5 weeks+5 days pregnant
Today I started this blog but when I read it back I felt guilty at how bitter and negative it sounded. I reread it, considering how I could inject a positive slant, give it a happier ending, a moral, or a learning point. And then I stopped. I realised that by making my blog public, I’ve begun to write for a perceived audience and with it their perceived judgement In mind. I don’t want to write in the role of a ‘grief superhero‘. I want to write about the reality of baby loss. A real, raw and unapologetic account of what this journey really feels like. Sometimes I’m not ok… but that’s ok.
We are a culture that is allergic to vulnerability. When we pass an old friend in the street and they ask how we are, how many of us automatically answer with “fine thanks” regardless of how we are really feeling? How many of us would stop to ask a stranger why they were crying? Twice I have had a panic attack in public and on both occasions I was ignored by the strangers around me, presumably to preserve ‘my dignity’. How many of us will have an awful day, yet post a photo on social media of a beaming smile? There is a social expectation that we should carry our pain, and not complain about it. I felt that social expectation when I began to edit this blog. But then I stopped. And decided to tell the truth.
There are many parts of this journey that have been so painful that they took my breath away and left me gasping for air. In life, I generally try to see the best in situations, to believe there are lessons to be learned, that things happen for some greater reason. But when I lost my baby, my whole faith in life was shattered. I could not find any consolations, I could not see any valuable lessons, I could not believe that there was a greater purpose for all of this. If I’m honest, I still can’t, because what type of world would take a baby away? But that’s just it- there is no ‘taking’, this just ‘is’.
The day I found out my baby had died will haunt me forever. But losing my baby is not the whole of the story. When a person dies it’s generally accepted that there is a funeral and a period of grief. When people ask me about what happened to me, I generally recall the story of how I found out my baby had died and how I went on to give birth to her. But then I stop the tale. I don’t speak of all the hardships that came after. Life never fully prepares you for death but it certainly never prepares you for navigating the world after loss.
The day we left the hospital without our baby was one of the worst of my life. I walked in pregnant and walked out barren. We walked empty-handed, past the rooms of labouring women, hearing the shrill cries of newborns; an aching reminder of life and a heartbreakingly cruel reminder of what we’d never have with Nieve. I left the hospital and went to the doctors to pick up a prescription for sleeping tablets to ease me through the next few nights. On our way out we passed a woman carrying a baby in a car seat. The world felt so unfair- She left with her baby and I left with a coping mechanism.
In the week after losing Nieve we went to the registry office to register her death. The births and deaths were handled by the same department- the same department. So not only had we lost our baby and were having to register that, we were also forced to sit among the parents with their new babies which was just torturous and seemed so poorly thought out.
After losing my baby I felt totally abandoned. I know this isn’t the case for all loss mums and many I’ve spoken to have reported that they received impeccable care and support after the loss of their baby. But I wasn’t one of them. My midwife paid me a couple of visits after the birth, vowed to support me with whatever I needed, then literally vanished off the face of the Earth. The positive side of me, the part that believes that all people are inately good and caring, actually worries that something awful may’ve happened to her. But as it was, I was on my own. After the birth I needed information about what to expect after giving birth and so with an absent midwife, I called on Doctor Google. Every single source of information came with an assumption that if you had given birth then you had a baby. If I wanted to read anything about what to expect after giving birth, I was subjected to images of newborn infants or met with statements such as ‘now that your baby is here…’ it was like being taunted.
After losing Nieve it felt like the whole world was brimming over with babies. Baby aisles in supermarkets. Babies in aisles in supermarkets. Babies on billboards. Babies on adverts on tv, in magazines, online and even on the side of lorries (one such offending truck ‘taunted us’ by driving alongside us for at least 5 miles one day) babies in films and on tv shows (no show is safe, not even the Simpsons as we found out when we switched on to what must’ve been one of the only episodes ever to feature an ultrasound…incidentally, we switched over to the ‘safety’ of a dog show, only to find one of the puppies was named ‘Nieve’) ‘Baby onboard’ stickers on cars. Babies in the doctor’s surgery, babies in the park, babies in pushchairs at every turn. Babies in pubs, restaurants, cafes and coffee shops…or simply the presence of high chairs in pubs, restaurants, cafes and coffee shops. Babies at the airport, babies at the bus stop. Babies at the beach, in the countryside. Baby pictures on social media, pregnancy announcements and ultrasound photos. Friend’s babies, family babies, babies of people at work, neighbour’s babies, celebrity babies. It’s everywhere and there feels like no escape. There are even images of a pregnant women on the side of wine bottles! I spent the early months averting my eyes, muting the baby adverts on television, or simply avoiding situations altogether. I would walk into a public building and ‘risk assess’ for prams or pregnant women.
The other thing I got bombarded with after losing Nieve was baby related emails. I’d subscribed to so many sites when I was pregnant, and so I was inundated.
Message from: Baby Club. Subject: Congratulations! You are 35 weeks pregnant today!
How many other forms of loss force us to be confronted with constant reminders of what we’ve lost? You don’t see ‘grandparents on board’ car stickers or have ‘uncle’ aisles in the supermarket. If your grandmother dies you aren’t sent weekly reminders about how old she would now be.
Life after loss is so bloody hard.
Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday, but also years ago all at the same time. Sometimes I hate waking up to remember again, to begin the battle again. Sometimes I’m scared of the intensity of my feelings and feel like they will suffocate me. Sometimes I want to fall apart without worrying about how that will affect the people who care about me. Sometimes I feel like the universe taunted me by allowing me to believe I could have something so precious. Lots of times I feel like a failure. Sometimes I wish it was someone else, anyone else, and not me. Sometimes it feels alien to smile, to joke, to laugh- most times it makes me feel guilty. Sometimes I feel scared to look at her pictures, to make it real again. Sometimes I feel guilty for not looking enough. Sometimes I want to hope, to find peace, to feel safe in the world, to really live again, to go back to old me with blissful naivity and self assurance of fairy tale endings. Most of the time I recognise that I never will. Sometimes I’m scared that this baby will go away too and that the pain will finish me. Sometimes I wish I could fast forward into the future and see my rainbow baby in it…but sometimes I’m scared that that means leaving Nieve behind. Sometimes I’m scared that my whole life will always be consumed by the loss of my daughter… and sometimes I’m scared that it won’t be.
Sometimes I reread this blog and feel guilty because it sounds so negative. I’d like to contrast my negativity with all the things In my life that I am thankful for, and believe me there are many, but to do so feels dismissive of the agony of these experiences. It would be like waving a dismissive hand and saying ‘but it’s ok, I’m ok with it all now’. But sometimes… a lot of times, I’m not, and I’m learning that that’s ok too.