“Congratulations,” my text said, “Enjoy every moment with your little girl. Love to you all.”
I hit the send button, put my phone down on the table and cried. I think that was the moment I truly realised how much my attidude towards pregnancy and birth has changed since losing Evalyn only four short months ago . . . . .
I no longer get excited by pregnancy announcements. In fact, I hate them. Whenever I see a scan picture flash up on my Facebook newsfeed with the words ‘We are SO happy to announce. . . “, my heart drops. Because I know from experience that there is no ‘safe zone’. Losing Evalyn at 37 weeks into my pregnancy taught me that. I read all of the Congratulations messages that start to appear under that post and my mind instantly thinks about all of the people you will have to inform if it all goes wrong. I wish that I had that confidence, that self belief that just because you’re pregnant means you will get a beautiful baby at the end of those nine months. I see those announcements at 12 weeks and then I worry about you and your baby for the 6 months that follow them.
I know facts about pregnancy that most parents may not. I know that on average, 10-15 babies are stillborn in the UK everyday. I know that one in three stillbirths remain unexplained and that there is a lack of research towards this. There is also a lack of funding that goes towards this research and therefore it is one big, vicious circle. I know that had my daughter’s growth been monitored more closely, maybe, just maybe, she might still be here. . . .
I know what death feels like. When you hold your sweet baby in your arms and feel the warmth of their skin against your own, I remember the ice cold touch of Evalyn’s. I know what it’s like to look down at a perfect little face and desperately try and imprint it in your memory because you don’t have long together. You got to lie in your hospital bed feeling content that your story was just at the beginning. I got to lie in mine knowing it was already at the end. . . .
I don’t like baby showers. I don’t lke celebrating a baby before it’s here. I can’t sit in a room surrounded by cakes and presents and be carefree whilst we all play ‘Guess the baby food.” You may look at your pile of gifts and wonder where on earth you’re going to fit all of your new baby items in your house. I look at your gifts and pray to God you don’t have to take everything back to the shops, because it’s not easy. I’ve been there where I’ve had to ask for a refund on baby items. The shop assistant never asked why, but I think the way she couldn’t look me in the eye was a possible indication that she knew.
Birth announcements are probably the worst one to take. They are the announcements that hit the hardest. And when I read my message from my friend last week who informed me of her daughter’s birth, I can’t pretend that every inch of my being didn’t hurt. Was I happy for her? Of course. That’s something I think people don’t realise about me. I AM happy for you. I would never wish for anyone to go through the loss that we have. A beautiful baby being born into the world is always a blessing.
But it is a reminder for me of everything we have lost. Your birth announcement makes me feel like I’m a contestant on some horrible game show and Life, the host, is saying, ‘And here’s what you could’ve won!!” I see your Facebook birth announcemt and I have to ‘unfollow’ you. You may be my closest friend, but seeing your photos and all of the comments below are too much to bear. I don’t have those photos of Evalyn. I never got the chance to make a happy announcement. And when I text you back and tell you I am really happy for you, that isn’t a lie. I am happy for you. But my Congratulations is filled with a sadness I never thought I’d ever feel in my lifetime.
I feel guilty. I feel guilty because your happy news is overshadowed by our own grief. You didn’t feel joy announcing to us because we are the couple who lost their baby. That is one of the reasons I couldn’t, and didn’t attend your baby shower. Who wants the mother of a dead baby at a baby shower? I never wanted to make you feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want either of us to be put in a situation where we’d both end up emotional wrecks.
You may feel guilty too because you have the one thing I don’t. But don’t feel that way. It is not your fault that you have been given what we so sadly lost. You have been blessed. Maybe one day I will be blessed again too. You probably sat for a long while and thought about how you would word your text. How do you announce to us? What details do you include? What’s going to make us or break us? Honestly, you could’ve put anything in that text and I still would’ve cried.
Labour stories. Please don’t tell me your labour stories. And please don’t use the line, ‘The pain was unbearble but it was all worth it in the end.” That’s not the way it was for me. I had to prepare myself for that pain already knowing that my baby would not be coming home with us. I cannot listen to your labour story as that is the part of Evalyn’s story I try not visit in my mind too much. You’re right, the pain was worth it . . . for you. The pain will carry on for me well into the months and years that lie ahead . . .
Newborn babies. I don’t feel comfortable around them at the moment. Strangers in the street are easier to cope with because I only see a fleeting moment of their happiness. But my friends? It is hard for me to see you with your newborn. It is hard for me to watch you holding your baby in your arms and there may be times when I just can’t see you that day. It’s not because I don’t love you or I’m not happy for you. It’s just because that day I may be fragile. That day may be one of my ‘dark’ days and I may just need to be alone. . . .
I don’t like it when people moan about the troubles of looking after a baby. And believe me, I KNOW it is hard work. I’ve been there with my son. I struggled with lack of sleep. I struggled with my hormones always bringing me down and wondering when that hard ‘newborn stage’ would pass. I even cried some days when it all just got too much. But all of that stuff to me is now so trivial. I would give anything to be exhausted because my baby kept me up all night instead of my bad dreams. I would give anything to be hormonal with my child rather than hormonal with a heap load of grief dumped on top. I would give anything to have one day of yours. So telling me that you are struggling with your baby when I am having to struggle without mine is always hard to hear. . . .
This is the world that we live in now. The world of the ‘new normal’. And I dont know if or when my attidude to creating life will ever change. I think when life has led you down certain paths it is almost impossible to turn around, head back and start again. Instead, you try and find new paths along the way. And maybe along the way on my own journey, I will discover new ways to cope. New ways to be happy. Maybe I will one day feel joy at other people’s news without the undercurrent of sadness I feel at the moment. . . . .
I am happy for you . . . .
But at the moment, congratulations just seems to be the hardest, and one of the saddest words to say.