Ivana Elsie - our small and precious gift

One year on, and I am also a different person. I am a Mother who lost her child.

Story by Jodie Wallis, 

I am sitting at my desk in our newly decorated spare room / office as I write this.

This room should not have been a spare room or an office. It should have been our first baby’s bedroom. A year ago today, all of our dreams for our first child including the plans for this room, came crashing down. I was 15 weeks pregnant, and feeling good.

My bump was growing and I was loving every moment. Even the moments of feeling sick, as they just reminded me of the life we had made growing inside me.

Everything made me smile. 

On Tuesday the 8th May 2018, I woke up with a sore lower back. It had been sore all of the bank holiday weekend but I wasn’t overly worried as everything I’d read and had been told was that it was normal to feel these aches and pains, as your body is stretching to make room for baby.

That made sense to me. But on our way to work that morning, the pain in my back became so suddenly excruciating, my vision went blurry and I felt like I was going to vomit. I pulled over on to the side of the busy main road and crawled out of the car. I was on all fours on the grass verge and vomited. I’m shaking as I write this, as it brings back the sheer panic and incredible fear I felt that I was losing my baby.

Thankfully, my husband Tommy was with me.

He called an ambulance but it didn’t come soon enough, so we drove to the nearest hospital. My pains had subsided, and I checked and there was no blood. This reassured me as I had always thought that if you had a miscarriage you would bleed.

After what felt like an age, we arrived at the A&E department.

Tommy said he would park the car and come and find me. As I got out of the car and he pulled away, water suddenly came gushing out of me, soaking my new maternity work trousers and filling my shoes. I looked around me in desperation at the hospital staff milling about, but didn’t know what to say, so I just took myself into A&E.

When I approached the desk I didn’t say ‘my waters have broken’ as at the time, I didn’t know that this was what had happened.

I was 15 weeks pregnant. Waters breaking is something that happens when you are full term and expecting your baby to arrive.

I was seen fairly quickly, and Tommy was shown into the room they’d put me in. I remember being in a gown and taken up to the 12th floor in a wheelchair. The next thing I remember is laying down on the bed and being told that they were going to test baby’s heartbeat.

My own heart is racing as I re-live this moment. We hadn’t yet heard our baby’s heartbeat as it was too early.

It was the most beautiful and hopeful sound I had ever heard. Both of us literally sagged with relief and looked at each other with hope in our eyes. I said to the midwife, ‘That’s good isn’t it?’

I can’t really remember her response, but all I could focus on was that my baby’s heart was beating and that I wasn’t bleeding. I still had hope.

We still had hope.

My next memory is that I was examined and then told that it looked like baby was on its way as they could see the feet.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I remember staring at the midwife, and saying to her, ‘Are you telling me that I’m having a miscarriage?’ She said yes.

I asked her if there was any possible chance that baby might be OK, and she looked at me with pity in her eyes, and said, ‘Miracles sometimes happen.’That’s when I knew. We were losing our baby. Tommy cried and cried as he held me, and through his sobs I heard him say ‘I was so looking forward to being a Dad.’ 

Throughout my pregnancy I was always worried about something going wrong as I’m sure every new Mother is, but I don’t think I ever really believed it could happen.

I could never have imagined this. The next 48 hours were torture.

I was on the labour ward, though in a separate room. I was too frightened to leave for fear of bumping into happily pregnant women or new Mothers. I was trapped in a nightmare, one that I could never have imagined in my darkest thoughts.

I was told that I had 2 choices: wait for ‘nature to take its course’ and for baby to come on its own or to take a medication which will bring on labour. I didn’t know what the right answer was – it wasn’t really a choice I wanted to make. I wanted to know which option would result in the least distress for my baby. I never really got a clear answer to that, although they told me that with the medication the labour is likely to be more ‘fierce.’ My instinct was to let nature take its course. Plus, although every minute in that room felt unbearable, I was not in a rush to part with my baby.

They offered to scan me again to see if the heartbeat was still there, as they felt this might help with my decision. I didn’t understand how this would help, and felt that I could not cope with either result: hearing my baby’s heartbeat again and knowing that it would soon stop or hearing that it had already stopped. They then explained to me that although it was unlikely, there was a small chance that my baby might still be alive on delivery but either way they would hand baby to me. I could not believe my ears.

How could this be happening? How could I be giving birth to my baby at 15 weeks pregnant? Surely it wasn’t possible? Tommy and I had discussed it, and we both agreed that we didn’t want to see or hold baby after baby arrived. The first of many harrowing decisions we were forced to make. If baby was still alive, my Mum said that she would sit with baby until baby had passed. I will be forever grateful to my Mum for saying this. It may sound heartless and I know some women would struggle to understand why I would not want to see or hold my baby, but I just couldn’t do it.

I knew that I would not be able to withstand the moment that they took her away from me forever. Some days I do question my decision, but I know that I can’t take it back, and that at the time, it felt like the only choice. I consider myself a strong person, but I just could not fathom the idea of holding my baby in my arms and knowing that I’ll never be taking her home. In many ways I felt like I was still getting used to the idea of being pregnant.

We had only known for 10 weeks. It was no time. The thought that within the next 48 hours I was going to give birth and say goodbye to my baby was inexplicable to me. 

The first night in hospital, with both my husband and my Mum sleeping on the floor, I lay awake the whole time just listening to women’s labour screams, knowing that their healthy babies were making their way into the world. At the time I did not even consider that some of those women may have been losing their babies too. At the time, I was the only woman in the world this was happening to. I had never felt so alone. Although, sadly I now know very different, that feeling of loneliness never goes away. I think it’s less about feeling like you’re the only one to have had the experience of losing a baby, but more about the feeling that you are the only person in the world who loves, wants and grieves for your baby as much and in the way that you do. Writing this down, the words don’t quite do justice what I’m trying to say.

My baby was unbelievably loved and wanted by many, and not just by me. No one more so than by my husband, her Daddy. But it’s just not the same. I’m really not trying to dismiss the love of a Father and the pain a Father goes through when losing his child. It’s not less by any means, it’s just different. I became a Mother the day I found out I was a pregnant. And I did not stop being a Mother just because my baby died. 

On Wednesday 9th May, there was still no sign of baby. I wasn’t in any pain anymore. I had bled a little. Apart from that, it was as if baby was planning on staying exactly where she was. If only that had been true. That evening, the consultant came to see me and said that she wanted me to consider taking the medication as she was concerned about my risk of infection, as well as the emotional impact waiting any longer might have. With my Mum by my side, I decided to take her advice.

By this point I had sent Tommy away. He had not been able to stop crying since we had been admitted. He was struggling to cope. I felt quite strong and for someone who finds emotions come easily, I didn’t actually cry a lot in those 2 days. I think I knew I had to be strong for baby and the tears could come later. I told him that I didn’t think it was a good idea that he was there when it happened, as I was worried about how he would cope. I needed to focus on what I had to do, and not worrying about him.

His face looked a mixture of worry and relief. I was lucky that I had my Mum with me, and my best friend who had driven down from Bradford as soon as she had heard. He went to his Mums and his sisters who lived locally. I felt better knowing he was with them but also nearby if I needed him. I knew he would be there within minutes if I called him. 

At about 10PM I took the medication. They told me that it could still take up to 24 hours. I braced myself. I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been in labour before and the circumstances were nothing like how I had always imagined they would be. My Mum was right beside me the whole time. The midwives told us both to try and rest while we can. It wasn’t long before the pains started. About an hour later just a few minutes past midnight on Thursday the 10th May, holding on to my Mum, my baby came into the world and left, all in the same moment. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life. There are no words to describe the intense pain, anguish and sense of loss that I felt. It felt as if my heart had been ripped out of my body. 

Once I was back on the bed, I don’t really remember very much. Just emptiness. Both physically and emotionally empty. I must have slept because as I woke up at about 6am, it hit me like a 2 tonne truck. Seconds after opening my eyes, I rolled into a ball and howled. For the loss of my baby. The loss of all the dreams that came with her. The day she would have arrived safely into the world, the visits from excited family and friends, the walks in the park proudly showing her off to anyone who walked by, and the newly decorated baby’s room where in time she would have slept safely and soundly, surrounded by her things and by Mummy and Daddy’s love. 

At the time in hospital, we didn’t know that she was a ‘she’ and to us she was just ‘baby.’ We’d decided early on not to find out the sex. I dreamed of that moment in hospital where I was told I had a ‘son’ or a ‘daughter.’ We were both convinced she was a girl and often referred to my bump as ‘she.’ To find out the sex of the baby we had lost and would never have, was another heartrending decision to make and hurdle to overcome.

We wanted to know. Although on the one hand it terrified me as I knew it would make the pain even more real, we both felt that it was the right thing for us to know, and to give baby a name. When I received the text from the bereavement midwife a couple of months afterwards, telling us that our baby was a little girl, my already broken heart shattered once more. I will never forget the look on my husband’s face. He was broken. We both were. We had already decided what we would call her if she was a girl. Ivana Elsie.

My husband’s late Father was called Ivan, and we had both loved the name Elsie. I wanted to give her a special name. After we named her, I googled the meaning of the name Ivana. It means ‘Gift from the heavens, very small and very precious.’ I couldn’t believe it – so apt. I just wish we had got to keep our gift and that the heavens had not taken her back.

Another unthinkable decision we had to make was whether to have a post-mortem. We decided to, as we wanted to know why it had happened and if there was anything we needed to know for future children. We were warned that it was common for a post-mortem on a baby that young to come back without any answers. 3 months later we were sat in the consultant’s office in the same hospital our daughter was born, as she went through the report.

She told us that Ivana had been perfectly healthy and normally developed, but that they had found trace of an infection from an ear swab. The consultant said that they don’t know how it happens, but that infection is the most common cause of late miscarriage and that we have just had ‘rotten luck.’

Tommy felt reassured and relieved to hear that there were no concerns around development, and although of course I felt this too, I also felt freshly devastated to hear that my baby girl had been growing normally, and yet due to some random infection, I now didn’t have her with me. I felt f***ing furious. How did it get there, and why didn’t my body protect her? Was it something I did or could have prevented? Did I pick up the infection in a public place? What if I had not washed my hands enough? Why do other women manage to protect their baby and I couldn’t? These questions were buzzing round and round in my mind, and they still do to an extent.

I know that I will never know for sure how or why it happened and I have to accept that. Though I’m not sure that I ever will fully. It’s hard to explain the anger and fury that I still often feel. It’s anger at the world for taking my baby away. Its fury at all the things I dreamed I would do for my daughter but will never do. Nothing I do is enough. These words on this page are not enough, the flowers I’ll plant at her grave tomorrow will not be enough, and the constant tears I shed will never be enough.

Tomorrow I will be facing the next in a long line of hurdles since the day my baby left me. 1 year to the day. Her birthday. Or is it the anniversary? I don’t know what to call it. Birthdays are supposed to be happy, celebratory occasions.

They should be about presents, cakes, balloons and smiling faces. They should not be about taking flowers to a tiny grave or sobbing until your heart aches. In the past year, there have been so many days which have been different to what they should have been. So many ‘shoulds’ and ‘if onlys.’ The date we got that positive test.

Her due date. Christmas. Mother’s day. Father’s day. And now her birthday. All these dates will be ‘different’ forever. But they will be touched by her. My daughter. My first born. 

1 year on, and I am also a different person. I am a Mother who lost her child. I am a woman who flinches painfully at the sight of a pregnant woman or new baby. I am a woman whose stomach lurches when she hears another colleague announcing her pregnancy.

A trip to Sainsbury’s can often cause fear and anxiety that I might run into someone I know with their baby or their bump, or someone who feels that it’s ok to ask me if I have children. Living with this grief and sense of infinite loss feels like a daily battle - with my thoughts and feelings and the world around me. Don’t get me wrong, I am still living. I go to work. I laugh with friends and colleagues. I do things that I enjoy and that I know are good for me. I enjoy relaxing weekends at home or away with my husband. But I do all these things with a broken heart. A heart that will never fully mend. I know that it will get stronger, but it will always be broken.

Like a smashed ceramic vase that’s been glued back together.

And in many ways I’m ok with that. As my daughter will always be in there. She will always be my glue. My strength. Ivana Elsie.

My very small, and precious gift.