Stillbirth Posts

Baby Loss Awareness Week 2016

So I am a day late (blame a sociable weekend) but was really keen to post something for baby loss awareness week this year. Two and a half years ago, I had a pretty horrendous week, the events of which were the initial inspiration for this project. I have learnt and grown so much from others sharing their stories and thought it was about time I shared some of my own.

For me, losing a baby (a term I’m not a big fan of by the way – it sounds like you’re an irresponsible parent who has just misplaced him/her) was a hard lesson in the need to experience and process grief in real time. The extracts below are from a journal entry several months later, by which point I was having panic episodes and really struggling with life because I’d tried to carry on as normal and hadn’t allowed myself to acknowledge that it was hard. Months on, it’s easy to forget and play these things down which is why I’m doing a straight copy-paste job as I recount my thoughts and feelings on, what has become known in our household as, ‘the week of grief’. You’ll see a bit of added explanation in italics, which I hope makes it possible to follow and I’ve summarised the actual process of having a missed miscarriage (as I don’t have my journal entries for that on this computer but feel free to message me privately if this is something you’re going through and more information would be helpful).

I’m sharing this because I want people in the same position to know it’s okay to struggle, to be confused and to grieve even though you never met your child. I know this is different for different people, but for me the whole experience was about the disappointment of never meeting and knowing that particular child rather than a more general desire to have a baby and the sadness of that being (at least temporarily) taken away.

So, here we go…

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‘Just had a total meltdown as Matt [husband] left [just for a couple of hours to go to sports training]. That now all so familiar feeling of panic, fear, loneliness, losing control rising up… I feel like I’m totally losing it. Most of the time I can’t even pinpoint what it is that what has triggered the pain and upset or even what it is that I’m feeling so scared about it. One moment I’m fine and the next, a total wreck. Most of the time, I just feel numb. I just don’t care about anything. Things that would normally make me feel happy, excited, motivated feel fleeting and hollow, unstable, unsure. I get through them rather than relishing them; welcome distractions but I don’t find any real joy in them.

Thought it might be helpful to revisit that week and some of my thoughts and feelings around it. It already seems so distant. I don’t really want to forget. I’ve tried and it doesn’t make it better, so here’s to acknowledging that it sucked. Was going to say one of the worst weeks of my life but on reflection it’s the hands down winner.

Monday 28th April – The funeral of Harry, stillborn at 32 weeks.  Such a painful and emotional occasion. I remember Tony’s [the vicar] wisdom; Chris and Kat’s [Harry’s parents – read their honest, helpful and moving post herestrength but also the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. I couldn’t sing. I remember feeling guilty that I was carrying (what I thought at the time) was a healthy baby when there’s had gone. It was a beautiful day and there was a lightness I didn’t expect at the gathering afterwards.

Tuesday 29th April – We went for our dating scan. As soon as the lady scanning me said that the baby was looking a bit small, I knew it wasn’t good news. We has another technician come in for a second opinion who confirmed that the baby no longer had a heartbeat.

Wednesday 30th April – I opted for an induction rather than D&C (or whatever they call it now, I can’t remember) and went to my parents to await the outcome of that.

Thursday and Friday went by in a blur of drugs and distraction. I was totally unprepared for the physical discomfort of my milk coming in but not having a baby to feed – nobody had warned me that could happen.

Saturday 3rd May – The funeral of my uncle Raymond. Again the service felt totally surreal. I didn’t see Raymond every day so while I’m not at his house or a family party I can just pretend he’s still here. The tributes were witty and interesting but I just didn’t want to be there. Again a beautiful day, fantastic people but this time I felt no hope. I wanted to leave but I didn’t know what I wanted to leave to or for, I just wanted the week to rewind and replay a different story.

Sunday 4th May – In the afternoon, mum called and told us that a friend from church at home and old colleague, had been killed in a car crash the day before, leaving behind her husband and two small children. I couldn’t believe it. Enough. I turned over and went to sleep – a tactic I’ve frequently employed to silence my mind in the last few weeks.

I feel unable to live my normal life and yet the weird thing is pretty much nobody seems to have noticed and why would they, I’m a good bluffer. I know I need to grieve. To acknowledge it hurts and express that and move on, but I don’t know how. Someone needs to write a manual or something. I know God understands but I don’t feel like I have much to say to Him at the moment. I’m not angry or confused or anything just empty… there’s just nothing in the bit where normally my thoughts and feelings would all be swirling around.’

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To everyone I have interviewed, I’ve asked the same questions about anything other people said or did that helped or didn’t, so that we can all learn how to support each other better. So here’s my tuppence worth…

On the less helpful side, I am now an even bigger advocate of never ever asking anyone if they’re pregnant, planning to be, or their plans for having children. A few weeks after our second miscarriage I remember a well-meaning member of the congregation suggesting I was being unwise by ‘waiting’ to have children and I should hurry up and get on with it (I was at the grand old age of 26 don’t you know). Ouch! As someone who works with children, I cannot tell you how many hundreds of times I’ve had a variation on this question and I hear it all the time with the people around me. Just for a moment, let’s think through the options people. I’m not sure anyone, anywhere had ever got this response…

If someone is pregnant and at a stage where they are happy to tell people, they will probably tell you. If they don’t want kids; aren’t in a relationship; are struggling with infertility; are trying to conceive; are newly pregnant and nervous about it; have ever miscarried;  or (insert a million other common scenarios in here) then that question can be incredibly damaging. Given that you don’t know, seems like a pretty big gamble to go in for the question to me!

Some of the best advice I received was to ask God the names of our babies (I had also had a much earlier miscarriage). Although at the time I thought this was an odd suggestion, for me it has been an incredibly healing way to know they are not forgotten, and that one day I will get to meet them and to remember and cherish them but without remaining in a place of grief and sadness. I like knowing if they were boys and girls and to have a way of referring to them that isn’t any of the terms we commonly use, all of which to me feel detached and heartless.

I also had an amazing mentor who kept reminding me that grief was a normal, healthy process; that I wouldn’t always feel like this; and that I wasn’t going crazy. Listening and praying for me was absolutely the best gift that I received in that period. That said, another thoughtful friend gave me some really nice Hotel Chocolat chocolates and just said ‘I’ve no idea what you’re going through but thought you might need this’ and another sent me via post some amazing flowers – those things meant a lot too. Anything that acknowledges what’s happened is a big deal, not something minor to be brushed under the carpet, was really significant for my emotional processing and health.

I am a massive fan of the power of music and forcing yourself to be in a place of worship even when you know you’re not going to be able to get a single word out. I think it’s the adult equivalent of sitting on you parent’s knee when you’ve hurt yourself. Just knowing God is there and cares about your pain means that you don’t have to say anything which is an amazing relief and comfort. My absolute favourite song from that period is Beautiful Things by Gungor, so I’ll sign off with that.

As always, if you’ve got a story you’d like to share to help others, I’d love to hear it.

Harry

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.

 

 

 

 

Anencephaly

Two incredibly brave families share their experiences of carrying babies with anencephaly – a condition incompatible with life.

Susanna shares about her daughter Anastasia Joy and Jess blogs throughout her pregnancy here.