If there’s one thing that losing your child does more than anything, it is that it totally robs you of any innocence or naivety you may have had surrounding pregnancy and childbirth. What I’ve discovered since we lost Henry is that the vast majority of people who haven’t experienced baby loss have no idea of the scale of the problem.
As first time parents, despite the high-risk nature of Briony’s pregnancy (insulin-dependent diabetic, over the age of 40, entire pregnancy in a mobility-restricting Ilizarov frame, pictured below), the whole thing seemed like a doddle.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but in my head it was “12 week scan, all good, tick”… “20 week scan, its a boy, all good, tick”… “plain sailing from here on in”. In my head at that point, all we had to do was pick a name, buy a load of stuff, and sort out his room. I was in Spain with work for the 20 week scan, so Briony made the sonographer write the sex of our child in a little card, and kept the envelope sealed until I got home.
Our son was always going to be called Henry. My best friend from school was called Henry, and he was killed in a car accident when we were 14. I always knew my first son would be named after him.
So we concentrated on getting important stuff, seeing as the whole thing was going as smooth as you like:
This photo would have been taken in early April 2014. I think it’s one of the last photos we have of either of us looking truly happy and carefree, with no idea of the gathering storm that was just over our horizon.
That’s one of the things that losing a baby does to you, it leaves you inherently sad – even when you’re having a good day, you’re only a moment or a trigger away from feeling completely broken again.
It hadn’t even entered my head that there was even the remotest possibility that Henry would die. Stillbirth as a concept hadn’t even registered with me. I knew lots of women suffered miscarriages of course, but I didn’t know anyone who had suffered a stillbirth. Even when I set off for work on the morning of Wednesday 30th April, my last day before paternity leave, it wasn’t on my radar. In fact, it was so far off my radar that NASA would have struggled to pick it up.
It was one of those things that happened in the old days, right?
Or in the developing world?
It doesn’t happen to white, middle-class families in affluent areas like Harrogate, does it?
It sure does. One in every 200 pregnancies in England ends in stillbirth. Ten babies in England today. 10 yesterday. 10 tomorrow. Every day, 10 more families in England have their world smashed into a million pieces by stillbirth and are left to spend a lifetime putting them back together.
My friend Jessica, Leo’s mum, covered this in her amazing blog The Legacy of Leo, so I’m just going to quote her, because she absolutely nails it:
It occurred to me today, after reading this article, that really Baby Loss is a cause that is rarely fought outside the group it affects. Yet, it is a women’s issue. And a man’s issue. It is everyones issue. But where is the fight? The fight is in the homes of the bereaved parents, in the fundraising, and in the tireless work of the incredible charities – more often than not, set up and funded by the bereaved families…
Stillbirth is an every person issue.
When baby loss affects 1 in 4 pregnancies, it is an every person issue. There are so many layers to it, so many different debates, strategies, methods of change. But ultimately, people need to fight. They need to recognise this isn’t about me not being able to get over it, despite it being a year already. It isn’t about it not being meant to be or it wasn’t really a baby. It is about there being an avenue for change and we need to fight to make sure it happens. Not just in the UK, but worldwide. There is so much variance, and sadly the UK is nowhere near the top of the table.
You see, losing a baby doesn’t just take away the child you’d hoped excitedly for, the child you’d smiled at as he kicked your head away from your wife’s tummy.
It takes away every birthday, every Christmas, first words, first steps. The first smile, even knowing your child’s eye colour.
It takes away the first night they slept through (I’d give anything for a sleepless night because of our baby crying, wouldn’t bother me in the slightest).
It takes away the first tooth coming out, first day at school. First game of rugby – Henry would definitely have been a scrum-half.
First day of exam stress, first girlfriend, first break-up. Driving tests and university graduations. First jobs, first homes, even first grandchildren.
Losing your baby takes away every. single. hope. you ever had.
Once you lose that innocence, there’s no way of ever getting it back.
Stillbirth is an every person issue.