Welcome, Olivia

We’re just so sorry that you could not stay.

On Friday 27th March, just days after finding out our baby was dead, still such newcomers to navigating our grief, we met and buried our baby.  It was a day like no other I have ever experienced and hope never will again.  Medical management of miscarriage is a strange – though necessary, especially in cases like ours – experience.  I found the anticipation difficult; to be told you will be forced to contract, my only experience of contractions being full term labour, was intimidating. To be told I could vomit, have diarrhoea, have the shakes, aches in my bones and intense pain was frightening. Why couldn’t it be peaceful? She was so peaceful, still sleeping in the safety of my womb, why could her journey from her only home in me to her forever home in the earth not be as gentle as her death; unnoticed by anyone.  I was nervous, but I was ready too. I knew that I could not hold her in me forever.

Jonathan drove me to my appointment and dropped me at the locked doors of the women’s centre. Having something so difficult to accept as real happen in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the whole world seems surreal, has been all the more strange.  I had been told that Jonathan must drive me there and take me home in case I was already feeling the ill-effects of the medication, but he was not to come in.  No one other than patients is allowed in the hospital.  I entirely understand the necessity of this but it doesn’t make it any less surreal; the doors locked, the corridors entirely empty of visitors and even patients, with any ‘nice to have’ appointments cancelled.  Even staff seemed sparse, although I am sure there were plenty around somewhere.

A lady joined me in the lift and we stood at opposite ends. She too had her blue maternity notes tucked beneath her arms.  She asked me if I was also going to level 4 and I nodded. She said that she hated how strange this felt without her husband, she just wanted to get into her scan and get out as quickly as possible.  I smiled meekly at her.  I guess amongst her own anticipation she didn’t see the sadness in my eyes or she wouldn’t have kept talking.  When the lift stopped she asked if she could walk with me because she didn’t know where she was going.  “We’re not going to the same place.” I said. I still don’t think it clicked for her, wrapped up in her own nerves perhaps. “I don’t know where I am going” she said, “I’ve never been before. Is this not your twelve week scan too?”  I shook my head.  “I’ll show you” I said. 

I walked her – both of us keeping what I hoped was a safe distance from one another – to the door to the reception of the ultrasound unit.  I watched her go through wishing so much that was me.  I wanted so much for them to check again, to find out there had been a mistake, that my baby wasn’t dead. But I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Tuesday’s scan picture emblazoned on the inside of my mind: I knew I was not wrong. I knew she was dead. I had seen her with my own eyes. I walked back down the corridor and hoped that the woman I had just encountered remained so blissfully unaware. I made a silent wish that over the coming minutes all her dreams came true on the screen before her; I hope she got the good news that every parent deserves.

Much like there is no dignity in childbirth, I have found from this experience there’s little dignity in managing a miscarriage either.  Not in terms of the Drs and nurses who I encountered; they were kind and gentle, sympathetic and clear. They took my blood, they spoke to me about the process – “It could be very painful, but we’ll give you painkillers which should help.  We’ll give you an anti-sickness tablet, you might still be sick.  You’ll contract, you will bleed a lot, watch out you don’t bleed too much, we’ll call you on Friday, you can call us before, too much blood and go to a & e, watch out for infection, try to notice tissue, it might not work and you will have to come back.” 

My mind was swimming with facts, with possibilities and with one main concern – it might not work.  The thought of coming back and doing it all again was nauseating – and I had not even taken any medication yet. I was told there was a 75% chance it would work first time – I reasoned those were pretty good odds, but then so were the odds our baby would survive and be fit and well, so I wasn’t finding odds to be on my side this week. I nodded that I understood and allowed the undignified part to begin; I swallowed the anti-sickness tablet, the nurse put four pessaries in me (she was kind and did it two at a time – as they have to reach your cervix it is not the most comfortable experience) and I drew the line at her putting the suppository in for me – that I did myself in an attempt to maintain a shred of dignity if possible.  I was told to stay lying down for twenty minutes for the pessaries to absorb and then I could leave.

In under an hour they sent me on my way with a pack of codeine, the industrial size maternity pads you use post-childbirth and the plastic-backed square ‘puppy-pad’- esque thing they put beneath you post-childbirth.  The painful irony was not lost to me that the last time I had been in the women’s centre with codeine, human puppy pads and enormous maternity pads was post Harry’s birth. Now I had the same items in the same setting, just this time my baby was dead.

Jonathan and Harry had been driving aimlessly around Oxford during the time I was in the hospital, waiting on my phonecall to return.  The visitor car parks for the women’s centre are closed.  As I left the women’s centre to get back into the car a different woman to earlier stood outside, tears streaming, wrapped in the arms of her partner.  I wanted to hug her too.  It has become all too apparent that the women’s centre is a building that is filled with the purest love, but also the rawest grief.  It is the place where dreams are confirmed, where babies are born, but also the place where hearts are broken: the place where babies die.

We drove home and before the fifteen minute journey was up I was already feeling sick. I went up to bed with my hospital issue pack, my iPad, some tea and some squash and got ready to both welcome my baby and bid her farewell.  We told Harry I had gone out for the day so that he would not come looking for me.  I didn’t want him to see me in pain or bleeding.  As far as he was concerned, baby Olivia was not in Mummy’s tummy anymore.  As magically as she had appeared there for him she had left.  He does not need to know the agonising truth of how physical the act of letting go is.

It took a few nauseous hours before the pain started.  Just like in labour what started as period pains, then really bad period pains, then the worst period pains you’ve had turned eventually into recognisable contractions.  What had been blood like a period, then a heavy period, then the heaviest period you’ve ever had turned into an unstoppable bleed.  I lay on the ‘puppy-pad’ with my maternity pad on and as my stomach contracted I knew she would not be long now.  The pain was intense, but manageable.  I didn’t take the codeine, though I probably should have.  There’s no need to be in pain.  But I thought it might get worse still, I thought I might need it still in time.  With my only previous experience of contractions being the birth of my  full term, 10lb 6oz son I feared I may have had a long way to go still.  The suppository I’d been given in the hospital was a painkiller too, so I suppose without that the pain would have been worse.  But just like the doctors had told me it would, it intensified yet again and my stomach tightened with clear intent.  It was time to meet my baby.

She was really rather beautiful. I know a lot of people would not have wanted to see their baby at this point and I understand that everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way to react to something like this, but I knew I needed her.  I was adamant that I would see her, that I needed to talk to her, to hold my baby for the first and last time.

When she passed out of me I was sure I would cry.  In the days between finding out she had died and that very moment all I had done was cry.  I imagined that the sight of her would leave me distraught.  In reality, that hour or so I spent with her was the only time in the last week where I haven’t been crying or on the verge of doing so.  When I was told she was dead my purpose as her mother got lost in my grief.  I was supposed to nurture and grow my baby, to carry her safely and deliver her gently into this world.  To raise her and watch her flourish.  To wipe snotty noses, little tears, to kiss her scabby knees.  This had all been taken from me at the first hurdle: to nurture and grow and carry her safely.  She had died in the safest place for her, nestled in my womb.  Though I know that this is not my fault, I did everything I could to keep her safe and healthy, a small part of me felt like I had failed her.

Now though, I had a purpose once more.  As I felt her pass from my womb and into the world at large I did not shed a tear.  I picked her up, and cleaned her off a little.  She was perfect.  I spent a long time just staring at her, taking in every detail of her tiny body; I don’t want to ever forget a single thing about her (I actually took a few photos of her, which Jonathan and I will cherish.  They’re so personal to us.  I felt they were important; they will really help us to never, ever forget what she looked like, even when we’re old and our memories begin to fade).  She had big black eyes.  Solid black like coal against the whitest body.  She had perfectly formed feet and hands, still slightly webbed if you looked very closely.  Her legs and arms were still not quite in proportion like you would expect, but that didn’t make them any less beautiful.  She sat so easily in the palm of my hand.  She was just a few centimetres long and she lay so still on her side in the centre of my hand.

I held her a long time. I spoke to her. I wanted her to know how much we love her and that this did not change that, we always will. I wanted her to know that we would make sure she was remembered. I told her that she did not need to be afraid; that though, if I could, I would have let her stay cocooned in my womb for eternity, that now she had to leave she would still be safe.  Jonathan came to see her.  He said hello and goodbye to her and left us to talk some more.  When I felt happy that she knew everything that I wanted her to, I said my goodbyes, stroked her tiny body and I placed her gently in a box, hugged by the teddy we had bought for her, and then placed them both within another box, ready to take their physical place in the earth.

She is in the little white box that you can see beneath her name card

My contractions actually worsened once she was out.  It felt like my womb was now crying out too; mourning the loss of its most recent resident.  It tore and twisted itself with grief.  The hour that followed was just as surreal as the ones that had passed.  Watching Jonathan dig the hole in our garden.  Explaining to Harry once more that this is where his baby sister would sleep forever.  Laying her box gently in the earth and watching it disappear from sight as the earth enveloped her; watching Jonathan plant the rose we had bought her on top of her resting place.  Putting her slate into the freshly turned ground, her name etched before us.  I felt like I was watching from afar as this played out.  Surely it was not me who just cradled my dead baby in my palm and buried her in my garden.

But it was. That was me. That was my husband digging the hole, my son kissing the box his baby sister lay in, that was me, taking my baby from womb, to palm, to earth in the space of just a few hours.  It is me who had to adjust to my new normal.  And I am by no means the only one; this happens day in day out to families the world over, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.  That doesn’t make your experience or your baby any less valid.  Everyone’s baby is their baby, their life is so important, their story is your story, to tell or keep as you see fit.

Olivia is our baby.  She was our growing baby, our alive baby, our expected baby.  She always will be our baby.  The next days and weeks are going to be so difficult; we know that.  I feel so empty right now, but I am giving myself the space to feel that.  It is probably, if I think about it, the most natural expected feeling to have: I feel empty because I am empty. So much has happened in such a short space of time.  Less than a week ago we were pregnant, planning the future for our baby and our family.  Now our baby lies in the soil in our back garden and we have to find our way to cope with that.  And we will.  Nothing feels certain and everything takes time, though we know one thing for sure: We will never move on.  She will not be left behind in this period of pain.  We will move forward with her.  She is part of our family and will be forever.  She is Harry’s baby sister.  She is a big sister to any children we may come to have. She is our baby, now and always.

She is Olivia.

***

This article was originally published on Rosie’s personal blog, Words for Olivia.

About the Author

Rosie is 28 and lives in Oxford with her husband, son Harry and their dog, Nigel. She is mother to three children, Harry who is now three, Olivia who they sadly lost in March of this year and their third baby who she is busy growing. Rosie has a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing and has always enjoyed writing. Since losing Olivia, Rosie has found it incredibly therapeutic to write and talk about the reality of miscarriage in the hope of supporting other women who have experienced the same thing.

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