Three months ago today I gave birth to a baby girl we named Isobel. She was perfectly formed, weighed 7lbs 2 and was 55cm long. She had her mummy’s nose and her daddy’s lips and chin. On reading these facts, the understandable assumption would be that I now have a three month old baby. However in the parallel reality in which I now reside, carrying a healthy baby to term does not equate to taking a live baby home from the hospital. Due to a problem within my placenta, Isobel was acutely starved of oxygen and died, just six days before her due date. She was born still almost two days later and buried on her due date. The day that we waited for with such excitement, became the day we watched a tiny white coffin descend to the ground. I still don’t feel capable of writing about the extreme trauma of that time. Today, three months on, instead of a three month old baby, I have a phone full of pictures of a perfect but still little girl, a memory box, a cemetery plot and a house full of unused baby things.
Isobel was the baby that I have wanted my whole life. More specifically she was the baby I had dreamed of ever since meeting the person I wanted to have a family with. Even more specifically, Isobel was our miracle baby – surprising us as we languished on the IVF waiting list after two years of fertility issues due to my PCOS. Most pregnancies, planned or unplanned are or at least become a joy, but I do believe those that come after a struggle feel all the more special and joyous after what has gone before. To lose our miracle baby just six days before her due date, and many weeks after she could have survived outside my body is a horror that I could never have imagined.
I know some people find it hard to understand the magnitude of the loss of a baby prior to birth, thinking perhaps that it is an abstract loss – the loss of something you never really had. Unless you or your partner have been pregnant it must be hard to understand how life changes for a couple over the course of a pregnancy. Almost every conversation revolves around the baby and your life ahead with the little person you cannot wait to meet. Countless hours are spent reading about pregnancy, labour, caring for a newborn and researching all the things a baby needs. Pregnancy apps and forums are consulted daily. Time and energy is invested in pregnancy yoga to help maintain flexibility around a growing belly. Weekends are spent looking at prams, car seats and breast pumps in between building IKEA furniture to hold all the baby clothes, wipes and nappies that you’ve purchased. Weeks are punctuated by medical appointments and counting down the days until the next opportunity to get a peek at baby and listen to their beating heart. Evenings are spent staring in amazement at the ripples of a stomach moved by the life inside. I knew how Isobel reacted to different foods, how she would move differently at different times of the day, how she would respond when her daddy spoke to her, how she loved music, and how she would poke back when we poked her. This was not an abstract loss, something not meant to be. Isobel was our daughter, she lived, we knew her.
Pregnancy is not just a time of practically preparing for a baby, it is preparing psychologically for a new identity as a mother and within a relationship for a new dynamic as parents. Mothers and fathers are ‘born’ long before the baby is. Physically after giving birth, it took my body weeks to understand that I did not have a baby to nurture. Psychologically, that understanding has been harder to grasp – or at least to accept. For those months of pregnancy I was not just expecting a baby, I was expecting the rest of my life. Biding time until the next stage of my life would begin in earnest. The life that was adequate before pregnancy now feels woefully incomplete. Everywhere I go I have the feeling that I’ve forgotten something, everything that I try to do feels wrong. I am living in a nightmare and I don’t know how to wake up. The world is in parallel. Things are not as they should be.
Three months on, there have been so many secondary losses since losing Isobel. I could never manage to even allude to all of these in one post. I have lost parts of myself, my core beliefs, that made me who I was. I find myself thinking, coping, relating to others and behaving in ways that are unrecognisable to myself. I read stories of people who grow through tragedy and trauma and come to appreciate the ways in which they have changed. Maybe someday I will feel that way however for now, it is the most extreme understatement to say that the new me is not to my liking.
Three months on, Simon and I are working so hard to walk this tightrope of life after loss, holding both our grief and our determination not to let the legacy of our baby’s life be a negative one. It feels precarious and often impossible. Sometimes we don’t want to walk at all. Sometimes we think we have made progress only to find ourselves suddenly back at the beginning wondering what has happened. On good days we manage to steady each other; on bad days we watch helplessly as our partner falls, too broken or weary ourselves to be able to offer any support.
Three months on, so many people have reminded us over and over again that though we feel isolated we are not on this journey on our own. They have acknowledged our loss. They have asked how we are and not minding hearing the truth in response. They have listened to horror stories, medical details and tolerated the words ‘post-mortem’ and ‘baby’ spoken together when no sentence should contain those words. They have given us the simplest but most precious of gifts: saying or writing Isobel’s name. They have looked lovingly at her pictures understanding how happy it makes us to share them, strange as that may seem. They have told us they too miss our baby and have felt her absence. They have promised that it won’t just be us who remembers her. We are so grateful to those who have reached out, opened up to our pain and allowed us to use them as a balancing pole. Three months on, I wish I could say I am finding my balance without this help. The truth is that time only brings new challenges, fresh realities, and I need everyone there, balancing poles, harnesses, safety nets and bandages at the ready.