The day after Aurelia’s diagnosis as fatal we had to return to the Whittington for blood tests.Bustling in with commuters I remember looking at my ‘baby on board’ badge on my coat lapel and wondering if I was somehow no longer worthy of wearing it.
If the people around me knew I was carrying a baby who wouldn’t live, would they be so willing to give their precious seat up to me?
It’s been a line of thought I’ve battled with at times over the last weeks, both in my head and in people’s reactions and dealings with me during that time.
For Gerard and I, here was this girl who was still so, so loved, increasingly making her presence known with my burgeoning bump and flutters turning into kicks. Our little girl who we would literally do anything to protect, yet we so painfully couldn’t. We still wanted, indeed still want, the best we can provide for her.
Yet for some others her continuing existence has been assumed to be an inconvenience for us, and indeed I sometimes think themselves. She’s become something we have to be less careful for, because, well she’s going to die anyway. She’s become something to be ‘sorted out’. She’s become sometimes an elephant in the room people don’t want to talk about.
I know some of those reactions have come from a place of concern for Gerard and I. Many people have found it strange that we’ve prolonged our pain. I suppose people think it’s like ripping of a plaster- get the sharp pain over quickly. Why would you put yourself through the emotional pain, and indeed all the physicality of pregnancy, when it could all be done with, and indeed you could try again for another baby sooner?
At first I thought we were perhaps choosing the more difficult path emotionally, and yes, whilst I thought I couldn’t love Aurelia more, every day that passes I realise I do love her more and grow more and more attached to her.
For us, it may have been very different if the health risks to me or we’d been told Aurelia would greatly suffer by continuing the pregnancy. But knowing she wouldn’t and she won’t, I can’t express the joy I’ve felt, despite all the sadness, throughout this pregnancy. And I honestly think, in the longer term we’ve chosen the easier emotional path. We’ve had time to process what is happening and will happen, and we’ve had the chance to really know and enjoy her.
For others whose reaction has been more negative towards Aurelia’s presence I think it’s perhaps a fear. Aurelia is a stark reminder of the fragility of life. Babies are not meant to die.
Bizarely I found it’s only when you become pregnant that you suddenly realise how many pregnancies actually end. Hidden in so many women’s lives are stories of early miscarriages and the sadness and heartbreak that encompass one. It becomes an open secret almost meant to reassure you that, if you do lose the baby before the 12 week mark, it’s terribly common (about 1 in 4 pregnancies to be exact) and there’s nothing you could have done differently.
Early miscarriage is therefore almost quietly accepted, especially as there’s been no big announcement or usually a scan to coo over.
I feel a later pregnancy loss almost becomes offensive for some though. You’ve perhaps allowed yourself to celebrate with the parents- they’re past the ‘safe’ period of 12 weeks after all. You’ve seen the scan and stood in awe of the little human developing inside another person. You’ve known you’re going to meet that little person in a number of months. You’ve felt the optimism of new life running through you.
So when that pregnancy ends in loss I don’t think people want to face it. It makes us question our own mortality. It makes us question what kind of world we live in when that tiny person, who has never done anything wrong, could be allowed to die. A world which we often pretend for the sake of our own sanity is fair and just, where good people have good things happen to them, and where only old people who’ve lived their life die, is shown to be chaotic and unfair.
Hence people avoid confronting the situation by not talking about it, or allowing others to talk about it *.
I had no idea how many stillbirths or neonatal deaths occur before our situation developed with Aurelia yet a significant number happen even today in the UK. For instance in 2013;
- one in every 216 births was a stillbirth
- one in every 370 babies died within the first 4 weeks of life
I don’t say this to scare people but to emphasise how common this event is, and show how hidden a tragedy it often is. I know I’ve struggled to know when to explain our situation as someone congratulates me seeing my round tummy. I’ve seen how uncomfortable people get and I feel guilty for bringing a cloud on that person’s day.
Often I’ll carry on regardless- I want to talk about her- she’s my little girl and I want the life that she has and the joy she brings recognised and not hidden away like a shameful secret. But I’ve felt the uncomfortable silences as people wrestle mentally by not wanting to hear about her kicks or her reactions to her Daddy’s voice or the fact she likes it when I sing and play the piano. They don’t want to hear about the human side of her as that makes it harder for them to emotionally distance themselves, so people change the subject.
It’s ok, I understand. And I appreciate for those yet to have children or still going through the ‘child bearing years’ people often don’t want to know either for the sake of their own anxiety. People want to be optimistic when those little blue lines appear on that test that there’ll be a baby at the end of it.
It’s not something I want to face either but it’s such a great gift to a parent going through baby loss when you recognise their baby as a human, as their child to be loved and cherished.
*Of course I also appreciate there are a group of people who simply don’t know what to say. They think it’s better to say nothing rather than something. I’ll save some thoughts on this for another post, but for now let me say, personally just an ‘I’m so sorry’, or ‘how are you all?’ are not just fine but warmly appreciated.