And weathering the storm.
I’ve sat down to write this after a particularly tricky few hours trying to settle our nearly 6-week old daughter – it’s probably that famous growth spurt people talk about. My back aches, I’m hungry, I’ve got leaky boobs and I’d probably do anything for a solid 7 hours sleep tonight. But just those four words ‘6-week old daughter’ are ones I thought I might not ever get to say when I wrote last year about losing our first daughter, Florence, who was stillborn at 37 weeks back in 2015.
Getting pregnant again wasn’t luck – or a miracle – it was in fact a bit of a self-inflicted military operation involving apps, supplements, a break away and some probably quite unsexy demands on my husband over a number of months. And so began what felt like the longest and scariest pregnancy of my life. Without wishing to make sweeping generalisations, I think once you’re past 20 weeks, most women expect that they’re eventually going to meet their baby. It doesn’t – and shouldn’t – enter their head that it might be anything but a full gone conclusion. I don’t mean to sound all worthy and melodramatic when I say that our loss robbed so much of that joy and excitement from my pregnancy. It really did. I had initially planned to keep it a relative secret by not announcing it on social media and instead quietly mentioning it to people in person but I relented shortly after our 12 week scan, instead posting with great trepidation. People who knew us well totally got it; our announcement was a glimmer of hope but nobody – not even our consultant obstetrician – could promise us a baby at the end of it all. Not everyone could see that and I found myself having to check my reactions to people’s excitement for us. I shouldn’t be angry that they didn’t really understand what was at stake.
We’ve all seen the headlines about how the heart is slowly being ripped out of our NHS by a lack of funding and resources so I am cautious about levelling any criticism about my experience – but it’s meant altogether in a constructive way. The greatest issue I encountered was with communication. My maternity notes carried a SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity) sticker on the front to indicate a previous loss – it’s not very big but it features the logo and a space for the name of your child and the date. Despite this sticker, and my comprehensive medical notes, I had multiple awkward and sometimes painful encounters with medical professionals where I had to explain again and again that we had lost our last child. Additional appointments and scans as scheduled by our consultant were met with confusion; “oh so it’s just for reassurance, then?” … there was no ‘just’ in my mind whatsoever; the appointments were unapologetically a lifeline for my sanity. I couldn’t cope with going more than a fortnight without seeing someone to check that our baby was still there.
Our midwife however was fantastic; she set the tone at our very first booking in appointment by making us a cup of tea (decaf for now uber-cautious me) and furnishing us with decent biscuits. She often spent over an hour with me not just doing the usual maternity checks, but also chatting through my worries and helping me create a mental strategy for how I’d reach the next milestone. She’d also make phone calls on my behalf, chasing test results, sending me to my GP or sorting out logistics, all of which I’m sure took her away from her heavy usual case load of mums out in the community.
And our chosen consultant – the lady who had delivered Florence – was acutely aware of what we needed too. It was decided very early on that if this baby made it, that she would be delivered at 36 weeks – a week earlier than the crucial number of weeks when we suffered our loss. A premature delivery is of course a double-edged sword; were we being selfish by electing to bring it forward? One of my biggest fears was that our decision could put our child at risk.
After what felt like an absolute lifetime, I was admitted to the maternity ward three days ahead of my scheduled c-section for monitoring and steroids to prepare our baby’s lungs. I just felt that I wanted to be in the right place if anything should happen and those days resting also allowed me to focus on our baby’s movements and manage my anxiety about it all.
Heading down to delivery suite in those final moments before the operation were surreal – we knew that our baby was ok at that precise moment, but what if she was blue and lifeless when they lifted her out? Well, we needn’t have worried – our daughter Eiblín Florence came into the world bright pink and screaming on 18th January, delivered by exactly the same midwife and consultant as our first daughter, weighing a positively dinky but healthy 5lbs 15oz.
Sitting back on the ward gazing at our sleepy little rainbow baby, I remarked to our consultant that her involvement this time meant the world because it felt as if the circle was now complete and she agreed – I think it meant a lot to her too helping us not to forget our previous experience, but instead to gain a sense of healing. And almost as remarkable was the fact that she’d cycled from Cheltenham to Gloucester especially to carry out the operation for us – now that’s dedication!
Eiblín (pronounced ‘Evelyn’) means ‘longed for child’ and she couldn’t be more so. Admittedly, my 8-year-old son, Haydn, is still getting used to the new, slower speed at which we get things done for him, but he’s thrilled with his little sister. Meanwhile our dog is a nervous and overprotective Scooby Doo sound-alike when anyone approaches the cot. And although she isn’t here, Florence is always present; we have her picture on the mantelpiece and we’ll make sure to tell Eiblín all about her big sister when she’s old enough to understand. But she’s far from a sticking plaster or a replacement; she’s very much her own person. I am forever grateful – and I will always be a mother of three.
Photos: Suzi Lawrence Photography
A Guest Blog from Rachael Duggan
Rachael is a 37 year old married mum of three to Haydn, who’s nearly 8, Florence, who was stillborn almost full term in August 2015 and now baby Eiblín Florence, just six weeks old . She and her husband live in a small town in the Cotswolds.
In March, our Charity of the Month is Footsteps Counselling & Care, which provides counselling support for anyone in the Gloucestershire area affected by pregnancy related issues, including the loss of a baby for any reason and at any time, as well as those struggling with fertility issues.
We’re supporting this charity as they are a small, independent organisation which relies solely on donations – both financial and of items to sell in their shop – to fund their counselling services to bereaved parents such as Rachael.
To donate to this fantastic cause please visit their fundraising page: http://www.footstepscandc.org.uk/support.htm