My little heart,
Last week it was your birthday. A whole one year since I laid my eyes on your precious little face and kissed your delicate skin. It seems impossible that a year has passed with you in the stars and me here. I don't know how we have managed it but somehow we have. I don't think its called strength, I think it's just an endurance as being separated from you is still the hardest and most unnatural thing I will ever have to do.
I have to admit, I wasn't looking forward to your birthday. I didn't want you to be a year older and I didn't want my missing you to hit the one year milestone. I didn't want others to have an expectation that now I should miss you less and I didn't want to feel like I would have to talk about you less. It took some real strength to pull myself out of that mindset and decide to just celebrate you on that day and forget any perceived expectations.
For quite awhile, we weren't sure how we would celebrate your day. Eventually, Daddy and I decided we would donate memory bags to the hospital you were born at, to try and provide other grieving parents some comfort during their loss. We spent ages deciding what to put in them as we felt it was so important that they needed to reflect you, your life and your legacy.
We donated some money to the wonderful mama, Emma Brewer at Kitty's Dreams. After Emma's daughter Kitty died, she decided to create beautiful blankets for babies gone too soon and donate them to many hospitals around the country. As you sit with a Kitty's Dream blanket, cuddling you in mummy and daddy's bedroom, we felt it would be really special to have these blankets donated in your memory. Emma created 7 beautiful blankets and socks for us to put in to the memory bags. Seven for you were born on the 7th and it will always remain my special number.
I really wanted to include a postcard or print of your crematorium plaque quote in the memory bags. I hadn't realised at the time but the quote on your plaque, 'You are my angel, my darling, my star and my love will find you wherever you are' actually comes from the book, 'Wherever you are, my love will find you' by Helena Karchere. I decided to read the book online and my darling, it was just so perfect that I couldn't not include it in the memory bags...
In the green of the grass…in the smell of the sea…
in the clouds floating by…at the top of a tree…
in the sound crickets make at the end of the day…
“You are loved. You are loved. You are loved,” they all say.
...and so we bought 8 of these books too. Seven to go into the memory bags and one to keep for us to read to you. I will always remember being in hospital and reading 'Guess How Much I Love You' on the morning we said goodbye. It felt like such a special 'us' moment. It was something normal that I could do for you and although I sobbed through every single page, it is a memory full of love and a memory I will forever cherish. I hope these books can provide parents with making some memories too, with a very special little quote inside which I will always relate to you.
We realised soon after leaving you in hospital that creating memories with the sense of smell was just so powerful. We were given the candle, Soft Blanket by Yankee Candle and now every time I smell it, I am immediately taken back to you. To being in that hospital, cuddling your tiny body and feeling so much love pour into you. Whenever I need to feel close to you, I light your special candle and the smell gives me so much comfort. Seven of these candles were bought, placed in little heart candle holders (because you are forever my little heart) and placed in the memory bags too.
Finally, we had special cards made to explain that these donations came from you and were all inspired by your delicate but beautiful existence. Abi at www.whenyouwish-uponastar.co.uk lost her own little boy Lucas and since created a wonderful online shop making personalised prints. We have one in our living room of your perfect little hands and feet and so we couldn't think of anyone better to make some dedication cards for us.
On the morning of your birthday we took these into the hospital. There was something quite surreal about heading back there, a year to the day that you were born. Knowing that just through the double doors on our left was the room in which you entered the world. It was difficult and emotionally tiring to be back there but it also brought so much comfort, to be back where you once were too. We went headed down to the hospital chapel and handed in your written dedication to go into the baby's memorial book. We had actually written it on the day you were born but couldn't find the strength back then to finish arranging it. We hope that on future birthdays we can always go and see your dedication and spend some time feeling close to you, at a place where where you were so very real.
After the hospital visit we went and picked three cream balloons to be released at your spot in the crematorium. They were identical to the ones that you had at your funeral, innocent cream balloons which were so simple and yet so beautiful. We got a special number 1 balloon to leave at your spot, picked up some chocolates cupcakes and your posy of flowers which were almost identical to the flowers you had at your funeral. I liked the feeling of these balloons and these flowers now being your balloons and flowers, as you'd had them before. The start of a tradition to how we chose to celebrate you and a recognition of something belonging to you.
Then we simply just spent time with you. We said we loved you, we released your balloons, we sang 'Happy Birthday' and your sister blew out your candle. We celebrated your birthday in the way we only knew how, with all the love we could give.
My darling, I can't tell you how hard it was. SO much harder than I had ever anticipated but then I seem to have a habit of underestimating how much these days will affect me. I tried so very hard to celebrate your day but it was inevitable that there would be some sadness too. Sadness because I miss you with every fiber of my being and that Holly shaped hole in my heart will always long to be filled by you.
Despite the tears of sadness, I have to tell you Holly, that there were tears of love too. You are so loved. We were inundated with birthday messages, cards and gifts. You are loved by so many people, your legacy has impacted on so many people and that is so very special. I never imagined that so many people would wish you a Happy Birthday and I am just so proud that the taboo surrounding baby loss was well and truly squished on your special day. I could never thank people enough for acknowledging how much your life matters and understanding that we needed to have you celebrated. You matter, your life matters and your legacy matters.
My little heart, a year may have passed but you are just as loved as the very first time I laid eyes on you. Your legacy has grown so much in such a short time and you inspire me each and every day to keep sharing your story. I was dreading reaching the one year milestone but baby girl, its okay. I can't stop time so instead I will use all the time I can to tell the world how proud you make me.
You are an inspiration, you are so loved and my darling, I hope that wherever you are you felt the love on your birthday.
Happy Birthday, my little heart
In just over two weeks it will be one year since we met our darling Holly. It doesn't seem possible that a year has passed. I feel like although the days have passed and seasons changed, I have just been living the motions, somehow not really being present. Of course, this can't be completely true as I remember, vividly, so much of what has happened this year. It just feels impossible that somehow the world keeps on turning whilst I keep on grieving. I have survived almost a year without my daughter, a piece of my heart missing and that brings its own level of guilt and confusion.
Upon entering the dreaded 'one month until Holly's birthday' I felt completely terrified. I didn't feel ready for it to be a year and I still don't. It is the fear that there will be a sudden expectation for change in my grief for Holly. Will people now expect me to talk about Holly less, find her death less painful and 'move on' (all of which I find a common thought within some people who have never been exposed to baby loss). How could I possibly do all these things when Holly's death remains so raw and vivid in my mind, as if it was only yesterday?
I have come to realise though, that a year is no length of time when compared with a lifetime of loss. It may be the anniversary, her birthday but it is also just a number. An important number on many levels, as it represents a year of my Holly inspiring me to help others but it is also, another day. No magical healing will happen, no 'closure' and no 'moving on'. Instead, it is a day to celebrate and honour my daughter before then continuing to spread her story as her legacy intends.
It is very hard to understand how to even prepare for your child's first birthday, when they aren't here. Do I honour the day as an anniversary of her death, an 'angelversary' or do I celebrate it as her birthday? I have decided on the latter. More than anything, I want the day to be a celebration of my daughters birth. Holly may not be here in person but I think the way her story has helped others, more than deserves a celebration and a recognition that on this day she was STILL born.
So then, how do we even go about celebrating Holly's birthday? It almost feels like arranging her funeral again. There is no guidebook, there is no right or wrong but yet a complete feeling of being out of our depth. My husband and I have decided on putting together memory bags, filled with items that are inspired by our daughter, to give to the hospital on the her birthday. These memory bags will be given to other parent experiencing loss, in a hope to show them that they are not alone. We felt that as Holly isn't here to receive gifts (that we would have undoubtedly spoiled her with) instead we will give gifts of kindness to other families experiencing loss, in her name. The memory bags are not yet complete but I will be sharing these in my next blog.
There are a few other personal touches that we have decided on for Holly's birthday. At her funeral, Holly had the most beautiful flower arrangement. I have discussed recreating this in bouquet form with the florists. They can forever be Holly's birthday flowers and it brings so much comfort that it links to her special day on her funeral. We then plan on holding a balloon release, as we also did on Holly's funeral. There is something quite special about releasing balloons into the air, moving freely, like I imagine our Holly does.
More than anything, I just want Holly to be remembered and to be celebrated. Prior to losing Holly, I wouldn't have known how to act or what to do if I knew someone whose baby had died. So I want to share that for us, please do not be afraid. Share with us, the celebration that she existed. For her existence has been so important, for so many people. Wish her a Happy Birthday, send her a card (if you want to) we would love nothing more than being able to read her messages of love.
Holly has shown me that life can be lived in two ways, with love and with hate. Whilst I do have my fair share of moments filled with hate that she isn't here, I try to live this life of grief with the love she has given me. And so we chose to spend the 7th of September with how Holly deserves to be remembered, celebrating with giving gifts of kindness and with love.
We had to wait a short while before we were able to plan saying our final goodbyes to Holly. We had decided with some gentle persuasion from our consultant that having a post mortem would be beneficial and so had to wait until this was carried out first, which took roughly 2-3 weeks.
On a side note, I just want to talk a little bit about choosing to have a post mortem. When we found out that Holly had complete heart block, we decided then that having a post mortem was pointless as we knew what her condition was. We couldn't see that we would gain anything from having one. However on the day we went in to start the procedure for ending the pregnancy, the consultant discussed our decision with us. She quite rightly explained that scans can only see a certain amount. They can never tell the true extent to a condition or if there is anything else going on that hadn't been picked up. We understood that sometimes a port mortem can't actually tell you anything but at the same time, knowing that we could find out more into Holly's condition made us change our minds.
We didn't get the results of Holly's post mortem until exactly three months later. Sitting down in the clinic after closing hours, we were given a full report on our little girls body. It wasn't easy, a post mortem report doesn't censor parts which parents may find difficult to read. It will tell you how much your baby's brain weighed and it will tell you that your little girl had eggs present in her ovaries. It is an incredibly hard read but what we got out of it made it worth it, for us.
For three months I had struggled with the thought that we gave up on Holly too easily. That despite four consultants telling us Holly wouldn't have survived, maybe she would have proven us all wrong. I agonised, wondering whether the condition killed Holly or we had. However, sitting in that consultant room, I will never forget reading those words 'complete destruction of the heart.' There was never any chance that we could have saved her poorly heart. She would have never been a candidate for a heart transplant that she would have so badly needed, had she survived pregnancy. Holly was already dying and seeing those words have given me the greatest gift in this grief. It allowed me to feel reassured that we did the right thing and has eased some of my guilt. Holly never knew pain and I feel relief in knowing that as parents, we did that for her.
It is so important for me to write this as I would urge anyone going through this to think twice about the post mortem decision. I understand that it isn't the right choice for everyone but for others, the chance of getting answers and that extra reassurance might bring so much relief.
So just over two weeks on, we were faced with the prospect of arranging a funeral. Being relatively young I hadn't been to many funerals, let alone organise one. We decided to go with the Co-operative Funeral Directors as they do not charge for a baby's service. Knowing that they don't charge reassured me that they probably look after a lot of babies and understand what parents need during this time.
Firstly, we had to decide upon a cremation or burial. Not knowing if we would stay in this area forever, we decided on a cremation. We couldn't bare the thought of ever having to leave her and so decided we wanted to have the option to always have her with us. It was around this time that we had even discussed where we might spread her ashes but as time went on, neither of us really wanted to do that. I had initially felt like I needed to rush, to do everything in one go and make all the decisions right away but I have since realised that this isn't the case. I doubt we will ever let go of her ashes now, we certainly have no plans to and that is more than okay.There is no rush, there is no time frame and it is absolutely okay to take your time.
We then found ourselves sat at the funeral home, brochure in hand. I can't even begin to tell you how alien it feels to organise a funeral for a baby. How do you chose colours or flowers or music when this little life didn't even have a chance to show us what it liked? It feels impossible but somehow you do find a way to try and say goodbye to your baby in the way that feels right for you.
Once Holly was back from her post mortem, we were offered the opportunity to go and see her at the funeral home. I knew this would always be an option and before knowing she was back, I hadn't wanted to see her. I wasn't sure I could face saying goodbye to her again and in all honesty, I was scared to see what she would look like.
However, that changed the moment we received the call. My husband had always wanted to see her again and I had a sudden urge to see her too. We even decided on the spur of the moment to take our daughter Eleni, whom at the time was only 18 months old.
I will never be able to put into words the sense of relief I felt when I saw Holly again. There she was, our beautiful little girl. The last few weeks had been such a blur for me, that it helped to see that she was real and that she was back, safe. I can't lie and say she looked the same because she didn't. She had changed but in the moment of seeing her again, it didn't matter. All that mattered was that I could kiss and touch her again. It wasn't until afterwards when comparing photographs from her birth that I could really see the change. It brakes my heart but I wouldn't have changed seeing her, for the love I felt in the funeral home was so completely worth it.
Eleni won't remember seeing Holly but she will always be a part of her life. I took photographs of Eleni meeting her so that one day she can see for herself. The photographs now sit in a memory box ready for Eleni to look through, when she is old enough to know more. I have no regrets with seeing Holly again or taking Eleni. In that brief visit, my heart was at its most complete since losing Holly. There is something incredibly special about having both your babies together, in one room.
Back to the funeral, the decisions surrounding Holly's service, were of course personal to us. As with my previous posts, I want to share in case it can help give other parents ideas of how they may like to say goodbye.
We decided on inviting select friends and family. Those who had been there for us and ultimately those who we felt comfortable grieving with. I think we had roughly 20 people come to honour our little Holly. Initially, I wasn't sure I wanted anyone there but I am so glad we did. It meant the world to us to see that Holly meant something to other people too. The reality hit that she was real and loved by many more than just us.
We had planned on only my husband carrying Holly's coffin in to the service. I was asked if I wanted to and had declined but as the time came, I couldn't not. I needed to do it for Holly and for my husband. We had been such a strong team that I wasn't going to let them down now. So we carried her little cream coffin in whilst Coldplay's 'Fix You' played in the background.
We had a Catholic service at my husbands wish. I am not religious but I felt more than comfortable for him to have this service to bring him comfort. I did however ask him to speak to the priest prior to the service and ask for specific things to not be said. I didn't want to hear that 'it was God's plan' or that 'she is now in a better place' and so that was our compromise. The priest was wonderful and more than happy to tailor the service for us, so don't be afraid to ask for exactly what you want.
During the service my husband delivered a reading and I read a poem I had written for Holly. I was completely inspired by my very special friend who had lost her little girl only 2 years before. I remembered how she had stood up at the funeral with such strength and grace to read a poem. So as soon as we were planning the funeral for Holly, I absolutely knew that this was what I needed to do too.
Holly's service ended to the music 'A Thousand Years' by Christina Perri and we asked for everyone to leave first so that we could spend our final moments with Holly, alone. We then went down to a spot within the baby's garden where we had a rose memorial planted for Holly. A few words were said and then we all let off cream balloons. As odd as this sounds, it was the perfect service and I was so proud of what we did for our little girl.
Throughout the entire service and balloon release we did something which I am sure many people would think 'odd'. We asked my wonderful step father to take photographs for us. Again, I had remembered reading this somewhere and how it brought the parents so much comfort to be able to look back and remember the day. As I am sure most of you can imagine, the day does go by in a blur of grief as you fight to get through the day. I feel incredibly lucky that I have these photographs to look back on. Our time with Holly was so short that having another way to remember her, means so much.
We didn't have a wake or even invite just a few people back home after Holly's funeral. I think we both felt like we needed the time together, to digest what had happened. More than that, we were both just utterly exhausted.
There can never be a guidebook for preparing, meeting and saying goodbye to your baby. Every life, every situation is just so individual. But I do know that I got so much out of reading what other parents had done. I learnt not to be afraid to ask for what you want, as all that anyone wants is for this time to be right for you.
I am now preparing for Holly's first birthday and knowing how we do this, is still just as puzzling. I have learnt on this journey that connecting with other bereaved parents and reading their stories brings me comfort and ideas with how best to honour our beautiful girl. So I will continue to do this and continue to share in the hopes of bringing comfort to other parents too.
Though the seconds, hours and days will pass
We make our promise to you
We will love you until our souls reunite
As our bodies yearn to do
Time is brief and your life was short
But your delicate beauty shone
You touched our hearts, you showed us love
Darling, your angel memory lives on
Through the seasons and the flowing waves
We will look for our little heart
The leaves that dance and the galloping tides
Unspoken bond, we're not apart
Now we know, the true meaning of love
An exhausted heart, a piece of it gone
But no regrets, you will keep it safe
Darling, your angel memory lives on.
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.
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...
I was sat melting in a traffic jam earlier today and found myself reminiscing about past Holidays. My gap year where I travelled to Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. Exploring Europe with my now husband and last minute deals to New York. They were all just so fantastic. Not being ones to just sit on a beach and sunbathe, we explored, we island hopped, we learnt about the culture and we absorbed as much out of our holidays as we possibly could.
Then we had a baby. Our first born, our little Eleni. We couldn't afford to go exploring in our carefree ways anymore and our daughter was on so many medications for her reflux disease that we decided to make the most of my parents holiday home in Cornwall. Having spent family holidays in Cornwall since the age of 2, it was already a place close to my heart. A place where my husband and I would end up saying our forever vows.
So with Eleni being just the tender age of 4 months and stocked up with all her prescription milk and various medications we headed down to the Cornish countryside. Just the three of us, our little family, for a week of welcoming our little girl to my second home.
We had sleepless nights filled with alarms to remind us to 'dream feed' our girl and give her the right medications. We learnt why it was important to take out a fully stocked changing bag for the day. We dealt with tears in the car and having to put our daughter before what we wanted to do. It was a far cry from our previous 'responsibility free' holidays.
But to this day, it has been my best ever holiday.
There is something so magical about taking your baby away for the first time. Learning how to do this holiday business as a family. Being seen as a family. The harder parts of parenting had just washed away that week. Eleni hadn't long come out of hospital for her bottle aversion and we finally felt like we could enjoy being a family. Eleni saw the sea for the first time, she felt the sand between her toes and most importantly we were all happy. It was beautiful, it was blissful and I felt so in love.
So as I said earlier, I was driving in my car reminiscing about all of this. Beautiful holiday memories which will never fade. But the sad thing is, that when you lose a baby your life splits into a 'before and after'. The wonderful, dare I say it but easy before life and then the after where even past memories before losing Holly are now tinged with sadness and regret.
Sadness and regret that I will never experience this with Holly. Never experience a first holiday together and that feeling of bliss, despite being sleep deprived and covered with baby sick. I will never be able to welcome Holly to Cornwall, the place which means so much and the place which has the power to make everything always feel a little bit lighter.
Out of a lot of missing experiences we will have through not having Holly here, this is one of the most painful. The reality of losing a baby is that you also lose a lifetime of making memories and a lifetime of opportunities.
Grief isn't a linear line. It is unexpected, painful and very hard work. It doesn't just change you, or your present and future but also your past too. It changes your perception, your beliefs and what life means to you. I think it must be one of the most powerful 'changes' that a human must learn to live with.
As we prepare to go on our family holiday to Cornwall this week, I'll try so very hard to not have something else tainted with the ugliness of bitterness. The memories that I have will always be beautiful but I will always wonder what our memories with Holly would have been like. I will always wonder and always wish that she could be here too.
The week before last I found myself in a rather uncomfortable situation. Having turned up at the dentist for a routine appointment, I found myself in somewhat of a 'Spanish Inquisition.'
The receptionist (rightly doing her job) commented on the fact that I had missed a previous appointment. I apologised and used the words 'family bereavement' to give reason to my non attendance. The receptionist (not rightly so) dismissed my claims of a family bereavement and continued to press as to why I hadn't attended and rather horribly began to have a go at me.
I found myself in a really difficult situation. It was just past 9am and to be honest I had started the day on a really positive note. I hadn't expected to (in a queue full of people) feel compelled to explain that 'actually it was my daughter who died and cancelling appointments was not my priority.' After I said those words, the mood shifted. It was clear I had made her very uncomfortable and what followed was a quick ushering to finish our conversation quietly. I left the dentist in tears.
It's not that I don't want to talk about Holly because I actually love to talk about her. But talking about Holly is on my terms. By that I don't mean that you can't talk to me about Holly or ask me questions. I mean that no one should ever force and press you to explain yourself, least of all a complete stranger. I felt violated and forced into explaining Holly's death when actually, it was none of her business.
The days that followed were a struggle. I can't explain exactly WHY but what had happened with that receptionist had really affected me. I felt depressed and angry. I shouldn't have had to even had use those words because my daughter should never had died. I felt angry that some stranger had made me feel like this. Sure, she wasn't to know but why can't people just leave things be? After all, you would think a reason given of 'family bereavement' would be more than enough to explain a missed appointment.
What happened that day got me thinking. I know that no one can read a person's mind and know what has happened. But I do think that there is a way of going about things;
If you have a job to do, that's great but please be nice. You never know what someone is dealing with in their private lives. It takes very little effort to be kind.
If you don't have anything nice to say then please, don't say anything. For many people the topic of death (let alone infant death) brings about awkwardness. It is fine to just acknowledge our loss and tell us you are sorry. If you don't 'agree' with us talking or sharing pictures about our babies then please just leave. Our children will always come before you.
If you can't deal with the reality of our situation and our answers to your questions then please, don't ask us. We know that often people don't know what to say but the last thing we need is to have you make us feel uncomfortable when talking about our babies. The uncomfortable feeling that you may feel for a few minutes is an everyday part of our lives.
I never want people to have to worry about what they say to me when talking about Holly because I understand it is difficult. I just wish that people would think a little before they speak and most importantly just be kind. I would never be angry at someone's good intentions and I don't think many others would either. We all have our struggles, demons or broken hearts but wouldn't the world be a much nicer place if we all just gave a little more consideration to others?
We all have our own notions of grief. Prior to losing Holly, I can honestly say that I had never experienced it. Grief isn't something which is talked about much, until it happens. I expected sadness and pain but I didn't expect the silence.
My grief feels like silence and it has done ever since this all began. Scans filled with silence and silent car journeys between my husband and I. Silent tears as my gut instinct told me Holly would never survive upon hearing her diagnosis.
Silence when Holly was born. Where were her cries? Where was the excitement? Where were the cries of joy? Silence when I cradled her in my arms and cocooned my body around her basket when I was no longer able to hold her. Silence when we left the hospital with just a memory box.
Silence when we registered her birth and death, silence when we sat in the funeral home picking out her coffin and silence when I kissed her goodbye for the last time. Silence at the crematorium and silence where there should be two babies in the house, not one. Memories of Holly filled with silence.
Just so much silence.
There can be as much love around you as you could possibly ask for when you lose a baby. There can be so much love, sympathies and well wishes but it doesn't stop the silence. It's a silence which you so desperately want to be filled but it cant, so instead the empty silence travels through your universe with no destination and no signs of halting. Just a constant hurtling comet of silence.
Some days the silence is so loud. It is so loud that it is consuming and exhausting. Its an ear shrieking, high pitched silence with nowhere to go and so it just reverberates inside you, aching and hurting. An unwanted silence, a much present emptiness.
Some days the silence likes to play. It will hide and hide well. Your day is filled with much welcomed noise and distractions. And then you pause and wonder where this relief has come from but block out that thought as if scared you might suddenly jinx it into showing itself. But you needn't worry because it does, eventually.
People can tell you that you aren't alone. After all, you are not the first to lose a baby and you wont be the last. And whilst it can bring some comfort to hear the support, every loss is different as is the grief. I have learn't that there can be no expectations in grief as my silence wont reflect someone else's loss. There quite simply, is no normal.
I don't like my silence but it is my personal reminder of Holly, as if I could ever forget. And I would always chose having it over having never 'had' my Holly. I think my silence is really just my love for her after all.
But I do wish I could chose to have Holly here and banish the silence all together.
Rewind to 2003. I am 12 with no idea of what I want to do when I get older. I am still young, so that's okay but when we receive the exciting news that my sister is pregnant, suddenly that 'no idea' turns into a spiraling desire and interest into the world of midwifery. I am fascinated by her pregnancy and by the welcoming of my (now not so little) nephew into the world.
Anyone who know's me will know that once I put my mind to something then that is it. I will set out, work hard and achieve my goal. And so it began, GCSE choices based on midwifery, A-Level choices based on midwifery, shadowing at the local maternity ward, watching my baby brother being born and doing anything that I could to best 'prepare' me.
A gap year and three years later, I had somehow made it through the difficult degree. I was a midwife. It was suppose to be everything I wanted but yet it started to go wrong. I was poorly, ALL the time. I felt sick, my tummy hurt, I couldn't sleep. I started taking sleeping tablets and setting myself strict bedtime routines but nothing helped. My immune system was forever letting me down. I didn't understand how I could do such an important job based on only a few hours sleep. I was terrified of missing something and being responsible for something serious. I just wasn't coping.
I HATED letting people down but almost every day was a struggle. I lost my confidence and became withdrawn. Almost every week another illness followed by a further lack of sleep and exhaustion. I felt like an absolute failure, the worst midwife. I loved looking after the couples at work but somewhere in my brain and immunity there was a deep block and how do you explain to someone what's wrong when you don't even really know yourself? Was it the long shifts or the naturally stressful environment? Was I just being pathetic and not 'getting on' with it? Was it the short staff shifts (of which I was partially to blame) or was I just rubbish? I really didn't know.
It wasn't until I had my eldest daughter that it started to come out. Anxiety. Was it caused by the job or just a chemical imbalance in my brain? I didn't know but cue the anti anxiety medication that not only started to help my professional life but also my personal life too. Brilliant, I thought, fresh start, maybe I can actually do this now.
Then my world crashed as I had Holly and the final part to the puzzle was solved. Sjogren's syndrome, the reason for my compromised immunity. It was bittersweet that I could now understand my body better and understand how to manage it. I understood why I had struggled previously.
But there was a new problem. How can I go back to being a midwife and caring for other couples and babies when my own little Holly is no longer here? Every day would be a reminder. Every day would be hard. Every day would be a slap in the face. How do you cope when people complain that they haven't been discharged yet or haven't yet been seen by a doctor when they have their healthy baby? How do you stop yourself from screaming at them 'AT LEAST YOU HAVE YOUR BABY?'
I don't know. I still don't know that answer. It feels bittersweet that I finally understand how to best look after my body, be a better midwife, colleague and what medications will help to be replaced by the reality of 'can I even do this now?' I don't know if I will ever be ready.
For those of you who have read my past blogs, you will know that back in February I was honoured to ask to speak at a baby loss conference at Bradford University, as a midwife and as Holly's mummy (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NPESa7vHBcA) Following on from that I have been asked to speak at Surrey University in July on baby loss too. It is an absolute pleasure to tell Holly's story to anyone and equally this unexpected path has lead me to a new passion, baby loss. A topic (which requires its own post as I can't go on about it enough) which is just so bloody important.
I know where I 'belong' in this midwifery world now. Despite the stress, anxieties and hours spent crying over why am I doing this, I now know why. This path (albeit bittersweet) has lead me to my passion and my midwifery degree will no doubt help me in doing what I need to do (whether it be bereavement midwifery or something related). There was no 'reason' for my daughter to have to die but there was a reason I chose midwifery and a reason why I didn't give up.
In Holly's memory, out of my love for her and from this burning desire in my heart, I WILL support bereavement care. I WILL help bereaved parents and I WILL do what needs to be done to improve the services.
And anyone who know's me will know that once I put my mind to something then that is it.
When I first started my midwifery career I struggled massively with looking after fathers during times of loss. I wasn't 'qualified' (I had my midwifery degree but not the real knowledge needed for bereavement) to look after mothers losing their babies, let alone the fathers. It was far easier to focus on the practical aspects of looking after the mother than try to understand how the father needed support too.
I was awkward. I made sure the fathers were comfortable but did I really include them in the care of their baby, so very loved and so very still? I didn't. It wasn't because I didn't think they mattered or that they were not sad, I just didn't have enough experience or understanding of how loss affects them too.
But loss does affects them too.
From the very start of Holly's existence my husband has been there. From the big smile he gave when we found out we were expecting, to holding my hand through every heartbreaking scan, to watching our daughter peacefully pass away when I could not watch the screen. He was there when I was induced, he was there when the contractions started and he was there when I was screaming as Holly was being delivered. He was there when we spent time with Holly, he was there when we said goodbye, he was there at the funeral and he has been there every day since.
He was there.
How could loss not affect him? Holly was his blood, his hopes and dreams, his daughter and his heartbreak, just as much as she was mine. There is so much focus is on mothers that I fear father's are somewhat left behind. I remember when the Catholic Priest came to bless Holly at the hospital which was my husbands wish as I am not religious. The priest barely spoke to him. It was all about me and that was awkward and uncomfortable.
People ask how I am doing but yet I wonder how many ask how my husband is doing? Does he get messages from people checking in to see how he is? I may have had to walk around with a pregnant tummy and a lifeless baby and I may have had to endured the pain of labour but he would have taken this pain, had he been able. I can't imagine what it must have been like for him, watching me in pain knowing that there is nothing he can really do to take it away. And while I can take my maternity leave to mourn, my husband was back at work two weeks after his daughters death.
Each experience of loss is unique and whilst mine and my husbands experience are different we also understand each other more than anyone else can. The daily pain, the constant feel of loss and the sadness in our hearts is felt by us both. We both lost Holly and we both miss her, every single day.
I wish I had understood this a little better before Holly. I wish I hadn't neglected the fathers I have looked after in the past. The experience they have in baby loss is so very real and so very raw. They need to love their baby, have the chance to care for their baby and the opportunity to talk too.
It sounds so obvious doesn't it? But in an age where men are told to 'man up' and 'be the strong one' and where death (let alone death of a baby) is viewed as an awkward and 'silent' topic, loss for daddies is on the most part, neglected.
I can't pretend that I know what it is like for a daddy to lose his baby but what I do know is that daddies feel it too.
Daddy matters too.
On the 7th September 2016 at 25 weeks gestation, Holly was born, still after a battle with complete heart block.