Nine Months

  

Nine months was all the time required to make 7 pounds 2 ounces of perfect baby girl from scratch. Nine months to form a heart that should have continued to beat for decades. To grow the lungs that should have inhaled and exhaled hundreds of millions of times. To make the eyes that should have seen all the wonders of the world. To create the eggs that would have sparked new life and the uterus where my grandchildren should have grown. Nine months was all the time required to make Isobel. 

Nine months was more than sufficient to make me a mother, and Simon the father of my child. To let us joyfully wave goodbye to the fertility problems and the uncertainty of whether or not we would have children, to know that our struggles in that regard were finished – the hard part was over. Nine months to plan the rest of our lives together as parents, as a family. To create a thousand day dreams about our baby and the life we would have together. 

How can it be then, that nine months is not remotely enough time to accept that Isobel is gone and our dreams of her are lost? Not nearly enough time to accept that her heart is not beating, her lungs are not breathing, her eyes are not seeing and that unknowable generations of people will not exist because she is not here. 

It is not enough time to understand either how this happened, or why. In nine months, I haven’t been able to stop my mind from returning to the thought that I am responsible. 

Nine months is not long enough that the waves of grief are not still overwhelming, that the sadness is not still profound, that the hopelessness that comes with having a problem than can never be solved, is not still absolute. 

Nine months has not been enough time to stop the spontaneous flashbacks of ‘that’ moment and all the horrors that followed. Not enough time to settle the nightmares about destruction and death. 

The nine months that have passed have not softened the pain of pregnancy and baby triggers, of seeing mothers and daughters, of hearing a little girl say “Mummy”; of being left out in the cold, looking in at the warmth of the life I should be living. 

These nine months have not allowed me to find the parts of myself that I lost; my naivety, my optimism, my easy confidence. Nor have they been long enough to let me leave behind the unwanted traits that I gained; my resentment for the happiness of others, my disdain for non ‘life or death’ struggles, my irritability and quick temper. 

How can it be that nine months, such a finite amount of time, allows for the creation of something so perfect and the formation of a bond so strong, that – from what I read – no amount of time exists that can fully erase the pain of losing it? 

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A New Page

  Just a quick post to point out that I’ve added a new ‘page’ with some poems and links that I’ve found helpful over the past nine months since losing Isobel. 

I hope someone else might find them helpful too and feel free to comment with other suggestions. I’ll add to it as things come to me so it should develop with time. 

A Feeling of Shame 

  

I work in a service that offers specialist consultation to other mental health services working with young people. It means that I meet a lot of different staff from all across the region. We also do direct work with some young people and families but only see them every 6-8 weeks. The point of this introductory ramble is to explain that I meet lots of people through work, and even now, having been back in work for three months, I’m still meeting people for the first time who last saw me when I was heavily pregnant with Isobel. And here I am heavily pregnant again (I’m 28 weeks but flipping huge). 

On meeting people for the first time, I’ve repeatedly become aware of an emotional experience that I’m finding it hard to make sense of so I thought writing might help. 

It feels like shame. 

I’m conscious that people will see my rather unmissable bump and have some level of judgement about my second pregnancy. I notice that I try to hide my stomach behind a file or cross my arms – as if that would even disguise my obvious pregnancy. I actively avoid small talk before and after consultations, swiftly exiting after meetings are finished. For someone who delighted in showing off my bump and talking about my first pregnancy, this is such a change. I’m not explicitly aware of caring what other people think about my personal life, and I don’t rationally believe I have any reason to be ashamed…but the feeling persists. 
  
One of the difficulties is that I’m never sure who knows that Isobel was stillborn and who is not aware. For those who don’t know, maybe I’m worried that they will ask about her or make a comment about my having a second baby so soon. When asked, I am always open about the loss of Isobel but this can make me feel vulnerable and unsure of myself which in a professional setting (where I am supposed to be the ‘expert’ being consulted) is uncomfortable. For those who do know about my bereavement, I’m not sure what I fear people think. Maybe that I mustn’t have been that affected by losing Isobel if I bounced back so quickly, or that her loss has been cancelled out by this new baby and I must be fine now. That getting over losing my daughter was as easy as ‘trying again’ but more successfully this time. Incidentally the phrase trying again really angers me, like my daughter was a failed attempt at life, like I’m a failure. The idea of losing another baby and coming back to work to face all these people again, having failed, obviously, again, is more than I can bear. 

The rational part of me knows that firstly most people are so self-involved as to spare me little thought at all and secondly that any sensible person will understand that pregnancy after loss is a much wanted but difficult experience that does not soothe the grief for the child that is gone. I know that Isobel wasn’t a failure, that I’m not a failure. But it’s not the rational part of me that feels the burning, shame feeling and wants to hide the outward sign of life in my belly. 

If I’m honest, I do feel guilty that I got pregnant so soon after Isobel was born. I worry that I haven’t dedicated enough time for pure grief, for just missing my daughter, without simultaneously giving headspace to her sibling. I notice already that other people expect me to be more comfortable with pregnancy and babies because I’m pregnant. I’m not. They mention Isobel less, preferring to look ahead to our second baby, to indulge in more pleasant conversation. I think I have concerns about how to keep Isobel’s memory alive for others, when a memory is such a flimsy thing to have to compete with a living baby. It’s almost as if by having another baby I feel like I am killing Isobel again.

This post has gone somewhere I wasn’t expecting and I’m probably more confused than ever so I’m going to leave it there! Welcome to the wonderfully disorienting world of life after stillbirth… 

The Crushing Weight of Responsibility 

  
I’m feeling a lot like this Spidey at the minute but without the benefit of his superpowers or muscular toned thighs! 

Since our lil rainbow baba’s movements have been more definitive, I feel such extreme pressure to know at all times if he is moving or when he last moved. I’m feeling like I can’t concentrate on anything else. There have been times in work when people have been talking to me and I’ve just been superficially listening, with my main focus of attention being in my tummy! It’s getting in the way of everything I do, including trying to sleep, and I’m quite probably going to go insane with it all! It really doesn’t help that I have an anterior placenta so depending on the baby’s position, movement feels vastly different on different days but very often is pretty gentle and ‘internal’ rather than big tummy wobbling kicks. I haven’t started to do official kick counts. The guidance around this is so confusing and has moved away from counting a specific number of movements but I think maybe having three (?) set times a day that I specifically pay attention might help me rather than trying to do it all the time.

So far I’ve gone to hospital twice outside of my normal weekly appointment with concern about movement, once at 23 weeks and this weekend past at 27 weeks. Both times I felt that the baby hadn’t been as active as usual that day. Because the process of going to hospital is so traumatic, I actually find myself putting off going rather than going immediately – which is how I thought I would be. The first time I waited and waited, and got myself into a really horrible state of panic and was convinced the baby was dead. The second time, I went sooner after I became concerned so I was still pretty calm which was a much better experience. Both times if I’m honest I know that I was having particularly hard days on an emotional level. I suppose it makes sense that when my mood is generally worse, I’m more likely to worry about the baby and then if he’s not very active, or is in a bad position, the whole rocky ‘holding it together’ act falls apart! Luckily we don’t live too far from the hospital and so far the staff we’ve met have been very understanding. 

We got a report back of a file review of my antenatal care with Isobel. The opinion of the reviewer is that my antenatal care was adequate. She wrote that MPFD is known to be associated with sudden foetal death with no warning signs. On the one hand, we get this message that there were no signs that there was anything wrong with Isobel’s placenta but then they try to reassure us saying we’ll be monitored so closely this time. It doesn’t make sense. How can monitoring be reassuring if there are no warning signs??!! I have some questions about that to ask, but I’m sure that reading the report has not helped with my fear that this baby will suddenly die one day like his sister. As much as I trust my doctor and am grateful for the close monitoring, it feels very much like it’s up to me alone to know if something is not right with the baby and to quickly respond to that. Isobel’s postmortem stated that she was deprived of oxygen over a six hour period. If MPFD strikes again, it could happen that quickly and what if I notice too late again?

  

The feelings of responsibility for keeping this baby alive, have made me think more about my ideas of responsibility for Isobel’s death. I have tried not to get stuck on thoughts of being to blame for her dying, or feelings of guilt. I know these are not fair or helpful. However on  a factual level, if I had noticed a reduction in movement in the hours during which she wasn’t getting enough oxygen and had responded immediately to this, there is a chance that she could have been saved. I know there are a million more ‘what ifs’ that relate to things other than me but that one still stands out and I can imagine it’s one I will struggle with more or less for the rest of my life. I will continue with my process of noticing it, reminding myself that it’s not helpful, and letting it go.