In honour of Baby Loss Awareness Week. In honour of the children we will never raise. In honour of the parents who live without their babies. I humbly offer my experience with the hope it gets us talking.
(image from Baby Loss Awareness UK)
We chose his pram. It was green. We chose his nursery decorations. They were grey and white clouds and stars. We chose his name. Theo Jameson. And then we had to chose the only gift we would ever give him. It was dark grey granite with a heartfelt inscription. His headstone sits in a little graveyard behind our village church, overlooking a field where we take our two older children and our dog for walks. But we always visit Theo first.
From the moment I saw the two pink lines, I started planning. I started planning how I was going to tell Andy that we were expecting. I started planning how we would tell the boys about the new baby. I started planning the birth — to be my third C-section, so I also started preparing my mind for not having any more children. I started planning my maternity leave. I started planning to take my last baby to mummy and me classes. We read the books and blogs. We listened to the midwives. We followed all the advice. I took the vitamins. I avoided the cheese, the wine, the eggs with runny yolks. We didn’t tell anyone until after our first scan. We did everything right. It didn’t matter.
At twenty weeks, the day before we were due to drive from our Yorkshire home to Cornwall for a our last holiday as a family of four, we went for a routine ultra sound, excited to see that little sea monkey, wriggling and making work difficult for the radiographer; anxious to hear the heartbeat and maybe even find if our little bundle of joy was a pink bundle or blue bundle. Instead, as I laid on the table, jeans pulled down and cold gel sloshing on my exposed belly, I felt the radiographer manipulating my tummy more and more firmly. I smiled at her with nervous excitement waiting for her to find our baby’s heart beat. I looked at the screen to see if I could find my baby.
“Have you had any bleeding,” the radiographer asked and then my heart began to race. I tried to stay calm, hoping against the odds that she was mistaken, but I knew with that question that there was a problem. A flurry of moments later, more radiographers, a midwife, a consultant, and two devastated parents — our baby had died.
It’s impossible to say all the things I thought and felt in the moments that followed. It was like all the noise in the world was screeching against itself, like twisted metal, inside my head. I felt like I was going to be sick, like my heart had left my chest, and yet, as always in my own times of crisis I was thinking about everyone else. My poor husband, who had just lost his first born. His parents. The boys. I asked irrational questions, like would we will still make it to Cornwall? I snapped into practical, problem solving mode and asked all the horrible things — what is going to happen next? Where will I have to go to give birth? Will we be able to have more children? And worst of all, I asked why?
I asked why as I swallowed whatever horrible pill the doctor gave me, like Alice and her “drink me” bottle, wishing its consequences would be growing me bigger or smaller or even falling down the rabbit hole, anything besides stealing away the baby still within me, lifeless, but still connected. I asked why when the contractions came. I asked why as I laboured through the night — my husband, my champion, by my side through the pain, the vomit, and the blood. I asked why as our baby boy was born without a cry, caught by my hero of a midwife who refused to leave us, even hours after her shift had ended. I asked why as I held my tiny baby — so delicate, no bigger than a bag of sugar, with his daddy’s lips and nose and mummy’s fingers and toes. I’m still asking why.
We stayed in hospital for another night and day, with our son in a cot that was a bit like a reverse incubator. Instead of keeping young life warm, it kept our son cool, slowing down the inevitable breakdown of his skin, his blood vessel, his organs, his perfect little body. We had precious time with Theo. We held him and we held each other. Taking it in turns to breakdown and to support the other. We read him bedtime stories. I sang him lullabies. We got his foot prints. Some wonderful unknown volunteers had knitted the tiniest hats and blankets for our son and our midwives kept them fresh and clean. We were nurtured in our grief and sheltered from the noises of the labour delivery ward. My heart still swells with gratitude for the team who looked after us in those darkest days.
As the days went on and we accepted that it was time to say goodbye, we found ourselves doing the job no parent ever wants to do — planning our child’s funeral. All the hopes and dreams of new parents, dashed. Every birthday and Christmas, gone. The only time I would stand up in front of our family and introduce my son was in his eulogy.
Two years have passed since we said goodbye to Theo, and I can honestly say we think of him every day. Sometimes we think of him with hope for the future and with gratitude that he was here with us, however briefly. But if I’m being honest (and I always am) I mostly think of him with sadness for all the moments I’d imagined him with us. I accidentally set the table for five all the time. I cry every month I haven’t fallen pregnant. I regularly have panic attacks at the sight of mothers pushing their new babies in their prams. And every child whose birthday is in December 2016, I look at them and think, that could be our baby.
Today marks the first day of Baby Loss Awareness Week in the UK, and the fact that such a week exists and we are talking about baby loss, a term which I prefer to miscarriage, fills me with hope. The fog of sadness and anxiety that became my bereavement journey was only traversable because of all the support I had around me. From the midwives and consultants at the hospital, to the community at the church who found space for Theo in a very full cemetery; from the counselling services that were made available to every member of our little family, to the friends who called and brought cake, brought meals, brought hugs, brought wine, brought offers of walks, talks, and respite — it certainly wasn’t in isolation that we survived.
So if you are one of the one in four, please, don’t be silent. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And if you know a family like ours, don’t wait for them to ask for help, because actually, asking someone to reach out of the storm is like asking someone who’s drowning to stop treading water. You might float and find relief, but it still feels like you’re going under. Talking about loss is always the first step in a long journey, but it’s the best place to start.
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