Written by Sarah Pridham, for Still Aware.
The best way to start the second part of my blog would be blank – because that is how the first 24 hours was for me. It is known that physical and emotional trauma can directly affect the memory – some of the memory loss can be temporary however, often when the memory loss is caused by a severe psychological traumatic event it can be permanent. We tend to suppress and block severely traumatic events and this is yet another way that can affect our memory. For me, the first 24 hours is very blank. Many people out there think that you just have the loss itself to deal with – they don’t realise all the other things that are associated with the loss that you also have to find the strength and ability to deal with.
Lots of women have caesareans (and emergency caesareans) however I don’t think a lot of people out there realise how difficult it is to work through and recover from an emergency caesarean when you are also dealing with the loss of your baby. Normally the recovery period is easier to work through because you have your baby there with you – you have a reason and a purpose to keep pushing through the physical pain (you also don’t have the emotional pain and grief of the loss to deal with either). However facing the recovery of an emergency caesarean when you have lost your baby is another journey in itself – you don’t have the sense of purpose to keep you pushing and working through the physical pain, you don’t have your baby there to keep you going, you are just left with yourself. Apart from the physical pain you also have the emotional pain and the grief on top as well – you are not just faced with one mountain to climb, you are faced with two mountains to climb (and that is exactly how it felt to me). In the months following our loss I imagined how different my recovery period would have been if my son was there by my side through it all – he would have given me the strength that I needed to keep working through the pain, he would have given me something to aim towards. But take this away and what are you left with? You are left with trying to work through everything for no reason at all – nothing to aim towards, no reason for pushing on. You are just left with you.
There are many horrible moments within those 3 days in hospital (and probably many more that I can’t remember) – but one that I can remember, one that I didn’t know was going to happen was the two policemen coming in to my hospital room to provide me with paperwork that I had to fill out to say that I had positively ID our sons body (apparently this has to happen for all unexpected deaths). I remember just staring blankly at them for a couple of moments when they first told me – then I think adrenaline kicked in and I just filled out and signed the paperwork as quickly as I could. In the weeks and months that followed I remember that moment so clearly – no one knows what it truly feels like to have to fill out and sign this kind of paperwork not long after you have been told that your baby had died. This is what I mean – unless people have been through this type of loss themselves they really don’t know just how traumatic it is and really don’t understand just how much a person has to endure during this terrible time in their life.
On my second sleepless night in hospital I started to plan our sons funeral and wake – I guess it gave me something to focus on and made me feel like as a mother, there was something that I could actually do for our son and made me feel in control for a few moments (especially during a time that I had no control over at all). I realised that I would never be able to give him a Birthday or Christmas or Family Holiday so all I could give him was a goodbye that he truly deserved. The Final Goodbye as I call it – a story for my next blog.
Finally it was time to go home- anyone that has lost a baby whilst in hospital will understand how traumatic and devastating it is for a mother to face leaving the hospital and going home without their baby. I went into hospital 38 weeks pregnant and in early labour and the day I went home I was walking down the hospital corridors, towards the front doors, carrying sympathy flowers and a nappy bag that was never used – without our baby – thinking how wrong this was. Then 10 minutes later we turned down our street, and suddenly it dawned on me that I would be walking into our house without our son (seriously, there are so many hard parts of the journey of baby loss) it is frustrating when people think that it is the loss itself because the harder parts are normally everything that follows after the loss. I remember standing at the front door wondering, can I really walk in? Well of course I did – it felt like slow motion though, then the adrenaline kicked in and I just wanted to get all the baby stuff locked into the spare room as quickly as possible. It really didn’t feel like home anymore – just a house, just a place that you eat in and sleep in and that’s about all – a home is where family is and this just didn’t feel like a home for me. Everything was there ready to go – the highchair, change table, toy box, bouncer, play-mat – everything new and ready for our beautiful son. It felt so unnatural to just put it all in the spare room and close the door and I remember thinking to myself “how can this be?” it really was one of the most unnatural things I’ve ever been through and think will ever go through in my life. It really is something that no one can understand unless they have been through it themselves because it is such an unnatural way of life – something that is never meant to happen and therefore so difficult to be able to comprehend when it does actually happen.
These are the days following the loss of a baby – it isn’t just the initial loss, being told in hospital that your baby has died but the days following where you have all these mountains that you need to climb. Things that you would normally be doing but completely opposite because your baby is meant to be there with you and life is meant to make sense. It’s amazing how 60 seconds doesn’t just take your baby’s life but how it creates this massive ripple effect (or avalanche) that carries through all these other aspects that people do not think about. I spent the 38 weeks of being pregnant thinking about how different life would be, thinking about what kind of life I wanted for our son, thinking about family holidays and family adventure and of course our first family Christmas which was only a couple of months away – so when you are told that your baby has died, everything that you had imagined or thought about for 38 weeks just vanished in a split second like a puff of smoke – gone, taken away and I was left thinking about what life was like before I fell pregnant, because that is now the life that I was back to facing again. Life and my world had literally been turned upside down, plans ripped away and I was left wondering what was to happen next.
The day that my son died, the first 27 years of my life died with him – those 27 chapters of my book had ended and the new one was about to start – but how was it to begin when I felt like life had ended?