Of my daughter

My second child was due to be born when my daughter was four years old. Psychotic depression, before and after her birth had meant that we thought we would not have another, and it was a joy to think that we might have a different experience.  I had been on lithium when the baby was conceived, but all was present and correct at the twenty-week anomaly scan, and we started to relax. Shortly after this my husband was due to fly out to Mexico again – I was a little worried in the week before he left, as I had not felt much in the way of movement, so our GP checked the baby’s heart. It was a bit difficult to hear due to extraneous noise (my heart and the usual swooshing internal noises) but all seemed fine.

I have a friend who is an obstetrician, and at that time we worked near to each other. I told her that I regretted that they had been unable to tell me the baby’s sex; she immediately offered to do a scan herself to find out. I was now twenty-two weeks pregnant. There was the usual cold jelly routine, and then the silence began. It can’t have been a very long silence, but it moved from her to me, and then she had to say those terrible words – “I’m so sorry, there is no heartbeat”. My poor friend– she will have said those words to many others, but she cannot have expected to have to say them to me. I was quite shocked; I was at work, my husband was in Mexico, I had no idea what to do. 

Nothing could have made this bearable, but I am still glad that my friend did that scan. Not for her, but, selfishly, for me and for my baby. I am glad it was someone who will not forget us. But never again could I listen to the music I had played so recently in my car, when I thought my little baby was alive. 

There is no good place to go to deliver a baby that has died, and an obstetrics unit certainly isn’t that. I was in a slightly separate room, but it was a horrible reminder of what should have happened. Babies were being born here, living babies. I was numb and frightened; my poor mother tried her best, but I suspect it was too painful for her, and she struggled to know what to say or do. The whole process was undignified at best, appalling at worst, and involved pessaries and a long wait, as, despite its tiny size, the baby was not born quickly. It was painful too, although they are generous with painkillers when the baby can no longer be harmed. I don’t think the baby was born until the next morning – somehow it got a bit stuck – but the consultant came in and delivered her. Because it was a girl, a little tiny lost scrap of humanity that would never know me, her mother, or her father or her sister. I never saw her, and no-one suggested that I should. My mother did see her, briefly, and commented that I would not have wanted to have done so, a remark meant well, but one that I found very difficult to bear, and that haunted me in the months to come. But it meant that I had no little picture of her, no tiny footprint, no gentle memory. There was nothing obviously wrong with her, but her tiny little body was taken for post-mortem and that was that.

I couldn’t think straight or process what had happened at all, but I do remember thinking of my other little daughter, and wanting her. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t there, and I became convinced that she had died too. The unthinkable had happened and nothing made any sense at all. I was transferred over to the psychiatric hospital, but I don’t remember anything about getting there. I think at some point my parents brought my daughter in; she cannot have had any idea what had happened, but I remember her little blonde head. I think my thoughts settled a bit, but I couldn’t stand being in the hospital. How would lying here help anything? How could anyone help? 

Later that evening I told the nurse I wanted to leave, and they contacted the on-call psychiatrist, whom I knew slightly. None of this was ideal, and who can know what one would do in such circumstances. But this doctor was hardly helpful, and when I begged for the consultant to be called so that I could go home, said, “Well, you know what that will mean”, in other words that I would be detained. I think at that point that I tried to throw my shoes at them, the closest I have ever come to assault; fortunately for my unblemished record, I always had an atrocious aim. And the consultant was called, and he let me go home. 

My husband came home as soon as he could, and I remember meeting him in our dark hallway. I felt that I had failed him, that I had lost our little baby after all that he had done for me; and he felt that he had failed me by not being there. It was a terrible time. 

One thing that is very hard when you lose a baby at less than twenty-four weeks is that it is not officially counted as a stillbirth, or at least not in the UK. No loss compares with any other – which is worse, for example, a childless woman of forty-four having an early miscarriage, or a younger woman with three healthy children having a stillbirth? Neither, context is all, and what seems simple may not be. And to me this was not a miscarriage, it was a stillbirth. Symbolism may be disregarded by many, but having a birth certificate, or a little photograph, had it been possible, would have helped. The hospital did give me a certificate, to which they added her name, but it seemed makeshift, and I didn’t keep it. If I could have seen her, or even held her, it might have helped; but no-one even alluded to this possibility, and I wondered how terrible she could have looked, or even whether she had truly existed. 

There was a small funeral, and my husband carried her, just that once, in a little white box. I nearly didn’t go, but changed my mind that morning. It was right to go, and we said a last goodbye to our poor little baby. Whenever I pass that crematorium, or see its name, I think of her. My little baby, who wasn’t a proper baby.

Some weeks later we met with the consultant to discuss the results of her postmortem, but they were unfortunately inconclusive. It was difficult to know what to say to my daughter, who had been looking forward to having a sibling. My mother told her that the baby would have been disabled had she lived; I’m not sure that this was a good message. But what could she say? What could any of us say? We didn’t know.

I wanted to talk about her and remember her, but I knew that would never be possible. It may be sentimental, but what comforted me were Wordsworth’s Lucy poems (who knows what they were really about?): “She lived unknown and few could know when Lucy ceased to be. But she is in her grave, and oh, the difference to me.” And I knew, even then, that no-one would remember her in the same way as me. I remember her birthday, every year, but no-one else does.

5 thoughts on “Of my daughter

  1. A beautiful, emotive piece Rebecca. My friend had a stillbirth 2 years ago, full term, no indication of its potential. Luckily they were afforded time with baby Sofia, photos and foot / handprints were taken. As friends it’s impossible to know what to do but hopefully I’ve done ok x
    I, myself wasn’t given the gift of children and the horrendous medical interventions to attempt to assist failed so I feel a sense of loss too but an intelligible one x

    1. Everyone’s loss matters – I am so lucky to have children, but want to let myself grieve for this one that I didn’t. Sometimes I have felt I didn’t deserve to do so, but that’s not the case, I hope, not for anyone. I am very sorry for your loss, which I think is one of the hardest. And for your friend and her little Sofia. X

  2. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve had this happen twice, twin boys at 24 weeks (28 yrs ago) and a girl at 29 weeks (24 yrs ago) who I named Megan. Two very different experiences, had cremation both times and their ashes are with my parents. No reason could be given either time. It leaves you with a very odd feeling and the majority of people can’t understand as it is such a personal loss. I remember them especially on birthdays and Christmas and am possibly the only person that does. Unfortunately I wasn’t lucky enough to have children after. I feel your pain and understand your need to remember and cherish your loss.

    1. I am so sad to hear this. I think it is a loss like no other – you are so right about remembering when no one else does. I am fortunate to have other children, and of course that makes a huge difference, but I will never forget x

  3. No one else may remember, but we are their mothers, and we shall always remember the children we carried so near to our hearts. It is indeed a loss like no other, leaving a baby shaped hole in our hearts that no one else may see but which we will always feel in some way, like at those times when we are asked how many children we have. Sending love from one bereaved mother to another.

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