It’s your first baby so it’s all a bit alien to you. You listen to everyone’s advice and do everything you’re supposed to do: you stop smoking, you stop drinking, you start taking folic-acid. They constantly tell you not to worry and that you’re doing great. You go to classes, you practice your breathing, you learn about breastfeeding and decide you’re definitely going to persevere. You plan and prepare, you spend a small fortune and you build a nursery. And then, all of a sudden, your 9 months are up, you’re almost two weeks past your due date and- 4 sweeps later- you think you might be going into labour.
They tell you not to come in just yet. They tell you that if you’re talking through your contractions, they’re nowhere near strong enough. They tell you to take some paracetamol (!!! For childbirth?! Just FYI, don’t bother haha) and have a bath. They sigh and reluctantly agree to meet you at the birthing centre in half an hour when you insist on coming in, ‘just so I know where I’m at’. It’s your first baby so it’s all a bit alien to you.
You’re there, they’re ‘just checking the heartbeat’ and, at first, they don’t tell you anything. Even though everyone in the room — including you — knows deep down that your baby has died, they won’t confirm it. Instead they say ‘don’t get upset, calm down, these dopplers are sometimes unreliable, I’ll go and get a different one’. Two minutes later, they tell you you’re going to go to hospital and that they’ll be able to sort you out there. They don’t tell you that it’s almost certain that your baby has passed away and that there will be nothing anyone can do. They don’t tell the baby’s daddy not to bother getting the changing bag out the car; instead they help him load the ambulance.
They can’t prepare you for this; they can’t say it softly. There is no shying away from it. I’m afraid your baby has died. They don’t tell you that it’s okay to scream when they confirm your worst nightmare, but they hold your hand as you make a sound that could only come from someone broken beyond repair. It’s a scream that carries so much pain and sorrow it breaks all hearts who hear it. You you realise this is really happening. They don’t tell you that you’ll be so thankful that they didn’t give you the Caesarian that you are begging them for. They don’t say that you’ll be so proud of yourself for bringing her into the world the way you always intended. They constantly tell you how amazing you’re doing. They don’t tell you that they’re experienced in this; that they have to deliver a sleeping baby every week. They don’t tell you how common it is- every 1 in 200 babies here in the UK. Why don’t they tell you?!
I was prepared for everything… apart from this.
They don’t tell you what she’ll look like; that she’ll be discoloured and her skin may be torn. They don’t tell you how hard it will be to look at the baby you have longed for and dreamed of. They don’t say that you will still love her despite her absence and you’ll love more intensely than you would’ve done had she been alive because you only have a matter of hours before you have to say goodbye. They tell you how beautiful she is and how cruel it is that this has happened. They don’t tell you that their hearts are breaking, too. They don’t tell you, but you can see it in their faces; you can see the love and regret in their eyes. They’re wishing with everything they are that things were different, just like you are. When they came into work today, they were expecting a day full of happiness and excitement. They don’t want to have to deal with this! But they do, and they do it tremendously.
They don’t tell you but you see the tears that fall down their faces, you see them collapse into each other as they leave the room, you hear them sobbing outside your door. They don’t tell you, not until afterwards, but they’re grieving too; they care about your baby- that is why they do what they do- and they hate what is happening to you. It’s extremely comforting. You forge a strong relationship very quickly. They’re the only people in the world who know your baby too; you want to talk to them every day and they’d be happy to listen. They’re extremely important people.
They encourage you to get her dressed, bath her, have photos and take prints of her hands and feet. They say ‘It’s up to you but don’t regret anything. You only have this one opportunity so make sure you do everything you want to’. They tell you that you don’t have to look at things straight away but to allow yourself to have the option later on, just in case you want it. You listen to them because you trust them implicitly; at this point you will probably do anything they told you to.
They tell you everything you need to hear and they help you with everything you decide to do. They don’t tell you you’re stupid when you ask if her nappy needs changing. You can do whatever you want. They don’t say anything as they walk you to the Chapel of Rest with your baby; they just hold your hand as your partner carries her. They don’t say anything as you say your final goodbye and put her to rest but they’re right beside you to hold you up when you shatter. They don’t say anything when you lock eyes with them at the funeral; they just blow you a kiss and nod knowingly as tears stream down their faces.
Nobody tells you how incredible and invaluable your midwives are. Even two and half years on, I thank mine at every chance I get.
Libby Martin-Gazzard is a writer, wife and mother to Beatrice