Penny's Place
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The day my world stood still

stillbirth-at-39-weeks

PLEASE READ THIS FIRST: The story I am about to share with you is my personal account of the day I lost my baby Penny and the days that followed.  Stillbirth is a tough and confronting experience and one that thankfully, most will never have to go through.  So if the subject makes you feel fearful or uneasy, that is not my intention but I completely understand and encourage you to go no further.  I have not spoken about this time as it was incredibly tough but it was a story that one-day when I was ready, I would wish to tell.   Please know, that the one and only reason I choose to share this is because I found the loss of my baby to be an incredibly lonely experience (occasionally it still is).  Everyone’s story is different and I don’t expect mine to be a reflection of anyone else’s but if by telling it I am helping someone in a similar position to feel less alone, then it was worth it.  With love and courage.  Erena.

 

My darling Penny,  as time passes you are never far from my thoughts.  Who knew that my biggest weakness would be my greatest strength.  I carried you then and I carry you with me now and always, in my heart.  I love you beyond all space and time.  

 

The morning of Wednesday 18th March 2015

It was a day like any other and as such it was one that I would never see coming.

Blissful and expectant I had everything to look forward to and nothing to fear.  I was happy, I was healthy and every box that could have been ticked, was.  Full-term and fairly energetic I was feeling how I imagine most expectant mum’s might feel at this point, excited and ready.

If there were any second thoughts in my mind that morning, it was that Penny’s movements seemed faint.  You must understand that Penny (a fabulous kicker) didn’t ‘find her stride’ until late morning so while I’d like to think that I am fairly in tune with my body, this feeling was not unusual.

I was out and about most of that morning so it wasn’t until later that I sat down for morning tea to be still and listen in.  Holding my hands to my tummy and with a gentle press I encouraged Penny to let me know she was okay with a kick.  Was that a kick?

Still calm, I arranged to meet my midwife at her clinic.  I texted Joe telling him not to worry and that I was just being careful.  As always, my midwife was quick to respond and as she placed the monitor to my stomach, looking back now, I wish she hadn’t.

Instead of a strong heartbeat I heard a sound that I wish never to hear again.  Cold, hard, white noise.  It seems harmless I know, but white noise was was all I could hear.  It was the sound of a monitor struggling to find my babies heartbeat and evidently, it was also the sound of my heart breaking into a million tiny hissing sounds manifesting as white noise.

The hardest moments at this point were:

  • Fear, just pure fear
  • Panic and dread

 

The Hospital

It seemed like a blur but before long I was sitting on a bed at the hospital.  With 4 doctors and my midwife standing around me running tests and checking monitors, I watched them, watching me and suddenly for the first time in 9 months I felt all alone.  Just me, without her.

Somewhere in the chaos Joe rushed in and I will never forget the look on his face.  Happiness turned to horror.  He had expected to find me in labour poor thing, but what he found was me in tears.

Call us hopeful.  Dumbfounded.  Naive.  Dumbstruck.  I don’t know how to describe it  but we just didn’t believe what we were being told.  We still held out hope.  ‘Just get her out and save her!’ I remember Joe yelling but it was no use.  We were ill-prepared for this experience and we didn’t know how or when to give up.

I had never once thought to read about stillbirth.  I guess to me it was something that I thought happened to other people.  “This was a textbook pregnancy” was what the doctor’s later said.  Which is small comfort when you know that even that didn’t matter.

And so the doctors left and as they did, Joe and I were left to fall to pieces.  We both cried.  But my tears didn’t feel real.  I was in shock and I didn’t understand.  I was still waiting for a camera crew to come in and say ‘cut!’ so that we could go back to real life. It was in a word, unreal.

The hardest moments at this point were:

  • At over 38 weeks knowing that if I’d only had her the day before she’d be safe alive and well.
  • Listening to my husband break down as he called our parents.  Two of whom were to be first-time grandparents.
  • Being handed brochures and pamphlets about dealing with loss and planning a funeral.
  • Having to set aside my grief so I could prepare to give birth.

 

What happens next?

I didn’t realise that I would still need to give birth naturally.  It seems obvious looking back but I was already climbing the biggest mountain of my life that I wasn’t quite sure how I would cope.  Joe asked if I could have a C-section for this reason which is understandable but I reassured him that I could get through a normal delivery.  Why?  Because a natural birth was apparently the safest option for me and above all, I still just wanted to meet her.

The hardest moments at this point were:

  • Waiting to be induced
  • Waiting at home for the inducing medication to set-in (48 hours)
  • Crying at any given moment
  • Carrying my baby knowing that she wasn’t with me
  • Walking passed the nursery
  • Night time
  • Reading the pamphlets on loss
  • Going to the funeral home to make arrangements (I chose to be involved in all aspects of this process but it was tough)

Despite the inevitable, I still hoped for a miracle at this point but I was thankful for the 48 hour window to give me time to mentally prepare myself.  Google became my friend at this time too.  I used it to search for women who had been or were going through something similar because at that time, I felt like I was the only one on the planet who this was happening to.

 

The Birth

I had no previous experience of giving birth so everything was unfamiliar territory.  Not even antenatal classes had prepared me for this situation but I knew that staying calm and being focussed was where my head needed to be.  I was given medication throughout the day to bring on contractions and by the evening things were starting to happen.

I was allowed pain medication and chose to take it but in all honesty by the time I was in labour at about 8 or 9 pm I don’t think it really mattered because the experience was anything but painless.

At 11 pm and after a fairly straight-forward birth Penny Ngawaiata Te Paa was in my arms.

We arranged for a chaplain to come in and say a prayer before we just took some time for ourselves to say hello and goodbye and to just be with her.

Despite what some might think, this time with her helped us to heal so rather than being sad or depressing it was actually a very peaceful, precious and special moment.

The beautiful thing about the following day was that we were able to collect memories of her and so we did, in the form of hand and foot prints, a huggable heart, hand and foot casts and photos which were all made possible by lovely volunteers and organisations.  Initially we weren’t sure that we wanted these memento’s but I can tell you, that several months down the track, once the shock and sadness has lessened these little keepsakes are just so so precious.

The hardest moments at this point were:

  • Waiting to give birth and maintaining my focus
  • The birth itself
  • Seeing her (I was happy to see her but sad given the circumstances)
  • Leaving her the next day.  (Despite looking like any other lovely newborn, she was incredibly fragile so while it hurt to leave her, the hospital was the best place for her to be, until the funeral)
  • Choosing an angel gown for her because despite having brought her clothes, an angel gown was the most suitable item of clothing for the reasons above. (Thank you Angel Gowns NZ)

 

 The funeral

While you never expect to be attending or planning a babies funeral,  everything went as well as it could have gone thanks to lovely people.  The service was very very small and beautifully brief.  A prayer was said, a poem read and finally our Penny was laid to rest.

The hardest moments at this point were:

  • Creating a pouch of memento’s for her to keep by her side.
  • Hearing the funeral director read out her poem.
  • The finality.  Saying goodbye.  This was also the time that I finally and completely broke down.

I had previously only been to the funerals of adults so while a child’s funeral is beyond tough, it was comforting to know that she was in a special part of the cemetery just for angel babies and while that in itself is incredibly sad, it was nice to know that she could rest among friends in a beautiful place that I actually like to visit.

 

Healing

The weeks since laying Penny to rest were long and quiet.  I felt like I had aged 10 years in a matter of weeks.  I didn’t know how to be in the world and so I didn’t want to play a role in it.  I wanted to shut my website down, hang up the ‘closed’ sign and never come out from the hiding place that was my home.  Time stood still.  I was showered in lovely texts and sent flowers and messages but I didn’t want to speak to anyone.  I just didn’t know how.   But my parents and husband played the role of my filter impeccably.

My family have been my rock.

While I could keep it together most of the time, sometimes I would need to leave the room and just cry.  But I think we all did.  Bizarrely I found solace crying in the shower.  I guess that way I wouldn’t be heard.

I also was recovering physically from the birth, so that was at times quite painful and all the more hurtful because I felt in a strange way like I was being punished while having nothing to show for it.  All that pain and such a sad and bitter end.

The hardest moments at this point were:

  • Recovering from the birth
  • Taking medication to stop my milk from coming in, because it did 🙁
  • Trying to find myself again

 

Feelings

It’s easy for me to look back now and tell this story from a place of strength and courage but I cannot begin to tell you how bewildering and tragic that experience was in so many ways.

Initially:

  • I felt like I had failed at something that I was born to do.
  • I felt like something I had done or didn’t do had made this happen.
  •  I felt humiliated because I had put myself out there.
  • In my mind I was somewhere between who I used to be and who I hoped to become but I hadn’t quite made it, so I felt like I didn’t belong.

I don’t harbor these emotions anymore of course, but the internal struggle with feelings at that time was very real and in today’s social media world and of my own doing, felt all the more public.

While I’ve learned to let go and move forward from this experience.  I won’t ever forget it.  It will always be the event that broke me.  But I don’t want it to be a black stormy cloud lurking overhead.  Most of the time life is good.  My husband and I are closer than we’ve ever been because we have found strength in each other and healed together but on reflection I can see how this could break a relationship.  The main thing is that when I feel vulnerable I know that help is always out there if I need it.

A good place to start is Sands NZ though I’m sure there are international equivalents.

So if you’ve managed to read to this point and you’ve been through or are going through something similar, I can tell you that things will eventually get better if you let them.  I found most of the pieces of myself  have been glued back together with time and resilience.  If I was someone else I might find this subject a bit ‘taboo’ and choose to never speak of the experience again and that’s okay.  Each to their own.  Penny was my first child and I choose to think of her everyday in that way but I don’t expect other people to have the same feelings.  I no longer see her name as a source of sadness, but rather a source of strength and hope and if you hear me say her name it is always in a positive light.

Whenever I’m having a bad day, I’ll say something  like ‘Penny could you help me out’ or ‘Penny wish me luck’. It might sound corny but I find strength in knowing that she’s out there ‘somewhere’ looking out for me.

Despite feeling so alone when it all happened,  I know that I am very much in the club.  A wider club of Mum’s on the whole and a more intimate club of Mum’s with angel babies. Do I wish that this hadn’t happened to me, yes.  But I am stronger for having experienced it and I know that despite feeling like the odd one out, I do in fact still belong.

 

If you are going through this painfully tough experience, I want you to know that you are not alone, and if it helps,  you are more than welcome to get in touch or re-visit Penny’s Place (where I’ll write memento’s like poems and playlists, contacts and anything that I think might be helpful to someone in this situation).

 

Penny's birth story

This photo was taken by Blue Belle Photography as part of the organisation Heartfelt.  Heartfelt is a volunteer organisation of professional photographers from Australia and NZ dedicated to giving the gift of photographic memories to families that have experienced stillbirths, premature births, or have children with serious and terminal illnesses.

 

 

 



2 Comments

  1. Renata Lardelli says

    I am a mama & a midwife too. I never feel prpared enough to support other mama’s through such enormous loss – but your beautifully written words have blessed my midwifery life. X

  2. Aaaaw thank you Renata! Yes I can’t imagine what the shoe would be like on the other foot (to be a midwife supporting a grieving mother) but I am glad that sharing my experience has helped in some small way 🙂 X

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