Today I am on a podcast called Birth Stories, where I share my account of Orla’s birth. Whilst I have shared aspects of our story previously, talking about it is pretty different to writing about it. There is an element of reliving the experience in more detail when you say it out loud (and for this reason, I do appreciate that it may not be right for everyone to listen – follow your own instinct on this one, but know that I do approach it sensitively).
I’ll be honest that when I was first asked to be a guest on this podcast, I was a bit hesitant – would people want to hear me talk more about Orla and her arrival into the world? Knowing that she died is one thing, but really connecting to the reality of what it means to birth a baby who is no longer alive is something very different. When birth and death collide so forcefully, we want to turn our heads the other way. We do not want to face it – I certainly didn’t – because it is intolerable. The ending of a life before it has even really begun.
I have asked myself many times since recording it, what is my purpose and intention in doing this and sharing our birth story? Why did I say yes, particularly at a time when I am trying to share less on social media? And I guess it really comes down to wanting to help people understand the reality of stillbirth. That it is still birth. That, however you birth your baby, you birthed your baby,and this story deserves to be told and to be heard.
This story is about helping other people to feel less alone, because some of my experience may be similar to your own. And if you haven’t experienced the loss of a baby, maybe this story will help you to have the conversation with someone you know about their birth. Because telling their story to someone who is courageous and compassionate enough to listen may be what they really need.
It has been exactly 40 months to the day since I gave birth to Orla. Forty whole months. Since this time, I have had another full-term pregnancy and labour: One was completely drug free and the other had every drug going; One involved monitoring and the other was silent; One I left hospital with a baby and the other with a box. And yet despite this, there were also many similarities: induction, fear (so, so much fear) but also courage, strength and love.
I look back on both of my labours with a huge sense of pride, even though neither were how I had imagined they would be. I can now accept that I also grieved the loss of the births I yearned for – the spontaneous labour, the home birth, the excitement, naiveté and serenity that I had desperately longed for. It took me a long time to allow myself to accept this aspect of grief, because it seems so meaningless when I was mourning my baby. But baby loss is so much more complicated and confusing than we could ever anticipate it to be.
When I look back at Orla’s birth, the worst moments were not in giving birth (although there were obviously some very dark ones). The toughest were actually either side: The waiting for someone to try and find a heartbeat; Having to call our families to tell them that our baby had died and hearing their distress; Walking out of the hospital and having to leave our baby behind; Waiting for the car to pick us up and take her to her funeral. Death and grieving are a collection of so many moments and memories and often it’s the ones you least expect that are the most guttural.
Orla’s birth is actually something I feel deeply connected with. The physical pain was undoubtedly a welcome relief from the emotional pain and in many ways, I didn’t want it to end. I could have stayed in that bubble of labour forever if it meant not having to face the reality of what lay on the other side. In labour I was able to do something: something for Orla and with her. Life after this felt utterly terrifying. I look back at those days with somuch pride for that woman. She did something that she never imaged in her wildest nightmares that she could have done, and I have overwhelming compassion for the person she became in those hours.
So if you are reading this or listening to this podcast because you are about to go through something similar, I would like to offer you these words:
- You will survive this. There will be moments that you won’t believe this, but somehow you find a way
- You still have options and choices, so ask what they are. This is your baby and your birth and your opinions matter
- If you had a birth plan, don’t feel you have to dismiss this completely. If you want to use hypnobirthing, have music and soft lighting then do it. But likewise, if you want to do something completely different, then that’s okay too. This is your birth
- If you aren’t able to birth in the way you hoped, please try not to be hard on yourself. Nothing is how you had imagined or hoped it would be and that isn’t your fault. And if you need to, give yourself the time and space to mourn the birth you didn’t have
- Labour may take time, so take anything you can that will make you feel comfortable: clothes, bedding, scents, objects – take anything you can that grounds you and provides a sense of safety
- There is no right or wrong. In whatever way you birth your baby, and whatever you decide to do afterwards is completely your choice. You need to do what is right for you at that timeand with the resources you have. Hindsight is a wonderful but cruel thing, so try to be kind to yourself if these thoughts creep in
- Whatever you feel is how you feel – there is no right or wrong and sometimes it really is just about survival. Days will come where it will feel less like this, I promise
- Talk about your birth afterwards if you want to. Share photos and other keepsakes you may have. Your story deserves to be heard
- You are not alone. However you feel and whatever you are thinking, I can promise you that there are so many of us that have felt and thought the same. Reach out, find people who you can talk to so you can truly believe this
- Look after yourself physically as well as emotionally – you need to recover and take time in healing. Trauma can have a huge impact on our physical selves, so allowing the time and conditions for recovery is incredibly important
And if you are reading this because you know someone who has lost their baby, ask them if they would like to talk about their birth. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But if they know that you are able to hold space for them to tell their story, you could make the world of difference to them.
If you would like to hear my conversation of labour when your baby has died, you can listen to the podcast here.