My Baby Was Not Born Sleeping - Supporting Stillbirth - A Doulas Story
This is the second part of a 2 part blog post.
This is my story, the story of my evolving journey of the 6 months since the death of Baby Raymond, written to try to help others who maybe supporting women and families where their baby has died.
My Baby Was Not Born Sleeping
"My baby was not born sleeping ……………
He was not born sleeping, he was not still born, he died, he was born dead".
Like correct terms around child abuse, no-one wants to hear the words baby and dead in the same sentence, least of all the mother. So we find other words, less brutal, to soften the blow, to make things less stark, but who for?? Ourselves mostly because I don't think the word used matters to the mother whose child is no longer with her.
Violet Was My Mother Blessing Client, A IVF Mother and Widow
Violet was my Mother Blessing client, a young widow who had always wanted to be a mother, she came to many groups I ran and we grew close. I was not attending the birth, she was well supported already by her parents , her best friend and an Independent Midwife, her husband having died 3 years previously. This baby was so longed for, the rainbow after the storm, conceived after 5 cycles of IVF, using donor sperm and eggs.
I don't think I have ever met anyone so delighted in her pregnancy, to quote Violet, if it had baby in it, her and her baby did it, along with a fair few wonderful things that didn't have baby in them, alternative therapies and holidays.
When we held the Mother Blessing, it was beautiful and Violet truly glowed, happiness shone from every pore and we poured our love and our wishes into her. Never has a baby yet to be born, been so loved and so longed for, by so many. This baby touched our lives long before his birth. Violet and I made a belly cast together and talked of our hopes and dreams for her and her baby.
Violets Baby Has Died
Although 6 months ago now, I remember the call like it was yesterday, I knew Violet was in the throws of childbirth, so when I saw her number flash up I thought there were complications and they were calling in for extra support, I felt quite touched that Violet had thought to ring me.
But the voice on the end of the phone was not Violet, it was the midwife “I am so sorry to tell you this but Violets baby has died”. I didn't actually believe what I was hearing for a few seconds, not this baby, so loved, so wanted, so precious, born to a mother who had already experienced too much tragedy, too young. What to say, what to do?? “Violet would like you to tell the people in the various groups, she wants you to let people know and ask for their love and prayers”, Violet had yet to birth her child, no heartbeat, dead before he ever drew a breath.
I desperately tried to get hold of the other local Doulas, we had supported Violet together, not wanting them to read on Facebook but they were all busy and so with a heavy heart, I posted the words into Facebook, “I have something sad to say – please read in comments”.
Unleashing The Storm
“Violets baby, Raymond, has died” and so unleashed the storm, nothing to Violets pain, as she birthed her dead child, I fielded facebook message after facebook message after facebook message, text, after text after text, call after call, after call “what can we do”,” what shall we do”, “how can we help”,” is this OK”, “shall I do this”. “I don't know, I am just the messenger”.
The next morning I went to do some post natal work, smile plastered onto my face, taking some comfort from the perfect features of the newborn. While there I got a call “Violet would like a placenta print”, I knew nothing about placenta prints, but I do now. I rang everyone I could think of to try to find out what was needed.
So my husband collected me (the shock had stopped me driving), and off we went to the local art supplies store, where the woman behind the till helped me – “I need to take a placenta print from a dead baby”, I simply blurted out. The poor woman hid her surprise well. So armed with acid free paper, canvases, 2 butterfly cards and 2 soft toy mice, one for Raymond with a satchel as if going on a journey, one for Violet to stay with her I went to the hospital.
I had promised not to disturb the family, but to hand everything to a midwife, so what I didn't expect was to burst in on Violets grieving parents, I calmly explained what to do, handed over the papers and cards and mice, declined money and left.
I walked straight into the main labour ward, where panic stricken, having held it together in the room, I stood sobbing, there was nowhere to go privately, just a wall to lean against and give into grief.
Birth Photography and Wet Nursing
I contacted Violets sister in the States so I could make suggestions without intruding and at Violets request arranged a photographer to take photos of Violet and Raymond, wet nursing the photographers baby so she could go to Violet, the juxtaposition of feeding one baby, so his mother could photograph another, who had not stayed, was constantly with me.
I didn't always get it right, I don't think there is a right. So many people wanted to help, the love surrounding Violet was drowning me, my local Doula UK colleagues supported me – I am so thankful to have such a wonderful, supportive network, but everyone was so shocked, being a small tight nit community, is both a blessing and a curse at times.
Eventually someone suggested I contacted my mentor, I was attracted to Michelle Every as a mentor because of her work with the darker sides of pregnancy, with loss, and she provided a listening ear and support and I knew there and then I had made the right choice of mentor for me.
I decided to stop responding to so many messages and allocated myself set times to try to return to the present and my family. Violet and Raymond were never far from my mind, but I needed to bring myself back into my own world.
When Violet posted the death of her baby on her own facebook, then people stopped messaging me, selfishly I was relieved, but at the same time, I was saddened that she was now probably feeling overwhelmed. But she wasn't – she took great comfort from the constant stream of messages and love and still does.
What Else Could I Do?
I didn't really know what else to do – I visited when invited, I promised to do what I could to help, even if that was to leave Violets life, who knew if she would want people only connected to her through birth to stay. I reassured Violet she was welcome to stay and post in all the home birth, positive birth and parenting groups she was already in, as much a mother and an important member of our community as she had ever been. She shared her positive still birth story which I blogged recently.
My husband collected the unused birth pool from Violets house and I feared for Violets mental health and what would happen next.
Violet wanted to try to feed a baby, another Doula took her child and went to meet with Violet, to let her try, such generosity of spirit.
Infections, Pain And Sore Breasts
Violet suffered physically after the birth, Raymond had been footling breech, infections, pain, sore breasts. I tried to help with these and couldn't help but feel angry that nature was being so unfair, giving Violet such long running physical issues and pain, adding that to the emotional pain of her aching arms.
I did not know how to face birth without fear, Michelle helped me with this, I think if I hadn't already had a client who was a close friend booked in – at this point I would have left the Doula world, I was heart broken and terrified, but the next birthed healed some of the wound and helped me refind my belief in the miracle of birth.
Although given leaflets in the hospital I was signposting Violet to charities and support and reminding her to make appointments, she told me her brain was a fog and she hadn't been able to absorb the information she was given.
A Beautiful Funeral
Fast forward to the funeral, which was so touching, in a natural burial ground with Violets husband already waiting, Raymond was held in a tiny, white, coffin, we buried him with the red threads from the Mother Blessing and flowers and words and readings and we sang him lullabies. At the end there was a moment, when the CD jumped and Violet laughed, “that didn't happen at home”, it was then I knew inside there was still a spark, Violet is determined, she says, to be happy, for her baby, her husband and most importantly, herself.
Violet and I have spent many hours in conversation, in person and online, since then, I sent her colouring books and pens and pencils, I understand myself that sometimes in grief, we need to wile away the time. I wondered if she would be offended, colouring seems so trivial in the face of something so large, but no they allow her some peace.
We have been away for weekends and camping trips, she is undoubtedly the bravest person I know – at times she has an ethereal, other worldly quality, as if she is only half here, but she is alive inside. I have grown in so many ways, through this journey. I held a workshop on loss in the child bearing year, something my time with Violet gave me the courage to stand up and do. She has seen my tears for my own losses in life, her huge heart still has space for others.
Memory Boxes And Sunny Days
Recently, on a warm summers day, we went for breakfast, we walked and then we sat, to go through Raymonds memory boxes, the first time they had been opened for others, quietly, looking and rejoicing in what had been, sad and happy at the same time. His baby grows, leaflets of places they went while he was inside his mother, his tiny hair, cards, mementoes, the celebration of his short but powerful life. I don't know why life is so cruel but Raymond brought light to his mothers life from the moment of his existence and does still.
Stories of Pain and Bravery
Since that day I have blogged Violets birth story – of desperately trying to turn a breech baby, of meconium, of fear, of occasional hatred for the natural birth movement, of what ifs and what might have beens, no heart beat and total heart break, “you don’t understand her husband is dead, her baby can’t be dead too”
It is also though a story of incredible bravery, of a woman who was a birth warrior and is so proud of herself, “I’m very proud of being able to push him out”, it is a story of taking down curtains, taking ownership of birth, of visitors and photos and baby wearing and decorating cots and dancing and love and light.
It is a story of how much the things we did meant to her “I wore my blessing way beads and felt my women were with me and supporting me” and of powerful women as birth companions.
Added to the files in our Positive Birth Group, it is a story of how any birth where we are loved and respected and spoken to with kindness is positive.
They have thanked me, her parents and friends, I have done nothing to be thanked for – it was an honour to be a part of Violet and Baby Raymonds pregnancy and it is a privilege to be an ongoing part of his death and life.
My life has been enriched by the crossing of my path with Violet and Raymond and I know wherever our paths lead, they will continue to cross, long into the future, I also hope that one day, I will be at a second Blessingway and then taking a second call from a midwife, Violet has a healthy baby, Raymond has a sibling and somewhere a double rainbow will appear, as, for that moment, all is right with the world.
Part 1 - in Voilets words can be found on my blog - The Positive Stillbirth Story Of Raymond Who Passed Away.
If you want to talk about your experiences or need support for miscarriage or at a stillbirth please feel free to contact me.
For further support for miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death, The Miscarriage Association, SANDS and Towards Tomorrow Together all provide support. From speaking to women and families I have also had recommended the counselling services at The Beresford Centre in Newport and The Junction in Cardiff, both of whom I am told women feel have saved their lives following the death of their baby. Remember My Baby can help find an experienced photographer and Cherished Gowns provide beautiful clothing made from Wedding Dresses.
Samantha Gadsden is an experienced Doula based close to Cardiff in South Wales, mother to 4 children and wife to Eddie, more information can be found on her facebook page, Samantha Gadsden Doula and website, Caerphilly Doula.