The summer of 2018 is one I’ll never forget. Britain was in the midst of the longest heatwave since the 1970’s, and I was pregnant with my first child. It was a summer spent excitedly preparing for my son’s arrival with only a tinge of FOMO that I couldn’t join my friends drinking Pimms and revelling in this endless summer. I sat in my garden cradling my huge nine-month bump staring at the now parched grass, imagining myself splashing in a paddling pool next summer with my one-year old son. I couldn’t wait to be his mummy and finally have him here. Little did I know that this would be the last normal day of my life.
The following morning, I awoke at 6am in the early stages of labour. I had a scheduled caesarean section booked the following week as Billy was in the breech position and this was deemed the safest way to deliver him, so I was a little panicked but we remained calm.
I remember straightening my hair and putting on make-up and my husband making jokes about this. Looking back, this was an odd thing to do, I rock up to Tesco looking like something out of The Walking Dead, so I’m not entirely sure why I pissed about that morning getting glammed when I needed to get to the hospital immediately, but those were the last few normal moments of that day before my life inexplicably changed forever.
As I left the house with poker straight hair and a face of makeup that wouldn’t have looked out of place on RuPauls Drag Race, I said to my two chihuahua’s (really clever dogs who understand the English language) “Be good, next time we see you, we’ll have your little brother with us!” But we were wrong, so devastatingly wrong.
We arrived at the hospital, where the tragedy began to unfold immediately. The midwife couldn’t find a heartbeat with the doppler but told us not to worry. We were taken for a scan and met by two sombre faced sonographers. In hindsight, the look on everyone’s faces in that room should have told us everything we needed to know before they even lay me down. A couple of minutes later, in a moment I’ll never forget, a moment I’ve suffered endless flashbacks and PTSD from, I was given the six devastating words that no pregnant woman ever wants to hear; “I’m so sorry there’s no heartbeat”.
I instantly started screaming, “Noooo” at the top of my voice, “Check again”, “You’re wrong”, “Are you sure?” and then collapsed into my husband’s arms. I felt like I was locked in a sensory deprivation chamber or had entered a parallel universe where voices were muffled and I could see people speaking but couldn’t hear a word they were saying.
I had prepared myself for a C section delivery so was stunned to be told I’d have to deliver my dead, breech baby naturally now using forceps and ventouse. My consultant that day coldly explained; “We only do C sections to deliver the baby safely and that’s not an issue now”. To cut a long story short, I had my C section, I knew what was personally right for me that day and I stood my ground.
Billy was stillborn on 29 August 2018 at 2.25pm, weighing 6 pounds 1 ounce and he was the most perfect, beautiful baby I’ve ever seen.
The day was a total whirlwind and I ended up having a general anaesthetic and I awoke to my mum, sister and husband all sitting around me. They brought Billy to us and I was struck by intense feelings of love in that moment rather than sadness. I will never forget seeing his lovely face and not believing how beautiful my son was. I had once said to my mum; “What if he looks like a potato?” and one of the first things she said was “Well he certainly doesn’t look like a potato!” He looked so peaceful and angelic, there were very few tears in those moments, I think we all enjoyed them as strange as that may sound.
Although we were all distraught, I still cherish those moments and think back on them with happiness. At that point, there was so much love in the room for Billy and it’s that I remember rather than the absolute devastation that was unfolding beneath the surface. I sat stroking his face for hours but I didn’t pick him up. When you lose your baby during labour, you lose that time to process and digest what’s happened. There wasn’t time to read about baby loss and see the beautiful photos of other families holding their babies, so there was lots of stroking and speaking to Billy, but no cuddles which is something I’ll always wish I’d done differently. But you do what feels right at the time and I’m grateful we had three days to spend time with him, stroking his lovely soft face, telling him how much we loved him.
Life becomes a paradox, taking you from the best, most exciting time of your life to the absolute worst in the blink of an eye. I was completely shell-shocked going from awaking in labour thinking I would have my baby in my arms, to signing post-mortem consent forms and being asked to make decisions about my son’s funeral. How the hell did we end up here? The surrealness of the situation was immeasurable, a feeling that stays with you for weeks.
This was 18 months ago now, but it still feels like yesterday sometimes. The post-mortem confirmed placenta failure due to a chronic condition I was diagnosed with that occurs during pregnancy. That in itself was a huge blow because this wasn’t something that could just be put down to bad luck (for want of a better phrase) or something that was unlikely to occur again. There is a 70-90% recurrence rate of this condition rearing its ugly head again in any subsequent pregnancy, though this doesn’t necessarily mean the same outcome. This is of course an obvious risk, but one I’m willing to take because my desire to have a family outweighs my fear of going through this all over again. The chance of getting pregnant would be a fine thing though, 16 months of trying to conceive our much longed for second baby and treatment for secondary infertility is underway – because life has really chosen to kick me in the metaphorical balls!
A dead baby, a diagnosis of a chronic condition plus a nice bout of secondary infertility thrown in for good measure, is something that 18 months ago I could never have imagined being my life. But it is and I have to stay strong and positive to get through this. I always remember that there is someone out there much worse off than me. Despite everything, I still have so much to be grateful for. Hashtag feeling blessed might be a bridge too far (and I think there should be hefty fines for anyone who actually writes that on anything!) but I definitely try to remember that I do have so much to be thankful for. I remember that the bad days will pass when they appear and brighter days will be just around the corner. I try to be gentle with myself when I’m feeling fragile and I always remember my own baby loss catchphrase ‘Self-preservation is not selfish’ – should get a bum tattoo of that. I will not though, for obvious reasons.
The last 18 months have been incredibly tough and tested me to my limits, but I refuse to give up hope of finding happiness. I won’t become bitter and lose my sense of humour. I refuse to let this beat me and knock the stuffing out of us entirely. I will still enjoy my life, whatever happens from here. I still laugh and smile, and I like to think that I am still fun to be around (rather than the human embodiment of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh!). This situation has already taken so much from me, and I refuse to let it have my mental health and future happiness too.
It definitely took a while to arrive here though. The first three months were utterly horrendous, and I would just lay in bed cuddling Billy’s teddies watching re-runs of any of the Real Housewives, (Beverly Hills are my favourite FYI, lots of drama and little dogs). I was definitely at rock bottom for a while and I knew I had to try to pull myself out of this hole.
At first, I struggled to identify as a mother. I was certainly ousted from the pregnancy yoga mum group I’d become a member of. I was walking through the park one afternoon and saw two of these women, pushing their prams. As they walked past me, I heard one whisper “That’s the girl from yoga whose baby died.” Hello to you too! Nama-fucking-ste.
If you are newly bereaved or not in a great place right now, please know that it does get a little easier with time. It’s true that whilst the pain never goes away, it is something you learn to live with. There are many ups and downs, lots of ‘three steps forwards, two steps back’ moments but you will laugh again, you will still have fun and you are still in there. I promise.
You will find a way of keeping the most precious member of your family with you, taking them forward into your future and including them in your memories. I bet if you think about how much you’ve gained from being their parents, it’s immeasurable. I’m so grateful to Billy for giving me so much strength and making me a better person. I want to help people going through this and I want to do some good from a terrible situation, which is all because of my Billy Stardust. A little boy who is so loved and missed every day, a little boy whose mummy I am so proud to be.
Thank you for reading my story. You can follow me on Instagram @lifelossandlipgloss or visit my blog at www.lifelossandlipgloss.com to read more.
Lots of love