You never really think that growing a baby should be difficult, do you? I mean, sure you accept it will uncomfortable at times and you expect sickness etc. but once you've reached that 12 week scan, you are safe right?
Growing a baby feels impossible after you've lost one. The anxieties over ever twinge feel multiplied in a rainbow pregnancy. You no longer believe that your pregnancy is 'safe' and instead have a real belief that this baby could die too.
After our first cardiac scan at 16 weeks, I had a real desire to see my baby where there was no focus on the heart or things that could be wrong. I just wanted a little slice of 'normal' for my baby. So we booked a private gender scan at just over 16 weeks. For the first and only time since Holly's ashes came home, I took her little ashes teddy bear with me to the scan. There was no way that I was going to find out what we were having without her there with us.
Up until the gender scan I had desperately wanted the baby to be a girl. It hurt so much to see little sisters together and I wanted Eleni to have a little sister here on Earth too. It took almost an hour to see our baby's gender as the cord was between its legs but finally we were told, it was a boy! In that instance my heart exploded with love for this little lad and it just felt so right. A new pregnancy, a new start, not another little girl to take Holly's place but instead a little boy with two wonderful big sisters. I drove home and cried. It was just perfect and I was so happy I'd had one normal scan where I could just watched my baby with no focus on his heart.
Unfortunately not all scans were filled with so much happiness.
Growing a rainbow baby takes a massive amount of strength. It requires a lot of love and patience from the people around you and an incredible amount of support and understanding from medical professionals. A rainbow pregnancy is more than just a little testing on your mental health and there can be serious consequences if any of your support areas are lacking. I was receiving brilliant healthcare support from midwives, doctors and consultants right up until my 20 week scan. We found out that Holly's heart was poorly at her 20 week scan and so understandably this was the scan where I felt a massive amount of panic and worry.
Unfortunately the sonographer we had at our 20 week scan was less than empathetic. I had a stillbirth sticker on my notes and so I am sure she was aware of my history but she still proceeded to abruptly tell me to lie down and not talk during the scan. She rudely told my husband not to talk to me and even that I shouldn't talk to Eleni. Maybe she was just trying to concentrate but in an instance I had a flash back of lying in the Evelina Hospital in pure silence when Holly's poorly heart was diagnosed. I asked the sonographer if she could look at our baby's heart first as that was obviously our biggest worry. She said no. I cried silently during the scan, it was just traumatic and horrific. At the end of the scan I asked if everything was okay and she mumbled 'okay, I am getting you into see the consultant now.' What the hell did that mean?! Was something wrong with our baby?!
Our consultant promised us that our baby's heart was looking fine but for every scan after, I refused to see that sonographer again. She showed zero compassion and understanding of life after loss. It made me think, shouldn't sonographers be educated in stillbirth awareness too? I think any staff who comes into contact with expectant rainbow parents should absolutely be trained in understanding baby loss. Our 20 week scan was so much more stressful and upsetting than it should have ever have been. I went home and slapped another stillbirth sticker on top of my notes.
I had started to feel baby move just before 20 weeks and soon realised how my experiences with movements were a different experience in a rainbow pregnancy. With Eleni, I had hated feeling her move. I found it painful, strange and uncomfortable! I am not ashamed to admit that I just didn't like it! With Holly however, she moved so little that it never really got going and I spent her last few days not wanting to feel her move because of the upcoming reality of ending the pregnancy. This baby was different though. I loved every feeling every single movement, it made me feel so close to him and I truly cherished every second. I had a morning routine of listening to his heartbeat on the doppler and then waiting for movements before I would get out of bed. Mornings always felt nerve wracking and this little routine was the only way I could get through the day.
We were given the date of our final cardiac scan to be the 4th July, I would be just over 29 weeks. The electrical conductive systems within any baby's heart aren't fully developed until this point which is why we couldn't get an all clear until this time. I counted down the days and the weeks which were busily filled with scans. Every scan, baby was looking well and so I tried to stay optimistic. I went shopping with my mum and my sister and finally bought some baby clothes. I no longer cared about tempting fate, I just wanted to give this baby the attention he deserved. I was desperate to grasp any normality during the pregnancy and baby shopping at around 25 weeks was the first time I had allowed myself to have a little faith.
Prior to August 2016, I had never heard of Complete Heart Block but quickly it had become my world and my nemesis. We had to endure losing our precious daughter to such a devastating condition but also understood that any future pregnancy would have a very real chance of developing it too.
205 days we had to wait for a final diagnosis, 205 days of intense anxiety mixed with a broken heart. As I lay down for my scan on the 4th July, silent tears rolled down my face as I watched the familiar routine of a cardiac scan. Watching the little heart and praying that this time we would be okay. "The heart looks perfect and we won't need to see you again." Tears and tears of relief that finally we could close the door on heart block, stamp on its ugly existence and throw away the key forever. Tears of devastation that this wasn't our Holly's outcome, that she wasn't so lucky and still so sorely missed.
I had never liked the term 'Rainbow Baby' up until that point but then I understood. The storm was never Holly, the storm was the Complete Heart Block and on that day the storm had been lifted. On the 4th July we learnt that our baby was safe and I will always be forever grateful to our little guardian angel who looked after her brother.
The hardest part to our journey was over but losing Holly had opened me up to the world of baby loss. The reality that babies die at anytime in pregnancy and soon after birth felt real and scary. We had over come our biggest battle but we still had another 10 weeks until I could hold a baby, with a perfectly beating heart...