“I want to write something really profound”

“I want to write something really profound” I tell my husband. What I think I mean is that I want to write something that will make people understand exactly what it’s like to have a stillborn daughter. Not just what it’s like to have found out she was dead, or what it was like to give birth to my dead baby, or what it was like to bury her; but what it is like to be the mother of a dead child every single day for two years now. And then to know that tomorrow you will still be the mother of a dead child. To know that every day that comes, for weeks, for months, for years, for the rest of your life, that you will always be the mother of a dead child. That you will forever have a break that can’t be repaired – a weight that can’t be set down, only endlessly borne. 

I want to write something that could let people see how Isobel’s death was not an event that occurred in the past  but instead is a never ending process of loss that happens to me over and over, again and again, day after day, night after night. What could I write that would explain that feeling of having left the real me in hospital on 24th June, still sitting in the scan room waiting for a doctor to come in and check on my baby? How can I describe the sense of living life and having to function while only ever being partially, superficially present? Would people be able to understand when I say that I’m so detached at times that internally I have to remind myself to join in interactions? It’s like being a cardboard cut out of a person who looks normal from the front but on closer inspection is only propped up by a flimsy piece of cardboard. Or like being a derelict building that has been covered with a fake shop front to hide the decay inside. 

I keep thinking I want to make a list of all the times I lose Isobel in a typical day, just to demonstrate the daily impact of her absence. The times my mind returns to pregnancy or the days before she died, running and rerunning scenarios where I did something different and she was saved. How I hate myself when I return to what really happened. The times I could vomit when I think of her body rotting in a coffin. The people I see in work and still now my first thought after tens of encounters is how they didn’t acknowledge her death when I came back. The colleagues who are innocently talking about what a nightmare teenage daughters are. Listening to the parents of clients talk about their mourning and grief of having a gender diverse child. The babies that are the same age as Isobel on my Facebook newsfeed that I don’t know whether to hide or not. The questions from strangers about the make up of my family. Baby girl clothes with flamingos on them. Questioning my parenting of Theo. Sometimes loving him with a desperate neediness, sometimes resenting him because he is not her. Not knowing if it’s ok to admit that or not. Feeling guilty for feeling sad around Theo. Feeling guilty for feeling happy with Theo. Being challenged by my husband about any aspect of mothering and my mind hearing “how can I trust you with Theo when you let Isobel die?”. Not trusting my instincts anymore. Never knowing where and when or how I’ll be faced with a trigger. TV, radio, books, and conversations all being laced with danger. This is a window to a typical day’s content. If I made a tally of every moment that is affected by Isobel’s death would one go past without a mark being made? 

If I said that a part of me longs to go back to the immediate aftermath of losing Isobel would people find that strange? That if I could, I would willingly revisit that raw, uncomplicated grief – a time when there were no expectations to function, and nothing to do but sit in despair and feel how close to Isobel I could be. I remember the times I screamed, the times I cried so hard I thought I would shatter and I miss that. I need it but I don’t know how to make it come back. Crying now is brief, and unsatisfying. 

I don’t know why I feel this need to try and make people understand. Who even are people? I don’t know if it would be the same if Isobel had died after living outside my body. The belief that it’s ‘worse’ to lose an older child is one I find difficult to tolerate. Maybe I feel like I need to validate my own grief? 

I like to think that all I want as I write this is to make Isobel exist in someone else’s mind for a little while, but maybe I want sympathy or just any kind of attention? What good does it do though if I were to share what I’ve written here on my Facebook page and get some ‘likes’ and comments. Realistically 90% of them would be from friends who have also lost babies who already live everything I’ve said themselves. 

How would life be different if everyone in the world could know what it is like to be the mother of a dead child? Would it make this life easier? 

I’m still debating posting this, or a version of this on my personal Facebook page so I think I’ll sleep on it! Meanwhile I’ll leave it here. My soundtrack has been Radiohead at Glastonbury (on TV). Amazing. Epic. My spiritual home. Gutted I’m not there. 

The Vessel of my Hate

I wonder if everyone has that one person, pregnant at the same time as them, the one who’s baby didn’t die, who becomes a vessel for all the anger, envy and hatred that was created from nowhere when their baby died? 

For me it’s a woman who works in the same service as me but luckily in a different building, let’s call her Laura. I used to work in Laura’s team on a Friday when I was pregnant with Isobel and she was pregnant with her son, just a few weeks behind me. Maybe I started hating her when she announced her pregnancy the week after I announced mine although I don’t remember minding about this. Maybe it was because she was so anxious about every aspect of impending motherhood and I thought she needed to chill out. It might even have been because she had a rich husband and they had just bought a house in my dream location and I was annoyed because I felt like I was smarter than her and I should be the rich one. But actually I didn’t start hating her until one of our babies died, and it wasn’t hers. 

Despite spending every Friday lunch time with Laura, having all the baby chats and making plans to hang out when on maternity leave, I didn’t hear from Laura when Isobel died. Our first encounter was about six months later at a yoga studio when I was coming out of pregnancy yoga and she was going to her first class after having her son. She was friendly but it was awkward, she was clearly shocked that I was pregnant again so soon and she didn’t know what to say about Isobel so she said nothing. When I asked about how her son was doing she lit up and said how great he was and that he was six months old now! Wow! As if I didn’t know exactly how old he was, as that was how old Isobel should be. 

I managed never to see her in work until a few weeks ago. I am in a different team now and don’t really have cause to visit my old site. But there I was sitting at a mandatory training day a few weeks ago and in walks Laura. My heart sank at first glance and then sank further as I noticed her heavily pregnant belly. My mind went on a little rant. “That fucking bitch who’s baby didn’t die is having another baby who also won’t die, and then she’ll have two babies and they’ll both be alive, and her son will have a sibling and why the fuck was it not her baby that died?!” Although I tried to avoid her at the training she came over to chat, telling me about how her son was doing and how she cries when he achieves certain milestones because she wants him to stay little. You can imagine how much that failed to make me warm to her. 

Fast forward a few weeks and I’m going on a two day training course which I’m really looking forward to, until I see Laura’s name on the delegates list. Ten people and one of them has to be her. 35 weeks pregnant and on my training course just to ruin my experience. 

Today was the first day and I arrived with a positive attitude and a plan to ignore her as much as possible. It’s all going ok, I sit away from her, catching up with another colleague from her team who I haven’t seen for a long time. We sit down to a lunch of soup, bread and cheese. Laura helps herself to some blue cheese. Someone comments that maybe she shouldn’t be eating that. She responds and I quote “I figure the baby’s well enough cooked at this stage, it’s hardly going to die on me now.” My jaw is on the floor. I am literally sitting one person away from her, did she just say the word ‘die’. I think – she’ll realise she’s referenced her baby dying in front of someone who’s baby actually died and be mortified and backtrack, but no. She continues to say how she’s eaten soft cheese all along in both of her pregnancies and never gotten listeria so why would she get it now? She goes on to say that she apparently has been diagnosed with gestational diabetes but she’s mostly ignoring that too as she doesn’t think she really has it. 

Oh Laura. How I hated you for our respective circumstances when I thought you were super conscious of me and what happened to Isobel. I imagined you couldn’t say anything to me as you maybe had survivors guilt and it was difficult to face that. That was bad enough to deal with.  

Imagine how I hate you now, when I realise that you are so blissfully thoughtless that you will talk about dead babies so casually in front of me and be blasé about risks because dead babies happen to other people, not someone like you. Imagine how it feels to know that had the circumstances been reversed I would still have that stupid innocence that you flaunt. 

Now I know that what happened to Isobel is not Laura’s fault. I know that it wasn’t a choice between her baby and mine, where someone picked her baby to live and mine to die. I even know that she’s a nice person who deserves good things. I know I don’t really hate her as a person, it’s just that I’ve projected all of my negative emotions and the poor woman has been an unlucky recepticle. But I just can’t bring myself to feel bad about how I feel about her.  As if she will give me a second thought when she goes home to eat her bloody blue cheese. As if it will matter to her when she is celebrating her son’s second birthday. As if she will be upset that I hate her when she is introducing her two children to each other and watching them form a lifelong bond. 

Tomorrow I will tell myself, “Laura, I don’t hate you, I’m just not necessarily excited about your existence!”