A letter to the woman who has just been told that her baby has died
As I prepare to give birth again, I look back to just ten and a half months ago and wonder what advice I would give to myself now. The person who had just been told that her baby had died at 37 weeks gestation, without any warning. Her baby who was healthy and perfect in every way, who she had seen wriggling around at the 36 week scan just five days before. Whose heartbeat she had heard just two days earlier.
That woman, who lying on the triage room bed, had just seen her baby’s still heart on the ultrasound screen. Who was surrounded by doctors and midwives, being told that she had no choice but to labour and give birth, that she had to start the process that evening; that all she was allowed to do was to go home and pack a bag before returning for induction. The woman who wanted to be put to sleep and never wake up, who couldn’t fathom that she had to go through the process of birthing, something she had so lovingly prepared for, knowing that the outcome would be silence and leaving the hospital empty handed. Knowing that she had to break the news to her family and friends that she had let them down in the worst way possible. That she had failed to protect her much loved and longed for baby.
That woman who felt horrified that she would need to give birth. Who believed that the doctors were just being cruel and heartless; that they were putting her physical needs before her emotional ones. The woman who felt tormented by the cruel blow that life had just dealt her.
This is what I would like to have told that person…
Dear courageous mama,
You may not believe it now, but you are already a mother. Motherhood will not initially be as you planned it, but it is no less important. In fact, it is the bravest transition to motherhood that any woman could ever go through.
Giving birth will be hard – really hard. There will be times that you want it to stop and times that you will hold back and will it never to be over, through fear of what lies on the other side. But you will do it and you will be so very proud that you did. You will give your child the honour of being birthed into the world in the way that you had hoped. It may not be a natural, drug free water birth. But it will be no less special and no less precious.
Labour will make you feel stronger and weaker than you have ever felt before. You will cry but unbelievably you will also smile. You will feel scared of meeting your baby, but you have nothing to feel scared of. When she arrives, she will be perfect in every way and you will love her just as much as you would if she were born breathing. She will take your own breath away and you will want to drink in every piece of her.
Take all the drugs you need if you want them. Do not punish yourself. In doing so, you are not failing. This is not a normal birthing experience and you cannot expect yourself to respond as though it is. You will struggle to get into the hypnobirthing zone as you know that each surge is one step closer to having to say goodbye, rather than the start of a joyous journey into motherhood. Do whatever you can to make this easier on your heart and accept the help of others.
Please take care of yourself physically. Do not try to go out on a long walk the day after you give birth. If you had a baby in your arms, would you be doing this? If the answer is no, then don’t. You have run a marathon – even more so because your labour was long and you had to do all of the work yourself as your baby couldn’t help you out. You won’t have slept for days as your heart has been hurting too much. Your energy is being drained by the mental processing you are contending with. Move slowly, stay still, lie down. Give yourself the rest and recuperation you need and deserve.
Spend as much time as you can with your baby. Take photos, dress her, touch her, look at her whole body. Talk and sing to her. Smell her. Cram a lifetimes worth of memories into those short precious hours.
Saying your first goodbye will break you. It will shatter your heart into a million pieces and you will feel as though you have fallen into the deepest darkest hole that you feel you have no way of clawing yourself out from. You will feel lost, scared and as though you do not want to go on. You will cry huge tears that come from the depths of your belly and you will wonder how it is possible for more tears to come.
Your heart will hurt. It will hurt more than you ever thought imaginable. You will wake up each morning and need to re-live what has happened and ground yourself in your new painful reality. Swinging your legs out of bed will take more energy than you ever thought possible. You will sit of the edge of the bed and rock as this will be the only way to soothe the emotional pain that you are feeling. But every day you will get up – and that is more than enough.
At times, you will feel as though you are about to fall off the edge of the universe. Your edges will feel blurred and you will wonder if you still exist as a person anymore. You will need to be held tightly in order to fall asleep. Much like a baby may need to be swaddled to know that they are safe, you too will need this – and that is okay.
You will wonder how the hell you will ever survive this pain. But you will. One day at a time. And the person that you will become will be even more whole than the person you knew before.
You will love as intensely as you hurt. It will be hard to believe that you could love someone so fiercely that you knew for such a short time. But you will.
Please remember that you have not failed and this is not your fault. You will struggle to believe this, I know. But when you can, at least consider this as a possibility.
Your whole sense of self and identity will be questioned. Suddenly you will be scared to leave the house, you will be terrified of being left alone, you will struggle to fulfil normal daily tasks. The strong, independent and vivacious person you once were will have evaporated in an instant and you will feel like a shell of the person you once were.
You will lose the sparkle behind your eyes. You will look in the mirror and not know who you see.
Seemingly small incidents will rock you to the core. A chance sighting of a new mum friend in the distance, pushing her newborn baby down the road will force you to flee home and not leave the house for days. You will cry more than you ever thought possible. You will feel weak, defeated and fragile. This is normal and completely understandable. Do not berate yourself for this.
Sometimes you will be overcome with intense emotions that you may not like. You will feel angry and jealous – sometimes of the people you love. You will question ‘why us?’ These thoughts and emotions are all valid and fair, but remember that they are transient and you will not be consumed by them.
Relationships will change. Some for better, some for worse. Some people will be able to cope with your pain and some people won’t. This is not your responsibility to fix.
You will be a different person, which will be hard. A secondary loss to navigate.
But the core of you will still be there. And you will grow into someone new, someone stronger, someone with more compassion and with a bigger heart. That heart will have a hole the shape of your daughter, but it is that hole that will give you back the sparkle in your eyes and the fire and determination in your belly.
Whatever you do, know that your baby will always be with you. She will give you the strength that you never knew you had and you will make it your sole aim in life to make her proud. Everything you do will be in her honour and you will live life in the way that you would have wanted your daughter to.
This is not the end. This is just the beginning.
Know that you are loved and one day you will start to learn to love the new person you have become. Very slowly. But you will.