In recognition of Baby Loss Awareness Week, it is an absolute privilege to be able to share Claire’s story. Claire is mum to two beautiful little girls, 7 year old Amelia and Poppy, 2, who she describes as her world. She helps her lovely husband run his advertising business and strives to be happy, as most of us do, but Claire hasn’t always been happy.
Claire says, “I know what it’s like when life kicks you down. You feel alone. My first child, Louis, was stillborn at 41 weeks in September 2002. He was an apparently healthy baby who was fine one moment, and then gone the next. Words fail to describe the pain of losing him. I have been lucky to go on to build a happy life, full of the joy my family give me but it hasn’t been an easy road.
We are a family full of all the normal issues, fun, fears, good times and bad times; but most of all we are a family full of love.”
This is Louis’ story.
Claire blogs at www.joyandpops.com
It recently occurred to me that in the 12 years since I lost my son Louis, I have never told our story from start to finish. Always the abridged version to fit the audience, just the details that I think they will be able to understand or even want to hear.
So here it is, from the top.
I found myself pregnant at 20 years old. Despite not being the previously maternal type, I was thrilled. I was in a fairly new relationship with ‘A’ (for the sake of his privacy) but we were crazy in love – that specific young crazy love where you think everything is going to be fine. I made plans to defer university until the following year, we moved to a new city, got a beautiful puppy called Molly and rented a house. We set about becoming a family, rose-tinted glasses firmly in place.
I think about that couple sometimes, just starting out in the world. We may have been naive/crazy but we really loved each other and we were happy.
We were also extremely poor. Our families, initially not overly pleased with our news, rallied to help us with baby essentials. We decorated the nursery with a nautical theme using donated half-empty tins of paint. ‘A’ spent days decorating the room and painting an old chest of drawers. It was late summer; I can still remember the smell of autumn appearing in the air and David Gray’s song ‘Babylon’ was the soundtrack as he worked. The first signs of autumn (and that song) still remind me of that time – it was filled with happy anticipation.
It was apparent that we were having a rather large baby. In fairness, I was absolutely huge. I know everyone says that but I really was. I went from 8st 7lbs to 13st 11lbs – totally massive. I had sciatica and could barely move. My due date came and went, not unusual of course. I had an appointment to discuss induction scheduled for 9 days overdue at the hospital.
As he walked, I shuffled, along the river that weekend – with Molly bounding around us – we talked about how our son would be born the following week. “One way or another” I said, which seems so prophetic now. Again, I think about that young couple and I feel so sad for them.
The morning of my appointment I was sitting on the bed when ‘A’ walked into the room. I blurted out that the baby wasn’t moving. I had tried lying down, poking my tummy and downed a large glass of cold water. Nothing. ‘A’ told me not to worry and reminded me that everyone keeps telling us that he’s so big he’s got no room to move, and we’re on our way to hospital anyway. We were going to the right place after all.
At the hospital we sat in the waiting room, ‘A’ chatting away, genuinely not worried, but I felt cold and clammy with a fear I just couldn’t articulate. When we were called into the consultant’s room, I told them I couldn’t feel the baby move so they got me on the bed and listened for his heartbeat.
I now know what deafening silence sounds like. Silence so loud I can still hear it now.
Reassuring words and a scan arranged in the next room, only to confirm what everyone already knew. A lady saying sympathetically how sorry she was and leaving the room to get the midwife. I tried to stand up but my legs failed and I’m in ‘A’s arms on the floor screaming. I know I’m screaming but I can’t hear my own voice.
We are taken from the scan room to another smaller room. ‘A’ starts calling our families. Everything is such a blur but when I look back I think how hard those calls must have been for him to make. My Dad was visiting from abroad and had been due to have lunch with us, he was on his way to our house when he got the call and came straight to the hospital. He walked in the room and I collapsed on him in grief.
I never knew you could genuinely collapse in grief until that day.
The only saving grace that day was that I was already in labour, so no induction or waiting. Things actually moved quite quickly and I was taken to the SANDS room (a special room donated by the charity SANDS). When labour became more intense I was taken through to the delivery suite. I went to the bathroom on the way and stayed in that tiny room for so long they threatened to break in! I was hiding from myself, in pain on the floor. I knew once I left that room I was going to have to deal with what was happening – obviously it was all happening anyway but hiding in that little room felt like the better option.
I did eventually come out and labour progressed. My mum had been away on a course but rushed back to arrive in the evening. I had an epidural just before she arrived so was a bit more comfortable but when I saw her I broke down; I told her I couldn’t survive it – I knew I didn’t mean the labour.
It was just ‘A’, me and two very kind midwives for the delivery. I wouldn’t push, I didn’t want him to be born. I wanted him to stay inside until someone told me it had all been a mistake. I knew once he was born it would all be true and the real hell would start.
Louis was born into silence. He was silent, we were silent. Everyone was crying – even the midwives – but after the brutality of giving birth, there was not a sound to be heard.
They brought him back cleaned, wrapped in a blanket and lying in a Moses basket. He was wearing a little blue knitted hat and holding a bunny. He had lots of black hair, chubby cheeks and podgy wrists. He was a beautiful little boy. He was big at 10lb 11oz. There was, however, no way to pretend he was just sleeping; he looked dead and that shocked me. I would have liked to pretend for just a minute.
The house was cleared of baby things (except those I wanted to keep) while I was in hospital. People brought flowers and sent cards, all of which was very kind. For a time people spoke Louis’s name and listened to me speak about him, but even the closest of friends and family moved on leaving me behind, trapped in that moment of grief.
I wish I could say in the weeks, months and years that followed I rose above this terrible situation. The truth is I sank. For a long time, I just hit the depths. My relationship with ‘A’ fell apart by Louis’s first anniversary, I was barely surviving financially and I felt out of control emotionally. At 21 years old I had lost so much, so quickly.
I did rebuild my life but I was right when I told my mum I wouldn’t survive it. I didn’t. The person I am today is not the same woman who walked along the river at the end of that summer, waiting for her son to be born. I am a better person in many ways. I am stronger, but I am not the same.
Follow Claire on Twitter @JoyandPops
Read another blog post by Claire at Joy and Pops for Baby Loss Awareness Week