On the day our daughter was stillborn, we were granted entry into a surreal new world of the “in-between parent”. A place where you are allowed to experience everything the prospect of becoming a parent to a new baby brings; growing your child inside of you, attending scans, choosing names, announcing to friends and family, buying baby clothes and supplies and spending a rather warm September day decorating the spare room to transform it into her room – you’ve done it all!
But then life decides you can never bring her home.
The short space of time Evalyn and I shared together was at the hospital. She had lived inside of me for nine months, she was meant to come home and live a happy life with us. Instead, we spent those quiet hours together in a half-way place on the maternity ward.I remember holding her little body in my arms and thinking how cruel the world was. I had carried her for so long and I had given birth to her like any other mother that day, yet they got to leave the hospital with their baby. I got to leave the hospital with a broken heart and a maternity bag that never got used. And the worst thing of all? I had to leave Evalyn behind.
And so begins the life of the in-between parent.
It begins the moment you step out of the hospital into the real world, only the real world feels darker than it did twenty four hours previously. It begins when you start to inform your family and friends and you hear the sadness in their voices and you realise that you will always be ‘the-couple-who-lost-their-baby”. This is who you are now.
I found myself comforting others when it should’ve been me grieving. I delivered the news, waited for their shocked reaction and then went into my already rehearsed speech of, “I know. We honestly can’t believe it, either. We’re getting there one day at a time – o goodness! No – don’t be sorry! We’re honestly coping the best we can.”
I constantly ask myself why I did this. Why I still sometimes do it now. Because, of course it’s not alright. In fact, the first thing that comes to mind when someone asks me how I am is ‘Shit! I feel like shit!” But sadly, stillbirth is still a huge taboo subject in society and it shouldn’t be. I understand that no one really wants to discuss a babies life ending before it’s begun, but this in turn means that grieving parents don’t feel as if they can talk about their child as freely as they may want to. If it’s a close friend who’s asking, they’ll usually get the real response (maybe with a few tears thrown in). The others will get my auto-pilot speech and they’ll feel better for asking but silently grateful that I didn’t go into too much detail or have to feel guilty that they’d somehow upset me.
Then there’s the other questions that an “in-between parent” faces. Usually from strangers who have no idea what you’ve been through and think they’re just making general conversation.
“Is your son an only child?”
“Be thankful you’ve only got the one, my two argue like anything!”
And, of course, there were those questions in the immediate weeks that followed from people we weren’t necessarily close to, but who had last seen me with a bump.
“Ahhh. When did you have the baby?”
“Congratulations! I see you’ve had the baby! What did you have?” I did contemplate whether it would’ve been too dramatic to have answered this one with “I had a stillbirth”. Instead, I gave my automated response.
“When are you going back to work?” is a question i hear all too often. Yes, I am aware that I am currently on maternity leave without a baby but I am also aware that I have a lot of healing to do before I am ready to go back to the nine-to-five. I have found myself wandering through an unfamiliar landscape. I meet up with friends with their babies and friends who are pregnant and we do the usual “morning-mother-coffee-meet-up” and I sit there for a couple of hours listening to stories related to ‘everything baby’. The irony of being at what is effectively a “mummy-meet-up” without my baby is not lost on me. This is another problem of the “in-between parent”. I have found myself at a time in my life where I am surrounded by babies from every angle. Every one of my close friends either has a young baby or is expecting soon and I am happy for them all. . . . . But it hurts. It hurts so much being the only one. I am that 1-in-4 mum. I am the ‘grieving mum’. I am the mum who never got to keep her baby.
It’s hard, living in the in-between. I have had to struggle through days when I’d rather just climb back into bed. I have had to take down a nursery and paint over the walls of a room that should’ve been Evalyn’s. I have cried so much I began to wonder if I would ever stop. I have seen my husband at his lowest and we have taken it in turns to crumble. I have had to answer my four-year-old son’s questions about his sister, about death, all the while cursing the fact that he shouldn’t have to be going through this too.
But we’re not the only ones. We are not the only people living in the in-between. It’s actually quite scary how many of us there are. I can’t even blame people for not being aware. Before Evalyn, I too thought that stillbirth was incredibly rare. I’d seen the Channel 4 programme “One Born Every Minute” – unfortunately it doesn’t come with the tagline ‘but 10-15 of these babies are stillborn in the UK every day’. We live our lives thinking that these things happen to other people. Unfortunately, they can happen to anybody. It happened to us. And now we have to live through it.
One day at a time.