Last month marked 23 years since I gave stillbirth to a teeny-tiny little girl, my Rebekah Leanne. While she is always in my heart, each passing year gives an added poignancy to the grief I still feel. She would be an adult now. I can’t help but wonder what her life would be like. And I will never forget the pain of losing a longed-for child – not just once, but twice.
When Rebekah was born, I was just 18 years old and scared to death of becoming a first-time mum. My waters broke, and I went into premature labour – it was like being on a trip I couldn’t control. My body was rejecting my beautiful, perfectly healthy baby and I couldn’t do anything about it.
I was 21 weeks pregnant and had to go through a full and physical labour – only for it to end in silence. I never got to forget the pain amid the joy of hearing my beautiful girl’s first scream, or to watch her screw up her face as she came to terms with being in the world.
Nothing can prepare you for the feeling of loss
We held a blessing for her. I’m not religious, but I was terrified the events of that awful night would fade. That she’d be forgotten. That people wouldn’t remember she’d ever existed.
Nothing can prepare you for the feeling of loss – of a longed-for baby, of the plans you started making as soon as you found you were pregnant. Of the future you imagined for your child, for yourself, for your family.
So many people were affected – the almost-grandparents, almost-aunties and uncles, close friends. I felt a crushing grief that was all-consuming. Everything I’d bought – baby blankets, nursery items, cute trinkets – they’d been infused with so much happiness, but now they were just reminders of a tragedy. And they were everywhere, overwhelming me. How could I go on?
I was trapped in my grief and my thoughts, and I wanted to scream at the world.
Going out in public was an ordeal. I felt awkward and anxious, sure everyone who saw me knew what had happened. They didn’t, of course – and in some ways that was even worse. I was a mum, I had given birth – but I wasn’t pushing a pram or changing nappies. I was trapped in my grief and my thoughts, and I wanted to scream at the world.
The self-hatred started. It was all my fault. My body had failed. It had a simple job to do, one that women all over the world managed every day, but it got it wrong. I was a failure. I couldn’t manage the most natural thing in the world.
People would try and offer comfort. “You’re young, you can try again.” “It just wasn’t your time.” “Lots of women lose their first baby.” “I had a miscarriage too, I know how you feel.” Of course, they meant well. But I can honestly say none of their words offered any comfort at all. How could they?
Then, I found I was pregnant again. There was fresh hope, a promise of a brighter future, new beginnings. It wasn’t to be. My second child was also stillborn, also prematurely at 21 weeks. A boy, this time – Samuel James. He was exactly the same weight and length as Rebekah had been.
I should have been relieved to learn there was a reason for what had happened, but instead I was angry.
The doctors decided to investigate it, and I was diagnosed with an incompetent cervix. Essentially, my cervix was short – so as the baby grew, the neck opened. It’s a little like what happens with a balloon – as more air goes in, the neck gets shorter.
I should have been relieved to learn there was a reason for what had happened, but instead I was angry. Why hadn’t this been picked up? How had the doctors not known? I’d had to go through this ordeal not just once but twice. It wasn’t fair. WHY ME?
Eventually, I calmed down and started to listen to what I was being told. There were procedures that could be carried out during any subsequent pregnancy. They would give me and my baby a fighting chance. It wasn’t a hopeless situation.
I had two more nerve-wracking pregnancies, each with lots of bed-rest.
The McDonald cerclage procedure involves stitching the cervix closed, a little like a purse-string, at around the 12th-14th week of pregnancy. It has a reasonably high success rate – 80%-90%, success being classed as a pregnancy where labour and delivery are delayed to 37 weeks.
It worked for me, to a degree. I had two more nerve-wracking pregnancies, each with lots of bed-rest. And I successfully carried my son, Nathan, to 30 weeks and later my daughter, Amy, to 32 weeks. As they were both born early, there were still challenges. Nathan spent 12 weeks in the Special Care Baby Unit with various complications. Amy was there just four weeks – she came home on Christmas Eve, the best gift I could have had at that time.
Nathan and Amy are now 20 and 18 years old, both healthy and happy and the loves of my life. I’m delighted to say they’re not the slightest bit ‘normal’ – they are their own wonderfully weird and quirky selves.
They know all about their lost sister and brother. Rebekah Leanne and Samuel James – gone, but never forgotten, and both always in my heart.