On this day, 25 years ago, my second son, Cody, died. He had lived for just 9 short hours but spent most of them on life support. To say our hearts were broken would be a gross understatement.
It had been a healthy pregnancy and my easiest delivery out of 5 babies, which is slightly surprising, given that he weighed in at 5 kilograms (that’s about 11 and a half pounds)!
Two weeks overdue, with an induction looming, I finally went into labour with the help of some castor oil (the thought of which still makes me heave! It is NOT a method I would recommend!). I held off calling the hospital until midnight because I was waiting for my favourite Birth Centre midwife to start her shift. That is one of many regrets I’ve had to learn to live with, as it was her gross negligence that led to his unnecessary death (as determined by a Health Care Complaints Commission inquiry process).
Cody was born breathing but was not given the care he needed after his umbilical cord ruptured during delivery. The big red emergency button, which would have had extra staff from the antenatal or labour ward immediately on hand, was ignored. For 2 hours.
He needed a bit of help with his breathing, and the task of “bagging him” with oxygen was given to my husband while the solitary midwife attended to my needs. The Apgar scores, which should have been taken at 1 and 5 minutes, were done about half an hour later, due to the aforementioned things going on when he was first delivered. The midwife wrote in her notes that the Apgar measures been taken at 1 and 5 minutes and gave him scores of 8 & 9 out of 10, with a 2 out of 2 for the respiratory category. The mind boggles.
For almost 2 hours, I was encouraged to hold him in my arms under a warm blanket because the midwife noted he was “a bit cold”. For almost 2 hours, my comments such as “he seems a bit floppy and his legs are heavy” were ignored. For almost 2 hours, I was told I could not breastfeed him as he may later need to go on a feeding tube in the nursery. For almost 2 hours, the midwife occasionally popped into the room to see how things were going, or to bring me a cup of tea to “help warm him up”. I’m not sure what she was doing the rest of the time, as it was the middle of the night and the Birth Centre was deserted, apart from us. For almost 2 hours, we trusted our favourite midwife, who told us the hospital policy of taking babies larger than 10 pounds to the nursery was “just a silly hospital rule.”
I eventually showered, while the midwife finally took over Cody’s “care.” It was later discovered that she’d left him, alone, in a storage room on a warming trolley, while she sat outside smoking and writing up one long entry of clinical notes covering 2 hours of his life.
When he was finally taken to the nursery, she placed him down, opened his blankets and declared,
“Oh my god, he’s not breathing!”
Those words have haunted me for 25 years.
The midwives and paediatrician in the neonatal intensive care ward tried valiantly, for hours, to save our baby’s life. The NETS (Newborn Emergency Transport Service) team were brought in to help and flew him by helicopter to the children’s hospital, but it was too late. He was unable to be saved.
And our hearts broke.
Over the past 25 years, I have learned to live again.
For a while, I wondered if I would.
For a while, I wondered if I wanted to.
25 things I’ve learned along the way.
- When you’ve had a baby die, you’re likely to be friends with people who are having babies. You will have to face soooo many baby showers, toddler birthdays and social gatherings filled with other people’s babies and children. Later, you will have to watch your friend’s kids grow up and do all the things your child won’t get to do.
- Every second person seems to be a pregnant woman or a parent with a baby.
- Birth Centres are lovely, but a bias against intervention may cause your midwife to make bad decisions. Very bad decisions.
- 2 hours of bonding is nothing compared to a lifetime of living without your child.
- Labour is only 1 day of your life (hopefully!) and your perfect birth plan will pale into insignificance compared to everything that comes afterwards, whether good or bad.
- It’s important not to place 100% faith in one health professional. Listen to your intuition. Insist on a second opinion.
- Forgiveness is possible. Really. And it’s not about them.
- Coming to terms with “if only” takes time. Sometimes a long time.
- Deep, heart-wrenching sorrow changes you. Not necessarily for the worse. And it can be survived.
- There is no hierarchy of grief. Whether your loss happened at 6 weeks’ gestation or 42, whether you had a stillbirth or a neonatal death, whether you had to make an unimaginably difficult choice or the death was chosen for you, the grief you feel is the grief you feel.
- So many people will say unhelpful things. One of the unhelpful things said to me was, “Oh well, at least he didn’t live for 6 months. Imagine how hard THAT would be!” Some of the unhelpful things are said with good intentions, and some are really just clueless. People don’t usually mean to cause hurt.
- There are people who love you, who care deeply about you and what you’re going through. You may want to push them away sometimes and hold them close at other times. You may think they don’t understand, and they possibly don’t, really, but they are likely trying to help the best way they can. It helps to tell people how they can help you. Yes, it would be nice if you didn’t have to, but if they don’t know, they don’t know. If you know what you need, don’t hesitate to ask.
- If you don’t have people around you who are providing the care and support you need, you reach out to one of the many support services available, such as Sands Australia. I did.
- It can be difficult for people to know when to raise “the issue” and they may hesitate if it seems like you’re having a good day. Social media can be an easy way to flag that you’re having a hard day, and people are then likely to reach out to offer some support. If not, you will survive that too, but it will hurt.
- Other people’s lives will go on much more quickly than yours, and there will be times when it seems that no one remembers. It will really hurt at first, but slowly you will realise that it’s because you love your baby more than anyone else ever will. The bond you have with your baby who died (at whatever stage of pregnancy, or after birth) is incredibly special, so it makes sense that you’ll hold a place in your heart for your baby that others won’t. And that’s okay. Also – there will likely be a select few who will always remember. And that’s always incredibly meaningful. In fact, while writing this post, I have received a message from my mother, who has been to Cody’s grave this afternoon – I live in a different state now, and other messages from great friends.
- Rituals of remembrance are a beautiful thing and help to keep the love close to your heart.
- If you have a subsequent pregnancy, it will likely be… complex. You will have all the feels and be told many platitudes such as, “It will be fine this time.” It might not be. You need to learn to live with that. Holding on to hope, while acknowledging the complete absence of guarantees is a bit like straddling a see-saw. (Side note, for me: I gave birth to my rainbow baby less than 1 year after Cody’s death. Did I mention complex? His birth – and his ongoing life – have been like balm for my soul.)
- If you are blessed with another baby or two, you will never, ever forget the one who died. You really do have enough love. You really can hold a special place in your heart for the one who died too soon, and also delight in the other child or children. I mean, REALLY delight in them. My love for my 4 living children is even stronger than I think it would have been if Cody had not died.
- You may not be able to have another child. That is a whole other experience and off-topic for this post, but I will say this: you will always be a mother. Always.
- You can grow through your grief. You can honour your grief and also become more. The lessons you learn can change and grow you into a better version of yourself. Your life does not need to shrivel up, even though right now you may just want to curl up in a ball. You can learn to live again.
- C.S. Lewis was onto something when he spoke of the shadowlands of grief. It really does feel like living under the shadow of a dark cloud that follows you everywhere. But over time, the light really does get in. The clouds will slowly clear and you will eventually feel the heavyweight of grief’s shadow begin to lift.
- Death is not the end of a relationship. Life really does go on. I may have already said that, but it bears repeating again because if you’re in the early stages of grief, it may be some time before you can believe it.
- There is no time limit to grief. It’s not something you get over. It’s something you learn to live with.
- Did I mention living? Grief is something you feel when you are alive. Over time, you will find meaning in your life again; you will find ways of living again. And it will be awesome!
- You will be okay. I know, because I am.