Trying to document the day your life changed forever is not easy. You see, those six words above will forever be imprinted on my brain and heart. Memories become fuzzy over time, but those six words, will always be clear, crystal clear.
On 27th May 2018 I suffered an acute placental abruption. I was 38 weeks & 5 days pregnant. I didn’t know what a placental abruption was until I had one. The placenta is the baby’s lifeline, my baby’s lifeline. I woke up on Sunday morning and gave him a little morning nudge. his return kicks translated to me as, ‘Hello Mama’, it was our routine. I didn’t know then, it would be the last time I would feel him kick.
My tummy started to contract shortly after I woke, the contractions intensified rapidly. I spoke with the labour ward who advised me to come in. I was booked to be induced the following day but I thought to myself great, he’s coming on his own terms. Within a few minutes of making the call to the hospital, I was doubled over in pain and could barely stand. I felt dizzy and knew something wasn’t right, and that’s when I felt a gush, of what I naively thought was water. It wasn’t water, it was blood.
The 15 minute drive to the hospital seemed like hours. I was rushed through the maternity ward and within minutes the room was filled with medical staff. My instincts told me something was wrong. I know labour hurts but this was a different kind of pain. The number of people in the room indicated something was wrong. The midwife scanning me wouldn’t make eye contact with me or my partner, her eyes were glued to the scan machine. I shouted “what’s going on, is he ok ?” She turned and said those six words – “I’m so sorry, there’s no heartbeat”.
Much of what happened immediately after is a blur. My partner and Mum have filled in most of the blanks. The brain has a clever way of blocking things out that are traumatic.
I experienced my very first silent scream, one that only a bereaved mother would understand. It comes from the pit of your stomach, from your inner soul, every inch of your body is contorted with pain, yet no sound. In that moment, the physical pain I was experiencing from bleeding internally and contracting, became insignificant.
My brain had started to compartmentalise the situation. Emil came 1st & pain came 2nd.
While I was stuck in this loop of hysteria, the medical staff had gone into overdrive.
One particular Doctor attempted to get my attention, “my name is Chi. We need to stop the bleeding, I’m going to try and break your waters, sorry it will be painful”. I let them take over my body, it took more than one attempt as I could not keep still. Once they had broken my waters the next task was, to stop me from bleeding, this proved to be difficult and my liver & kidneys started to shut down. Just as I was approaching blood transfusion stage, they managed to stop me from bleeding out. A hazy memory that floats back and forth is one of Chi, she’s standing over me rigorously massaging my tummy. It was like an out of body experience, I was watching them save me but it wasn’t me. There were many times following that day, that I wished they hadn’t of saved me. I wished I had gone with Emil, or better still, I had gone instead of him.
Emil was delivered at 16:50 27th May, he was perfect. He had a full head of black hair. He lay on my chest in silence and I begged for him to cry. “Cry baby, cry Emil. Open your eyes bubba, please”. Part of me believed that they had got it wrong, they must have, he was kicking that very morning. Part of me hoped there would be a miracle and he would cry when he came out, a Hollywood movie with a twist at the end. There was no twist.
I delivered Emil with my partner, Mum & Sister present. I’m grateful they were all there. I was of no assistance to either of them, even though they had just lost a son, grandson & nephew. The grief in the room was overwhelming, the midwives mourned with us. I remember one midwife apologising when she finished her shift, she apologised for crying. I still find it odd that she apologised, as I cannot think of a more appropriate emotion for that moment in time.
When he arrived I held my boy, I stroked his face, I kissed him, I played with his fingers and his toes, I admired his hair, I smelt him and even lifted his eyelids to reveal blue eyes. Every so often I smell him, likes he’s here, in my arms. I will never forget his baby smell.
The aftermath of delivering a stillborn baby is brutal and that’s a massive understatement. You have all this love to give to a child that has died. Eight months of bonding, feeling kicks, feeling movement and daily chats with the bump. Eight months of anticipation, excitement & apprehension, ended so abruptly. We kept Emil with us in the bereavement suite for 3 days. We held him, talked to him, dressed him & took photos of/with him and then we had to say goodbye. I had to say goodbye, knowing I would never hold or kiss him again, ever. My partner, accompanied by two midwives, carried our son down to the morgue. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been for him.
We went in as a family of three and should have left as a family of four.
How do you tell your family & friends, that have also anticipated the arrival of your son, that he died? Do you send a message? Do you call? Do you just wait it out till you get the message ‘is he here yet?’ How do you go home and look at the Snuzpod that he was going to sleep in? How do you go home and look at the pushchair with the bespoke cover? How do you look at your two year old son and not see the son you’ve just lost? How do you look at your partner, and not feel a sense of guilt that you were unable to give him his son? How do you live? How do you go on? How do you muster a smile in such a horrific time? How do you deal with pregnancy announcements? How do you deal with friends having babies after you’ve lost yours? How? Tell me how?
There is no manual on life after baby loss. Society doesn’t like to talk about it, because if we don’t talk about it, then it doesn’t exist, right? I’m horrified to learn that the UK is ranked 3rd for the highest rate of stillborns in Europe. Croatia, Poland & Czech Republic have better rates than the UK. 3,000 babies are stillborn in the UK every year.
That number is the lowest it’s been in 20 years…let that sink in. So with an alarmingly high rate, why aren’t we hearing about it? Why is it treated like a dirty little secret? Not talking about it isolates the families that have to live through this nightmare. No one but a bereaved parent understands this type of grief, it’s unique. It’s a ‘club’ no one wants to be part of, yet when you meet others, you’re immediately grateful for their existence. You cling to them because you can be openly broken and damaged without any apology.
As a bereaved parent you learn to manage everyone else’s discomfort. Yes, even in the depths of grief you are still having to tip toe around others for fear of upset. How can that be? Generally speaking, the loss of a family pet or a family member to cancer (excl a child) is considered easier to talk about than the loss of a child. If we keep child loss in the dark it will never receive the attention it deserves.
After we lost Emil, we met with a consultant for a debrief, we were promised amazing care, should we wish to have another baby. The care promised was on par with private care. I questioned, if it took the loss of a child, to ensure I received the correct level of care required? We were told ‘it would be unfathomable for us to lose two children to stillbirth’. I argue, it’s unfathomable to lose one.
The loss of a child will change your relationship with everyone in your life. You love your existing children a little bit more, even when you thought it wasn’t possible to love them anymore than you already did. It will alter your relationship with your partner. You may love them in one breath and hate them in the next. It strain your relationship with your family, because after all, they’re grieving too while trying to support you. You gain new friends, lose old friends and reinforce relationships with real friends. Some people will make time for you and your baggage and others will avoid you. You will have genuine offers from people wanting to spend time with you, however difficult it is for them. You will have empty gestures that amount to nothing, but an eased conscience for the other party. You learn who to say ‘I’m not bad’ to and who to say ‘I’m struggling’ to.
You learn to navigate it all.
My ‘new normal’ is never knowing what the day is going to hold. Will I be up today or will I be down? Grief is crippling and some days I just don’t function normally, I run on autopilot. Have you ever driven somewhere and got to the final destination, not remembering if there were any traffic lights? Sometimes that’s my day. I remember waking up and getting my son ready for nursery and then at the end putting him to bed, but I don’t remember the stuff in-between.
Wherever you are Emil, I want you to know Mama is missing you and I’m heartbroken that I wasn’t able to bring you into this world safely. I’m heartbroken that you will never run around with your big brother and play with Papa.
I want you to know that I think about you every day my beautiful boy and I always will.
The world needs to talk about child loss. If you would like to share your story, contact us or use #WokeMamas on social media.
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