Last week I was at my in-laws reading and commenting on all the wonderful posts that had been linked up to The List when a post from Claire at Joy and Pops completely stopped my in my tracks. I had to quickly and quietly remove myself from the living room and sat in their bedroom quietly absorbing everything Claire had to say. In September Claire’s son would have been 12, they had a memorial service for her baby who was stillborn at 41 weeks. I went on to read her birth story and I felt like I had been punched.
“Eleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, making stillbirth 15 times more common than cot death.”
I literally can’t believe that. I knew it was more common than people thought, but not that.
This week is Baby Loss Awareness Week and so I am sharing Claire’s story of stillbirth to help raise awareness.
I think there is two very important elements of National Baby Loss Week. The first is, of course, as a way for everyone to remember babies that died during pregnancy, at, during or after birth. For parents and their friends and families to come together and share in the grief they are going through.
When I was pregnant with Reuben I was consumed with a feeling that ‘something would go wrong’. We were fortunate and our healthy little boy arrived into the world crying loudly. Two weeks later, Mike’s cousin was not so fortunate and their little boy died just before he was born. He would have been 2 in September. I didn’t know Mike’s cousin that well but I grieved for them and felt consumed by guilt and relief that I had my baby. I felt I had to keep my distance and could offer them no support for fear of making it worse. I know now that that was self-centred and ultimately I couldn’t deal with their loss. This is a reminder not to push this grief under the carpet. Leigh from Head-space Perspective, had baby Hugo in February and he fought for 35 days. She has written this fantastic guide of things to never say to a bereaved parent (and what you should say instead).
The other element of this week is to raise awareness and prevent stillbirth. In Claire’s words, “I don’t think we should make pregnancy all doom and gloom but to educate women about the possibility [of stillbirth] and the signs to look out for.”
I would say if you are pregnant, it is of course your choice to read Claire’s story, but it is extremely traumatic and upsetting. So you may prefer to go straight to the advice and signs to look out for, which you can read here.
Stillbirth. My Story, my Son Louis
By Claire from Joy and Pops
It recently occurred to me that in the 12 years since I lost my son Louis, I have never told our story from start to finish. Always the abridged version to fit the audience, just the details that I think they will be able to understand or even want to hear.
So here it is, from the top.
I found myself pregnant at 20 years old, despite not being the previously maternal type, I was thrilled. I was in a fairly new relationship with ‘A’ (for the sake of his privacy) but we were crazy in love – that specific young crazy love where you think everything is going to be fine. I made plans to defer University until the following year, we moved to a new city, got a beautiful puppy called Molly and rented a house. We set about becoming a family, rose tinted glasses firmly in place.
I think about that couple sometimes, just starting out in the world. We may have been naive/crazy but we really loved each other and we were happy.
We were also extremely poor. Our families, initially not overly pleased with our news, rallied to help us with baby essentials. We decorated the nursery with a nautical theme using donated half empty tins of paint. ‘A’ spent days decorating the room and painting an old chest of draws, it was late summer, I can still remember the smell of autumn appearing in the air and David Grey’s song ‘Babylon’ was the soundtrack as he worked. The first signs of autumn (and that song) still remind me of that time, it was filled with happy anticipation.
It was apparent that we were having a rather large baby. In fairness, I was absolutely huge. I know everyone says that but I really was. I went from 8st 7lbs to 13st 11lbs – totally massive. I had sciatica and could barely move. My due date came and went, not unusual of course. I had an appointment to discuss induction scheduled for 9 days overdue at the hospital.
As he walked, I shuffled, along the river that weekend – with Molly bounding around us – we talked about how our son would be born the following week. “One way or another” I said, which seems so prophetic now. Again, I think about that young couple and I feel so sad for them.
The morning of my appointment I was sitting on the bed when ‘A’ walked into the room, I blurted out that the baby wasn’t moving. I had tried lying down, poking my tummy and downed a large glass of cold water. Nothing. ‘A’ told me not to worry and reminded me that everyone keeps telling us that he’s so big he got no room to move and as we’re on our way to hospital anyway. We were going to the right place after all.
At the hospital we sat in the waiting room. ‘A’ chatting away, genuinely not worried but I felt cold and clammy with a fear I just couldn’t articulate. When we were called into the consultant’s room, I told them I couldn’t feel the baby move so they got me on the bed and listened for his heartbeat.
I now know what deafening silence sounds like. Silence so loud I can still hear it now.
Reassuring words and a scan arranged in the next room, only to confirm what everyone already knew. A lady saying sympathetically how sorry she was and leaving the room to get the midwife. I tried to stand up but my legs failed and I’m in ‘A’s arms on the floor screaming. I know I’m screaming but I can’t hear my own voice.
We are taken from the scan room to another smaller room. ‘A’ starts calling our families. Everything is such a blur but when I look back I think how hard those calls must have been for him to make. My Dad was visiting from abroad and had been due to have lunch with us, he was on his way to our house when he got the call and came straight to the hospital. He walked in the room and I collapsed on him in grief.
I never knew you could genuinely collapse in grief until that day.
The only saving grace that day was that I was already in labour, so no induction or waiting. Things actually moved quite quickly and I was taken to the SANDS room (a special room donated by the charity SANDS). When labour became more intense I was taken through to the delivery suite. I went to the bathroom on the way and stayed in that tiny room for so long they threatened to break in! I was hiding from myself, in pain on the floor. I knew once I left that room I was going to have to deal with what was happening – obviously it was all happening anyway but hiding in that little room felt like the better option.
I did eventually come out and labour progressed. My mum had been away on a course but rushed back to arrive in the evening. I had an epidural just before she arrived so was a bit more comfortable but when I saw her I broke down, I told her I couldn’t survive it – I knew I didn’t mean the labour.
It was just ‘A’, me and two very kind midwives for the delivery. I wouldn’t push, I didn’t want him to be born. I wanted him to stay inside until someone told me it had all been a mistake. I knew once he was born it would all be true and the real hell would start.
Louis was born into silence. He was silent, we were silent. Everyone was crying – even the midwives – but after the brutality of giving birth, there was not a sound to be heard.
They brought him back cleaned, wrapped in a blanket and lying in a moses basket. He was wearing a little blue knitted hat and holding a bunny. He had lots of black hair, chubby cheeks and podgy wrists. He was a beautiful little boy. He was big at 10lb 11oz. There was however, no way to pretend he was just sleeping, he looked dead and that shocked me. I would have liked to pretend for just a minute.
The house was cleared of baby things (except those I wanted to keep) while I was in hospital. People brought flowers and sent cards, all of which was very kind. For a time people spoke Louis’s name and listened to me speak about him, but even the closest of friends and family moved on leaving me behind, trapped in that moment of grief.
I wish I could say in the weeks, months and years that followed I rose above this terrible situation. The truth is I sank. For a long time, I just hit the depths. My relationship with ‘A’ fell apart by Louis’s first anniversary, I was barely surviving financially and I felt out of control emotionally. At 21 years old I had lost so much, so quickly.
I did rebuild my life but I was right when I told my mum I wouldn’t survive it. I didn’t. The person I am today is not the same woman who walked along the river at the end of that summer, waiting for her son to be born. I am a better person in many ways. I am stronger, but I am not the same.
Thank you Claire
It was an honour to share Louis’ story and remember him.
If you have been effected by Claire’s story and/or have a similar experience I would recommend visiting both Claire (Joy and Pops) and Leigh’s (Headspace Perspective) websites. They are wonderful, open people who I am sure would be happy to talk to you, and their sites are full of advice, support and hope. The NHS also has advice and support for grieving parents here.