In April 2014, our first child Harry Joshua was stillborn when I was 32 weeks pregnant. My husband and I found out at a scan to check whether my placenta had moved up – it was a shock, although looking back and having now had a ‘normal’ pregnancy I can now appreciate that things weren’t quite right before.
Apart from the obvious emotional distress, the practical steps we had to take were also very difficult – I was given some drugs to induce labour and then sent home for a couple of days whilst we waited for it all to start working. I then had to deliver Harry, fortunately I could do that naturally and the hospital and midwives were amazing – we were kept apart from the rest of the deliveries and given dedicated support.
Some of our friends brought round some clothes for us to take into hospital for Harry and we had a blanket we had bought before which he could be wrapped up in.
We were given the opportunity to hold Harry, and the midwives did a footprint and handprint for us – both really helped us to process what had happened and also to remember Harry.
Looking back at some notes we wrote closely after, God was with us through it all. One of the comments was ‘feeling peaceful, not angry or bitter’. We were very sad of course, I remember coming home from hospital without a baby being a particularly tough moment, but God was close through it all, supporting us. We’ve also found that knowing that Harry is with God had always been a massive comfort. He had long fingers and both of us are tall, so we joke that he’s in heaven’s basketball team!
The rest of 2014 was tough. Some of the times it would hit us in expected moments – the first holiday we’d imagined we’d take together, Christmas, going back to work. Sometimes it was completed unexpected. However, in the summer, when praying looking out over the sea in Wales, I felt God tell me that we would have a healthy baby – a girl, and that we should call her Grace.
A frustrating six months of trying for a baby followed, including a very early miscarriage in September. I started to doubt the promise I felt God had made to me, and wonder whether we would be able to have a baby, or how long we should try before looking into adoption. I realise that six months is not very long for many people, but after preparing to have a baby by May, every month felt like time slipping away. My sister had a baby boy just after Christmas, which although wonderful news was particularly poignant and tough for us.
However, I’m over the moon to say that our story has a happy ending, we found out in January 2015 that I was pregnant, and we now have a lovely baby girl called Grace. A reminder that God’s promises are to be relied on – even if his timing is not always what we would like!
I’m aware that there are many people out there who don’t have a happy ending at the moment, and my heart breaks for you. All I can say is that God is with you always – even though it doesn’t always feel that way. We found that when we were struggling to handle it all, we would realise that we had stopped daily (or even hourly at times!) giving the situation to God, and the days when I lay my burdens on God in the morning were always the lightest, easiest days.
Why does God let these things happen? Why did he answer small ridiculous prayers for me to get seats on packed trains when I had morning sickness, but not the big prayer for our baby boy to be born healthy? I don’t think I have all the answers, and I suspect it’s not a simple one. I found Pete Greig’s book ‘God on Mute’ particularly helpful as a down-to-earth exploration of this “Why?” question. In the end I have found most peace in accepting that there are some things we can’t understand, but what I do know is that God loves us, and is with us always – and that everything will come good in the end when we look at life with an eternal perspective. Romans 8 v28 and 38-39 sum it up well.
I also know that I am a kinder, more compassionate person. That I have a new found appreciation of God’s love for me and that I have proven my faith to be strong. That God has spoken to me more clearly than at any other point in my life. That I have a stronger marriage and am a better friend to those going through tough times. Did God make it happen – my answer is no. Did God help good to come out of it – definitely.
A few things that might help others going through similar situations:
- If you have time, it was helpful to have some clothes and a blanket for Harry, and we also cremated him with soft toy we had been given for him. It somehow helped to do something caring.
- Although a bit scary, it was helpful to hold Harry, although we didn’t hold him for very long – I believe some parents spent lots of time, but I think you just have to do whatever feels right.
- It’s not your fault! So many ‘what ifs’ would go through my mind – make sure you tell someone if you’re feeling like that, my husband would regularly remind me that I was being silly, and that there wasn’t anything we could have done. Sadly, sometimes these things do just happen.
- It’s okay to be crying your eyes out one moment and laughing the next. Don’t feel guilty about being able to enjoy some times – we found playing silly games and laughing with good friends very good therapy. It is impossible to be feel super sad 100% of the time!
- Pray every day for God to be with you and help you – I was amazed by how peaceful I felt, and I definitely needed the strength when going back to work etc
- Talk about how you feel – my husband and I would often find that we were feeling exactly the same way and it really helped to talk it through together, have a cry and then we both felt much better afterwards.
- Facebook is full of people announcing their pregnancy, new baby etc! I found that a social media holiday was helpful for a little bit.
We were very lucky to be surrounded by an amazing bunch of friends and family. Here are some things that I’ve learnt it’s not very helpful to say to people going through similar situations. Although the worst thing would be saying nothing at all or ignoring the situation – so don’t stress about it too much. I also had probably done all of these things before Harry so don’t beat yourself up about it too much!
- Asking people if they are going to have children – this is such a personal question and unless you are super super close you probably have no idea what they are going through. I was amazed by the number of people who had been through miscarriages or fertility challenges when I had no idea.
- Same applies above if they already have one or more children!
- The super sympathetic face just makes people feel worse!
- Commenting on the size of people’s bumps – given that Harry was not growing properly, to be told that I had a ‘neat’ bump constantly when pregnant with Grace was really unhelpful and made me worry. Other pregnant people have expressed the same to me so don’t think it was just my situation.
- Be led by the people in whether they want to talk about it in detail – sometimes it’s nice to talk about it, and sometimes it’s nice to think about something different. A “how are you” normally gives the opening in for people – or just ask if they want to talk about it!
I hope that my story is helpful for you, although I know that every situation and person is different. Thank you for reading it.