The days that followed are, looking back, a blurry haze of being carried through by those around us. The sense of panic that had formed in my chest wasn't showing any signs of leaving and was getting progressively worse. I had suffered from panic attacks in the past so the feeling was not unfamiliar but the intensity of it was like nothing I had ever experienced. Normal, everyday tasks could suddenly trigger a memory or flashback and I would spiral into a feeling of tight chested-ness and feelings of being short of breath. I spent hours downloading the 30 or so photos we have of Emilie onto the laptop and ordering them in various forms - key rings, black and white and sepia prints, a photo book, canvas collage and passport sized photos. I was desperate to keep her memory alive and the ordering of multiple photographs helped me to do that at that time.
Throughout the days, friends and church leaders came and went. People continued to bring meals for us and help with the care of Samuel. I was assigned a wonderful midwife - Angela - and a fantastic GP - both of whom I learnt to trust quickly. They showed me immense care and support and helped me to appreciate the magnitude of what had happened rather than to 'shove it under the carpet' or to try and be brave and move on. My blood pressure remained very high and I needed to be monitored very closely for a few weeks. This meant home visits from my GP and midwife every couple of days and this is something I found to be an amazing support. I soon realised that talking about what had happened would help to momentarily relieve the sense of panic I was feeling. The only way I can think of to describe it is to imagine a bottle filled with fizzy drink. When the bottle is shaken and the lid is loosened the liquid escapes very quickly and with great pressure although after that initial 'escape and release' the liquid is more calm - until the next time it is shaken up and the pressure is increased. I found the hours in between visits very difficult as the pressure began to increase and John and I were left with our own massive grief. When people came to see us and we were able to talk about how we were feeling that pressure would be briefly released and thankfully both my midwife and GP were willing to sit and listen to the way that I was feeling without showing any annoyance of discomfort. For the first few weeks after Emilie's death I was unable to sleep. I would lie in bed haunted by flashbacks of the days around her death. I would see the look on the midwife's face as she was unable to locate a heart beat, my consultant's furrowed brow as she gave us the news, Emilie's tiny and motionless body and the faces of those around us as we left the hospital. I was physically and emotionally exhausted but couldn't get any relief from sleep. At about day 4 my GP decided to give me some sleeping tablets to help me get some rest. Although they provided some physical relief they did not stop the flashbacks and dreams. I was, however, very pleased to get some rest.
Two of our frequent visitors were Jenny and Dave - Pastors from Church. They were very willing to listen to us and were not at all uncomfortable by the things that we needed to say. They shared our grief and accepted our anger. They were also amazing supports in planning Emilie's funeral. Dave had agreed to lead Emilie's funeral for us and helped us with the structural planning and legalities. We had decided to include a dedication in the funeral to give Emilie over to God. I am very glad that we did this. Dave helped us to choose prayers and readings and supported me in knowing what to write in the Eulogy - something that I was keen to give myself. Jenny planned the entire reception for us - an afternoon tea in our church cafe. A self confessed 'organiser', she rallied up people to bake for the day and to serve for us. Thanks to the support they both gave us the only things we really needed to do were to plan 'our parts' of the service, spread the word and to turn up ourselves! We were also visited by Dan and Celia, a couple who, at the time, we only knew vaguely from Church. Nearly 6 years previously their son, Joseph, had also been stillborn. They had found out while Celia was pregnant with him that he had Down syndrome and a heart defect that required surgery in utero. The surgery was successful but, unfortunately, at 34 weeks Celia noticed reduced movement. She was given the option to be induced there and then and be able to spend a short period of time with Joseph knowing that he would not survive, or to wait and allow him to die in the comfortable and familiar surroundings of her womb. She chose the latter knowing that this would be the least traumatic and most comfortable thing for Joseph. This selfless act is something that I will always be in awe of Dan and Celia for. Dan and Celia were the first couple who had experience what we had who we were able to sit down and talk with. We shared our stories, talked and cried together and prayed together. They were at the time, and have continued to be, an amazing support to us. There is something incredibly comforting about shared experience. Not only does it provide a level of understanding and empathy that is not otherwise possible but it also provides a level of perspective; a knowledge that we were not the only people to have suffered the loss of a child under those circumstances - nor would we be the last. It was around this time that the maternal desire to have a baby returned. I remember thinking that it hadn't even been a week since Emilie's death and I really shouldn't be thinking about having another baby but it was something that I could not get out of my mind. I was desperate to fill my empty arms and have my life restored to what it should have been. Speaking to Celia helped me to realise this this was a normal response - a natural urge - and although I needed to heal, instincts and hormones were responsible for the way I was feeling.
As those first few days and weeks drew on the one thing that gave us purpose and direction was caring for Sam and having family time together. I wrote in my journal at this time:
30th September 2011
I woke up again this morning with the familiar feeling of emptiness and brokenness. I think the only reason I get out of bed, have a shower and make any attempt to face the day is because of Samuel – he keeps us going. A friend took him to a toddler group this morning to give us a break and so that he can maintain some sort of normality. We decided to go for a coffee whilst we discussed funeral arrangements. It was a very quick coffee as being out of the house and trying to enjoy some sense of normality just didn’t feel right to me and I was very panicky. We talked about songs, readings and who we would like at the funeral. We decided on immediate family and Liverpool friends plus close friends who have supported us over the years. Thankfully Tom and Lindsey (very close friends who had moved to London a few years earlier) can come so we have asked them to come in the car with us as we don’t think we can handle going on our own. After coffee we went to order flowers for the service. This was very hard and the poor ladies in the florists were horrified at what we’d been through. We chose autumnal flowers including sunflowers and pale orange roses – bright colours to reflect how beautiful Emilie was.
This afternoon we actually had a really lovely time going for a family walk at one of our favourite places. Sam was in a really good mood and we all enjoyed ourselves. I feel that as long as I keep busy I’m ok – as soon as I sit down or have some time to reflect I’m hit full pelt by the emotions and such a strong sense of loss. In the garden centre where we went for coffee there is a children’s clothing section and as soon as I saw all the pretty pink clothes my heart leapt as I thought ‘I can buy them for my baby’. It is only then that the reality hits me – there is no baby to buy for. This sort of thing recurs so many times throughout the days and I just don’t know how to handle such strong and confusing emotions.
Sam was our rock. We would go for coffees, for walks, or to the park and for that short period of time we were able to put on a mask of normality. We were distracted by the innocence and, to an extent, the ignorance of our son. Every so often he would ask a tricky question - where was Emilie, when was she coming back, why had she been so poorly - and we would be brought back into our pain. But most of the time Sam's existence structured our days and we would talk and act with familiar normality until he went to playgroup or to bed at which point the silence and crippling emptiness would return. One of my clearest memories is the aversion I developed towards television in those early days. Generally I love my soaps - I love the escapism and mindless entertainment that they provide but after Emilie's death everything that was on television seemed mundane and trivial. I would become angry at the conversations, situations and activities that were acted out on television and was unable to engage with them. I would quite happily have starred at a blank screen rather than sit and watch what was going on. They would increase the sense of panic that I was feeling as my anger and frustration grew and in the end we decided that I should have a break from soaps and we instead watched comedies and other things that did not relate to pregnancy, families, babies or loss. Another thing that I struggled with at that time was reading. As an avid bookworm this was something that surprised me. Gradually I was able to begin reading other people's stories about grief and loss and for a good 6 months or so this was all I read.
One night a week or so after Emilie's death I decided to take a book filled with short stories about overcoming the loss of a baby and have a bath to try and relax me and calm me down. We decided that it would be healthy for John to go climbing with his friends - something to take his mind off things and something to help me relax. I lay in the bath as he got himself ready. I wasn't able to bathe for long before the feeling of panic began to return and I needed to shift my attention to something new. I had triggered emotions through reading some of the short stories and, although the release of some of these emotions and the knowledge that I was not alone were healthy, I began to feel waves of grief, panic and tears rising up. I tried to calm myself down and slow down my breathing to reduce the panic attack; in through the nose, out through the mouth, in through the nose, out through the mouth. As I felt my chest loosen I stood up, climbed out of the bath and wrapped a towel around myself. I was suddenly gripped by dizziness and began to 'see stars' in the way that you might had you suffered a head injury. I tried to reach out to grab something and steady myself but I had seemingly lost control of my body and of my sense of balance. The last thing I remember before hearing John bang on the bathroom door and shout my name, was feeling a falling sensation and hearing a huge bang. Seconds later I could hear John calling my name and I found myself on my feet in a confused state unlocking and opening the bathroom door. As John enquired what the noise was I realised that the bathroom was in a state of disarray. The bath mat was nowhere near the bath, a small unit of wicker drawers had been knocked over and the toilet seat had come off its hinges. I was filled with a momentary sense of terror and confusion before a searing pain shot across my head and jaw, along my shoulder and down the base of my back and ribs. It appeared that I had suffered from postural hypertension which had caused me to collapse, and in doing so I had somehow bruised my back and ribs on the sink, scratched my shoulder badly on the unit of drawers and had smashed the left hand side of my face, near my temple, and my jaw on the toilet dislodging the toilet seat. I sat at the top of the stairs sobbing as John held me. Even now I am unsure if I was sobbing from the pain, the fear/confusion or the release of emotions relating to Emilie's death. John iced my wounds and agreed not to go climbing that night. Instead we sat and cried together before going to bed. The following morning I looked at my bruised features in the mirror and the bruises and scratches that spread across my left shoulder and down my arm and wondered what people at the funeral would possibly think. There was also a part of me, however, that was relieved at feeling the pain. It was something that felt real and was so much easier to contend with that the emotional pain that was overwhelming me more and more as time went on.