When you become a mother your heart bursts with love and pride. There is an innate feeling to protect your baby. It is emotional, beautiful and overwhelming. It is the feeling of true love.
You are in awe of this tiny person you have created. From the tiny toes and the long eyelashes to the little dimple in their cheek, every single part of your baby is just perfect. Absorbed in that moment you can almost ignore that things aren’t quite right. For a moment you can almost forget that your baby’s eyes haven’t yet opened, a cry not made and the chest not rising and falling.
You don’t see a dead baby as the rest of the world sees; you only see your baby as a beautiful baby, just as any mother would. You see a baby that is so very loved even though you chose to end the pregnancy. In 2016 I became a mother for the second time but just not in the way I would have expected or ever wanted. I became a proud mother in spite of the choice I made.
After an uncomplicated first pregnancy and labour, I had no reason to be worried. I believed that my second pregnancy was going to be a breeze. I had done this before and so I naively assumed that I knew what to expect. I was already looking forward to having a quicker labour that often comes with your second and I had a confidence that came with having already been through pregnancy.
I didn’t expect to be hit with the news at our 20 week scan that multiple serious abnormalities had been seen with our baby’s heart. I didn’t expect to discover that I was the cause of our baby girl struggling to survive in my womb. The little girl who I had been so carefully growing had been diagnosed with a Congenital Heart Defect called Complete Heart Block, which was as a result of me carrying rare antibodies that were continuously attacking her heart. Whilst I was being diagnosed with the cause of the antibodies to be Sjogrens Syndrome, my daughter was being diagnosed with a heart that had been broken down to almost beyond repair. My body was simultaneously growing and killing my daughter.
For almost 5 weeks my husband and I held on. If we could just get to a gestation where she could be delivered, get her immediate life saving surgery then maybe, just maybe she could survive. For almost five weeks we cried and held onto all the hope that two scared parents could muster.
In early September 2016, our consultant told us that our daughter’s heart and surrounding muscle were so damaged that she wouldn’t be a candidate for the heart transplant that she would have needed. Her heart was beating so slowly, much slower than my own and I could no longer feel her kicking and wriggling in my tummy. Despite all our love trying to protect her, we couldn’t save her.
We were given the option to interrupt the pregnancy by having a termination or to continue with the pregnancy with the understanding that the opinion from several consultants was our daughter was not going to survive pregnancy, let alone any surgery.
With heavy hearts we opted for the termination. It was a decision that any parent will tell you is never made flippantly. It was sickening and agonising but just any parents would do in the face of their child being scared, we put on our brave faces. I tried to calm and slow my own heartbeat during the procedure as my husband protectively and bravely watched the screen as our daughter’s heart beat for the last time.
We ended the pregnancy because we didn’t want our daughter to die alone, without us being there with her. We decided to take on a lifetime of pain to avoid our daughter experience a longer suffering. We decided to let our daughter die peacefully whilst all she would hear was the sound of my heartbeat and feel the warmth of our love.
At 25 weeks gestation, after a very painful 23 minute labour, our beautiful daughter Holly Dao was born on the 7thSeptember 2016 and I became a mother for the second time. We spent 24 hours making memories and telling her how much we loved her, until it was time to say goodbye. We left her clothed in a dress her Auntie had made and a wrapped in a blanket made by her Nanan. Holly was surrounded by an immeasurable amount of love.
I began sharing Holly’s story by blogging shortly after her death at www.hollyslegacy.com. Although my daughter wasn’t here, the need to mother her was as strong as ever. Talking about Holly became my way of parenting and honouring her. However for a long time I didn’t reveal that we had terminated our pregnancy. I didn’t think I would have been supported and was worried my grief would have been less deserving of empathy, as we had made the choice to end the pregnancy. There was a silence surrounding stillbirth but a much greater silence surrounding termination.
I soon realised that I had all ready gone through the worse and to share Holly’s story, the whole story would give her life so much more meaning. To allow others to know that they aren’t alone and give those parents who make a similar decision the confidence to know that they allowed to talk, grieve and share their baby too. I am not ashamed that we terminated our pregnancy; instead I am proud that we were strong enough to make the right decision for us.
Holly has taught me to be brave. She has taught me to be open minded and loving. Holly has made me a mother and although you cannot see her here, in many ways, I am a mother just like any other mother. I love her, I protect her and she is within my every thought. Just like my very alive toddler, sometimes Holly makes me cry and sometimes she makes me smile. Just like any other mother I love to talk about her because she makes me feel proud.
Becoming a bereaved mother has been challenging and exhausting. My life consists of a daily struggle of learning to live, laugh and smile without a very important piece of me here. It is difficult beyond ways that I could ever explain or even wish for you to truly understand. It is heartbreaking and life altering but my only regret is that she couldn’t have stayed, not that she existed. It is how you might feel when you are sleep deprived with a newborn; frustrated, tired and lonely but you wouldn’t change it for the world. That is exactly how it is with becoming a bereaved mother, it is all those emotions but topped with the feeling of ‘but I just love her so much that I cannot imagine ever not having had her.’
In whatever way a mother comes to being a bereaved mother, she needn’t be feared. She needn’t be avoided for fear of saying the wrong thing. Yes, we have a heavy heart but our baby shaped hole is also full of so much love and compassion. A mother’s love is a mother’s love, whether her baby lives in her arms or forever in her heart.