Trigger: This post speaks about pregnancy after loss.
The other day, I found myself sorting through some of Evalyn’s paperwork. It’s crazy to think that after 16 months, I am still finding little pieces around the house which all lead back to one thing . . .
This time, it was her maternity folder which I found myself sifting through whilst breathing in the painful nostalgia. Evalyn’s maternity folder has remained in the same spot since the day I brought it home from the hospital without her. But I have added bits and pieces to it over the months and on finally making the decision to go through it, I realised that it is one big paper-trail of her story all jumbled together; my secondary infertility test results, my early pregnancy scan reports. Evalyn’s scan pictures from various stages of her journey. Then her post mortem forms followed by her funeral forms and finally, her death certificate.
I laid it all out on the bed in front of me and took in each and every item. And as I sat there I really started to think about how much stillbirth has affected my life. Experiencing a stillbirth and losing my daughter has not only had an impact on the person I have become, but also on the way I now live.
So much has changed in my life. And I think it’s important for people to realise just how big an impact the loss of a baby can have on an individual and a couple . . . .
I was born a natural worrier. But there’s a huge difference between being someone who worries and being someone who suffers with anxiety. I’ve realised this since losing Evalyn. I’ve also realised that an anxiety attack can strike at any time.
In the inital months after losing Evalyn, I cancelled on people. Alot. I’d be fine making arrangements and I’d look forward to them but then on the day, I’d find that I just couldn’t face leaving the house. Because what if I saw a mum with their newborn? What if I heard a baby crying and I couldn’t cope with the sound? Or what if I was meeting a friend and their baby and I just couldn’t keep myself together and would inevitably make them feel incredibly guilty for having the one thing I wanted the most? I told myself that if I stayed in the house, I would somehow be safe.
People’s questions would make me feel anxious.
In the early days after loss, it would be because I wasn’t sure how I would react to them or handle them. Some days I genuinely would feel ok, but then someone may just casually ask how I was feeling and I’d start crying. Then, throughout pregnancy after loss, my anxiety from these questions would come from me having to answer them in relation to Evalyn and then I’d somehow convince myself that I was on route to the same awful fate. Now, I’m constantly anxious about Iola and if I’m doing everything in my power to look after her as a newborn.
I have irrational anxieties too which I know have stemmed from losing Evalyn. Because I live in a world where something you love can be taken from you in the blink of an eye. I’m constantly checking that my husband and children are OK. Nick has to text me when he gets to work. Has to. If I don’t hear from him I convince myself that – rather than the traffic jam he’s actually stuck in – something awful has happened. I can’t go through a night without waking up numerous times and running into the children’s rooms to make sure they’re ok.
Please be understanding of a loss parent’s state of mind. We may appear crazy or distant from the outside at times but I can assure you we’re just trying to fumble our way through it all.
As a loss parent, pregnancy and birth announcements are the worst thing to hear. Although I was happy to hear of friends and families joy at their new arrivals, the news itself would bring with it not only an array of feelings that I felt guilty of even having (envy being one of them), it also brought a ton of questions. Why was I the one who had to go through this? Why haven’t I got my baby? Why has life done this to me? Why is everyone getting happiness but not me? What did I do to deserve this?. . . .
I hated the way an announcement would make me feel because it brought out in me traits that aren’t neccessarily a part of my personality. I hated feeling bitter at the world but sometimes I couldn’t help it. And after the loss of your baby, is a slither of bitterness towards life really that bad?
People ask me now – after losing Evalyn and subsequently welcoming her sister safely into the world – if announcements still have the same impact on me . . . Yes, they do.
There is no safe place in pregnancy.
Yes, we are told that getting to the 12 week stage is the ‘safe place’. It’s not. My own experience and knowing of the experiences of others has shown to me that baby loss can happen at anytime during pregnancy. Baby loss doesn’t see you’ve made it to 12 weeks and forget about you.
So, until I know that your baby is here safely in your arms, it is incredibly hard for me to not worry about you.
I won’t ever say congratulations until I know for sure that I can.
There’s a quote I once heard:
“When you have been through hard times and make it through the other side, look around you. The people still there are your true friends.”
There really is nothing like a trauma in life to show you who is there for you and who is not. And if you’re reading this, it’s not you. It will be the person who doesn’t read this, who never picked up the phone in those early months to ask how I was. The person who may have felt uncomforatble talking to me about my daughter because she was dead, rather than realising that talking about my daughter acknowledged that she once was.
Stillbirth has definitely shortened my phone contacts. Maybe people don’t know how to react when a couple lose a child? Maybe they don’t know what to say? . . . .
But the worst thing is to say nothing.
The hardest phone call I have ever had to make was the one I made to my parents after we lost Evalyn.
“The baby’s gone,” I told my Mum as she answered the phone.
“What?,” her voice began to shake, “What do you mean? What do mean ‘gone’?”
“The baby’s heart has stopped beating. The baby’s gone.”
“No? O my God. No, no, no, no . . . . “
Stillbirth robbed my parents of their Granddaughter. And in a way, it robbed them of their daughter too because they have had to witness how much losing Evalyn has affected and changed me.
And it has affected and changed my family too. Losing Evalyn took my Nan back to when she too lost her baby daughter. It conjured up many feelings and memories that old age had hidden from her and it hurt me to think that my loss had brought it all flooding back. I’m happy she lived long enough to know that Iola was on the way, even if she never got to meet her.
I watched my parents struggle with missing Evalyn. My Mum delivered her own Granddaughter’s funeral service. My Dad tried to comfort me when there was little either of them could do to help. As a parent myself, the last thing you want to see is your children in pain.
And I was in the worst pain imaginable.
I hate that they had to see me like that.
To be honest, stillbirth could have taken our marriage in any direction.
I remember lying on the hospital bed on the day we lost Evalyn. She was still in my tummy waiting to make her appearance and I was looking at Nick who was stood by the window.
Does he think this is my fault? I asked myself. Does he blame me? How will we survive this? Does he still love me? Is he angry at me? What if we CAN’T survive this? . . .
I know I needn’t have worried. But that is only with hindsight. Because the strain a stillbirth can put on a marriage is enormous. And it starts right from that first moment. All of a sudden you have decisons that need to be made and made together. But what if each parent is on different pages? It’s not something you ever talk about, is it? During pregnancy, you don’t turn to the other and ask if this baby doesn’t make it, how do you wish to proceed? Yet, all of a sudden, we were faced with exactly these questions . . . .
Do you want your baby to be handed to you or taken from the room at birth?
Would you like a blessing for your baby in the hospital?
When would you like to see your baby?
How would you like to proceed with funeral arrangements and transportation of your baby’s body?
Would you like a post mortem?
What sort of post mortem would you like?
Would you like a burial or a cremation?
It is easy to see how a couple may have different opinions about any of these questions. I’m not sure how, but Nick and I had the same opinion for every single one. And I feel eternally greatful that we never had to argue or debate our reasons because I know many people who have. Understandbly, too. I honestly don’t know how our marriage survived stillbirth. I also don’t know how our marriage survived pregnacy after loss. But somehow, it did.
But we are not the same people moving forward. We have seen the darkest parts of eachother. We have had to pick eachother up and talk one another out of the blackest pits of despair. We have had to be strong when the other is weak. We have had to understand that we may be somehow different now as individuals. In a way, we have had to fall in love with the new people stillbirth has made us into.
I am proud to be Nicks’ wife, but sometimes I wish I could be the happy, care free person I once was for him instead of the shadow of myself I can sometimes be.
I like to work. I like having the routine of the ‘9 to 5’ and before Evalyn, I never saw myself as someone who would never have a job. I had a simple plan; give birth to Evalyn, enjoy my maternity leave with her and return to work. Experiencing stillbirth threw all of these plans out of the window.
Suddenly, I was on maternity leave without my baby. I was in a place where I needed to make job decisions that I’d never even contemplated before. I knew I wasn’t ready to return to work straight away, yet I was aware that some people expected it of me. What’s the point of being on maternity leave without a baby? I don’t think some people realise that that time isn’t spent enjoying endless days of box-sets. Those days and months are spent mourning and grieving and trying to just get through them.
Falling pregnant with Iola whilst on Evalyn’s maternity leave was surreal. Especially as Iola was due three weeks after Evalyn’s maternity leave ended. For me, this was when I realised that I couldn’t go back to my job. I just didn’t have the mental strength. I left when I was pregnant. To return pregnant and sit in the same office where I’d sat with Evalyn in my tummy only months before seemed like a horrible deja vu.
So I did the one thing I had never planned on doing. I left. And my organisation made me pay back all of my maternity leave money for the privilledge (see ‘Work Decisions’ post for the whole story). Not only was I without Evalyn, but I was now short of £1900 – but apparently a stillbirth doesn’t fall under ‘exceptional circumstances’ for the bill to be waivered (can you tell I’m still bitter)? 🙂
But some decisions can be good ones and I spent 2017 starting up my photography business which was something I had always dreamed of doing. I guess Evalyn gave me the gentle push that I needed. And it’s still going well. If you would’ve told me back in 2016 that this is what I would be doing now, I’d never have believed it.
PREGNANCY AFTER LOSS
Pregnancy is never the same after loss. How can it be? How could I sit there all calm in the waiting room for my scan after all we had been through? Iola’s pregnancy wasn’t something I enjoyed. I didn’t have that pregnancy ‘glow’.
I was terrified.
I cried in the waiting room before every appointment because I couldn’t stand the wait before I went it. I could barely breathe every time the midwife used the doppler on my tummy or the sonographer examined the screen. And even when I was told everything was alright, I wouldn’t come out of the room feeling relieved. I would just come out focused on getting through the next one.
It was when I started to feel kicking that I fell over the edge into insanity. I monitored those kicks like that was my sole purpose in life. I barely left the house. All I wanted to do was lie down on the bed and count kicks. And when I’d convinced myself that I couldn’t feel them anymore, I would rush down to the hospital feeling certain that I was about to experience another stillbirth.
I willed time to move forward. All I wanted was to reach my finish line with a baby safely in my arms. But I just couldn’t see that image in my head. I got through my pregnancy by not really acknowledging it and for Iola, that makes me feel incredibly sad.
I couldn’t announce my pregnancy. We only told people who we came into regular contact with. Even close friends who don’t live nearby only found out about Iola after she was born – which was quite the shock. I avoided leaving the house altogether in the last couple of months as I couldn’t bare for people to ask me about my bump – which is something the general public just love doing! Ah, when are due? Is this your first? If I could avoid answering questions then I could somehow try and remain calm and not think about it all too much. That was my theory, anyway. So I became a recluse. I went into hibernation and only emerged once I knew Iola was safe and the breath I had been holding in for so long could escape me.
Stillbirth took away my chance of me ever enjoying pregnancy again. And although I am eternally blessed for Iola, I feel that I was robbed of that bonding time with her when she was in my tummy. I envy all of those women who are just able to enjoy their pregnancies. I wish pregnancy and myself had had a better relationship.
HOW I PARENT
I have changed as a parent sincing Evalyn died. Having to explain death to our five year old will do that. Some days I can be a bit irrational, I know that. I go through moments of wanting to keep Ieuan and Iola close because I need to keep them safe, yet at the same time I want them to both enjoy every single thing that the world has to offer them.
Because life really is too short.
It is a challenge being a parent when your children are in different places. I have two children who are here with me. But I also still find myself parenting Evalyn. She helps me raise awareness for baby loss and I feel that it is something we can still do ‘together.’
I also have Ieuan, who has physically experienced Evalyn, who speaks about her every day and who loves her because he felt her little kicks through my skin and painted a picture in his head of who she would be. But then I have Iola, who will grow up only knowing about Evalyn. Of course she will love her, but in a very different way to how Ieuan may do. I often wonder if there will be more pressure on Iola as she grows up because she is the ‘rainbow baby.’ I can see her now as a stroppy teenager and me moaning at her to get out and enjoy life instead of being on her phone all the time – don’t you know what we had to go through for you to even be here, Iola? I really hope this isn’t the case but my mind tends to wander far more ahead than it really should.
Parenting after loss – to both your lost child and your living ones – is a complicated thing.
I’m sure it’s not just me. I’m sure that anybody who has experienced loss on any level probably feels the same. But I hate it when people moan about trivial things now. Before losing Evaln, I would listen with a sense of humour and maybe at times agree. But now I find it astonishing that we as human beings can’t just enjoy life without moaning about every single little thing.
The other day I was shopping and an older lady was complaining to customer service because she felt the music playing over the speaker was too loud. She was telling them it was drowning out my ability to even think what it was I came in here for in the first place.
THERE ARE BIGGER PROBLEMS IN THE WORLD THAN THIS! SURELY!?
For me, I tend not to moan about the trivial things. Evalyn has shown me that even though it is hard at times without her, life still needs to be enjoyed. And she has shown me just to take enjoyment from the simplicity of life. I go for more walks than I did. I sit and contemplate more than I did. I let things that may have annoyed me before just wash over me. I have started to enjoy that moment in the morning when the sun rises rather than dread it. I have started to realise that the day ahead could be full of endless possibilities. I try my best to overcome my triggers and anxieties when I can. And on the days that I can’t, I let them in knowing that sometimes that is the only way I can heal. I guess, in my own way, I am beginning to live again. . . .
Stillbirth has turned me into a different person. Nick is a different person. In a way, Ieuan is too. He views the world on a much more adult level and still asks questions that take me by surprise.
“Do you think Evalyn’s mad she’s not here with us, Mum?”
“No, Ieuan, I think Evalyn’s happy because we’re trying to live happy lives for her.”
And we are. We are trying to be happy. We are trying to discover who we are without her. I was speaking with a friend the other day about the person I was before Evalyn and in doing so, I realised that Evalyn has pushed me more out of my boundaries and made me take gambles in life much more than I would’ve done before I lost her.
In the saddest of ways, it was only after losing Evalyn that I really started to live. Because I had to. I had to fight to be happy and push myself out of my comfort zones. Isn’t that ironic? That I only started to truly appreciate my life when my daughter left it. And it’s because of her. It’s all because of her.
Thank You, Evalyn. . . . . .
In many years from now when I have lived for you, I hope I can hold your hand in mine and tell you this in person.