*TRIGGER* (This article talks about pregnancy after loss)
It was early morning and we were just walking out of one of the hospital rooms after a CTG when I saw it on the wall. It was a laminated picture of a blue and black butterfly and an explanation underneath informing people to remain quiet as the Nightingale Suite was in use. Most people would walk past this picture without a second glance and even if they did read the words, they probably wouldn’t know what it meant.
But I knew.
I knew because only one year before, myself and Nick had been taken into that suite so I could give birth to Evalyn. That suite was reserved for the parents who don’t get to take their babies home. That room is a room full of sadness and crushed hope and Goodbye’s a parent never wants to utter. And now that room was being used again.
I looked at Nick and fixed him with the same sad expression he was giving me and I rubbed a hand over my bump. We were due to have our baby the following week and in that moment, even after everything we had been through the past year, I felt guilty that life was kindly letting me keep my baby this time yet, for the strangers behind the wall, life would take theirs away. I thought about the pain we have felt and the pain those strangers would be feeling at that precise moment and it devastated me. . .
The past two weeks since Iola’s birth, I have found myself quietly reflecting on the past year of my life. On one hand, it has been the slowest year and yet now that she’s here, there is a small part of me that wonders where the past 365 days have gone. I have felt alot of emotions; Contentment. Happiness. A renewed grief for Evalyn. But there is one emotion that has filtered through more prominently than the others and it is an emotion I never considered would follow the birth of my third child.
I feel guilty and for so many reasons.
Now that the fog that has clung to me through pregnancy after loss has slightly lifted, I am able to see a bit clearer. And I am able to see just how much losing Evalyn has shaped, affected and changed me. And in parts, I feel guilty for the way in which I have lived the past year and everything that I have missed out on.
Announcing Iola’s birth was both amazing and heartbreaking all at the same time. We have become friends with so many loss parents over the months. Some have gone on to have other children themselves, some are currently expecting and others know that they will never be able to conceive siblings for their baby. It is the hardest thing to announce to someone the one thing that you know could hurt them the most. And although we have been shown so much love, I felt guilty that our announcement could ultimately bring on their sadness.
I feel guilty on behalf of Evalyn. I feel guilty because for reasons I will never know, my body let her down. I feel guilty because the other night when we put up the Christmas tree and laid Iola beside it so she could look at the lights, Evalyn wasn’t there with us. She will never be there with us. I looked at Iola and felt overwhelmed with love for her and felt guilty that I was unable to look after Evalyn in the same way I am able to look after her little sister. I feel very humble that life blessed with me two daughters but it does hurt that they will never grow up together. Nor would they ever had had the chance. Because had Evalyn lived, Iola wouldn’t be here. I wanted two children. I feel lucky to have had three. In a way, Iola is a beautiful gift from Evalyn.
I feel guilty that for the past two years, I haven’t neccessarily been the mother to Ieuan that I wanted to be. I had pregnancy sickness for the whole nine months with Evalyn and constantly felt tired and ill. And with Iola, I was so anxious the whole time I could barely concentrate on anything other than monitoring her kicks and rushing to the hospital on the many occasions my anxiety became too much. Ieuan has been so patient with me over the past two years. It has been so hard for him seeing me so stressed and I know I have been a very different mother to him than I was the years previously. A sadder version perhaps. I feel guitly that he has missed out on two years of the ‘fun mum’. The mum who used to chase him around and race him over the green fields by our house.
“We can race eachother again now,” was one of the first things he said to me after Iola arrived and it hurt my heart slightly that that is all he’s wanted for so long. The simplest of things, yet I haven’t been able to give it to him.
For Nick, I feel guilty that the wife he has lived with since Evalyn died has not been the same person he married. I know he would tell me he thinks differently, but I applaud him for not only getting me through my own grief and stress, but also for letting me pile all of mine on top of his own without complaint.
He has put up with alot.
He has put up with all of my grief for Evalyn and the anger that her loss brought out in me. He put up with my breakdowns each month when we didn’t fall pregnant. He put up with my obsessive countdowns to my fertile days followed by my obsessive countdowns to see if the test would be positive or not. He then put up with my anger and sadness when it wasn’t.
He put up with my anxiety attacks throughout pregnancy after loss. He put up with my neurotic kicks counting and my panic attacks when I’d convinced myself that the kicks had stopped and I needed to rush to the hospital regardless of what time it was. For the last 6 weeks, the hospital let me go in every day at 8am for CTG monitoring just so I could get through the next 24 hours without a breakdown. Nick came to every appointment. Most days he was late to work. Most days he was beyond tired because I’d woken him up numerous times throughout the night to ask him to put his hand on my stomach to confirm whether the kicks were real or in my own imagination?
Most of our CTG’s were performed in the same room where we were told Evalyn had died. On one occasion we even saw the doctor who had delivered those fateful words to us. I feel guilty that my own anxieties meant that I had to put Nick through that too. I feel so far removed from the woman he fell in love with. I know that I will find her again and she will find her way back to him. I just feel that when she reappears, she has alot of making up to do.
“It will be good when you have this baby,” my Mum told me a few weeks back, “It will be nice to have you back with us a bit more.”
My parents haven’t had the fairest ride along our own journey either. Hearing my Mum’s voice break down the phone when I rang to tell her Evalyn had died was by far the hardest phone call I have ever had to make. I felt so guilty and at fault that they had lost a Grandchild and even more at a loss that I couldn’t give them an explanation as to why.
Pregnancy after loss has been hard on them too. Like us, they have kept any excitement they may have at bay. I refused to let them buy anything because I couldn’t bare for them to have to take any baby items back to the shops again if the worst was to happen. I refused to open up about my pregnancy. Instead, any pregnancy related conversation was aimed towards when I needed them to look after Ieuan because I had a hospital appointment. Any conversation they started about the little baby inside my tummy was met with an abrupt let’s just talk about the baby when the baby’s here from me. I feel guilty that the way in which I needed to be in order to just get through my pregnancy in turn had an impact on their own thoughts and feelings about the arrival of their third Grandchild.
I think it’s fair to say that we have the most understanding friends in the world. Because this past year, I feel like I have been much less of a friend to them as they have been to me. I have missed out on so much of their lives due to grief and anxiety. I have missed out on their own birthdays, their children’s birthdays, their anniversaries and ,probably the most painful for me, I have had to take a step back from their lives when they gave birth to their own babies because, in truth, I didn’t know how I would react seeing their newborns.
It is the hardest thing to tell your friends you love them to pieces and are beyond happy for them, but you can’t see them for a little while. It makes me feel guilty that the love they have shown to me since Iola was born far outweighs the love and support I was capable of showing them after the births of their own children. Yet, my explanations at the time were always met with an I completely understand and an we love you guys so much. I can only hope that in time, I am able to find a million ways to show my friends how much I love and appreciate them and the way in which they have helped to pull me through this year.
I think Iola makes me feel the most guilty of all. Now that she is here, I am able to appreciate her and breathe her in on a level I could never do during my pregnancy. I guess pregnancy after loss affects different parents in different ways. Maybe it was because my pregnancy followed so closely after Evalyn’s death? Maybe it’s because I knew going into it that every single little thing would petrify me? Maybe I just wasn’t prepared for the emotional rollercoaster pregnancy after loss would be? But rather than embracing the pregnancy, I found that the only way I could get through it was to distance myself from it.
I spent the first 12 weeks not really believeing it. Sure, the test was positive and we’d seen the smallest fetus on an early scan. But until I could see the outline of a baby on a 12 week scan, I refused to believe that we were in with a chance of making this happen.
We never announced. We only told a handful of people who we see often and therefore couldn’t keep it from. I was so scared that we would announce like we did with Evalyn and then weeks or months down the line we would have to take it all back again.
So I kept quiet. I didn’t talk about my pregnancy. I didn’t blog about my pregnancy. I refused to touch Evalyn’s room (or the ‘girls room’ as I now like to call it) until I knew Iola was safely here. We didn’t find out the sex of the baby because I was so worried that if we knew we were having a girl my mind would go into overdrive. I couldn’t bring myself to buy any baby bits. Instead, I gave my maternity bag to my Mum with an envelope of money and asked her to pack it for me. I could only bring myself to collect this bag from her the night before we went into the hospital.
“Do you think we should talk about names?” Nick asked me the week before Iola arrived.
“I can’t,” I told him, “I can’t talk about names until the baby is here.”
So we didn’t. For me, my pregnancy became a split between ignoring any pregnancy related talk and meticulously counting kicks. And in that moment when I heard Iola’s cries filling up the room, I instantly felt guilty that I had spent the last nine months blocking out any emotion I may have had for her.
Instead, I focused on Evalyn. I focused on raising awareness. I focused on getting through to the end of every day with my sanity intact. I spent my pregnancy torn between the hope I had for Iola growing inside of me, and my grief for Evalyn who I’d never hold again. I spent my pregnancy loving both of my girls in two very different ways.
The past two weeks I have been reflecting alot over our journey. Iola is here. And she is beautiful. And she has filled me with a level of contentment I haven’t felt in a very long time. But I am not naive to believe that Iola entering our lives makes Evalyn leaving any easier. A new baby after loss doesn’t and will never replace the baby you lost. My love for Evalyn and my yearning for Evalyn is still very much there and always will be. I have found myself grieving her in the past two weeks on a depth I haven’t felt since those early weeks when she left us. It hurts. But it’s normal to feel this way.
I feel that I am slowly starting to resurface. I have been submerged in the sea of my own grief for a long time. And it is a lonely place. It is dark, suffocating and a struggle. But I have noticed over the past two weeks that every once in a while, I have been able to surface for air. I am able to breathe in the world around me again bit by bit and it’s only now I can look back and acknowledge the person I became after losing Evalyn. That person wasn’t living. She was surviving. She was putting on a pretty good display of being Ok. But she was anything but.
It has taken me a long time to realise that a huge piece of the person I was before Evalyn actually died in the same moment she did. And that’s Ok. Because sometimes it’s best not to go back. Sometimes it’s best to just try and navigate your way forward to find a better you. So, that’s what I’m trying to do. I am trying to filter through my emotions of joy, guilt, pain and every other feeling that decides to come knocking at my door.
Who am I now? Who am I without Evalyn? Who am I as a mother to Ieuan and Iola? Who am I as a wife and a daughter? Who am I as a friend?
On the 8th November 2016, life smashed me into a million pieces. But the thing I’ve realised about being broken is that you can ultimately put yourself back together however you want. I’m not sure of the woman who will emerge as I start to rebuild her again.
But for the first time in a long time, I’m excited to meet her.