A couple of years ago my Granny died and when my Mum was sorting out her belonging’s she found a baby’s dress that she had kept in a drawer for most of her adult life. This was a dress she had bought for her baby girl who only survived days after birth. My Dad is one of three boys so she never had another little girl, but my Granny kept that little outfit close to her for the rest of her life.
That was her story of baby loss that in some way shaped the rest of her adult years. Though she shared little of the sadness she felt, she carried this ache with her until the day she died.
Last summer I bought a ring with some money that was given to me after my parents sold some of my Granny’s jewellery.
I bought this ring on the day we returned to the hospital for post-mortem results for our baby; a baby we had lost just a couple of months before, at 19 weeks gestation. That day we were given the news that the baby we had lost was not a boy as we had been told the day after I delivered, but actually a little girl. This ring now serves as a daily reminder for me, not only of the little girl that we will never know, but of my Granny, who shared the same painful journey and taught me what it means to live life to the full whilst carrying an ache in your heart.
This time last year a couple of friends messaged me to say they were thinking of me. Though this was very thoughtful I was a little confused so I asked why. I discovered that this week in October is dedicated to Baby Loss Awareness (https://babyloss-awareness.org)
So at the start of this week where so many remember and share their experiences of losing a baby I wanted to put into words my story (mine and Dave’s) of losing our baby.
In January 2017, I was 19 weeks pregnant, with our third child, when I discovered a small amount of bleeding. Immediately I felt a sense of dread rise through my body, but as someone who often worries unnecessarily about things I told myself that this was probably nothing to worry about. At my midwife appointment that day I shared this with her and she didn’t seem too concerned. She listened for baby’s heartbeat but couldn’t hear anything, not unusual at that stage I was told. So she sent me home with numbers to contact should anything change or I become more concerned.
That afternoon I had a little more bleeding and pain, so I contacted the midwife who suggested I make a doctor’s appointment for the next day. I followed her advice and the following day I saw my GP who prescribed antibiotics for what she said sounded very much like a urine infection. I went home and began to take the tablets as instructed. The next day Dave decided to take our boys out so that I could rest. I tried to keep myself busy as resting was making my mind wander all over the place so I pottered about our house doing normal things whilst experiencing a growing level of discomfort and pain.
By evening time I commented that if nothing felt better in the morning I was going to call the doctor and get another appointment. I went to bed to try to sleep.
But I woke in the middle of the night with horrendous stomach pain. I tried to reassure myself that this was just a very bad UTI. I had experienced one following the birth of our second child and it had been excruciating. However, in the back of my mind I felt really concerned that something was wrong. I spent the next few hours trying to get comfortable on our sofa downstairs but the pain was unbearable.
By 5am I was on all fours on our lounge floor in total agony. I suddenly felt a need to go to the toilet so I crawled my way up our stairs to the bathroom and sat down on the toilet. Amidst the pain I felt a sudden and strong urge to push and after that I knew I had delivered our baby.
I screamed to Dave who was asleep in the other room and he came rushing through to me. We were both completely shell-shocked. He called an ambulance and was told by the operator to try to see if our baby was still alive. I had to lift her out of our toilet and hold her in the palm of my hand. I massaged her tiny chest knowing this was futile.
Whilst we waited for the ambulance to arrive all I could do was hold her in my hand and take every bit of her in; small and yet so much of her so perfectly formed, tiny fingers and toes and still connected to me by the umbilical cord. She stayed cupped in my hands until the wonderfully kind paramedic, who was taking care of me, cut the cord and asked my permission to take her from me, wrap her in a blanket and take her to the ambulance.
Some of the minutes and hours that followed are a blur and others are vivid and clear.
I remember arriving in hospital and being taken to a cubicle to be assessed.
I remember I began to bleed very heavily and the pain I was experiencing became unbearable so I was given gas and air.
I remember some doctors who were incredibly kind and gentle with their words and how thoughtfully they treated me.
I remember another who told me, in a very matter of a fact way, that the pain I was going through was just part of the process of my body getting rid of everything it now didn’t need and that this was very normal. She told me that although this was awful it was a very normal thing and she said I would stay there until I delivered the placenta and then they would send me home. Normal? Home? How could I just leave there and go home when my world had been turned upside down.
I remember being taken to a ward and to a room where doctors tried to manually remove the placenta before deciding I was losing large amounts of blood so would need to go to theatre.
I remember listening to doctors talking about me in the distance as I began to pass out and I remember Dave waving to me as they rushed me in to theatre.
BUT most of all I remember the gut aching reality of coming round from surgery and realising that this wasn’t all a horrible nightmare, it was real and I remember looking down at my still swollen but empty belly and sobbing.
A loss like no other
I have experienced some painful and traumatic loss in my family over my thirty-three years of life but this loss was like no other. That doesn’t mean those losses were any less painful or sad, but this was different.
It’s not easy to describe the feeling of fullness that comes from being pregnant and knowing a little life is growing inside you, but there are definitely no words that do justice to the agony of the emptiness you feel when that baby has gone. Losing our baby when she was still meant to be growing inside me was like having part of me torn out. My body had physically lost our baby and so it responded as it would normally do after delivery and began to produce hormones and milk.
In the months that followed we not only had to come to terms with the loss of our baby but we had to process the trauma and shock of it all. Alongside this there was the continual rollercoaster of emotions that came as new babies joined our family, a nephew a week after our loss and another the month we would’ve been due. The celebration and joy completely tangled up with pain and heartache. And all of this whilst continuing to do normal every day life with our boys. Some days there felt like no escape from the grief and others I felt a little stronger and more able to cope.
Another year on and we have another beautiful baby boy in our family and there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not so overwhelmingly thankful for him.
But the loss of our little girl will never go away; we will always see ourselves as parents to four children, we will always know there was a daughter we never knew and we will always carry the memories with us of the trauma we experienced when we briefly met her.
A time to remember
I am so thankful for this time to remember. There aren’t many moments now in the busyness of life where I feel I am allowed or I allow myself to be in touch with the ache that is inside me but this week is one of them.
For us sharing what happened and talking about our loss has helped us to process it and to recognise that our baby was indeed “Our baby”, a precious and loved little girl, even though we may never have known her.
It’s also time to remember what helped us through those early days of complete agony and shock;
People who asked and acknowledged our baby, knowing that even though they may never have met her she was still loved by us,
Friends and family who shared in and listened to our pain, brought us food, took care of our children, sent flowers, gave us generous gifts and sent thoughtful messages,
Taking time out to write a journal about what I was thankful for,
And the bereavement midwife who came to my bedside in hospital the next day and enabled me to see our little baby again and showed us that however tiny she was she was a little life that was valuable and remembered.
And what about faith? What about God in the midst of our pain?
I know that my brief answer here will only touch the surface of the ocean of questions that many ask or think about suffering, God and faith. But for Dave and I, in the days that followed all we could say was that we knew God to be, as it says in the Bible in the book of Psalms, “Our refuge, and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
So this week I am taking time to remember, not only our own story but my Granny’s story and the story of so many others I know. Remembering all the precious little ones that may not have been known by others but who meant so much to those that love them.