Exactly five weeks ago today, I was told one of the hardest things a parent will ever have to hear – that my precious baby had passed away. And, I want to share my story of how my girl came into the world sleeping, so you may hopefully get comfort from the fact that even though my heart and my body have been through one of the worst situations imaginable, I made it through and I’m here today, just 5 weeks later, writing about it and hoping it helps others to know that they’re not alone in what they’ve been through.
Looking back (despite it only being recently), it feels like years ago because the time in between has shaped me more as a person than my past 25 years on earth.
The day we found out we’d lost our baby
That day, no one can prepare you for, I went in routinely at about 8pm because I’d not felt my girl all day, it had happened before but not for this long. Calmly, we sat in the waiting room, and then laughed and chatted to the nurse as she took my blood pressure. But then, it came to the heartbeat and she couldn’t pick it up with a Doppler – I knew straight away – despite her telling me it doesn’t always pick up the heartbeat, midwife’s always joked about how strong her heartbeat was as a Doppler picked it up before it was even touching my belly – so I knew at that moment that she was gone …
A consultant came in and confirmed, I’m sure they were very heartfelt in how they told me, but honestly, I don’t remember a word they said to me from that moment. All I remember is I was just given a tablet to take and sent home knowing I’d be called at some point the next day.
That night was by far the worst night of my life, to even comprehend that we as women have go to bed knowing that the tiny human who lit up our life, was eternally sleeping inside of us breaks my heart – and for the partners who have to get to sleep heartbroken for the loss of their baby, terrified for what’s ahead for their other half and feeling they have to be the strong one – I raise my hands to everyone who has been through ‘that first night’ – we made it through the worst!
The next day, I received a call from a woman called Vicky (now an important person in my life – my bereavement midwife) who explained to me exactly what I was going to have to go through – this was hard to hear. Despite knowing deep down I couldn’t just have her taken out of me easily, I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality that I’d have to go through full labour, and that the tablet I’d taken the night before was preparing my cervix for just this – every emotion in the thesaurus that defines scared is how I felt. My mum came round that morning as her and Steven were my planned birthing partners, and so it was to stay that way, even though the ending of the story had changed, I wanted everything else to remain the same and that was minimal pain relief and my two favourite people by my side.
The strength it takes to deliver your eternally sleeping baby
It took just about 15 hours from getting to hospital for my waters to break (very quick considering) and that was it, from this point on, something took over my body which I cant quite describe (I say I switched off my humanity) because I went into focus mode. I didn’t cry, I didn’t complain, and somehow, I de-sensitised myself from what was happening – now looking back that’s just the strength that we have as women to get through things – we’re warriors and must never forget it!
At 10am on Wednesday 12th October, at 2 and a half pounds, my beautiful angel Avery-Grace Chidgey was born sleeping and touched our hearts forever.
Unfortunately, the labour wasn’t the end of the trauma as my afterbirth wouldn’t come out so I underwent 3 more hours of a clinical environment including a clinical trial and eventually going into surgery before I could switch my humanity back on and think about what I wanted to do next.
I remember lying down in recovery thinking “What the hell do I do about seeing her?”. Up until this moment I was convinced I wasn’t going to see her, for me it was easier to believe that she’d never entered the world and was just a belly (that’s how I thought I’d get through it) but something deep in the depths of my soul was ringing alarm bells. I’d asked my mum to see her and take some pictures, just on the off chance I might want to see her in years to come when I’m eventually passed the heart ache, but then Steven asked if he could see her and of course I couldn’t say no. He walked back into the room after seeing her a brokenly whole man (something I can’t quite describe). He had clearly been sobbing but I could sense a weight had also been lifted off his shoulders. He told me how much she looked like me and how amazing she was, how perfect of an angel we’d created and how he felt content after seeing her. I still partly refused that I would feel the same but then my amazing midwife, Stef (now a very dear friend) told me how she had known of woman coming to hospital 20 years on after a stillborn looking for their babies, but it was too late – this was a turning point for me as I’m a very emotional person who carries their heart on their sleeve, and I knew that I would be that person in 20 years if I didn’t see her when I had the chance. I realised that whilst I could see her and block out the images if I wanted to, I would never be able to see her again after she’d gone if I missed the opportunity.
Meeting my angel for the first time
To ease me into it (because believe me, building up the courage to see her was not easy and took hours) Stef and her wonderful student midwife, Natalie, suggested I look at the memory box they had put together for me (kindly donated by the incredible charity 4Louis). It contains priceless memories of our girl, including foot and hand moulds and prints. Once I saw her angelic little toes, I melted, and I thought ‘how can something that small be so scary’ it also helped me to adjust to the size of her as they were bigger than I’d expected and perfectly formed (something I imagine we all must worry about before seeing a stillborn baby).
I can honestly say, meeting Avery has changed me forever – she was perfect in every way and I’m proud to say we created a miracle. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy, I cried every second of it and I couldn’t pick her up at first or look at her face for too long, but after about 10 minutes I plucked up the courage to be alone with her, and tell her everything I could ever wish to tell her, and those special mother daughter moments nobody can ever take away from me, they’re just for us and I’m so grateful for them.
Later on, Steven joined us – and we got to spend time as a family. Seeing Steven bravely pick her up and embrace her made me so proud to have such an amazing man by my side and father to our girl and future children.
We got her into the room with us a few times over the next 2 days while I recovered in hospital, and they were ever so special. Saying goodbye for the last time in person was hard, we had her beautifully blessed and then touched her cold soft skin for the last time – saying goodbye to the person who you’d been so close to for the past however many months is indescribable, you hope to outlive your children and celebrate all their milestones throughout life with them, and to have that taken away before it all is cruel, unfair, unjust, and all of the above, but it’s life, and sometimes we are dealt a testing card – it’s important to be strong for them, because all they knew was warmth and love and happiness – so be proud of the happy but short life you provided for your baby – because I certainly am!
Living life without our baby
The past 5 weeks has been a rollercoaster of emotions, but I’m sat here today and have had the strength to relive those few days. Every day is a new day, some days I wake up feeling great and smile every time I think of Avery. Of course, some days I wake up feeling lost – but every time I do – me and Steven make it through together.
At first, it took me a while before I could see any of my friends or family, I felt overwhelmed and worried about crying in front of them – but this passes and I’ve learnt that no one is going to treat me like a wounded soldier, people surprise you and are naturally very good in these situations.
We held the most amazing send-off for our girl on Halloween (ironic, because we all looked like something from day of the dead by the end of it) and despite me counting down the days dreading it, it was the most special day and I wouldn’t of changed a second of it – it was the ‘goodbye for now’ that Avery deserved.
I find all her pictures comforting and look at them daily, I sleep with her teddy which has a recording of her heartbeat in and she even has her own little corner in our house – but every one is different and grieves in their own way – there’s no right or wrong way to do it!
You’ll spot a shirt hanging on the bannister in the corner of this picture; well, this was my mums shirt which Avery pooed on when she picked her up – needless to say I treasure it, will never wash it and am not ashamed that I press it against my face every day to feel close to her – I’m eternally grateful that she takes after her daddy’s toilet habits and so gave me something extra of her to keep forever!
Coping life after loss
The best advice I’ve been given so far is ‘RIDE THE STORM; embrace every emotion, let it all in, life won’t be the same but you’ll find your new normal’ from a personal experience (and you may find it condescending as it’s only been five weeks) don’t be afraid or feel guilty to smile – you live once, don’t let the tragedy define who you are. Continue to be the happy, positive person you were, as you’re parents and you should be so proud of that!
I’d just like to thank everyone who has helped me through the past 5 weeks, it’s important to keep good people around you. I for one have found a lot of strength from my midwife Stef, who sat next to me and held my hand through her funeral. I think because she was there to carry Avery into the world and create her memory box, I feel they had a bond, and I feel closer to Avery when I’m with her, it’s a very strange thing to explain but I feel strong when she is around!
Other thanks, My mum, who had to witness her baby go through heartache – you inspire me everyday! All of family and friends – I know me and steven aren’t the only ones who have lost something and I’m grateful for your strength and patience and I’m sorry for your loss! All of my work colleagues and my amazing boss, the gifts and messages have touched my heart more than you’ll ever know! 4Louis – you’ve given me a piece of my baby that I will treasure for the rest of my life! Vicky, Lyndsey and all of the team at St Marys – without you, I wouldn’t be where I am!
One day at a time .. XO Nicole
To read Steven’s account of what happened, read ‘From one stillbirth dad to another’
To read my mums experience of seeing her baby lose her baby, read ‘Stillbirth from a grandma’s perspective’