Warning - Some posts may cause choking, spitting of beverage and /or a severe giggle fit. This advice brought to you by regular reader Louisa.

Friday, 20 September 2013

On This Day

I've had another one of those blogging breaks, which happen far more often than I'd like them to. This time around, it has been almost three months since I last blogged. I knew what I wanted to blog about when I came back - it's something that I have wanted to blog about for almost as long as I have been blogging -  and my plan had been to blog on the 26th of this month, because it fell on the anniversary of something important to me. But it occurred to me this morning that today is actually the real anniversary for me, for it was on the 20th September 1999 that my life changed drastically.

That might sound overly dramatic, but it is true nonetheless. Now, I am the self-styled Princess of Procrastination. A humorous title, to go with a blog that, for the most part, is pure silliness. For anyone reading this, I should probably warn you that today's post is about as far from silliness as you can get.

But how do I start?

Perhaps I need to explain a little about the morning of September 20th, 1999.

My son, aged eight.
I was 23 at the time. I had the day off from work, but I was awake early anyway. My son was three at the time, and I had to have him ready for nursery that morning. Although it was long before I found out that my son had D.A.M.P. Syndrome (a blanket term for several spectrum disorders), I knew he wasn't quite the same as the other kids at his nursery. He was, even then, showing his obsessive tendencies. He  had already started to worry me with his refusal to eat almost everything we gave to him. His accent was purely American, despite the fact that we lived in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales. Although I didn't know at the time, these were classic symptoms of  D.A.M.P. Syndrome. But, he was also a loving child, and despite his problems, I never really had any trouble with him when he was a toddler.

I was bubbling with excitement on that particular day. After taking my son to nursery, I went home for an hour or so, and then, with my partner, left to meet my parents. I was scheduled for an ultrasound later that morning, and it was the all-important second scan where, as long as they could catch the right angle, I would find out the sex of my baby. I wanted a girl.  I'd always wanted a girl. I'd wanted a daughter the first time around, though I was perfectly happy when I had my son, of course. But I was still young enough - and really, 23 is still only a baby - to want to have a little girl who I could clothe in pretty little dresses with lace and frills and other fripperies. My partner wanted a girl this time around, too.

So there we were, a young couple, incredibly happy, and overflowing with excitement. There were two things that we wanted that morning. First, we wanted to see those fuzzy black and white pictures, showing our baby, and hear the incredible whooshing sound of the heartbeat of a healthy child. And then we wanted to ask the sex of our child.

This is when my life changed, and nothing in my 23 years of living could have prepared me. With hindsight, I can see that maybe I should have had an inkling of what was to come, but at the time, I was too busy being happy. I didn't actually see those fuzzy black and white pictures on the screen - perhaps there is a protocol for situations like these, but truthfully, I don't know. But I did hear that lovely reassuring heartbeat, and I still had a few more seconds of ignorant bliss.

When the radiologist turned to me with a grave look on her face, I started to feel a little nervous. My mother was sat in the room, my partner was holding my hand, and I could see that they both looked a little worried, too. The radiologist quickly popped her head through the door and asked for a doctor, who appeared almost immediately.  A minute or two passed while they studied the screen, and then the doctor calmly turned to me and gently told me that my baby had severe spina bifida and encephalitis.

I only really have impressions of that moment. I don't remember the exact words, just my partner's hand gripping my own, and the incredible feeling of shock that I had. When you hear the term 'reeling with shock', it is exactly right. It sounds strange, but I can clearly remember feeling as if a great force had hit me; my body went numb, and my face felt like someone was stretching it. That's the only way I can describe it. It was suffocating. And there was the strange horror of being told that your baby was essentially dying, which didn't make any sense to me when I could still hear the whooshing heartbeat, and could still feel her moving inside of me.

Yes, it was a girl. The girl we'd all wanted. Not that it would have been easier to hear if it had been a boy, of course, but somehow it was worse to know that it was a girl.

Everything was a blur after that. The gentle ushering from the room, the more detailed explanations in the doctor's office, and the discreet removal from the antenatal ward through the staff hallways, to avoid the waiting room full of happy, expectant mothers.

Despite my initial conviction that I would still have - and love - my daughter no matter what, there was never really any question over what would happen. My daughter had the very worst of worst case scenarios. She would not have survived the pregnancy, never mind the birth. Then followed six days and nights of incredible grief, mingled with continuing disbelief. I couldn't get my head around the fact that my daughter wouldn't survive. I couldn't understand how she could be dying when I could feel her moving around almost constantly.

I had what was termed a 'theraputic termination of pregnancy'. I didn't want to, but there was never really a choice. If she could have survived, I would never have dreamt of doing it. But there was no chance of that.  I already had a little boy who was showing mental illness indications- watching his mother grow huge with a child that he would never even see could have caused him untold damage. And despite my horror at the thought of what I was about to do (I've never believed in abortions), I knew that there was no other way.

I won't go into any details of the events of September 26th, except to say that it was a full labour. Apparently that is the safest thing for the mother in situations like these. I was half way through my pregnancy, and the labour was as brutal as if it had been a full-term birth. Except, of course, that in every minute of those long 10 hours, I was aware of the fact that there would be no joy at the end of it.

There were so many heartbreaking moments during the whole process. Of course, I was utterly devastated  throughout, but there were also the moments when, incredibly, the pain was worse than ever, and it would hit me like a punch to the gut, echoing my initial reaction to the first time I was told my daughter wouldn't survive. The birth itself was a painful haze, and I thought I couldn't possibly survive it. The morning after, when I started producing milk, was almost as bad as the labour itself. Then the nightmare days that followed, trying to stay bright and cheerful for my son, trying to pretend that everything was OK. The endless crying. Most of all, the sight of my partner carrying that tiny white coffin on the day we buried her.

Fourteen years later, I still don't think I'll ever fully recover from the loss of my daughter. I don't think anyone ever truly recovers from an experience like that. There are a multitude of horrors in this world, but the loss of a child is profound, and it changes you.

I went on to have another daughter, but she hasn't replaced my first. I remember her every day, and always
My son and daughter.
will. My son doesn't remember anything of these events, although he knows what happened. I'm thankful for that. And while I'll always grieve for my lost daughter, I'm always mindful of the fact that she made it possible for my second daughter to exist. It doesn't make it any less painful, but it at least makes me feel that I'm not a terrible mother for making the 'choice' that I did.

I love all my children equally, whether they're with me or not. My two living children, who make me proud every day. The daughter I lost. And Baby Smith, who I miscarried over twenty years ago. All loved. And all a part of my family.

So today I remember my first daughter, six days ahead of her birthday. I remember that, despite the trauma and heartbreak of her birth and death, I have a lot to be thankful for. I have two beautiful children, the second of which wouldn't be here if my first daughter had survived.

Can one child ever replace another? Of course not. As I said, I love all my children equally, and there will always be grief in my life for the daughter who wasn't meant to be. But I am recovered as much as I ever could be. It's always painful to think of her, but the tears eventually stopped. When I think of her now, I still hear the whooshing of her heartbeat, and remember the feeling of her moving inside of me. Strangely, that comforts me.  She was with me for so short a time, but I at least have memories of her being alive. And because of that, her memory will always live on.

Dedicated to Amber Marie Smith.