Tommy's guest blog, 28/09/2017, by Jenny Bowman
24th June 2016. That day will stay with me forever. That's the day I got to meet my beautiful daughter Olivia Paige for the first time.
I'll always remember that new baby smell, her cute little nose and the biggest feet I've ever seen on a newborn baby! This was also the last time I got to hold her in my arms. Olivia was stillborn at 41+3 weeks. We later discovered she died because her placenta failed and there were no 'medical signs' that anything was wrong according to the Midwife. Olivia was even kicking 45 minutes before they couldn't find her heartbeat at my 41 week appointment. I'd told the Midwife previously I was worried I didn't have enough waters as my belly had changed shape, (it was like my bump had been vacuum packed) but she fobbed me off for what felt like the hundredth time claiming it was 'first time Mum nerves as the waters weren't leaking so must still be in there". Note to self: Mums always know best.
Losing your first child to Stillbirth is a surreal experience, especially getting right to the end and leaving the hospital empty handed. I still don't think I can put into words exactly how I felt - empty, incomplete and devastated are kind of close though.
Needless to say your body doesn't realise what has happened, and certainly no one seems to tell your boobs as your milk comes in a couple of days following delivery. You can't express otherwise your body will carry on producing milk so it's like walking around with boulders for a week. Awesome.
Happy wife, happy life? Wrong!
I think that's one of the reasons why I wanted to start trying again quite quickly after losing Olivia. My body so craved a baby, I just wanted to fill the gaping hole she had left behind. Luckily my husband Michael realised and insisted we weren't ready to start trying again, he could see that I didn't want another baby for the right reasons; I was just trying to lessen the pain I was feeling. Obviously back then I hated him for being so selfish and not giving ME what I wanted - ironic hey. Grief does really strange things to you. I was really annoyed he wouldn't just start trying again, especially post birth you're more fertile and I have endometriosis so didn't have any guarantees Olivia wasn’t a huge fluke after getting pregnant on our first try on our Honeymoon in 2015.
I went back to work shortly after her funeral. I needed the money in all honesty and couldn't survive on statutory maternity pay and getting into debt especially with no baby to show for it. Two months had passed and the grief properly set in and we (well I) could have a grown up discussion with him about wanted to start trying again, this time with the right intentions, and he agreed we were ready.
We managed to get pregnant again late October and I was absolutely delighted. I was surprised people didn't just know as I suddenly had a huge smile on my face, as opposed to the miserable face they were so used to seeing.
Unfortunately, we lost Peanut at about 6 weeks gestation just before Christmas (if Christmas wasn't going to be bad enough). I sunk to a new low, it was a really crappy time. I spent most of Christmas day wishing the day away and finishing writing Olivia's Story as Tommy's were going to publish this for me to try and help raise awareness for Stillbirth.
We left it a month and started trying again, I was less excited this time around, like the dark cloud hadn't properly dispersed and was now a part of me.
A few weeks later, my friend Libby (another one of my ‘Rocks’ as I call them – an elite group of friends that have literally kept me going this past year) came to visit me with her son Jasper and we started talking about the addiction to peeing on sticks woman seem to develop when trying for a baby. I was sick of wasting money on tests that just told me a resounding NO, so I hadn't done one for a couple of days. As it took Libby 3 years to have her gorgeous little handful, she knew only too well how I was feeling. She tried to keep me thinking positive and suggested I did another one at some point that week. Well, I did need a wee so no time like the present! 1 minute later I glanced over at the test and thought I saw a faint line. Na, must be the light. Left it another minute or so and Libby saw my eyes darting between her and the table where the test was. I was sick of seeing lines that apparently ‘only I could see’ according to my Husband so I picked the test up and handed it to Libby. FYI you know you have a good friendship with someone if they take a stick off of you that you've peed on without hesitation!
Instantly, her eyes filled with tears and she had a huge smile on her face. It was positive, I couldn't believe it! Michael couldn't believe it either when I called him and told him, it was surreal.
Happy ending, or is it?
For the next 2-3 weeks I was on cloud 9. I couldn't believe we were lucky enough to get pregnant again the cycle after getting my tubes flushed. They were looking for blockages due to the endometriosis scar tissue I seemed to be full of, especially after my symptoms came back as soon as I started having periods again.
I'm not sure at what point it happened, but I started being consumed by this awful feeling that this one would be taken away from me too. At that point I became completely detached from this baby. I couldn't bear touching my stomach and started dreading the thought of telling people we were pregnant. I think part of it was that I didn't want people to assume it's now ‘fine’ that Olivia died because we have a replacement, so it's not as 'bad'. If anything, I missed her more than I think I ever had up to that point. Obviously I doubt anyone would actually think that, or at least say it aloud but I couldn't help the way I was feeling. It felt like Olivia vs. Bump and I didn't like it.
There was no way in hell I was going back to see the same midwife that I had last time. I told her I was worried about going overdue, the risk of stillbirth that brings and I didn't think my water levels were right and she completely ignored me. To this day, I still hold her partly responsible for the death of my daughter along with myself – Mums are supposed to keep their Children safe, aren’t they? She should have listened, and I mean really listened. I should have pushed harder for a scan to check her growth and water level and not let her try and talk down my fears. Never again will I feel like that.
I had to book in with a Consultant as I would be Consultant led in this pregnancy, given what had happened to Olivia. They don't know why the placenta turned off, so future pregnancies will need to be monitored to check the baby is growing correctly. My Midwife for the time being would be the specialist midwife I saw while getting induced with Olivia, which I found easier as she saw firsthand what we went through. My Consultant was also the first Doctor I saw after the scan confirmed our daughter had passed away (and I had no waters), so again I had that connection with her too. The hospital has been really supportive, making sure for my first couple of appointments we could wait in a quiet room and not in reception with everyone else.
Each appointment I wished I was elsewhere. I hated going back to the hospital. As soon as I walked through the door it was like someone had sat on my chest and I couldn't breathe. I was terrified I'd see someone we knew and they'd realise why we were there, or I'd be led into the same room where they confirmed Olivia had died using an ultrasound machine.
Even after seeing the baby jumping about on the monitor, I might as well have been a million miles away. I would be told 'look there's your baby's heartbeat, everything looks good', I'd immediately think, 'yeah for now, how long will this last?’ I couldn't feel happy about this, not yet. If it didn't work out again, I actually think my heart would just break and that'd be the end of me.
Guilt, guilt and more guilt.
We still went to counselling every week, which I needed more than ever now. I didn't want to talk about this baby, only Olivia. I felt like I shouldn’t be having another baby. If someone asked me in 20 years time, 'Did you never want children then?’, I wish I could reply, "I did. I had a daughter and she died. I didn't want another child after her, she was enough'. Like it was an insult to her for wanting another baby and showed how weak I was. She should have been everything and no other child would ever come close so why bother? Again, grief does really strange things to you. I wish I'd written down all of the things I thought in my darkest days, honestly you wouldn't believe it!
We had the 12 week scan and everything was fine - well, everything apart from me! I should have been crying with happiness but again I was completely numb. Great, 12 weeks. Would we make it to 16? 20? 24? I couldn't let myself assume it's all going to work out this time. I assumed that last time and look what happened? It was like falling off a building.
By then I'd started to show. I was petrified people at work would notice. I definitely wasn't ready for people to know yet and I didn't want them to say congratulations. That'd be like congratulating someone for their wedding after a first date! It was way too early for that and I didn't want to have to try and make people understand. I felt like I'd just stopped being the walking stillbirth advert, I felt like people were seeing me for me again, not defining me by what had happened and I didn't want that to change. A week after the scan, I started to feel the first few flutters. They made me feel sick. I struggled to talk about the baby, I couldn't cope with feeling him/her move when I was least expecting it. It’s near on impossible to live in denial when the thing you're trying to deny exists is making it very obvious it's most definitely there!
The great escape!
Olivia's birthday was coming up so we did the mature thing and ran away! We went to Mauritius on holiday which was also an early 30th birthday present for me from Michael (flash git I know!). Being away helped - it was just us. No one knew what we'd been through over the past year so we could be however we wanted to be. Her actual birthday was really tough, from the moment I woke up I just wanted to cry and cry. I missed her so much and looked at the hundreds of photos we took of her and talked about all of the things we remembered from her Birthday.
While I was away, and as I'd completely bottled it, I'd asked my boss to tell people at work we were expecting again but not to speak to me about it as I was still struggling. By then I was 18 weeks and it was pretty obvious! I'd rejoined my slimming group when I was about 4 weeks pregnant as I hadn't lost much of the weight I'd piled on with Olivia and I thought it would encourage me to eat healthier. I had to have double fibre and calcium on the plan and my consultant and midwife gave me the all clear so I'd hoped some of the weight I'd lost disguised my growing bump.
Back to reality
I was dreading going back to work now that everyone knew I was pregnant again, I barely slept the night before. I got to work an hour before everyone else and I was waiting for people to come in, come straight over and then start a conversation about the baby (and completely ignoring my one request). I was so grateful when that didn't happen. They'd all understood I wasn't coping very well and just asked about my holiday. I was so relieved I could have thrown up!
With each passing day, my bump was getting bigger and bigger. People that hadn't been directly told started to give me strange looks but as I was a size 16/18 anyway, I think they were worried to ask in case my bump was just residual baby weight I hadn't lost yet, or the result of a huge breakfast!
Our counsellor Caroline did a lot of work with us about our feelings towards our new baby. Michael was trying to stay positive and tried to be whatever I needed him to be. I still couldn't bond with the baby and still didn't want to talk about him or her. I knew I needed to sort myself out but didn't have the energy to, it was hard enough just getting out of bed in the morning let alone anything else.
This baby deserves so much more than me
On holiday I kept trying to make myself put my hand on my stomach, hoping I'd just start doing it without that horrible feeling of dread washing over me. Seriously, how ungrateful does that sound? Did I regret getting pregnant? A few months before I was desperate for a baby to fill the gaping hole Olivia had left but now, there was no hole. There was the memory of Olivia and my guilt that no other child would ever live up to her or the love I felt for her, that was it. I hated myself. I felt so ashamed. There are so many couples that are desperate for a baby and here I was, 18 weeks into a seemingly healthy pregnancy, an amazing Husband and support system in the form of friends and family and I just want to run away from everyone and everything. I just wanted to be with her and no one else. Now I know that sounds really dramatic, but everything felt grey and nothing seemed to be bringing me out of it. This was definitely the lowest I'd felt so far. Our counsellor asked me honestly if I'd considered hurting myself, and whilst I hadn't, I still felt like I could never be happy again without her, even with the amazing people in my life.
I'd asked Michael if we could find out the sex of the baby as deep down I was desperate for another girl. I thought if I could do all of the things I imagined doing with her - Disney films, baking, makeup etc. would help with the constant feeling of loss. I didn't want a boy. I was worried if we didn't find out the sex and we managed to have a healthy, breathing baby and it was a boy - I'd just completely close off and reject him and I didn't want to feel disappointed after the birth. Again - did someone say selfish and ungrateful?! What the hell is wrong with me?
Pink or Blue?
The Friday after returning from holiday we had another growth scan with our Consultant and I asked if she could tell us the sex of the baby.
I was hoping beyond hope we were having another girl - we'd picked another girl name on holiday and I kept saying it to myself over and over again like a mantra. I had a horrible feeling we were having a boy and I was praying she would say otherwise and I was just being negative as it was easier than being positive.
"It's a boy".
Those 3 words made me want to cry. I looked at Michael and he was grinning, probably already thinking about taking him to see his beloved Leicester City, play fighting and laughing at his rubbish jokes. His joy made me want to cry even more - I was absolutely gutted.
I spent the rest of the scan looking at the wall, not being able to bring myself to look at the innocent baby on the screen that had no idea how I felt about him. Him. I even hated saying it in my head.
We walked out of the hospital and again I was numb. Michael knew how I'd be feeling and said he was sorry it wasn't what I wanted to hear but he was healthy and growing well and we will take each day as it comes, there's no pressure. Seriously where did I get this bloke from? If it was the other way around I'd be shouting at him to pull himself together and stop being such an idiot. Double-standards, hey!
We told our parents who were happy for us and when I got work I told my colleagues who were all really happy for us. I still felt like I wanted to cry, and not with joy. They could see my disappointment and started telling me how it was probably a good thing we were having a boy, and how loving boys are towards their mums. I didn't want to hear it, they were only trying to help but I was completely beyond it at that moment in time.
Get a grip Woman!
Over the next few weeks I knew I had to start sorting myself out. I should feel grateful we were having another baby. I should be happy we have been given another chance to be a family. What does it matter we were having a boy? Did I really believe having another girl would fix me? I tried to open up more at counselling about how I was feeling and made a point to call him by the name we had chosen, as well as trying to feel reassured by the now not-so-little kicks I was feeling. I started to put my energy into de-cluttering the house, even though I was shattered. I needed a project to keep me from being so negative.
He would always kick after I'd get up for a wee in the middle of the night. I tried to use this time to hold my bump and concentrate on feeling the kicks. I noticed each morning when the alarm would go off (which would scare the life out of me as I was always in such a deep sleep) he would kick like mad, like he was angry I'd jumped and woke him up!
One morning, I jumped as usual switching my alarm off and lay on my back for a minute waiting for the 'angry' kicks but they didn't come. I gave my belly a bit of a shake and still nothing. I had some cold water and again, nothing. By that point I started to panic a little, while in the back of mind I thought well, it was bound to happen at some point (little miss negative as always). I don't know why, but I said aloud, "come on little one, let me know you're alright" and instantly I had the biggest kick I'd had to date. My whole stomach moved! I felt so relieved and this amazing warm feeling of love just washed over me, cooled slightly by the ever present grief, guilt and self loathing. But it was definitely there and for the first, I felt happy about being pregnant.
I'd also started to get used to the thought of having a boy now. Besides, aren't most boys 'momma's boys' anyway? It was in those moments the guilt ever so slightly started slipping away. I was blessed to be having another baby and what happened to Olivia has nothing to do with him. It wasn't his fault and he deserves to have a mum that loves him unconditionally and he shouldn't have to live in the shadow of his Sister, otherwise he will grow feeling as miserable as I had felt since we lost her.
Onwards and upwards
I'm now 7 months pregnant and people now know they don't have to walk on eggshells around me anymore. If anything, they're laughing at my stories about the perils of sneezing with a full bladder. I think a part of me will always feel guilty about how I initially felt about our little boy, but I hope when he's older he'll understand why.
I can't imagine anything worse that losing a child, it nearly destroyed me. I have been lucky enough to be blessed with an amazingly supportive and patient Husband. Losing Olivia had somehow brought us closer together and for a lot of couples the grief alone can break up the strongest of relationships. My friends have played a huge part in getting me through this last year, as has my family - both mine and his.
I'm going to make sure Jack knows all about his beautiful sister and how his amazing Daddy made sure Mummy didn't lose her mind. I'm going to concentrate on being the best Mum I can be for him, and the best Wife I can be for Michael.
I keep trying imagine what it will be like when he’s here – actually bringing a baby home. It still seems impossible but I can’t help but feel a little excited now. Michaels going to share some of my maternity leave so we will have 6 weeks off together once Jack’s here. I’m really looking forward to just having that time as a family and doing all the things a couple would do when they bring home a baby for the first time.
Hopefully this is the beginning of the rainbow, our little heart healer.
You can read Olivia's Story here.