I was twenty-eight weeks pregnant when I found out my baby had suddenly died in my womb. I never received a conclusive medical explanation.
A hospital midwife gave me a hug, a pill and some leaflets; told me to go home until the contractions began, and then they’d have me “in and out by teatime on Saturday.”
After a twenty-one hour labor through the bleakest and stormiest of January nights, my daughter, April, was born sleeping. She was presented to me in a cute little straw bread basket. She was wrapped in a simple white sheet. We had been warned she may not look so typically like a baby, since for some reason – despite everything being ‘textbook’ during my twenty week scan – she had stopped growing and would be about the size of a seventeen week fetus. But she was perfect to me; perfect but unmistakably dead.
My husband and I left the hospital empty-armed and the snow continued to fall. Shoppers zigzagged their way across town with their January sales bargains, stomping in their boots on the freshly fallen blanket. I wanted to scream out the window at them all for being so bloody selfish! How could they even contemplate carrying on as if nothing had happened? My baby had died, so why was the world even spinning?
Those first six months were cruel, bleak, dark and grueling. For the first time in my life I understood how it was that a human couldn’t find the strength to emerge from the duvet in the morning. I understood how life could feel so pointless that there was no reason to go on. And then my toddler’s cheery face would light up the room.
Little by little I ventured back out there. I baked cakes and discovered the comfort to be found in a pile of Nigella Lawson’s recipe books. I went to the shops and dodged pregnant women (straining to refrain from slapping those I witnessed smoking). I visited friends who had just had babies. I cuddled newborns while my eyes pricked with tears and then quickly passed them back to their parents before I broke down into a pile of mush.
One day when the house was empty I called a Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Bereavement Charity helpline. I can’t remember what I said but I spoke with the loveliest man, kind-hearted through and through. He listened and listened and listened. I felt a little better after that. And he told me I could call again. Any time. For several weeks, just the thought of that person waiting without judgement at the end of the phone became my lifeline.
And then one spring morning, quite out of the blue, the vicar who had conducted April’s service called to tell me that a baby loss support group was opening in town. My heart leaped with joy. Perhaps the first glimmer of joy I had allowed myself in half a year. And I was right to be joyful.
The first meeting was like coming home. I felt among family. Everybody in that room just knew how it was and what we were all collectively going through. Yes, our individual stories were unique. But we all had one thing in common; The Love (and The Loss) of our children. We had a special bond. It was a date for the diary; a time to share; a time to weep; a time to laugh; a time to honour. Group night was sacred. And the friends I made at mine spanned all walks of life – an author, a midwife, a social worker, an accountant, a teacher. The message was clear: Stillbirth and Neonatal Death affected everybody. There were teenage moms, and there were maturer moms… and all of the moms for the ages in-between. There were dads who came alone. There were couples in their eighties who had never known the support of a group in the darkest days after their babies died. Our little get-togethers were all encompassing. Our little get-togethers were Chicken Soup For My Soul.
I no longer felt like the only woman whose baby had died.
Meetings spilled over into coffee dates. Acquaintances spilled over into life-long friends. And although life has since blessed me with a son, and brought us overseas to Spain, it is something quite indescribable – beyond comfort – to know that My Little Group and the friends I have made since it embraced me, will always be there.
Related post: Understanding Infant Loss