When we buried our baby, my heart went with her

10 years ago, Michelle* lost her beloved only daughter at 41 weeks. Here she breaks her silence on what she went through and reflects on how, a decade later, perimenopause has been another unexpected trigger.

Telling my story

It’s been 10 years, and I want to tell my story, all of it, to break the silence on what people don’t know.

We got married and just assumed we’d have children. Now, whenever I hear people say, ‘when I have children’, I want to shake them.

We started trying 5 years after getting married, and it took a year. We were absolutely thrilled. Scans at 13, then 20 weeks, seemed fine. We were an excited, expectant couple like any other.

But at 34 weeks, everything changed. They decided the baby wasn’t growing enough. We were nervous when they sent us to London for a specialist scan, even though nobody would confirm what they were worried about.

The next appointment was horrendous. What the consultant (who’d been joking with the nurses during the scan) said completely floored us: our baby girl almost certainly had Down’s Syndrome. This had never even crossed our minds. Of course we would have loved her infinitely, but we were confused, shocked and afraid.

The worst thing we ever could have imagined

Then, at 41 weeks, I went for my weekly midwife appointment at the surgery. We chatted about plans for delivery. But then, the unthinkable happened. The midwife couldn’t find a heartbeat. She told me we needed to get to hospital immediately. I was terrified, but desperately clung on to hope.

At the hospital, everyone was silent while the consultant searched for a heartbeat. Then came the confirmation. The worst thing we could ever have imagined was now real.

He started explaining what would happen next. We just assumed I’d have a c-section – I could never have imagined I’d have to wait 2 whole days with the baby still inside me, then go through labour. I think most people have no idea.

Then we had to tell people the news. I remember ringing my dad, and hearing my mum just wail. I’ll never forget that but, in a way, it has helped me to know how much she felt the pain too.

They sent us home to wait. My husband hid the car seat, and put all the baby’s things in her room and shut the door. It’s still painted the way we did it for her, with the curtains and lightshade we bought her.

During those 2 days, I could still feel her moving around in the fluid. It was surreal. But I had to find the strength for what was to come.

Our Gabriella Hope

Back in hospital, after several hours of induced labour, she arrived at 2.41 am on 27 March. The horrors continued, as her colour quickly disappeared. We haven’t looked at the photos since. 

We named her Gabriella Hope. We had less than an hour with her, holding and bathing her. As traumatic as it was, it was precious.

But there was more agony to come. 

A month later, on 29 April, we buried our baby. As she went in the ground, my heart went with her.

And the torment was infinitely multiplied by things that should not have happened afterwards:

Shortly after the news, the Bereavement Midwife said, ‘Well Jesus said, suffer the little children and let them come to me’. I mean, what?!

Then we had to call Great Ormond Street, where the post mortem was, as nobody at our hospital could track our daughter down. This delayed the funeral.

There was much more besides. I wrote 6 pages of complaints to the hospital and met with the Head of Midwifery. I got involved in my local Sands group, and fought another 2 years to try to make the care better, so others didn’t have to go through the same.

Facing taboos

Even today, when I see a medical professional, I have to tell my story all over again – it can be very triggering. So many things like this have made me feel so angry. Baby loss is already such a taboo.

We waited a year before trying again, but it didn’t happen. Eventually we had fertility treatment 4 times, but it came to nothing. We only told those closest to us, because it felt very private, another taboo. Plus, we already felt the pressure of expectation.

After 5 years of trying, we decided to stop.

I was depressed for a long time – my career went on hold for 5 years. Again, I didn’t tell many people – I didn’t want them to feel bad, or to bring them down as well.

Taboo number 3 has been perimenopause. I accepted long ago that we wouldn’t conceive again and we do enjoy our lives, doing things we couldn’t with a family, so this has been triggering in a way I didn’t see coming. Not just because of the finality of it, but I’ve felt I’m back with health professionals who don’t always listen.

We’ll always have a child-shaped hole. I’ve only just realised that every day something brings it to mind. 

Finding hope

But there’s hope. We’re now looking to move, partly because we’ll forever feel like ‘the couple who lost their only baby’. People have been extremely supportive, but it still feels like the elephant in the room. We’re also surrounded by memories – the surgery, the hospital, the cemetery. We both feel it’s time to close this book and open a new one.

It’s been a long, tough journey. But I want to help others know that, as impossible as it seems, you will smile again, you’ll laugh, you’ll live. There’s a future for you and you’re not alone.

Support groups like Tommy’s and Sands are an absolute lifeline. Just knowing you’re with people who understand what you’ve been through. Family, friends and counselling have also played a massive part.

Losing our daughter and all that followed has changed my life forever – a sliding door – but, it has made me stronger and more empathic too.

It’s also strengthened our faith. We had to confront questions like ‘where is God in suffering’, but with God’s help, we have overcome it and found peace. And we know we will see Gabriella again.

A drawing of a lighthouse at sunset

Michelle's artwork: to her, lighthouses are a symbol of hope