It is December and I am approaching my third Christmas without my baby girl. People tell me that I have to “move on” and “get over” the tragedy of my newborn’s death. These people have never held a still baby. They have never been pregnant with a baby that would die, but they have lots of opinions. The bereaved do not need opinions. We need truth.
My truth is that I am forever changed by my daughter, Mary Rose. Her brief life has broken my heart open – shattered it so that I am no longer the woman who naively thought that her second pregnancy would guarantee a second healthy child. The pain that I have experienced – walking through grief thick as molasses – has allowed me to help others going through an unspeakable loss. I started a blog and wrote a book about my pregnancy to comfort others. Mary Rose lived for one hour, and in that one hour transformed me and my beliefs about motherhood. Even without my living baby girl, I am her mother still.Continue reading “Small Gestures with Great Love: Supporting the Bereaved Throughout the Year”→
There were no words to describe the gut-wrenching emotions I felt. As I awoke from the anesthesia, I pleaded with the nurse to tell me that my baby was alive; that my body had not killed this child of mine. She stroked my face and as we both cried she explained that my tiny baby had died due to an ectopic pregnancy. The child was not viable and I could have died had they not performed the surgery. To me, what died that day was not a medical term, an embryo or a fetus. It was my baby.
I knew it was my fault. I knew I had done something wrong and God was punishing me. I tried to withdraw into a protective shell, but they wouldn’t let me. I sobbed uncontrollably. I screamed, cursed, and rejected the comfort of loving arms. I wanted to die. When I returned home from the hospital, my family and friends calmly ignored the fact that my baby was very real to me and had died. They stressed that, because it was Christmas time, it was imperative that I be happy and joyful and feel blessed in spite of this tragedy for the sake of my three living children. I faked it. I pretended that they were right and went about my life as if nothing was wrong. Nevertheless, deep inside my heart a tiny hole burned with a passion.
Several years later, I attended a professional workshop about neonatal and infant death by Joy and Marvin Johnson (Centering Corporation). The focus of the workshop was to educate the hospital’s obstetric doctors and nursing staff as well as bereavement educators and counselors about the best practices for helping bereaved parents whose child had died before birth or shortly after birth.
As Joy and Marvin gave us pointers on how to help those grieving an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage, I slowly felt the pangs of those horrific days in 1983. Without warning, I began to sob. As the tears streamed down my face, I was asked to share my story. It suddenly occurred to me that I had never grieved for this child. I was encouraged to give my baby a name, something I had never thought to do. Since I did not know the sex of my baby, I chose the name Noel, that could be used for either a boy or a girl. A name that would always remind me of their short life and the special day they were born during the Christmas season.
Quietly United In Loss Together is a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Campaign started by Nneka Hall.
Nneka’s vision for October 15, 2014 is one which includes thousands of families touched by the loss of an infant coming together in Washington, DC to march from the White House to the National Mall where our memorial quilt will be on display.
Our goal is to raise awareness about losses that occur from conception through the first 24 months of life.
We do not discriminate as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day was meant to honor every type of loss.
On October 15, 2014 we will march as a united body to remember babies who would otherwise be forgotten. We will march to raise awareness about the many causes of pregnancy and infant loss. We will take this time to grieve openly without judgment.
This is one event that is happening in FIVE locations, the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The US march will take place in Washington DC. We will march from the White House to the National Mall where our Memorial Quilt will be on display. The quilt itself will be a series of quilts made up of panels from each state. At the conclusion of the event, the state quilts will return to their states and will be displayed. A few months before October, new panels will be added and it will be put on display in a prominent place within that state for people to see during pregnancy and infant loss awareness month.
Please honor the memory of an Angel by marching with us on October 15, 2014.
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.
The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy,
while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. — John Muir
Grief finds us all at some point. It’s not always about the death of someone close to us – we also mourn our lost childhoods, broken relationships, and derailed dreams. We even experience grief vicariously – crying as we watch news stories about other people’s loss or tragedy.
In grief, we become children again – confused, lost, vulnerable. We seek comfort and reassurance that we will get through this, that our world will become safe again somehow, someday. We reach out for a hand to hold while we find our way through the dark woods. But what if the hand you usually hold isn’t available to you anymore? What if it’s your close friend, or parent that has died or gone away and you feel alone in the world? How do you find not just peace but poetry during these times?
Believing that we are connected to something bigger and more timeless than our frail physical bodies sustains us in these moments, makes it possible for us to weep, rage, sleep…and then wake up feeling joy unfurl once again like the clenched petals of a flowerbud. For some, faith in the god of their choosing gives them a lifeboat to carry them across stormy seas. While I do not affiliate with a particular religion, I have strong spiritual beliefs that we are all connected, eternal and infinite. I feel this most intensely when I am out in nature, looking up at the moon, examining the ants busily making their way across the dirt, feeling the warm sun on my face, dangling my feet in a creek and thinking about all that water journeying down to the sea and evaporating back up into the sky.
As Richard Louv teaches us so beautifully in his books, The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods, nature is essential to our lives…because we are part of nature. We are bombarded with advice on how to feed ourselves and our children – but one essential nutrient is often left off the list: Vitamin N – for nature. Improved physical health, mental well-being, spiritual growth, expanded creativity, increased intellectual capacity, a sense of connection and community – these are the gifts we receive every time we interact with the environment and understand that we are part of it. These are gifts I want to hand to my children, and to all children – an emotional resilience that enables us to see the stars even during the very darkest nights our spirits experience.
Since childhood, Mother Nature has wrapped me in her arms and let me weep on her strong shoulders every time my heart has broken open: The summer my parents were going through mysterious adult conflict, I stayed with my grandparents, combing the Galveston shore for sharks’ teeth and angel wings. The time my family moved yet again, I sat with my journal on a giant boulder under the oaks and poured out all of my teen angst about leaving my friends and horse. The week I miscarried my baby while on a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard — I walked for miles, giving the ocean my salty tears and gathering scallop shells that I still keep in a jar.
Nature is creative….and destructive…and creative again…endlessly….and we humans are a part of that rhythm, intensely connected to everything else in the Universe. My science studies and nature rambles provide endless metaphor to understand my human experience, which I weave into art and poetry…like so many humans who have come before me, back to our earliest ancestors who used minerals and charcoal to adorn their cave-dwellings with images of animals, waves, spirals and stars. Many of my life’s frustrations have been healed simply by going out to the backyard and turning over the compost pile, focusing my attention on this simple cycle: a seed becomes a tree, leaves grow, leaves fall, leaves crumble and reunite with the soil, transforming into nutrients that allow new seeds to sprout. This poem and an accompanying sculpture were my ways of transmuting my grief over my miscarriage and a dying marriage:
She is Not
No elle…she is not
who she used to be
not the self she thought she would become
She is loss and pain, sorrow and loneliness
Hollow at the center where something has been
cut out with a chisel
washed away with blood
Leaving jagged dark places that refuse to be filled
with cotton wool or comfort foods, alcohol or anger
To draw a picture of emptiness
like drawing the wind
you can only draw its effects:
The deflating of a balloon
The leaves on the trees trembling
The hawk circling over the meadow
how much pain is in a hole this wide, and so deep?
on the forest floor a hole is soon filled
with fallen branches, desiccated leaf skeletons
organic matter, every bit essential
rain and worms and time transform what has died
into nourishment for new life
without love there is no loss
but love can never be lost
Someday she will use this pain
the seeds of new joy will take root in it
and seek the sunlight. Susan Noelle Bernardo – 2010
Years later, I see how my words have come true — those experiences which were so painful at the time enrich my life today in ways I could never have expected. I’ve found love again on a deeper level, and published a book to comfort children experiencing separation and grief. New joy blossoms around me at every twist of the path, as well as new challenges – and I trust that all of them are exactly the experiences needed for me to grow and evolve.
“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” These lines from Desiderata by Max Ehrmann console me time and again. Water…sky…trees…earth…sun…moon….stars — they endure, and so do we. And all of our experiences, joyful or sad, are reasons to write poetry.
About the Author: Susan Bernardo has been writing poetry and stories since she could hold a crayon! She also holds her BA in English from UCLA, a master’s degree from Yale, and teaching credentials from Pepperdine. A former language arts teacher, Bernardo facilitates creativity workshops for adults and stays in close touch with her inner flower child by dancing, raising cats and chickens, sculpting, painting, tide pooling and taking nature hikes with her two sons. She is a published poet and is currently revising her first young adult novel. Her poem Tonic Waters was published in The 2013 Cancer Poetry Project anthology — it deals with her mother-in-law’s death from stomach cancer. Her children’s book, Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs (available through Amazon) is a picture book with a simple but powerful message: love lasts forever.
Janet’s book, Life After Loss: Questions No Parent Wanted to Ask but Need Answered, is now available for purchase. The book explores eight of the hardest questions grieving parents face. It is designed to be read on your own or use in a small-group setting. To purchase:
Cost is $10.00 plus an additional $5.00 shipping and handling charge for mailing purposes.
Checks made out to The Love and Loss Foundation
Checks mailed to Janet Caldon, 9423 South K Street Tacoma, WA 9844
All good children’s stories begin with “Once Upon a Time.” And although this article is anything but a children’s story, it does involve our children. The child you loved and lost. My child that was here and suddenly gone.
The first moments of my story began on April 24, 1990. Labor had started, so it was just a matter of time until I would give birth. With each passing hour we knew it was going to be a longer road than anticipated. Complications developed when my labor stalled, so I was rushed in for an emergency C-section. I had no idea that the course of my life would forever be altered after this routine procedure.
I gave birth to a daughter that would not live. Twenty-five days later, May 25, 1990, the Lord ushered Rachel into His presence while I began a journey that can best be described as a living hell. Telling my children the sister they loved was dead. Making funeral arrangements. Attempting to memorialize a daughter I barely knew. Saying goodbye to a cold, lifeless infant that would never say my name, lose her first tooth, go to school, graduate from college, walk down the aisle or have children of her own. Continue reading “Once Upon a Time”→
The world may never notice if a Snowdrop doesn’t bloom,
Or even pause to wonder if the petals fall too soon,
But every life that ever forms or even comes to be,
Touches the world in some small way for all eternity.
The little one we longed for was swiftly here and gone,
But the love that was then planted is a light that still shines on,
And though our arms are empty our hearts know what to do,
Every beating of our hearts says that we love you.
I knew from the onset to expect a difficult pregnancy as my previous pregnancies had not been without their own difficulties and I’d been advised by my General Practitioner (GP) right from the start that I should terminate. I have included in this article the details of each pregnancy, both successful and unsuccessful. I have four living daughters and 6 lost babies – 3 early miscarriages and 1 late loss. My most recent early loss was of triplets. I am a stay at home mum in receipt of benefits/welfare. I suffer with mental illness, diabetes type 2, high cholesterol and back problems. I hope one day to be able to be fit for work and would like a career as a funeral director. In my life, I have suffered childhood abuse/trauma, sexual assault during my first pregnancy and a number of violent relationships throughout adulthood.
I am on a journey of healing and believe that through my losses I have been made stronger, more assertive and determined to make my babies proud of their mummy as well as to help others on their own paths. I consider myself to have eclectic beliefs and philosophies and am constantly learning and growing. I want to make a difference, and indent in the world, to make it a better place in some way. I am flawed and have made many mistakes in my life but I want to look forwards to a better future for myself, my children and husband and for others.
My Pregnancy and Loss Stories
I suffered with severe pelvic girdle pain throughout most of my first pregnancy in 1996-1997 and high blood pressure throughout labour. My daughter went into distress and her heart rate dropped to just 64. On threat of a forceps delivery, I forced myself to push her out on my back with legs up in stirrups screaming as loudly as I could. Following her birth, she suffered with jaundiced. After five years of more than frequent doctor’s visits, we discovered that she had a duplex kidney system with refluxing ureter, extensive scar tissue on her left kidney and a non-functional lower moiety which was operated on when she was 8 years old.
My second pregnancy in 2001 was relatively better only suffering from low blood pressure and dizzy spells but ending successfully with a healthy baby girl.
I then met my ex-partner and my first long-term (6 year) relationship. Unfortunately, this relationship was violent and abusive but due to suffering from mental illness, I felt reliant on him and unable to leave.
My third pregnancy in 2007, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and due to the terrible pelvic girdle pain, I needed to wear a pelvic support belt just for some mild relief of the intense pain. I barely struggled through and was induced two weeks early at 38 weeks because the baby was large and I had suffered with high blood sugars throughout my pregnancy. I was on massive amounts of insulin throughout, but have a high resistance to insulin. My daughter was found to have a small hole in her heart (Atrial Septal Defect) and tightening of her arteries (pulmonary stenosis) which cleared themselves up within the first year of life.
After having baby number 3 my diabetes remained and I was diagnosed with Diabetes type 2 and medicated with Metformin and Gliclazide unsuccessfully.
I then fell pregnant again but suffered my first early miscarriage at just 7 weeks gestation New Year’s Eve 2008. Whilst in hospital, my ex-partner was unsupportive and abusive towards me even in front of the nurses making me feel not only alone in my grief but humiliated also.
After this, I get an implant fitted but bleed heavily and constantly for a year before I have it removed. I then try the injection and again bleed permanently, during both I take Tranexamic acid to try to slow down or stop the bleeding but it has no effect. I have an ultrasound scan but nothing unusual is found and I’m told that the cause is hormonal, creating intolerance to contraceptives. Due to my weight I’m unable to use the pill. I request a hysterectomy or sterilization to be told that due to my diabetes they won’t perform any non-urgent surgery on me, and so I fall pregnant again.
My Special Care Miracle Baby
My fifth pregnancy was extremely difficult. In 2010, I was pregnant with my youngest living daughter and was suffering with poly-hydramnios (excess amniotic fluid). This meant I had a very large bump, weight gain and the womb and contents were taking up too much room inside of me squashing my lungs, causing pain and making breathing difficult. Once again I suffered with severe pelvic girdle pain and struggled to get about. I needed help to get dressed, undressed, up and down stairs and in and out of the bath. Towards the end of the pregnancy, I slept downstairs as climbing them had become impossible.
Hospital visits were daily and due to previous upsetting experiences at my local hospital I was commuting to the next town 45 minutes away. Each hospital visit would last from at least 10am till 4pm sometimes longer. Often I would be asked to return to hospital by 7pm in the evening for further monitoring and towards the end of the pregnancy was frequently being kept in over weekends.
On one occasion I had spent a day vomiting and had felt as though my baby had become unusually hyperactive, the movement didn’t feel right as though she were having a seizure inside of me and before the end of the day I had a severe headache that meant I felt unable to hold my head up. I also felt shivery and cold and so took myself to hospital. I was approximately 28 weeks pregnant and was kept in for a week, given Cyclazine injections to stop the nausea and vomiting and treated with IV fluids for dehydration. It was noted at this time that my daughter had a low and flat heart rate between 109 and 115 regardless of movements registered.
Doctors discussed the possibility that it was a temporary glitch caused by the dehydration but following my release from hospital and with daily monitoring the problem didn’t improve and they started looking into the possibility that my daughter might be suffering with foetal hypoxia (lack of oxygen), foetal acidosis (complication of foetal hypoxia) and foetal distress. As it turned out, my placenta, unable to cope with the strain put on it by my poorly managed diabetes and high blood sugars, had failed and was no longer able to support the baby and supply an appropriate amount of oxygen to her brain.
Despite the concerns it was felt by the professionals that due to my diabetes the risks of an early C-section were too high for both myself and my daughter to warrant that decision. Due to my diabetes, my babies are bigger than normal for their gestation but their organs are at least 3 weeks under developed for a baby of their gestation, meaning that at 30 weeks gestation my daughter’s organs were only developed to that of a 27 week gestational age.
The other concern was the risks associated with surgery for an extremely overweight lady with poorly managed diabetes and high blood sugars. Such risks as infection with the lowered immunity of diabetes could make recovery a long and difficult process and even lead to death in the worst case scenario.
Finally at 38 weeks I was able to be induced but unfortunately when I arrived at the hospital for induction I was already in early labour and my daughter was suffering from distress with a raised heart rate of 197 at its highest. Despite this, the doctors decided to go ahead with the induction. But following this, labour halted until my waters broke 12 hours later and were green. I was rushed to the delivery suite where the contractions came on fast and hard.
The rest of the night went by in much of a haze as I passed in and out of consciousness and in total fear. As I came round, I would see a softly lit blur of chaos around me, the room filled with people screaming at each other and jumping over furniture and one another. I’d look towards my ex-partner and see only a face frozen in pure fear and dumbstruck before blackness would wash over me again. Occasionally I would hear pieces of shouted conversations between doctors, midwives and anaesthetists talking about pain relief options and anaesthetic. The worst was hearing that there was no heart beat and I needed a caesarean now and hearing that there wasn’t time.
I didn’t know whose heart beat they were talking about, mine or my baby’s. I wasn’t aware of whether I was even breathing or not and I had a moment that I thought they were going to cut me open without an anaesthetic and wanted to scream at them but no sound was coming out of my lips. I could see that my ex-partner was somehow blood soaked as was my pillow and for a moment wondered if the blood was pouring from my mouth/lungs. I had no idea as by then I felt as though I could no longer recognise what was going on beside the intense pain tearing through the lower half of my body.
My daughter was finally ripped from my body by the doctor and rushed away to the incubator in the corner where she was worked on and resuscitated. She weighed a massive 9lb and 13oz and had been too big to pass through my pelvis. I was later told I’d been sucking in with each contraction instead of pushing and that the blood had come from a drip that I’d torn out as I was struggling and writhing around. It had apparently spurted everywhere. The heart that had stopped was my daughter’s and that was why there was no time for a C-section. The doctor had needed to perform a kiwi delivery (a vacuum-assisted delivery device designed specifically for the confined abdominal space of cesarean section deliveries) as quick as possible to save her life.
She was born with a low Apgar score and low blood sugars so was put on a glucose drip and in an incubator with oxygen. Then just 12 hours later I went down to visit her for her feed to discover her surrounded by a team of pediatricians working on her and wires everywhere. She had suffered from an SVT (Supra-ventricular Tachycardia), which is when there is a problem with the heart’s natural pacemaker not passing the signals around the heart correctly and that she was at risk of heart failure. She was rushed from the special care baby unit to the Neo-Natal intensive care unit where she was in critical condition.
I watched through the window as they put ice packs on her forehead and tried to get a line in to give her medication. Then as they dunked her in ice baths filled to the brim with ice chips. I stood next to her holding her hand as they tried to get a line in her forehead but blew the vein causing a massive lump to appear in her forehead. I stood back as they brought me a lock of her hair in a tissue. Thinking the worst, I was unable to speak a word or even to cry. And finally after 24 hours they managed to get a line in her umbilical cord and push through the Propranolol that needed to enter her body fast. Finally her heart rate began to return to normal and we were allowed to hold her.
At this point she stopped feeding and we were told that she also had high infection levels and would need a lumbar puncture. The results from this were clear and she was put on IV antibiotics to treat the infection. She had so many tests to try to discover why she was unable to feed from EEG’s on her brain to tests of the hormone levels in her brain, cortisone levels, hormone levels in her abdomen, fluoroscopy, 2 x MRI’s, barium swallow, blood tests, chromosome testing but nothing ever came back with an answer as to why she was unable to feed.
She was finally allowed to come home after 3 months in the special care baby unit with her NG tube still in. I was taught life support before she came home and how to NG tube feed her, medicate her and also how to insert her NG tube myself at home. She was NG tube fed for 16 months, and just as a surgical date was arranged to have a more permanent G tube fitted to her stomach, she began to feed! Since then she was diagnosed with Hypotonia (low muscle tone) and Hypermobility (joints that can stretch farther than normal), hearing difficulties, delayed sitting, crawling, walking, and speech and language delay. She had regular pediatric appointments, physiotherapy, dietician, speech and language appointments (from the beginning for feeding difficulty and later for her speech and language), hearing tests, cardiology appointments and various other tests.
Now at two and a half she is doing really well, has learnt BSL sign language through family signing courses and is starting to come on with her speech, is walking and running fine, has great normal age associated play and co-ordination, eats and drinks well and is generally doing great. She suffers with glue ear (a glue-like fluid that accumulates in the middle ear, which should be filled with air. Glue ear is a common cause of dulled hearing in young children) and has been referred to ENT to discuss grommets as her hearing levels change frequently. She’s my little miracle baby and my little fighter.
Since having my youngest daughter in 2010, I have worked together with a friend, Theresa, to raise money for my local special care baby unit – Gosset Ward. Although this year I have taken a back seat in fundraising, I continue to manage our website Gosset Fundraising News.
Together we have run online auctions as well as organized a stocking run to provide Christmas Stockings for babies, parents and staff on the ward during the Christmas period for two years running now as well as taking in cakes, pizza’s, mince pies and other foods for them to share and enjoy.
Easter eggs have also been provided to the staff at Easter. A calendar went on Sale during 2011 for 2012 and a new calendar is being prepared for 2014. There have also been bake sales, bring and buy events and a ladies night organized by Theresa.
Poppy, My Snowdrop Baby
On to my next pregnancy and my inspiration for starting the group Snowdrop Babies.
2011, the year of the London Riots. My ex-partner was removed by social services in the February for domestic violence and sent on anger management, returning in the April, and almost immediately I fall pregnant. I’m told at my first visit to the doctors, that it is advisable, based on my previous pregnancy history and current health status that I terminate. I have always felt that I could never have a termination, raised to believe that life begins from conception, but scared, I book the termination.
I have my pre-op assessment with the surgeon and tests with the nurses. A termination under general anaesthetic is booked for when I am 5 weeks pregnant. I go to my appointment alone and am in tears dreading what is about to be done, what I am about to go through with. I don’t want to do it but am too scared to go against the doctors’ advice.
I ask the nurse when I’ll be going in and am told that I am the second patient on the list and the first patient is already having her surgery so no more than half an hour. It’s 9:30am and at 10am an anaesthetist comes to see me and informs me that I’ll be undergoing the surgery with only an epidural. I break apart! I can’t do this awake, asleep is hard enough, but awake there is no chance! He tells me due to my diabetes I have to have two anaesthetists present in order to have a general anaesthetic. He says he is going to see if he can find a second anaesthetist to assist in the procedure so that I can have a general anaesthetic. I wait another hour before being told by my surgeon that the procedure has had to be cancelled due to there not being another anaesthetist available.
I ask him what I do now and he tells me I can get dressed and go home. The nurses bring me a cup of tea and some biscuits to help me get myself together before I leave. After I’ve had that and got dressed I go to the desk to ask when I’m to come back. They tell me they don’t know as they’ve never had this happen before and say that if I go home they will contact me in due course with a new appointment.
When I arrive home distressed I decide I can’t just sit and wait to find out so I phone around and finally manage to book a private termination and sterilisation for the following morning. At 5pm I receive a phone call from the private hospital telling me that they had recovered my medical notes from the hospital where I had been that morning and due to the nature of the cancellation their anaesthetist has said he can’t perform the surgery and so they have to cancel also.
The next two weeks are torturous and by the time I receive a letter telling me that now even my own surgeon won’t touch my case and another surgeon from another hospital will be coming to my local hospital to perform my surgery instead, my resolve has weakened and I’m no longer able to go through with it. I’m aware now that by this stage my baby has a heartbeat and my thought process led me down a path that made me feel that fate had intervened and my baby was meant to be, so I cancel and decide to go ahead with the pregnancy. From that moment I am happy once again and begin to look forwards to having another baby. I decide that I will do all I can to reduce the risks and ensure I have a healthy and successful pregnancy. I quit smoking, go on a strict diabetic diet, take all my medication as prescribed and take up aqua aerobics to get fit and lose weight. I’m religious about staying healthy.
The London Riots break out and watching events unfold upset me and I want to help, so I set up a charity event called Riot Rebuild. My first project is a charity event in a comedy club in Camden in August. The money raised is to go to Retail Trust’s project High Street Hero’s set up to help the victims of the London Riot’s, show owners who have had their shop’s raided, burnt down, etc. and the families of the 3 Muslim men that were murdered during the riots.
The organization of the event is fraught with stress, with being let down by a number of people and things not going to plan. I spend weeks planning and my health deteriorates both mentally and physically. By the time I travel to London I’m in severe pain and suffering extreme fatigue. On the way home from the event I couldn’t even make the last 20 minute drive home, with double and blurred vision, having to stop at a motel for a few hours in the afternoon where I am vomiting for 3 hours, then sleep, then get up and eat something before heading the rest of the way home.
Two weeks later, I’m so ill I can’t even cook and for 3 days I was in bed not eating as my abusive ex refused to help. (Prior to this a friend was helping but he couldn’t help for those last few days). On the Thursday, the third day of not eating, my ex finally agrees to cook under protest and has decided to cook liver which I’m not meant to eat during pregnancy but by this stage will eat anything. He’s in the kitchen moaning and shouting at me and I become involved in an argument with him, and at that moment my waters break.
I call up my birthing doula who comes to collect me and take me in to hospital. I have an emergency scan and only 20mm of fluid is found. I’m told that 50mm of water is needed for my babies’ lungs to develop and ensure that her limbs can grow and move properly. I’m advised to agree to be induced for early labour (late termination) and that if I opt not to be induced I’m likely to go into labour naturally within 24 hours.
I’m told that my baby is not viable till 24 weeks and that if I give birth to her there will be no medical intervention to save her. I’m also told that, due to my diabetes, they have to put my health before hers and that they cannot do anything to prevent labour or stop labour. I’m informed that because my waters have broken I am at high risk of infection and that because I am obese and diabetic am high risk of the infection causing complications and death.
I refuse to terminate.
My Doula tells me to refuse any internal investigations if I’m going to refuse induction/termination as I am already at risk of infection and any internal investigations will increase that risk. The next day a personal circumstance means she has to leave me. My ex-partner comes to visit me and once again despite the circumstances continues to be abusive towards me again even in front of the midwives and other staff. Unable to cope with this on top of what is happening I tell him I don’t want him to come back to see me. My dad is in Paris with one of my daughters and a friend is looking after my other 3 children.
I’m now alone and scared. I have a private room but the breastfeeding advisor comes to see me and asks if I need advice on breastfeeding my new-born! Then the bounty photographer comes to see if I want a photo taken of my new-born!
At least 3 times a day I have obstetrician come to reiterate I am risking my life and implore me to reconsider my decision. They remind me of my living children who need me. I have midwives come in and repeat what the obstetrician has told me. I’m on full bed rest hoping that my plug will re-seal and waters refill. I don’t stop drinking jugs and jugs of water. I go for my booked anomaly scan to be told that my baby is measuring perfectly, that all her organs are as they should be, I can see her moving. She is alive and healthy! There is nothing wrong with her. She is beautiful and perfect. Her little heart is beating away at the normal rate it should be.
By Sunday I am ground down by the obstetrician’s constant presence and scare tactics and I call my Doula and tell her I am scared and don’t want my children to lose me and maybe I should do what the doctors want me to do if my next scan shows that nothing has improved. She tells me she is going to come back to see me and will be there for me when I have the scan on Monday.
I go for the scan and there are no waters left! My plug has not resealed and my waters have not refilled and there’s nothing left. My baby is still okay, but I’m told that there is no chance of survival even if I were to go full term now, without the amniotic fluid to help the branches form in her lungs, I’m told that her lungs will be like a piece of natural sponge without water, hard and brittle and she won’t be able to breathe and will suffocate.
I finally make the difficult decision to be induced and have it explained to me. I will take a tablet shortly that will trick my body into thinking it is ready to give birth and then 48 hours later I will have a pessary (a medical device inserted into the vagina, either to provide structural support, or as a method of delivering medication) to induce labour.
My best friend is with me when I take the pill in that room that I’ll never forget. I don’t know how I even managed to put it in my mouth and swallow it; I don’t know how I didn’t choke on it. I remember every little detail about that room and the screaming inside my head.
And then I’m taken to the Snowdrop Room. I know all too well what that room is for. My Doula returns to make it more peaceful for me. We have my Buddha head brought in, aromatherapy oil, led tea light lotus shaped candles and meditation music. The doctors have agreed that unlike my previous births I can have a natural birth without the monitoring and with the freedom to move around as I wish. The midwives give us our space and my doula and her friend a hypno-birthing teacher help me through labour. Eventually it is time to push and after so long of pushing they tell me they can see her head. But now I don’t want to push and I bury my head in the pillow and repeat no over and over again for an hour, holding on to her, not wanting to let go, not ready to reject her from my body, until this physically becomes impossible and against everything inside me fighting it, I push her out.
My little girl, Poppy-Rose Serena, enters the world at sunrise on Wednesday 14th September 2011 weighing 10.5 ounces and measuring 20cm length. I read her the Snowdrop Poem and a blessing as I hold her in my arms. I can hear another baby crying as it enters the world alive. Poppy is silent and still, no one rushes in to help her, and everyone leaves.
I spend 2 days in hospital with her, the midwives take her away and put her in the cold nursery when I sleep, and visitors come and go. When I have to go home I don’t want to leave her, I feel like I’m abandoning her but I have no choice. I go home to plan her funeral alone. I call a sure start centre for help when I start visualizing kidnapping her from the funeral directors and they contact social services for support and to signpost me. The social worker visits with a grin on her face and asks me how I am, then answers her own question, saying oh of course you’re not ok, you’ve just had a miscarriage. I look up at her and tell her angrily that I didn’t just have a miscarriage, I just went through labour and gave birth to my daughter and am planning her funeral. She offers no apology, no remorse, no sympathy, understanding or compassion and after further insults she leaves having offered no support, no advice, no help and no signposting or referrals with the same grin on her face as she had when she arrived and I crumble.
I somehow got through those next few weeks in a blur, I had lots of crazy thoughts but I focused on organising the funeral, making her one important day as special as I could for her. And after the funeral I decided that I was going to make sure no one else ever had to go through the loss of their baby, alone, again. I decided I was going to set up a group that would offer support to grieving families after the loss of their child, that we would be one big family there for one another, honouring our babies together, making sure each family knew that their baby was important and would always be remembered no matter at what stage they lost their child or how old their child was when they died, whether they ever took a breath or not, and no matter how long ago they died. I would show these families that we cared, each and every one of us. They were all loved and they were not alone.
And so, I named the group Snowdrop Babies, after the room I gave birth in and the poem at the beginning of this article. The group is set up as secret to protect the identities of its members and the contents of the group and to provide a safe and private environment for members to talk about their loss.
Since losing Poppy I have separated from my violent ex and am now happily married to my husband, Barry. Barry has no children of his own and I hope one day to give him at least one child. Since being with Barry we have had 2 pregnancies, the first ending in a loss at 7 weeks gestation August 4th 2012 and most recently we lost triplets, Jasper, Harry and Frøja at 10 weeks gestation following a halted pregnancy measuring 7 weeks gestation on 1st May 2013. We were able to bury the triplets’ remains near their big sister Poppy on June 6th 2013. As the triplets were my third early loss, the remains were sent first to Oxford (England) hospital to be tested in the hope we may discover a cause for the recurrent miscarriages. We are still awaiting results.
About the Author: Samantha Allington is the creator of Snowdrop Babies (support group for families who have lost a child at any gestation or age at any time in their lives), creator and event organizer of Riot Rebuild Project,web designer and web manager and assistant fundraiser for Gosset Fundraising. Samantha is also web designer and former web manager and blogger for Special Saturday (special needs awareness campaign) and a UK representative for Q.U.I.L.T. (Quietly United In Loss Together). You may contact Samantha through her email firstname.lastname@example.org