When I was an adolescent, I never imagined what it was like to be pregnant, go into labor and give birth. I was already 17 when my mother had her last child, and I vividly recall visiting my mom in hospital after she’d endured a difficult breech labor. My baby sister was adorable and pink, my mother looked exhausted and spent, while my father danced around, snapping away with his Polaroid as we welcomed the final edition into our family of 8.
I never expected that in a flash – less than 6 years later – it would be my turn. This time I was the one being fussed over, while my newborn daughter was being measured and examined by the pediatrician. My entire extended family, my bemused hubby and his parents, all crowded around my bed jabbering excitedly.
My daughter, all 3 lbs. 8 oz. of her, slumbered unfazed in her bassinet through the cacophony of billing and cooing well-wishers. I looked on, jubilant that the ordeal was finally over, and the attention had shifted off of me. Now that I had been properly initiated into the horror of labor and childbirth, I silently vowed never again to put my body through the grind. Fast forward 2 years and we were celebrating Anne’s second birthday; there I was leaning over her, 5 months pregnant, urging her to ‘wish’ before extinguishing the spluttering number 2 candle atop her Thomas-Tank-Engine cake! Her fan club were all present, singing Happy Birthday at the top of their voices, to my demurely composed Anne!
Anne had been such a good and easy baby that we figured she deserved a sibling. we were expecting a boy and our family would soon be complete. However, it was not to be. A week later I lost baby Willie, as I had christened him from the outset, to pre-eclampsia. I held him stillborn in my arms and wept inconsolably, cursing the fates that had allowed this to happen. I was told I was lucky to have survived, but darkness eclipsed my whole world.
And just like that, depression took hold. I was so down that I lost interest in my family and the world around me. My mother stepped in, and if it wasn’t for her strength and faith, I would have plunged headlong, utterly lost my footing and fallen into an abyss of no return.
It was months before the ether cleared – if you’ve suffered a miscarriage, lost a baby to stillbirth, you’d understand the all-engulfing sadness and guilt that gnaws away at your insides, leaving you raw and numb. I clung to the image of my son as I had held him, tiny, cold and unresponsive, yet perfectly formed.
The wake-up call that finally brought me to my senses was Anne. She’d been coming into room my for a cuddle and a kiss, before being whisked off to play-school. One morning she clambered onto my lap and propping herself up, she looked squarely into my face and said, “Mama sad”.
After making this pronouncement, she wrapped her chubby arms around my neck and pressed her head against mine and sighed, almost inaudibly. It was as though someone had dunk me into icy cold water. I finally realized that my withdrawal was hurting others, not least the one who needed me most, Anne. Needless to say, I recovered, but in stages. I vowed to dedicate myself to my husband and daughter. Could I make up for lost time? Unequivocally no; grieving is a very personal journey and necessary for the human soul and psyche, at least that’s what I found out. After losing a child, even one that is still born, you need to grieve.
If not for the loving patience and support of my husband, buoyed up by a close-knit family, I doubt if I would have survived the episode. I never thought of myself as a strong person, but such experiences prove your mettle, mold you. Ultimately it was my Anne who led me out of the darkness and back into the light and warmth of love.
Carrying Willie left an indelible mark on me, changing me forever. It taught me how fleeting and precious life is, how we should never take anything for granted. I try now to live in the moment.