We decided not to meet our stillborn baby

Adam, 37, is a graphic designer and lives in Bristol with his wife, Anna, who is 32 and works as an architect. When they had a stillbirth at 34 weeks, they made the difficult decision not to meet their baby. Having struggled to find other stories like theirs, Adam wants to share their experience in the hope that it will bring comfort to other parents who made a similar choice. This is Adam’s story.
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I wanted to know the gender. Anna didn’t. I thought it would be nice to know something about the little person we would meet in 6 months’ time, but Anna was keen for the surprise on the day. As the mother-to-be, she won the argument. Little did we know that this light-hearted decision would spare us a huge amount of grief and suffering in the not-too-distant future.

Noticing reduced fetal movements 

Anna was 34 weeks pregnant when she noticed, on a lazy Sunday morning, that she couldn’t remember when she’d last felt a kick from our baby. She did some of the recommended exercises to try to get it moving, but it didn’t seem to work. I tried singing to it – also recommended in encouraging fetal movements – but still nothing.

We were concerned, but not overly. Anna is fit and healthy, and she’d had a midwife appointment two days earlier where she was reassured that all was well.
This was all happening in the middle of a lockdown so, when Anna was encouraged to go to the hospital for a scan, she went alone.

Receiving devastating news

When something traumatic happens in a person’s life, certain moments really scar. Receiving that phone call from Anna, hearing that our baby was dead and realising that I hadn’t been there with her when she was given this devastating news, is one of those moments for me. 

There were more. So many more: arriving at the hospital and seeing Anna – so small, sad and broken; learning that she would still have to go through the labour – something that she was already terrified of – for nothing; telling our parents the news.

We had 2 days to process what had happened

To induce the labour, Anna had to take a pill and wait 48 hours for her body to prepare itself. This meant we had 2 days at home before the labour. 2 days to try to process what had happened and what was yet to come. 2 days to cry, to wonder, to grieve, to worry.

It also allowed us 2 days to discuss whether we wanted to meet our baby.

We didn’t know the gender of our baby

One of the caveats of not learning the gender of a baby is that there is a danger of feeling disconnected from the child that is soon to come into your lives. The human brain has an ability to create a personality from very little information. But without the gender of the baby there is also, in most cases, no name either, so what is there to build a personality around? Without a personality, no matter how fabricated, what is there to make a connection with? 

This can be a truly terrifying feeling. What if that connection never materialises? What if that parental instinct doesn’t kick in? Both Anna and I had felt this. We were depending on the assurances of all of those TV shows and films that showed us that when you meet your baby, when you first hold them, when they first grip your finger, you will know. The bond will be there. 

Heartbreakingly for us, we won’t get to know if those stories are true or not. That moment has been stripped from us. Brutally and without reason. But suddenly this lack of connection was one thing that was sparing us from further grief.

Over the course of those 2 days, we realised that we weren’t mourning the loss of a person in our lives, we were mourning the chance of ever getting to meet them. We were mourning what we hoped our lives would be with them in it.

Making a difficult decision

As the labour drew nearer, we questioned whether seeing our baby would be another scarring moment that would do us more harm than good. 
We had been told that the baby would likely be very small and possibly look quite sickly. We’d spared our minds creating a personality for the baby up to this point: how would it help us to see the baby now?  

We both, independently, came to the same conclusion: we didn’t want to see our baby and we didn’t want to know the gender.

We couldn’t find similar stories from other parents

Despite feeling that this was the right decision for us at the time, we were concerned that we might come to regret it in the future. We searched for accounts of other people doing what we planned to do. We knew that there were others – we had been told on multiple occasions – but nobody seemed to have written about it. Was it shame that had prevented them from sharing their stories? Or was it that not seeing their baby had made it easier to move on with their lives, and they hadn’t felt the need to share their experience?

Our search proved fruitless. But we did have each other. We were so lucky to find ourselves both coming to the same decision, even though neither of us would have stopped the other from seeing the baby if they wished. We also had the support of our friends and families. We were stunned to hear that everyone we spoke to about it totally understood our reasoning.

I’m so proud of my wife for being so strong

After the longest 2 days of our lives, 2 even longer days followed in the hospital for the labour. I still marvel now at Anna’s strength to get through those days. To go through that physical and mental suffering with such courage and kindness despite the injustice which had been cast upon her. She made it through safely and we returned home, emotionally exhausted, but relieved to have survived such an ordeal.

We are a few months on from that awful week now. We still have questions. But we’ve not regretted the decision not to see our baby.