I was recently talking to my good friends Jo, and Chloe, from Smith Webb, about their work with mental health charity; Mind’s ‘It’s OK’ campaign, and offered to write something about my experience with maternal bereavement and its effect on my mental health.
I wanted to share my story to highlight the hidden, yet tragically common, experience of baby loss and stillbirth. As well as to hopefully provide some hope, support and empathy to others going through such an experience.
Where to start?
Over 10 years ago the unthinkable happened. At 8 months pregnant I was looking forward to having a sibling for my lovely older boy, when our world was turned upside down.
It was a beautifully sunny day and the day before my eldest son’s 3rd birthday. Busy with party preparation the day flew by, it was only late in the evening that I got concerned about the baby’s lack of movement. We went off to our local hospital to be monitored. I knew that something was wrong on the way there - the first time I’ve ever had a feeling of total dread and uncertainty, and the first time I’ve ever had such a strong feeling confirmed. Which had a real knock on effect for my future mindset - after all I was right before about something awful, why wouldn’t I be right again? This mindset is something I struggle with still and it has taken a long time for me to work through and challenge it.
We arrived at the hospital and after trying desperately to hear a heartbeat they brought in a portable scanner. Seconds later we had the devastating news that our tiny baby had died. We returned home laden with grief and started to prepare ourselves for a life without him in it. The next day, sadly our eldest’s birthday, we returned for me to be induced and brought our lovely boy Charlie into the world.
Maternal bereavement is just so dreadful that it doesn’t feel that anything could make a difference, but I now feel this isn’t quite true. The care, sensitivity and kindness with which we were treated at the hospital was just wonderful and genuinely made a horrendous situation a tiny bit more bearable. I can only wish for anyone else who has to go through this to be treated as well as I was.
The death of a baby is still so taboo and unspoken in our society yet it has such deep reaching and lasting consequences on the mother, father and all those connected, that it seems surreal, as well as just deeply wrong, that it remains so unspoken of.
That day, that experience, changed me forever. Unfortunately as a consequence of the loss and of an incredibly difficult subsequent pregnancy emotionally and physically, I developed PTSD and severe anxiety.
That anxiety manifested itself into an overriding fear and - at times certainty - that something dreadful will befall me or my other children. When in the grip of the worst anxiety I have an awful tendency to be convinced that I have a serious illness and will be leaving my children motherless or that they will be in some freak accident and die. At my worst I even worked out how I would do the unthinkable when (not if, it was always when) that happened.
Nearly 11 years down the line and after help from my GP and talking it out, lots and lots of talking it out, I have improved to a point where I can now mostly rationalise the fear and anxiety away. I don’t think I will ever be entirely free of the dread, and catastrophising will always be my go-to response, but at least these days I can mostly recognise this and work with it.
...but sometimes I’m just not OK and do you know what?
It’s OK not to be OK. it’s OK to want to scream and shout ‘it’s NOT fair’ . It’s OK to worry and be anxious sometimes. It’s OK to not always be the best you.