Part Two - Making Memories
From the moment Holly was born, we were making memories. Our midwife was brilliant in helping to facilitate our care for Holly. All decisions were made by us and I am relieved to say that the care we gave Holly was exactly how we wanted.
Again, this is just how we chose to do things. There is no right or wrong way in how to make memories because each baby, each situation and each person is unique. I hope this blog can just provide some insight into some options that are available and give some ideas to those who may be facing this themselves.
Holly was delivered just like any other baby. Born in her waters we were actually able to break them and share seeing our little mermaid for the first time together. My husband cut her cord (something of which I am so happy he did as that opportunity couldn't happen with our eldest) and Holly was immediately brought up on my chest. At this point the midwife then went to call the hospital medical photographer to come and take some photos. We were lucky enough to deliver at a hospital that offered the services of their own medical photographer and so were able to have photographs take by him and then later by Leanne from the charity, 'Remember My Baby' which had been arranged for by my sister. We felt that it was so important to be able to have as many photo's as possible and I feel it is so worth seeing what services the hospital do provide as well as arranging for a charity photographer to come too. The reason our midwife called the medical photographer as soon as possible is because sadly, the way these babies look after delivery changes very, very quickly. I would strongly suggest taking your own photos as soon as you can even if your hospital can't provide a medical photographer. Don't wait. Being able to have the opportunity to remember your baby exactly as they were, can be a very special thing.
What followed after was care that any baby, born alive or dead should expect to have. We had scales brought into the room and so we were able to weigh Holly ourselves and take photographs. Our amazing midwife cut up the smallest size nappy she could find to put on our little baby. We got out the little dress to put her in and my husband picked her a hat from the hospital selection of tiny clothes. The most important part of all of this was that Holly NEVER left our side. Everything was done with us watching and with our consent. There is absolutely no reason as to why you can't be involved in every aspect of your baby's care. There is no reason why you should miss out on making these memories. If you don't want your baby to be taken away at all then tell say.
After this we were given sometime with our Holly. She was placed in a portable cold cot so that so could stay with us at all times, whilst maintaining a cool body temperature. There was no rush for us to really do anything and so we simply, spent time with her.
Our midwife would come in and out, providing us with information for her birth and death registration and other paperwork that needed completing. Sometime during this we started to work through the items in Holly's memory box. With the help of our midwife we took prints of her beautiful hands and feet. Despite Holly's hair being so fine, our midwife and my husband worked together to cut tiny hairs for us to keep. Again, don't be afraid to ask to do all these things. The midwives will be more than happy to help. This is your time to make your memories.
Inside the memory box were two tiny little teddies. One for Holly and one for us, the idea being that we swap them at the end so that we have Holly's smell with us. I wore Holly's teddy down my top the entire time before giving it to her. Of course I knew that she couldn't smell me but it was just another way of having her close to me, another way of feeling like I was doing something for her. We also kept an additional blanket with her which we kept after saying goodbye. Once home, I put the teddy and blanket in a tightly secured bag. Up until roughly 4 months ago, I could open that bag and be able to smell Holly. The sense of smell is so powerful and made me feel so close to her. That was my favourite part of all the memories we had made, it felt the most real.
I hadn't realised how quickly Holly would become so fragile. I wish I had known this as I would have cuddled her for much longer than I had. After our first few initial cuddles and asides from when the both the medical photographer and the 'Remember My Baby' photographer came, we didn't hold Holly again as it was clear how delicate she was becoming. I think any parent would tell you how they wish they could have just one more cuddle with their baby. If you can and you want to, then make the most of being able to cuddle your baby early on. Just cuddle and cuddle and cuddle.
We decided not to have friends or family meet Holly. At times, I have almost regretted that. I know how loved Holly is and I think so many people would have loved to have met her. However my feeling at the time (which the hubby thought too) was that we didn't have much time with her and because of this I couldn't not spend all that time with her myself. I couldn't look back and regret that I didn't use every second of my time spending it with her exactly how we wanted. I couldn't let anyone else hold her because quite simply, we felt that was time that we could have been holding her ourselves. Since becoming part of the baby loss community, from what I have seen, that probably puts us in the minority as most chose to share their babies. However, this was the right thing for us and I urge other parents to do whatever is best for them too. Don't be afraid to say yes and don't be afraid to say no.
My husband is Catholic and so asked to have Holly blessed by the local Catholic priest. I think he came that evening (some parts remain forever blurry) and he performed a lovely little blessing for her. We were told that almost much every religion can have this (or the appropriate equivalent) performed. I know this meant a lot to my husband and I am glad that this could bring him some comfort.
Later that evening, Leanne from 'Remember My Baby' came and took some beautiful pictures of Holly. I can't stress enough how important I feel this charity is and I just feel incredibly lucky that this was organised for us. Leanne worked so gently with Holly and with so much consideration for us all. One of these pictures now hangs proudly on my living room wall.
That night we put Holly in the little cold room which was attached to our room. I can't remember if we had to do this but I know we both felt like we wanted to preserve her for as long as we possibly could. The only access to Holly was via our room and so we felt reassured to know that she was close to us still. Surprisingly we both slept all night, exhausted emotionally and physically.
I had remembered reading a blog online where a mother had said that she chose to have sometime alone with just her and the baby. I liked this idea and so when my husband went for his shower the next morning, Holly and I spent time together. I spoke to her, told her I was sorry and how much I loved her. I read her a story book that came in our memory box. I will always cherish that time we had alone, time to just be us.
I also read how a mother had written a letter to her baby. This was something I did too. The whole experience was so traumatic that some words I just couldn't verbalise. Writing them down meant that I could still tell her what I need to. The letter stayed with Holly and remains with her to this day. I can't recommend enough, the power of writing on your mental health.
We knew we would be leaving her that day. Some parents have the opportunity to take their babies home for awhile. We were not given this opportunity but equally didn't ask. We had nothing for Holly at home. Being 25 weeks pregnant when Holly died, a nursery hadn't yet been made for her, we hadn't made a home for her and I think we both felt more comfortable to say our goodbyes there. We had until lunchtime with her.
Without question, saying goodbye to Holly's body was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. As soon as she was born all I could think about was having to leave her. It is the most unnatural thing to do as a parent. At this time, I didn't think I would be seeing Holly again (as she was going off for a post mortem) and quite understandably that moment broke my heart. I can't even write this without that heart wrenching pain feeling so incredibly raw. Our midwife came in and put Holly (in her little crib) in a little body bag with her blankets and teddies. Again, this was all done in front of us. Then she was placed back in the cot in the cold room. There was no rush for us to leave and we both went back in there a few times and opened the bag. We needed to see that she 'comfortable' and 'safe' although going in just 'one more time' would never be enough. I hope that no one has ever felt rushed in saying their goodbyes. We know we have to and we know the midwives help us to do this. We understand that someone else might need the room and that the midwives will help us in our goodbyes. If they didn't, we quite simply would never leave. But if you need that one last kiss or one last cuddle then do it, just ask and do it.
We went straight from the hospital to the registry office. It wasn't something that I had thought of doing right away but my husband wanted to get it done. Having obviously called beforehand, they knew we were coming and were sensational with their support. We were seen straight into a room to avoid seeing any newborns being registered. Looking back, I am not quite sure how we got through that so soon although glad that it was one less thing to think about at a later date.
I think it is clear that most of the ways we made memories with Holly, just happened as the time went on. We didn't have any plan because we didn't know how we would react, how the labour would go or how we would feel. But what did help me was having read some stories on what other parents had done. I was always so scared of not doing as much with Holly as`we wanted but I can honestly say that I have very little regrets, which feels so important when dealing with such a traumatic experience.
I think the biggest thing I realised was that no one minds you asking questions. As a result of this we could do almost everything that we wanted to with Holly. But the way we did things was just how we did things. There is no pressure and there is time, albeit never quite enough. Do what feels right and just take in as much of it as you want to.
There is no right or wrong.
Part One - Preparation
I decided to start blogging about Holly ultimately because I wanted to help others. By sharing my experience, I was hoping that it would help those going through baby loss, to know that they are not alone. I hoped that it could help people watching someone go through baby loss, understand how life changes for us and why we do what we do. When I spoke at the 'Understanding Baby Loss Conference' in Bradford, I hoped that it would help student midwives and qualified midwives feel more prepared for when they are the professional in that situation. I hoped it would keep Holly alive for me and provide some comfort to others.
All of my blogs this far have just come to me as my grief has developed. I haven't really planned what to type or when but I knew when I started that I needed to write about preparing to meet your baby. It is so hard to try and be practical when you are faced with the loss of your baby and in turn its hard to write a 'practical' post but I think I can see how it could help others.
I am not sure that you can ever truly prepare to deliver, meet and organise a funeral for your baby but I hope that in sharing what we did, it may open people up to what opportunities are there, whether it is you whose baby has died or you are watching someone go through it. I would have hated to have thought that I'd missed an opportunity to make a certain memory with Holly which is why I see these posts (as odd as feel to write) so important.
When we made the decision for a termination I had began searching all over the internet for others experiences. I was so eager to ensure that we wouldn't miss making as many memories as we could during our time with Holly. I knew we would only get the one chance at this and so I searched and searched to ensure that we could do things the way we wanted, the way we wanted things for Holly.
There is no right or wrong way in preparing to meet your baby, this is just how we did things. I just hope that somewhere my words may reach someone and help them make their right choices.
Part one - Preparing to deliver your baby
After we had made the decision to end the pregnancy, we had a few days to gather together everything that we thought we would need for labour and for meeting our baby girl.
My first thoughts were to ensure that we had some clothing items that would fit Holly. Most hospitals provide teeny clothes which are often provided via charities for this situation. However I really felt that I needed her to be dressed in something that had come from me. I searched online and found many websites that sold tiny premature baby clothes and so ordered a few items. They were by no means what I would have normally chosen and for me didn't feel completely right as I imagined most people would be ordering these clothes for their live baby but at that time it was the best option we had. However, whilst making the order I learnt that my wonderful big sister had knitted Holly a beautiful little cream dress, teddy and cradle. This meant so much to me to have something made with love for her.
Not everyone will always have the time to have something personal to dress their baby in but there are still options with what you chose to dress your baby in. The selection that most hospitals provide are just beautiful and you are encouraged to pick what you want to use. My husband chose Holly a beautiful little pink pom pom hat which stayed with her the entire time.
My mum had also started to knit Holly a blanket before we knew she was poorly. Being born at 25 weeks gestation, my mum hadn't yet finished it but it actually turned out to be the perfect size for Holly. Again, this stayed with her the entire time.
If you know someone's baby has died, don't be afraid to offer to do something like this for them. It might not be for everyone and that is okay. For others it can mean the world.
Packing my hospital bag when I knew Holly wouldn't be coming home was an incredibly odd experience. I put as little effort into it as possible as a way of trying to avoid the reality we were in. Aside from the maternity pads and big baggy knickers, I didn't really focus on packing for labour. The only thing I made sure that I had was the nighty that I had delivered Eleni in. I somehow felt that this would bring my two daughters together, something that was familiar between them both.
My labour was only 24 minutes long and so luckily I got away with not being able to pack much but in hindsight it probably wasn't the most sensible decision. I had been rather naive to the fact that I was going to experience labour, wrongly thinking that it wouldn't hurt as much (as Holly would be smaller) and so thinking I wouldn't need any birthing aids. Knowing what I do now, I would recommend all the birthing aids, the tens machine, energy drinks, lip balm and music to name a few. Thankfully my midwife offered to put on her own classical music CD. I couldn't recommend music enough as it provided a peaceful background to the chaos that was going on inside my head.
Being a midwife, I already knew that there was medication I could take after birth to prevent my breast milk coming in. However this wasn't the normal policy at the hospital I delivered in. The medication was eventually prescribed but packing some breast pads wouldn't have been a bad idea! Not everyone chooses to suppress their breast milk, some go on to donate what they have and some just decide to go with nature. Personally, I didn't want another reminder of not having my baby with me. Again, there are so many options available and I think having an idea of what you want before you go in to hospital, can really help with when you are faced with making all these decisions.
We did however pack in anticipation of the induction taking awhile. So we had packed plenty of things to keep our mind occupied, or in other words to attempt to distract us. Plenty of books to read and games to play on my Kindle. Anything that could keep our minds busy was a welcomed thought.
One of the most precious ways we prepared for our time with Holly was organised by my sister. She had found a wonderful charity, 'Remember My Baby' which consists of volunteer photographers who come and take free photographs of your baby once born. Holly was born at 14.54 and by 7pm our fantastic photographer, Leanne was with us. With so much care, compassion and consideration, we had the most beautiful photos taken of Holly and us as a family. The photos that she took are just SO precious. I would have been devastated if I'd found out about this service after it was too late.
Anyone can arrange this for a grieving family, my sister arranged it all and I am so thankful that she did this for us.
I can't speak for every hospital but I would hope by now that all hospitals provide memory boxes for when you have lost your baby. I will go in to this more in the next post but I think its worth finding out if your hospital provides these as if not there may be many items that you want to purchase yourself before meeting your baby.
One of my biggest regrets was not taking in a hand or foot casting kit for Holly. Our hospital mentioned being able to take casts but I think we all forgot about it as the time went on. I think if I had my own pack I may have been less likely to forget to do it. The other thing we didn't do (we chose not to) was to have something personalised made for Holly and for us. I have seen photographs of babies wearing tiny little bracelets which are then identical to much bigger versions for the parents, which is a lovely idea.
Aside from the practical objects and the special items that you may want to pack for your baby, I think the biggest thing is just to pack what brings you comfort. Comfortable clothes and comfort food, whatever can make this time a little more gentle. I urge anyone in this position to be aware that they can still plan for their baby as they would do if they were living. There are still so many opportunities to help you make so many precious memories. When faced with the reality of such a traumatic labour, I don't think anyone can really think straight. Sometimes it helps to have things done for you, as we did with my sister organising the photography.
So if you know how you could help someone then offer, offer, offer.
Every situation is so different and everyone's coping mechanisms are too. For me, it helped to have something to 'do' and so preparation played a big part in the days leading up to Holly's birth. Others might not be able to process any thought of 'preparation.' Both are okay, just know that there are options and there are people to help...
On the 7th September 2016 at 25 weeks gestation, Holly was born, still after a battle with complete heart block.