Today is International Day of the Midwife.
I think most care professions can sometimes feel like a thankless job, taken for granted, with long hours. Today I would like to pay my respects to all midwives worldwide, who welcome new life into the world, and use their initiative, making split second decisions that can mean life and death.
Sadly perhaps midwives do not only welcome new life into this world, they also witness when the hopes and dreams of parents waiting for their new life are shattered. They support parents on the worst days of their lives, helping them to create memories and begin healing following the loss of a baby.
Today is a day to thank them.
I would like to thank our midwives, 3 in particular.
The first thank you is for our community midwife Midge. Midge looked after me during my second pregnancy (my first ended in miscarriage at 8 weeks). Midge understood my worries at the start of my pregnancy, helping me access an early scan. Once 16 weeks had passed I felt safe. I started to live in a happy-little-pregnancy-bubble. I read The Gentle Birth Method and suddenly found myself in a world I had not really imagined previously. I was taking care of myself, eating well, exercising. I used the Health in Pregnancy Grant to pay for sessions of combined Reiki and Reflexology. Midge was so supportive about me following this. I had a perfect pregnancy, and even better I had no asthma, hay fever, or infections at all. The only grumble was some slight swelling about 2 weeks before the end of my pregnancy.
Sadly Midge was on holiday when Finley was born, but as soon we were home from hospital she visited. I am not sure that she knows how much it moved me that she arrived with a little card. This card stood out amongst the wall full of white, sympathy cards. It was blue and simply said Baby Boy on it. She was the first person to recognise that although not what we wanted, we had still had a son. I will be forever grateful to her for that.
Four months later I fell pregnant again. Midge was one of the first people we had the courage to tell. We asked to have her again for our midwife. She probably spent as much time talking with me about Finley, as she did monitoring my new pregnancy. She cried with me & celebrated each new “safe” milestone. She understood what I needed and made sure that I could go to the hospital whenever I needed. She supported my wish for a VBAC and didn’t bat an eyelid when I admitted myself to hospital begging for a c section.
When Twinkle was born she helped us persevere with breast feeding, and we went to a fantastic baby massage group that she ran. That helped me bond with Twinkle, and get less scared about bonding with her, in case she died.
Without her support, and positive belief I’m not sure that I would be the Mum I am today.
The second midwife I would like to honour today is Andrea. Andrea was on duty the night that Finley was born. I have no idea how it must have felt to deliver a baby, a healthy little baby boy, by emergency cesarean, under general anasthetic & for him not to breathe. I don’t know what happened as I was asleep, but I know that she & the theatre staff tried to resuscitate him. She waited for me to wake up and gently broke the news to me that he hadn’t survived.
Andrea came back to see us the next time she was on shift. She sent a beautiful card, and continues to send a card each year on his birthday. She supports the charity work that I do, and came along to Finley’s funeral. I can’t imagine that the events of that night were what anyone imagined, or wanted, but it helps to know that they still remember our son.
The third midwife already knows how much she means to us. She attended a study day and saw and heard first hand how and why her actions helped so much. Keiley is a bereavement midwife. She helped us so much, by making it clear that we only had a limited time to make our memories in. She stayed to take some extra photographs of me with Finley, working past the end of her shift.
And on that night asked the most important question of what I wanted my last memory to be, allowing me to admit that I wanted to change my son’s nappy. She made sure of clear communication to the staff on shift next day and I was able to bathe, & dress my stillborn son, and read him a bedtime story. All of this was videoed meaning that we will never forget those things.
Keiley was also there at the birth of Twinkle- who poked her tongue out at her!
Thank you to all of our midwives.
I had to force myself to put this book down, and start to write this review. I wanted to try to capture my first thoughts before I reached the end of the book. I’ll probably read it again to add to it, but for now this book has captivated me in a way that no book about stillbirth has since I first read When Life Touches Life.
I am not sure what I am looking for when I read a book about stillbirth. I know that I don’t really like the books that present information in a medically focused way, interspersed with snippets of real life. I know that I like books that are cleverly, skillfully written by someone who can put words together in a moving way. I know that I usually like books that have hope contained within them.
This book has a simple cover, and a title that doesn’t immediately give away the story within. A mother who has experienced the death of baby may well understand those words better than other people. An exact replica of a figment of my imagination; perhaps it points to that feeling of holding your dead baby within your arms, knowing that he/she looks exactly as you had imagined them to. But then the words figment of, seem to allude to the fact that this imagined picture is not real.
The mother in this book, is actually an author. She explains within the body of the text that her and her husband are both published writers. That natural talent means that from the very first page I was captivated. I was drawn into an opening chapter that talks about a seemingly random occurrence where someone requested that the author write about the “lighter side of losing a child”. The tone of the chapter shows that this becomes more meaningful with the benefit of clear hindsight, none more clear than that of the grieving mother questioning whether she should have seen the signs.
The first line of the second chapter tells you that a child dies. The next paragraph tells you that a second baby is born. The matter of fact style adds no more emotion to one part than to the other, and throughout the next few chapters the book teasingly dances between the two pregnancies, the two children and the current situation. The outcome? A book that you do not want to put down. A book that leaves you wanting to know more. Wanting to know if this mother finds peace, if she continues hiding from the painful memories, or if she integrates them into her new normal.
A captivating, brutally honest, beautifully written story of two children.
A Mother’s Tears by Nichole Wyborn
This book is unique in the fact that it is written by a Mum, who also happens to be a midwife. It gives parents a valuable insight into how it might feel for the professionals that care for them, whilst remaining very sensitive in it’s style.
Nicole describes perfectly the devastation of a missed miscarriage, the rollercoaster of tests and hopes being raised “perhaps you are not as far along as you thought” – a heartbeat that is present but not as it should be and the knowing inside that this baby can’t possibly make it.
As Nicole moves on to write about Ben, that sense of knowing continues. You can’t help but pray along with her that the blood at 23 weeks is not anything significant, and that Baby Ben makes it. She describes scenarios that many parents will recognise, and the frustration of the staff on duty not responding to her knowledge of what her body is doing. I cried when I read that Ben was born alive, but that his Mummy didn’t find out about this until later. I understand how haunting the thought of your baby dying alone is. In her words is a powerful message from a midwife, from one who knows to other professionals. With a little bit of care and thought surely it would have been possible to let his Mummy know he was alive, and to make sure that the last feeling he had was one of love and warmth.
The second part of the book is equally easy to read, and helpful to so many. Nicole writes about the funeral, and her own health concerns in a clear, yet moving way.
My grief was all consuming, and I doubted that I was ever going to feel ok again. Every day was the same and there was no one who could help me. I only wanted my baby back. I was inmi such a state of despair that I wanted everyone to go to hell. I was sick of everything. I was sick of the doctors – there wasn’t a doctor where I lived who could help me with my problem. As far as I was concerned, the doctors could get stuffed as well. I was so so angry. I was angry that my baby had died. I was angry that my daughter had to learn about death at such a young age. I was angry that the laboratories had thrown my test results away so I will never know what killed Ben, and I was most angry that I didn’t know that he had lived for an hour.
This book has a “happy” ending too, in that Nicole goes on to get pregnant and successfully have baby Tom.
I recommend this book for midwives, birth professionals and parents who have experienced miscarriage, or neonatal death.
I am an avid reader, often reading a book in a short space of time. But I don’t often find that I am able to read a book written by a baby loss family in a day. It generally takes my heart some time to recover. The Littlest Angel by Heidi Chandler is a book that I couldn’t put down, reading it in two days.
This book is very well written, with feelings expressed honestly. In her writing Heidi does not shy away from expressing the true beauty of pregnancy, or the sheer devastation of loss. I was captivated from the start as I read about their longing for a little girl, their excitement in the pregnancy and then the shock and numbness as they receive the news that little Avery had passed away, almost reaching full term.
I often read debates about when a baby can be grieved, when a baby becomes a person. I hear parents say that well meaning people have said to them “at least you didn’t have time to get to know the baby”, as if that somehow makes it easier. There is a statement in the early chapters which for me sums up pregnancy.
“My daughter. I couldn’t help but imagine the future, of a pretty little girl playing dress-up in my heels, falling in love for the first time, her first heartbreak, choosing a prom dress, choosing a wedding dress. Would she be blonde and fair like me or dark like her father? I stared at the ultrasound pictures, trying to tell from the black and white prints. I couldn’t wait to meet her face to face.”
Even though I was well aware of what the outcome would be, I can’t help but hope for a happy ending, hope that this family get to see their daughter toddle round in high heels.
I started reading about THAT day, the day when everything changes. My stillbirth was different, I woke up to the news my baby had died. This book gives an insight into stillbirth caused by cord trauma, and placental abruption. The honest, graphic style of writing shares every aspect of that day and I can’t help but be shocked by how much additional trauma this poor family experienced. And then the part of these stories that I always love to read. For me, in this story Avery’s beauty in her parent’s eyes is clearly displayed in the writing. The love and pride are clear to see.
And the account of the days and weeks after her birth is equally honest. Heidi does not shy away from expressing the true depth of despair, the thoughts that I remember so well, wondering if the things I was doing were crazy. For me there is something very comforting about reading about the care that these parents took over their daughters ashes, and I recall taking a photograph with me everywhere in much the same way that they took her ashes.
The book does have a “happy ending”. In her honest style, Heidi talks about discovering that she was pregnant again. Her longing for another girl, and the realisation that Avery could never be replaced. She tells of the moments where her much wanted rainbow looks so much like her angel, and this – I am sure – is something many will relate to.
“Mingling with happiness there is always the grief, and there is always sadness. Even when I’m truly completely happy, there is still a small part of me that’s crying inside over the loss of my daughter. And I’ve learnt that’s ok; it means that Avery is still in my heart.”
I would recommend this book to parents looking for stories about stillbirth, placental abruption, cord trauma, rainbow babies. It is an honest story that clearly covers the whole experience, in sometimes graphic and sharp detail.
2nd August 2012 began as it usually does with the cuddles in bed with a squishy almost 2 year old. It doesn’t allow a lot of time for sadness. This birthday has had a different focus for me. I have felt a pressure to not pass my sadness on to Finley’s sister. You see the realisation hit me that this is our sadness not hers. She will know who her brother is, we decided that almost immediately. But how she will know him depends on us in the most part.
If you take it to it’s basic level, my basic belief, actually Finley is magical. He is somewhere beautiful. He is peace, he is freedom, he is pure love, he is able to fly. He gives magical gifts of knowledge, he shows us he is there, he makes us see the world differently. Even my hubby sees the world differently. I caught him the other night saying goodnight to a shadow. Clearly this shadow matters to him. The first Christmas without Finley I put two silver sparkly fairies dangling from the lights. I haven’t had the heart to take them down. And sometimes when the light is right the shadow appears on the blinds.
So that is the way I want Twinkle to know her brother. I want her to know her brother as magic, not sadness. The sadness is ours. There is nothing wrong with it, but there is no need for her to feel it as her own. Perhaps I am wrong in that. But anyway that’s how I felt.
So, I took Twinkle off to the childminder as usual, and went home. Baz and I slept for a bit (which is always heaven when you have a 2 year old who wakes every day without fail with the birds – the very noisy baby seagulls are her current alarm clock!). He then started cleaning, so I followed suit. Another rare occurrence in my house. It actually worked quite well as a I’m gonna avoid what this day is. Eventually though the urge to be with Finley got too much to ignore. I went to visit him. I sat chatting to him, took some of the cards that he had been sent down and laid them on his grave ready to open later.
Finley’s grandparents came up to be with us. They brought a cute little gnome, pot plant holder, and a lovely card. We went to pick up Twinkle, and had a lovely surprise. Her childminder had helped her make a picture. It had the number three on it and lots of stars. I was so relieved and happy that she had helped Twinkle do that. Twinkle was very excited by the balloons, walking round all the little baby graves with them. We let some balloons go as we usually do, and actually Twinkle made me smile I forgot to cry. She has this amazing ability to see the wonder in everything. And I captured a lovely photo of her Daddy and her watching the balloons laughing. We had to let her keep a red star though.
I had come up with a new idea this year. I’d written little gift tags for the little angels that I know of who share Finley’s birthday date, and tied them to the necks of some rubber ducks. We went to a little bridge over the river. Twinkle and Nanna really enjoyed dropping them off the bridge and watching them travel towards the sea. I wonder where they end up.
I ended the night reading Twinkle a book for the first time. It is a picture book called Someone came before you. I managed to read it without crying. She liked the pictures, and I am sure that the words will come to bring understanding to her.
Welcome to the world Hollie Rose Hughes.
Your family have been on a big journey as they longed for your birth. Your big sister Lexi will be so happy to finally meet you. Your Mummy and Daddy have two special angels watching over them who helped to ensure your safe arrival. Your Mummy is poorly right now, but when she is better she will be able to give you a cuddle.
Your Mummy has been waiting for this moment for a very long time. Her heart has been broken in the past into tiny little pieces, but when she learned you were on the way, you brought a special glue with you. Now you are born you can start to use that glue to mend your family’s broken hearts.
Each time they feel your breath on their cheeks they will know you are here to stay, each time they see you open your eyes their hearts will smile. Don’t wonder at the sparkles in their eyes, that’s the little diamonds the angels send from Heaven. Your Mummy and Daddy miss them a lot.
This means that you get extra love and hugs and kisses. You are a special rainbow baby. The beauty in the balance of the sunshine and the rain.
Everyone warns you that the first year will be hard, you pass through the first Christmas, first mother’s day, first Easter, first father’s day, first Spring, first Summer, first Autumn, first Winter, first birthday/anniversary. You almost expect that year to be tough. But as time goes on you think you have got it cracked, that it’s only those anniversary days that will hurt now.
Well grief snuck up on me again last week. My daughter is 16 months old. She was born a month after Finley’s first birthday in heaven. Generally this year has been great… Ok I know it is only 20 days into it, but believe me that’s a great start. But last week I was hit by the ten ton truck of grief again. It was Toni-Joi’s first day at nursery. We had been for a couple of visits. She was fine, apart from hitting a boy over the head with a duck when he took it out of eye sight (she likes ducks!). I was ok. But when it came to last weeks visit I had to fill in some forms. And of course the nursery has a question on the form “Do you have any other children at home”.
Well, I stopped for a good few minutes. I didn’t know what to write. The truthful answer is “no. No I don’t have any other children at home”. But my heart is never happy with that answer. So my head and heart sit having a debate about what the answer to this should be. Finally I decide to answer with tears in my eyes “No”.
Then later on there was a question about whether there is anything they need to know. I decided to write in this box that I lost a baby called Finley at full term a year before Toni-Joi was born. She knows about her brother, his photographs are around the house. I wrote that it would not be long before she mentions him. I wrote that I would like them to know his name and speak with her about him if she raises the subject or has questions.
I went home with a heavy heart thinking that they should already know Finley. He should be there too, he should be looking after and protecting his little sister.
Sometimes a person touches your heart and you know that you will never forget them. Sometimes that person is tiny and has never taken a breath on this earth. This week the person that has been on my thoughts most often is a little angel called Ollie Biriya (meaning rainbow). With the controversy caused by Michelle and Jim Duggar choosing to take photographs of their miscarried baby Jubilee, I have been thinking about Ollie Biriya even more.
I hope one day to interview his Mummy and Daddy to share their full story, they are really quite remarkable people. But until that day comes I will settle with telling you about Ollie. Ollie is his Mummy and Daddy’s twelfth baby. Sadly only one of their children’s feet made it to walk on this earth. Ruby is now a beautiful 4 year old. I met Ollie’s Mummy and Daddy after Finley was buried, although my husband and Ollie’s Daddy worked together at the time. We found out that Ollie’s Mummy and Daddy had sadly lost their miracle babies Cameron and Carter at 21 weeks, when they were found to have Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. They had surgery but sadly did not survive. At this point Ollie’s Mummy and Daddy had lost 6 babies before them so it was devastating for the pregnancy to progress so far and develop problems. Cameron and Carter were cremated and settled into their bed a few along from Finley. Cameron and Carter were the first tiny angels pictures that I had seen. I remember every time I saw their photo, just looking at how beautiful they were as they cuddled each other. Their picture placed next to their scan photos and their teeny tiny footprints.
Their Mum and I got pregnant at the same time with our rainbow babies, sadly she started to have some problems and I was with her when she saw Pip (who was later named Charlie). There was no heartbeat. I remember asking if she could have a photograph of her tiny baby in her tummy and she chose to have a d&c. I was with her when she recovered from this and she chose to have Charlie buried with Cameron and Carter.
I was so excited to hear that she was pregnant again with Ollie, and really thought that this time it had to be ok. Losing 10 babies is simply unimaginable. To find the strength to try again, amazing. Surely it would be rewarded by whichever power controls these things. It looked like it would be ok, when a scan at 11 weeks revealed a healthy happy baby. But sadly disaster struck again with a scan at 13.4 weeks showing that Ollie’s heart had stopped.
I had just heard about an organisation called Upon Butterfly Wings, so had contacted them to see if they could help. They sent a beautiful package
In it was a tiny blanket, three angel’s pockets, a tiny little teddy bear, and a knitted moses basket. So I went to see Ollie’s Mummy and Daddy in hospital arriving just after he was born. The nurse checked with my friend that it was ok for me to go in, she came out to see me and said that Ollie was still with his parents. She asked me if I wanted her to take him out while I saw my friend. For the briefest of seconds I stopped in my tracks. I stopped, the nurse probably thought it was fear. Maybe it was, but not of Ollie, I was scared of breaking down. I was scared of making it worse for his broken hearted parents, but most of all I was scared to see another angel baby. The last angel baby I had seen was Finley, and I would have thought that I never wanted to see another angel baby again, as I know it would bring it all back. That lasted the smallest amount of time, before my brain was counter arguing with thoughts that I had brought Ollie presents, that I know how much it means for people to meet your baby and acknowledge he exists. So I went to meet Ollie.
And I immediately commented (probably in a very surprised voice) “he is just so perfect”. At that the tears did come to my eyes. I don’t understand and will never understand how something so perfect can just be taken away in an instant. And Ollie was perfect. I had not expected him to be complete. He was bigger than I expected. He had fingers and toes, hands and feet, elbows and knees. He had a beautiful face, with a tiny little nose. You could even see that Ollie Biriya was a boy.
I gave his parcel to his Mum to open, knowing how much it would mean to her. She had once told me that she felt so guilty that Cameron and Carter, Ollie’s brothers only had a blanket to be wrapped in as they were too tiny for clothes. Little Ollie had a choice of items to rest in. He was photographed in the little moses basket, tucked under the tiny blanket, his head resting gently on the tiny pillow with his teddy bear next to him. His Mummy chose a little green angel’s pocket for him.
She asked me would I like to hold him. Only someone who has lost a baby would be able to understand how amazing this was. The moments that you get with your baby are so precious, the fear that you have of people judging you or your child so deep, I was honoured to hold him. I held Ollie in my hands and for a really long time just looked at him with tears in my eyes. I was just struck to silence by how beautiful and tiny he was.
I watched in silence as Ollie’s parents said goodbye to him, and the nurse came to collect him. Ollie’s parents have photographs of those few moments in that hospital room. I am glad that they do.
I said my final goodbye’s to Ollie on a cold blustery day. I offered to take some photographs at the funeral. I hoped that by capturing Ollie’s family honouring him, it would help me to learn how important it is to acknowledge all babies with dignity and respect. This is something that we did not get the chance to do when we lost our first baby at 8 weeks, and something I have regretted since.
My friend has offered for me to share some of these photographs. I do so with the greatest of pride and admiration for her, and her husband. She carries the weight of a thousand lifetime with her every day. She has had to bear more sadness than many of us can imagine and yet she gets up every day for her little girl, her blessing. Goodbye Ollie Biriya …
Ok so this post is not quite about being a childless parent – I am lucky I now have one child. However some days it just hits home. Like today. The sun was shining, so I took my daughter to the cemetary so that we could take a teddy bear to Finley’s grave. One lonely grave, pretty, colourful and somehow when you stare at it full of life. Lots of insects crawl over it. But it is also a symbol for death too. It stands in a row of tiny graves. When Finley was buried he finished the row. Now nearly two years on there are another two rows of tiny baby graves in front of his.
Its hard to visit him there. Holding a baby in my arms, grateful and empty at the same time. We were sitting underneath a big old tree, and the wind was blowing the leaves around. My daughter was fascinated looking up. Touching the tree, touching the grass, reaching for a flower. Every time outside is like the first time to her. That childlike wonder at the simple things. A blackbird walking towards her, a leaf fluttering down, the windmills slowly turning. And all I could think was Finley should be here to do this too.
On the way home we went to the park. The swings. Why are baby swings always in pairs? She was sitting in the swing, giggling, watching the other children playing. The other swing sitting empty beside her. The see saw doesn’t work when there is one person on it.
Empty swing, empty see saw, empty arms.
Losing a baby often throws up many surprising learnings, thoughts and feelings. Today I was bathing my little girl, who is 9 months old and thinking that bathing a baby is one of the simple things that matters so much. When you have a child and you bath them, maybe you don’t realise the simple beauty in that act. It’s probably one of the simple things parents take for granted all the time.
I don’t take this for granted. I suspect I never will.
When Finley was born asleep I missed his first bath. I was recovering from my operation and had been given morphine. I know he had a bath. I have seen the video footage. Baz bathed his son. He cared for his son as if his son was alive. He gently supported his head, and cradled him in his arms as he washed his with the warm water. The midwife put baby wash into the water. Baz dried his hair, and then unwrapped the towel and laid his son in the water.
I got so upset as time went on that I had not been there for this bath, that as his Mummy I had not bathed my son. Luckily the staff supported me to bathe my son, that happened 3 days after he was born. Perhaps people consider this strange. This bath occurred 3 days after his death. Did I notice? No. Yes I knew he was dead, but all I was doing was caring for my son. I have the beautiful memory of the weight of my son in my arms, the movement of my son in the water. The chubby ankles, and the perfect little hands.
No – I will never take the 20 minutes a day that it takes to bathe my daughter for granted. In the months before she was born and after we said goodbye to her brother I longed to bathe my baby. I couldn’t he wasn’t there.
I was a childless parent.