9-15 October heralds baby loss awareness week.
I first met Lynsey and Rob in a professional capacity; they were looking for advice regarding the development of interventions for parents of stillborn babies. I failed at the first hurdle and have to admit that I spent the entire hour apologising for my tears. It's a brilliant and innovative project generating plenty of interest. Lynsey and Rob had a still born baby last year, Matilda. I want to share their story.
It wasn't until labour started that they realised that their baby had died, there wasn't a heartbeat. Lynsey explained that there were immediate feelings of shock and guilt. Thoughts that she should have known. She felt as though she could have done something? Lynsey openly admitted to experiencing confusing emotions. There were short lived feelings of relief, that she didn't have to work out how to look after a baby. Rob commented upon how his worries about the pavement outside of their house not being suitable for a pram were also put to rest. Together we recognised these as self protective, coping thoughts.
The labour was lengthy, the pain and medieval experience of the birthing process was so incredibly overwhelming that she was unable to do anything else but deal with giving birth. Rob's initial thoughts were to tell Lynsey that she hadn't done anything wrong. Rob felt terrified about Lynsey's wellbeing. He also began to wonder how on earth they would deal with this and tell people. During the labour they were left alone for long periods. They wanted the support and chat in the birthing room; they needed some normality.
They felt scared about seeing Matilda, they didn't know what to expect, and would they want to hold her? It was difficult and overwhelming. It was brutal and exhausting and Rob described to me how he sat quietly on his own eating some lunch while Lynsey slept. When Lynsey woke the midwives brought Matilda over, she was beautiful. They both explained how much relief they felt once they met her. If they could have changed anything they would have taken more time over the photos.
They suddenly found themselves in what seemed to be a hotel room, within the hospital. The room was comfortable and essential in terms of a space for where they needed to be. Getting home was so hard; they were faced with the nursery and pram. Rob found comfort in being able to actually 'do' something by returning it all to the shops. This was an extremely painful experience for Lynsey though. It was impossibly hard letting people know. "It's the telling people bit, they are expecting good news." Rob texted many of their friends as this felt easier and Lynsey phoned family, this was one of the hardest moments for them both. They chose music for the ceremony and kept it simple. Rob explained how difficult it was seeing Matilda's tiny coffin.
They gave me some key things to communicate to you;
One of the hardest parts is thinking about having another baby, there is so much pain attached to pregnancy. "What if we never do, maybe that's ok? Maybe this isn't part of our lives? We can still have lovely lives, it's not failure. We can be open to different directions, we can explore different things. Are we kidding ourselves?".
They agreed that being open with your partner is important, talk about it all regularly. They talked about wanting people around them, at work particularly, to acknowledge what had happened. They just wanted acknowledgement.
Rob mentioned how hard it was to experience how quickly people move on, for them six months was nothing when considering that they had been talking about Matilda for nine.
Public awareness was something that they felt was so important. The term stillbirth is so loaded and weighty as a phrase, could there be some different terminology? Rob explained that more children die from still birth than cot death, but popular awareness reflects opposite. Its so terribly sad and uncomfortable. They would like to see a cancer research run equivalent. The Royal College of Midwives are hesitant about educating on this subject though as it causes lots of anxiety. The problem then is tackling it all too late. The effects are social isolation in Rob and Lynsey's experience.
After we parted I had mixed feelings; huge amounts of sadness, and yet admiration for them as a couple but most of all an overwhelming sense of wanting to get their story out there to help other people. We can create gentle awareness. We can educate each other on how to help parents going through this. I am enthusiastic about the work that Rob and Lynsey are doing and believe that they will make a difference.