Anne Marie is 40 years old. She’s married to Paul, whom she works with, and though she likes to consider herself the boss, says really they’re a partnership. She describes Paul as her soulmate and best friend. They have been together for 21 years and have five living children, 1 boy and 4 girls. She is also mum to two angel baby boys.
Anne Marie very bravely and beautifully spoke to me about the loss of her baby boy Patrick who was stillborn at 41 weeks, and how his loss has affected their family.
The pregnancy and the lead up…
In 2015 after bringing our oldest 4 children on the trip of a lifetime to Florida I found myself tired, rundown, just not feeling great. Before I knew it I was sitting watching a pregnancy test turn positive after an almost 10-year gap. I was shocked but quite quickly came around to the idea of having a baby in the house again, we were all so excited. At 38 I was very conscious of looking after myself and took extra care to keep my little passenger safe. I appeared to have the text book pregnancy with a very active baby boy onboard. I was nervous throughout my pregnancy especially in the last few weeks as my last baby was 10lb 4 and I had a very difficult birth. The midwives tried to reassure me all was well. My due date was Feb 9th 2016 as the date drew closer I asked several times was it wise to let me go over due with my history. I was repeatedly told baby was fine and would arrive when he was ready. I tried everything to naturally start my labour as my due date came and went – long walks, bouncing on my ball, squats, even eating pineapple which I don’t even like! I resigned myself to trust my body to stage an eviction when it was ready.
Finally on Saturday night Feb 13th at 10pm a pain, a real pain a contraction Hallelujah!! I knew it was going to be sometime before things really got going as my body had not laboured in over 10 years. I sat up until 4am with my baby boy so active I thought he was trying to escape the wrong way, I was so excited & ready to meet him. Eventually I fell asleep for a few hours, when I woke we joked how it could only happen to us that the baby would arrive on Valentines day that was after we realised myself & Paul had bought each other the same card.
Around lunchtime I realised I hadn’t had a good wallop from baby in a while maybe I didn’t notice as my contractions were still coming but slowly. It was then we decided to contact the hospital. They told us to come in that there was probably nothing to worry about.
We reached the hospital less than an hour later to be delivered the crushing words “There is no heartbeat”.
My world in a split second came crashing down around us. I was hysterical, delirious there were people who I didn’t know in my face saying I’m sorry for your loss trying to calm me down. This wasn’t happening, this couldn’t happen, my baby was moving perfectly a few hours ago. Then the shock set in, my body shut down my contractions stopped, and Paul was trying to take everything in. There were things we needed to decide. Do we stay or do we go home? We opted to go home to be brought back 2 days later if nothing happened in between.
We had to go home and tell the children. How were we going to break the news to a 16,15 12 & 10 year old?
Paul is the bravest person I know while I slipped silently into the house and sat down he gathered our children and told them the tragic news one by one. I watched as he picked up our children off the floor as their bodies crumbled to the floor like an earthquake had hit, the wails of their young voices as the tears flowed. It didn’t seem real. After settling the children Paul then contacted our family and friends. I had lost the ability to talk, I just stared in to space holding my bump.
The following day my contractions started slowly again, people came and went from our house all day offering what support they could. In my mind I still had a job to do, I still had to give birth to my still baby. One of my closest friends sat holding my hand and at 11pm she knew by me the time had come to go to the hospital. We made the phone call to the hospital and at 2.23am Tuesday February 16th I gave birth to the most beautiful 9lb 3 perfect baby boy who we named Patrick. It was love at first sight.
Once the formalities & tests were done we brought Patrick home for 3 days. Feileacain enabled us to do this by supplying us with a Cuddle Cot for our home to allow us time before we said our final goodbyes.
During this time it allowed me to be his mommy. My motherly instincts kicked in and I did all the normal things a mom does for her baby. I held him, sang to him, read to him. I examined & kissed every inch of him so I would never forget. We as a family made as many memories that we could in a very short time. We opened our door to allow friends and family meet our little boy.
Telling and supporting the other children…
After Patrick’s funeral my focus became my other children. I needed to make sure that our tragedy did not define them. They were hurting like I’ve never seen, and I was a mess. I contacted every organisation I thought who may be able to help I was particularly worried about my teenagers but in reflection they had their friends. Their friends came and enveloped them, protecting them. I found myself sitting up with them in the early hours of the morning when they wanted to talk we spent many of this nights laughing and crying together.
First Light helped us with initial counselling sessions for them. My teens were not that engaged they felt they didn’t need it. My younger two attended extensive play therapy organised by Feileacain which helped them process their emotions. We had lots of tummy aches because they didn’t want to go to school but all their schools were extremely supportive. I put on the bravest face for them although I was crippled by grief, but they knew I wasn’t the same and life was never going to be the same.
Our own support…
We were surrounding by so many people who wanted to help. Food was dropped off to the house regularly for the first few weeks. Paul made sure there was someone with me each morning when he went back to work. I saw a psychiatrist regularly and we attended support meetings as a couple again organised by Feileacain. It really helped to be with other parents in the same situation. It was a safe understanding space to talk.
Considering another child…
We were terrified at the mention of having another child, I was so broken with empty arms. After our return visit to the hospital we were told the chances of it happening again were slim and I would be closely monitored. I was 38 having Patrick and now I was 39, time was not on our side if we decided to try again. We did decide that we would try once more. Once those 2 lines appeared on a pregnancy test a fear set in that I was unable to shake for my entire pregnancy.
Coping with a pregnancy after loss…
I found it very difficult to acknowledge my pregnancy I tried to pretend I wasn’t pregnant. We told nobody.
My GP organised everything with the hospital and they made a mountain of promises about my care, unfortunately by my second visit at 14 weeks I ran out of the hospital in a high state of anxiety and upset, I said would never go back. I changed hospitals & consultants and finally felt confident in my care. I continued to see the psychiatrist regularly but still kept our secret. At 22 weeks we finally came clean to the children as I could no longer hide it and we only told a handful of family and friends and asked them to keep our secret as we were so scared.
My consultant was amazing, I had a scan & visit most weeks.
I counted the pregnancy in baby steps. 26 weeks the baby was viable and every week after that was a bonus. I was terrified to bond with the baby but when I was alone I started to talk to baby little by little as my belly grew. But I did feel very disconnected from my precious little passenger. I was paranoid that one morning I would wake up and the baby would not be moving, I found sleeping at night very difficult. Being pregnant again was the hardest and bravest journey I have ever been on.
How the other children coped with the pregnancy…
They understood why I wanted to keep it a secret. They really minded me, but they also told me they were nervous. Like us, we all went appointment to appointment. I think we had the most photographed baby in the womb!
When our baby girl arrived…
Hope made quite the entrance. I was brought in for a planned induction at 37weeks, my pregnancy had gone very well under the circumstances. But as fate would have it I had a placental abruption while in the hospital and our precious little baby was born via emergency section. I never did meet her the day she was born as she was in the NICU and I was recovering. When I finally got to meet her, her tiny little body curled up in the incubator I was terrified. I placed my hand on her back and the touch of her warm skin filled me with so much emotion the tears flowed. I had a live baby. I made a promise to her that I would never leave her. I stayed by her side for 2 days until she was well enough to join me in my room. I was now caught in the biggest bubble of love and walking on air. I continually thanked Patrick for sending me his little sister.
Parenting after loss…
Parenting after loss is no easy task as you are not the same person, it takes a very long time to process the shock and learning to live with a huge part of you missing while trying to look after your other children. My mind was mush, my children missed their mommy. I carried out the daily tasks because they had to be done, I tried not to show to them how broken I was. There were days the anxiety left me so paralysed I couldn’t leave the house. I had to take every day as it came and plan as much in advance as I was able. Other days I was unable to get out of bed. Thankfully my youngest was 10 at the time so I did not have smallies running around. I was very open and honest with them as much as I could while protecting them at the same time but if I was having a bad day and I needed some space I was able to tell them
Advice for other grieving parents…
Baby loss is the single most traumatic event that can happen to anyone. Once the shock wears off you find yourself at your lowest point. It’s not about forgetting and moving on it about survival. You learn to live an adjusted life with a new normal. The grief you suffer is like a rollercoaster, one day you think you are doing ok and from out of nowhere you get smacked in the face and you are back to square one. You are not going mad, this is all very normal. Ride the rollercoaster and take it day by day, I still do. Be kind to yourself and never make excuses. You are grieving parent and others sometimes do not understand as they do not walk in your shoes.
What a grieving parent needs…
Leave out the clichés “it was probably for the best”, “you have other children”, “ you are young, you can try again”, “you never knew the baby”, “ do you not think its time to move on”, none of these remarks are helpful in fact they are quite hurtful. Kindness & compassion are what a bereaved parent needs, we need you to listen to our story over and over because that is all we have. We need you to remember, to speak our baby’s names.
Please don’t avoid me because that hurts even more, even if you don’t know what to say a simple hug is acknowledgment that I had a child.
Coping as the time passes…
The last 13 months have been busy adjusting to life with baby again. Once my bubble of love came back to earth I struggled for a long time. I found it very hard not to think of what could have been. Every milestone Hope has reached I draw a comparison in my mind to what I have missed. Hope has brought joy & healing to our home on a different spectrum, but I am still missing a huge part of me.
I am trying my best to be the best parent I can in difficult circumstances.
My grief still comes at me in waves on that rollercoaster, but I am thankful I have my little girl to help me through. Some people assume I am fixed because I’ve had another baby, but this is not the case. While I have relished every moment with my precious rainbow baby I still battle the demons of the baby I lost.
I still attend support meetings & counselling, I speak about Patrick all the time. Patrick is my son, my son who did not get to stay but I will continue to find ways to make his legacy meaningful and help others along the way.
You can read more about Anne-Marie’s journey through parenthood after loss here.