Anarchy, Life, parenting

The unspoken tragedy of stillbirth; a male perspective

Unspoken stillbirth - AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

Photo thanks to Lesmondo cc

It was around 9:30am and I was walking on air, down the hill from the Whittington hospital in London, sunshine and snow flakes falling like confetti – a bright day – snow flakes should have been improbable but this morning was pure magic.  A small photograph in my bag of a baby (a girl unknown to me at the time).  The image measured her at around 3cm, in truth she was hardly recognisable as a baby, but I had been shown where to look on the image. I had absolute joy in my heart at the creation of this being.  I went to work that day straight from the appointment, I still had the scan photo in my bag and could not resist sharing it with my colleagues, beaming and smiling.

Weeks quickly passed and all rather uneventfully.  We were busy caring for each other. I was probably a somewhat doting father to be, ensuring the expectant mother’s fatigue levels were managed, attending to craving needs, learning about the right foods to eat, what to do and what not to do, attending all the appointments and visits; I was very involved. We had the pregnancy books that described what was happening week by week and we kind of had a schedule to read together each week.  It was a lovely time.

As the weeks passed we named our child Serena, we knew it was a girl from a follow-up scan and wanted to be able to prepare for her.  She was growing nicely. At some point, I can’t recall exactly when, the first flutter of butterfly wings were felt in my partner’s belly.  I could feel them too, “Simon” my partner would say, “come and touch them she is fluttering.”  She would guide my hand onto the right spot, I would wait very still, all concentration focused on the feelings in my fingers, waiting, for something, then, the flutter, a movement, wonderful!

As she grew butterfly flutters turned to somersaults and massive contortions of flesh as elbows and knees protruded and moved. Serena would respond to sounds, voices, even my voice!  I had a song I would sing, I would press my head onto the belly and sing:

If you go down in the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise
If you go down in the woods today you’d better go in disguise
For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain
Because today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic

Every Teddy Bear who’s been good is sure of a treat today
There’s lots of marvellous things to eat and wonderful games to play
Beneath the trees where nobody sees they’ll hide and seek as long as they please
That’s the way the Teddy Bears have their picnic
Picnic time for Teddy Bears
The little Teddy Bears are having a lovely time today
Watch them, catch them unawares and see them picnic on their holiday
See them gaily gad about
They love to play and shout
They never have any cares

At six o’clock their Mummies and Daddies will take them home to bed
‘Cause they’re tired little Teddy Bears
If you go down in the woods today you better not go alone
It’s lovely down in the woods today but saver to stay at home
For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain
Because today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic

Henry Hall

I did not know the lyrics, I learnt them for her, for my baby girl.

The second trimester passed, and we were into the third.  We had moved house and began to setup home for Serena.  We had been to various baby swap events, had a nice cot, some clothes, and other items.  We had moved into a lovely little apartment overlooking the docklands of London, it had a river view, big floor to ceiling windows that caught the evening sunset over the water, fantastic.

I think there was a really hot Sunday and we spent the day preparing, I painted up the baby cot with some new varnish. The next day my brother came to visit for dinner. He lived far but was in London for business on the Monday.  My wife had told me that Serena’s normal morning exercise routine – summersault, kicks  and elbow gouges – was absent that day. We ate curry, I cooked it, I like cooking and spent hours making the curry, freshly ground spices and slow cooked.  After dinner Serena was still strangely quiet.  My heart felt assurances turned to some slight anxiety.   We decided to go to the hospital to have things checked.

We attended the royal London hospital this time, I had a friend who was a midwife there. However, it’s choice was just governed by location really and my friend was not working that day.  A kindly midwife lay my partner down on a bed, wheeled in a heart rate monitor machine.  It had chords leading to big suckers that fitted onto my partners big belly.  The midwife was young, short bobbed hair, slightly blonde ginger and freckled, jolly and very nice.

She connected the machine up and played with some of the buttons and dials on the machine, I held my wife’s hand and squeezed, looked at her and smiled for reassurances, telling myself and her that this was all fine.  We all just waited for the thud, thud ,thud of the heartbeat.   Hear it comes, I thought.  The mid-wife began to adjust the suckers, took them off, reapplied.  I squeezed my partners hand again, my partner said, “Simon, its all okay isn’t it?”  I nodded, “It will be fine”.  Inside I was beginning to panic. Seconds dragged out like minutes. The midwife began to move the suckers again, she looked more desperate. Her face began to redden, I will never forget the redness of her face and the flustered movements – she knew. Everything was now running in slow motion.

After seconds, maybe a minute, who knows, she said, “I’ll get another machine this one is not working.”  She hurried off.  We waited as she wheeled in another machine. I can’t recall if at this point she was joined by a colleague, but the atmosphere was changing.  She hooked up a fresh machine, and nothing.  They exchanged glances, I knew too, we knew.  A doctor appeared, a little Indian, maybe she had been there a while, I don’t know. Time just hung.  My partner was just calling out, “Simon, its  all right? Isn’t it, Simon, Simon…Simon”.   I felt helpless, I could do nothing.  They had drawn the curtain, around the bed, the doctor said that they needed to check fully but they could not find a heart beat and the baby was likely dead.

-x-

This has been something I have wanted to write for a while, it’s been over 10 years since this happened. Attending a funeral yesterday strengthened my resolve to finally write this. It brought back memories of that little coffin in an empty chapel, just me, my partner, her sister, a christian monk and a little plain wooden coffin.   I hope that writing it down and putting it out to the world gives another kind of closure, the pain is still there, I can still cry about this and that’s fine, it’s human. Getting over something does not mean that the painful memories turn to rainbows and sunshine, but it does mean that I accept and understand the nature of life and events, that I understand and feel a communion with humanity. I feel humbled by events, like a stone washed up in the sea that has lost its hardness, it’s all part of being alive.

Still birth is quite common – 3,600 deaths per year in the UK, one for every 200 pregnancy.  Its not something discussed or considered until is happened.  It’s an utter tragedy. Apart from the trauma of the death itself, there is the carrying of the dead baby for a few days while the labour is induced, then the giving birth of a dead baby that follows. In the UK we have the issue of organising both a birth and death certificate, then a funeral with a coffin that is painfully tiny.  What follows is a looking for answers,’ what did we do wrong?’

For anyone that has been through this or is going through this – you are not alone.  Be strong, its hard.  Time can heal this. We don’t know the full journey of our lives, we don’t know how things will be in future, so have hope as things can improve (Living free; shedding the good and bad labels).

For us, in true Hollywood style we got a happy ending.   Two years later we had Lara – our little lion as she was always so big and strong – and three years after that we had Jay – our peaceful zen master.  The tragedy was all part of our journey into parenthood.   Tragedy can happen.  I don’t for a second assume that the story of life is complete.  Life can change in a heartbeat, so I just try to savour the moments that I have, enjoy the company of those I love and give out love.  The truth is that everything passes and all things have an end. That’s the life we live.  I take from all of this a greater intensity within the transient moments of life (Freud’s requiem and the joy of transience) and my children have the absolute adoration and love of their father.

Everything flows and nothing stays.
Everything flows and nothing abides.
Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.
Everything flows; nothing remains.
All is flux, nothing is stationary.
All is flux, nothing stays still.
All flows, nothing stays.

Various versions of a quote from Heraclitus of Ephesus, 500 bc

Love and peace.

And this, for me, is forever Serena’s song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZANKFxrcKU

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  1. To be alive is dangerous. My son was three when he was struck by a viciously stupid driver and I spent 30 years keeping him alive as a totally paralyzed quadriplegic on a breathing machine. He was the ultimate joy in my life and he died twenty years ago. One must live with what one is given and have no regrets.

    • Thank-you for sharing that Jan. I would give you a big hug if you wanted and we were able. I don’t take anything for granted, life can change in a heartbeat, so I try to savour the moments.

  2. Gail

    Thank you for sharing. Powerful and beautiful.

  3. My heart goes out to you. ❤️
    Thank for your courage in sharing such a moving personal story of hope and loss. Love lasts forever.

    • Fingers are crossed for a calmer future, although experience indicates that’s unlikely for us all. Thank-you for the comment.

  4. I am so sorry for your loss. I am also so happy for your Hollywood ending. Parenting is not for wimps and no, the story is not finished. But, having already been through hell, you know the meaning of savoring the moments. Sending you love.

    • Thank-you. I agree, parenting is definitely not for wimps, it’s taught me so much though that I would not change it. peace and love to you too!

  5. So glad to hear your story. The love that you have for your first child is real, and I have no doubt that she felt you and loved you too. The shortness of her life does not make the adoration less – just shorter. It was a real pleasure reading this, Simon.

  6. What a brave and compassionate act, to share this story with us. Reading your words, I feel humbled and deeply moved. I hope that writing them has indeed given you some new peace — another kind of closure, as you say — to lay alongside your abiding grief.

  7. My niece and her husband had the same heartbreaking experience. Writing is an amazing healer of trauma. The memory will always be there and through sharing with others you’ll help others going through this loss. Your family will always include Serena.
    http://www.meinthemiddlewrites.com

    • Yes, I always know I have three kids. If asked, ‘you have children’, I always pause think of three, then just mention the living two, but in my heart and head, its always three. Glad to have shared this, thanks for the comment.

  8. They stay with us in other ways. Ways that I have found just as cherishable and beautiful as the children that grow up with us.

    • Yes, the experience shaped my being and the world that I touch, so Serena, bless her, had a big impact on this world.

  9. This was a courageous and very beautiful personal account of tragedy and loss. As a mother, all I can say is that I didn’t understand until I had my own child. Stories such as this one would be sad, but not nearly as heart-wrenching until I had my own.

    My daughter is 2 now and I can only say that I am grateful. A friend of mine’s son didn’t survive either and was a still birth. It was heart breaking. Anything can happen during birth and often it’s out of our hands which is the scariest part.

    I am deeply sorry for your loss and I am moved that you shared it. <3

    • Thank-you for the kind words. I think some of the pain too, is the thought from others that stillbirth is not a proper death, I mean the baby was not born. The pain however was just as intense and perhaps more incomprehensible. Love to you <3

  10. Thank you for sharing – this is beautifully written, albeit incredibly sad. No life at any stage is guaranteed, yet each at every stage is a treasure. That Serena is still with you in your heart warms my heart.

    • Thank-you, the comments are very warming. Definitely they connect us all, as does our shared experiences of grief, happiness and all the rest of the wild craziness of living. Peace and love

  11. I can not imagine the pain you and your partner experienced at the loss of your child. I am glad that you can write it down, perhaps as a way of moving to a different point in your love for that child, like climbing up one step and looking down from a distance. That space is always occupied isn’t it? The space for and love you still feel for Serena has a home in your soul. I know that is as it should be. Now that I have read your story, I have a place in my soul for her too. Be well.

    • Yes, it is always occupied. At some stage, I’ll tell any two children about their big sister, when they are older and receptive. But for me, yes, I have had three children.

  12. Dolby Dubrow

    Wow, thank you for sharing your story. The minute we are born we start to die off, but nothing prepares us for the humanness that jumps out at us unexpectantly. Things do change breath by breath. When my son was twelve he was diagnosed with Type1 diabetes; he is now thirty-four. So many things happen in a moments notice. Routine physical for the same child and found N1 tumors on his lungs and collar bone area. BIG surgery, significant risks. Not out of the woods. Nothing prepares you for the big change.. One minute we are planning our beautiful lives and the next plans are changed, not by us, but some other Divine design. We never get over things, we just learn to live with it. Talking about our changes and challenges is healing. It is a constant reminder of change, no-thing remains the same, no one lives in this human existence forever. I choose to believe we transform; into what??? Remains to be seen, if at all. Fingers crossed, heart open. I do believe….That is courage. OM Shanti Namaste, so much love. <3

    • Well said, what else can we do in life? we learn to cope with it.

      I love the fable, ‘this too shall pass’, I think I’ll post it actually 🙂

      I don’t think I am able to not feel the pain of change, loss, etc. but I understand and perhaps accept it more quickly now. Of course, I would rather not face a big test again, but who knows, savour those moments is probably the best preparation.

      Namaste!

  13. Simon, I was very sorry to hear of your loss…particularly after you and your wife bonded so much with Serena. I am grateful that your other children were born safely, but it doesn’t take away the loss of your first child, nor the wonderful anticipation of your first experience with expecting your child, and nor can anything really alleviate the shattering pain and tragedy of her loss. Time and distance make things less immediate, but don’t ever mute the entirety of the pain…just make it a little less unbearable to think of.

    I pray that you and your family will meet Serena again, in the better circumstances of the Kingdom of G-d that I am convinced await those who trust in Yeshua.

    • Thank-you for the kindly words. I smile at parents who have the fairly tale first child, no issues, all plain sailing. We had a different path, perhaps we needed it, who knows? My little girl perhaps made an ultimate sacrifice to teach us something.

  14. Ignatius

    Hi Simon. The words are so poignant that they moved me to tears. Serena’s life and passing on has a purpose. She has made you who you are. She has shifted something in each of us who have read your words and have been moved by it.
    Your wife and your children would not be the same if not for Serena’s brief interlude with your family. She has done her job and you are doing yours.
    Life’s purpose and meaning unfolds one petal at a time….
    Keep searching and keep finding …. God bless you and your family!

    • Thank-you. That’s the beauty of this human tapestry of experience, your words are so wise, my children perhaps have much to thank their big sister for, as do I.

  15. I believe your post will help others to heal from such a sad loss. Thankful that you two were able to find peace and joy again.

  16. Queenbee

    Was teary eyed while reading.. Thank you for sharing.. I admire your strength. May losing someone you love is really heart breaking.. May God continue to bless your family

    • Thank-you for commenting. Sharing our human experience is so nourishing, we are not alone in the trials of our lives, namaste!

  17. Thank you for sharing this. That’s all I can say as it brought up some painful memories of my own. Blessings to you, your wife, and all your children–Serena, Lara, and Jay. <3

  18. Fny

    Thank you for sharing. I barely know what to say, it breaks my heart. As one who hasn’t even managed to conceive (despite years of trying) I can’t even imagine the pain of losing a baby this way.

    Much love

    /Fny

    • I have a friend who following medical advice believed she could not have children and for many years she did not. However a few years ago she suddenly found she was pregnant and gave birth to a lovely baby girl. I am smiling as she actually called her Serena 🙂 So please, don’t give up, or perhaps give up and be surprised <3

  19. Thank you for sharing about this difficult topic.

  20. Hi Simon… I started just to comment, but your post moved me to where my response became a post itself… You can find it on my page if you so choose… Anyway, I know you and I feel for you. May His love and His peace be with you. Have a blessed Holy week and Triumphant Easter.

  21. Thank you for writing about this. I reverence that you were so involved and experienced this sad event fully. I understand pain and loss and have realized that even those experiences are treasures somehow. Without them we would be somehow less than we are. May God bless you.

  22. Eva O'Reilly

    I was so moved reading this.
    A few weeks ago we drove past the street where my surrogate big sister lived before she died and I mentioned her as I always do. My son said he “doesn’t like talking about dead people.” But, as I told him, talking about the ones we have loved and lost keeps them alive in our hearts forever.
    Serena lives now amongst all of us who have read this and felt your pain. I’m sure your children will embrace her memory as the big sister they never knew.

  23. I was very moved by your courageous and touching post and send best wishes to you and your family.

  24. This is so moving. Thank you for sharing. My God Almighty bless you and your family.

  25. ❤️ Thank you for bearing witness to a precious and loved life and the shock and pain that I’d guess must be so hard to even begin to put into words. I can see your blog has touched so many others too. ❤️

    • Thank-you for your kind words, the comments received here have been really warming. It was hard to write, some painful stirrings, even after 10 years, but I am glad its out there. I hope it helps others and like you said, has touched people in someway. Peace!

  26. hard to mourn, hard not to

  27. HI Simon,
    thank you for sharing your heart! And thank you for stopping by The Little Red Wagon blog and liking my post https://thelittleredwagonblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/16/saturday-silent-dark-cold
    I posted the sequel to it last night if you are interested:
    https://thelittleredwagonblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/sunday-wonder-light-joy

    Love, peace, grace to you!
    Marcy

  28. Lynda Stevens. Grandma Lou Lou

    Si she’ll always be in our our hearts . xx. So makes you think about the important things in life xx

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