stillbirth

I Was Scared, Too

I had a comment from a friend today: “I finally looked at your blog. I was too scared to before.”

I totally get it.

I often feel that – not towards this blog (for obvious reasons), but towards other blogs and articles.

A title like “My Experience of Miscarriage” or “Seven Things Not to Say To Someone Who has Experienced a Stillbirth” can have a rather stressful affect on me. I don’t know what is written in the article. I don’t know if it will hit an extra raw part of me. Maybe it will just make my heartache intensify. Maybe it will just be annoying.

I also remember the fear I had of looking at Theodore the morning after I had birthed him. I remember I spent quite some time preparing myself and steeling myself. I didn’t know what to expect. Was he going to be shrivelled up? Grey or blue in colour? Would his cheeks have sunken in?

It was really quite stressful.

Then I finally looked at him. What a huge relief!

He was beautiful. More beautiful than I could have imagined. The purple tone his skin had when he was warm and just born had changed to a soft pink. He was still but looked so peaceful. He looked like he was sleeping.

I know other friends were nervous to look at him. Some have shared how they were so filled with fear that they were scared to look at him, but then they did see him, and their fear dissipated.

I remember how I was too nervous to kiss him, because I didn’t know what his cold, immature skin would feel like against my lips. When a friend visited, and cuddled him, and then kissed him before putting him back in the cooling crib (which was keeping his body cold so he wouldn’t deteriorate quickly), I was watching very closely to see her reaction. She gave me the courage I needed so I could be brave enough to kiss my very own and very loved baby. I wasn’t brave enough before.

It makes me cry so much to even write that. I feel perhaps I ought to be ashamed because I wasn’t brave enough, but the truth is I am not, because it isn’t something to be ashamed about. Sometimes things can just be too much, and we need someone to help us. I am relieved beyond measure that one of my friends was brave enough and could, unknowingly, give me the courage and strength I needed to do something so simple and also so incredibly profound. Without her, I may never have kissed my son, and I would likely be struggling with regret over it the rest of my life.

Because of my friend, I don’t have that. I have treasured memories and beautiful photographs instead.

So don’t think that I don’t understand if you have been afraid to read what I write, or if you were afraid to look at my tiny son. I do understand. And I am glad you found the strength you needed.

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When Time Stood Still

This beautiful post was written by my husband. I am so glad he has shared this, as fathers of stillborn babies are so easily overlooked.

Have you ever experienced that moment in life where everything stops? That moment in between one heart beat and the next, where your whole life changes? Where life stops and time stands still?

It all happened about a year ago.

My wife had just finished giving birth to our beautiful little boy Theodore and at the very moment I laid eyes on him, the moment I held him: time stopped.

My heart exploded with love and then collapsed with pain and sorrow. He was so amazing, so beautiful, this was my boy; but he was not breathing, his heart was not pumping, he was still, as still as death.

Time stood still.

People came and went from our hospital room, meeting our little boy. But he could not meet them.

Time stood still.

We left the hospital. People coming and going, chatting and laughing; how has nothing changed? Does the world keep spinning?

Time stood still.

Back home at last. It is empty, there is no light, no chatter or laughter, there is no life. Our boy does not cry out, we do not hear him. All is silent.

Time stood still.

A small white coffin, a small plot of land, a small hole, our beautiful little son is lowered and buried. Why do we have to bury him? No one should have to bury their child.

Time stood still.

Assignments? Uni? Time passes around us. I stare at the blank screen. Why bother?

Time stood still.

Time has passed and slowly adjusted. I am no longer perpetually stuck in time, at the moment of my dead son’s birth.

However, there are still moments time stands still: when I see another father with his little boy(s), in the silent of the night, when no one is watching, when tears are shed. What would it have been like to play with them, teach them, love them and hold them tight, telling them that ‘I love you and always will’.

I Remember

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I remember wanting to pack my hospital bags, and refusing to, because I was only just over 20 weeks.

I remember being nearly 24 weeks along and choosing not to worry, because what is the point of worrying anyway?

I remember my own incomprehension as I looked at the screen, while the ultrasound technician searched, wondering why it looked so different to the other times.

I remember the tears of the ultrasound technician as she told us she was so sorry, but she couldn’t find the heartbeat.

I remember the way nurses and assistants rushed to help in any way they could, even in things as small as finding me apple juice.

I remember my shock at finding out this was a stillbirth, not a miscarriage, and the terror at finding out I would actually have to give birth very soon.

I remember Anna, one of my midwives, praying for us and crying with us.

I remember coming home to pack for a stay in hospital, not knowing how long I would be there.

I remember thinking Theodore was going to be a girl, because that is what it looked like on the scan (even though the baby had been Theodore from the start), and packing cream and pink wool for knitting – just in case the stay was long.

I remember the gentleness of the staff, and their consideration in putting us in a room away from full term mothers and babies.

I remember feeling like it was not going to be a long wait until the baby was born, and the midwives being careful not to encourage my thinking too much, because usually it can take quite a while.

I remember constantly being on my phone; I felt so loved.

I remember hoping for an amazing miracle. We asked God for a sign. If we were asked if we wanted one more ultrasound, then we would know Theodore would miraculously live again.

I remember not getting that sign, and knowing that Theodore was gone.

I remember the fear of labour and of the unknown being replaced by peace and joy.

I remember trying not to grin like a lunatic while the midwife was being serious and compassionate.

I remember when I knew for sure I was in labour.

I remember the swiftness of the process, the speed with which my body worked to deliver my son.

I remember that whenever the pain reached a point where I did not think I could handle any more, it would change.

I remember the feel of my son slipping out of me.

I remember knowing in that moment that he was too small, that I did not actually want the miracle I had previously been hoping for.

I remember saying in my head, “God, I want the baby to stay with you!”

I remember how time stood still, and how this sacred time was marked by the clock in the room literally stopping for an hour or two.

I remember how warm he was. He had the warmth of my own body.

I remember how I saw him and loved him.

I remember how amazed I was at how much joy I could feel – so much joy that sorrow was completely pushed aside – at the sight and feel of my very own son.

I remember how tacky some of his skin was, and how the rough towel stuck to it until he was placed in something softer.

I remember how big his hands and feet seemed. I remember being so excited at Theodore’s birth that I messaged as many people as I thought would want to hear, even though it was the early hours of the morning.

I remember waking up the next morning, and being reluctant to look at my son, because I didn’t know if he would look different.

I remember he looked even more beautiful. His skin had stopped being so purple in tone and had become pink.

I remember the vernix making him look like he had a little moustache.

I remember holding him, but being too nervous to kiss him, because I was scared of how his skin would feel.

I remember how hard the bridge of his nose was, and how taut his Achilles tendon was.

I remember how he had no kneecaps, but did have the sharpest elbows I have ever felt.

I remember his tongue. It was a normal tongue colour even though the rest of his skin was not a normal baby pink.

I remember how glad I was that he was beyond pain and injury whenever I had to move him or hold his head, because the skull portions would move around so much.

I remember making a conscious effort to memorise him. I would measure his foot against my finger to know how long it was (the top half of my thumb), and I would pay attention to the cool barely-there weight he was when resting on my thigh.

I remember how his head was covered with fine blond fuzz, and how soft it felt.

I remember turning him over and looking at his back, with the miniature spine, and how he really had no bottom yet at all.

I remember how he fit, curled up, in my hand.

I remember turning his exquisite hand over and gasping in amazement at the lines and creases on his palms.

I remember people saying he looked like Julian, and insisting that his brow and nose was like mine.

I remember being too busy with visitors to have time to eat, so I would ask the nurses to bring me sandwiches and milo.

I remember haunting the halls in the middle of the night, while my sleeping husband lay next to our baby, because my heart and body longed to hear the crying of babies.

I remember how Theodore fit in my hands, but how my arms longed for a baby to hold.

I remember, finally coming across a baby. He was being held by his father in the waiting room. The father let me hold him, and I remember how the father’s eyes went all red and teary. He said to me that they had had a stillbirth only a year earlier, and earnestly encouraged me not to give up.

I remember knowing he would have let me hold his precious baby for as long as I wanted to, and how my arms felt relieved to be filled.

I remember how hard it was to leave our baby alone in a cot when we finally left the hospital and went back to our own house.

I remember how listless and aimless and awkward we felt when we arrived home, after having a baby, but without a baby.

I remember that after arriving home again I insisted on never closing the door to the room which would have been Theodore’s.

I remember how the day after we arrived home from the hospital it was Fathers Day. It will always be Father’s day very soon after Theodore’s birth.

I remember my son. One year later and it is all fresh in my mind.

I remember you, Theodore, and I love you.

Eleven Months of God’s Faithfulness

As it approaches the first anniversary of Theodore’s death and birth (in that order), a kind of protective numbness seems to be sweeping over me again. A surreal feeling of “did this really happen?” and “is it really me that this happened to?”

The reality is there, however. I see it in so many ways.

  • The knowledge that my son would be coming up on eight months if only he had lived and been born in December, not August.
  • The keen awareness that his birthday is not in the right month.
  • A frustration with those who appear to take their healthy and alive children for granted.
  • A knowledge that death really can happen at any time, and no one is immune.
  • The realisation that my husband and I are “bereaved parents” – a label that is at once a comfort (parents) and a heartache (bereaved).

Recently, friends have had the shock of having their little boy diagnosed with leukaemia. They have begun a blog (edwardisham.com) as a way of responding to this huge and hard life event. Within their writings, I see reflected some of my own journey since Theodore’s death.

  • The time in the hospital and the specialist appointments (though they have far more than I did).
  • The realisation that life seems more fragile now.
  • Taking time to adjust to a new label: cancer parents.
  • The knowledge that as hard as it is, that does not mean it is unfair.
  • And, above all, the belief that God will hold and sustain them through this, that he is faithful.

Seeing the response toward the Isham family is such a blessing. It is beautiful to watch and be a part of, and it reminds me of how much support Julian and I have been given over the past eleven months. To see and hear the prayers for them, and the words of hope and encouragement, makes me wonder, ‘is this what people also did for me and my husband?’ It thrills me to see it happening, to see people caring and loving and praying and practically supporting.

I have been reminded of how much each word and each hug or hand squeeze meant to me. I know how needed those things are, and I am so glad to see them happening.

They are not the same situations. Tiny Theodore was stillborn. Little Ned has leukaemia, but there is a great deal of hope and expectation that with the treatment and care he is now receiving, he will go on to live a full life.

Whatever happens, we make it through and we lean on God, and we have hope that he will bring beauty from the ashes of these hard times.

He is faithful, and he is trustworthy.

He is My Inspiration

Theodore’s early death is a source of grief, because we looked forward to having him and raising him so much. His life, however, is a source of encouragement and inspiration to me now. It spurs me on to love more, forgive faster, and to have my eyes focused not on the temporal but on the eternal.

After his death, I remember reading Psalm 139. Verse 16 was a huge source of encouragement for me. It says this:

You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

I read this, and I knew beyond doubt and beyond questions that Theodore had already lived his life. Every day ordained for him had been lived out. In less than twenty-four weeks, he had lived every moment he was meant to live.

I remember being so blown away by this. I was so filled with peace and satisfaction; any feeling that my son’s life had been robbed from him was banished. Instead I had an awe-filled knowledge that he had lived his life, every day he was intended to have. It is hard to be too full of sorrow when you start seeing things like this. Yes, the grief of losing him is still there; grief is a process. But, for me, this helped to resolve practically all of the anger and confusion I had been feeling at times.

At the same time as feeling the relief that Theodore had lived his life, I felt a responsibility settling upon me. If Theodore has lived all his days, if his earthly life is spent, then it is my responsibility and my husband’s responsibility to make sure we allow the purpose of Theodore’s life to come to fruition. This calls us to a higher level of love and trust and faith. It spurs us on to behave in a way that is kind and patient and understanding. We could so easily have shut ourselves away and let ourselves become bitter and angry. We could have refused to believe that any good could come of this. We easily could have blamed God. But we were so careful not to let this happen. We did all we could to keep ourselves open and caring and loving. We did all we could to make it easy for people to share in our grief, and also our joys. We have worked hard to keep our eyes trained on the faithfulness of God and his promises.

It is not always easy. I think sometimes, people see me as being more healed than I am. I keep trying to be patient, because how can I tell someone that they are hurting me, without hurting them in return? So I try. I try so hard to keep walking in love, in patience, and in forgiveness. There are times I see Theodore in my mind’s eye, ahead of me, encouraging me on. “Come on, mum. Keep looking up.” And I am reminded that this life is just for a short time. I am encouraged that I can live this life well, and walk in love for every day of it.

Theodore’s short and precious life motivates me so much to keep my eyes firmly fixed on what I am living for, on who I desire to become. It helps me remember the peace and joy I have when I intentionally – trustingly – release myself into the safe and steady hands of God, and into the unknown, surprising, demanding, exciting future and purpose which is in store for me.

Quite frankly, my son is my hero. He is my coach, my champion, my muse, my encourager, and my inspiration as I live out everyday, every moment of my life.

Inconsistent

One thing that I have noticed over the past several months is how inconsistent my emotions and thoughts can be. Sometimes I can feel two completely contradictory things at once, often towards the same person. And I think that is what a loss like this does.

I am happy for people who are pregnant, but also a bit angry and jealous of them too.

I want babies to be born alive and well and for people to be saved my grief, but something in me also wants to see people suffer in the same way I have.

I wonder, have I shocked you?

Even if you feel disturbed by this, you can’t fix it. There is nothing you can say to me that will change how this is right now. This is grief. It is processing. I even think it could be called progress.

Do I feel bad that sometimes I almost wish that someone else will have a stillbirth like me? Yes, but also no.

Yes, because that is a horrible thing to think. And deep down I don’t want that. It just hurts when you see others getting what was taken away from you.

But also no, because I recognise where that thought comes from. It comes from not wanting to be alone in this. To stop feeling like I am “the only one” this sort of thing happens to. To know beyond a doubt that someone else understands.

This is partly why I write this blog, to share how I feel, what this journey is like, and so I can present my situation to you in a way that invites acknowledgement and support. Because this is a long and often frustrating, confusing and lonely journey.

Even though I know I am probably doing better than the majority of bereaved mothers, I still struggle. I don’t cry everyday, but I do cry. I am not in despair or depressed or angry, but I am still healing.

I am grateful for every bit of support and love and encouragement I have been given.

Six Months

This time last year I was about two or three weeks away from finding out I was pregnant.

Had things gone well, I would have had a two and a half month old baby boy (and I would probably be trying to nap right now instead of writing a blog). However, it has been just over six months since Theodore John was born still at 23 weeks and 6 days.

In the six months since then, my husband and I have held a funeral, grieved (in completely different ways), and known the agony of getting a grave plaque only a few days after the due date – and the day before Christmas.

We have borne as kindly and as graciously as possible the news of friends’ pregnancies and the births of new babies. We have learnt how to share our journey without dominating conversations with our sorrow. We have learnt how to not let that same grief overshadow our home, too. We have learnt how to find joy and laughter in everything that offers it. We have learnt how to pin our hopes and expectations on something bigger than ourselves.

Losing a child certainly is not something you recover from quickly or easily, especially when it seems like every second friend is getting pregnant or celebrating over a newborn baby. There are reminders everywhere. Television shows, Facebook, Pinterest. Going to the hospital, the cinema, the supermarket. Even my favourite clothing store has a new maternity section now, and the changes in my own body are a daily reminder, should I care to notice them.

Yesterday I held the newborn baby of some friends, a big solid boy. And as I held him there was no glimmer of self pity or jealousy or anger. I was just happy that this baby had arrived and was living, breathing and scrunching up his mouth and nose while he napped in my arms.

Six months on, I think my husband and I are doing well.

Sugarcoated Reality

Warning: this is not a typical post about stillbirth. Some people may find it quite confronting. Still, I feel compelled to write it.

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Last night I read a book. At one stage in the book, a pet dog had a small litter of puppies. Out of the three puppies, one was dead. The author mentioned its little cold body, and I knew it was dead. Then the author used a phrase that hit me hard: “the stillborn puppy”.

After losing a baby, it is not easy when I unexpectedly encounter that word and last night was no different. I read that phrase, then re-read it. Then stared at the ceiling and whispered it.

And then I whispered the next thing. “Stillborn means dead. It means dead.”

As I lay there, staring, repeating, I felt like I was staring in the face of a cold, hard, awful truth.

We try to sugarcoat it. Born still sounds so much nicer than born dead. Born sleeping is a comforting phrase. But these words and phrases just disguise the truth. My baby was born dead. Theodore was not alive. His body was only warm because it had been in mine. He was perfect and real and beautiful. But he was not alive. He never drew breath or cried or soiled a nappy. He was dead.

He was perfect to me, even though he was not “too perfect for this world”. That is just another phrase that helps comfort a little.

But the truth is, I am not sad because he was too perfect. I am not grieving because he was born asleep and perfect and free from the troubles of this world. I am grieving because my baby is dead.

Theodore is dead and gone. I never saw him smile or sneeze. I never woke in the night to his cries. I never fed him or burped him. I never got the chance. Instead my husband and I buried our precious son and for Christmas we received a plaque for a grave instead of a newborn baby.

My baby is precious and missed and grieved. But not because he was “too perfect”. Not because he was born asleep. It is because he is gone. It is because his death while still in my womb took him. It is because he died before he had barely lived.

By all means, continue to use the words and phrases that help ease the pain. Just do not pretend they mean something other than what they really do.

Mothers who have not lost babies, remember this when you talk to someone who has. They did not “just” have a miscarriage or a stillbirth. Their babies really did die. These mothers and fathers really are mourning a death. They are mourning a baby they did not get a chance to parent.

The words we use soften it, but the truth behind them is hard and unyielding. Yet, sometimes it helps to face that truth and acknowledge it. It helped me.

Slowly

I am very slowly writing a big long post of our story of having a miscarriage and then a stillbirth.

Slowly seems to be the way to do things.

I cannot rush the healing that I need after losing two pregnancies. I should not try to rush the grief. It is usually wise for me not to dive into something new when I still have a lot of processing to do.

So “slowly” seems to be my new internal speed, even if my external actions seem the same as usual, because I do not want to rush this sacred time.

I do not want to push on through the feelings too fast. I do not want to bury them or push them aside. I want to work through this thing slowly, to make sure it gets properly healed. I want to squeeze every bit of preciousness and kindness and love and learning from it. I want to miss my children fully and I also want to be fully content and pleased that they are in a safe place where they are happy.

And slowly the days will tick by until I am there with them. And then this slow journey of waiting and trusting and of being patient will be complete.

Together

Yesterday I was reminded of a beautiful conversation with a four year old girl. This little conversation happened a couple of days after Theodore was born.

To give it a bit of background: after the miscarriage which happened in 2012, I struggled to think of the baby as anything more than a miscarried pregnancy. After all, we had never even seen him. Though we had decided to call the baby Jeremiah, we never referred to him as such. Rather, I thought of him predominantly as “the miscarried baby”.

The four year old I had the conversation with knew about Jeremiah. All through my pregnancy with Theodore, each time she saw me she would pat my tummy and say, “The other baby died. But this one’s not dead.” It was really funny and actually refreshing to have things stated so plainly.

On this occasion, two days after Theodore’s birth, sitting in church (because being at home without a baby two days after giving birth is surreal and awful), this girl was sitting on my lap.

“The baby died.”

“Yes, that’s right, Theodore died.”

“The other baby died too.” (As she is patting my arm.)

“Yes, he did.”

“Now they are both in heaven together.”

Wow. I wish I could put into words how that last sentence made me feel. It was like comfort was poured into my heart and like my whole world lit up with the joy of thinking of them together.

Two brothers, together.

One of my midwives said to me that maybe part of Theodore’s purpose was to help me heal after the loss of Jeremiah, and I think that is true.

Since having Theodore, Jeremiah is no longer referred to as “the miscarried baby”. Now, he is always referred to by name.

And whenever I close my eyes and picture them, they are always together.