When Evalyn died, the very kind midwives who looked after us made up a memory box for us to take home. It’s a bit like being given the consolation prize in a horrific game show. . . .
“Thank You, Lyndsey and Nick, for taking part in ‘Creating Life’ but unfortunately, you are not winners today. But you don’t leave empty handed. No you do not! You get to leave with this amazing memory box to remind you of your experience! And do come back in the future and play again! Give them a round of applause, folks.”
You then have to leave the same way you entered – through the maternity ward. This means walking past expectant parents, parents leaving with their newborn babies, parents waiting eagerly for their first scan. But that’s ok – because you have your memory box and eyes so red, tired and raw that you can barely tell which direction you’re walking in. But you notice heads turn your way and you’re pretty sure you can hear whispering behind you about how something bad must have happened.
There’s alot to take in during that first hour after they tell you your baby has died. There’s alot of paperwork. And there’s alot of conversations about subjects you never thought in a million years you would have to discuss. Did I want any pain relief? (In this situation, you’re pretty much offered anything on the menu)! How did we want Evalyn’s body handled after her birth? Did we want to hold her straight away or did we want them to take her straight to the room next door? Did we want to speak to the chaplain? Did we want a blessing for her at the hospital? Would we be organising her funeral or did we want the hospital to do it for us? Did we want a post mortem? What sort of post mortem did we want?
Our hospital bed became a desk full of paperwork to sort through. I spent those first hours in early labour sifting through pamphlets with titles like What To Expect When Your Baby Dies and Coping With Grief in a desperate bid to find an answer hidden inside about how to survive this.
So many questions. Yet we were never asked about Evalyn’s memory box. What memories of your daughter would you like to keep? was never put to us as a question. I guess it’s pretty standard. Handprints and footprints. Done. Photographs. Done. Lock of hair. Done. All beautifully gift wrapped and presented in a box that contains our daughter’s essence.
What would I have asked for had that question been posed to me? What else would I have liked in Evalyn’s memory box? I would’ve asked them to cut a bit of fabric from her babygrow so I could keep a piece of the only outfit she ever wore. I would have asked them to make up a hospital tag with her name on like the other babies get to wear. I never knew until we went to register her death that you don’t get to register a birth if your baby is stillborn.
Because Evalyn died inside of me and never took a breath on the outside, she is deemed unworthy of a birth certificate. Her life, on paper, never existed. I gave birth to my daughter, yet on paper, that never happened. I always found it strange that I could be issued with a death certificate, but not a birth certificate. Surely by issuing a death certificate you are admitting that there was life in the first place? I would’ve made my own birth certificate. I would have asked the midwive’s and doctors to sign it. Yes, it wouldn’t be a legal document. But it would be an acknowledgement of our daughter’s life.
“I’m putting together your memory box,” our lovely midwife told us, “You don’t have to look at it straight away. It is for you to take home. It’s completely up to you when and if you decide to go through it, but it will be good for you both to have and look back on.”
We haven’t looked through our memory box. It’s at my parents house. I asked them to take it and store it away until the day comes when we can open the lid and look inside. I have thought about it. About when either myself or Nick will be ready to go through Evalyn’s box. But right now, for me, it’s just a box. The real ‘memory box’ is in my mind.
I know in that box there are photos of Evalyn. But I worry the image on paper will not match the one in my mind. I can picture her perfectly in my mind. Dark, brown hair like her brother’s. A cute little button nose. She looked identical to Ieuan as a baby which is why it’s so hard to look at his newborn photos now. They could have been twins.
But she was also slightly bruised in complexion where life had drained from her skin. Her pouty little lips that were slightly parted showed me her little gums that were dark purple, not the light pink they should have been. In order to preserve her body for as long as possible, they had covered her skin with a cream and the first time I stroked her little cheek after we had asked to see her, she was slightly sticky to touch and that shocked me most of all. I had wanted my baby soft and warm.
I had seen death throughout my life. I had been affected by deaths of family members and known about the passing of distant family friends. I had never felt death before.
In our rush to get to the hospital, we never took our maternity bag. It was up to my mum to sift through Evalyn’s clothes and bring them to the hospital so we would have something to dress her in. I asked my mum to grab the baby grow I had only bought days before. It was only when I pulled it from the bag that I realised it had little puppy dogs printed on the fabric. They were standing under rain clouds holding umbrellas. At the time, I had thought it was cute. Now, it had never seemed so appropriate. That is the baby grow that we dressed Evalyn in. And she looked pretty cute in it despite our breaking hearts.
That is the Evalyn I remember. Yes, she was beautiful. Yes she was perfect. But she was gone. When Evalyn was at the funeral home, my mum asked a professional photographer to take some more photos. My mum informs me these photos are beautiful. That at this point, Evalyn’s skin had been made to look ‘normal’ and that she just looked like any beautiful sleeping baby.
I wouldn’t know. We never went to see her. I knew from the moment I pushed her from my body that me and Evalyn would say our Goodbye in that maternity room. I already knew that saying Goodbye would be, by far, the hardest thing that I have ever had to do in my life. Seeing her again past that moment and trying to say Goodbye again would be too hard.
I only saw Evalyn three times.
The first was four hours after I had given birth. We had asked the midwives to take her away immediately. I was so scared that if she was handed to me straight away, I wouldn’t be able to let her go. The second was the following morning when me and Nick went into the side room where she was kept in a cold cot and I stroked her cheek, kissed her little forehead and told her repeatedly how sorry I was that we couldn’t take her home. The third time was an hour before we left the hospital. The chaplain came to perform a blessing for her and I sat on the bed and held her in my arms and desperately tried to take in every inch of her. I didn’t have much time with Evalyn. But to be honest, there was never going to be enough time. We were always going to be on a time limit. But I cherish those moments we did have. I play them over and over in my mind and, even though it hurts, I am thankful that my memories are so vivid.
And for this reason, I worry that the image of Evalyn who is in that memory box won’t be the little girl I remember. The photos may not look like the Evalyn I see in my mind. Her handprints may seem bigger or smaller than the little hand I held in my own. Her lock of hair may seem lighter or darker than the strands I curled around my fingers. What if the memory box that is supposed to bring me comfort doesn’t bring me any at all? What if it resets the grief and the turmoil after I’ve come so far? What if I look through it and my heart sinks?
I know that one day, when the time is right we will open her box.
I also know that this will not be any time soon.
At the moment, I am comforted with the slideshow that plays out in my head. I am happy carrying around those memories and I am happy talking about them as that is all I have to talk about when it comes to Evalyn. Other parents will watch their children grow and have new stories to tell every day. I only have the one story of Evalyn. It will never change. It will never develop. Evalyn will only have one chapter, but our lives after will have many. Some happy. Some sad.
I have another image in my mind – more of a projection of the future. I picture both myself and Nick sitting down at our kitchen table, Evalyn’s memory box in front of us. We are in a happy place. Maybe a year or two has passed and although we haven’t moved on, our hearts feel a little lighter. The storm clouds have changed to a light rain over our lives but that day, for whatever reason, the sun decides to shine through.
And we open the box, slightly fearful at first. But then we look down and see Evalyn’s little face on a photograph and any apprehension I have disappears. And we spend that afternoon looking through memories, talking about Evalyn. Going over our experience. Remembering our little girl.
And for the first time, we are able to remember Evalyn without tears.
Only with a smiles.
Have you been through a similiar experience? Do you have your own memory box? How does it make you feel? I’d love to hear your stories, thoughts and feelings. xxx