Sunday, June 24, 2012

Monday Mournings: The Death of a Child at Birth

My name is Nicky, I'm in my 40s and originally from the Midlands, UK; my mother still lives in the house where I was born. I'm married with 2 children, 2 of 3, the middle one being stillborn. I'm a photographer now my children are older, but I was a fulltime Mum for 11 years.

DW:  Who was the person that died?

NH: When my son was not quite 3 we lost our first daughter Kim, stillborn at term, with no apparent reason why, and no answers form a post mortem. I found the lack of answers strangely reassuring, if nothing was found, I felt it was unlikely to happen again, though it was hard to go through 3 early miscarriages before finally becoming and then staying pregnant with our second daughter, at which point worry just drifted away - her due date was Kim's birthday which we took as a good omen.

DW:  How old were you at the time?
NH:  I was in my mid-30s

DW:  Can you tell me about her birth?
NH:  Kim had a healthy heart beat through the labour, but once born, she didn't breathe and couldn't be made to breathe, and so drifted away minutes after she had arrived.
There was no clue that Kim was not going to live, it was a shock and I was initially numb, entangled with the fatigue from an overnight labour, it was as if it was happening to someone else, almost like an 'out of body' remote experience.

DW: Had you experienced any other deaths in your personal life before Kim died?
NH:  I attended my first funeral at the age of around 7, a lady who had been 'like a second mother' to my father after his own mother died, and I saw her in her coffin in the front room of the house, with the curtains partly drawn, as used to be the tradition. That's all I remember, just her in her coffin in that room, I don't remember the service or anything else. By the time I was 14 other family friends were having cancer treatment or heart attacks then suddenly Dad himself had cancer diagnosed when I was 16. He died when I was 19. The year of the movie "Four Weddings & a Funeral", I attended 4 funerals and a wedding as elderly uncles and aunts began to die - my mother was the youngest of 8 by several years. A colleague died of Leukaemia at age 24 when I was 22. Death was all around. Perhaps all of that loss was preparation for the greatest loss of all, the loss of a child. My brother lost a child when I was expecting my son. Losing a child goes against the natural order, you expect to lose your parents at some point, but not a child. I became familiar with grief.

DW: Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away when you were grieving?
NH:  Immediate family and friends were very supportive, though my mother found it almost impossible to tolerate. Through having my son I had built a wide network of other Mums, friends to one degree or another, on whom I could lean a little so not becoming a burden to one or two. I also sought counselling through my doctor. One person wondered if I was 'grieving properly' as they had not actually seen a tear fall. I dislike crying in 'public' so she didn't see me on the days when I cried, until she made me cry, then she seemed happy.

DW:  Was Kim buried or cremated?
NH:  Kim was cremated after just me, my husband, our midwife and 2 friends present at a short service with a couple of readings. We did not feel a large funeral appropriate, and unnecessary for us. We had a huge number of cards and armfuls of flowers at home and wanted to say our private goodbye.

DW:  Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share?
NH:  Grieving is exhausting and if you find you are having a 'happy day' - a day where you feel optimistic, uplifted, positive, not sad - then embrace it and don't feel guilty. A day off from varying degrees of despair and heart-wrenching pain can be a good thing, so Have a Happy Day, once in a while, if it comes, run with it, its ok, let yourself be happy. Ultimately, for most of us, life does go on. It doesn't mean that we have forgotten the lost loved one. Its a bit like pulling into a lay-by for a rest from driving along grief's road, which can seem endless, especially at the start.
I put a signature in my emails at the time which said: "The body is well, the mind is managing, and the love of Kim's healing gift is keeping the heart from breaking." The healing gift was that Kim's birth went very well and was a positive experience despite her death, after a very traumatic birth with my son 3 years earlier which had left me severely traumatised. (I was hospital-phobic at that time, which was a serious problem.)

DW:  Were any songs played at her memorial?
NH:  We made a conscious decision not to play music and then forever have a sad association with something that could come on the radio and upset what might be a stable day that day. Instead we had 2 children's stories read out, as well as poems we had each written, my husband and I. The books were No Matter What and Time for Bed. The first one talks about a mother loving her child no matter what, and includes a line "Love like starlight never dies". We had to hide them for a few years as we couldn't read them at bedtime to our son, but eventually we were able to read them to our 2nd daughter without getting choked up. We still have them.

Thank you Nicky for sharing your experience.  Nicky will be back on Wednesday.  She is a photographer with Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep in the UK.

I'm looking for contributors for both my Monday and Wednesday posts.  Do you work with death in your profession?  Or know someone who does?  Let me know.  And thanks for stopping by and reading.  If you like this blog, please share it on Twitter, Facebook or Google or do it the old fashioned way and tell someone about it in person.
Pamela

16 comments:

  1. The service you had for Kim, Nicky, really moved me. It is wonderful that her birth was instrumental in the healing of the trauma you had experienced before.

    With great respect.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your story, Nicky. I'm sorry for you loss.

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  3. I have two blogs. One is all about family history- looking into the lives of my ancestors and learning from them.
    The other is full of random thoughts. Here's a link to a peon I wrote for my best friend whose son was killed when I was struggling to get into her heart and head so that we could connect. I know some people don't like links on their posts, so no disrespect intended. I just felt the chills when reading this post and felt it might be appropriate?
    Beautiful story!!! Really moved me.
    (found your post through Jane Furey on Twitter).
    You Are My Shooting Star http://silentleaves.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/you-are-my-shooting-star/

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  4. That's beautiful. Thanks for sharing and stopping by!

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  5. What a difficult experience, Nicky. I find it especially sad that you had no inkling that Kim was not doing well. To have labored in hope and love and then have those hopes crushed must have been tremendously hard. My greatest condolences to you and Kim's father. I appreciate very much what you noted about embracing the good day when it comes along after a death. I think people are so surprised that they can have good days when life has been so cruel. Best to acknowledge it.

    and Pamela, I think that question is one of the best you offer - the question about did you learn anything from the grieving process. I am hungry for all those responses -- JT

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    1. I'm glad you are finding value in these posts. My aim is not to sensationalize death. My aim is to show that it's normal. It happens to everyone at different ages and stages in their lives and I want to encourage people to share their stories.

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  6. Your interview reminds me of when I saw a kid drown at church camp. I was fourteen years old, and the image is still fresh in my mind-one that I've tried to erase. But it comes back at the oddest moments. Great interview.

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    1. Well, now you're going to have to tell me the story of what happened.

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  7. This was a wonderful interview Pamela. I especially love Nicky's choice to read poetry and special books for your daughter, that was really lovely.

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    1. Hi Jennifer. I agree. Thanks for stopping in and commenting!

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    2. They were read on our behalf, as we couldn't speak for the emotion choking in our throats.

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  8. There is a Jewish tradition that you are not supposed to have baby showers or set up the nursery before the baby comes home. I goes back to old superstition and the idea that anything can happen before the baby comes home. The superstition is something along the lines of, if you set up the nursery and/or have a shower before the baby comes, something bad will happen with the baby. When I have children, I don't want a shower or to set up the nursery beforehand partly because I'm a sucker for traditions like that and partly because you really don't know what may happen just like in Nicky's story. You could have a perfectly healthy and happy pregnancy and labour and then something goes wrong last minute. Many Jewish women do have showers and set up nurseries beforehand nowadays because we have so much technology and so many medical advancements, but as Nicky has shown, even science has its limitations. I also think a big funeral for a newborn would be exceptionally hard. I'm used to funerals as a means to celebrate one's life, but how do you celebrate a life that wasn't? I also had the thought while reading this about other species grieving. I've read so many things about animals rejecting young because of defects, simply leaving the stillborn behind because nature doesn't have time for grieving, and then there are those mothers who get jealous of other mothers whose babies survived. Humans are so far apart from nature now, but were we ever the type of species to simply leave a stillborn behind like that?

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    1. Wow, I didn't know that. I'm intrigued by Jewish custom with funerals and now with birth. My aunt had a baby who died at birth, but I don't know if she had a funeral for her or not. My oldest brother died at three months. I know he is buried in California, but I don't know if there was a service. I need to ask my Mom. Thanks for commenting Jill.

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  9. "Grieving is exhausting and if you find you are having a 'happy day' - a day where you feel optimistic, uplifted, positive, not sad - then embrace it and don't feel guilty. A day off from varying degrees of despair and heart-wrenching pain can be a good thing." What beautiful words. I have a friend who's going through a terrible loss right now and he feels horribly guilty when he catches himself forgetting about it in a moment of ease. I'd like to share this with him. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

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    1. This is so weird but as you were posting this, I was posting at your blog. :) Good luck with the move.

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    2. It is important to give yourself permission to rest from grief or you can become overwhelmed by it.

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Comments are welcome and appreciated!