Empty Arms.

When I read about other peoples experiences of baby loss, their stories seemed to end after they’d given birth and said goodbye. It almost felt as though that was the final chapter, the hardest part was now over and somehow you were just expected to head straight back into reality and carry on. However for me, and probably many others, this couldn’t have been further from the truth.

I found that I ran on complete adrenaline between being told Ivy wouldn’t survive, up until the point I was induced and gave birth. There was a timeline to follow, things I knew had to be done and so many people around you attempting to support you through the entire process. What you don’t realise however, is that once the birth part is over, you are pretty much just left to survive on your own. You go home to the quietness of an empty house, with nothing left to do.

Before leaving hospital, we’d told them that we did not want a funeral. Ivy was born at 28 weeks and was therefore entitled to her own private ceremony, just like the death of any other person. But, because this situation felt so unbelievably personal to us, only me and James would have attended and it’s probably no massive surprise that I’m not overly religious. I respect anyone who is and to be honest most of my family believe in something, yet although I was brought up to believe there was a God, it isn’t something that followed me into my adulthood.

There was one occasion when some absolute fuckwit messaged me on Facebook. I didn’t know this person. I always say everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but can you believe that some people join private support groups online just to seek you out and call you a murderer? I am unbelievably grateful that I do not live in certain parts of America, because speaking to fellow mothers over there and listening to what they have to deal with is beyond ridiculous. This person messaged me to ask me how I could ever face God and explain myself… I merely replied saying that if I ever came face to face with God, he’d have more explaining to do than me.

After losing Ivy, there was no way that me or James could sit together in a church whilst somebody attempted to make sense of why our baby had been taken away from us – so we didn’t try. I kindly asked the hospital to cremate Ivy after the post-mortem and then do whatever they felt appropriate with her ashes.

However, after I left the hospital and my hormonal brain almost started to think rationally again, it dawned on me that in no world did I ever want anyone else to decide where my daughters final resting place would be. I quickly made a phone call and asked that she be brought home. As I write this now, I’ll never forget the knock at the door when the funeral director, dressed in black, handed me the box containing her ashes. It’s been just over a year since losing her and she’s still at home with us now. We will eventually find that final resting place for her, but for now I take comfort in the fact that she isn’t too far away.

Now the worst thing about losing a baby, is losing a baby.
The second worst thing about losing a baby, is almost losing yourself.

Not only do you battle with the general aftermath of childbirth just like everyone else (you know, your body attempting to get back to normal, more blood that anyone should ever experience and hormones, hormones and more hormones) but I battled with the most difficult part – my own thought process.

I’d experienced pregnancy, labour and childbirth but my house didn’t contain the cries of a newborn baby… instead it was eerily quiet. I sat down on the couch in complete silence and somehow attempted to come to terms with the reality of what we’d just experienced over the last four weeks. It was the worlds most horrific comedown. I no longer had any adrenaline in my body and I had nothing left to sort. I’d walked out of those hospital doors and away from the people I’d been in constant contact with over the last few weeks. We felt completely alone.

My attitude towards life had always been the same no matter what I’d been through. People say that I’m pretty strong and take everything in my stride. After most things, I’d just pick myself back up and carry on, somehow attempting to be the rock for everyone else. After Dad died, I knew I needed to be there for my Mum and Sister, and then the same again when my Mum was diagnosed with cancer. Sometimes I was too busy worrying about everyone else that I never really sat down to think about how I was really feeling about it all. I’d always cared so much about the people around me and making sure they were okay, but after losing Ivy, that seemed to completely change and to be honest, I didn’t care very much about anyone or anything. I was far from strong and I almost became unrecognisable to myself.

After going through such devastation, it’s almost as if you suffer from a type of PTSD – that’s probably the best way to describe it. When I look back at my life, over the last few years I’d watched my Dad die, my Mum battle cancer, my house had been broken into whilst I was sat in it home alone, my Grandad had died whilst I was pregnant and now we’d lost our baby. I very much felt like bad things would just keep happening to me and there was no limit as to what could go wrong next. I felt cursed. I absolutely hated James getting in the car and travelling anywhere, because I’d worry that something would happen to him and he wouldn’t make it home. If my Mum didn’t message me back straight away, I’d panic that she was in trouble. I spent most nights lying awake with my hand on Stan’s belly feeling for his heartbeat because I had this awful feeling he’d just die. Writing this now, it almost feels completely crazy that I ever felt this way, but I spent every single minute of every single day asking myself what more shit could possibly go wrong?

It was probably the scariest time of my life, feeling that disconnected from myself. I deleted all social media because I didn’t know who that person was anymore. I closed that book, genuinely thinking I’d never be the same ever again. I’d been completely obsessed with my career and had spent years working so hard to get where I was, but I debated just quitting and never going back – what was the point anymore? I didn’t eat well, I didn’t go outside very much because I hated the idea of seeing another human-being and I drank bottle after bottle of red wine, because the only time I could escape the darkness I was living in, was when I felt drunk enough to momentarily forget about it.

I carried on like this for quite some time. I cancelled Christmas and didn’t decorate the house – how could I even begin to feel the joy of the festive period when our little girl should have been at home with us? I was completely lost within this very deep and dark depression and because I’d never experienced such a low point before, I had no idea how to get out.

For some reason people never seem to admit this part, but I absolutely hated pregnancy announcements, I hated seeing gender reveals and I hated seeing other women with their babies. I am absolutely not oblivious to the fact that I had no idea what struggles someone may have been through to get where they were now, so they were of course more than entitled to embrace their excitement… but I still hated them. I didn’t want to hate them, but I did. I remember going to a family meal and watching someone with their baby and it frustrated the life out of me, especially because they weren’t even really paying attention to her. I was so irritated that I went to the toilet, not to pee, but to silently scream and hit the wall. Ivy should have been there with us… it was so unfair.

The weeks passed by and I remember walking Stanley down the road and I just kept picturing myself walking into oncoming traffic. I almost felt tempted, but was pulled back due to the fact I knew Stan would have followed me. I imagined his confusion and sadness if I never came home one day and it reduced me to tears. I just felt so numb and emotionless that it scared me. I remember thinking ‘maybe I just shouldn’t be here anymore’ – I didn’t smile, I didn’t see a life after all this and I couldn’t even begin to picture a future for us now. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt genuinely happy and almost questioned whether I ever had.

Feeling like that, day after day, was absolutely exhausting. It wasn’t until one morning I woke up and realised that if I didn’t do something about the way I was feeling soon, I was unsure if I’d ever recover. I kept thinking about what my Dad would have said to me if he knew how I was feeling… I almost felt guilty because he was so unbelievably strong when he was dying. He was never scared, he never wallowed, he used all his strength to do whatever he could to make sure we survived after he’d gone – and I felt like I was insulting his legacy. I don’t actually think I’ve ever opened up to anyone to explain how low I was really feeling, and how dark some of those thoughts were, but I was almost embarrassed about it because it seemed so out of character for me. I was supposed to be the person who supported others and I didn’t want anyone to think I was weak.

When I look back now, I’m absolutely not ashamed of how I felt. I don’t think hiding how low I felt from you gains anything. I think it’s completely normal to hit rock bottom when you experience utter shit in your life. However the most important thing is that no matter how fucking shite you do feel, you just have to find that small bit of energy to somehow start pulling yourself back up – and I do believe now that it’s always possible.

Thankfully, I acknowledged the way I was feeling and I spoke to my GP about counselling and therapies. I’d been to one counselling session after my Dad died but I realised it didn’t really do very much for me and I didn’t need it. Yet this situation was completely different and I knew I had to try again. I didn’t want medicating. The option was there and offered to me, but I didn’t want to stick a plaster over what was going on in my brain and just numb it. I wanted to completely rip it apart, get right under the skin and attempt to heal it. I never wanted to feel this low ever again.

I know you might be wondering why I’m opening up so much and sharing this all with you, because let’s be honest these feelings are so utterly personal. I just realised that it really annoys me that we only ever share positive emotions. We don’t think twice about sharing happiness, joy or excitement… so why does it feel like we can’t openly talk about grief, sadness and depression? Why it is such a taboo subject that people feel awkward around and hide away from? I just want anyone reading this to know that feeling shit is a natural emotion and we should be able to talk about it, just like anything else.

My GP offered NHS support but said it might be short-lived because you find yourself sat on a waiting list and you only get so many sessions. I knew because of the way I’d been feeling that I needed it soon and I did not need a structured 6-week plan. I didn’t know what was coming next, I didn’t know the results of the post-mortem and I didn’t even know if I’d ever be able to have children again, so I knew if this type of support was going to work, I might need it for much longer.

I did a basic Google search for counsellors in my area. I filtered by subject experience and selected bereavement, baby loss, pregnancy loss, traumatic stress, fertility issues, depression and negative thoughts. I had to complete a consent form that said if I ever spoke about suicide or self-harm, I understood that the counsellor would escalate this to the necessary people. It’s a scary thought really, but this was the reality of it all.

When finding someone privately, yes you do have to pay for the sessions yourself, but at the end of the day if it works and you start to feel better, for me that would be completely priceless. I remember walking down the driveway to meet them for the first time, not really knowing what to expect. The door opened and I strangely recognised the person on the other side. It turns out that this person was somebody my Dad had seen previously too. I knew at this point that he had been watching over me and he’d sent me exactly who I needed, at exactly the time I needed them.

It took some time, but these sessions somehow managed to bring me back to life, help me cope and attempt to process everything I’d been through. And yes, I still see them every now and again, even a year on.

After losing a baby, I found that people reacted to me in different ways. You had people who would message you every single day to check in and even send you things in the post to remind you that they were thinking of you. You also had people who offered their support but put the ball in your court as to whether you wanted it or not. However, you also had people who couldn’t even look at you, wouldn’t speak to you, never acknowledged what you’d just been through and even somehow amazingly managed to make everything all about themselves instead. I completely understand that sometimes people just don’t know what to say, but I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to punch someone in the face because they were being an utter dick.

‘It’s okay, you’ll be a Mum one day’ – seriously, fuck off.

Anyway… thankfully after a while, normality did kick back in after I returned to some kind of routine. I didn’t hate people anymore and pregnancy announcements didn’t phase me. I went back to work which gave me a reason to get up in the morning and my confidence slowly picked back up. I remember receiving my first call where a manager was telling me that a member of the team had suffered a miscarriage and needed help. I cannot tell you how relieved I was that they didn’t hide this from me thinking I wouldn’t be able to handle it. It was the first time I was able to use my personal experiences to connect with someone else and attempt to offer them whatever support I could.

I felt stronger as time went on, but there were still occasions when someone would say or do something that would kick you right back down. I was sat in work when a woman from the office turned up with her brand-spanking new baby, which of course by this point didn’t overly bother me. I’d lost a baby but that didn’t mean nobody else was allowed to have one. Someone ran into my office to let me know so it didn’t catch me off guard. It was a lovely thought and I completely understood why they thought to tell me… but then they proceeded to ask me if I wanted to pack up my things and go home… in the middle of the day. Why would I want to go home and run away? I kindly declined the offer, said I was fine and hoped that would be enough to remove them from my office… yet instead of leaving it there, they asked me if I wanted to turn all the lights off so no one would think to come in because the office would look empty. Fantastic. I’ll just sit here in the fucking dark and continue to work shall I?

Ignoring eye-roll moments like that, time moved forward and I almost started to see small snippets of my old self come slowly back to life. They always say that time is a healer but no amount of time would ever take away the heartbreak of losing your child, but I do think that time gives you some breathing space so that with every day that passes, that raw pain hurts that little bit less. It’s taken me quite a while but I survived.

After losing Ivy, my life has completely changed and my outlook is very different to what it was before. The reality is that I’m not the same person I used to be, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I miss some aspects of the old me, but now I embrace a slightly chipped version instead. After all, if I hadn’t, thenorthernwife would never exist.

Now I wish I could tell you that this is the final chapter of the story and it was now time to start writing a whole new book… but unfortunately that is not the case.

From what I’d read and researched, there were lots of people who’d experienced a similar situation to us and for the majority who had opted for a post-mortem, they were told that unfortunately there was no real explanation as to why it happened. The refer to this type of thing as a ‘fluke’ – that something just happened when sperm met egg and it didn’t quite work out. I don’t think referring to your baby as a fluke ever makes it any easier, because you’d spend your whole life asking why did it happen to your baby and why were you that one in a million? But I think when you know there isn’t a specific reason why you lost your baby, there is that ridiculously small silver lining (if you can even call it that) that says if you ever choose to have another, the chance of the same thing happening again is pretty much zero.

But after an extremely long and agonising wait, the phone call I received was very different.

Ivy was never classed as a fluke.

In fact, I was told that there was a very high chance that the same thing that happened to Ivy, could happen again during any future pregnancy I may have. They told us that we could go through exactly the same thing if we ever wanted to try again for another baby.

And explaining that to you… is a whole other blog entry.

So I suppose at this point, all I can say is – to be continued.

Katt x

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