A few weeks ago a stranger messaged me via my blog to tell me that her sister had received the devastating news that her unborn baby had died, and she was booked in for induction later that day. And she asked me for my advice, whether there was anything I could share with her which would make the impending birth and the days that followed even that tiny bit easier for her sister.
As always, I was devastated to hear that someone else was going through such sadness, it will never make sense why anyone should have to say goodbye to a child, and yet it was a comfort to know that I could use my own experience to tell her the things I wish I had known, the things I wish I had done, and the things I wish, with all of my heart, that I hadn’t.
There is so much advice out there for anyone having a baby, countless TV shows, books, and baby magazines, sharing hints and tips for the “perfect pregnancy”, a whole world of information about the many options available for giving birth. Everyone is so quick to impart their expert opinion (whether they have children or not!), to pass on advice about ways to cope in the months that follow, and yet there is very little information about what to do if your baby dies.
And I guess the main reason for that is quite simply because, for many women, it is the unthinkable. Nobody spends their pregnancy planning for the possibility that a baby they have grown and loved for nine months may not make it home, myself included. And rightly so. But given the fact that for 1 in 200 of us, that will be the case, surely having the right advice readily available beforehand would help many women should the unthinkable happen?
Because I imagine that anyone who loses their baby feels very much as I did, when you are sat there receiving the news that your baby has died, when your whole world has come crashing down and you are in complete and utter shock, it is impossible to think straight, let alone make decisions that will last you a lifetime.
I am also hugely aware that everyone’s experiences are very different, and the following advice is by no means the right way, or the wrong way. I have met so many women who have lost babies, even at full term, who did not want to hold their baby, or even look at them, who dealt with their grief personally and privately, and in a way that they felt was best for their family. And I support them in that whole heartedly.
But for me, and for anyone who stumbles across my blog looking for advice, I wanted to share the things I wish I had known before we lost our son, in the hope that others can be spared living with the same regrets as I do.
I wish I had known that there is no need for am immediate induction.
After being told the devastating news that Joseph had died, we were told to go home, pack a bag and go straight back to the labour ward to begin my induction. In complete shock, and not knowing any different, we did just that and, within two hours of learning that our baby had died, I was already in labour.
With hindsight, I wish that we had held off until the following day at least, I wish that we had gone home, held eachother, cried and shouted that life was so unfair, that this couldn’t be happening, and tried to prepare ourselves in some way for what lay ahead. Instead I was left reeling with shock, unable to think straight, mentally and physically exhausted, grieving for a baby that we were yet to meet, all whilst enduring a 35 hour labour.
I wish I had known that it’s okay to be afraid.
When you hear people talk about loss, be that losing a baby, a parent or elderly relative, the main thing you hear people say is just how devastating that loss was. You never really hear anyone tell you how afraid they were, how they felt such overwhelming fear, how the thought of seeing their relative after they had passed away completely and utterly terrified them. I wish I had known that it was okay to feel afraid, that it was normal to experience that crippling fear, that grief is so much more than just sadness, or even anger, and that being terrified of the situation, and even of your baby, is perfectly normal.
I wish I had been prepared for what he would look like.
I’m ashamed to admit that throughout my labour I was absolutely terrified of Joseph being born, of the fact that I would have to hold him and even look at him. And for a long time I did feel incredibly guilty about that, for the fact that when he was born I had squeezed my eyes closed and been too afraid to open them. I wish I had known that, when I opened my eyes, he would be just a baby, my baby, and however trivial it may seem, I regret those few seconds when I refused to look at him, maybe just ten seconds of our son, but ten precious seconds that I would never get back.
At the same time, I wish I had been told a little more about what he would look like and how, although he was undoubtedly perfect to us, his body would show signs of distress. His skin had blistered and peeled, he had great deal of fluid around his brain which caused his head to be swollen, and he leaked fluid and blood from his nose and mouth, all of which I had been totally unprepared for. Had I known beforehand that this was normal it may not have been so frightening to witness, and yet those are the details that nobody shares, not even those who have been through the same.
I wish I had allowed Lewis to meet his brother.
Lewis was just two years old when we lost Joseph and we had assumed that we were doing the right thing in protecting him from the upset of meeting his brother in those circumstances. Looking back, I feel that it was the wrong decision and, although it may have been confusing and upsetting for him at the time, at two years old he would never have remembered those emotions, or even meeting Joseph at all. But for his Dad and I, we would have had the opportunity to capture that moment, to take a photograph of our two boys together, something which, in the years that followed, would have been very precious to the three of us.
I wish that I had taken more photos.
I have huge regrets about the fact that we have just a handful of photos of Joseph, all taken on a poor resolution camera, with dim light and shaky hands. I regret that I have just two photos of myself with my son, both blurred, both grainy, both never enough. I regret that we have no photos of the three of us, and even more so the four of us. I regret that we worried so much about what other people would think about us photographing our child, how we almost felt ashamed to be caught capturing such sad moments, and now looking back, although we are fortunate enough to have some photos, there are so many more I wish had taken.
I wish that we had taken castings of his hands and feet.
Although we have smudgy hand and footprints to look back on, that in no way compares to a little hand to hold in mine or a precious little foot that I can hold to my heart and remember the exact size, every crease, every little detail of those perfect toes which have blurred over the years. I had no idea that this was an option for us, nor that there are charities out there who provide these services for stillborn babies, and eleven years later I would give just about anything to have something tangible to hold and to show the children just how perfect their brother had been.
I wish that I had known my rights.
After having Joseph we were taken down to the maternity ward at our hospital, to a private room, where we lay on the bed holding our son, surrounded by the most torturous sound of babies crying. I wish that I had spoken out and told them that it was too painful to be in there, that we needed to be moved to a separate area away from the ward, where we didn’t have to lie awake listening to the sound of cries that our own baby would never make. I wish I had known that I could have asked to give birth in any hospital, not just our local one, a hospital with better bereavement facilities, sound-proofed rooms, and a cold cot that would have given us extra time with our son.
I wish that we hadn’t felt rushed into saying Goodbye.
Although we were fortunate enough to spend just under 24 hours with Joseph, it still wasn’t enough. The morning after giving birth the midwives lingered round, asking did we have plans to leave, explaining that they would soon be needing the bed, that Josephs condition was deteriorating and we were hindering our chances of positive findings from the tests that would follow. On the hottest day of the Summer, we were forced into a goodbye that we were nowhere near ready to make, led into a room to discuss the funeral arrangements, loaded with paperwork, and sent home with empty arms.
I wish we had talked more about the funeral arrangements.
Having been through a horrific labour, and the hardest day of our lives, we were then landed with the decision of whether to bury or cremate our baby. The idea of ‘burning’ our baby was so abhorrent at that time, having literally just kissed his beautiful little face goodbye just moments earlier, that we were both adamant we wanted a burial.
On the day of his funeral, watching as they lowered his coffin into the ground, as we walked away and left him there, buried in the cold, dark, earth, I instantly regretted our decision. I wish that we had cremated him, that we had taken his ashes home, planted them in the garden and kept him close forever. I wish that I didn’t have to trek down to a sad, dreary cemetery, lay flowers at his tiny grave, surrounded by so much sadness and loss, and feel as though I am abandoning him every time I walk away.
I wish that I had been prepared for seeing him in the funeral home.
This is a difficult one for me as I know that had we not visited him, I would be sat here wishing that we had. But I wish that somebody had told us just how hard it would be, how different he would look, explained how he had deteriorated to a point where he would no longer resemble the baby we had kissed goodbye just six days earlier. I wish we had been told what they had done to him in there, why his body no longer felt the same way, why his face was mis-shapen and his features sunken. I wish we had been warned, prior to walking in there, that we would not be holding the same baby we had expected to see.
And most of all……
I wish that I had held him a little longer, kissed him a little more, told him I love him a thousand times over, frozen every single moment in my mind to cherish forever. I wish I had known that although it felt as though my whole world had ended, and life would never be the same, I’d find a way to keep going, to discover a new kind of normal, to get out of bed each morning and face the world again. I wish I had known that I would be stronger, I’d be braver, I’d be more empathic, more grateful, a million different things that I never imagined I would be, but, ultimately, everything I was meant to be.
And more than that, I wish I had known that one day I’d be sitting here, almost eleven years down the line, with four children in my arms and one in my heart.
And I’d be okay.
If you or someone you know has been affected by babyloss, there is help out there in the form of so many amazing charities, some of which you can find the links for below. And to anyone who is struggling, my inbox is always open. xxx