Monday, 20 July 2015

For my friend on her lost baby's birthday

Today is the birthday of one of my best friend's baby girl, who was stillborn just a few days before her due date last year. To say that my friend and her husband were devastated would be an understatement. Nothing can possibly prepare you for that degree of shock and pain, for the life plans derailed, the crib unslept in, the tiny vests and socks unworn.

It is difficult to write about your feelings in relation to other people's pain without sounding like you're making the situation all about you. The emotions I had that day cannot even come close to what my friend was feeling, and I wouldn't want to pretend they did. I don't think anyone can claim to know what the experience of stillbirth, or any late loss of a baby is like unless they've been there themselves. Even then, every situation is different and people experience grief in different ways. Yet though I couldn't possibly know the depth of her pain, I would be lying if I said I couldn't imagine it.   

I, thankfully, have never been through a late pregnancy loss, but I did have two miscarriages before Duckling: one managed by ERPC (a term that's meant to have been phased out but was still used by my hospital) after the baby was found to have no heartbeat at my 12 week scan; the other a spontaneous loss at 7 weeks. Both were incredibly sad, distressing and frankly surreal, but as I had half expected to have a miscarriage (my mother had one before she had me) and nobody except close family knew I was pregnant, I coped and was able to return to something approaching normality comparatively quickly - albeit a different, sadder and less complacent type of normal. I still think about my lost little beans a lot, but as I had never felt or saw them moving, it is difficult to picture them as babies. To be honest, I try not to, as I think it would just make things more painful.

My friend had had the misfortune (some might say privilege) of having seen her baby alive on screen, of having heard her heartbeat and felt her kicks. She had, as I had with Duckling just a few months previously, experienced the amazing process of growing a baby from something smaller than a grain of sand to a fully formed person, all ready and waiting to make her way into the world. Except, for some reason that will forever remain unknown, her baby never quite made it. On the day my friend went in to be induced, she discovered her little girl, while still physically present in her womb, was no longer alive.

When I got my friend's text, I was sitting holding a sleeping five-month-old Duckling, laughing at his little mouth sleep sucking away at a long since reholstered nipple. For a second, I couldn't believe what I was reading. It seemed impossible that something so terrible could have happened to someone I cared about so deeply. I thought maybe the doctors had it wrong, that their scanner had been faulty, that when she delivered, they'd find the baby was alive after all. When the reality hit me, all I could do was cry. I looked at Duckling, and remembered how I'd imagined something similar happening to us every day of my pregnancy (past losses make you incredibly paranoid). I remembered the moment I sat in the rocking chair in his room in the early stages of labour thinking "what if I've been through all this and never get to sit here with my baby in my arms?" and welling up because I knew that the answer was too terrible to contemplate. Then I felt guilty because I did now have that baby in my arms when she didn't; that I was a smug Mum now and she wasn't; that I had put my pain behind me (mostly) while she was only just starting an incredibly tortuous and far worse process of grief and recovery; that I'd been moaning just that morning to another mate about my sleepless night when she would never be woken by her baby. Most of all, I just felt terribly, terribly sad that my lovely friend was having to go through something so awful.

I have tried to express some of this to her since, but since it's not about me, mostly I've just tried to listen, I would hope empathetically. I don't think she knows I write this blog, so will likely never read this, but if she ever did I would want her to know that I think about her often - far more often than I am able to communicate - and that while I cannot know (and being honest, hope never to know) the spectrum of heartache that losing a baby so late might bring, I can imagine it and completely understand the long-lasting impact and repercussions it continues to have in her life. I have never for a second been 'glad' it was her and not me, as one person suggested I should be, though I would understand if she hated me sometimes because it was. Above all though, I'd want her to know that she remains my friend, the same friend I ran around the playground with at five, yawned through Science class with at fourteen, ate a mountain of figs with in Barcelona at twenty-one and attended the wedding of at thirty. However much grief may have affected her, and everyone else around her, I hope that never changes. 
Please visit Sands' website to learn more about stillbirth or to make a donation:

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