The first night we were home after Emilie's death was like being a character in a film but not knowing what the director had in mind. It had a feeling of unbelievable surreality about it - almost like an out of body experience. I know that this is part of the stage of grief known as 'denial'. I felt like I was waiting to wake up from a dream and was in a state of disbelief - in that exhausted state between being awake and asleep and trying to grasp hold of the final remnants of a dream before it slipped away. I managed to eat a small amount before being sick. I have no memory of conversation or of what was on TV. We were both in a daze - trying to get our heads around the reality of a seemingly unrealistic situation. We were trapped in a mist that fully engulfed us and pressed down on our bodies with the sheer weight of developing grief. The one thing I decided to do as soon as we returned home as write. I started keeping a journal - something I hadn't done for a couple of years, and begun to painstakingly write down everything I was feeling. It is from these journal entries that my blog arose and this book was formed.
Eventually we knew that we needed to go to bed. Neither of us had slept for more than a couple of fitful minutes for 36 terrible hours. I don't think either of us really slept that night either. I cried myself into a state of exhaustion and drifted in and out of semi consciousness expecting the nightmare to be over each time I awoke. For weeks, on waking, the first thing I would do is put my hand down to touch my stomach hoping that it had all been a dream. I would feel a sense of crippling disappointment each time I would feel my baby bump had gone and all that was left was loose skin. Early in the morning, that first morning after Emilie's death, I was trapped somewhere between dream and fantasy and remember vividly fantasising about about receiving a call from one of the neonatal consultants who had cared for Sam in SCBU. I imagined that he told me there had been a mistake - that Emilie had been in a state of deep unconsciousness and that when they had come to take her away they had realised she was showing signs of life and had called SCBU. I imagined him telling me not to get my hopes up too much but that this was a good sign. Such dreams and fantasies were not rare for me at this time and I would cling to their fibres willing them into existence. I would go to sleep imagining that Emilie was in my arms and would try to convince myself that it was all a dream. I knew that I was in danger of being caught up and trapped in the fantasies.
We somehow managed to get up and get ourselves dressed. I sobbed in the shower and my eyes permanently stung. I had a constant feeling of dread and a real tightness in my chest that debilitated me. I was learning that heart ache was a real thing - a tangible pain that prevents you from functioning in the way that you are meant to. Sam woke up as his usual self - nothing is permanent when you are 2 1/2. He was chirpy and full of life. He had his breakfast as usual and walked around happily in the mist that engulfed John and I. Faye came to pick him up on her way home from dropping the boys at school. I opened the door to her worried about how I would feel seeing her heavily pregnant frame. Her compassion helped me to see past the obvious and I knew that she was also in pain for us. I remember her saying "I fell asleep thinking of you and I woke up thinking of you". She, as all of our friends, was keen to help us in whatever way she could. She took Sam to playgroup for us whilst John and I completed one of the hardest tasks of our lives.
After Sam had been picked up we went to a small local cafe to prepare ourselves for returning to the hospital. Our friends owned a cafe not far from where we lived and we were torn between going there for coffee and feeling the love and support of people who knew us well and remaining ominous in a cafe where people didn't know us. We decided to air on the side of caution and go to the cafe where we didn't know people. We didn't want to risk breaking down or becoming emotionally overwhelmed by grieving with our friends before going to hospital. We sat in the cafe and wondered what to talk about. I can't even remember the conversation - we mulled over our coffees as the constant pain I had begun to feel clutched at my chest. I knew that we were going to the hospital to register Emilie's birth and death but I had no idea what to expect. Before leaving for the hospital I had planned to go into the chemist for some maternity pads. Although painfully obvious now, it had never occurred to me that my body would respond in the same way whether my baby was alive or not. John suggested that he go in for me to avoid people jumping to the wrong conclusion. On his return, he explained that it was a 'good job' he had gone in in my place as the lady in the chemist was gushing and asked him how old his baby was. Such kind words become so cruel at times like this. He didn't tell her the painful truth. We learnt very early on in the experience that it is sometimes best to protect other people from our own pain.
The journey into the hospital was surreal. As we drove in, my GP called to offer condolences and sort out a time to come out and see us. I was beginning to feel overwhelmed at the number of things that needed to be done - I would still need post natal midwifery care, would need to see the health visitor and GP and needed to somehow plan a funeral for our daughter. During the journey it dawned on me that I would have to step foot in the hospital again - that I would have to go back to the place where not 24 hours earlier I had had to leave our daughter behind. Again the constricting panic continued to set in and as we walked through the door I felt like my chest was going to implode. Once inside, we let the reception desk know that we had arrived so that they could notify our support worker, Val. As we waited I was painfully reminded that not 3 weeks earlier I had notified the same receptionist of my arrival so that she could call down to consultant midwife for me with whom I was meeting to discuss the most appropriate birth plan. What a contrasting appointment this was.
We had met Val the day before, following Emilie's birth. She was kind and compassionate and a real voice of calm and reason in the chaos around us. As she approached us she greeted us with ‘this is going to be hard for you’. We were taken up to the registry office where we met our registrar – a very well meaning lady who unfortunately was not prepared for meeting a grieving couple. We filled in the necessary forms and I broke down at putting ‘full time mother’ in the occupation box. I had taken a bold step to take a career break to look after Samuel and Emilie-Rose. I think this is the first time it dawned on me that I was going to have alot of adjusting to do. After registering we came out of the registrar’s office and were greeted by a waiting room full of happy couples and their new babies. I could tell by the expressions on their faces that they were all too aware of our empty arms and teary faces. I knew that this was a happy occasion for them - registering their baby's births and I often look back wondering what effect seeing our situation must have had on them. I held my breath as I walked past them to prevent the sobs that I could feel rising. The few feet distance to the door seemed immense and I once again felt every eye on us as we stumbled through the waiting room and out into the corridor where once again I broke down.
We were then taken down to a special quiet room to see Emilie. Val had told us that she looked beautiful. She had been laid in a tiny crib in a special nursery room. The crib was decorated with lace and ruffles in the way that it would be if a family were bringing their baby home. They had made every effort to make the experience special and make us, and Emilie, feel valued. I have since found out the the crib contained a special mattress called a 'cold cot' which is placed in the crib and helps to keep babies body temperatures down so that parents can spend more time with them before they are sent to the mortuary. I have since wondered what must happen for parents in less fortunate countries - do they have to immediately give up their baby? Is stillbirth still such a taboo subject in other places? I am so grateful that, through Val's support and the support of the hospital staff, we were encouraged to acknowledge Emilie's death as the loss of a child and to grieve appropriately rather than it being shameful and something to avoid talking about.
I looked at Emilie lying in the crib wearing her princess gown. She looked so quiet and peaceful – my beautiful little angel. I leant down to touch her and was startled by how cold she was. This scared me and I nearly refused to hold her but Val encouraged me to do so. Once I’d got her I wondered how I was ever going to let her go again. My arms literally felt empty without her and holding her was the only thing that remotely filled that gap. I knew that she was just a body and not really my beautiful girl – I know that my real baby is in heaven and that one day I will get to meet her but clutching to her body was the only thing I could do to feel close to her. We spent a while with her before speaking to a bereavement counsellor and discussing funeral arrangements with Val. We also discussed how best to support Samuel and were given the contact details for a centre called 'The Alder Centre' at Alder Hey Children's Hospital who provide services to support families who have suffered bereavement. Over the next year or so the Alder Centre were a great support, particularly for John who attended counselling there and for Sam, for whom we were given great support in dealing with. Once the formalities and offers of support were dealt with we spent some more time with Emilie. We knew that we would have to leave her and that, although we were told we could come back as much as we wanted to, this would be the last time that we would see her. We placed her back into the crib and arranged the blankets carefully around her. Even though I knew that the elements had no hold on her, I still felt a maternal need to protect her and keep her warm. We then said teary goodbyes to Val and left the hospital with Emilie's death certificate to return back home.