25 Mar Stillborn: What grief taught me and allowed me to become
Still remember the loss
Still remember being left
Still remember the fear
Still remember the reality
Still remember your birth
Still remember the sadness
Still remember the silence
Still remember the feelings
Still remember empty
Still remember time stopping
Still remember shock
Still remember how lost
Still remember the what if’s
Still remember YOU
3rd April 2000
The day that changed my life in more ways than I would realise. 22 years on, losing my firstborn, my son, stillborn. I could never have known the gifts, the greatest loss would teach me. I could never have understood the deep soul, heartbreak would allow, affording me the opportunity to heal, to grow, to become the most real, authentic and emotionally connected me. The journey back to my heart and soul was messy, confusing, distressing, unsettling, unknown and on many occasions, one step forward, and too many to count backwards…
The fear to feel, the sadness that was rising like an impending tsunami, loss, heartbreak, shock, overwhelm and huge waves of emotional chaos threatening to drown me. Old trauma, intergenerational family stuff, wounds ignored, and everyday life all proved both hard work and empowering!
Through what felt like the biggest most devastating trauma that I had experienced came the most calm, peaceful (on the good days!) and healthy life and relationship with myself.
I can only tell you how it was for me, and I hope through my story, my learning and un-learnings, my exploring, my excavating and digging deep within, I hope that it allows and empowers you to honour your journey, validate your feelings and supports you with what you need to find your path through loss, to heal and empower you to be more you.
The first steps of my journey…
I walked to the local hospital on 3rd April 2000, at 9am, 35 weeks pregnant with my first child, a baby boy. I hadn’t felt him move for a while and although the people around me reassured me it would be alright, (how they knew that was beyond me, they weren’t psychic midwives…) I later learnt people say things to avoid the discomfort of not knowing!
I waited in the seated area, feeling sick, unnerved and very scared; scared of what might be. I was alone except for my bambino tucked within me. Time becomes surreal in these moments, it is like it is both speeded up and slowed down, everything heightened, anxiety and fear in equal measures will do that to your mind and body, play games with you.
I remember her name tag, Shona. She called my name, to be scanned, I felt the adrenaline, the fear flow through every cell in my body, but I still didn’t feel him move. A part of me knew and a part of me didn’t want to know. Every second felt like an hour, you know when you can feel every beat of your heart.
As she ran the ultra-sound scanner over my stomach, I could feel her emotions, I could see the distress in her eyes.
Can you even begin to imagine being the one to have to tell a mother to be, she won’t be!!
I felt so hurt for her, then she broke the news.
I am sorry there is no heartbeat.
Your baby has died.
That life changing knowing, now real.
The bravest part of me stepped up and collected myself.
I was ushered through aside door into another room, an empty ward, stunned, alone, reeling and shocked.
Now to ring my partner, B, and tell him.
He’d been telling me earlier everything would be alright and maybe I was being oversensitive.
You know when you are too present, when each tick of the clock is heard on every level, when even your own breath is loud, when what your feet are doing becomes something witnessed.
I made the phone call.
Then I waited, waited and waited some more, until B arrived. Time had slowed down, everything felt both in slow motion and exaggerated, trauma does this to you.
I don’t remember where my head was, but I do remember the midwife telling me I could give birth whenever I wanted to, today, tomorrow, next week, whatever felt right for me.
Nothing felt right, especially not the thought of going through labour to give birth to death!
I remember being shocked at the thought that anyone would want to continue the pregnancy longer than necessary when their baby had died. I was confused by it all.
The most ironic part of this journey at this point was that the last time I had felt my bambino move had been on mothering Sunday. From that day forward mothering Sunday became a sad reminder and then a few years on a celebration of life.
Looking back now I believe we humans are much more resilient than we know, our minds, our bodies, and our coping mechanisms. We go into a kind of autopilot, present but not really. We keep doing life, even if no part of us is being or engaging in or with life.
I went home, my heart so heavy, I wasn’t sure my body could carry the weight of it. The feelings beginning to register, that me, was so armoured, so closed that I went into a shut-down, a just do mode, something I had over my lifetime got too good at.
Human doing not Human being!
I packed a bag, turned down the level of overwhelming rising pain, panic, to mute, where possible and just showed up.
Showed up to the maternity ward, a place where other women were giving birth to their new-borns. I could hear babies crying. I had to swallow down the deepest, darkest, threatening tears, as it hit me on another level, reality swimming closer to the surface.
I was walked into a room with a sign on, a face with a tear, representing the woman in here isn’t going to become a mother.
Then the most surreal part began, induced labour. My fear overwhelming, my feelings closing in on me, feeling claustrophobic. Trapped in each moment. Trapped in my body. Trapped in fear.
I won’t share the labour as it feels unfair on you and I am not even sure I could verbalise my feelings, as to what was expected, my stillborn son.
What I do want to share is the wisdom of a student midwife, and what she taught me, she came in as labour began, she looked both petrified and sad as her eyes’ meet mine. What she said then bought some comfort to a deeply uncomfortable situation. I have chosen to use these words in difficult times, “I am so sorry, I don’t know what to say” in that moment she expressed her truth and, in all honesty the only truth, there is nothing that anyone can say to make a difference. Her courage and authenticity, her vulnerability showed me just how distressing this was for everyone involved.
It had been decided whether by my unborn son, Josh, a higher power or a medical condition that I was not going to be a mother, that I was to learn and grow through one of the darkest and saddest chapters of my life. I made the decision, I couldn’t tell you when or how or even why, but I decided somewhere in the midst of trauma, fear and chaos that Josh couldn’t not live and not make a difference, that my first born would make an impact through me. His legacy would be how I choose to live after his loss, this wasn’t just for him, this I believe, now, allowed me to cope and gave me a purpose to a loss that felt overwhelming.
After giving birth, B went and spent time with Josh, he bathed and dressed him and broke his own heart again. Due to the level of fear that I had felt giving birth, I had decided that I couldn’t see him. That seeing him would traumatise me, more than I felt I could come back from. I decided that my knowing him had come from him growing inside me and me keeping him as safe as I could for 35 weeks.
I have never regretted not seeing him, as I have since heard horror stories of other mothers’ who saw their baby and felt haunted and every baby, they saw took them straight back to their stillborn.
Josh for me was and still is a gift, a blessing and a heartbreak that changed my life and me in the most unexpectedly magical ways, at the time it didn’t feel like that, but in hindsight I am grateful he taught me so much. His legacy has enhanced me and my life and continues to do so in many ways.
I left the hospital Tuesday evening, a few hours after giving birth and less that 48 hours after the scan…. My arms, my womb and my heart empty. The walk through the hospital doors was surreal, my life had changed. It’s that sliding door moment and then it became a moment in time, that changed time… “after josh” now stamped across my life.
We went home and there is not right way to heal or recover, only your way. B went to bed, slept for 48 hours and then went back to work, shut down, traumatised and deeply unavailable.
I was numb, mentally and emotionally. Dislocated in a way that only grief can hold you, drifting away from myself. My body reminding me of the pain of the loss, as the shape of Josh was still imprinted within me. My breast making and leaking milk for a baby I would never feed. My womb contracting from a son I would never hold.
Lost. Alone. Numb. Tramatised.
We’ve all been to that place for different reasons, it’s a place where no one can reach you, you can’t even reach you. It is like you are watching yourself, but a, you, you don’t know. Haunted by feelings that aren’t yet present, because shock has you in its grip, and fear wants you to stay away from the pain that threatens to break you.
The physical loss is tangible and ever present.
The mental loss can be intellectualised.
The emotional loss is a life of dreams, the fantasy of motherhood, of an unknown love.
When we lose someone, we love, no matter the circumstances, we lose a part of ourselves, the love, the connection, that part, that relationship, who we become when we are with them, the memories, the fantasies, how they allowed us to feel.
Grief strips us of them and ourselves.
Grief breaks our heart and changes our thoughts.
Grief makes everything in our world look and feel completely different…
We lose the old, the normal, the yesterdays are gone, the tomorrow’s feel too far away and the today, empty.
Overwhelmed, unsettled, unknown, scared, a new normal, with no knowing, with a void that defined most of the moments…
– Emma Disney, Josh’s mum
There are many organisations that offer support to anyone affected by pregnancy and baby loss.
Sands supports anyone affected by pregnancy loss or the death of a baby and works to save babies’ lives.
Tommy’s gives free, confidential advice from qualified midwives and has a host of resources available for those who have experienced miscarriage or neonatal death.