I have written many words about losing my newborn son and my journey through grief, anxiety and post traumatic stress but I have never really written about my pregnancy and why we didn’t have any more children.
Nine years ago I was very heavily pregnant with my third child, wondering if I would make it to full term, wondering if he would make it at all. I had polyhydramnios – excess amniotic fluid – and it was like carrying a paddling pool full of water about with me. I also had a 3 year old to entertain all day and a 6 year old to get to school. Physically I was tired and uncomfortable, emotionally I was on a rollercoaster – distracted and hopeful one minute, distraught and desperate the next.
It was a planned pregnancy, a much wanted baby but almost as soon as I peed on a stick the anxiety started. I kept expecting to miscarry, I felt like something wasn’t right. But I didn’t miscarry and I got to see my baby at the 12 week scan. I tried to relax but something was still niggling at me. At the 20 week scan, baby’s stomach couldn’t be found. I went back again, still no stomach and after the third attempt I was transferred to the Fetal Medicine Unit, who couldn’t find it either. Oh and did we know the heart looked dodgy?
This was the beginning of the emotional and, at times, traumatic roller-coaster of doctors, scans, tests, hope and desperation. On my best days I was full of hope, I felt my baby kick and all I felt was love and a strong bond. On my worst days I cried and screamed, I wanted to know if he would be ok, I had had enough of doctors and I just wanted to run away – but I couldn’t run away from my bump, just leave it with my husband for a weekend so I could drink gin and get my shit together.
After one scan we were told baby’s heart looked ok, about a week later with a different consultant we were told they were wrong, there was a huge defect and it was life threatening. We already knew our baby would probably need surgery because of the stomach but the heart seemed too much. As my baby belly grew, I loved my baby, I felt connected and I spent time on my own when I could, just me and my bump – letting him kick and wriggle. In there I felt like he was safe.
Being pregnant with a baby who I knew could die was torture, even when we were being hopeful we knew he still faced weeks, maybe even months, in hospital so there was no preparing for bringing our baby home. There was no getting the clothes ready (we had a small selection in a bag but nothing was out), we didn’t put the bedside cot up, we didn’t have a Moses basket and we didn’t tell many people we were pregnant. And there was no planning our third homebirth – hospital was where we needed to be. There was no excitement, only worry and anxiety.
The almost weekly hospital appointments were draining, as my baby’s defects were discussed again and again and again. Late abortion was offered, we refused – for us it wasn’t an option, I wasn’t going to lose hope for our baby. I reached a point where I said no more to hospital appointments, they weren’t going to change anything and I needed a few weeks of a normal pregnancy. So for a few weeks I pretended everything was ok, I pottered about with my enormous bump, I went away for a weekend and we went camping (yes at 36 weeks pregnant – we lasted a night!) and then things got real.
We met our heart nurse, who showed us around the heart unit – it is the most surreal experience to think about where our baby could be, where I could live alongside him as he recovered from his surgery but to see the exhausted, worried parents with their babies and children was too much and I broke down in the corridor – all I could think about was would we make it this far and when would I see my other children.
And then it was time to see my consultant to talk about the birth – he said I could birth at home if I really wanted but we would need to come straight in with our baby. As wonderful as that sounds, and as passionate as I am about homebirth, I just couldn’t do it – my head was getting prepared for hospital. I would never forgive myself if I thought that any delay caused my baby’s death. Talking about his birth made it very real because I felt he was safe in me but we just didn’t know how poorly he would be when he was born.
After an easy birth it became clear that my son Jamie was very ill – had he been born in a different time, he probably would have died shortly after birth but brilliant medical interventions attempted to keep him alive for a short while – he had his first surgery when he was just 6 hours old and he had his second surgery when he was three days old but it was tougher than the doctors expected and he didn’t survive it.
I look back on my third pregnancy with love and positivity and I don’t regret it for a second, even though Jamie was not well enough to live. But I also remember the anxiety, the panic and the despair, of having no control and not being able to fix my baby. At times I felt utterly helpless and trapped and there were days when I would sob until I had nothing left.
In the months after Jamie’s death I was asked many times if I would have another baby but I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t think about the potential of months of emotion and worry, as well as the impact on my other young children who already had to make sense of so much. And I have my three children and none of them can be replaced.