I apologise in advance, I know there’s a big election on today, and I feel I should be posting something about that, but life is handing me different things to deal with right now. This is a post about baby loss, grief and the complexities of dealing with life changing trauma. If that’s not your thing, feel free to wait until the next blog comes along, I’ll be doing an end of year round up soon, which might also not be your thing but you can’t please all the people…etc.
Today, this is the blog that needs to be written. I need to write this out of me today. Experience, and wordpress stats, tells me that years after I’ve posted something about my experience of baby loss, people who are in the eye of the storm of their own losses are finding my blog posts and, I hope, finding some connection there. If you are reading this and you are in the eye of the storm that is baby loss, or you are years down the line and have fallen into one of the worm holes that grief creates in your life, I want to say this: it won’t always be like this. You will reach a point in your life where you will surprise yourself with your own bravery, you’ll know that something painful needs to be done, and you will do it despite of, or maybe even because of, the pain and the grief, because the weight of grief is equal to the weight of love. Be proud of that, be proud of yourself.
Yesterday I took Matilda’s Moses basket to Leeds General Infirmary, where I donated it to the bereavement suite there. The basket had been on top of my wardrobe, carefully wrapped up in plastic, where I had seen it every single morning when I woke up and every single evening when I went to bed and every time I went into the bedroom for the last nine years and eight months. Of all the baby things that we had bought in preparation for Matilda’s birth, this was the most important. It had taken on a significance all of its own. I have photos, which I won’t share here, of me; selfies of me pregnant with Matilda, days before she died, with the Moses basket set up in the background with her toys in it. It stayed ready for her arrival for a good few weeks after her death. I think it stayed set up until after her funeral, when all the lilies and flowers and cards had been put away and I realised it was starting to get dusty from lack of use. I remember how painful the day of packing it away was. All of these steps have been painful. It stayed waiting on the wardrobe top through all the years of IVF and the failed IVF and the long drawn out investigation into her death and the promise of two more pregnancies and the hopelessness of two miscarriages and it had become background, a part of my life that was unchanging.
This year has been very much about moving forward. I have reduced the baby stuff to the minimum now, we have only one more batch of stuff to go and Chris is wanting to be involved in that, we think we might donate it to a women’s refuge, or a baby bank. Yesterday was the big one though, the one I’d fretted about. I’d tried to do this last year but it became unbearably painful, so painful that it reduced me to not being able to function, so I’d backed out. I revisited it, amazingly, a year to the day – there must be something about this time of year and the premise of a fresh start that galvanises me into making these changes – and I arranged for yesterday to be the day that I would take this most precious of objects from the place where it had been all that time, take it out of the house for the first time since it came into the house and drive back to the place where we had been blessed to conceive with our very first ICSI, our only NHS funded attempt, and also the place where my daughter died.
I was frightened of how it would feel to do this, but after talking it over with friends, it became just completely clear that it wouldn’t matter what I did, there was just no escaping the utter pain of letting go again, and that’s what it feels like, it feels like letting go of her, every single time. I have so little of her life. There will be nothing else of her ever again, so it feels all wrong to peel these bits of her, of that time in our lives, of the hope of it all, away and send it off somewhere where I’ll never know it or use to or feel it again. It’s hard, but like I say, there’s no escaping that pain. I decided I would just have to grit my teeth and do it. I’d planned a way of finding the basket a new home that felt right – I know the basket will be used by families who are grieving their babies right there in that room where we grieved Matilda- and I hope they are told something of her, of us, so that they know we are here, reaching out to people we’ll never know, but with whom we have a very special connection.
The day was fine, sunny, sometimes cloudy, occasional rainy. I decided to break the whole day up into tiny steps, getting through each one in a way I could handle, hopefully without a full blown pain attack or a melt down.
Step One: Get Out of Bed
I was tempted to just take to my bed and avoid the situation. But I’d put ‘get out of bed’ on my To Do list, and so it was done. As it happened I was up early, I didn’t really sleep the night before. There was this awful similarity to the day of her funeral in which I knew too that I was saying goodbye and there was a terrible, grinding finality to that, but that also, it needed to be done. There’s something about the Moses basket, a sort of determined personness about it. It is specifically made for a little baby and is shaped in a way that it simply couldn’t be for anything else. I kept thinking of her coffin, the small person shaped coffin that was baby sized, and I kept thinking of that day and how I’d just had to get on with that too: I was carrying her coffin to her grave and that was that – no escape, just acceptance. This image stayed with me all day.
Step Two: Take the Moses Basket Down
I drove chris to work and treated myself to a packet of ’emergency cigarettes’ despite having a touch of bronchitis which I’d been fighting off for days. I am my own worst enemy. At some point I was ready and all that needed to be done was to take the Moses basket down and unwrap it. I think I stood there looking at the cocoon of it for about fifteen minutes wondering if I could back out and hoping that I might fall down the stairs and break an arm or something so that I wouldn’t have to go through with it. I’ve been doing this new thing lately in which I make a decision about the day, at the beginning of the day, that will make me proud at the end of the day. It’s a new way of thinking about stuff and often involves not having a drink or a smoke, or adding an extra gym class in or making a healthy choice in one way or another and I kept reminding myself that this was the thing that I was doing today that I would feel proud about later. I hooked my fingers under the basket and pulled it down onto the bed, careful not to dislodge the inch of dust on the top of the plastic. And then I unwrapped it and, oh my god, there it was.Of course it was exactly how I had left it, of course it was the same thing, a little pocket of time which I would never have again. It smelled slightly of washing powder and newness and it was as lovely as I remembered it. I congratulated myself on my new mum taste, the basket was simple and elegant and really pretty. I’d forgotten it had a hood with it, so that came as a pleasant surprise. I thought about setting it up on its stand one more time to see what it looked like, and then decided against it. It felt too tiring to think like that, and I knew what it looked like, I have photos, the photo of me in front of it with the lovely, neat bump in my favourite maternity trackies and pretty top.
Step Three: Load up the car
This was one of the parts that I was most worried about, strangely. I didn’t want anyone to see me carrying the basket out to the car and to ask about a possible baby. Most people in the village know what happened to us, some don’t though and ten years, or nearly ten years is a long time. I laid a blanket down on the back seat and then I literally held my breath while I went in for the basket and brought it out. It was so strange to see it there in the car. I kept thinking of her coffin in the back of the limousine on the way to the funeral, how strange that she was there between us, that we were holding hands over her, how final it all felt. But I didn’t feel upset by it, just curious. In fact I struggled to feel anything about it for most of the day. It’s catching up with me a bit more now, mind, I’m crying as I write all this. I grabbed the stand, put that in beside it, grabbed the details of the ward, the phone number, my cigs, my bag and there was nothing else to do but set off.
Step Four: Drive to the Hospital
The hospital is about an hour and a half away. I felt like I knew the way, but I had my sat nav on and let it break the whole trip into tiny manageable pieces for me. It was a nice drive. I actually really like driving; I like the physicality of it, the routine of foot to pedal and hand on gearstick, I like the bubble of safety that a car affords. But every now and then, I’d realise that I had the Moses basket in the back of the car and a little shiver of anxiety would go through me knowing I was getting closer to the hard bit. All along the drive I felt like I was flitting though different points in my life, I felt like vapour seeping into my own memories and I was able to be many versions of me in all the different places, but also the me that was doing this thing and tidying up the the loose ends of it all. That will sound a bit crazy I imagine, but I can’t help that. When I drove past the place where, on the day of one egg collection, we hit a diversion and had to tell a police man how urgently we needed to get to the hospital (there’s a window of time which is very precise between having the trigger shot and having the eggs collected) and that feeling of excitement returned to me. I could almost see us both in our car, turning off to the diversion and speeding along, me getting more and more anxious, Chris reassuring me. When I passed the other hospital with its lovely old clock tower, and the cemetery opposite, I could so clearly remember walking around the graves finding interesting in names and engravings while we waited for bloods to be analysed, waited for news. So much waiting. And the route itself, that bright beautiful blue-sky day all those years ago, me pregnant and uncomfortable, white faced, driving to the appointment early in the morning, not realising that this was the last time, but also knowing that things were going horribly wrong. Another day in which I knew I would just have to get on with it, deal with it, face the pain head on. I couldn’t know, of course, how it would repeatedly undo me over the years.
I found the hospital, but managed to park in the wrong bit, so my little step by step approach fell to pieces at that point. I had to ring the ward before I was ready, to get directions to the place that I was supposed to be. But I did it, and my natural coping mechanism of being very bright and chirpy kicked in so that I could do the phone bit without panicking. I have a terrible phone phobia, and it gets worse with anxiety, it was one of my biggest worries because I knew I had to use the phone, so I thought I might be a bit f****d over by the phone calls, but actually it was fine, I surprised myself.
Step Five: Arrive at the Hospital, Park Up, Phone for the Midwife
When I turned up the tiny weird back road that is the entrance to the Clarendon Wing, it all came back in a huge wave of emotion. But again, not all of it bad. I remembered, of course, the car park, arriving, running though the hospital led by the consultant, running to have the c-section. And god, the horrible vulnerability of stepping outside again, three days later, with my c-section wound, wearing my maternity clothes because I hadn’t thought to bring anything but those clothes, stuffed full of painkillers and emptied out of my daughter, the way I’d kissed her and hooked her cold finger and signed the form to send her for a post mortem and worrying. And then getting back into the cold car, which was the car of pregnancy and family and expectation and it was the first of the shock waves of walking back into a life in which someone had been suddenly removed. But also the memory of the step where we had excitedly found the ‘lucky penny’ on the ground, it was the first day of our IVF all those years ago, it was the same place, and the hope in me and the joy of it all, that it was our turn. It’s a tiny, tiny car park. It has a tiny roundabout which I went round and round and round panicking slightly as there were no parking spaces. In the end I took the decision to park in a disabled spot, to my shame. I would move if it was needed, and since I was going to be minutes rather than any prolonged time, I thought it would be ok. I phoned the ward, asked for the midwife and she was on her way. It was time. I still hadn’t cried, still didn’t really feel much except this constant feeling of having her coffin in the car and this distanced observation of it all.
Step Six: The Handover
I got the basket and the stand out by the side of the car so that I would be easily recognisable. I knew that it was one of the midwives who had looked after us on the bereavement suite, but I was worried I’d not recognise her. I stood there in the car park and suddenly felt quite vulnerable. A couple of tears shed themselves, as I stood there looking out of place and then there she was and I did recognise her, she was someone who had been so gentle with us at a time in my life when my world had come so completely to pieces. She had brought a wheelchair to carry the basket back to the ward. She greeted me like a friend and told me how kind we were to do this, what a difference it would make. She told me about the bereavement suite and how it had been decorated recently by Ikea, for free, how the Moses basket would look beautiful with the new colour scheme. I lifted it up and placed it on the chair, placed the stand on top and suddenly it was not mine anymore. I was outside of that time and I was now looking at it as belonging somewhere else. It was an entirely new perspective, and I began to cry. The midwife hugged me. She was also crying. She asked me if I wanted to come in, she was concerned that I was driving while upset, but I was sure I’d be ok. Then we said our goodbyes. I asked for photos of the basket in situ and I hope that she’ll send some. I didn’t watch her go back with it, I couldn’t watch it. I got back in the car, set the sat nav and set off home feeling the space where Matilda had ben getting smaller and smaller. I imagined the basket being taken up to the ward, the conversations they might have about it, about us, the conversations that would be had on the suite, the first people that might use it, and how it felt right to do this, to be a part of a continued kindness that would go on and on for years.
Stage Seven: Home
The drive back was fine, I found my way, I cried a little driving home and then I was back. I had a tidy as a friend was coming round, and then I let my husband know I was back, checked on how he was. When my friend came round I couldn’t quite articulate what it had been like, I still felt quite distanced by it and just very tired. But it was good to connect with someone who cared and to have a normal chat about stuff. Then later Chris and I went for a couple of pints at our local and shared some wine and I slept, last night, better than I have for a while. I had a dream in which I was laid against the huge beating heart of a blue whale, and that image has found its way into a poem.
To conclude, finally
I did it. I feel proud of myself. Until today, writing this, I hadn’t really cried about it, but I am crying now. In half an hour my husband will be home, we’ll wander down to the polling station I will exorcise my democratic privilege, I’ll vote for kindness and a better society, then we’ll go over the road for a pint. These things are important.
This morning I woke up and looked up to the place where the basket had been just yesterday, and it was empty and it surprised me that it seemed so absent, but at the same time I don’t feel its absence. It’s still inside me somewhere, the experience, and I guess that’s all there is to it.
Thank you for reading this.