I was only twenty three weeks into my pregnancy and not feeling well. I had come home from work on the Thursday afternoon feeling tired and a little off. I work up Friday morning with small niggling pains in my stomach, but not once did I think I would go into early labour, it wasn't something that ever crossed my mind. To be sure I contacted the hospital and was told to come in, just so they could check that things were okay. I know many of us pray for early labour later on in the journey, when you feel like you've been pregnant forever, you’re feeling fat, tired and totally over it, but never at this early stage.
Unfortunately I was, and the doctors were quick to give us the cold hard facts. Babies born earlier than 24 weeks would not be resuscitated. If they couldn’t delay or stop my labour there would be no caesarean to delivery her unless it was medically necessary for me, and if she was born alive they’d make her as comfortable as possible but she would not receive any medical assistance. This was a harsh reality delivered by what seemed like an emotionless paediatrician.
Immediately I began silently praying that the drugs they were giving me would help. Surely God wouldn't let this happen, after all he had finally listened and given me this gift after years of wishing and hoping and thinking it was an impossible dream. For a few short hours I believed he had listened, my pain began to ease and I started to feel better. However it was not to be, I started bleeding and we were told it was inevitable.
I can’t describe how I felt at the time, there were so many emotions hitting me at once. Shock, disbelief, numbness, enormous amounts of sadness, anger, pain, hurt and even the slightest bit of hope. I held onto that hope and my faith for as long as possible, as long as I had that there was still a chance. Having that hope was better than accepting that my little girl was dying inside of me and there was nothing I could do to help her.
For hours I lay in the hospital bed, thinking that maybe if I was still enough and calm enough that everything would stop and things would be okay. Though the sun disappeared and so did that hope. For hours I had been listening to other birthing mothers screaming in pain, which was soon followed by the cries of newborn babies. All the while my pain steadily increased, with my rupturing placenta causing excruciating back pain. I had hospital staff continually poking me with needles in an attempt to take blood. As things progressed further along I lost more blood which sparked more doctors, midwives, anaesthetists and surgeons to visit. They had to monitor my previous caesarean scars to ensure they weren't tearing and as my blood loss increased my blood pressure plummeted. At one point I had three or four people working to try to insert cannula's in both of my uncooperative arms. It was probably a good thing I was partially out of it, otherwise I would have been incredibly embarrassed with the number of people who were in my room waiting to see if I would successfully have my baby naturally or need to be whisked off for surgery. It was literally standing room only, but at that point I didn’t care. I knew what the outcome was going to be. There was nothing that I or anyone else could (or would) do, that would change anything now.
Annabelle was born at 1.11am on Saturday 8th of December 2012 at 23 weeks and 2 days, five days short of the being able to be resuscitated. Annabelle weighed only 598 grams and measured 21cm in length. She was perfect. Perfect features, a beautiful little face, tiny little hands and feet, and fine hair on her head. However, my little angel would never take a breath, never open her eyes or cry, she would never laugh, she would never grow and she would never come home.
I didn’t hold her immediately after she was born, I couldn’t. I felt like I had failed her and knew that as soon as I saw her I would have to accept the reality of the situation and I wasn’t ready for that. I didn’t know if I would ever be ready
My crowded room slowly emptied and only a sole midwife remained. She stayed to monitor my low temperature and blood pressure. The midwife handed me my tiny little angel, still wrapped in a white hospital blanket. There was no movement, no crying, only a tiny baby not much bigger than my hand. I can’t say whether or not I cried at that moment or not, or how or what I was feeling, if I was even feeling anything at all. I really don’t remember. Nothing mattered at that moment, my world had just shattered into millions of pieces. Surely I was in the middle of a really bad dream and I would wake up any minute now. But I was awake and it wasn’t a dream.
I’ve never considered myself to be an overly religious person. Though I would often pray silently to God, like I assume a lot of people do, but the only times I went to church was for weddings or funerals. On the 08.12.12 I not only lost my baby girl, I also lost my faith. Ironically since finding out I was pregnant Faith was always going to be my baby’s middle name. I thought it was fitting since I had spent so long hoping and praying to God for another baby that without having faith it never would have happened. But now that was gone.
My husband and I had a few hours relatively uninterrupted with our baby girl and managed to get a small amount of broken sleep. I spent the day in hospital, hoping they would release me later that afternoon. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to listen to anymore crying babies, each cry was a painful reminder of what I was missing out on. I didn’t want any more awkward visits from staff offering their condolences and asking if we would try again, I didn’t want to try for another baby, I wanted the one I was holding. I didn’t want to be in this cold, horrible room which had taken everything from me. I wanted to go home so I could feel comfortable and be free to mourn in peace.
Finally just after five that afternoon I was allowed to leave. Though, when it came time to go it was harder than I had imagined. It meant saying goodbye and leaving my little angel there alone. I was leaving with a broken heart and an ache is my chest. I would have also left empty handed if it hadn’t been for my beautiful midwife. She changed Annabelle’s clothes and gave them to me so I would have something of hers. She said I would have so few memories that I needed to hold on to the ones I had. I could never thank her enough, she gave me some of the things I treasure most in this world.
As I was pushed outside in a wheelchair to wait for the car I was once again had to face the real world. It hadn’t changed or stopped. It wasn’t different or broken. It wasn’t even cloudy like my mood, the sun was brightly shining. This life altering experience to me was non-existent to everyone else. It was me who had changed. It was me who was broken.
Throughout the week that followed we were faced with so many difficult challenges. Some, like funeral preparations, I was prepared for, others hit me like a freight train.
One of the things I wasn’t prepared for was how difficult it would be to find something for Annabelle to be buried in. I searched all the stores for an outfit for her, but no one sold anything small enough. I searched online and still didn’t find anything that could be delivered in time. Sadly I had to resort to searching the toy section for dolls clothes, having to do this broke my heart and after looking in a few stores I couldn’t bare it anymore. I went home feeling defeated, empty and at the lowest point I could ever imagine. Though thanks to two amazing friends my little girl was laid to rest in a precious little dress and wearing angel wings.
During that week I visited Annabelle at the funeral home as often as possible. I needed to see her and spend as much time with her as I could. So I would sit with her, hold her and talk to her, and I would cry. My God did I cry. I took her a cuddle bear blanket to keep her company. I took my camera to take photos, though looking back I didn’t take nearly enough (Considering I usually take my camera everywhere and take thousands of photos a year, I stupidly didn’t take it to the hospital with me. Even though I had actually picked it up when I hastily packed a bag, I put it back down after telling myself I wouldn’t need it).
Ten days after bringing her into this world I had to say goodbye. In a small family gathering at the funeral home Annabelle’s sisters and grandparents met and cuddled her for the first and last time. The only photos we will ever have as a family are ones with red, teary eyes and sad, devastated expressions, though they are pictures which I treasure. The hardest thing I have done and ever will do was to say goodbye and place my beautiful little baby girl in a tiny casket knowing I would never again see her or be able to hold her. It was so unforgiving and final, but dressed in a tiny handmade outfit and wearing angel wings I gave her one last cuddle and placed her inside along with her cuddle bear blanket so she wouldn’t be alone. There is no way I can convey how heartbreakingly difficult it was to see her lying inside of the cold white timber casket.
Annabelle’s service was held on a Monday and by that Friday we were able to bring her home. Her ashes placed in a beautiful heart shaped urn that now sits beside my bed.
The past twelve months have been like one long continuous emotional roller-coaster. I’ve had to work out how to survive, adapt and accept a new ‘normal’ way of life. A new normal which includes a constant ache and emptiness in my heart and daily reminders of what I’ve missed out on.
This year I’ve learnt to be able to walk down the aisle at the supermarket with all the baby products. I’ve learnt to walk past new babies in shopping centres without getting tears in my eyes. I’ve learnt how to answer the questions; ‘how many children do you have?’ And the particularly difficult one, ‘How old is your youngest?’ I’ve learnt not to feel guilty when I’m happy or having fun and I’ve learnt to deal with all of the baby posts on my Facebook newsfeed instead of hiding them, one day soon I may even start to read them.
I went back to work earlier this year thinking I was coping well enough to handle all aspects of my job. Boy was I wrong. I wasn’t prepared for those people who didn’t know I wasn’t pregnant asking me how I’d lost so much weight over the holidays or having to explain what had happened to those that did. I REALLY wasn’t prepared for dealing with the mother who every morning wanted to tell me about how difficult her labour a few weeks earlier had been, or how her other child was struggling with having a new baby sister at home. Every day I would bite my tongue instead of telling her that she should stop complaining and be grateful, I went through a difficult labour too, only I went through mine knowing my little girl wouldn’t survive. My other children struggled too, only they were struggling with the death of their baby sister. It also meant dealing with ignorant people who thought just because I was upset or felt the need to cry that I must have been suffering from post-natal depression. It is naïve to think someone can go through a loss of a child and not grieve and not have it change you.
Everyday I'm faced with a different challenge and each day I have an inner struggle and each day I get a little stronger. Every day I hug my baby girl, though for me that means holding onto a tiny heart shaped urn or cuddling a beautiful Annabelle bereavement bear. Each day I wear a gold locket which hangs over my heart in her memory. Most importantly, every day I think of her.
I know a lot of people can’t understand how having an unborn baby die can have such a profound impact on their families lives, after all you've never technically had the chance to get to know them or spend time with them. Surely it’s not as bad as having child die that has had the chance to be in your life? I used to think the same, I’ve even thought about it over the past few months and my response to this is; as a mother I know I’ve loved all my children long before they were even born. I didn’t give birth to them, look at them and fall in love. I loved them before that. I don’t love my children more now than I did when they were born. The love you have for your children is unconditional. So no, I personally don’t believe it makes any difference to the level of grief you have, you simply grieve them in a different way.
Maybe my need to write this is a combination of wanting to preserve the details and my memories of Annabelle, and because I want everyone to know that stillbirth and death caused by pre-term labour is more common than people realise. It happens to people every day and unlike SIDS, which through successful awareness and fundraising efforts has dramatically reduced the number of infant deaths, there is not as much attention given to perinatal and neonatal deaths. In a study done by Sids and Kids Australia over a 10 year period the mortality rate for Sids was an average of 100 deaths per year, neonatal deaths were at an average of 810 per year and stillbirth's were at a massive average rate of 1879 per year.
I also want people to understand that even though time passes, living with the loss of a child doesn't really get any easier, you simply learn to deal with the feelings and the grief and your life takes on a new 'normal'. My new normal this year has involved teaching myself how to knit so I can donate some of the many needed outfits for these special little angels. So that hopefully others who find themselves in my position will have something to treasure long after they've had to say goodbye.
I have found myself so thankful for what I have. I'm blessed to have a wonderful husband, amazing children and beautiful family and friends. If it weren't for all of them I don't know how I would have survived.