This quite possibly is the hardest blog for me to write so far. I have avoided writing this one up until now but as much as it destroys me to acknowledge the birth of Holly, it so very important for me to share this.
When my I found out that I would be induced to deliver my stillborn baby, I searched and searched on google to find peoples experiences to help prepare me for what would happen. Being a midwife, I thought I would already know the answers, but I didn't. I didn't know how it would feel to deliver a stillborn baby. My eldest daughter was born via a suction cup and I couldn't feel a thing for having had an epidural. Going through labour for my stillborn daughter terrified me beyond words. How long would it take? Would I still have to get to fully dilated if shes only 25 weeks? What happens when shes here? How long do I get to keep her for?
I found some information online but it was only really through speaking to a friend of a friend that I got the honest answers that I needed. While some people live in denial or don't want to know what will happen (which is fine!) the honest answers were exactly what I wanted. I remember when I was pregnancy with my eldest, I had all these expectations on what labour and motherhood would be like (I soon came to realise that it is nothing like what 'they' say!) and I made a promise to myself that I would only ever be honest from there on out. I appreciated the information that was given to me so much that I knew one day I would need to share my experience too.
A lot of what went on the day Holly was born, I had forgotten. For about a week after her birth I would sit there and be able to vividly go through every single thing that had happened. I cried to my husband numerous times because I was terrified that I would forget all the details, I didn't want to forget any single thing about that day as it was the only thing keeping me close to Holly. I decided to start a diary 2 days after having her. I wrote down everything that had happened so that I knew I would always be able to remember. Since then I've written in Holly's diary whenever I have wanted to remember something or talk to her. I keep it hidden away in her memory box and I hadn't yet re read anything I had written, until now. I won't share it all because like I have said before some parts are too precious but I do want to share the parts that might help others, as these are the parts that helped me, prior to September 7th.
On the day a star was named;
Having two days previously taken some tablets to help induce labour, myself and my partner turned up on the labour ward ready to have our baby. As soon as we had pressed the intercom to get through the security doors, we were met by our bereavement midwife and swiftly taken to the room we would be staying in, which was separate from the other labour rooms. I will always remember how thankful I felt that they were there, ready for us. We didn't have to make any awkward conversations about who we were or even walk past a lady going through labour. It was the little things like this which make a devastating situation a teeny, tiny bit easier to process.
The room we were staying in was lovely. Much like a hotel room joined by a bathroom to a more clinical 'delivery' room. It might seem irrelevant what the room looked like but it actually isn't irrelevant at all. That room was to be our 'home' for the next 24 hours and where we would make our memories with our daughter. It was to be her first home and the place which I will remember for as long as I live.
I remember feeling like, although I was there, it still wasn't real. I could talk to the midwives without crying, I could laugh, a little bit of me even felt excited because I was still going to meet my daughter. It felt like a special day, like something out of the ordinary and something to be cherished. Of course I was nervous and inside my heart was preparing to break but it surprised me how much I was coping. I had something that I actively needed to do, I needed to deliver my baby and that was what kept me focused and through the next few hours.
After numerous blood vials had been taken from me and a quick examination, I was given a pessary to help my body get into labour. My husband and I decided to try and keep ourselves distracted so we played games and chatted. Anything to take our minds off what was happening was a blessing and much welcomed. I was due to be given another pessary in 3 hours time but after only an hour or so I started to get contraction pains. I knew it was the start of it all but I didn't tell anyone. I didn't even tell my husband at first. I wanted to drag this out for as long as possible because I wasn't ready to not be pregnant. I wasn't ready to accept what was happening and I wasn't ready to meet our daughter.
So I ignored the pains and I carried on acting as 'normal' as I could. Suddenly though, the pains rocketed and my focus was dwindling. We called the midwife and we discussed pain relief. I opted for gas and air as I didn't want to be spaced out for when my baby came. They offered to give me strong analgesia but I knew I wouldn't have long with her and I wanted to be as aware with her as I could, I didn't want anything affecting our time together. I knew the labour was progressing quickly and with wanting to carry on being pregnant, I ignored the increasing pressure to push for as long as I possibly could.
Four hour after my induction had started and after a 24 minute labour my second daughter was born into this world.
I won't lie to you, it hurt. It hurt a lot. The contractions don't feel any less because it was a shorter labour and the pushing, well, I take my hats off to you ladies who have delivered a term baby! I turned into something of an animal, I truly thought I was dying.
Holly was born in her sac. She had come out completely protected in her waters, membrane and placenta so we couldn't yet see what she looked like, only the outline of her shoulders and head which was covered in tiny black hairs. I remember thinking that this right here is my entire pregnancy. This is what I have been carrying for the last 6 months. Our midwife got an amnihook and broke the membranes revealing my daughter. My beautiful, fully formed little daughter.
I couldn't talk. I couldn't cry. I felt like everything was suddenly moving in slow motion. I knew my husband was there, distraught, but I couldn't comfort him. I knew the midwives were moving Holly on to my chest and I don't remember breathing but I must have. Slowly it all came into focus. My husband cut Holly's cord and I sat there and just cuddled and cuddled her. She was perfect.
What followed were the most precious moments of my life. We dressed our daughter in the most beautiful dress my sister had made for her and wrapped her in a blanket my mum had lovingly made. We cuddled and kissed her. We took photographs ourselves and we had photographs taken professionally from the hospital and supporting charity. We took hand prints and footprints. We cut a lock of her hair. I spent time alone with her and read her a story. I wrote her a letter. The care the midwives provided for us and Holly was meticulous. Every single thing we could do for Holly any single memory we could make, we did.
We spent the night with Holly and left the next day. Saying goodbye to my daughter was the hardest thing I have ever done. I didn't want to leave her. I didn't feel right and it went against what every part of my soul was saying. It screamed out for us to stay together. We left with our memory boxes and details on how to register her birth and death. It was the hardest thing I will ever do.
I can't share everything. Some of it is just too hard but I will share what I can as the friend of a friend did for me. It's the little things, the honest things and the kind things that keeps this world turning and saves people when their lives are in turmoil. I will share, support and spread love to those who need it, whenever and wherever I can.
Four weeks after Holly's birth some friends came to visit me. They had done something truly special. They had given us a star name deed. Star 1406112 - Aquila, named Holly Dao - 7th September 2016. On the hardest day of my life, on the day my daughter was born, a star was forever named, my life forever changed and a legacy forever born.
"But then there was a star danced, and under that I was born"
To my darling daughter,
Never in a million years did I think that I would be writing THIS sort of letter to you. I imagined, when we found out we were expecting your sister, that I would be blogging sometime after her birth about the struggle of looking after two babies. I am sorry that I am not struggling with looking after you and your living sister, I really, really am sorry for that.
Instead I am struggling between looking after you and keeping things 'normal' whilst trying so very hard to keep the memory of your sister alive within me and creating a 'new normal' for us. I am sorry that our 'normal' has changed and although you are small, I know you feel the shift too.
I am sorry that there is a dullness behind my eyes. My face knows how to smile for you and my body knows how to comfort you but I am sorry that part of me has gone. Know that it has gone somewhere very special and I hope one day that you will understand that.
I am sorry that sometimes I cry and it makes you come over and put a hand on my shoulder. I wish you never had to know the reason why I cry because it means that one day you will feel some of this pain too. Know that I would have done anything to protect you from a pain like this, as I would have done for your sister.
I am sorry that you wont remember meeting your baby sister. I have photographs of you pointing at her and calling her 'baby' (a memory which will last with me for a lifetime) but I am sorry that for you, it will only ever be memories from photographs. Know that when I had you both in the same room together, even though it was just for such a short time, in that moment, my life was complete and I felt whole again.
I am sorry that you will be known as 'the girl whose sister died.' I too now carry a title but know that I will show you to become proud of that title. I will show you to embrace the title for its better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all.
My darling, I am just sorry that your sister is not here. I am sorry that the sister you were suppose to have wont be here to play with you, to annoy you and to love you in person. Know that I will help you to create memories with her, even though she isn't here. Know that she will still be a part of your life, for you DO still have a sister. Know that she loves you and that love will become a very, very special part of you.
My Eleni, right now it might not seem clear why I am here but my mind is not. You might wonder where it has gone and when it will come back. It must seem strange that my heart is divided although you can't see the presence that has caused it. You are so little still. So know that we have a lifetime ahead of us to love, learn and be together. Know that I will help you as you are helping me each and every day to live.
Know that I love you with all my heart.
I always will.
People pass judgment. Even if they don't intentionally mean to do it, people judge all the time. Every day we are asking ourselves questions based on what we see or hear going on in the world around us. Would I wear that piece of clothing or act that way in a certain situation? Would I parent my child that way or talk to a colleague in that manner? Without helping what our thought processes are, we are creating the world around us from our experiences.
Some people feel bad for what judgements they have made. Some people don't. Some people learn from their judgments and therefore try to feel or act differently. But when we experience such situations ourselves, ones which we have previously judged, it changes our entire perspective.
I am going to be totally honest with you. Before experiencing losing Holly, I had my own judgement's on coping with loss although I don't think I would have ever voiced them. I would like to think that I have enough sympathy to understand its not my place to say, if not enough empathy to truly understand the pain. We all have our own ideas and judgments on what we considered 'normal.' That being said, the past me must think I am very 'abnormal' right now.
I had photographs taken at my baby's funeral. I have photographs of me in tears. Would the past me have passed judgement on someone having photographs at their baby's funeral? Probably. I would have probably thought it was weird and maybe even inappropriate to have photos of a funeral. But on the day that I said goodbye to my baby, on the day that went past in a blur, I am so happy that I can look at those photos and know EXACTLY how I feel, its the feeling of the extent to which my heart can love.
Would I have passed judgement on someone who decided to see their baby four weeks after they had been born and after a post mortem? Maybe. I might have wondered why would you want to see your baby in that state when you can take away what memories you already have. But for me (as I must stress that there is no right or wrong) I was so relieved to see her. I am so happy that I could make more memories with her, seeing Holly again helped opened the block in brain and allowed me to acknowledge that it was okay to mourn because there she was, my beautiful little girl. She had really 'happened' and she had come back from her post mortem safe. After the blur of the previous four week it helped me to see that Holly was real.
Would I have passed judgement on someone who kept hold of their babies ashes? Yes, I think so. I always imagined that it would seem odd or even a little spooky to have someones ashes in your home! But now I understand why people want to hold on, its all that you have. I picked up Holly's ashes yesterday and brought her home. She came home in a tiny box, in a paper bag. That was my baby's home coming. Do I want to let go of her ashes? It might change one day but right now not a flipping chance am I losing her again. Holly is staying with me, exactly where she should be.
Would I have passed judgement on someone who openly shared their feelings and experiences on losing their baby? I'm not sure. I may have felt sorry for them that they were still struggling. I would have thought they were very brave but I may have also felt some things are best kept to themselves. This one is important for me. Whatever you read on my blogs, whatever you read on other blogs or see on the news only scratches the surface of what we feel. You may think its alot to share but for us, its not even the first chapter in the book. The depth of our feelings is eternal. What we have experienced is so monumental that words will never be enough. The experiences we do share are the ones that we don't mind others knowing for most of it we keep locked, close to out hearts like a treasure box that only we can open. What I do write, I chose to share because it helps me to cope, It helps me to talk about Holly and it helps me to know that people care. I don't blog about Holly because I am not yet 'over it' or 'still struggling' because it is something I will never get over and missing her will never stop being a struggle. We write because its all we have.
Prior to having Holly I cared ALOT about what people thought of me. I didn't want to be judged or disliked, I wanted to act the way I thought people wanted me to. Having Holly has showed me that it doesn't matter what people think of you. When something so soul destroying happens, its all you can do to put one foot in front of another. You don't have time to care about what other people think.
You. Just. Don't. Care.
Having Holly has changed my perspective on judgment. I still think its human nature to 'pass judgment' but YOU can change what you do with those thoughts after. Grief is so personal and so individual that there is no right or wrong way about it. Nobody is 'weird' for doing whatever they do to cope and no pity needs to be given if someone 'hasn't got over it yet.' You can't get over grief.
I wont stop writing about Holly. I wont stop talking about Holly. I wont stop sharing her pictures or showing how I cope because it is all HOW I cope. I wont ever judge how someone copes because its keeping them alive. Everyone has the right to not be judged so be kind, be thoughtful and let those who are grieving just keep going. They are doing the best that they can.
I love looking at quotes. Anyone who follows me on instagram will see that my account is full of them. I find that quotes can explain how I am feeling when I can't quite say it myself. I guess they make me realise that I am not alone as other people must feel this way too. They bring me comfort.
I came across this quote randomly yesterday, 'You are our greatest adventure.' It made me think of Holly immediately. Little did she know the impact that she would have on the world. So many people know her and love her which brings me SO much comfort.
I think back to when I went travelling. Alone, at just turned 18 and in a hotel in Bangkok. I called my mum and cried, I called my then boyfriend, I spoke to my sister and I begged to come home. I was terrified of being by myself and exploring somewhere so alien to me. My family weren't going to give up on me easily though and in a way they forced me to stay. It turned out to be the most terrifying yet amazing, soul searching 10 weeks of my life. At the time I couldn't see it but it did turn out to be an amazing adventure.
I can't pretend that I will ever find Holly's adventure to be amazing. I can't say that I will ever find a positive out of this experience or acknowledge that 'things always happen for a reason.' I will ALWAYS wish that a healthy Holly was here over any other alternative given to me. I will never be able to justify what happened to her because it is simply, the greatest pain I have ever felt. But I wouldn't choose another baby over her. As painful as this is, I will never regret carrying and meeting my Holly. She has shared with me what it is to be brokenhearted but in turn she has shown me how much love I am capable of feeling. Holly has exposed my heart and opened my soul. I have changed and a piece of me has gone forever but I will never, ever, regret any of this.
I already knew that adventures were suppose to have some fear in them. Otherwise how would you grow from your experience? But I've learnt as much as they bring you fear, they also open you up and change your fundamental core. My adventure with Holly wasn't suppose to happen and that did scare me. My adventure with Holly will never be over and that did scare me too. But as much as she is gone, she is here. I've got her close in my heart and the feelings and emotions she brings, come and go just as much as the tides turns. I feel her ALL the time. Just because she isn't here, it doesn't mean our adventure is over. I know this is true because I'm learning more and more about my love for her every day and the change that she is bringing on my life is constant. This adventure is scary, it is soul breaking but it is also so full of love that how can I wish to not be on this ride? After all, if it wasn't this ride then it wouldn't be my Holly and I can't imagine a life now without her.
Holly Dao, you ARE my greatest adventure and I am SO glad that it is with you.
I've just been to see Holly. Four weeks to the day of me last seeing her and a postmortem later, I saw my daughter.
I didn't even know 4 weeks ago that I would be able to see my baby again. I guess I thought that was it once she had gone away for her postmortem. So initially, when the funeral director mentioned us seeing her, I held back. I retreated back into myself. I wasn't sure I could go through the heartbreak of physically having to leave her little body again. To be honest, I am still not sure how I will be able to do that again.
However, I got home yesterday to my husband telling me that Holly was now with the funeral director and we can see her if we wish. There was a sudden change in me. How could I not want to see the person I so lovingly long for? Knowing that Holly was only about 10 minutes away from us, how could I not see my baby girl. Every fiber of my body was yearning to be reunited with her.
So we get taken into a little room, dimmed and with candles. In front of us lies our little baby in her white coffin. I glimpsed at her little face and I was terrified. I started to cry. But not because I was scared of what she would look like but more because I was scared of reality. Allowing myself to open up to what had happened. I took another look and I cried, I cried and cried because there she was. Holly was real all along.
The last four weeks have been sad. Incredibly, soul crushingly hard. But I have to keep going. You carry on doing things that need to be done. I think about her almost every second but although I wish it would, the world doesn't stop for Holly and there are things that I must do. Seeing Holly today though, it brought it all back. It did really happen, she was really there and she will always be there. I am so sad for her, I am so sad for my husband and I am so sad for my eldest daughter, who will only know her through our memories but I am so happy that I saw Holly today. I saw my daughter and she is just as beautiful as she always has been.
So now I am talking to you. Isn't it sad that the happiest day in the last 4 weeks is seeing my dead baby girl? It is something that no one should EVER have to do. No one should EVER have to kiss their baby goodbye for the last time and no one should EVER have to plan a funeral for someone so small.
Holly died from congenital heart defects. An abnormality of the heart which occurs soon after conception. They range in severity but sadly for us, Holly had 7 of these abnormalities. Having any one of these abnormalities would have been bad for Holly but the combination of them all made it rare and lethal. Congenital heart defects are the number 1 birth defect in the UK and the number 1 cause of death from a birth defect. It kills twice as many children as cancer every year. Most often, these heart defects are found too late and this was what happened to us. For the babies that do make it, they face an uncertain life full of dangerous surgeries such as heart transplants. More awareness needs to be raised which is why we are asking for donations to the charity, ECHO -Evelina Children's Heart Organisation instead of flowers at her funeral.
I never, ever in a million years imagined that this would happen to us but it did. It can happen to anyone. I will never be in a place to find a positive from this situation but I hope donating may provide us some comfort in honour of our little Holly.
I have set up a just giving page in the hopes that I can do something from this awful situation. If you aren't coming to Holly's funeral, then I ask that maybe you could donate in Holly memory and all the other babies who have been affected.
On the 7th September 2016 at 25 weeks gestation, Holly was born sleeping after a battle with complete heart block.