About 2 weeks ago, our unborn child died. We found out on Thursday (20/12/2012).
I’ve written this as a blog post: I’m not sure why, as I’m not sure that I’ll ever publish it. But if I do, and you’re normally here to read the technobabble, and you don’t care about the emotional stuff, the sentence above is probably all you need to know. One of the reasons this might get published is that I really don’t want to have to tell everyone about it in person.
As of Thursday morning, all seemed to be going well with the pregnancy. That morning was the primary school play; the afternoon was the midwife ‘just in case’ check.
Roll back one: there is a medical history here that meant this was considered a high risk pregnancy. Hence the regular checks.
School finished at lunch for the last day before the Christmas break, and we were out of the ‘danger zone’ first 12 weeks, so older brother went along with Mamma to hear the heart beat. There wasn’t one. I’m working from home, and it’s nearly dinner time, so we grab some food and all 3 of us go to the hospital. There’s no one who can provide child care on such short notice even if we want it, and there is absolutely zero chance I’m sending my wife on her own.
Roll back two: we already knew that at this point (~15 weeks into the pregnancy) it’s not always possible to hear the heart beat with the equipment available to the midwife. But she had managed to hear the heartbeat 2 weeks earlier. So I’m worried, but still hoping that this is hassle rather than something actually having gone wrong.
Aside: Maternity triage is a strange place, directly attached to the maternity ward. So you sit and wait (not a massive amount of time in the grand scheme of things) watching the really heavily pregnant people right at the end of the process go past. This is a strange, and not especially comforting experience. For bonus points I suspect a lot of the people who’s pregnancies have gone smoothly don’t even know what the triage area is. You get some strange looks sitting there with someone who obviously isn’t ready to give birth; as if as a man you need the reason to be there of someone giving birth or else you’re some kind of weird alien invader into the space.
The doctor who saw us was thorough, sympathetic and direct. It’s pretty obvious from the ultra sound that things are not good; even as a layman I’ve seen enough scans that it’s immediately apparent the baby isn’t alive. The only thing the doctor can add is that it isn’t recent; there are signs that I wouldn’t have spotted that the baby had been dead for some time.
We spent Friday in hospital dealing with the medical side of the process which was harrowing but complete. My wife’s physical health is fine apart from tiredness and soreness that seem to be steadily returning to normal. My family and my work were both fantastic: I work in the same office as my brother at the moment, and they had no problem with both of us just disappearing. He stayed with our son (along with my parents and niece for a good chunk of the day) while we were at hospital. I’m amazingly grateful for the flexibility and availability of people: it was brought home to me even further when my Dad at one point, as an aside, checked if I’d been able to get time off to be at the hospital and I realised that when my parents went through a very similar experience in the 70s that probably was not a given.
So… physically that’s it. Done. Of course, in reality, it’s not that simple. When my grandfather passed away, I learnt something pretty important about myself, that has stayed with me ever since: I can freely mix joy and sorrow in life in ways that most people seem to find hard, or even distasteful. I’m not sure if this is a gift, or a minor insanity, but it’s definitely very helpful as life doesn’t tend to come in nice discriminated good and bad packages. So here I am, in mourning while celebrating advent. Frequently in tears (lesson number 2 from grandfather passing away: I realised I needed to learn to cry. It took a long time to learn), yet genuinely looking forward to going to the candle lit carols with the family. Feeling the heart ache of this person I’ll never know while checking out my son’s Christmas present that just arrived in the post. Wondering how I’m ever going to put this stuff into words, whilst making fun of myself across the internet as I try to drink my espresso with salt instead of sugar (by mistake, obviously…). And it’s hard, because it’s all real; but it doesn’t feel it. In the same way that when you find out that there’s a child on the way, there’s always a bit of a feel of unreality to it (you don’t know what they’re going to be like, there’s no signs of the pregnancy yet, etc), when you find out that they’re not on the way that feels pretty unreal too. Except that it’s not: they’re really gone, and we really got to see them, and when the sadness comes it’s not unreal at all.
It’s a mix of bereavement and the opportunity not taken. The sadness of a missing loved one mixed with the ‘what if’ of not pushing the open door. Because however much you know there’s nothing that you could have done, this is still someone you were the guardian of. Even if you couldn’t guard them yet: I don’t feel guilt, as if I should have saved them. But it does feel as if… something. As if there should have been an option I could have taken to protect them. I’m at peace that there wasn’t: but not that there shouldn’t have been. And there’s a whole medley of other things flying around as well: how awesome my immediate family have been, with my 5 year old doing everything he knows how to offer support and be as considerate as he knows how. My incredible wife, who somehow impossibly has managed to let herself start grieving without falling apart. My family who have stepped in and mostly just been available, and just done what we asked without trying to ‘save the day’ or take over.
And a special shout out to the new church. They have been wonderful as a safe place, and a comfort and a source of peace. No one’s tried to fix it, or tell us it’s all ok. No one has tried to step in and be the hero. But they’ve been with us, and prayed with us. They dropped off flowers at the flat while we were still at the hospital. They took me off the rota I was due to be on for Sunday before I had to ask (I didn’t get the message in time so asked anyway, but hey ho!). They came and *actually spoke to us* about things. No prying, no pushing just the honest “how are you doing?” that actually expects an answer. With discretion, and care, but they made sure that as many people as possible who had known we were expecting knew the news without us having to go to everyone and tell them. And they came to both of us, not just my wife; just to make sure that I wasn’t being ignored just because I’m ‘the man’.
Two things in particular I’ll treasure for a long time out of all of this. One is my wife saying on the way to church that after the service she was going to seek out two particular ladies and ask them to pray with and support her: and at the end of the service the two of them being there before she had a chance to stand up. And the pastor, who had been ill in the morning and so hadn’t heard the news. We saw him before the evening carols, and he asked my wife how things were going. She told him, and with the service about to start, and about 400 people waiting for him he just stopped, grabbed us in a hug and cried (while praying for us). It was, I think, the single most therapeutic thing anyone has ever done for me.
So I cry, and smile. And I mean them both.