In the UK, 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth.
The emotional impact this has is devastating and leaves parents with so many unanswered questions.
There is still silence and shame around baby loss. But if we can talk about it openly and honestly, not only can we help each other feel less alone, but we can also pave the way for greater awareness and more research to stop it happening.
This is why Tommy’s is launching a brand new campaign ‘Together For Change’.
For those who dont know my story, and even for those who do, I wanted to share it again, to do my bit, and to urge each of you to share yours, to talk about baby loss, to support each other, and to know that together we can make a change.
When Lewis was 18 months old my ex husband and I found out that we were having another baby and we were over the moon. I had always imagined myself with two boys and so it was with great excitement that we found out we were indeed having another son.
My pregnancy flew by and through the summer of 2006 we spent our days basking in the sunshine, pushing Lewis around in his old navy pram and imagining what life would be like as parents of two. “How will I ever love this baby as much as I love Lewis?” I used to wonder out loud, for that was my biggest fear. “What if Lewis is jealous of the new baby?” I would worry and yet seeing him kiss my tummy and talk to his baby brother brushed away all of my fears.
And I was excited, just so excited.
We bought everything – a new pram, a cot, a steriliser, a Moses basket. We filled a wardrobe with clothes ranging from new born to one year – tiny little rompers, irresistible little outfits, “I’m the baby brother” novelty T shirts and a matching “I’m the big brother” one for Lew. I used to sit in the nursery looking through all of the lovely things we had bought, imagining how lucky I would be to bring home our baby and have two beautiful boys.
Life was pretty much perfect.
I remember the day the double buggy was delivered and Lewis helped us to tear the box open and how he jumped in one side and stuffed his teddy in the other. “Baby brother!” he exclaimed and we had all laughed and told him that the baby would be here in just a few more sleeps.
And then one beautiful Summers morning on the 18th of July when the flowers were in full bloom and the birds were singing without a care in the world, during a routine hospital appointment, our whole world ended.
“I’m sorry but your baby has died”.
Looking back now I have no idea how our legs carried us out of the hospital that morning, into the car and home to pack a bag. We sat side by side on the bed, totally silent, staring at all of the lovely things we had bought for our baby that he would never wear, never use, never need. We put on brave faces for Lewis who was packed off to my parents and we drove silently to the hospital where I would give birth to our second son and return home without him.
Thirty hours later, after a horrific induction, at 3.44pm on the 19th July I gave birth to our son, our second born, our Joseph Allan. And I won’t lie to you, I was terrified. I was so scared to even turn my head to look at him, scared of what he might look like, of what I might feel, of how much it might hurt. I remember squeezing my eyes shut as tight as possible and praying that it was all a mistake, that any minute now we would hear a cry and we would breathe a huge sigh of relief that the nightmare was over.
“He looks just like Lewis” my ex husband whispered through his tears, and only then did I open my eyes and look across at my little boy who was every bit as perfect as we had imagined.
He was so beautiful. A full head of dark hair, a perfect button nose and the most beautiful ruby red lips that were just waiting to be kissed. His skin was still warm and I shall never forget placing him on my chest and breathing in that newborn baby smell and wishing I could freeze that moment forever. Like all new parents we counted his fingers and toes, we “oohed” and “ahhed” over his long eye lashes and we beamed with pride at what a beautiful baby boy we had created.
We bathed him and dressed him, took prints of his hands and feet, a lock of his lovely dark hair and photos that would hurt too much to look at for such a long time. We talked to him, told him about his big brother and how much he would have loved him, about his grandparents who had been counting down the days to meet him, and about the life he would have lived.
And we stayed there like that until day turned to night, his body grew cold, and we slept with our baby between us for the first time. And the last.
We desperately tried to give him as many hugs and kisses as we possibly could, to tell him everything we needed to say, and yet as we said goodbye for the thousandth time and closed the door behind us, we knew that it would never be enough.
The days that followed were a blur. It all just seemed so desperately unfair. Why us? Why our baby? I had done everything I could to keep my baby safe and yet then, and even now, I felt that I had let him down in some way. I felt so empty, my arms aching just to hold him; my heart was broken into a thousand pieces.
“At least you still have Lewis” people would say, “Some people aren’t that lucky” and I would rage with such anger and hate that anyone would think that it could hurt any less. “At least you didn’t get to know him” someone dared to tell me, as though that somehow made our loss easier, and it took all of my strength not to place my hands around their neck and squeeze the life out of them too.
Because I knew my son. I knew him from the moment he was created. He was mine, a part of me, my husband, a part of Lewis. I felt him grow, felt his kicks, sang to him, talked to him, cradled my tummy in my arms and told him how much I loved him. He nestled deep under my ribs, lying side to side, and would kick and punch beneath my hands. He made me crave salt and vinegar crisps and Findus crispy pancakes, he made my feet swell and my hair grow thick and strong, he loved the water, his kicks growing stronger with each bath or cold drink. I knew him, with every inch of me, I knew him. And I loved him from day one.
We buried him a week later, in a tiny white coffin, surrounded by our family and friends. We watched in disbelief as they lowered our baby into the ground and we left him alone in a cold, dark cemetery and walked away. That thought haunted me for such a long time, the idea of him all alone there without his Mama to hold him and keep him safe. I would lie awake at night torn between my two year old son sleeping beside me or my newborn baby alone in the dark. There were times when I contemplated joining him, when I felt that there was no other option and no other way to make the pain stop. They were the darkest of days, the blackest of thoughts and I still look back in disbelief that I survived them.
It has taken such a long time to come to terms with losing my son, my baby boy who who would be twelve years old in eight days time, and it still hurts, so much, every minute of every day. And whilst that pain doesn’t lessen, and it certainly doesn’t disappear, you do find a way to live with it, to carry it with you, until one day you find yourself smiling again, laughing again, realising that although your baby isn’t here to live their life, you must still try to live yours.
And sitting here now as a Mummy of five, with four healthy children in my arms and Joseph in our hearts, I want to tell you that had it not been for the support I had in place back then, for the bereavement midwife who dragged me through that first year and the health care professionals who never gave up on me, I would not be right here where I am today.
Had it not been for the family and friends who allowed me to speak about my son, for those who reached out to remind me I was not alone, and those who remember him twelve years on, my life would be very different altogether.
And had it not been for charities such as Tommy’s, working tirelessly to raise awareness, to make these changes and support bereaved parents, my journey through loss would have been far scarier, far more confusing, and far, far lonelier.
Please support Tommy’s in the Together For Change campaign over on their website today www.tommys.org/together-for-change