It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and I was 35 weeks and three days pregnant with baby 2. The pregnancy had been pretty good apart from the raging indigestion and the head that seemed to have wedged itself under the right side of my ribs. I was being monitored closely due to the premature birth of my oldest at 9 weeks from sudden onset pre-eclampsia. With Katherine I had developed placental abrupta and things had been pretty dicey for a while for the two of us but a daily low dose of aspirin had got me to 34 weeks and then all I had to do was wait it out! So we were in the lounge getting my stepdaughters together to take them home when there was a sudden sharp twisting pain in my bump. All I can remember is grasping my husbands shoulder and squeezing – and as quickly as it came it went.
Having spent that afternoon and evening convinced I was having reduced foetal movements I decided that I would head to the hospital in the morning to get things checked out. Leaving Katherine with the childminder I headed off feeling fine, nothing wrong with me at all. The midwife lay the FHM on me – nothing. Got another FHM – still nothing, just the silent sound of my body. She looked panicked – I lay there in a pregnancy bubble of love and confidence and saw the cracks appear in my world. She disappeared and asked me to come with her to the ultrasound room – I seem to remember a stream of women being with me. Then there was a picture of a perfect baby with a little black hole in the chest, not a blinking kidney bean of a heart but a space where one should have been beating then the words ‘I’m sorry – your baby is dead.’ My bubble burst and the strongest feeling of loss and love and sadness and pain and disappointment took its place.
I was taken to a private waiting room and then to a room on the maternity ward. Waiting for Chris to arrive, I had bloods drawn the usual health care checks. I asked but they could not take her organs for transplant. Then he arrived and I remember sobbing and screaming that I was sorry. Sorry that my body had failed our baby, had let us down, that I was the one responsible for our childs wellbeing and I hadn’t managed it, I had failed completely to do the one thing I had to do.
Chris wanted me to have a c-section so I could have the baby removed from me as quickly as possible. The midwife very gently explained that if I gave birth naturally I could go home as soon as I was ready so that’s what happened. I was induced and given an epidural as per my request as I did not want to feel the birth. It wasn’t the pain I didn’t want but I wanted to save labour for a baby I knew would be alive. So began the waiting and waiting. And a bit more waiting. Looking back I dilated a text book 1cm an hour but it seemed like forever. That was the day that bonded Chris and I, of all the days that we have been together that is the one we talk about that defines who we are to each other – in the midst of the greatest pain parents can go through we laughed and loved. We played the Groups Of game – what would you call a group of midwives? A Scarcity! What would you call a group of marketing managers? A Portfolio! We named our cats that we didn’t have yet – Doug, Dinsdale and Spiny Norman (and have still never been allowed to use those names by our children!)
The Chaplin came in and sat with us and prayed. Neither one of us is a church goer but there is something about the solidity and formality of religion that comforted us on that day. We were asked if we wanted to keep the baby with us over night and if we wanted to have a blessing with them the next day. I declined the over night – I just couldn’t have my child in the room with me as I would be waiting for movement, for squeaks that a newborn makes and I also did not want to fall involve with it anymore than I was but a blessing the next day gave the pregnancy a focus, a meaning and an ending.
Then it was time – I was nearly dilated and moved into a labour room. My mum arrived, having travelled 600 miles to get to me and my best friend came having driven into the centre of London to collect her. Months after Liz said she couldn’t believe how together I was but the emotional pain was so great, so all consuming that if I let it out then I would have lost my mind. I had to be ‘together,’ I had to be normal because the alternative was just unthinkable – if I sunk to the bottom of the yawning pit of grief within me I was not sure I could climb out from.
I was asked when I trained to be a doula if a stillbirth could be a good birth? My initial answer was no as there is no joy at the end of the process but looking back the midwife who looked after us made sure that it was a good as it could be. The lights were dimmed. The room quiet apart from her instructions, there was focus but also no additional stress. I couldn’t tell you how long I pushed for but our girl Georgia Rose made her way into the world at around 1am. She looked so like her big sister we couldn’t look at her but the act of giving birth did not give her life, it did not restart the heart that had failed. The spasm which I felt on the Sunday afternoon was her death throes.
The next day we saw her. Dressed with a hat she was perfect. Chris’s lips. My curly hair. My dad’s long fingers. We held her and loved her and rejoiced at her perfection, at the miracle we had created. She was blessed, cherished and in the short time we had we showed as much love as we could.
There were areas of dead tissue on my placenta which caused an infarction which was the cause of death. I was at higher risk due to my previous abruption and also according to a recent study I read because I laid on my back to try and relieve the constant heartburn (another layer of guilt to add on).
The hospital arranged the burial. They had graves for stillborn and neo natal deaths – six babies in a row in one adults grave. Chris and I were the only mourners to watch her rose printed coffin be lowered into the ground. He cried and I held him up, too broken to cry myself.
That was that. The months after were hard. I ended up not working for nearly a year. I can’t tell you how easy I would have found it to curl up and be alone but I didn’t. I had a fifteen month old daughter who I had to be mum for – she had lost a sister and she couldn’t lose me too. I cried, wailed and then got up and parented. I panicked every time I met someone as I didn’t want them to see me differently but I also wanted them to know I wasn’t the same. I had friends that I did not hear from for months. I had so many people tell me their horror stories (including my obstetrician) because hearing about their pain makes yours seem so small and insignificant and ‘aren’t you lucky that ‘this,’ never happened to you!’ I had one man tell me that I shouldn’t be grieving a baby as his daughter had died at the age of 32 and that’s ‘a whole lifetime of love which is much more then you’ve had.’ Chris was not recommended for a promotion by a colleague as he took time off to grieve which showed ‘he doesn’t have the right priorities!’ But I also had friends do amazing things – I will never know if they organised a rota but four university friends would take turns to call me and chat, nothing else just chat. Chris’s ex-wife, my work mate Kelly, our friends Lisa and John, Liz and Nigel all just let us come to them and talk and be whenever we needed it. Their kindness meant more to us than they will ever know.
Now? 19 years have passed and we don’t talk about her often. For me it’s got harder as she’s got older. Her big sister Katherine is at university and Daisy born nearly two years after Georgia is planning to go next year. My girls are getting ready to take on the world and experience so many new things and she won’t. What would she have been like? She was a spiky punchy pregnancy – the only one to knock something off my belly so would that have been a reflection on her personality? Who knows? For me, there’s no point in engaging in what ifs? If she had survived then I probably wouldn’t have had Daisy and my youngest Ruby. Her death made us stronger. It wasn’t an end – it was just a different turn in the road.
Georgia Rose White 27th September 2000
A version of this blog appears in The Badass Workers Magazine