As I wrote earlier this summer, it takes a babble of voices to truly shatter a taboo. So it’s with great pride that today I get to share with you the first of a series of guest posts looking at pregnancy loss from all kinds of perspectives. Every week, as well as my usual posts, I’ll be sharing someone else’s story. Because there are sadly so many stories and we need to hear them – all of them. So without any more waffle from me, here’s Ali…
The whole process of pregnancy and birth fascinates me. How amazing that a woman’s body could grow a tiny human and get it safely into the world. I wanted to be part of that and so I became a midwife. On day one of my student 12 years ago, I witnessed a wonderful waterbirth. Sadly, that little boy unexpectedly died the same night that he was born. This family’s experience shaped my whole career as a midwife, showing me our role is not only in supporting families to bring life into this world, but to stand by their side in the most difficult of goodbyes.
The wish to be a Mummy grew the longer I was a midwife. For me, a privileged part of being a midwife is in those first moments parents see and meet their baby. The look is always different, but it is indescribable in its power. I never thought for even a moment that we might not get to have that experience for ourselves.
Following a year of trying to conceive, investigations showed that, for me and my partner, conceiving would be unlikely without ICSI and IVF. Embarking into the world of infertility treatment, I realised how little I knew. Despite being a midwife so much of it was new to me. After multiple failed rounds of IVF, I was finding midwifery increasingly difficult. Everyday someone asked: ‘do you have any children?’ This innocent question became harder to answer when I felt such a failure.
I also found it difficult witnessing many happy endings, not knowing if we would ever get ours. This took its toll and I had to have a period of sick leave. After further investigations, a break from treatment and a very supportive management team, I changed to a slightly different role at work and we started another round of IVF. In July 2017, we saw our magic two lines on the pregnancy test, crying with joy and relief.
These feelings though were quickly replaced with anxiety: as a midwife you see both the joy and also the heartbreak. By 15 weeks I had just started to relax. We were on holiday with friends, who were also midwives, when the worst happened. My waters broke. I felt numb. I knew it was over. The precious fluid needed to keep my baby alive was pouring out of me. My husband looked me in the eyes asking what it meant. My midwife head spoke back: ‘It’s over. The baby can’t survive.’
Our friends jumped into action, quickly getting us to the nearest hospital. Here we were informed that as we were ‘less than 16 weeks pregnant’ we must attend the gynaecology ward for our miscarriage as it was ‘not a maternity issue’. To my ears all I heard was that my baby was not worthy of midwifery care as it wasn’t big enough.
We drove home to the hospital where I worked. Here, midwives care for women losing babies regardless of gestation. To me, this honours every baby and is exactly right.
From the moment we walked into the unit we were greeted with love and kindness. Within a few days, I became unwell and labour was starting. I knew all I could do was give my baby a good birth. I was lucky, being cared for by friends. I had a waterbirth which felt fitting for my little baby. I remember breathing the gas and air, lights low, my husband by my side and for a moment it was like I was in a parallel world. This was the birth I dreamt of, but this birth would end in a nightmare. I remember hoping that my baby would be born and cry. Not even a possibility, but I just didn’t want any of it to be happening.
Elodie was born on the 4th October 2017 at 23:00 at 16 weeks 1 day weighing 100g. She was perfect, with the most perfect tiny feet and tiny toes. She was so tiny that it was a few days before genetic testing told us she was a girl.
But she shouldn’t have been born yet. She should have been safe and warm in me, growing and wriggling. We should have still been picturing what she would look like, and wondering who she was. We shouldn’t have been cradling her tiny body in the palm of our hands wondering where things went so wrong.
In the moments after her birth, the silence was overwhelming. Deep and palpable. It is a silence like no other, when the air should be filled with joy, a baby’s cry and happy tears. Instead there is a stillness. Hushed tones are used and tears of pain are cried. As a midwife I had never realised how deafening that silence was. I was a mother, my tiny baby in my hand. She was so small, so fragile and so vulnerable. I have never felt so alone. How could my body have failed her?
Walking out of the maternity unit with an empty womb and empty arms is one of the most painful memories I hold. I have never felt so broken. How was I leaving without our baby? How could I go home knowing I wasn’t taking her? How could I ever come back to work knowing my baby had died there?
My midwife mind knows it wasn’t my fault and there was nothing to be done, but my mummy brain will always believe I let her down. I couldn’t keep her safe, couldn’t stay well enough to give her the chance to survive. I keep these raw and painful feelings hidden, but I am sure they’re shared by other women like me.
It had all been so quick, I felt we didn’t have enough memories of being with our daughter. So we went to the funeral home and sat with her coffin. We had a cup of tea with her and I read to her. We love reading with all our nieces and nephews, so it felt right to read to Elodie, too.
It is important to us to acknowledge the little lady Elodie is. Our first born, our daughter. She brought us hope, she made us parents. My gorgeous friends and colleagues were so wonderful. In the months to come I felt lucky to be a midwife. We had an army of friends who were willing to say Elodie’s name out loud and were not afraid to talk about our little girl. Our family and friends bought special personalised gifts that adorn our home. These pieces bring so much comfort. They let us acknowledge her short but ever-present life. I also found a lot of support via Instagram, through other mums sharing their stories. I have built friendships and feel a sense of community from these women.
With a lot of support, I went back to work. Since having Elodie I am a different person. She taught me how to be a Mummy. At the first hospital we’d gone to while on holiday the lack of care we received had a huge impact on our ability to grieve. I was made to feel that my pregnancy was not significant. I questioned my right to grieve for a baby who had died at 16 weeks not over 24 weeks (the age of viability).
When speaking to friends and colleagues, we have reflected on how Elodie has affected us as midwives. I had always only ever thought of baby loss as a heart-breaking time – and it is – but it is also a time when a family still meets their baby for the first moment. Still gets to look and see who they are like, take in their features and say hello. I will always think of Elodie’s waterbirth with both heartbreak and pride. At that moment I birthed her and met her. It is a privilege to be her Mummy and know the impact a 100g 16-week little baby girl can have within our world.