Letter to my first born child

To my dear first-born child,

It’s more than two decades since you came into the world, and I still find myself wondering what you were wearing for your first day in church. I start off picturing a traditional white gown, long and flowing organza, with the most amazing hand embroidery. But then all I see is a pale pink bodysuit, clashing badly with your discoloured skin. The truth is, I have no idea at all what you were wearing for your first day in church. We had the chapel, the flowers and the minister. But we didn’t have a congregation, a font and a baptism. Instead, we had each other, your tiny white casket and a funeral.

The minister was the only other person at the service. Dad and I didn’t want anyone else. Not just because the loss was such a personal thing, but also because we couldn’t imagine sharing this experience with any of our family or friends. Just after your stillbirth, everyone expressed the socially acceptable level of shock and sympathy. And they delivered the usual quota of chicken casseroles and lasagne. But as time went by it became very clear that, in most cases, this wasn’t something people felt comfortable talking about. This was something they wanted to ‘sweep under the carpet’, as was the norm at that time.

After only a few weeks, even the GP wanted to know if I was ‘over all that’. I had thought about getting some counselling, but then started to feel, rightly or wrongly, that this was the soft option. So in no time at all, it was back to the office and business as usual.

What frustrated me most was that people didn’t think of your stillbirth as the death of a living human being. They thought of it, quite literally, as the birth of a still body that never even started to live. I guess that’s because your 34 weeks of ‘living’ went on inside my womb, hidden from public view, where no-one got to feel things first-hand, except me. That early morning kick in the side. That late night fist in the gut. And every now and then, a series of little rhythmic, staccato movements, which turned out to be your hiccups. I did my best to explain these weird and wonderful happenings to your father. The regular ultrasounds gave him the chance to see some of it for himself. And if we got the timing right, he too could feel – and sometimes even see – the tail-end effect of a punch or a kick, as my skin visibly stretched and vibrated to accommodate your tiny hand or foot.

Perhaps if you had lived outside the womb for just a few hours or days, and other people had seen you kick, or punch or hiccup – or just seen you, full stop – then they too might have viewed your death as a loss of life, and not just a lost opportunity for life. If they too had held you in their arms, and seen that you were 43cm long, with brown hair and blue eyes, then maybe they too could understand that you were a real little person, and not just a failed attempt at reproduction.

I wondered at the time if we had disrespected your memory by deciding to keep your ‘in utero’ nickname, instead of coming up with a new, ‘normal’ name, like Sarah, Emily or Olivia. How could we expect people to take your stillbirth seriously when we had named you after a male character from a musical comedy? Clearly we were consumed by grief and caught off guard by your premature birth, and this was the first name that sprang to mind. But sadly, it made me – and still makes me – a bit embarrassed to mention you by name, for fear of somehow trivialising your stillbirth.

After several months, I started to doubt that I had even given birth. It was then that I reached for the floral-covered memory book, where the midwives had carefully recorded every detail of your birth, complete with black ink footprints, handprints and two Polaroid photos. These were the ‘old days’, before digital photography took off. And then, one by one, fragmented memories would pop into my head: the high-waisted navy blue maternity dress that I wore to hospital; the red rope lanyard around the midwife’s neck; my waters breaking under the shower; someone talking about a crossword in the delivery suite; contractions; a needle in the back; a student doctor popping in, popping out; the obstetrician whistling nervously; more contractions; your dead weight in my arms; an injection in the stomach; crying babies down the hall; rain drops on the window; an empty capsule; an empty heart; and empty arms.

After a few years, the memories became less real. I felt the need for more tangible evidence, more acknowledgement, that you had simultaneously been born, and officially died, at 2.24pm on that rainy Thursday afternoon in December 1994. While other people might have forgotten all about you, I found myself constantly looking for ways to remind them, and myself, that my first-born child was not just a figment of my imagination. First it was a pillar and a plaque under the family tree memorial, officially marking the spot where your ashes had been placed, inside a crude, white plastic box, alongside my father. Next it was an official birth certificate, stamped and signed by the registrar of births, deaths and marriages. Then it was a piece of jewellery – a diamante-studded initial ‘S’ pendant – worn in the hope of sparking conversation about you, but instead mistaken for an expression of love for your father, who shares the same initial.

I then found myself rummaging through a chest of drawers, searching for a roll of unprocessed film that had been given to me by the hospital. After finding the courage to post off my ‘baby photos’ for processing, I had mixed feelings about what came back: three blurry prints, not much different from the Polaroids I already had. But on the upside, the colouring was a lot more flattering than the Polaroids. Your skin looked smooth and pink, instead of rough and purple.

Somewhere in between all this, a friend encouraged me to do some training that would enable me to support other parents who had also experienced the loss of a baby. It felt good to be able to talk about you, acknowledge you, in front of the other trainees. It felt even better, learning how to look beyond my own grief so that I could try to help others work through theirs.

The final act of recognition came only a few years ago, from a completely unexpected source. My aunt, who was helping a cousin gather information for a family history book, rang to ask me for your date of birth, so that an extra branch could be added to the family tree, officially recording the fact that I had given birth to three children, not two. I’m not sure if the book was ever published; but that’s not what matters. What matters is that 20 years after the event, this incredibly kind and compassionate woman had let me know in a very special way that she had not forgotten about you, or about how your stillbirth had affected me.

Sadly, my aunt recently passed away, a year or so after my dear mother. As I grieve these and other losses, I’m reminded more and more of your own death; and I worry that I’m running out of ways to keep your memory alive. We visit the crematorium each anniversary and lay flowers under the memorial tree. (Your brother and sister always choose bright, happy flowers, like rainbow gerberas.) I occasionally sift through the folder of paperwork: the maternity pre-admissions booking form; the ultrasound films and reports; the bill from the funeral director; the bills from the hospital; the floral-covered memory book; the photos; the birth certificate; the letters from the crematorium. And still, after all this time, I’m looking for ways to weave you into conversation – to remind other people that your death is not something I will ever ‘get over’; it’s something I’ve just learned to live with.

Every time your siblings experience a big life event – or even a small one – I wonder what it would have been like for you. That first day of school, first sporting team, first swimming lesson, graduation from high school, driving lessons, first date, first job, twenty-first birthday. And then I just wonder about you. Your appearance; your personality; your likes and dislikes; your strengths and weaknesses; your passion in life.

Your death completely defied the expected order of life events and exposed me to a grief like none other. You were taken from me before we even started to create any happy, lasting memories. Before I had the chance to discover who you were. The grief has softened with the passing of time, but my feelings of love, longing and emptiness will stay with me forever. And I will never stop wondering what you were wearing for your first day in church.

All my love,

Mum xxx

Stillbirth as an evolving family conversation

By John Denham, Kristy Putnam and Freya

Talking about stillbirth and our stillbirth experience, is a lifelong venture. I just wanted to share the opportunities that have come up quite naturally, years later and with another child in our home. This may be either inspiring or uncomfortable to read and of course it is a bit of both for me to share.

We experienced the stillbirth of our son Quinn 5 years ago and then 3 years ago we adopted our daughter Freya. We honour Quinn at home. We keep his ashes in an urn made of juniper, we have a picture up and we recognize his birthday with a cake. When people ask how many children we have we sometimes answer “two, one was born still”. Quinn and stillbirth are part of our lives and that’s just the way it is, so we try to acknowledge it as it comes up.

 Our daughter Freya is very perceptive and she is very verbal. She has always known about Quinn and as she has developed, she talks about him, asks about him and even plays pretend games that involve him. Here are a few examples of how she has talked about him.

 

We get questions:

“Why did he die?”

“Did I ever meet him?”

“Did he talk before he died?”

“Are you sad that I didn’t get to meet him?”

“Were you (mom), his birth mother?” (Freya of course has a birth mother)

“Why are you crying” (sometimes we cry when he is brought up and we let her know that that is okay).

“What letter does Quinn’s name start with?”

 

We get statements:

“That’s Quinn” (pointing at the picture).

“Quinn is my brother.”

“I wish I could have met Quinn.”

“I’m sad that I didn’t get to meet Quinn.”

 

We get pretend games. Whenever someone is important Freya loves to pretend to be them:

“I’m Quinn, I’m a baby”

“I’m Quinn and I came out of your tummy and I didn’t die. Wah, wah, wah…”

 

This year Quinn would have started Kindergarten and together we all tried to imagine what he would have been like and we had fun with the various characteristics she came up with based some kids that she knows. We talk about Quinn as she brings him up, we answer directly, honestly, simply and age appropriately. What we have found is that it simply makes Quinn and stillbirth a reality that we can talk about in our home and we are very grateful for that.

You gotta love the honesty and openness of children; we sure do!

From a Grandmother

Baby Lorraine’s parents ran in the Canberra Fun for the first time this year, fundraising for stillbirth research and Baby Lorraine’s Grandmother wanted to encourage others to donate and also help raise awareness. Here is her story below:

On the 7th of January, 2014 my first grandchild was born. A beautiful precious girl. My little granddaughter, Lorraine Bernadette Henderson.

I live 8 hours north of my daughter. But it’s nothing for me to drive that far by myself to see my family and friends. One stop and I am there. I packed my bags. I hurried to the car. But I couldn’t see the door handle through my tears.

‘Pull yourself together’ I firmly said.

‘Get over yourself, this is not about you.’ I thought as I opened the ute door and put the keys in the ignition. ‘You need to be with two people you love. You need to see your granddaughter and hold her before she is buried.’ So I started the car and drove. I told myself all you have to do is stop on the red lights and keep to your own side of the road.

I was dealing with something! Joy, love, hurt and pain. There was this feeling of emptiness and the unfortunate pain of knowing this was all real. This was unfixable! There was nothing I could do to make this better. As a mother I was generally able to fix things. But the thought of being helpless made the tears flood. I was in a place where I had never been!

I made it to the morgue.

My little granddaughter needed pink rose buds, a teddy and lots of kisses.

When I saw her I couldn’t believe how perfect she was. A little china doll. I wanted to keep her in my China cabinet forever.

My daughter and son-in-law walked into the still dark room with their tiny pink coffin in the centre. Their whole world was in that room.

Mothers can fix things, say things and help to change the course that is being taken. Normally I’d buy a new dress, a pair of shoes, pay a bill or simply pass on some advice. I am a ‘fix it’ Mum! But that day I couldn’t do a thing but be there. As a Grandmother and Mother I couldn’t take 1oz of pain away from my children. Sadly I just had to be there for them.

Over the next few days I cannot recall what we did or how we did it. Love blended with sadness and there was this immense grief. The sorrow was bottomless. I never knew that the love of one little person could be so, so powerful.

The day came for us to lay little Lorraine to rest. As a grandmother I was given some warmth knowing her other Grandmother Lorraine was already beside her to look after her.

This was the day that I realised I was a lucky Mum. I had never had to farewell any of my four children.

I held the mother and father of my granddaughter as they sent their love with their daughter. A love that will never be replaced. The loss of my granddaughter will never be replaced.

Yes, Lorraine Bernadette Henderson was my silent baby granddaughter.

This Sunday Lorraine’s Mum and Dad are running the streets of Canberra to raise money for the Stillbirth Foundation. As Lorraine’s Grandmother I will be there. I have a wish for every person running this Sunday in Canberra…that no parent will ever again have to suffer the pain of a Stillborn child. And that a story like mine will never have to be written again.

No amount is too small as I believe that every dollar is a step closer to saving a little granddaughter like Lorraine.

Pia

It’s early in the morning in the 24th of January and my wife Felicia wakes me up early to tell me she is going to the hospital to just have a check-up, she hasn’t felt our baby girl Pia, 26 weeks, move in a little while. I think she’s being silly, I go back to sleep. Pia is past the 12-week mark, everything will be fine.

We had two miscarriages before we had our first son Julian, 2. The body knows how to make a baby now. We chose the name Pia for two reasons, I have a rule that the first name needs to be in the family already and Felicia just has to like it. I’ve given away some of my prized possessions to make room in her new room. I’m getting more excited by the day to have a “daddy’s little girl.”

A short while later my phone rings and wakes me. It’s Felicia, “We’ve lost Pia.”

In 3 words, I had loss and I was lost. I didn’t cry for what felt like an eternity. In reality, it must have only been 5 or 10 minutes of just laying in bed wondering what just happened. I didn’t comprehend what I heard, I thought everything after 12 weeks was a formality, I was lost and alone.

I then remembered Kristina Keneally, I remembered she was an ambassador for something. I quickly search twitter and all of a sudden, I find out what happened has a name, Stillbirth. I still lay in bed lost, helpless, hopeless. It’s not until I call a close friend who is a better dad and adult than I, Dan, and tell him what happened that I begin to cry. Reality starts to set in.

The rest of the day fucking sucks. I can’t remember much. At some point in time I learn what happens next. I’m sure I would have tried to have been supportive to Felicia.

The next day we go to hospital to give birth to our still baby girl. I guess the process is much like being induced for a healthy baby girl, just with a dark cloud in the room. Our midwife Gemma was amazing, it felt like we could have asked her to juggle in a clown suit and she would have made it happen. My wife gave birth over the toilet, I remember our midwife with a “bluey” making sure Pia didn’t go in the toilet. My first thought is to see if Pia is breathing. I don’t know if this is instinct or hope. I’m quickly heart broken.

The most striking thing is the silence. There’s no baby’s first scream and cry, there’s nothing. Pia looks like a normal baby girl, just tiny. Her lips are bright red, Julian had beautiful lips when he was born, her eyes are nearly closed. She doesn’t look dead, she looks at peace.

I had hopes of Pia becoming the first in a male dominated field; I hoped she’d become well known for her feats. I need to raise funds in her name, I need to have a goal to focus on or I’ll sink very deep. Gemma takes Pia to make hand and foot prints. She talks us through making a memory box. Gemma helps us pick clothes for our baby girl and helps dress her. The clothes are donated by Angel Gowns. Pia looks beautiful.

It’s just a couple of hours after Pia is stillborn that I’m thinking about what I can do to raise money for the stillbirth foundation. I can suffer from depression at the best of times, I know I need to focus on something positive straight away or I’ll sink really low.

Our family comes to visit. There are as many tears as when we had our first born. But this time it’s different. Some hold Pia, some can’t. We can stay with Pia for as long as we want. We stay all day. In the afternoon, in the next room I hear a babies first cry. Jealousy, heart break, anger.

Felicia doesn’t want to leave Pia, I want to go home to bed, preferably go to sleep and not wake up for a very long time. Walking out of the hospital empty handed is hard. It’s not how it’s meant to be, I remember the fuss of putting Julian in a car seat for the first time. It’s just Felicia and I on a silent car ride home.

Making funeral arrangements for your baby is hard. We chose to have Pia cremated. We chose not to have a funeral, it felt disingenuous to me to celebrate a life. Instead we chose to have a picnic in her name with friends and family to celebrate the life we still have with each other. I’m truly thankful at having a friend that works for white lady funerals. Having our friend Sally talk us through where Pia was, where she was going, saying she was having drivers take care of her meant the world to us. It was our plan to spread her ashes where Felicia and I got married, it’s a special place for us. When we received her ashes it’s abrupt and disturbing at how little her life could be reduced to. Pia arrived in a plastic sterile box, but inside, she was reduced to perhaps just 20 grams of ashes inside a glad bag. Yeah my baby girl, whose hole in my heart feels like a universe, could be reduced to less than what you could sweep up.

My mum paid for the cremation. As soon as it happened she sprang into action to help with costs, timing and the emotional impact. I wanted to pay my mum back the money, she refused, “I’ll never be able to buy her a birthday present, I at least want to buy her this.”

I wanted to raise money for the stillbirth foundation. I desperately wanted to make the best of a horrible situation. I wanted to save one life. I want to make a difference. I chose to raise money by doing something hard, something worthy of friends, family and strangers giving money to a charity that they may not have known existed. I chose to enter myself into a half marathon. I named my runners team Team Pia, my cousin Mel joined, a stranger I have never met joined and we raised money.

I set the team goal to $1,000 I thought that would be something to work towards. Within an hour we hit that goal and I was overwhelmed with the support of my immediate friends and family. Throughout the next couple of months I kept advancing the goal and achieving it. All that was left was the training.

I was 108kg and not very fit. My first training run was 1.8km, I was walking before I left my street. I knew I was going to finish the half marathon, I knew my emotion would fuel my body enough to get me across the line. Surely enough I would increase the distance I ran each time and eventually I would set myself a goal of 2 hours to finish the half marathon. Apart from shin splints forcing me onto an elliptical, my training was adequate enough to give me a little more confidence.

Race day came and I awoke nervous. I cannot remember the last time I was that nervous. I feel like vomiting. I put on my Stillbirth foundation singlet and I walk to the race, I’m proud. Team Pia raised nearly $10,000 and for the majority of the lead up we were high on the leader boards. Anyone who looked at the leader board would read her name, people would know my daughter’s name, not the way I planned but in a small way, she impacted people’s lives, even for just a second.

Anyone who has been to a big race knows the amount of standing around and waiting that’s involved. For those who don’t, the real athletes that finish the course in literally half the time as Joe blow go first, 15 minutes later, incredible runners are allowed to go, then another 15 minutes good runners can go and then finally, myself. Lots of time to just be nervous.

I started strong, I over took a lot of people, I overtook the 2-hour pacer I was planning to run with. I couldn’t breathe. There was a lump in my throat the size of a broken heart. The whole first 5km I couldn’t get a full breath of air, I kept going. At about the 5km mark I saw my wife. I tried not to cry, as all my emotions, grief and heartache flooded up my body I tried really hard not to cry. I cry. Not a lot but enough to remind me why I am here. I slow down a little but I keep moving.

At about the 16.5km mark, across the Cahill express way my tank is nearly empty and I start to walk and take in the unique view of Sydney, it’s beautiful. There’s a little bit left in the tank so I plod along until the 18th km where you see the finish line for the first time and emotions hit me again. I’m so close to achieving what I set out for. 3 months of hard work. Running in the dark. Asking for donations, selling raffle tickets, lots of crying on public transport (my personal most hated part of grieving).

I have nothing left. The last 3 kilometres is walking and what could only be described as the worlds worse jog. As I cross the finish line I break down in tears. I hobble forward. I see my mum, my wife and my son Julian and I’m inconsolable. I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m happy, I’m tired, I’m jubilant, I’m sore. I cry for what feels likes half an hour. I went from couch to 21.1km in 3 months.

I feel honoured, and I feel like I’ve honoured Pia. I’m a half marathon finisher, 2 hours 15 minutes and 27 seconds. I wore my finishers medal all day. I put it in my daughter’s memory box when I got home, it feels like the best contribution to her life I can ever make. I remembered a long time ago I wrote a bucket list. I crossed off half marathon and saw marathon just below it. I decided there and then I would finish a marathon. I would do that for Julian. It’s a perfect life lesson I figure, things in life are hard, very hard. But with family and inner strength you can achieve any goal you set for yourself and overcome any obstacle in your road if you really want to.

Logan

By Jane Bond, mother of Logan

The heart is bleeding, a gaping hole resides My baby was born in a shadow, never to see the light The heft of my sorrow is beyond comprehension It’s a feeling beyond divine

The love I have for him never to be mentioned I carry it alone through time The life he brought to me none will acknowledge.
Still in my heart it lies

Whilst his life was short surrounds can’t obscure him Though the memory left is mine His force is a part of my life’s journey Never to be denied.

So with heart felt emotion and loves true devotion.
I dedicate this rhyme.

Odd Comments

Written by Kate Henderson, mother of Lorraine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe undertaker stands in front of me.

He motions for my unspoilt precious baby girl. But why? Why should I have to give away my only child?

I stare down at my little girl. Her perfectly shaped rosy lips. Her cute button nose. Her closed peaceful eyes. She has a sweet familiar smell — a radiant warmth.  Like the morning sun streaming through the window. With her in my arms — we feel natural — meant to be.

How can our brief time together be at an end? I need more time!

The undertaker puts out his arms to gesture for my baby and I hold my daughter even tighter. The nurse is silent. My husband is silent. The hospital is silent.

With my last thread of strength — my arms give my golden child to the solemn undertaker.

I hear the screams of a hopeless woman. Piercing screams. Screams that echo life is over.

I wonder who she is? What could cause her such pain? I’d hate to be her. I don’t think I’d survive that pain.

So how is that woman me? I don’t understand! It doesn’t make any sense.

The undertaker puts my silent daughter in his carry bag and he darts out of the room.

A tidal wave smashes me. The hard sterile floor stops me from being washed away. My body is gently laid to rest on the bed.

Why can’t I be in the undertaker’s bag?

My body had one task in life. Safely deliver my child into this unsafe world. Failure.

My body failed. I failed. I am a failure.

I leave the hospital and I experience three days of black cold wet winter in the middle of summer. The thunder is deafening. The people that find me in the storm are those that hug me.

On occasions, I hear family and friends say ‘There’s nothing I can say to make it better but if you need me — I’m here.’ ‘You’re such a beautiful person — this shouldn’t happen to you.’ ‘I don’t know how you survive this but I’m here.’ Otherwise, the general chat is drowned out by the storm.

Day 3. My swollen red eyes open. I whisper ‘My daughter’s funeral.’

I vanish as my baby girl is lowered out of my reach for an eternity. Why can’t I jump in her grave and die next to her? We would be together forever — tucked in by the same soil.

Suicide at a funeral, is that allowed?

Useless God — ­he did this. My 32 years of Catholic following… all propaganda. Religion is such a joke. Sins don’t exist. Others do what they want and still get the lucky ticket.

But me… I’m locked in a cell. Stuck here until someone somewhere decides I have done enough time! Sentenced with my hubby as a fellow inmate. My poor broken hubby. Abandoning him when he is already hopeless would be an act of brutality.

As I’m shovelling dirt onto my daughter’s tiny pink coffin, I think ‘Fuck you God. Fuck You.’

‘You can’t dodge this with the usual God has a plan crap. You have so many horrid ugly humans running free in this world and yet you entitle them with a pulse and a breath.’

Death of a child should be forbidden! Our daughter is innocent! We’re innocent! Why not target those that drink, smoke or take drugs when they are pregnant? What about those who leave their baby in a dumpster? Why not take the unwanted babies and give them to the couples that desperately want them? The current system is unreasonable and deliberately cruel.

From the distance ‘You should go to the wake Kate — even if you only have one drink.’

So I’m at the wake. The bar props me up so I resemble a strong woman which makes others feel more at ease. Yet I’m ashamed as others laugh and joke.  I’m able to drink alcohol when I should still be pregnant. I focus on the bottom of the glass to give me some purpose.

I tell myself I’m not a bad parent.

Or am I? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never know. I wasn’t given the opportunity to find out. Maybe I never will.

My brother-in-law appears next to me. ‘You know, you’ll just have to move on.’

I hear him but I don’t understand. I take a large gulp of my vodka, nod my head and continue walking in my limbo land of winter, dark clouds and silence.

Over the next couple of months, the cold comments start to flood. Each comment makes me weaker — Like angry termites eating my foundations.

‘Maybe you did something wrong.’

‘So there was nothing wrong with you… At least you’ll be able to have more children.’

‘It’s probably for the best — if your daughter had lived she might have had learning difficulties… it’s natural selection.’

‘I had a miscarriage and I was upset at the time but it was the best thing as I didn’t stay with the father.’

‘Life is so much easier for you — as you don’t have children.’

‘Oh, well, you wouldn’t know… as you haven’t had any children yet.’

‘Get over it. Move on.’

‘Get over it — be good to the living.’

Get over it. Get over it. Get over it.

My response to these frosty, thoughtless comments depends on my strength at the time.

When I’m broken, I simply stare at them. In my head I say ‘You are seriously fucked up.’ But my body is motionless — out of order.

If I am just coping I manage to say ‘I don’t agree with you and I doubt you would say that if you were me.’

But if I feel strong enough to fight for my daughter’s honour I say ‘I have a daughter named Lorraine. She is buried next to her grandmother. Lorraine will always be a part of my life and no future child will ever replace her. I will never get over her death.’

All I want in life is my daughter alive. I don’t care if she has one eye, one arm and one leg — just alive.

I religiously followed the book for a healthy pregnancy. My little girl arrived without a pulse and there was no explanation. So please, don’t try to justify her death with your selfish clichés. They aren’t helpful. If you don’t know what to say — just hug me.

It may be easier for you to forget my silent daughter but I dream about her when I’m awake. My much loved baby girl should be running around my legs. I should be able to hear her yell ‘Mum.’ Her Father should be wrapped around her little finger. Others should be able to see that we’re a family. The endless kisses, hugs and tears.

But all we have are the tears.

In simple terms. Our daughter deserves better. We deserve better. Yet she is dead and we live as this feeble form of a human.

So as the song says ‘Wake me up when it’s all over. When I’m wiser and I’m older…’

Baby Alice

By Wendy Day, mother of Alice

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My doctor was away when I went to the final check-up and his partner picked up that there was something wrong with the baby.  I had instinctively known that and during the pregnancy had tried to prepare myself to look after a handicapped child.  He explained that my baby had anencephaly, a condition that affects the formation of the baby’s brain and the skull bones that surround the head.  He went on to explain that my baby couldn’t survive the birth and in a way that was a kind of relief compared with what I had been steeling myself for.  It didn’t make the birth any easier though because I had the illogical feeling that I was murdering my baby – while she was inside me she was alive but as soon as she was born she would die.  Baby Alice was stillborn on 4th of April, 1967, and they never let me see her; the only memory I have of baby Alice was the back view of the nurse as she whisked her out of sight behind the screen.

I returned home and tried to resume my normal life but within a day or two I developed an unbearable headache and had to return to the hospital.  I was too ill to go to the funeral but I looked out the hospital window and saw the hearse with her little white coffin pass by and broke down completely.  Having failed so miserably to breastfeed my other babies, I suddenly had the greatest difficulty drying up my painful breasts; the emotional pain lasted even longer – even today I feel a sadness when I think of losing her.

I’m glad that parents get time to mourn their babies now, nothing replaces the child but it can’t be as gut-wrenching as it was back in the 60s when they discharged you from hospital and you were just supposed to get on with your life as if it hadn’t happened.  I was at least fortunate in that, living in a country town at the time, I was able to have my baby buried in a marked grave – something that wouldn’t have been allowed in Perth.  We had a scaled down grave made and a heart-shaped headstone with  ‘Alice  Stillborn’  and the date on it.  My mother died on a visit from England and she is buried in the same cemetery but I’ve never been able to go back so I make do with photos of the graves.

Born Sleeping

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Shared with generous permission of Laura Sheehan @ thewholemummy.com

I held you in my arms, I kissed your soft, pink lips, I nuzzled your cheeks, your nose, your tiny perfect ears. I breathed in every inch of you. So hard, to let you go.

. . .Beau, born sleeping the 19/06/14.

We’d just celebrated our Hurricane’s first birthday, a typical sweltering hot first week of January in Australia. Summer in Oz is always a time for swimming, the beach, flip flops, hats, sun tans, ice cream, friends, family and always safe, sunshine fun. Three months earlier, we had taken the nonchalant approach to not actively trying for another baby but at the same time not taking or making any preventative measures to falling pregnant. The old “we’ll just see what happens” approach. Low and behold I was a day late, nothing, normally, to be excited over but a part of me just knew, call it what you will, a mother’s knowing, women’s intuition, whatever it may be but I knew he was there. My baby, my son.

I think most women know, whether we acknowledge it or not, something inside us sparks, connects and we know deep, down within that we are carrying a special cargo, a perfect, beating little force, entwined with our being, well before the conscious thought to check the calendar or buy a test.

With this subtle feeling that, just maybe, we were pregnant, even only a day late, I checked. There it was, that blurry miracle, the hazy, soft, positive, blue line. We were having another baby. Instantly, that surge of overwhelming, engulfing feeling, immediate joy and soaring happiness, gratitude, thanks, humbleness, worry and apprehension, and floating in amongst it there was a faint fragility that landed, buried and was pushed aside, taken over by all encompassing, all embodying love.

Excited to say the least, the Big Man and I were over the moon, the gap between the baby and the Hurricane somewhat daunting and smaller than what we had anticipated but we embraced and welcomed the idea of a bigger, noisier and ever more chaotic family.

Having nearly lost the Hurricane to Meningococcal B Meningitis, having lived it, having survived it together as a couple, as a family, we had in many ways developed a naive confidence in our way of thinking, a belief that we had been through our tough time, climbed our hurdle, overcome our challenge. Maybe it wasn’t naive to think that way, but, more so, isn’t also normal? Normal to be excited for this new life, another baby, to have that blissful happiness? It’s what parents hold on to, no matter the journey so far. In truth I don’t believe we could ever be prepared for what was to come.

With the news of our new baby came the even more life changing news for our family, we would be uprooting and leaving Australia, leaving our home, and moving to the South of France for the opportunity and adventure of a lifetime for our little family, and one final rugby contract for the Big Man. It scared me, that’s the truth. I don’t like change at the best of times and leaving my family, my friends and everything I love about home, especially with the little one on the way, rocked the foundation beneath my feet. Outside of that fear though was a burning desire to soar, to navigate, to experience, to be a part of a culture, a community entirely new. It fascinated me and I wanted to give our Hurricane and our little one to come, the most fruitful opportunity to explore everything the world has to offer.

The contract in France wouldn’t start immediately though and as luck would have it the Big Man was offered a short term contract in the UK. With the news of a new baby, the Hurricane already leaving destruction and chaos in his wake, we decided, as a family, that it would be better for the Big Man to go on without us for the UK leg of our journey while we carried on back in Aus for six months, giving us enough time to pack up and prepare for the next step. In the blink of an eye and a flurry of tears, the Big Man was gone.

There is an intimacy and a connection between a mother and her baby, from the moment of conception there is a bond unlike any other. It is a knowing, an understanding and a deep, natural sense of unspoken unity and relationship. For the Hurricane and, later, our Little Ray of Sunshine, there was a spark within me, a vibrancy, spirited life and active eagerness that is reflected in the children they are today. For my Beau, he was different, he connected with me wholly with an early awareness for one another. He was a quieter, softer soul and I felt it from the beginning, the image I held for him was that of a gentle, little old man, content and happiest nestled and cradled within me. This kindred kinship, however, projected something different for me that I had not experienced with my pregnancy with my Hurricane and later, inexplicably not with our Little Ray of Sunshine. There was an unfounded uncertainty, a feeling of worry and fragility. This sense of concern was so strongly embedded in me that at three different stages in the pregnancy I felt the need to have his heartbeat checked, twice in Australia and once in the UK while visiting family before our last leg to France.

My pregnancy for Beau was, by all accounts, as normal as it can be, second time around, constantly chasing a toddling toddler. On my own the fatigue was a constant battle, pulling on reserves when at times I felt I had nothing else to give, but I was lucky, my support network from family and friends was enormous and the cavalry, when called, was ready and willing to be there for our little family in any way they could. It was a special time, in fact, for my mum, my sister, my mother in law and my wonderful sister in law, she at the time was also pregnant six weeks ahead of us! These women, who in the absence of the Big Man became an integral part of my journey with Beau, stepping into the role, in many ways, as my surrogate husband, my confidant, my support and those living in Perth happily coming along to all the important moments, appointments and scans for our little man. It was at my 20 week scan, with my surrogate husbands, my mum and my sister, in tow, that we hit our first little bump in the road.

There he was, my big, roly poly baby, a white outline in a sea of black, rocking and rolling on the big screen. The sonographer gleefully guided me, explaining, identifying every perfect toe, leg, nose, ears, eyes, fingers, legs, tummy, bottom, everything that as parents, in those magical scan moments, absorb, there they are, your baby, your child. A pause, a hesitation, yet still positive, she asked if we could wait just a little longer for the senior sonographer to check and confirm the scan. My breath catches. Waiting in the hospital cafeteria worry is covered, masked and suppressed by small talk, food and tea. Being scanned once more, the senior sonographer, equally upbeat, examines and explains that they had noticed our baby possibly had a minor condition known as kidney reflux, a surprisingly common condition where by one of the valves in the kidney don’t close properly and urine refluxes back into the kidney. It was adamantly expressed not to be concerned, fear clearly written all over my face, that all it meant was that after birth our baby may need to be put on a course of antibiotics or worst case scenario have a small corrective surgery. Exhale, it was all going to be ok. Reassured and armed with a multitude of information, we hadn’t intended to find out the sex but and with many apologies from the sonographer, an invasive examination of the kidneys made it difficult not to see, and we were delighted and overjoyed to learn we were having a boy, another son and a little brother for the Hurricane.

A little hiccup, a tiny trip and stumble, but really nothing to warrant concern we carried on and before we knew it the time had come to say ‘see you soon’ to Australia and a big ‘bienvenue‘ to France. Through incredibly difficult goodbyes, difficult doesn’t begin to describe it, but through heartfelt, hormonal tears, bags packed, life packed, a bulging now 7 months pregnant belly in front of me and an excited little Hurricane hanging from my hand, we were off. Stretches of sea and an almost new world awaiting us, our new adventure was unfolding before us. First with the generous help of Nan, my mum, in a flurry and a hurry we visited family in the UK before the long awaited reunion with my Big Man.

Time can be a funny concept, as it skips by, days blur and mesh into weeks, you can often find the passing seamless. It is only in that moment of reconciliation that the enormity of distance sharpens into reality and the weight of having been apart fully press upon you. Watching the Hurricane, now eighteen months old, having only taken his first steps when he left, to now run, in full recognition, excitement and love into the arms of his dad, crumbling around him, was beautiful beyond compare. Physically you could not mistake the time between us, carrying large and heavily, the pride of the belly of his waddling swollen wife, was met with a long coming relief, we were home, together as a family, reunited again.

Arriving in France I guess you could say I was somewhat perplexed, my impression of France, as we tend to stereotype most countries, was that of a provincial, Parisian type, quaint and artisanal. Anyone who has lived in the South of France will know that ‘le Sud‘ is structurally, culturally and personably different, a community unto its own. It’s hot, stiflingly hot, the people are all gloriously dark and tanned with a thick twangy southern French accent and the arid, Mediterranean landscape is bafflingly breathtaking. It completely throws your expectations but there is something very special and unique about the South of France. The Big Man, having been here for some time now organizing life for us here in France, revelled in the opportunity to play tour guide and to show us all what our new home, Narbonne, had to offer. Proudly he whisked us off to see the sites, magical days at Carcassonne Castle, blissfully lazy afternoons swimming in the Mediterranean Sea and our favourite, breakfast and grocery shopping at the local indoor market, Les Halles, where he confidently practised and used his French to introduce us to all the local butchers, ‘fruitiers’, restaurateurs he had come to know and in an inviting, welcoming familiarity, these new faces later became our close friends. Everything was going smoothly. It was a wonderfully fulfilling time of reconnection and new connection.

Once the eagerness and excitement of our arrival settled and toward the end of our first week here, practicalities of establishing our new life here came into play and little things that made a home a home were beginning to need attention, so on the Friday we made plans to make the most dreaded of trips to IKEA. I say this with tongue and cheek but we as a family, as I think many families do, brace ourselves for a day at IKEA! Arguments are always almost a certainty, the misplacing of a child a possibility, and the buying of unnecessary quirky kitchen utensils a guarantee. We came, we saw, we conquered (just barely) and on the long drive home, IKEA being in the next major city, Montpellier, an hour from our little village, the Hurricane, exhausted, now sleeping slumped in the back seat, amongst a sea of efficiently packed Swedish boxes, I sat tired and contented with my arms wrapped around my belly feeling the gentle stirrings of my Beau rolling and rocking within me. In the whirlwind of arriving I really hadn’t found time to sit and just be with my baby, all mothers will know what I mean, those quiet, silent moments when it’s just the two of you, the noise of the rest of the world softens for just a short time and you are bound, completely in touch with this remarkable little being, it’s just you and your baby. He stirred so much for that drive and for most of the night, lively, vibrant, almost innocently playful, playing with his mummy, as though he was smiling, happy. That time, in truth was the last time I definitively and with strength felt him move.

With no major plans for our Saturday we made our way to the beach for more time as a family, the Big Man would be starting intense pre-season training soon so we wanted to make the most of the summer and our time together. Caught up in the fun of the day, it wasn’t really until we made our way home, the Hurricane now wiped out and ready for an afternoon nap and me finally with my feet up on the couch, cup of tea in hand, taking a moment in the quiet, that I made the conscious time to sit and feel my little one wriggle. Silence. Not a slight shift in position making himself comfortable or a fluttering, twitching kick. Silence. I thought to myself he must just be sleeping, it had been a big active day of external rocking and rolling the peaceful quiet is just as relaxing, restful for him. Initially having no movement, alarm bells soft, muffled they didn’t ring, he was always quiet my gentle little soul. I had become accustomed to the slower pace he lived by compared to the constant whirlwind of his big brother.

Hours passed and I began to become more aware that I still had not felt any strong purposeful movements, no solid kick or shifting shoulders, no tucking elbow against my ribs or rushing, pedalling feet. Still subduing my worry I made deliberate attempts to get him wriggling, a big cold glass of water, the rush of the chilled freshness always encouraged a flutter, nothing, a jiggle and tickle of my tummy, normally prompted a mischievous ‘stop it’ kick, nothing. Drawing myself a nice, warm bath, this will do it, he loved the water, the lovely, stretching slow movements of a calm, contented baby, nothing. He was quiet. He was still.

Going to bed that night my body ached with the creeping, crawling angst of fear, of worry, of bitter yearning, “please just let me know you are ok”. That numbing, gnawing feeling and knowing that something just isn’t right. I think every woman at some point in their pregnancy has moments of need, a need from your little one to give you a reassuring nudge from within and that time, that consuming waiting, tingles and pulls, weighs down upon you, heavy, solid, suffocating. You can’t breathe, you can’t think, every sense armed and poised, waiting. I close my eyes, restlessly I fall asleep, sure that I will feel something, anything, ‘you’re over-thinking, he’s a quiet little soul, you’ve felt this way before, you’ve checked him, not once, but three times before and every time he’s been fine’.

Sunday, slowly I inch my way, sliding along the mattress as elegantly as all heavily pregnant women shuffle out of bed. As I stand I feel a slow, gentle roll forward from within, it didn’t feel right, limp, lifeless, not an exertion or a rocking shift. I put it out of mind, perhaps out of denial, perhaps based on hope but I made the effort to feel the movement as a reassurance, a mantra, he was ok. Deep down, in the depths of it all, I knew he wasn’t but the rational, fearful mind can and does strongly take over your knowing, motherly, intuition. Being a Sunday in France everything is closed, the bustle of the village is changed to a slow paced promenade of rest. Even with the rising panic we began to feel helpless not knowing who to contact or where to go with our concern. Morbidly I remember a raggedly, overwhelmed and emotionally strained conversation with my beautiful friend, my kindred mother, back home in Aus, worried and concerned she instructed me without a hesitation to just go to a doctor, even now I can see my text…I know that even if I went now, if I haven’t felt him moving, he’s already gone.

Monday morning, still riddled with uncertainty, the faint lifeless rolling confusing and clouding my reasoning, we decided to seek help and put my fears to rest. I just needed to hear his heartbeat. Meeting with the team’s coach that day, a fellow Australian, he contacted the team’s doctor who immediately made an appointment for us with an obstetrician at the local hospital. Quickly, hurriedly, we made our way to l’hopital de Narbonne. Once there we were confronted by a wall of language barrier, and a complicated system we didn’t understand, different to what we knew back home. Tensions rising, using limited, broken French we fumbled and mumbled as best we could, sent in every different direction, following flustered pointed gestures, trying desperately to read, to understand, foreign words and signage. Finally, late, at the peak of panicked frustration we found the correct department. Sitting in the waiting room, slowly calming, regaining control, we sat, together but in many ways alone, annoyed with each other for reasons really unknown to the other, a mix of emotions for a difficult situation made all the more complex with barriers we weren’t at all prepared for. I don’t think you fully appreciate or comprehend the ability to communicate until it’s taken from you.

Madame ‘SH’ ‘I’ ‘UNN’ (Sheehan), was that us? Are they calling us? Yes that must be for us…the poor nurse struggling to pronounce our name, a complexity of sounds rarely seen together in the French tongue; gathering a tired, bored Hurricane who, with a patience I hadn’t seen in him before, had been carted and carried from pillar to post with two parents immensely absorbed in the chaos, we made our way to the doctor’s office. Waiting to greet us was a genuinely warm, caring, gentle man, softly spoken with a comforting smile. No English but the concern was understood. Cautiously guiding me to the examination chair, he carefully prepared me for a sonogram. Holding the Hurricane in his arms I could see the eagerness on the Big Mans face, the realization struck me, this would be the first scan, the first time he would be seeing our baby, an undeniable excitement for all parents and I could see him fascinated peering at the screen. Slowly becoming clearer, there he was, our boy, our beautiful baby boy, the outline of his head, his face, his arms, his legs, his hands and feet, his big round belly, my eyes scanning quickly resting on his chest, the white light, the blinking flash of light, gone, no flicker, just still. Everything slowed around me, looking at my husband I could still see hopeful joy on his face, still just happy to finally see his boy, intrigued, with our Hurricane wriggling and wrestling in his arms, I feel a hand, soft, somber, delicate, take mine, looking, the doctors eyes, sad, meet mine and tapping on his chest I hear him say the words ‘non le coeur’ …no heartbeat.

Screaming in utter disbelief I hear my husband’s voice cracking ‘No!’ crumbling, folding to his knees, the Hurricane, frightened by the emotion wrapping himself around me, I rock, back and forth, tears breaking, fallen, heaving, broken, my husband, now arms around me, crying, sobbing, words spoken, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, you knew, I should have listened, I’m sorry”. I will never forget that ‘No’ from his lips, the sound it made, the heartbroken gasp before he spoke, it split me, struck me to depths I’ll never be able to reach or remove it from. I can still see the doctor slowly moving around us, making arrangements and we, held together as one, our small family, together, cried, hearts splintering, together in each other’s pain.

Control now taken from us we were moved, nurses, eyes full of solace, condolence, an empathetic, unknown language spoken to us, gently guided us to the delivery wing where we were lead and left, alone in our grief, in a private room where I would stay for the coming days waiting to deliver our son. Perhaps now in a state of shock, I lay against the bed, fragile and quiet, soft tears still rolling down my cheeks. The Hurricane, for once calm, almost knowingly, playing contently alone with his cars on the floor. Picking up the phone I call home, the click of connection, my mum’s happy voice at the end of the line and in one howling breath I cry “he’s gone”. Raw and openly grieving now I fumble the phone to my husband unable to speak, unable to think, incapable of putting into words the pain, the loss. Months later my mum would remind me of the significance of what I’d said, consumed by the agony of the moment I hadn’t realized, but as she reminded me I hadn’t said ‘we’ve lost him’ but rather, in some knowing way, I’d said ‘he’s gone’ perhaps as I’d worried, I’d checked him repeatedly, I’d had a sense of fragility, in some small way a part of me knew he was always going. I’ll never know.

Operating almost robotically, the Big Man continued to call our family and friends back home, the same disbelief, the same hysteria muffled at the end of the line and each time I watched him break, hurting with every touch of the distance between the love and support we had, so far from us right now. It is remarkable how people, some almost strangers to us, can rally together, giving their help, their support, giving themselves in a time of need. Friends we had only just met swooping in and quite literally taking our Brody, our Hurricane, without question or hesitation, knowing that all we had was each other. I don’t think we can ever truly express the grateful thanks we will always have for them for making a hopeless situation just that little bit easier.

Doctors coming and going, some trying as best they can to explain timelines and procedures in broken English, others unable to, forced to speak simplified French to blank staring faces. Having delivered the Hurricane by c-section it was intended that Beau would be delivered the same way, but as it was expressed to us, perhaps frankly and unintentionally harsh, that here in France, they won’t scar the uterus for a baby that won’t be born living, I would be delivering him naturally. Dumbfounded my thoughts raced, I don’t know how to deliver a baby naturally, I didn’t with the Hurricane, I’ve never even been to a birthing class! From a darker more fearful, frightened place it struck me, how am I going to have the strength to push through the pain when I have nothing to push for? When I know my baby will never cry?

I am numb, the stale scratch of the white cotton sheets of my hospital bed grate across my skin. Alone in the quiet, in the dark of my room, the Big Man gone now for the night checking on our Hurricane, packing and preparing for a stay we hadn’t expected, unable to stay with me, I lay, cradling my swollen, lifeless belly, hand nestled against it, still connected to the physicality but disconnected from the life, the life and the soul you feel within you, it was gone. Here alone over the coming days is where my inner self, shattered, wandered darkly, lost in a sea of raw, brutal emotion. It is here that I want to be honest, from a place of truthful openness of feeling during this cold time of waiting. It may be confronting but to understand the depths of my grief, the feelings that etched within me, it needs to be.

I am a coffin. My body that once carried hopeful life, now carries helpless death. I move and I feel the lifeless, heavy body of my son clunk and tumble forward within me. It feels cripplingly different to the wonderful rolls and kicks of life. It is morbidly silent, still, unnatural. It eats away at you, knowing that all you have left is their body. You will never feel anything but the weight of them again. For two days I waited, I sat, holding, carrying, knowing that my child was dead and he was still inside me. Anger, heartbreak, pity, despair an unimaginable loathing and grief. It was here that subconsciously I built a wall around me, a disconnecting, unfeeling wall, as the reality of what I’d become was too great to bare. I wanted to be released from this tomb, released from the physical confines, to just be released so I could hold him, I could feel him in my arms and look upon him, to just hold my son, my baby, to tell him I’m sorry I couldn’t hold on, to tell him I loved him and I’m sorry that for reasons I will never understand, physically, we are apart. To no longer carry him, to cradle him as I’m meant to. To let go. To say goodbye.

The night before delivery I was given two small white pills, these tiny fragments, in one moment, in one action would start the process of inducing labour, the final step. Such a surreal and numbing feeling, it was all such a physical concept to me by this stage, emotionally I had nothing left to give, not anger, nor sadness, no angst or apprehension, I had become programmed and technical, knowing I had to be strong, not just for the pain but knowing I couldn’t let myself concave completely, not yet, I had to get through tomorrow, I had to support the physical as I knew the emotional would break every inch of me once I took this final step in our journey, connected physically, together.

Morning, with my husband by my side, he was so quiet, changed, almost stripped bare, standing on unstable ground, robbed of a strength I had become so used to seeing in him through his work, here now he was weakened, withered, beaten, completely broken. Again, two more pills and our last time of waiting. After speaking with our great friend and Doctor back home, because it was too difficult at this point to try to understand any explanation in French, we knew that because we had been induced, once the contractions started, it would all happen relatively quickly.

Laying there together in a combined silence, my hand still gently stroking my swollen belly I felt the rippling, creeping tensions of my first contraction. So subtle at first, gradually becoming more intense. Moving slowly with my midwives, these women, these two remarkable women, filled with an understanding and a beautiful empathy for me, for us, even if they couldn’t express it in words, I honestly don’t believe I could have got through the delivery without them. Moving slowly with these two pillars of strength, we were transferred to the delivery room, hand in hand with my husband.

As the contractions became heavier, deeper, pulsating intensely through my body the anaesthetist arrived. In a situation such as ours all I expected was warmth, but here, in the height of pain and emotion was the only time I encountered someone cold. In a very detached, matter of fact way, she told me ‘c’est la vie’ quite brutally, ‘that’s life’. It washed over me like a bee sting, insurmountable compared to the pain of birth and the pain of grief I was already experiencing. Agreeing to an epidural, I was hurriedly crumpled forward bracing for the needle. In it went, the piercing sting of steel, she had missed, yet rather than remove the needle and try again she began to dig around, working and moving it in the space of my spine. Grabbing one hand each I could see the worried looks of my midwives, my husband, grey, in tears, was hurried out the room for fear of vomiting. I clenched my teeth, breathe. Satisfied she had succeeded, she was gone, as quickly and with an air of inconvenience as when she came.

As the pain continued to grow reflecting the vibrations of each reverberating contraction it became apparent to my midwives, to my husband and infinitely to me that my epidural hadn’t worked but the window of opportunity for drugs had now closed. Reflecting on it all now, in many ways, I’m glad it hadn’t worked, the pain in some primal, baser way helped me to connect to the whole experience. I was present to the pain, I could attach myself to it and attach the pain of my grief, the pain of my loss, my wretched bitterness and desperation, was attached, transformed and carried on the physical agony. The brief moments of calm between contractions I wallowed in it, exhausted, what only is a minute can stretch and feel like hours of long sleep. Here I rested with Beau, here we were together in white noise, together, lovingly holding each other’s hand, taking each gentle step forward together, as one.

Push, it was here, that surging, uncontrollable pressure, the fight over, that last ounce of strength pulled upon, pressure building again. Push, push, push…

I scream, I scream from pain, I scream from grief, I scream from anger, anguish a bitter, desperate why,? Why my boy, my baby boy, our son, our child, why? That moment of painful release and I let go, I let him go and physically for the final moment we are no longer locked as one. Our connected bodily journey over, and for a brief moment I am quiet, empty, hanging weightless in the air of it.

Over the haze I can hear my husband’s cracking, broken voice filter in ‘he’s here, he’s here’. Placed in my arms is the small, fragile and achingly lifeless body of my son. Beautifully and with love the midwives, these foreign speaking Angels had wrapped him and maternally placed a beanie on his head. I want to say I was there. I long to say I was present in it all but the truth, the sad lonely truth of it all is that I wasn’t, I had disconnected myself from it all. Whether as a protective mechanism or a primal, intimate knowledge, I couldn’t absorb the moment. I held him, I breathed him in, I kissed his head, his cheeks his lips, I felt the weight of him against my chest and his cradled curve in my arms, but I knew he was gone, that perfect soul I had been connected to, he had left me, I had lost him and he was gone.

Despite my disconnection, when it came time to let him go, to let go of the final piece of him, my son, I ached. To let him leave my arms meant that last tangible touch would be gone forever. That physical distance between us becoming deeper and further as they carried him away. I can still now feel the weight of him, the density of his body upon me, I don’t believe a mother ever forgets how their children feel from the first moment they are placed in their arms. It is comforting with that knowledge that I can, at anytime, go back to that moment and to let myself connect, to allow myself to be present and to give myself just one more minute, one more moment with him in my arms.

Together, wrapped in the arms of my husband and the midwives, we wept, openly and together in an understood sadness and grief. I grieved, he and I together as one grieved in the most honestly raw, vulnerable and connected grief.

Laying back down upon my bed, exhausted, fragmented, shattered, it is difficult to describe the utterly broken splintering of yourself, the pulling of the physical and emotional crushing of exhaustion, I close my eyes. Bring myself to feel it, I cradle my now soft, empty belly and I weep, no screaming, no anger, just the billowing and flowing of gentle tears for my sadness, for my loss and for the aching distance I now feel between he and I, between Beau, my son. It is incredible the capacity a heart has and can take, to have in it all at once all encompassing love and longing despair. I was no longer in pain but I ached, I ached to have him next to me, to hear the soft, subtle rise and fall of the chest of peacefully sleeping newborn, the little grunting night noises they make, the twitching and the shifting as they dream, the hungry or I just need you rising cry, but there was nothing, just silence and I ached and I wept, alone in the silence, for the newborn noises, for the noises of my baby.

As I woke, for the first time in days, the sun shone brightly through the window. Unbelievably we had storms and rain for days but here today the sun broke through. Excitedly I was met but my beautiful Hurricane, suddenly so much older than I had ever seen him. They say that you never truly see your child for the age they are until you have a younger following them, and I found that to be true. The last time I saw him he was my baby and now before me was this vibrant, full of life toddler. Sadness still etched across my husband’s face I carefully dressed in the clothes I had worn while I still carried our baby boy. Face dropping he almost pitifully gasped, “your tummy – it’s just gone”. The physical changes and reality in many ways solidifying the days just past and again the weight of it grew heavier on both our shoulders. My Hurricane in one hand and my husband by my side, arm protectively wrapped around my waist, we began to make our way home, together as our little family, still fragile, shaken and with a long road ahead but I just wanted to be home, with my boys, together.

We were changed, weaker, weary and in many ways scarred, but in the same breath we were stronger, closer, not just as a couple but as a family. We were together. We had each other. For now, with the journey ahead, all we needed was the love and new found strength between us as we prepared to take, together, each day, just one step at a time…

For our Beau, born sleeping 19/06/2014, our child, our son, our perfect, beautiful baby boy, I love you, the pain I felt in losing you will never compare to love I feel and the love I carry for you. This was your story, it is not finished, every day you write a new chapter with me and not a day goes by that I don’t miss you, think of you, sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a tear. I love you but as I cannot hold your hand as we walk this life together, I will, forever carry your beautiful soul in my heart.

A Father’s Perspective

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Matt Casey, 8 March 2016

Twelve months ago I wrote the words that follow:

‘Tomorrow I say goodbye to my daughter, my little Angel. She was born in the arms of God on the 11th March 2015 at 7:55am. It is a day that I thought would never happen to my family and to be honest it should never happen to anyone.

It has been the hardest and most heart wrenching time in my life. The feeling that we have done something wrong, the feeling that I will never have a child of my own with my genes. I was so looking forward to being a Daddy. I am lucky to be dad to my stepchildren, although they are not just ‘step’children to me, but I also wanted to be ‘Daddy’. I wanted my little girl to run to the window when she heard the garage door open to see if I was home, I wanted her to rush to me as I walked in the door for a cuddle, I wanted her to climb up on the couch and fall asleep in my arms.’

Today, twelve months later, I sit in another hospital room – the same as the one I sat in when we lost our Angel. The difference is, today I sit here holding my beautiful rainbow baby daughter, Summer. I have had tears of joy but I also have had tears of sadness and altogether they make me feel blessed because I now can be a Daddy. I can see her waiting at the window when I arrive home from work. And all the things I wanted before can happen, and more.

Losing a child at birth doesn’t only affect mothers; it also leaves a lasting hole in a father’s heart as well. I had a conversation with another father in the parents lounge in the hospital this morning at about 3am while we were both giving our partners a chance to sleep without a crying baby.

This father asked me if Summer was my first child and at first I said yes, my first other than my stepson Max, but I corrected myself and said “no we actually lost a baby this time last year”.

To my surprise the father I was talking to had also lost a child at birth a few years back and now had been blessed with a rainbow baby. He said that he didn’t talk about the loss of his baby often and it made me realise that I don’t either. But the big question is why? Why as fathers don’t we talk about the loss of our babies, why is it something we keep to ourselves? Is it because we didn’t carry the baby inside us for months? Or is it because we didn’t have to physically birth our little Angel baby? Is it because there’s a perception that it only affects the mother and we don’t want to seem weak? All of that could be true and valid but I know first-hand that it does affect us as fathers, in many ways too, and that there should be nothing wrong in acknowledging that.

The moment I heard the words; “I am sorry there is no heart beat”, my heart sunk and I instantly felt empty. It affected me when I watched my wife go through what she went through to deliver Angel. I hurt that day twelve months ago and I still hurt today. These Angels are still a part of us and we have still lost a child. Fathers need to be supported as much as mothers, and need to know it is ok to talk about their Angel. Fathers could be supporting other fathers to help remove the stigma around Dads and stillbirth.

Make it your resolve to talk about it and not hide the fact you are a father of a stillborn.

My Stillborn Baby Still Counts as My Child

Sebastian-Smart-cropI am a mother to Sienna, Sebastian and Tennyson.

Today marks the second anniversary of the birth of our son Sebastian, who was stillborn at 38 weeks on April 6th, 2014.  Up until the point that we lost him, he was a healthy, lively little baby kicking around inside me.

For a while now, I have repeatedly been asked a very difficult and indeed painful question (often by friends who are only too aware of our tragic loss).

Are you going to have a 3rd child? 

From a stranger this question is more understandable, even if it is a touch intrusive. But from someone who knows me, I am staggered. Do they not count Sebastian as our baby because he died? Even though he was alive in me for 9 months, just like their own babies, who they were fortunate enough to hear cry when they were born?  I gave birth to our son too, naturally and yes, it was cruel, heartbreaking and utterly horrendous but we got to hold him just like they held their babies. The difference was that we had a funeral for ours 10 days later.

When answering this question, I will sometimes immediately correct the person and say, you mean our 4th baby?  And of course I get hit with a scrambled apology and the question is presented again in a different way.

But sometimes if I am caught off guard, I don’t correct the person, and I simply say that we would probably like another baby.  Then the guilt immediately hits me and stays with me all day and sometimes for many days. I feel then as if I allowed the dismissal of Sebastian’s existence.

There are many stages of grief. Two years on, they are all present for me.  There remains in my mind and body the disbelief, anguish, sadness and, especially when this unthinking question arises from friends, the guilt.

Sebastian will always be our son.  He will always be remembered, he will always be loved and he will always be sorely missed. Sebastian did exist and he is a very real presence in our family every single day.

I don’t want to sound bitter. I admit I am sometimes angry. But, I’m also thankful my friends’ babies were born healthy.  I’m thankful too that we got to see Sebastian and spend time with him before saying goodbye. I’m thankful for our firstborn daughter, who gave us strength to carry on.  I’m thankful for my husband who is the most incredible, strong and selfless man and I’m thankful for our second son, Tennyson, who arrived almost exactly a year to the day after we lost Sebastian.

This experience has also taught me to be gentle with my own words when I speak to any woman of a certain age, I do not make assumptions in inquiring about her fertility–now or past. When I see a woman without a child, I think: You don’t know her story.  She may not want a child.  She may have suffered countless losses.  She may be trying desperately for a baby to no avail but by asking the question, it may cut deeper than we know.

I just don’t want people to dismiss our first son.  I implore people not to be careless with their words.  If you must ask if we would like another child, why not ask exactly that:

Are you thinking of having another child? 

Any mother who suffers a stillbirth will have challenges in their everyday life that will make them ache for the child that isn’t with them. From simple things like filling out forms where you have to state how many children you have to seeing children the same age that your child would have been. I just urge you to recognize and respect that any child born to a mother counts. More often than not that baby was loved and longed for from the moment it was created.