I made a time capsule in her memory

Diane talks about creating a memory chest for her daughter and how she and her husband coped with their grief.

Diane lost her daughter Chloe at 40 weeks. July 2017

I fell pregnant with Chloe in November 2014. The pregnancy itself was very straight forward. I had quite severe morning sickness for the first 16-17 weeks, but other than that I was healthy and enjoyed watching as my belly grew.

I went to the gym every lunch time, walked 5-8km a day and generally tried to stay as active and healthy as I could. I found the last month to be hard going as it was a very hot summer so keeping cool was a challenge. Overall though everything went very smoothly and I had no cause for concern. Chloe moved around constantly, she kicked and wriggled, and had hiccups daily.

I was having contractions

I went into labour at 40 weeks and 1 day pregnant. I had been having contractions at home since about 9am. These contractions were mild and manageable and I could feel her moving well. I went to my routine prenatal checkup that afternoon and saw my doctor. We listened to her heartbeat and discussed the course of action for the next few hours. My contractions were about 10 minutes apart, and so I was advised to go home and monitor them, and as soon as they got closer and more intense I was to head to the hospital. This was at about 2:30pm. By 5pm they had really picked up, so my husband and I drove to the hospital.

The nurse wasn't able to find a heartbeat

We went to the labour and delivery suite and waited to be assessed by one of the nurses. They hooked me up to the fetal heart monitor. We waited and waited, but the nurse wasn't able to find her heartbeat. I wasn't worried. I had heard it just a few hours earlier nice and strong, and had felt her moving around all afternoon.

The nurse changed the pads on the machine, turned the volume down on the monitor in the cubicle next to ours, and tried again. After about 10 minutes of trying they called the obstetrician in to do an ultrasound. It was then that he broke the news to us that there was no longer a heartbeat and our baby had died.

The wonderful staff at the hospital treated us with such love and compassion. Chloe was delivered at 2:13am on August 11, 2015.

Get support and information about giving birth to a stillborn baby here

Spending time with our baby

After the birth we spent 12 hours with Chloe. We bathed her, dressed her, and took hand prints and foot prints and a lock of her hair. She had a full head of red curly hair. We also took 176 photos of her, and her with us.

We were moved to a private room, but on the same ward that we delivered. It was heartbreaking to hear newborn cries around us, and to see happy families going by to visit their new baby.

It was a surreal experience. I remember at one point looking over and seeing my husband holding Chloe in his arms, looking out the window at the world going by. People carried on going as if it were any normal Tuesday. They had no clue that our world had stopped turning as they went about their normal routine. We lay in bed and cuddled her.

I was exhausted, but didn't want to sleep. They didn't have a cuddle cot (in fact one was never mentioned to us so I just assume they didn't have one), and so I knew that our time with Chloe was limited. I didn't want to see her body start to deteriorate. I wanted to remember her as she was, with little rosy cheeks and perfect white skin.

After 12 hours we knew we had to say goodbye. Her lips had started to turn slightly black and her skin was getting darker and grayer.

After the stillbirth

Leaving the hospital without my precious baby is still the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my whole life. I can't actually put this part into words. I rarely speak of it or think about it because it breaks my heart too much.

We drove home 12 hours after Chloe was delivered. We went back to our home and went straight to bed, and stayed in darkness for a number of days.

Over the next week or so we drove a lot. We lived in a beautiful part of greater Vancouver and we would drive out to the mountains and the lakes. Most of the time I slept in the car, while my husband listened to music.

There was a lot of silence. We cried together, but in those first few days we found we didn't need to talk. We both felt the same. I remember just saying over and over again "I want her back". I would have given anything to go back to the hospital and hold her again. Or to kiss her cold little cheeks. We had the clothes we had dressed her in and they still smelt of her, so we had put them into a sealed bag to keep the smell, and we would take turns in opening the bag and sniffing them before quickly sealing it up again.

Get support and information about grief after stillbirth here

Creating a time capsule of memories

A few months after we lost Chloe I created a memory chest and a photo book of my journey with her. The box was made because the very small memory box they give you at the hospital is so impersonal, and just too small to capture everything we wanted to. So my husband made a large wooden chest, which I painted and decorated. It is about the size of a toy chest. In there we have the following:

  • Chalkboard that we used through the pregnancy to take photos each week, it still says 40 weeks, the photo was taken the day before I went into labour.
  • I have all the sympathy cards people sent us, and cards from bouquets of flowers we received.
  • I have a photo album with the hard copies of all the photos we have of Chloe.
  • The clothes we were both wearing the day I went into labour.
  • The nail varnish that I had worn that day.
  • The memory box the hospital gave us.
  • The clothes we dressed Chloe in along with her blanket, all still unwashed.
  • Her little socks.
  • Her ID bracelet and discharge paperwork.
  • The results of the post-mortem.
  • All my prenatal records.
  • The strip of paper from the last time we heard her heart beat at an NST.
  • Her hand prints and foot prints.
  • A few books on grief that we were advised to read at the time.
  • The photo book I made - this shows in chronological order all of my pregnancy, delivery, and the 12 hours we spent with her. It's like a photo storybook.
  • A USB stick with all the photos on.
  • A book that I write letters to Chloe in.
  • A Christmas bauble ornament with Chloe's name on that we will hang on the tree every year as a family tradition (I have a matching one for my son now too, who is 6 months old).

It's almost like I created a time capsule, which may be seen as unhealthy to some, but I find it so therapeutic. I spent a long time after the birth just sitting playing every minute of the labour and delivery and the following 12 hours over in my head because I didn't want to forget how I felt or what happened, as if I did start to forget it would mean I would also forget Chloe. I had to take that pressure off myself to stop my panic attacks, and so the memory box has really helped with that. When I do sit and look through it I am taken back to those feelings, and honestly sometimes I really need to just sit in that and feel it wash over me again. But then when I have had my time looking back through everything I can put it away and focus on my day to day life again.

Get support and information about creating memories here

Grief after stillbirth

In the immediate aftermath of losing Chloe, the thing that helped me the most was actually to isolate myself for a week. My husband and I requested no visitors. We checked in via text with our parents to let them know we were OK, but ultimately we just cocooned ourselves together at home. We needed to sit and cry and try to absorb what had happened.

I would wake in the morning with just immense pain in my heart and my head was going round in circles at the disbelief that we didn't have our daughter with us. It was so uncomfortable and exhausting, but we had to go through that and not let anyone stop the emotions from hitting us. I think our "recovery" could have been a lot worse and taken a lot longer if we had tried to mask the feelings that needed to surface. It also helped our relationship.

The important thing to remember at this stage is that you and your partner will not grieve in the same way. And you have to accept that and allow the other to do what is right for them, and support them in it as they will hopefully support you. It was during this time that we went for long drives.

I used a few support forums online, but actually I found that these made me feel more depressed. I needed to know that I could live after suffering this tragedy, and I found the forums to be very dark. I needed to know that I could remember Chloe in a positive light, and that I could live a happy life, for her. I didn't want her to be remembered in sadness alone, but with happiness that she had existed. It's a difficult thing to describe, but I felt that if I was destined to be sad the rest of my life it would be a disservice to her, and that her life would have been represented in a negative way. I wanted to make my life something more meaningful as a tribute to her.

Processing the grief now is an ongoing learning experience. I don't know that there is anything consistent that really helps with it, other than to accept that it has happened, and to embrace that there will be good days and bad. I do find that talking to other mothers who have been through the same experience has been amazingly helpful. Not in the forums, but others that I have met in person. For example, the International Stillbirth Alliance held a conference nearby and my husband and I attended. I met other bereaved parents at this conference and have stayed in touch with a few of them. One of whom I speak with regularly. There is a bond that cannot be broken between bereaved parents. It's a sort of unspoken empathy and mutual respect for the rollercoaster that we have been through. I find that these emails, texts have been the most helpful and supportive resource for surviving the last 20 months.

They stood by my side

I have been so lucky to have some very important special friends in my life who have stood by my side unconditionally since we lost Chloe. From friends I made at prenatal classes, to old school friends I haven’t spoken to in years, to my best friends of more than 20 years, they have been there for me every step of the way. My family has also been wonderful. There is nothing they wouldn’t do to try and ease the pain. There are times when I feel as though I have had to support others through this too, and actually that has been quite helpful. It’s not just the mother and father that are affected. Chloe touched so many lives, and that makes me so proud.

My rainbow pregnancy and baby

I do now have a rainbow baby. He has just turned 7 months. I was advised to get pregnant again (if we wanted to) as early as possible after losing Chloe. I could never really understand why that was, but looking back now I think it is a huge part of healing and trusting yourself and your body again. I think that if you leave it a long time your fear will become too great.

The pregnancy was extremely stressful. I was anxious throughout. I felt very nervous about having a baby in the same place I had delivered Chloe. Not just the same hospital but the same city. I felt like I would be replacing her too much and it felt unnatural. So we decided to move to a new city when I was five months pregnant. I thought it would help to be far away from where I had delivered Chloe, but actually it did the opposite and I had a very lonely and isolating pregnancy.

I had fantastic medical care though and in the end I was scheduled for induction at 37 weeks. I found labour to be quite stress free, which was surprising. I was worried about the baby being born not breathing but the doctors made sure there was a respiratory therapist in the room with us when he was delivered and I was wearing a portable heart monitor on my belly for the entire labour. This meant I was able to walk around and use a birthing ball but be able to hear his heart rate at all times. If it ever started to drop the nurses and doctors checked me over. After seven hours our little boy was born and he has been happy and healthy ever since. The most surreal feeling for me was walking out of the hospital with a live baby in the car seat. I was in complete disbelief and sometimes to this day still am.

During this pregnancy I went to my local hospital almost every other day. The maternity unit was very welcoming and understanding and there was never a limit on the amount of monitoring I requested.

I think it is so important for expectant mothers, whether it be after a loss or a first pregnancy, to understand that they can go and have their baby checked at ANY TIME. They shouldn’t even have to be looking for reduced fetal movements. A mother's intuition goes a long way.

I never had reduced fetal movements with Chloe, yet from the start of the pregnancy I never believed that baby would come home with me. I just could never picture it. It haunted me for the entire nine months. Two weeks before I went into labour I remember saying to my husband that I wasn't nervous about the newborn stage anymore (that had been my big fear, being able to cope on my own without family support), but that I had an unwarranted fear of delivery. I felt like something was going to go wrong for either me or the baby during labour. We brushed it off as nerves but it niggled at me constantly. I wish now I had let that fear register with me fully and I had decided to get regular checks.

My biggest piece of advice to any expectant mother is to be over protective, over cautious, and to always think "What if I don’t....?" What if I don’t go to the hospital and something terrible happens? What if I don’t ask that question regarding my baby's movements/wellbeing and something terrible happens? What's worse? Feeling paranoid and anxious, or losing a baby?

Get support and information on pregnancy after stillbirth here