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.
This story moved me very much when I first read it, as all the story’s shared with me do. This story echoed the feelings from my time with Finley – the understanding that perhaps there is s greater plan at work, that sometimes our angels come into our lives for a reason. I share this story on today, 15th October 2012, for International Wave of Light. I think it is a fitting post to be shared on that day, to give all the angel families hope.
‘There is no fear of death because there is no death. It’s just a transformation, an illusion’
I had worked as a midwife for many years in both hospitals and in the homes of women and their families before I thought about having children myself.
I remember the first time I supported a woman through her birth; the birth of a beautiful, full-term baby girl. She looked so perfect, this angel, that the term ‘born asleep’ was really true. Asleep, never to wake. As I went off shift, I wondered how a mother or father could ever survive the loss of a child. Later on, as a community midwife I had an intense and supportive relationship with May and her partner Gerard. Their Tim* was born at 32 weeks with multiple congenital abnormalities and did not survive. I remember the rawness of their grief and the deep intensity of their joy when, 15 months later, I helped May to birth a second son, Danny. It occurred to me then that despair and joy were closely related.
Getting pregnant was much less easy for me than I had hoped it would be and, given my age (I was already 35) I quickly found myself embroiled in hospital visits, tests, and investigations. Becoming pregnant was beginning to look like an impossible dream when, following a ‘last ditch’ insemination, I had a positive pregnancy test. I was over the moon: I was going to be privileged to experience pregnancy and childbirth and I was going to be a mum at last! Happy days!
My pregnancy was easy with none of the ‘minor’ ailments often associated with expecting a baby. I bloomed, looked and felt great and continued to be busy at work. By this time, I was teaching midwifery and students often stopped me in the corridors to follow my progress.
In September 2006 I was 23 weeks pregnant. New student midwives started their training and in one session, I was asked to talk about ‘new beginnings’. I related their ‘new beginning’ to the new beginning stirring in me and I cheerily told them that I would get back to them when my ‘new beginning’ was in my arms. Whilst I trusted the process of pregnancy and birth, I found myself thinking about babies born prematurely, how vulnerable they were.
A few days later, cystitis kicks in and starts causing premature contractions. My husband takes me to the hospital where they tell me that the cervix (neck of the womb) is a little open. Drugs are hastily arranged to try to suppress the contractions. This seems to work and I settle in on the high-risk antenatal ward with a copy of ‘The Lord of the Rings’, intending to read this opus during this period of enforced bed rest.
Contractions start again and I am moved back to the labour ward. More drugs and contractions stop. There is hope again, hope that my body can buy precious time to continue nurturing my baby. Then I sneeze and my waters break. Hope becomes despair, which becomes hope again when a scan reveals adequate amounts of water around my baby. I lie still in my bed on the labour ward, waiting and hoping. The staff know I am a midwife and they concur to my requests: a Doppler at odd times of the day so I can listen to my baby’s heartbeat. Listening to the heartbeat with my husband gives me a sense of connection and reassurance, which helps as I am tossed between hope and despair.
The contractions start again, this time with an intensity that is different. Different drugs in higher doses are given and day becomes night. That night it becomes clear to me that tomorrow my baby will be born. That night I am visited by a ‘presence’: I can’t describe it any other way. I sensed a woman who came to reassure me that things were as they were meant to be; that all would be well, that I should go with it and let things be. I knew that the next day my baby would be born.
20th September 2006. A warm day, the last day of summer, the light is golden outside. Inside, in the labour ward, I have hope again. Contractions through the night seem to have been resolved by the administration of a cheap, old-fashioned remedy for high blood pressure. Again I hope but the doctor has been clear that, if this doesn’t work, all treatment options have been exhausted.
The neonatologist comes to meet me. They would rather not treat babies at 24 weeks gestation, as their long-term outcomes are so poor. I remember the neonatal intensive care unit from my midwifery training and decide that this is not what I want for my baby. I have followed the story of a seriously handicapped baby in the press, doctors and parents fighting in the high courts and I know this is not what I want for my baby. I want cuddles, love, peace and quality of life, however long that may be. My husband agrees with me and we opt for ‘conservative’ (i.e. no treatment) should our baby be born.
My body gives me an hour of peace before the contractions return, more intense than before. My baby will be born today and I set about coping with labour. Having seen many, many births, the pain of contractions surprised me. The visceral intensity of the pain taking over my whole existence, before ebbing away. A tide of energy, coming and going, building up and getting stronger and stronger as the birth approached.
I am ready to push and am determined to deliver my baby normally, with no intervention. I push and feel my baby’s head, then shoulders and body as he leaves the safety of me. My baby is a boy: Joachim.
Joachim cries, just once. He is then still; wrapped in warm cloths and placed in my arms so that his father and I can wonder at this child we’ve created. Some oxygen is arranged so that he can be comfortable during whatever time on earth he may have. A feast of recognition follows: your eyebrows, my lips, your nose, my hands, your knees. Your eyes or my eyes? Joachim’s eyes never open.
Time is precious. This is the only time we will have together. We cuddle, talk, take photos and tell our boy how wonderful he is, how much we love him and how welcome he is. We need to make memories.
Ninety minutes after birth, my boy leaves on his journey elsewhere.
Time passes. New faces appear in the labour ward. A kindly faced nurse offers condolences. I turn on her, tell her I gave birth this afternoon and would like to be congratulated first. Aren’t I a mother?
We spend a night in the hospital, the three of us. The next day I want to go home and I want to take my boy with me. The hospital staff concurs and we drive home, as a family. Again, the sun is shining and golden. Colours seem intense. I am seeing the world through different eyes. I am a mother and I feel I have been inducted into some sacred and mystical union of women.
The next day, the sun rises as usual. Time has stopped for me but times goes on. My boy was born and died yesterday already.
We go home and arrange a funeral. All the while, Joachim is at home, in a Moses basket provided by my mother. I washed and dried and cared for my Joachim’s body, both our families came to spend time with him. Even our cats got to spend some time with him as it was clear to them that all was not as it was. We served Beschuit met muisjes (a much favoured sweet treat, traditionally eaten in Holland when a baby is born) to every person who crossed our threshold. Our house was filled with his presence, which seemed to grow by the day. Never was such a tiny baby so large. Our home was full of grace.
The funeral was as much about saying ‘hello’ as ‘goodbye’ to Joachim. Many people came and each one was a comfort to us in some way. After the funeral, my husband and I went home alone and opened a bottle of champagne. The bottle we had bought months earlier, to celebrate the birth of our first child. We drank it and wept. Wept for our lost boy.
Time passes yet for me it stands still. My boy is still dead. It takes a long time to really ‘get’ this fact. My story is like something from a magazine; maybe it’s happening to someone else and not me. Is it a movie? Can I re-wind and get another ending? I have ashes, maybe I can clone him? This is a dream and any minute now I will wake up and find the cat cuddled up to my bump, snug and warm under the duvet.
I remember reading about the ‘stages of grief’ as a student midwife and I try and fit in with them (now I’m in denial, bargaining etc.). I decide to take a few months off to deal with my grief before returning to work.
Grief cannot to compartmentalized, I learned. It comes and goes like the sea. One time a Tsunami that sweeps me along and casts me far away, bruised and battered; another time, no more than a gentle lapping of the sea on the shore.
I hoped to assuage my grief by having another child. Joachim cannot be replaced but another child would help the healing. It was not to be. I remain a mother of one, an only child, invisible to others. When strangers ask me if I have children, I sometimes say ‘no’. Sometimes I share the story of my son. It all depends on how I feel, what I want.
My son taught me a number of lessons. Do death well. Especially the death of a baby. It can’t be done again and it is important to have things just as you would wish. Health care providers want to do their best but often don’t know what to do best to help. Help them. Tell them what you need, what you want, what works for you.
He also taught me that grief is not something that can be scheduled; it comes and goes, as it will. Sit with it, let it in and go with it. Grief is a guest that resents being shut out. Ignore grief and it becomes bitter, twisted and angry. Put it off and it comes back, tenfold. Nowadays, I pull up a chair and sit with it. We spend some time and then it leaves again. Joachim taught me to celebrate life. Life is short and the human condition is fragile. I drank champagne after his birth and I shop for the most extravagant birthdays cakes to celebrate his life on his birthday.
Time passes and time does not necessarily heal all wounds, as the proverb says. Do I ‘accept’ the death of my boy almost 6 years on? No.
I accept the facts of his life and death. I know that he is out there in the cosmos, dancing between the stars. I have leaned to live with the fact. I learn to live with grief as an (often) uninvited guest that comes, stays and then leaves again. I have learned to live with feelings of resentment and jealousy towards fertile (but blameless) family and friends.
I have learned to treasure a life so short, but well lived. I try to follow my son’s example in the art of living gracefully. I do not fear death because Joachim taught me that death is a transformation, an illusion.
Sadly this weekend Gary Barlow and Dawn his wife lost their baby, their much awaited fourth child. Here in this link the BBC report upon why stillbirth remains a mystery http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19163712
I have been thinking about this today. I visited a mortuary to talk about the services that I can offer to hospitals and we began talking about post mortems. I believe that post mortems can help us to understand the cause of stillbirth in some cases. Some cases like Finley, a cause still cannot be identified. But in many cases it can be discovered to be an infection that otherwise may remain hidden.
Post mortem rates are dropping, parents are not taking up to opportunity to discover a possible reason for the tragedy. In part I believe that this is down to fear and a lack of information about what actually occurs during a post mortem. I also believe that sad and tragic news reports where organs have been seperated from the body have not helped, and the nightmares I recall having about Finley’s post mortem remain very vivid images to my own mind.
I will be writing more upon this subject in the coming weeks.
Today the world is once again forced to open it’s eyes to the suffering that many parents face every day. In fact here in the UK 11 babies will be stillborn every day – EVERY SINGLE DAY. And another 6 babies will die within a month of being born. Do you realise how many babies that is? Over 6000 babies every year in the UK alone.
Then more shocking comes the statistic that 50% of these losses are preventable. Really? Yes really. 50% of these irreplaceable babies are needlessly lost. And then another shocking statistic in the last 10 years in the UK we have not reduced this number at all. SIDS deaths have been reduced by 75% in the same time period, but stillbirth rates have not changed at all.
Baby loss is the hidden taboo. Yet today #RIPPoppy was trending world wide. Gary and Dawn Barlow have sadly had to face this reality, they are looking to the future with only memories to help ease their pain. Little Poppy joins Finley and the many other babies today. Tomorrow the world will wake up to this story in all of the newspapers and perhaps for five minutes they will understand what we parents face every single day.
Every single day we get up to a silent house, we open the curtains in a newly decorate nursery that will never hold the sound of a baby crying, we walk with our eyes shut tight past the nappy aisle in the supermarket, we see 3 am every morning, because it is less lonely than going to bed with a body that aches to cradle a baby. Will the world open their eyes and see us? Will they start to stand up and say this is unacceptable?
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.
There is a weird period of time in the timescale of grief. I don’t know if it arrives for everybody at the same time, but I would bet money on the fact that it appears for all. When your baby or child dies the world can become a very dark place. It can seem like you are fighting just to stay alive, there can seem to be no point to the day.
I discovered the battle of organising the funeral and volunteered for this. In the war zone that had become my life I spent hours each day searching music, readings, flowers. We had tasks to do, even if they were incredibly hard. There were missions out into enemy territory – the real world. The real world where everything seems too bright, too loud, too happy and full of traps to catch you. Booby traps like shelves of nappies in unexpected places in shops, or the screaming baby around every corner. The venture into the most dangerous place of all Mothercare, where instead of being on R&R with our family we were facing large numbers of enemy troops and booby traps trying to find an outfit for our newborn to wear in his forever bed, before we buried him.
The battle of the funeral ended in a stalemate, with no ground won or lost. And the hours after the funeral, when my mind debriefed suddenly became quiet. The shock and realisation hit me that all of the other soldiers, my comrades were going on R&R tomorrow.
A few weeks after Finley was born and my life looked like a no man’s land on a misty morning. I woke up one day and suddenly I was on my own in a barren, burnt and blackened piece of land. The mist had come down and I could not see anybody. I knew they must be there because the war is over, but to find them I had to find the courage to walk out in a world that looked different. A world with different landmarks and slightly hazy, dim views. On the other side of that patch of land life is green and bright, life has carried on for other people. I am surrounded by the letters that were left, all of them saying if you need anything just ask. But the people that left those letters are long gone.
I picked up the phone but the line is burnt and they can’t hear me, my voice was shaken and I couldn’t hear. After a while I began to venture into the wasteland, always heading back because it just seemed to far to get across that No Man’s Land of my Grief.
It’s a very lonely, scary walk to find your way across that land, when you have become accustomed to being alone and in the greyness. Sometimes a friendly hand, or word in that space of time from maybe 2-6 months is when it is most needed.
As the time goes by, I am 2 and half years After Finley, the interactions have changed. The emotion is not so raw and I get a simple kind of pleasure and pride about hearing people say how Finley has stayed in their hearts, how their lives have changed, how when they heard the news they held their child, imagining what it would be like to not lose that. If one person appreciates their life more because of Finley then his life has not been wasted. He lives on through their smiles.
People are able to remember their baby, or a baby that they know in two ways through my work. They can fundraise and dedicate a cold cot in memory of their baby to a hospital. They can also donate £30 and a butterfly box will be supplied to a hospital, with a letter in explaining who it is supplied in memory of. Specific items can also be donated to us, to be included in butterfly boxes.