The Baby Loss Hub - Still Birth - Henry's mum
“I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat”
Those words extinguished any hope and sent our world crashing down. No, the dopplers the midwives repeatedly used to try and find the heartbeat weren’t malfunctioning. No, the movements I’d felt as we sped towards the hospital weren’t our little boy wiggling or kicking, they must have been the impact of the journey causing him to move around in the amniotic fluid. No, there was no heartbeat.
I was 34 weeks pregnant with Henry, our second child and first little boy. My pregnancy had been straightforward until a routine growth scan at 28 weeks showed an abnormality - Henry’s stomach wasn’t properly connected to his intestines. Even then, we were reassured that this was easily corrected with an operation soon after birth. We were booked in for more scans and discussed an induction at 38 weeks, but we never expected this outcome.
Two days later we went back to the hospital to be induced, and in the early hours of the following morning our boy came silently into the world. Since then I sometimes feel like I am in a very long and detailed anxiety dream, but no, this is my life. Henry’s birth was supposed to complete our family, instead it has left a gaping hole which can never be filled. Looking back, the first few weeks I was just numb and getting through the days, especially with having an older child to look after. It was about a month later that the enormity of what had happened and the loss we have suffered really started to hit.
I’ve found it hard to write about what has helped me over the past few months, perhaps because I am still very much going through it. Still, these are the things that have provided some peace and continue to do so.
Being kind to myself
If I could offer one piece of advice to anyone experiencing baby loss it would be this - be kind to yourself. The rest is what has helped me personally but obviously everyone is different. One of the things I’ve learnt is that everyone grieves differently and that everyone’s grief journey is unique. It’s not a linear process of “stages” everyone goes through, but more like a messy map. I’ve realised I just need to learn to accept how I feel on any given day and try not to feel guilty for feeling ok, or for wanting to stay in bed, or for feeling anger, or for wanting to hide away, or for wanting to see people………..
Connecting with others
None of my close friends or family have been through anything similar, so since losing Henry I’ve sought out others who have gone through similar experiences. Whether that is through the Sands Online Forum, facebook groups such as The Worst Girl Gang Ever or Sands Support Group or the large baby loss community on Instagram, knowing that I am not alone and that whatever I am feeling, it is shared by others out there has been some comfort. It can be quite overwhelming to realise how much loss and pain there is out there so I do make sure I step away from social media when I feel I need a break. I’ve also attended my local Sands support group (online for now).
I’ve found it therapeutic to write down the full story of my pregnancy with Henry and his birth by starting my own blog. I also post my random musings on baby loss and grieving on my instagram account. Both of these allow me to get all my jumbled thoughts out of my head and sometimes even make some sense of them.
Being in nature
We are lucky enough to live a five minute walk from some beautiful bluebell woods and as Henry was born in April, the weeks afterwards saw the bluebells bloom in their full glory. Some of my first excursions out of the house were to wander through the woods and sit on a fallen log, and just feel close to him. On the day of his funeral, I realised a whole patch of our garden was blooming with forget-me-nots which had seeded themselves. I find myself paying much more attention to nature now and it allows myself to clear my head and feel closer to Henry.
Doing physical/practical activities
Those initial walks in the woods led me to sign up for the Walk 100km in June run by Sands, mainly as a motivator to get me out of the house each day. I’ve also started swimming and am currently half way through the couch to 5k running programme. In the week after Henry was born I also ordered a cross-stitch kit from Amazon to give my hands something to do in the evenings, which led to me learning how to sew and buying a sewing machine.
Both exercise and craft give me something to do with my body which gives me a focus and also a sense of achievement. I also feel mentally stronger on days when I have exercised.
Reading about others experiences of loss and grief
I’ve always been a bookworm, although life has got in the way in recent years, so it made sense that in dark times I would reach for books to help me through. The below are some of the ones which have been on my reading list over the past few months. They are all quite different and may not be for everyone but I have taken something useful from them all.
It’s ok that you’re not ok - Megan Devine: Love this book, others have already mentioned it but it’s worth recommending again. It’s about accepting and validating your grief and how society’s response to loss is not helpful to those grieving.
Life after baby loss - Nicola Gaskin: The author lost her first child, Winter, when he was a day old. This book takes you through losing a child, the immediate aftermath and grieving as well as talking about trying again and pregnancy after loss.
The Baby Loss Guide - Zoe Clark-Coates: This covers information and many people’s stories about different types of baby loss. I especially like the section at the back which has journaling exercises for you to do each day.
The Comfort Book - Matt Haig: Another book not specific to baby loss but lovely to dip into when you are down. It does exactly what the title says.
Option B - Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant: Focuses on how people can move forward (not move on!) and live well after suffering tragedy and loss.
Finally, sometimes I’ve just needed to turn my brain off and focus on something completely different. I’ve spent far too much time on the Happy Color app which is weirdly soothing. I’ve also rewatched TV shows I love like Schitts Creek, which means I don’t have to concentrate too hard on something and also that I know if and when there are any episodes involving pregnancy or babies I might want to skip.
That awful day in the hospital was four months ago now but feels like yesterday, and at the same time it feels so far away as time marches forward. I’m realising that grief doesn’t end, it just ebbs and flows and you try and rebuild your life around it. I’m still on maternity leave but starting to think about going back to work and getting into a new routine. I hope that one day we will have another child and my daughter will have a living sibling, but we will always love and remember Henry.