I have two children: one living, the other an angel baby. My living child, Siena Jane, is three. She is my firstborn. She is my love, and all my hopes and dreams for both of my children now rest on her. She is what I call my calm before the storm.
‘The storm’ is Hunter, my second child, my angel baby. He would be almost two now. He was the storm, right from the word go. The pregnancy was a surprise, that’s for sure, but we welcomed the idea of a baby, regardless of whether he was planned or not.
The whole pregnancy was painful – Hunter’s movements were so rough that I would sit in pain, conscious of my own movements so as not to make him to move around more.
Then, the biggest storm of all: I lost him. His precious little heart stopped beating, no movement. I felt the life drain out of me. Inside me was an emptiness that I would never be able to fill. The light dimmed and left a raging hole, a place so dark that it scares me just to think about it. The storm had begun.
On 5 August 2013, I awoke to a normal day, just like any other. It was a Monday. I had Siena, my then 1.5-year-old, at home; my husband Matt was still in bed, as we were heading off to the doctor to get some checks done on my pregnancy. I was 34 weeks and was getting excited to meet our little boy, already named Hunter.
After some time, I realised that I hadn’t felt any movements from Hunter. I decided to drag myself up off the lounge and make an ice-cold cup of water (they say cold will get the baby moving every time). After minutes of drinking my water, there was nothing. Still.
Panic was setting in, but I was trying to rationalise why he wouldn’t be kicking yet. I decided I’d try a cup of coffee instead. Still nothing.
I sat down and began to let the reality sink in. Shortly after, Matt came downstairs to see me in a bit of a panicked state. He tried extremely hard to keep calm, but also hurried me up so that we could get to the doctors and get it checked out properly.
By the time we arrived at the doctor I was frantic. I explained that Hunter wasn’t making movements this morning, and that I was terribly worried. The doctor tried to stay as calm as possible, but the anxiety in the room built. He moved the Doppler over my big belly and struggled to hear anything. Then maybe there was something. Maybe, a slight chance there was a heartbeat – but he explained that he couldn’t be sure it wasn’t my own heartbeat.
He said we needed to go to hospital, to hurry in and they will be waiting. The car trip there was frightening and quiet. Matt and I were frozen. The only thing he remembers is the song that was playing on the radio: My Resolution.
My memory of that morning from there is a blur. All the minutes and hours after seem like a chain of events that I can’t bring myself to remember quite right. So here are the pieces that I remember.
We arrived at the hospital and I was led into a stale room where I’m hooked up to machines. The next thing I recall is the doctor explaining to me that there is no heartbeat. Hunter had passed away through some time in the night, encompassed in my warm body, listening to my heart beat. I didn’t even know.
We had no way of knowing what to expect, the midwives and doctors explained to us what was to happen moving forward, and it seemed so cold. I asked if they could give me a caesarean and get him out, see if there was any hope. They said it wasn’t ideal; that for me to heal, to grieve properly, that a natural delivery was the best option. This was what I would have done if he were still alive, so we decided to do the same what we would have done if he were to be born alive.
We were told to go home, to try and rest. To grieve in privacy. The next day would be the day we would meet our angel baby: Tuesday 6 August would be Hunter’s birthday. Not the day he went to be with the angels, as he was already there.
We barely slept, and I wondered for hours, ‘how did this happen, why my boy? How did we get here?’
Arriving at the hospital was morbid. There’s no other word for it. Matt and I had no idea what to expect. I felt so awful, and unforgivingly guilty; a mother’s grief and guilt, all wrapped into a horrid bundle of messiness.
We walked through the halls into a very quiet delivery suite. I had no idea of what was to come, how being induced worked. I can tell you that the beginning of this whole delivery wasn’t great.
However, a few hours in, we were blessed by a staff change over, and the most amazing midwives that I could ever meet. One who was younger than I, but somehow so much older, the other so encouraging and willing to help and be with us emotionally as much as she could. These women deliver babies every day, and have the joy of listening to those little babies crying and gasping for their first breath. This day it would be silent.
Hours later, we greeted our little angel baby. He was perfect. He was still, but he was perfect, so I got to see my angel baby’s face, touch his lips, feel his body on mine, and hold his little fingers in my hand.
Matt chose to play My Resolution at Hunter’s funeral; I chose to play Time After Time. Both songs belong to my angel baby now.
I live with this every day. My heartbreak is not as raw today as it was yesterday, and yesterday it was not as raw as the day before that. Still, every day, my heart has a hole where my baby angel’s memories are. I cry a lot. I visit the cemetery often. I talk to Siena about her baby brother. We celebrate his short-lived life in my womb.
Most days I’m good. Some days I am not. Sometimes people forget that I have a son. Sometimes they remember. The days when a stranger asks whether I’ll have more children break me down. I want to say I have one more, I want to tell them my story. But if I do, will they be apologetic, sympathetic or feel guilty for asking. All responses that I know make me cringe as much as they do for asking.
It is now more than two years on. I will continue to raise awareness of stillbirths, and help The Stillbirth Foundation to create interest and generate much needed funding so that research can be conducted into why stillbirths occur. I will fight for us and all the other families who have lost a baby or who will lose a baby unjustly. I will fight to find solutions to this problem, so other families don’t have to suffer this pain and heartbreak. I will be strong. I will do this in my son’s name, because I never want anyone to hurt as much as we have.
Mother to Hunter James Cullen.