Saturday, 8 March 2014

Her First Christmas

Christmas 2011

As Christmas continued to approach, the pain of the season intensified.  Our Church has a children's procession every christmas service and, although I knew there was no way I could take part in the procession that year, John bravely walked round with Sam whilst I stood and sobbed.  I watched the children process around and watched the new babies of that year being walked around proudly in the arms of their parents.  My arms were empty.  I had so looked forward to this procession.  I had pictured myself carrying Emilie around in a Christmas outfit whilst people smiled and admired her.  My arms had never felt so empty as they did in that moment and I didn't know what to do with them.  They seemed to hang limp and redundant at my side.  My friend, Elli, stood by my side with her arm around me while I cried.  I did not need to explain what was wrong, nor did I need to justify myself.  This simple act meant more than she will ever know.

I had Christmas in the back of my mind as a time of miracles. I had prayed and prayed that I would be pregnant by Christmas; that I wouldn't have to go through another Christmas Day without the knowledge that 'this time next year' we would be a family of 4.  Christmas Day arrived and the first thing I did on waking up was take a pregnancy test.  I have no idea what compelled me to do it.  I had spent weeks begging God to allow me to be pregnant by Christmas.  I had presented Him with my demands and had waited for him to pull through for me.  I wasn't willing to listen to thoughts that I might not be ready or that is might not be time and instead I convinced myself that this was the plan.  The test was negative, of course.  I put it in the bin in the bathroom, took a deep breath and tried to put it to the back of my mind. 

The recent events hadn't dampened Sam's excitement of Christmas Day and we shared in his joy as he rooted through his stocking and unwrapped his presents.  He was filled with ecstasy at receiving what he had asked for and I tried hard not to envy my (not even three year old) son.   We shared breakfast together before returning to exchanging presents. A text message came through from Elli inviting us for a walk in the park.  Again I felt intensely loved and cared for.  Sam had got a new bike and wanted to ride it round the estate.  The park would have been too much for him so we gave our apologies - and with that agreement to spend the morning alone as a family we knew that we would be ok.  

We arrived at James and Katie's house early afternoon and were absorbed at once into the excitement. Sam was delighted to see his little friends and we were incredibly grateful for the company of James, Katie, John and Kirsten and James and John's mum, Joan. We chatted together and, with the shared knowledge of the way we were feeling, there was no need to mention our grief.  We knew that it was being acknowledged every moment in the invitation to spend Christmas Day with them.  We felt we were given the permission to not put on brave faces and just to take the day as it came and because of this, and because of the shared company of friends, we had a wonderful day.  Because of the kindness of friends reaching out to us at our darkest time and not worrying about how broken we might seem on the day itself or being noticeably uncomfortable towards our grief, we had one of the best Christmases I can remember. We laughed and cried together, shared food, gifts and fellowship and loved each other.  Instead of looking back and remembering our first Christmas without Emilie as a time of pain, we are able to look back and remember the joy; the children sharing (or being encouraged to share) their new toys, videos taken immortalising for ever excited children bouncing with full tummies on the trampoline, eating wonderful food and enjoying each other's company. We returned home that evening not with the heavy hearts we had expected to have but with smiles on our faces having enjoyed a truly special day.

New Years Eve arrived a week later and, with it, the chance to wave goodbye to 2011. This brought with it mixed feelings - it was the end of Emilie's year, the time to wave goodbye to her and start afresh with a new year, new challenges and with new memories to be made.  I felt resentful, however, at seeing out yet another year without the promise of a baby.  New year two years previous was when we had begun to consider the possibility of having another baby and weighing up the risks.  I felt like we had gained nothing in the time that had passed since Sam's first birthday.  I desperately wanted something to look forward to; a bit of hope to cling on to.  Again, on waking, I decided to take a pregnancy test as I still hadn't had my period.  Although this was not unusual for me it was disconcerting and I was experiencing a number of symptoms that I needed to justify or rule out in my own mind.  I placed the test on the side in he the bathroom and jumped in the shower.  On getting out of the shower, I squinted through my contact lens-less blurred vision to see writing in the test screen that I couldn't quite make out.  I reached for my glasses before looking again.

The test was positive.

Filled with elation and fear we set about texting our closest friends to let them know our news and to ask them to pray for us.   I would be due in early September and, knowing that the baby would be early, I was incredibly excited to know that I would have a baby that would be in the same year in school as Jasper. As Emilie should have been. As the initial shock wore off, however, I struggled to be joyful. I struggled to find that place of peace and instead could only feel the trepidation of facing another high risk pregnancy.  I wanted to go to sleep for 9 months and wake up with a baby in my arms.

As soon as the holidays were over I called the hospital and made an appointment to go in and see my consultant.  Before this could happen we had to have our 'booking in' appointment and once again I found myself sitting in a room full of pregnant women - some looking decidedly fed up - and glancing round at them struggling not to feel envious.  On giving in my name, my notes had been obtained by the receptionist and my details were being checked.  On the front of my notes was a SANDS (stillbirth and neonatal death society) sticker with the writing 'Emilie-Rose 26/9/11' written on it to make staff aware of our story.  As the sticker caught my eye, my mind went blank and the familiar sense of panic arose in my chest.  I struggled to recall my details to confirm my GP, phone number and address to the receptionist and felt a wave of dizziness flow over me.  I mumbled through my details trying to hold back the tears before we walked down to the antenatal waiting room.  

The midwife we saw was very supportive.  She explained that it would be a very high risk pregnancy - which we already knew - and gave my the opportunity to choose my own midwife to do my care.  I requested the same midwife who had did my postnatal care after both Sam and Emilie and breathed a sigh of relief when I heard her agree, over the phone, to do my care.  We went through my whole history which was tiring and emotional and I was given me new folder of antenatal notes, again with a SANDs sticker affixed to it, to bring home.  Placed inside the notes was information about breast feeding, about delivery options and a leaflet about the dangers of smoking in pregnancy.  Breast feeding was the least of my worries at the time and I wondered what possible options I might have regarding delivery given my history.  Smoking was something that I definitely wouldn't risk.  The leaflets felt like they belonged in someone else's notes yet I tucked them inside my folder and smiled at the midwife.  The notes themselves, however, felt like my enemy.  I longed for them to say something normal - to hint that I might have an uneventful pregnancy - but the information and medical history inside them seemed to jeer at me.  For months after this I hated the look of antenatal notes in pregnant friends' houses and envied the normality the I assumed must be inside them.

In the lead up to the booking appointment I had had a difficult couple of days trying to stay positive. I knew that I had let fear take over and desperately didn't want to live that way. The morning of the appointment my pregnancy calendar had informed me that in a couple of days 'the nose, mouth and ears that you'll spend so much time kissing in eight months time are beginning to take shape'. I found that I could barely read it and wanted to throw my phone, that held the information, across the kitchen table.  I wanted to know that I would hold and kiss my live baby when they were born but I felt almost too scared to let myself believe it.  So, on returning home from the appointment I decided that to try and boost my positive thinking I would begin to crochet a blanket for the baby. I had made one for both Sam and Emilie but in the chaos and terror, Emilie never got to be wrapped in hers. It took me hours to make and is folded neatly in her memory box. I made a decision when we were trying for this new baby that I didn't want to make or buy anything for them, just incase. But as the desire for another baby increased, so did the need to provide for them. And so I began to painstakingly crochet a rainbow coloured stripy blanket. I focussed intently on the baby as I was making it and that helped to make them more real to me.  I would spend each evening after putting Sam to bed standing by the cot in Emilie's room - in what would be the baby's room - and praying fervently that I would bring this baby home.  That in 9 months time a little baby would be lying in that cot depending on me to meet its every need.  Around this time some friends had prayed for us. They spoke to us about trusting God. One of them said she felt that at that moment our pregnancy was likened to a misty morning where everything was quite dark and gloomy but by the end of the pregnancy the sun would have broken through to reveal a glorious day-that we would have our baby to bring home at the end of the pregnancy - but still I found it so hard to trust.

As the days went by I began to find the emotional aspects of being pregnant harder than I had imagined I would.  I constantly had people asking me if I 'still felt sick' and what other symptoms I was having and the more they asked, the more I panicked that I wasn't feeling the right things.  I had no idea what 'normal' was where pregnancy was concerned, my brain began to play tricks on me regarding my symptoms and I began to become obsessive over how sick or how tired I was feeling.  I kept willing myself to feel worse so that I would conclusively know that I was pregnant.  I also obsessed about bleeding.  Each time I went to the toilet I would expect to see a drop of blood - a tell tale sign that a miscarriage was happening and I began to read about the likelihood of miscarriages happening without bleeding and/or cramping occurring.  I felt like I was trying to protect myself by anticipating loss before it happened so that it wouldn't come as such a shock.  I was terrified in every aspect of the word.  

Around the time that I was about 5 weeks pregnant, Sam's 3rd birthday party arrived and I threw myself fully into party celebrations.  His excitement was infectious and John and I enjoyed having something positive to focus on. I spent the week leading up to his party making hundreds of tiny bananas for his birthday cake as he specifically asked for a 'monkey lying in bananas' cake!  Everything that took place that week revolved around Sam's birthday as we tried to turn a potentially painful situation - our son getting older without a sibling - into something to celebrate and the party preparations became a huge distraction for me.  It also became a metaphor for how I was feeling at the time and for how hard I was trying to trust God and I wrote the following on my blog:

15th January 2012
I have been working out how much food I need to prepare, how many people will be vegetarian, ensuring there's no stray nuts flying around to cause allergic reactions and whether I should do fresh fruit or not. That's before I even factor in blowing up balloons and thinking about party bags! Sam has asked, rather unassumingly, for the cake. It is the only request he has made for his whole party and there has been no doubt in his mind that I will deliver. He hasn't felt the need to keep reminding me about it or to check with me whether I will still do it, or whether I've changed my mind. Every so often he'll ask me all about his cake and want to know how I am getting on with making it but he trusts me completely to give him what I've asked for. 
I know this is the sort of trust I should have for my baby growing as it should and being born alive. I was reading this this morning and it really rang home with me: 'it is as though God has asked you to copilot this most important flight. He is holding the controls, but you're asked to come alongside on this journey, doing what he asks & responding to his requests. To be an efficient copilot you must trust your pilot implicitly and remain in constant communication. Trust God, your pilot, with ultimate control of your pregnancy journey.'  I know, that in the same way Sam can't painstakingly make tiny sugar paste bananas, or prepare sandwiches & pizza for his party, there is nothing I can do to form this baby. I can accept all of the medical advice I am given, eat well, rest as much as possible and ensure that I'm caring for myself. I can present my requests to God and let him know how scared I'm feeling but I can't form this baby-that is His job and I need to trust Him to deliver. 
Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)
6Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.[] 7Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Still the obsessions continued, however, and I felt the need to raise this point with my counsellor.  I knew that I was feeling nauseous but if this stopped for even a moment I would fear that the baby had died.  This affected me to the point that I didn't want to eat much in the hope that eating smaller amounts or not snacking throughout the day might help to make me feel more sick and therefore make the pregnancy seem more real.  In some sort of method of self preservation my mind was refusing to acknowledge the nausea and instead I only noticed the lower abdominal  cramping I was experiencing, fearing the worst, even though I knew that that was normal in early pregnancy. My counsellor explained to me that my brain consists of a sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. When you experience trauma, the sympathetic nervous system comes into force activating fight and flight response. Everything is overactive, stress levels are raised and it is much more difficult to normalise things. That was where I was emotionally at the time and I needed my parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation, to be more active. Carol discussed some breathing and relaxation techniques with me and I really hoped that these eased the sense of panic and dread that I felt. I knew that I needed to put aside some time each day to practise these techniques and relax but every time I did the fears and anxieties would kick back in.

At 6 weeks - going by my own dates and estimations, we met with our consultant.  Although surprised at how quickly we had got pregnant this time, she was great and told us how pleased she was for us. She explained that I would need a scan scan to confirm viability before I could start the fragmin injections which would help to prevent the blood clots I had suffered with both Sam and Emilie.  She also explained that at my current gestation it may be too early to detect anything giving me the option to have the scan that day or to wait another week and come back.  I was terrified but decided that having the scan that day would at least give a chance of reassuring me.  I hated the thought of returning home and not knowing.  Of spending the next couple of weeks in pain and anxious with my mind constantly playing tricks on me.   My consultant first did a transabdominal ultra sound & could detect the gestation sac & yolk sac but no heart beat so tried doing an internal scan. I lay on the bed, shaking.  I had such trust in my consultant but everything about this experience resurfaced feelings from the day Emilie had died. And she knew it.  I watched her face again and tried to read between the lines that resonated once again in the silence. I tried to will a live fetus into existence and told myself over and over that if no heart beat was found it was probably too early. I waited.

Still no heart beat.

I tried to remain calm as memories of the scan confirming Emilie's death flooded over me. Knowing me well and knowing my history, my consultant reassured me telling me that there was definitely a pregnancy there, that I wasn't imagining it but that it was probably too early and the baby too tiny to detect a heart beat. Inspite of how much I trusted her, I couldn't help but feel heartbroken again.  I was desperate to see a heart beat; to see the tiny flicker that confirment by baby was alive.  I was desperate to take home a scan picture to place up on the fridge and remind me each time I looked at it that in a few months time I would have my baby to hold.  But instead the scan reaffirmed the fears I had been feeling.  I worried that the baby had stopped growing a few days earlier and that's why it was too tiny. I couldn't help but feel terrified, dreading the worst and anticipating losing another baby. 

The advice we were given was to return home, try to rest and to go back two weeks later for another scan.  I tried so hard to keep calm and focus on the positive; there was a gestation sac and yolk sac.  There was a little home growing for my baby.  I spoke to a radiographer friend who confirmed that the findings of the scan would be what he would have expected for that gestation.  He tried his best to reassure me and I tried my best to cling to the positives.  But with every day that passed I felt like my dream of having a healthy baby was moving further away.

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