My first experience of Baby Loss Awareness Week almost passed me by. It arrived a little over three months after the loss of my son, Harris, and I remember seeing one of our beautiful Edinburgh buildings lit up in pink and blue one night, but I didn’t know why.
Just a few days later, and while going through a second pregnancy loss, I noticed photos of candles appearing on social media. One after another, people lit them up and shared them, each for a baby gone too soon, and then someone lit a candle for my family, for our baby boy. He was part of the wave of light.
It was then that the guilt hit me. I was so busy trying to hold onto another pregnancy, believing that I wouldn’t miscarry again, that I hadn’t created space for my son that night. I frantically searched through my cupboards and drawers for a candle so I could acknowledge that he’d been a part of my life, so I could remind others that he existed, all the while losing another baby.
It’s been three years since that week, and each day, each week and each month since then I’ve been working on being much kinder to myself in those moments, on erasing the shame that so often accompanies grief. It’s taken me a long time, until very recently, in fact, to arrive at a place of acceptance, and of trust that I can and will get through this period in our lives.
Every year, thousands of people in the UK are affected by the loss of a baby. And I’ve learned that Baby Loss Awareness Week isn’t just about the parents. We remember our babies every single day. But what’s powerful about weeks such as this is that they can help to educate those who haven’t experienced the sadness of miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, and give them the tools to support the many families who are suffering in silence. It’s also an opportunity for charities and organisations to raise vital funds to ensure that care, research and bereavement support continues to improve. And focusing on those aspects does ease the burden of recalling my own experiences. But my story is one I still feel compelled to keep sharing if only to let one person know that they’re not alone in this.
It was Wednesday 29th June 2016 and I was 16 weeks pregnant with my second child. Waiting for a private scan, I was filled with hope and fear. Hoping that I might give our 18-month-old her ‘big sister’ tee when we got home, but fearing the worst given some of the symptoms I was experiencing.
The sonographer asked if I had any gut feelings. “Boy or girl?” But my only gut feeling was that something was very, very wrong and I just needed to know that our baby was okay.
As I watched the screen it became apparent that our baby wasn’t okay. The little arms and legs we’d seen wriggling around just a few short weeks before seemed lifeless. I stared at the image for what felt like an eternity, at the still and delicate curve of my baby’s back, praying to something, someone, somewhere for a flicker of movement.
A hand covered mine, a kind gesture, and one that no longer needs the words “I’m sorry, I can’t find a heartbeat.”
I still find it hard to articulate how I felt at that moment. The shock and the grief and the fear were competing with each other for my attention. The shock that my body had failed. The grief that my baby had died. The fear that I’d have to give birth. I knew that nothing could bring us back from this.
I delivered our beautiful little boy, Harris, on Thursday 30th June 2016. His special day.
Secondary infertility & recurrent miscarriage
In the months that followed Harris’ birth, we were given no reason for his death. And I recall the pain of not knowing and of wondering what this meant for our future. But I never – not for a second – imagined that this experience would mark the start of one of the most difficult periods in our lives. One which would see us have two early miscarriages and two chemical pregnancies within two years.
Three years on, and I’ve had every recurrent miscarriage test imaginable, met with and been treated by clinics in London and Athens, and a referral to Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research resulted in the development of a treatment plan for pregnancy based on my private results. So our hope is that, despite having no concrete reason for our losses, we still might be able to bring another baby home someday.
We don’t know what the future holds, but what I am encouraged by is the determination of charities such as Tommy’s and the commitment of those in our local NHS fertility clinic and early pregnancy unit to see us through to a happier ending, or a conclusion that I can at least understand and be at peace with.
Mending my heart
This is my fourth baby loss awareness week. And this year, I’ve decided to take a softer, gentler approach by putting my own emotional needs first.
While awareness weeks such as this can give people the chance to air important views and share valuable stories, it can also be emotionally challenging. During this week, one which will also see us recognise World Mental Health Day, it’s important to be mindful of reading articles and blogs, watching videos and the news. There will be media campaigns, television programmes, remembrance services; each of them a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness and honour the little ones we couldn’t bring home. But it will also be a constant, daily reminder of our own experiences, which can be triggering.
My partner and I made the decision very early on, days after losing Harris in fact, that we would name him and talk about him. I didn’t know then that I would lose four further pregnancies and that’s brought a heaviness into our lives that I still can’t describe, but it hasn’t dampened my spirit for talking, for sharing and for keeping our son’s memory alive, even in the smallest of ways. He and the littlest ones we lost are and always will be a part of us. But I also have to find ways of moving forward. Not ‘moving on’, not forgetting, but I suppose shaping my life in a way that’s manageable, that doesn’t keep me in a place that’s hard to bear.
Over the coming days, in my own way, I’ll take the love I have for my little ones and channel it into making the topic of baby loss more widely understood. I’ve accepted that it’s okay to do as little or as much as I can in the form of awareness-raising, and I’m keen to carry this forward; to keep talking, to keep sharing, but to do this at a slower pace and bring some focus back to other areas of my life.
My gift to myself this week is to self-nurture; to go for long walks, to breathe in the fresh air, to journal as much as I’m able to and to truly feel my feelings, even some of the joy that my memories of Harris bring.
Joy is something I didn’t feel for a long time after losing Harris, but giving birth to him, seeing him and holding him gave me some real moments of happiness in between the sadness. And it’s remembering those moments that mends my heart.
You can follow and connect with Sarah on Instagram @sarahjrobertson.