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.