In which our reluctant hero attempts to tackle a tricky subject.
It’s Friday, it’s six o’clock, so it’s blog time. In a change from my usual light-hearted guff, this week I’m writing about something genuinely difficult but important. Baby loss.
You may, or may not, know that this week is Baby Loss Awareness week. It is also National Curry Week, which would have been a far more sensible subject to write about, but who needs another parenting food blog?
If death is something of an elephant in the room, then baby loss is more a roomful of elephants in the elephant house at Elephant World. A full on safari that nobody really wants to acknowledge or talk about. And perhaps unsurprisingly so. It’s not generally regarded as a good source of light-hearted banter for the dinner table or down the pub. It’s the sort of topic that makes people a little awkward and twitchy. About as awkward and twitchy as I felt while deciding whether writing this post was a good idea or not. But write it I did.
Like most of my weekly posts, this was written on a train and scheduled well before Friday’s 6pm publishing time. When it goes live, I will be sat on another train, trying to get home from work after a few nights away. Which is coincidentally what I was doing when my wife found out that our first child, a beautiful little girl, had passed away in utero. Singularly the most difficult thing that we have and hopefully will ever have to face as a couple and I wasn’t there. Sat on a train. Alone. Miles away and useless.
I found out the news on platform one of Wolverhampton railway station. As I got off the train, my wife was waiting for me. Her sizeable bump was as evident as it had been when I was at home the previous weekend. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but it looked different. Moments later we hugged. I started to cry. I didn’t think that I would ever stop. It was April Fool’s day. Sometimes life is full of odd coincidences.
For some reason, the one memory that sticks out from the rest of the day was that, once home, our cat, Momo, wouldn’t leave the bump alone. He would lie, paws across, almost cuddling it as if he knew that something was wrong. Our emotions were all over the place but somehow we managed to get through to morning and back to the hospital.
Saturday morning’s scan reaffirmed the bad news. Having been absent the previous day, I was clutching to the ludicrous hope that a heartbeat would be found. It wasn’t. We chatted about what would happen next with the consultant, my wife took some medicine and we went home. I’m guessing that we must have packed some things ready for hospital but I don’t recall a single thing from the rest of the day.
We headed back to the hospital at 10am on Sunday morning to have our baby. Mentally, this was difficult to comprehend. How do you prepare for a labour and delivery, months before you expected it, when you already know that there’s going to be no happy ending? It’s tough.
Various tests were undertaken and the process of getting baby moving started sometime before midday. We had about half of the contents of HMV with us to help us get through the coming hours. Books, DVD’s, music, the lot. They never made it out of the bag as within an hour the contractions were so painful that co-codamol and morphine were being brought out. This was topped up with plenty of gas. If you’ve not tried gas, do. It helps. Even us blokes.
By mid afternoon, my wife was in a massive amount of pain once more but also appeared to be tripping. I guess that this isn’t a normal state to be in during childbirth, but I guess that this wasn’t a normal childbirth. She asked for an epidural, was refused one but took it well. One bizarre side effect of this cocktail of drugs was over politeness when speaking. At this time, every sentence contained several “please and thank-yous” in an almost childlike way. It melted my heart.
Sickness followed which was keeping me very busy. Contractions, pain, vomit. This was pretty much the next four hours, until at half seven there was a “whoosh!” and our daughter was born, in her waters, to the evident surprise of the midwife. Countryfile was on the television in the bereavement suite.
“We did it!”
My head was all over the place at this point. I was a Dad which was an extremely proud feeling. This was mixed in with an empty sadness caused by the loss. And relief. Relief that my wife got through it relatively unscathed, physically at least. Selfish as this is, even now I can’t contemplate how I would have coped if anything had happened.
We became parents for the first time on Mother’s Day. Sometimes life is full of odd coincidences.
We met our daughter for the first and only time the following day. Not knowing what to expect, I was extremely apprehensive beforehand due to an irrational fear that I may have rejected her. I’m not going to describe the meeting other than to say that the time with her was oddly normal and relaxing considering the circumstances.
At the hospital, there were lots of decisions to be made and seemingly no time to think things through. Should we have a post-mortem or not? Did we want a funeral? Did we want a burial? Other things too. There seemed to be leaflets everywhere but their words just went in and out.
Everything had been fine at our twenty week scan which was a couple of weeks later than planned, although I don’t recall why. We knew that we were having a girl and having looked at names there was one that seemed to stick out. After the scan, I headed from the hospital to the station for a fortnight away with work. The song “Evelyn Evelyn” by the band “Evelyn Evelyn” randomly came up my phone as I waited for a connection at Nottingham station. Spooky. I texted my wife.
Less than a fortnight later we had lost her. As the age at birth was deemed to be under 24 weeks, based largely on measurements taken at the scan, there was no birth certificate issued. We are still not sure that this is correct. The support provided at New Cross Hospital was fantastic, and we were lucky enough to receive a SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) memory box which remains very precious. But no birth certificate. Legally, I was merely the husband of the patient. I couldn’t make any decisions. I couldn’t sign any forms. It still angers me.
We opted for a funeral but no post-mortem. If we had done so, we may have discovered the cause of death, which may in turn have helped during any future pregnancies. Or may not have. Having met our daughter, there was no decision to make. Nobody was going to cut her up.
The time up to the funeral passed so slowly. Fortunately it was glorious weather for April which meant that we could spend time outdoors. This was a massive help mentally and probably just as well as we couldn’t get in the house for flowers. I wrote a poem that was read out at the funeral. Friends and family gathered and left. Close friends returned later in the evening whereupon I invented the concept of “emergency wine.” We got ready for bed. Up to this point we had some focus and purpose, but what next? It all got a bit much. I cried myself to sleep.
Visiting the cemetery gave me a headache, although months later I started to find it quite a peaceful place. SANDS sessions, although massively beneficial to some, weren’t for me and just seemed to regress my mental state. I’d have to go back to work at some point, but I didn’t really want to talk to my then boss. Not because he wasn’t supportive or anything other than a genuinely decent man, but he had recently lost a son who had unexpectedly dropped dead at home in the kitchen, aged sixteen. To me, that was at least a nine out of ten score on my recently derived “grief scale” whereas our loss was probably only a four or five in comparison. Madness. Literally.
Things slowly got back to normal. Little steps. Day by day. Month by month. Other, much earlier, losses followed which was tougher to take with each new setback. Pregnancy tests went positive then faded away every month.
Eventually our luck changed and we had another baby girl, and, twenty months later, a baby boy. You may recall me moaning about them in every other post in my blog. Which is what we all do as parents because, although our love for them is unconditional and it is hugely rewarding, it is also bloody difficult at times. We have never taken any of our children for granted and realise how lucky we are to have had them. Others that have experienced loss may not have been as fortunate as us to experience this joy.
Evelyn’s birth has changed us forever. More than five years on, there still hasn’t been a day where I haven’t thought about her at some point. They say that time is a great healer, and it probably is. For the most part we don’t get sad any more. Oddly, the saddest I have been about our experience of late has been over the last few days thinking about, and writing, this post. Sat on a train. Alone. Miles away and useless.