I previously wrote about the absolute lack of aftercare when our baby died in terms of the physical care and how it can affect the families left alone at the worst time of their lives. The other part of the aftercare that really let us down was the availability for mental health care in our area. I think we took it for granted that upon leaving the hospital we would have tons of professional people to turn to, to talk to, to relate to but for us that wasn’t the experience we had sadly.
For 41 weeks I carried Francesca, every minute spent keeping her safe and bonding with her. We both completely changed our lives by excitedly giving up the nights out and shopping trips for nights in planning our daughters life and trips to Mothercare. I remember Steven even coming home one night after we’d moved to a new area, saying he’d bumped into the neighbours and just had a “casual” chat about the best nurseries and schools in the area and was already on the couch researching the best ones and their curriculums for his little princess , so much for a “casual” chat, he already pretty much had her enrolled! I guess I cant really talk though, in my mind I had already chosen the dance school she would be going to and the best book bug clubs she would be attending. We both went to every antenatal class and even classes on breastfeeding, cot death and baby resuscitation. I spent hours researching the best “new born essentials” and “how to baby proof your home”. In our reality this little bump was our reason for living and would be until the end of time… and then she was gone. I cant even explain the devastation that hit us. We waited so long on the big day where I would be in labour and our little family would become 3. But instead for us, I went into labour a few hours after being discharged from hospital for reduced movements and instantly it didn’t feel the way it had been described to me at the classes. The pain was beyond unbearable. There was no time to bounce on any gym ball to wait on labour advancing as advised, instead it was a dash to the hospital to be taken straight into a room by a worried midwife who scanned for our baby girls heartbeat which was met with silence… The room filled with around 5-10 midwives who lined up against the back wall (I don’t know why so many people filled the room to this day)while 2 doctors checked for a heartbeat again while we prayed for a miracle.. but there was none.. just a Dr saying “I am sorry but your baby has died” and with that the room cleared and just like that our baby was dead and so were we. In that moment there was a black hole of nothing and the pain was beyond words. The horror of that news was traumatic enough to take down the strongest of men but when I was told I would need to go through full natural labour and deliver my beautiful sleeping baby I genuinely wanted them to put me to sleep and never wake me up . I just kept thinking this was cruelty beyond belief and went into shock all over again. I remember them asking in that moment if we would like to spend time with our daughter when she was born to make memories with such as bathing her and taking pictures, all I kept thinking was “are you mental!” were they trying to add to the cruelty of all of this by prolonging the pain of doing “normal” mummy and daddy things with a baby that would never come home with us. Nothing about this situation was normal! Of course now I completely understand why this is offered to parents in our positions as those precious days spent with Francesca, taking pictures, bathing her, letting family meet her and just staring at her were the most important times of our lives which without them what would we really have. That was it.. the only memories we have.
My labour went on for another 20 hours, 20 hours of agonising heartbreak trying not to look at my bump as I knew what lay inside, 20 hours of agonising pain from the position Francesca had been stuck in and knowing that all those times people told me that once the baby was born and placed in my arms that i’d forget about the pain was not going to apply to me. Another 20 hours of wanting this nightmare to be over but not wanting to let her go as I knew i’d have to say goodbye. How do you get those images or memories out of your mind? the answer is .. you don’t.. and you live each day with flashbacks being triggered over the silliest and smallest things. There’s no escaping it whether your doing your shopping in Tesco or walking your dog its always there and the pain is very real in those moments. That’s a little bit about my pain but I’m very aware that over those hours Steven was living it all with me while trying to hold it together for me and the family that were waiting in the family room in the ward. He was aware of much more in those hours than I was as I was too broken to realise how ill I was and he thought their was a chance that he may be leaving the hospital without me too. All those laughs about planning the wee ones trips to the park and what school she would be going to replaced with the thought of going home alone to a very empty home with nothing. Instead we were pushed into an instant world of questions around which funeral home will be looking after our daughter and would we be requesting a full post mortem. We had no clue on either , why would we , this was all wrong. I kept looking at Francesca in her cold cot beside me, willing her to open her eyes and prove that this was all a mistake. We had a visit from a really lovely bereavement counsellor who explained her services would be available but in her experience this service is more worthwhile further down the line when you’ve processed through some of your grief the only thing was that we would need to go back to the hospital, even worse the maternity wing, to see her as that’s where her services were based. We couldn’t think of anything worse , we wanted to leave that hospital and get as far away from it as possible and never ever go back again. All we had at the time towards the hospital was anger at the mistakes made that cost our daughter her life, we wanted nothing more to do with it.
It was a whirlwind of trauma and the most pain you can ever imagine for those few days but somehow we both got through it and to this day I can barely breathe when I think back to the exact moment we had to walk out that room, closing the door on our baby girl still inside and leaving the hospital to go home alone. We spent the next few days in a daze of funeral arrangements and registering the birth and death of our daughter while my body still reminded me at every opportunity that it was craving the baby it had just gave birth to. I don’t understand the cruelty inflicted on us and never ever will. My brain struggles to process these memories still and emerges itself sometimes in physical effects.
So how do you deal with what can only be described as a traumatic tragedy….. in our experience its done all on your “tod”….when you leave hospital its pretty much adios amigos and a good luck handshake…. There were no phone calls to check in on us and maybe that had a lot to do with the fact we didn’t have any community midwife checking in on us to see how difficult we were both finding things. We genuinely thought there must be professionals that can help but unless we went back to the hospital for the bereavement counselling we were offered then we were really alone.
The weeks passed and we were struggling so we tried a local SANDS meeting after 3 weeks and as lovely as the people were it was not a good place for us to be. I was closed hearted and panicky in a group of new people, none of whom I could relate to as they were much further down the line in their grief journey. I wasn’t able to lift my head to look anyone in the eyes without breaking down. The thing that really took the wind out me was the girls there who were pregnant again…as happy as I was for them to have a little bit of happiness in their lives given what they’d been through, all I could feel was bitterness, anger and sadness when I looked at them and above all the most awful emotion of them all, JEALOUSY, I was beyond jealous that they were pregnant and I no longer was.. they had hope where mines had been ripped away . It was a side of myself I didn’t even know I had in me but I was angry at everything and everyone! I spoke to my GP for help and was then advised to take the hospitals offer of bereavement counselling or google local CBT classes. I felt so lost after that conversation and very alone. After that we both decided to put our feelings about the hospital aside (as to be honest what choice did we have) to try the bereavement counselling, we had both reached the lowest points and needed something to help. So off we went and I can’t even describe the feeling of panic that gripped me even pulling into the car park of that place. We walked up the maternity corridor to the counsellor office and right into a couple clearly in labour and another family with “baby girl” balloons walking out the hospital with the daddy holding the baby in the car seat proudly and with that it was game over, We were done, this was like a form of self torture, putting ourselves through this, watching other families live the life we were supposed to have while we were there to talk about how to live a resemblance of a life following the death of our daughter. For days following that appointment we felt like we had the worst hangovers, it had genuinely taken every last little bit of energy we had. We retreated back into ourselves, separately and together as we both grieved completely differently which is also something that is very difficult to comprehend sometimes. With that we both decided ” to go it alone” as simply we just couldn’t put ourselves through that every week. The counsellor completely understood but other than offer us to be seen in another room still within the hospital (bottom of maternity corridor rather than end) there was not much more we could do.
The mix of awful emotions scared me and I sank further and further down and my only saving grace and one I guess always has been is Steven. I learned how to express how I was feeling no matter how crazy it was to him when I felt like I was breaking more and he was always there to listen, even though his own heart was shattered he was my absolute rock. The only other person in the entire world who knew the pain I felt and just loved me back to some sense of the self I thought was gone forever. Even to this day all it takes is for him to give me a quick kiss on the forehead when I’m crashing for me to know I can get through anything with this one by my side. So so sappy I know !! There are days when I cant function with the sadness then there are days where its easier to manage and I can have a resemblance of a life whether its taking time to go for coffee with a friend or even something as simple as being able to focus enough to read a magazine for half hour. But it took me a few months to be able to do any of those simple things so for me time doesn’t heal a single bit of your pain it simply makes its easier to cope sometimes.
Now I know this is only our experience and know many of you out there have had totally different experiences and for that I’m so happy for you but it just wasn’t the case for us. I hope anyone else out there reading this and maybe going through something similar can relate and all I ask is that you find someone you trust and please talk to them , and keep talking and then talk some more. Whether this be a professional, your partner , family member or a friend. Never feel ashamed of the thoughts you have no matter how crazy they seem as trust me I’m positive i’ve had them too and many more have also. Most importantly as much and as often as you feel like this …..I promise YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN THIS…
As always for Francesca Alexis Johnston
Forever loved and Forever missed xxx