Life changed forever for us as a family on 1st August 2017. The day previously, we had innocently kissed goodbye to our children, Zachary then six, and Sienna four, who were both equally excited about the pending arrival of their baby sister.
We arrived at the hospital for my planned induction and by the afternoon my contractions were beginning; not the most glamourous way for my husband Drew and I to celebrate our Wedding Anniversary but our focus was on the safe arrival of our much longed for third child. My mum was also with us for extra emotional support, like she had been when I gave birth to Sienna. To encourage the progression of my labour Mum and I climbed the numerous stairs within the hospital and paced the corridors. Naively, we laughed as we passed one room with the plaque ‘HB Suite’ joking that some women were privileged to give birth in such luxury. We were blissfully unaware that the walls within this room held such sadness and hearts were forever broken.
My body responded to the induction much like it had when I was induced with Zachary, going from nothing to the most intense contractions with little or no break between the contractions and pain. At this point I was still on the antenatal ward so there was no gas and air available. I agreed to a pethidine injection to try and give my body some relief but by the time the midwife had arrived with the injection I knew I was about to give birth, we were going to meet our new pink bundle.
Our beautiful Willow Ada Rose arrived safely into this world. I felt instant love for her; she was the imagine of her brother but by far the smallest of my babies, she was petite but still a healthy weight. She had the most beautiful dark eyes. The relief to hold her in my arms was immense, I finally felt complete as a family.
When Drew and I began our journey into parenthood I had always wanted three children. On reflection we were totally blessed with our first two pregnancies, conceiving straight away and apart from a few scares along the way gave birth to two healthy children. Our journey to complete our family opened our eyes to the challenges that sadly so many couples are faced with. We were lucky enough to conceive again without any difficulties though our third pregnancy ended in a late missed miscarriage and two operations to fully remove the remains of our little embryo. The challenges continued when another pregnancy failed to develop normally and ended with surgical removal of the pregnancy. The sadness and emptiness that both these pregnancies left me with will be forever with me. At this time there was little if any support or guidance to help with our miscarriages, it was still regarded in my eyes as a taboo subject, a secret heartache that I faced alone. After a few months of allowing myself to heal emotionally and physically, Drew and I decided we would try just one more time to complete our family; this time we were blessed with a successful pregnancy.
I truly couldn’t believe I was cradling my new baby, all the struggles to get to this point made the birth of Willow even more special, or so I believed. I was desperate to breastfeed her, I craved the closeness of Willow to almost reassure me that this wasn’t a dream, our baby was finally here. Willow would not latch on and showed no interest in feeding, she begun to become very unsettled and at this time both Drew and my Mum took turns to cuddle her as my body was overcome with the effects of such a fast delivery. The grunting and moaning noises from Willow started to concern me, they were not sounds I was familiar with from when Zachary and Sienna were born.
Our midwife was in and out the room fetching what she needed from the delivery suite. When she returned with the scales to weigh Willow I asked for help getting her to latch on. As I cradled Willow in my arms to position her to feed I suddenly felt panicked by her limp disposition. As I turned to my mum for some reassurance our midwife dashed out the room returning with another midwife who literally took Willow from my arms and run out. A loud siren was then raised, a noise that haunts me to this day, a noise that Drew, Mum and I knew meant that our precious Willow was evidently very poorly.
The wait within the antenatal room felt like an eternity. My body naturally went into shock, there are no words to really describe this moment in my life other than I experienced every emotion imaginable. The kindest of auxiliary nurse came to try and offer support and to check on me as I was still laying in what can only be described as a blood bath from Willow’s delivery. Eventually, I was moved onto the delivery suite as I needed some medical attention. The atmosphere amongst the midwifes was unnerving, they could not tell me anything about Willow other than she was now in SCBU, the look in their eyes told a story that I knew I didn’t want to hear.
Two hours after Willow was taken from my arms I was wheeled down to see her with Drew and Mum by my side. My memory of this time is somewhat paused as my body was becoming consumed with the enormity of what faced us. In SCBU my attention was immediately drawn to a baby wearing a blue wooly hat, tubes everywhere and linked up to various machines. I remember thinking how poorly this baby looked. I was then wheeled up beside this baby, feeling great confusion; this wasn’t my baby girl, the baby had a blue hat and the nurse was calling the baby he. The sad reality though was that this very poorly baby was in fact our beautiful baby Willow.
The neonatal consultant came out to speak with us; before he even began talking I knew from his body language that Willow was going to die. He told us Willow was brain damaged and she had an incurable heart defect…she was going to die. Drew collapsed as his body was consumed by these devastating words. I somehow found this inner strength, from where I will never know, but as Willow’s Mummy I had an overwhelming need to protect my baby girl and make the kindest decisions for her, not to be dictated to by the consultant and medical protocols.
And so a few hours later supported by the most amazing bereavement midwife and neonatal nurse, Drew, myself and my parents found ourselves within the ‘HB Suite’, the suite mum and I had joked about, unaware this room is funded by SANDs to provide a homely environment for heartbroken parents.
In my time of strength making decisions with the neonatal consultant I was adamant that I did not want to see Willow on life support, I wanted to remember her as the beautiful bonnie baby that I gave birth to. My wishes were agreed and Willow was brought to us with as many tubes removed as they could, with some having to remain in place knowing a postmortem of her body would have to be undertaken.
She was wrapped in the most beautiful white blanket my Mum had lovingly made her, like she had for Zachary and Sienna. As I cradled Willow in my arms I felt fear like never before, knowing she would take her last breaths in my arms. Willow lived for only a short time as Drew and I cuddled her and absorbed as much of her as we could knowing our time with her was limited. The heartache of her dying was made even more crushing when her little body started to bleed and traumatised us further.
I felt like I died when Willow’s heart stopped. I watched on as Drew, my Mum and Dad cuddled Willow and took pictures knowing these were to be the only photographs of Willow but I didn’t feel present, I was now absent in a world of grief and bereavement, indescribable to others but it was the darkest place to ever be. The regrets I now have for losing myself to this dark place is that we never spent enough time with Willow; I didn’t bath or dress her or spend endless hours with her, I had this overwhelming need to escape the walls of the hospital and be with Zachary and Sienna.
Leaving the hospital without Willow and going home to tell Zachary and Sienna their baby sister had died was as crushing as the moments Willow took her last breath. Their little faces of sadness and devastation will forever haunt me. In the early days I’m not sure how we survived. My milk was coming in, I still had a pregnancy tummy and I faced the painful physical healing of Willow’s birth, together with the challenges of parenting our bereaved children. There were calls to make to family and friends to share the news that our beautiful Willow had tragically died, consenting to her post mortem, arranging a funeral and registering her death. All totally unimaginable tasks at a time which should have been filled with endless joy, sleepless nights and nappies.
We are forever indebted to my parents for supporting us through these early days, they literally scooped us up and did everything they could do for us all whilst grieving for their granddaughter and their own daughters heartache. My siblings and close friends kindness was equally part of the reason we got through each hour, day and week that followed. We have lost family and friends through our journey of grief but through their actions, not ours. For those reading this who are more recently bereaved know that not everyone understands grief and their behaviour can cause further upset. My advice is surround yourself with those that try to understand and give you a boost to survive another day.
Willow’s post mortem came back inconclusive, her death was confirmed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), this was extremely hard to accept initially and made my anxiety and fear that Zachary and Sienna, or indeed anyone I loved would just drop dead. I become obsessive about checking the children’s heart was beating before going to bed and lived in a constant state of fear.
Time really does play a part in bereavement journeys even though I would not have believed this four years ago. In the time since we said our goodbyes to our beautiful Willow we have learnt so much. I am not the same person that entered the hospital on 31st July 2017, though I am slowly accepting that managing my anxiety and PTSD symptoms is shaping me as a better person. Willow’s absence is forever etched on my heart and some days can be exhausting living with this heartache.
Willow has taught us so much especially how precious life and love is. To this end, I felt consumed with the need to show Zachary and Sienna that neonatal death is a rare occurrence and something that they will hopefully never have to face when they too become parents. After an indescribable nine month journey of both fear and hope, Phoebe Isla Rose, ‘our little rainbow’, was welcomed into this world, allowing us all a moment of happiness and to begin to start living again knowing Phoebe was a gift born out of the sadness of Willow dying.
Pregnancy and parenting after loss has no innocence, you almost can’t allow yourself to be swept along with your emotions knowing its not always a happy ending . Phoebe was born by c-section surrounded by an incredible team of doctors and our amazing bereavement midwife who is beyond special to us; she is a gift to midwifery. This was a very different birthing experience for us but I knew I would not have the strength to naturally labour again knowing it would take me straight back to the trauma of Willow’s birth.
Phoebe has and continues to bring us endless happiness, laughter and sleepless nights. She completely rules our family and is in charge of us all but somehow we all accept this knowing she was and is such a blessing. She is three now and is growing up knowing that she was a gift after Willow. Just like Zachary and Sienna, Phoebe now talks about Willow, she is keen to look at pictures of her and has this inner protection towards me when she can sense that I am struggling with my grief.
‘Willow Ada Rose, our love for you is endless. We feel your presence in white butterflies and watching butterflies brings us all comfort, especially for your sister Sienna. We remember you every minute of the day; you may not be present with us but your memory will always be alive in our hearts’.
Love Mummy xx