Supporter Story by Farrah,
Had I a pound for the times I'd heard that, I’d be rich. Miscarriage is common, stillbirth a tragic event but not unheard of. When your baby has been born and you are back in the comfort of your own home, unless you are told otherwise, you have nothing to worry about. Out of the danger zone. Now, you can breathe, and now you are safe.
I watch on. I watch those around me and I think, “But even then you won’t relax,” because they won’t, whether the deaths of babies are on their radar or not.
All parents stop to check their baby is still breathing, not for fear of SIDS or real fear that they won’t be but due to their fragility. You never actually think that they won’t be. The thing with SIDS is that there is no rhyme nor reason, simply a black mark against your name on the universe’s list. Sorry, sweetheart, it’s your turn now.
I did the same. Every time I left the room I was back within a minute, checking on the rise and fall of my firstborn’s chest, and every time rewarded. Still breathing. I never anticipated a time that he wouldn’t be.
I had never been in an ambulance until that night, never known the desperate hope that filled me even though I knew there was none to be had, never had that level of denial. I had never wished anyone dead as much as I wished the old lady in the bay beside us would die for Ezra, my son, to be given life. I paced the resus area, and on the bed beside us a knit caught my eye, white with yellow ducks, and beside it an infant body bag. I had never seen a body bag until then. Careless.
I always say that I would never wish that upon anybody, but in that moment I did just so I could have somebody who felt for him the way I did. I hated every single person in the Royal Free hospital that night, and yet wanted nothing more than for one of them to sit down and talk to me, which nobody ever did. Of all the anger and the hate I had, this one still remains.
What I suffered that night encroached on every aspect of my life. I wished death on so many people, for so many reasons – ungratefulness, a woman being short with her child on the bus (if only she knew what she had, what I did not), an ex-friend who had an early miscarriage for “knowing just how it felt”. I quietly seethed on public transport at the expectant and the mothers whom, I assumed, had never felt the kind of loss I had. I longed to shake awake every baby I saw just to be sure they were breathing and I ran through the CPR I had been taught how to perform over the phone just in case they weren’t. I replaced ‘when’ with ‘if’ in every conversation.
Television, something I wanted to be an escape, taunted me. Every other advert was nappies or formula. Every show had something that would get me, Outlander? Stillbirth. How To Get Away With Murder? Stillbirth. 24 Hours In A&E, don’t make me laugh. Anything with a 999 operator? Absolutely not. An ambulance blue-lighting down the road built steel around me, every muscle tensed in the act of wanting to not look tense.
After Ezra was born, I took him to University with me, so keen was I to show off the one good thing I had done in my life. It was something more than pride in myself - it was almost a genuine concern that if the lives of those around me were not as enriched as they could be, meeting him would provide this. When I went back to university after my son died, my lecturer asked me how the baby was.
It had been six months and I assumed that the news had got round the faculty – it clearly hadn’t. Another lecturer told me that he knew how I felt. It was a brief moment of kinship and I felt momentarily lighter. But this quickly changed when he said he understood because his father had recently died. My jaw hardened and I nodded politely because his father dying was absolutely not the same thing and how dare he think that it was. What I had suffered, was entirely against the natural order of the world.
I carried on existing, not living. To exist was easier. It was passive, and I certainly did not have the drive to be active. Even to take my own life. But I did decide to have another child, as to reroute my life away from where it had been, was not an option. Single, bereaved, in my twenties. I could not have chosen a more difficult time to do that. But I did.
I miscarried some three or four months later. When Ezra was four weeks old maybe, I had thought, what did I do to be given something so good, to be allowed such happiness? Surely something must be wrong. When he died it was as if those thoughts were solidified and yes, actually I wasn’t allowed to be happy, I was not deserving. The miscarriage was further confirmation of that. One more thing. I’d been single ever since my son’s conception. Every hurdle jumped alone, every battle fought alone.
Pregnant again, I realised there were two options: bond, or don’t. I told myself that I would enjoy, as best I could, every moment of being pregnant again as it may well end at any point. It wasn’t easy.
I longed for a son. I wanted so much to just carry on, to have my son back and go back down the same path I was destined to go down in the first place. Pretend none of this had ever happened. Perhaps this was why the universe decided I was to have a daughter instead, and to say I was disappointed would have been an understatement. It wasn’t anything to do with her really, or her sex, it was all to do with the fact that she was not him and I would not be able to pretend that she was.
When your baby, fully formed and fleshy, cooing and smiling, dies there becomes no impossible. I had suffered the worst thing imaginable, and so could see the rest of the tree of baby loss. I could see stillbirth, and second trimester miscarriage, and first, and early, and ectopic and molar and chemical. I had suffered the rarity, and so that and the more common became, in my mind, an inevitability. It was not a case of if I would lose the pregnancy, but when and how. Even when I reached full term, it was when and how during labour my baby would die, and when she was born, I thought it was simply a matter of time until she followed her brother. I began to wonder if it was selfish of me to keep trying to have a child when they were just destined to die.
And then there were the appointments. I was asked by so, so many people whether this was my first baby. I put bright stickers on the front of my pregnancy book to make health professionals aware that it wasn’t – the bright yellow CONI sticker from the Lullaby Trust, I’VE HAD A PREVIOUS NEONATAL DEATH from Kicks Count (I hadn’t, but it was the closest sticker I could find) – I’d hoped they would shout, “BEREAVED PARENT, DEAD BABY, BE NICE TO ME, PAY ATTENTION, STOP ASKING SO MANY QUESTIONS!” Nobody bothered to look at them, and so each time that question was asked, I gave the same response: No. I had a son in 2016. He passed away when he was two months old. The situation dictated the tone of the response and the more I heard the question, the more stony my reply became. I felt as if I was constantly repeating myself for no reason because nobody ever dwelled on the information long enough to truly understand the gravity of this revelation.
I often heard, “Oh, I’m sorry,” but then the conversation died. What was I supposed to say? It’s alright? Thank you? How I longed for ‘What’s his name?’ to follow the initial response. The few questions I wanted to be asked I was never asked. Instead of “What happened?”, Perhaps a “What was he like?”, instead of the morose tone of voice, carry on, cheery. My baby is not subject for melancholy from others, myself yes, if I want that, but not you. All I wanted to do is sing his praises, but was never given the chance.
Two years on and every night I think of him, I think of his death.
I tell people that One Minute He Was There, The Next Minute He Wasn't. I don't go into detail because I try not to think about it which, yes, by proxy means that I struggle to think about my own son because the trauma of his death overshadows the brilliance of his life.
Every night I watch his sister breathe just waiting for the day that she isn’t.
I haven’t enough extremities to count the times in her short life that I have touched her cheek to find it cold and immediately panicked, where I have shaken her and she hasn’t roused and I’ve felt my stomach drop and heart race. I immediately look for firm, flat surfaces in case I need to perform CPR, know the location of clothes and shoes in case we end up in an ambulance again.
In my head I picture myself in resignation, holding her dead body. But it’s hard to give up so completely, even if you want to. In reality, hope is stronger.
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