Today marks the end of Baby Loss Awareness Week which culminates with a wave of light event when candles all around the world will be lit to remember the millions of babies who have died before, during or just after birth. If you follow this blog you’ll know that my husband and I are part of the club you never want to be in, the club of the bereaved parent.
I talk a lot about raising awareness, making sure people talk about death, making sure people know that grieving is important, that no one should ever feel shame over the death of their baby, that things need to change so that stillbirth and miscarriage and even infertility are seen as part of a spectrum of motherhood, so that we can help to prevent the isolation which happens when you fall out of that hallowed space and become a statistic.
I just want to tell you about my daughter today. She was her own person, a part of me, she looked like me and she looked like Chris and she was perfect in every way. She fell between a crack in which she wasn’t quite a neonatal death and wasn’t what you would think of as a stillbirth. She was alive when I was rushed into theatre and anaesthetised, and she had died by the time I came around. When I looked at the hospital notes when we were having her death investigated, half of the resuscitation team had thought she’d made an effort to breathe; had gasped, and the other half weren’t sure, so she was documented as a stillbirth. I had made the decision moments before, that they should try and revive her even if she showed no signs of life and I am now split in two: glad that I gave her every possible chance to have the life that would have been so rich in love, and half worrying that I allowed her last few moments on earth to be away from me, the only place she had ever known, and possibly frightened and in pain. I will be told hundreds of times that that wouldn’t have been the case, but hundreds of times my body and my heart will reply that we don’t know. I carry that around and will do forever. That’s the reality of it, a lot of what we do as bereaved parents revolves around guilt that we should have done something else.
She had very curly auburn hair. She had my husband’s forehead, my chin, my feet and fingers. But she was her own person, and would have been an actual, walking about person with opinions and interests and hobbies and quirks. She wouldn’t have been perfect, but she was perfect to us. There is still not one day goes by when I don’t miss her and think of her.
I’m still struggling to give the Moses basket away. The Rosemary bereavement suite at Leeds have very kindly offered to pick it up, but every time I go to answer the email and arrange a date, I come apart because it is like giving her away, it’s like she didn’t exist and now we’re covering up the space that she was and it feels all kinds of level of disloyal, of cruel, and my heart breaks again. Someone suggested putting it in the loft so that I didn’t have to face this bit, but the thought of putting it in the cold and the dark feels even worse; like putting away an old unwanted gift that you don’t want but because it was a gift you don’t want to throw it away. No, I can’t do that. It’s cold up there, and it’s cold in the ground where she is and I still, eight years later, feel a mum’s panic that I can’t reach her and care for her when she’s all those feet down under all that black, loamy soil. This is the reality of it.
I have beautiful memories of her. We went to Ikea to buy things for her room and she kicked me in the cervix all the way there until I felt sick but it sort of tickled too.
The first time I felt her kick, I was writing about what it would feel like to feel her kick, it felt like an in joke.
I had cravings for vinegar and jalepenos and ate them out of the jar. She kicked me when I did.
Her skin was so soft I almost couldn’t feel it.
She was the palest baby I ever saw, like porcelain and I couldn’t imagine that something so beautifully white and perfect could have come from me.
She would have been loved. She was loved. That is all.
Here is the divide: here
the pregnant wife, here
the grieving mother.
And in between,
a father, a husband, a man in a vacuum
as the surgeons run past.
After the sudden hydraulic drop
when the time of death is called
the woman will emerge,
a sleeping Cleopatra on a white barge.
That little thing they lost between pregnancy and birth
is a sink hole beneath them,
sudden and inexplicable.
And don’t they look uncomfortable
for the photos? Their unnatural smiles, their heads
flicking back and forth, knowing that these
are the only images they’ll have.
Like shuffling cards, those emotions.
Then here, at three a.m., where halogen
anoints her husband on that camp bed,
she lies on her side staring at her daughter
and wonders how she can feel so lost,
but yet so found.