by Natalie Burrows
Amazingly it worked! If only we'd tried it sooner we thought. Yes, I was a complete nervous and hormonal wreck, full of fear and anxious thoughts, but we got there. We made it to the 12-week-scan. We were going to have that family after all. It was all going to be OK. We slowly relaxed and let the love and light back in. We started to prepare the nursery and choose names. Our daughter was as excited as us. It was a very happy time. But, as I've learned things change and even this came crashing down.
We went along to our 20-week-scan full of excitement and nervous energy – we had decided that this time we'd learn the baby's gender. I couldn't quite shake the fear, but overall I was positive and excited. The scan was routine at first. Our Sonographer had a dreadful bedside manner, and was more focused on talking about the equipment with a visiting sales rep than our baby. But like all parents, we just held hands and waited, and waited.
Twenty minutes passed and she still hadn't shown us the baby or told us its gender. I started to worry and ask what was wrong. Clumsily and hurtfully, she was dismissive and told us to go for a walk, as our baby wasn't cooperating and needed to move around. A mild panic started to settle in, but we kept calm. My husband thought everything was fine, and I jumped about hoping to move our baby into a 'better behaved' position.
Ten minutes later we were back in the room, but this time there was apparently no need to get back on the bed. We were going to another room to see the senior sonographer. There was a problem with our baby's heart; it needed a better machine to get a better view. She needed a second opinion.
“What do you mean there's a problem?”, I remember saying. No answer. So we followed her and had another scan. Next she said: “Yes, it's what I thought”, – my reply through breaking tears was just to simply ask: “what is it you thought?”, “what's wrong?”. It felt like an age.
Maybe it was only five minutes, but the senior sonographer took over and told us that she could see abnormalities with the baby's heart and kidneys, and that it was measuring small. Still, even at this point they hadn't told me his gender. They called him 'it'. We were in shock; it was such a painful blur. I remember taking a few minutes alone to scream in the bathroom outside the room. I remember my husband’s empty and shocked face. I remember not being able to breathe. Before we were ushered out, they told us someone from the Fetal Medical Unit would call us to talk through our options and take a better look. Even at this point we didn't know his gender. I had to ask – “oh it's a boy”, she said. I cried. We didn't get given a photo.
The report said he had brain abnormalities – microcephaly. We didn't know what it all meant
Holding onto hope and each other, we sat in the park outside the hospital trying to take it in. Crying. Googling. Trying to convince each other that holes in the heart are OK and who needs two kidneys anyway. Asking each other if we could look after a disabled child. Trying to work out if we should go back to work. What to do next. Trying to stay positive.
By the next afternoon, we'd spent three more hours with sonographers and consultants – this time at UCLH. The news was bad, even worse than the day before. They took their time to explain the rationale behind their diagnosis and advice, to help us understand why their recommendation was to terminate the life of our beloved son. Why he was in their view, ‘incompatible with life'. Again another horrible term used to describe my beautiful babies.
Thomas had by this point been diagnosed as having Patau Syndrome – it's both very rare and very fatal. Babies are rarely born alive, and those that do rarely live beyond a handful of minutes, hours or days. Everything we could have feared for was happening and then some. Worse, we were being asked if we wanted to wait for him to die in my womb and deliver him stillborn, or if we wanted to pro-actively induce his labour. We concluded that our only choice was to try and let him go as peacefully as possible in the care of our local hospital.
Preparing for the birth and death was horrendous. How do you write a birth plan for your baby's death? Perhaps a miscarriage alone in the bathroom would be better. We told our daughter. We braced ourselves. We cried.
Thomas was born at 10.40am on August 13 2016 and miraculously he lived for twenty minutes in my arms. We sang to him, we told him we loved him, and we told him about his sister. We told him about our other angel babies that would be waiting for him. We held him. We kissed him. It was all too short, and yet it was the gift of life we didn't think we'd have with him. Oh to have held him. To have seen him wiggle. To have felt his warmth. I treasure those twenty minutes.
After two days, we left the labour ward with empty arms, but a strong resolve not to be consumed by the inevitable grief. Having been there before we made decisions for how we were going to survive losing Thomas. They were decisions we knew we needed to make as once the grief took hold, we knew we could go under. I'd need longer off work this time – I took six months. I'd need something to do – we finished our home renovations. We'd need to escape winter and be somewhere completely different for his due date; we went 'back' to Sydney (I'm Australian) for three months of sun.
I needed a goal, something to do, something to build positivity from
Thankfully Tommy's agreed for me to run the London Marathon as part of their team. It was eight months away at the time; I asked and I'd barely run in six years, but they said yes and I put on my shoes.
Love, time, sun and training for this marathon have been my healer. Running has given me private space. It's changed my body from an almost six month pregnant woman to one about to run the race of her life. It's given our friends a way to support me and reach out. It's given me something positive to talk about when I was feeling down. It's given me a way to give back. If only I'd found Tommy's after I had my first miscarriage – who knows, maybe I would've handled the whole journey better. Maybe I would've sought medical help earlier. Maybe reading stories like mine, may have prepared me better and helped me feel less alone.
In a few weeks I run the marathon. After that, I'm not sure what happens next. We think we've decided to stop 'trying'. It feels time to focus on us, our marriage, our daughter, and our life. Life hasn't worked out like we hoped, but we can't bear the thought of losing more years and if we were to lose another baby, well, we just couldn't. I will not find myself facing that risk or worse still, having to make that choice again.
To sponsor Natalie visit www.virginmoneygiving.com/natalieburrows
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