Walking through grief after baby loss

© Jess Hodkinson

When you go through tragedy and experience shock, it's easy to close the curtains, lock the door, and hide yourself away from the world. Following the loss of her daughter, Jess Hodkinson did just this - until she realised she could carry the grief with her to the hills. Walking helped her to see the importance of the outdoors, she says, and our ability to connect with nature when we need it most.

My daughter Zadie was sadly stillborn in January this year, and after a very smooth pregnancy, it was completely shocking and heartbreaking. We don't prepare ourselves for this outcome so late on in pregnancy, and nor should we. After concentrating on the excitement of meeting Zadie, I never expected to be saying goodbye to her a few weeks before her due date.

Reconnecting with nature on the Old Man of Coniston  © Jess Hodkinson
Reconnecting with nature on the Old Man of Coniston
© Jess Hodkinson

I want to highlight how I pulled myself out of some dark places, and how running and walking became part of the healing process, and continue to be so.

After giving birth, you need to take it easy for six weeks so that your body can heal and allow yourself to make a full recovery. As I've always been an active person, I found this challenging and even more so when presented with the half empty existence of becoming a Mother. There are so many things that unravel whilst grieving for a loved one, and it's probably the most complex and unstable journey that we have to go on in life.

After being given the go ahead from my incredible bereavement midwife, I decided to put on my running trainers and get outside for some fresh air. The first run was the hardest and I wanted to give up twenty minutes in. I then thought about my daughter, what I would have been teaching her in life. Would this be to stop and give in; or would I have said to keep going? So I continued.

I visualised that getting to the top was the next stage in my grieving process and overcoming my fears of being away for the first time

My partner Adam and I decided to run 50 miles each over the month of March to raise funds for the charity Sands. During our time in hospital and the dreadful week following, this is a charity that offered us a great deal of support.

I know it's not easy for people to get out and start exercising so soon, and I'm in no way implying this was straightforward. Some days it took huge amounts of strength and I remember half way through a 5k, bursting into tears because my core was hurting. But I kept going because I had a goal and it was firmly set for me.

After completing the 50 miles in March, I felt overwhelmed with the support that we had received from family and friends and proud that we managed to raise a generous amount for a charity that will always be close to our hearts. I also felt like after this challenge had ended I still needed to move my body and spend time in the outdoors, so we planned some local walking routes and a few further afield.

Maternity leave without a baby is the most bizarre situation, but I now know it's also a time to heal and be at peace, rather than thinking about going back to work and keeping the mind busy.

Jess Hodkinson 3

The good thing about living in the north of England is that we have quick access to the Dales and the Lake District, and I needed to get out into the open and away from the everyday. Picking routes that go slightly off the beaten track makes you feel like you are really escaping from reality.

Each step forward made me feel a little less afraid and a little more alive

Amongst many walks, the one that stands out to me the most is hiking up to the top of the Old Man of Coniston during a recent trip to the Lake District. It was the first time I had been away from home for a few days, and I was feeling uneasy, out of my comfort zone, and a little guilty. Quite strange for someone who has always loved to travel.

When we planned out the route for the day with our two friends, the weather was looking a bit dubious and we were unsure if we wanted to go right to the top as we had heard that it was still snowy and extremely windy. But then the urge to complete a mission came over us, and even though this mountain isn't exactly one of the steepest, it symbolised something quite different to me. I was visualising that getting to the top was the next stage in my grieving process, and overcoming my fears of being away for the first time. Each step forward made me feel a little less afraid and I guess a little more alive.

Stopping half way to change into our waterproof jackets, we hit a spot that brought a sense of calm as the tarn lay so still and the only sound was a nearby sheep which looked to be balancing quite tidily on the rocky terrain. Even though life keeps moving, we can stop and take moments to appreciate what is around us, so untouched.

Jess Hodkinson 4

As I zipped up my jacket and pulled up the hood, I felt nicely cocooned and ready for all weather scenarios. The closer we got to the top, the stronger the wind grew, and my face was being thrashed by the snow. It sounds painful, but it was actually incredibly refreshing, and I knew my body was still feeling all sensations and functioning the way it should have been. During the grieving process you can feel incredibly numb and lose touch with your senses.

We waded through the mist and as I turned round to call out to my partner, he had disappeared in the cloud. For a minute I felt all alone in my own little world and I had completely blocked out my current situation. When he appeared again, I was back in reality but also relieved that he hadn't fallen down the side of the mountain!!

The summit was snowy, with little view of what was around us. We pulled out a hot flask of coffee and sat and breathed in the freshest air I think I have ever inhaled. It was a feeling that I may never forget.

My partner and I noticed some memorial stones and he said "shall we build one for Zadie?"

After returning from the Lake District, I felt sad and low because I had always pictured these trips to be very different. I was ready to strap on the baby carrier and enjoy them as a family. But was I feeling angry at myself for going? No - I was feeling enlightened, and coming to see the importance of the outdoors and our ability to connect with nature when we need it most.

Zadie is always with me and we have many walks to explore in life, and possibly more mountains to climb. I wanted to share my experience to give others hope when navigating what feels like an impossible time.

Instagram: Jessica_hods


UKH Articles and Gear Reviews by Jess Hodkinson

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