At 39 weeks and 3 days pregnant with our second child, our lives changed irreversibly when we heard the words “I’m sorry there’s no heartbeat.” As I looked on, the screen I had looked at earlier that day where she had put her hand to her face, this time it was still. I knew instantly she was gone; her little hand lay motionless on the portable scanner screen on the maternity ward, she literally looked liked she was floating in space, where as before she had been so buoyant and bouncy.
When starting a journey of pregnancy and motherhood you never ever imagine the end result will be laying a tiny box containing your child in the ground, why would you? This isn’t to say, of course, that all pregnancies end like this, even I know that they don’t (I have a seven year old and eighteen month old to prove that!). However, it doesn’t negate from the fact that currently (in the UK alone) nine babies a day are stillborn. Nine too many. That day in October 2015, my baby was one of those nine.
When Betty died, we knew straight away that we wanted a post mortem to tell us why. A simple internet search long before she even left the hospital told me that fifty percent of stillbirth cases are usually unexplained, and don’t ask me why, but I just knew that was going to be us. There was, and still is nothing, more infuriating than just simply not knowing why. Even now, most days I think about this and wonder why? Why us? Why her? What went so wrong that she didn’t come home with us? She will be three this year, and of course you learn to live with it and train your brain to not torment you, but on tough days this is often one of the things I agonise over the most. I know it wasn’t my fault, but without a definite cause how can I justify that one-hundred percent? I can’t.
Although this is my motherhood and one is always missing, we went onto have our beautiful “rainbow” baby Vinnie. He was born just five days before his big sisters first birthday – a bittersweet time. I still don’t think wholeheartedly that I have enjoyed him as much as I should, or could, have. I am not trying to be morbid, just honest. As I navigate my way through parenting after loss, I have immense happiness and sadness in equal measure. I am so blessed to have two strong, beautiful boys who fill my days with laughter, mess and sometimes stress; but it is coupled with another feeling deep down, deep inside my soul. My daughter is missing, she will always be gone; and I will more than likely never get to parent a little girl; and this hurts. I have learnt to live with it, but I still feel that little pang of hurt when I watch little girls playing or pass the girly clothes section in the supermarket.
If you are reading this and you have recently experienced a loss, I don’t want to deceive you, the journey will not be easy; but then life in general (unless you are very lucky) isn’t easy. I want you to know that you will be happy again; it may not feel like that now, maybe not even in a few months, but eventually it will come. At first you will feel guilt for taking enjoyment from a simple thing, but in time you will learn to embrace every moment. After all, you, more than anyone, know what this feels like; the loss, the pain, the guilt, the “what ifs’?”.
When your day is hard just remember the worst has happened to you, and I hope for you, like I do for myself, that we have done our bit. We have had the worst, and now things can only get better. When I am tired, when I am asking Archie to put his coat on in the morning for the tenth time, when the mundaneness of routine makes me feel a bit ‘rah’; I think of Betty and remind myself how insanely lucky I am. This doesn’t mean I can’t complain, I can’t feel sad, frustrated or happy. It just means I appreciate it all that little bit more. A story for another day, perhaps, is parenting after loss. Regardless of whether you have one child or four, or you lost your first, you are parenting even if you don’t have them here with you. You will feel the guilt, you will feel the love, you will feel the sadness, and over time you will learn to embrace all of these things; learning that some days you won’t be able to shift the feelings of grief, but that’s ok, it’s normal.
I think the most important thing to remember in all of this is not to compare your motherhood, or yourself, to anyone else. It’s so easily done, but it will bring you down. Do things your way, and if you’re not sure what your way is? Then take a step back, and make up your own rules. Take each day slowly, if you can only take each hour to begin with, then do that. Most importantly be kind to yourself. If you feel uncomfortable with something, a situation, or something someone has said, don’t put yourself there, don’t talk to them or tell them you didn’t feel comfortable with their comment. There is no set amount of time that you should ‘do things’ or ‘not do them’, set your own pace, this is so important. Now and again you may feel confident to test the waters and step outside your comfort zone, if you can do it then brilliant! If it doesn’t work that time, please don’t be too hard on yourself, it will happen another day.
Much like parenting, there is no manual for grief; we all do things in our own way. You will find a strength you never knew existed, but I promise you, you will survive. If you need counselling then take it, and if you need to be alone, do it. If you need to talk or write about your baby then talk and write; and if that’s not your thing, then that’s okay too. If you need a break from social media then take it. Go back to basics, and focus on what you do have, not what you have lost. If you think too deeply, often the magnitude of what you lost can be so overwhelming (after all it is major); but break it down and talk; to me, or to another baby loss parent. Talk to your partner or husband or a close friend.
If I could advise you following my own experience then I would say this; please don’t suffer on your own. Talk when you feel you need to, say their name, let people know you want them to be a part of your family, and remind them that even though they aren’t here that they exist. In time you will talk about them with a smile and not just tears. Even now when I talk about Betty, or think of her, I have tears and other times when Archie says something lovely about her I smile. I will never be healed, I will never get over her death, but I am learning to live my ‘new normal’; and right now I can say it’s pretty good.
If love could of saved my little girl she would of lived forever, but I live in the hope that she is safe and that she is loved by so many. At night, before I go to bed, I always find the brightest star in the sky and think of her and somehow I always manage to find one. I hope you can do that for your baby too. I’m so sorry if you are here, but please know you will never be alone.