From being a very young child, the question “why?” has never been far from my lips. As a small child being told not to do something by my parents, I would want to know, why not? Growing up in school, I would be the first to raise my hand in class, bursting with questions for my class teacher, wanting to know whether there was evidence to back up the claims she made right there in front of us on the black board. As an adult, it was the reason for my refusal to conform to religion, always questioning, always wanting proof, always needing concrete evidence before I can accept what is believed to be true.
And so when we lost each of our babies to miscarriage, and when my beautiful boy Joseph died, it was inevitable that my very first question was, why?
At the time there were possibilities flung about so flippantly – comments made about his appearance, debates over whether his eyes were set just slightly too far apart, about whether the creases in his hands were as normal as they would expect. There were discussions whether he had contracted an infection, about his growth, the placenta, whether it was something I had unwittingly passed on to my precious boy as he grew inside of me.
I can still remember sitting there on that hospital bed holding him in my arms, staring into his beautiful face as a whole team of voices faded into the distance, telling myself, in a way that only a Mother without her baby would understand, that should there be no reason, then it must have been my fault. And that though was the scariest of all.
As we returned to the hospital for our follow up appointment, with empty arms and a sense of dread, my ex husband and I had sat in the same room we’d learned the fate of our son just six weeks previously, desperately hoping to discover a reason for our heartache. And as the consultant opened up our file, lifted her eyes to meet ours, a sympathetic smile forced on her face, I will never forget how she looked at us and said, “I’m afraid we didn’t find anything. It was just one of those things.”
It’s hard to explain how it felt in that moment to be told that our son had died without reason. It’s difficult to describe the emotions which flooded through me – anger, confusion, disbelief – knowing that my sons death amounted to “one of those things”. It’s impossible to share how incomprehensible it was to hear that a baby, my baby, would die for no apparent reason.
And I will never forget that, faced with no medical explanation whatsoever, this simply reinforced my belief that there was only one person to blame – me.
I have spent the last 13 years second guessing what I could have done differently, wondering whether I could have changed the course of our lives had I not had that night out the week before we discovered I was pregnant, had I not eaten more than two tins of tuna each week or enjoyed hot bubble baths when my sciatica flared up.
I’ve agonised over whether I could have passed on a fatal virus during our last week together, when I was smothered in a cold, over run with coldsores, assuming it was all just part and parcel of the stress of preparing for a new baby with a two year old beneath my feet.
I’ve obsessed over his movements, asking myself why I hadn’t insisted to the midwife that something wasn’t quite right, why I hadn’t demanded the early induction I had been prepped for, cancelled at the eleventh hour. I have kicked myself, in fact loathed myself, for not rushing to the hospital on that fateful day when I felt a flurry of kicks, unlike anything I had felt before, wondering if that was the moment my beautiful boy had fought for his last breath, whether that was the moment our world changed forever.
I have imagined, in torturous daydreams and those lonely midnight hours, how my journey of grief would have played out had I been given a reason for Joseph’s death, had I held the proof right there in my hands, the damning evidence of why his little heart stopped beating. I have asked myself would this have lessened the guilt, and in turn lessened the blame, had I been able to explain to others why our son had died instead of nonsensical mumblings, what if’s, and if only’s.
And I have imagined how different our journey may have been navigating pregnancy after loss, whether I would have been able to enjoy even just one iota of those long nine months as they kicked inside of me, whether I could have allowed myself to bond with my unborn babies knowing that the likelihood of losing them in the same way was marginal. I have struggled to swallow my bitter resentment that even when they arrived, safe and well in my arms, I still couldn’t breathe for fear of the unknown taking them from me.
And it turns out I’m not the only one who feels this way, in fact in more than half of stillbirths parents are not given a reason for their babies’ death. Doctors simply do not know why it happens and Tommy’s researchers are taking a stand to say that actually, this isn’t good enough. They believe that every parent deserves answers and now, with their new campaign Tell Me Why, I am hopeful that one day there will be fewer parents like I am, sat here, thirteen years on, still asking themselves, was it something I did?