waiting for me to begin but I held my nerve and started reading.
About halfway through my speech I looked up and realised that most of the people that I could see through the glare of the stage lights were crying. I knew that ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ evoked some very strong emotions in those who read it but reading comments on the blog is very different to seeing first hand the effect that my words had on others.
I honestly didn’t think that reading the story of that little boy’s last day would affect me emotionally as much as it did, even though it was one of the most difficult and upsetting days of my career or indeed my life. I’d thought about him almost every day, replayed that day over and over again in my head and I thought I’d come to terms with it but seeing the tears of the women sat in front of me took my back to that grief-filled day in a way that writing never had.
I remembered the expressions on the parent’s faces when we told them that we couldn’t save their little boy.
I saw the tiny little boy lying in his mummy’s arms with one hand resting on the side of his face.
I remembered standing next to his incubator as he was batipsed, my eyes closed, praying to a God that I do not believe in to look after him and his parents.
As I stood there on the stage I felt the tears rising and I knew that if I let them begin to fall I would not be able to stop them. I took a deep breath and tried to carry on reading but my voice began to shake, the words got stuck behind the lump in my throat and the tears started to roll down my cheeks, blurring the printed words that I was trying to read.
I felt almost exactly as I did when I’d sat beside the parents when the surgeon had broken the news that there was nothing me he, or anyone else could do. I’d tried to hold back my tears then as well but my self-control had betrayed me; making my emotions obvious to all when I was trying so hard to keep them in check.
It’s not that I didn’t want the parents to know that I was so upset but they needed me to support them; needed to be able to lean on me in the hours ahead. I had a job to do; to look after this little boy and his parents and I couldn’t do it to the best of my ability if I was a sobbing wreck.
I’m not entirely sure how I managed to make it through the rest of my keynote speech but somehow I did. I stepped down from the stage, doing my best not to sniff and feeling as though I had let the babies and their families down. I had gone up to speak for them, but instead of calmly sharing an important story I had let my emotions take over to the extent that I’m not even sure if the second half of the speech was comprehensible over the choked back sobs.
I still feel as though could have done better; been a better advocate and a better nurse, both on the day the little boy died and on the day that I stood up to speak about him. I am acutely and painfully aware that on both of those days the only person those parents had to look to was me; trusting me to support them and look after their baby, to act in their best interests and be at their side as the worst thing that they could imagine played out before their eyes and they were powerless to stop it.
I am just me; I’m not the most senior or the most skilled nurse but nor am I the worst, my blog is reasonably widely read but it doesn’t have anything like the reach or audience that I would like it to. I go to work each day, wanting to be the best nurse that I can and I write about the babies that I care for, hoping that others will read their stories through this blog. I do my best to break down barriers, build communication, share memories and make sure that the babies that I have cared for are never forgotten.
Thank you BritMums Live for inviting me to be a keynote speaker and helping me to tell the world that these children lived.