Those of you who follow us on Facebook will know that we recently put out a plea for guest writers – both of us were lucky to have largely straightforward pregnancies, followed by ‘natural’ labours and we parent in similar ways. Thus, our knowledge of certain areas is limited (or non-existent) and there are certain situations that we couldn’t/wouldn’t even begin to tackle.
Tonight’s post is by Bethan – an old school friend of Jo’s and a supporter of The Mother Side since its inception. We are hugely grateful to her for sharing her experience with us, and appreciate how hard it must have been to write.
Before you begin reading, and as you may have guessed from the title, please note that infant loss is discussed in this post.
Over to Bethan…
‘When somebody says to you that life can change in an instant, believe them, as it really can change without any warning. Just over a year and a half ago, I discovered this in the most awful way possible.
Everything had been going swimmingly. We were eagerly awaiting the birth of our second child – a baby girl. She had taken 2 and a half years to conceive and was very much wanted. Our house was awash with bursts of pink and my eldest son was bemused at how there was going to be girls toys in amongst his superheroes and dinosaurs!
We had the last scan at 38 weeks and 2 days and everything was perfect. 3 days later my whole life fell apart. I think subconsciously I knew what had happened even before I got to the hospital that day. I had felt different and had reduced movements. Call it women’s intuition maybe?!
‘I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat’ said the doctor.
I don’t fully recall what happened next. I know I was holding a midwife’s hand the tightest I had ever held anything in my life and I remember my heart feeling like it had been completely ripped out. I remember screaming.
I was given medication to start the labour process and we went home for a day. Family members came and stayed with us in those 24 hours and made us huge amounts of tea. It felt like we were living in some sort of bad dream. I asked my husband to remove the Moses basket from our bedroom and we shut the nursery door, as I couldn’t bear to look at it.
The next day, we went back to the hospital and I gave birth to our stillborn daughter Erin. She was beautiful and because she was full term, she was a healthy weight at 7lb 3oz. We took photos, footprints and handprints and had her blessed by the hospital chaplain at 3.30am. It was all very surreal. The midwives at the hospital were amazing and treated us and Erin with the utmost care and respect. They gave us the right amount of space and also cried with us.
People often ask me about the labour, and I tell them it is identical to a normal labour. The end result however is different, in that the baby is born sleeping, so you are left wondering what colour their eyes would have been. I find that thought particularly hard.
The following day we left the hospital with empty arms. People were on the labour ward cradling their bundles of joy. Erin was left in the chapel of rest.
I lost a stone in weight that first week. I think my body went into some sort of shock. I’m not really sure how I functioned, but I had to keep going for my eldest son, whose life I wanted to keep as normal as possible. He was nearly 4 at the time and was old enough to understand Erin had died, but I think he found it strange he never saw her. The hospital bereavement team suggested we were brutally honest with him and included him in all decisions and aspects of the death, which we did.
We visited Erin once more in the chapel of rest and two weeks later we had a funeral. Attending the funeral of your child is something you can never ever prepare yourself for, but it was a lovely tribute. We released butterflies, as her bedroom had been decorated in them and also released biodegradable balloons with wild flower seeds in them. I like to think of the world being populated with flowers in her memory.
We also had to register the death and decide on a post mortem which we declined in the end, due to the cause of death being umbilical cord entanglement. It was the equivalent of a tragic accident.
I attended counselling for 5 months afterwards and my son came with me. My husband didn’t have the urge to go, but I told him about my sessions, so we kept communicating about Erin. It was important to not sweep it under the carpet.
Friends and family ask me if I’m over it every now and again. The truth is I will never get over it. I still cry most days and the weirdest things can set me off. I guess it’s still incredibly raw. My husband and I also find it incredibly hard to plan too far in advance and I cannot watch TV programmes which feature unnecessary death.
I was very lucky to get pregnant a few months afterwards, however the pregnancy was an incredibly anxious time. I think I counted the entire nine months to the second! I broke down a lot during the pregnancy, but I tried to keep myself busy with fundraising for my son’s playgroup and running around after my son.
The hospital and community midwife were very supportive. I had scans most weeks, lots of reassurance and they allowed me to have an early induction at 37 weeks. Almost exactly a year later, we were very blessed to have another baby – a boy. Bittersweet and very precious all at once. I look at him and often wonder about the milestones Erin has missed and sometimes I feel incredibly guilty that I was allowed to feel happy again. That’s part of the rich tapestry of life I guess, although it doesn’t make it any easier to accept.’
If you know someone in this situation or sadly find yourself in this situation yourself, here are some things that people did for/said to us, which I found really helpful:-
- Just hugging me/us.
- Acting as a point of contact to tell people about the death and funeral.
- Cooking meals and making cups of tea.
- Gardening/other random acts of thoughtfulness – we caught our neighbour secretly mowing our grass and it was so kind of her
- Looking after your other child(ren), so you can have a sleep/bath for an hour.
- Kicks Count (including vital information about why home dopplers SHOULD NOT be used.)
- Mama Academy
Bethan, writing for The Mother Side xx