I’ve written before about having thoughts of responsibility and blame for Isobel’s death that make me feel guilty. For me this adds such an extra challenging dynamic to the grief of the loss itself. The fact is that Isobel was herself a perfectly healthy baby and had I realised something was wrong, and gone to the hospital sooner, we quite possibly may have been able to save her.
I had known about kick counting during my pregnancy and had counted her kicks a number of times when I was unsure about movements before, and even gone to hospital twice with what I perceived were reduced movements only to be told everything was fine. But counting the kicks wasn’t something I did every day. I would like to think I would have noticed if her movements had reduced before she died but honestly I don’t remember the day before, and what the movements were like. Why didn’t I take just half an hour to monitor movements every day? It sounds so stupid now, but even when the doctors talked about monitoring movements no one actually said “There is a risk your baby could die”. I genuinely didn’t think healthy babies could die at 39 weeks in low risk pregnancies with no complications.
Our post-mortem showed that Isobel was starved of oxygen over a six hour period which I believe happened over night but maybe there were signs the day before that I missed. The night before, we went for a walk and I was a little sore. Instead of being concerned, I was excited, thinking this could be the start of labour. The pain didn’t progress and went away so I didn’t think any more about it. Now I’m tormented by that pain, was that the start of the placenta giving up on Isobel? What would have happened if I had gone to get checked out that night? How could my baby be struggling, suffocating, dying inside me and I didn’t know anything was wrong? How was I so neglectful? Where was my mother’s intuition?
It makes me sick that I went for lunch that next day with my NCT group. Five of the women had their babies with them and two of us were still pregnant. I held all those babies, so excited that I would be holding mine soon. How could I not have realised that she wasn’t alive? It was when I was having lunch that I started to think that I hadn’t felt any proper movements aside from the mild contractions I was having. When I got home I had a cold drink and lay down and didn’t feel anything. Even then I still wasn’t that worried because this had happened twice before and everything was fine when I went to the hospital, but I thought I better go and get checked out. Simon and I sat waiting in the hospital for two hours before we were seen. We were so unconcerned that we didn’t make a fuss about the wait, we sat there debating names and chatting as normal. How was I so naïve? I look back and I absolutely cannot understand how I was so blasé about my child’s life.
I didn’t intend this post to be a whole confessional but maybe this is something I have needed to write. I know people will say that I didn’t know any different, I had no reason to think she was going to die and maybe I couldn’t have saved her anyway if the placenta stopped working acutely. I know all these things. I have told myself all these things. But none of that changes how I feel.
In the model of psychology I practice (ACT) we try to recognise that thoughts are just stories our mind tells us. We don’t get in to debates about how true or not they are, but instead think about whether getting hooked on a particular thought or story is helpful for us and encourages us to live according to our values. I recognise that the ‘It’s my fault’ story is so unhelpful and adds unnecessary suffering to a loss that would be painful enough without these extra layers. But even as a psychologist, I just don’t know how to let this story go. 16 months on from losing Isobel, it’s the main aspect of the loss that I feel I have made absolutely zero progress in dealing with.