I fell pregnant with our second baby in late 2019. I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum for the first time and spent the next four months in and out of hospital. By the time of our 20 week scan I was feeling more human and for the first time excitement about what the future held. That scan was when our world suddenly turned upside down.
The sonographer told me she could see something wrong with his heart, known as coarctation of the Aorta. I remember just feeling numb, and thinking how could this be happening? I had been so poorly, for so many months and now this. We were referred to a specialist fetal medicine unit for further tests and scans. At this point we knew we were having another boy, and the consultant explained his diagnosis, and that it could be treated with open heart surgery when he was born. Or we could choose to terminate the pregnancy if we felt this was too much for us to cope with. No doctor could definitively tell us that everything was going to be okay. We immediately knew that terminating wasn’t an option for us, and so we continued with the pregnancy, which was now deemed as ‘high-risk’. We wanted to give him a chance, and we had hope that he could get through this. The months that followed involved so many scans, tests and unanswered questions. Looking back now, I’m not sure how we got through it, but little did we know that the worst was yet to come. We were scheduled to have a c-section at the fetal medicine unit at 37 weeks.
My mum organised a little baby shower for me at 34 weeks. I wasn’t sure if I felt like celebrating but we also wanted to celebrate how far we’d come. The day of the shower I woke up and said to my husband I don’t think he’s moving as much, but we’d had a scan three days prior and were told that he was lying awkwardly and didn’t have much space left, so movements may start to feel reduced. My husband reassured me that he was probably still lying in the same awkward position and not to worry. I stood in the shower and held my stomach and felt what I thought was a movement, and remember feeling instant relief. As the day went on I remember feeling different. I mentioned it to my mum and she put her hands on my stomach and we both felt him turning around, so she told me not to panic and she was sure everything was ok. Mums always know best.
But I just couldn’t shift the feeling that something wasn’t right. We called my midwife who came over with her doppler machine, and she couldn’t find a heartbeat. She told us to go straight to the hospital and they would do a scan. At this point we naively didn’t even think what this might mean, and drove to the hospital expecting them to see him wriggling around on the screen. I wish I’d known then what I know now.
When we arrived, another midwife tried to find a heartbeat with the doppler machine, but silence. A consultant came in and said she would do the scan. I remember the midwife started holding my hand and I thought to myself, why is everyone so worried? Then the consultant told us those dreaded words that no mother ever wants to hear; “I’m so sorry, there’s no heartbeat.” Our midwife started crying. My husband started crying and shouting no. I just sat in complete silence. I felt numb, as if I had left my body. We were left alone to process and my husband started calling our parents to break the news.
We were moved to the bereavement suite, and saw so many doctors and midwives, to discuss the plan for giving birth. Wait, I still have to give birth to my dead baby? The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. We were told it would have to be a c-section, but it would be on the following day, so they advised us to go home to spend the night, and come back first thing in the morning. How could I go home? How could I step foot inside my front door and look at his nursery, his clothes, knowing he was never coming home? But we did. I was in practical mode, and somehow managed to pack clothes for me, and baby grows ready to dress him in. I took one last photo standing in the mirror of my bump, knowing it was going to be the last time we were together.
We went back to hospital in the morning for my c-section. It was far from plain sailing; I collapsed during the surgery and my husband was rushed out of the room not knowing what was happening. Our midwife sat with him and held his hand and said “She might not make it”. He had just lost our son, and now he was being told he might lose me too. I came to and saw at least twenty doctors surrounding me in sheer panic. Someone was obviously watching over me that day; Harry.
We spent three days in hospital after giving birth. Our midwife brought him into us with a sheet covering the cot, I was scared to look, but she said “He’s perfect” and he was. We hadn’t decided on a name, but as soon as we saw him we both agreed; Harry. With a full head of black hair, the same button nose and chubby cheeks as his older brother. He was tiny at 6lb 6oz and the tiniest little hands. He looked so peaceful, as though he were just fast asleep. I held his hand and willed for him to open his eyes. I spent hours staring at him and in that moment just felt a pure rush of love for my new baby. Except my sweet boy wasn’t ever going to wake up. I told him how much I loved him over and over, hoping somehow he could hear me.
The reality didn’t hit me until we went home. We moved in with my parents for two weeks which was a huge comfort. We planned Harry’s funeral and that is the most unnatural feeling to plan your own child’s funeral, but luckily my mum took on most of the planning so that I didn’t have to. It felt like time had stopped. When I think back to those early days of raw, gut-wrenching grief, I remember thinking how would I ever feel okay again? I would go to bed begging to die and take his place. I was so lost and could barely function, but I had to keep going for our firstborn, who was only one at the time. I didn’t want him to see his mummy broken. I had no choice but to wade through the black hole. I hope one day he will know how he saved me.
My husband and I chose to have Harry buried so we could always have somewhere to visit, and I’m so glad we did. His resting place is the most peaceful, tranquil and calming place I’ve ever been. It brings me some comfort going there and looking after his garden. Gardening became my way of coping with grief and feeling closer to him; I had something to look after in his memory.
Nothing can prepare you for losing a baby. Your world is unimaginably broken, it isn’t how the order of things is meant to be. My child isn’t supposed to die before me; how am I meant to carry on when it feels like nothing matters anymore? But those are the early days of grief, and slowly, very slowly, you start to see the light at the end of the world’s longest tunnel. You find the little joys in every day that remind you that you are allowed to feel happiness again. The roses you planted in his memory start to bloom on Christmas Day, the middle of Winter, in the freezing cold; he did that. You find hope to carry on. He gave me that hope. I’ve never stopped hoping that things will get better, even when I couldn’t believe it. I know in my heart he is never far from my side, guiding me down this path, even on the darkest days. I keep going to make him proud of his mummy, that she never gave up.
Life sometimes has to end, but love doesn’t.