Rachel, a wife, mother, home-maker, lover of interiors and new blogger is in her late twenties. She is married to Tadhg and earlier this year the couple sadly became part of the club that no-one wants to join. They lost their beautiful baby girl, Grace, who lived for just 40 minutes. Danni recently caught up with Rachel to talk about her story.
Hello Rachel, we’re so very sorry to hear of your loss. We really appreciate you talking to us about Grace and about baby loss. In February this year you gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, she weighed 8lb 3oz and was seemingly healthy at delivery. Devastatingly she only lived for 40 minutes. Can you if you are able to, talk us through the birth and hour that followed?
Hi Danni, thank you, I really do appreciate you speaking to me today. Well to start off, I had a healthy textbook pregnancy, I was lucky to not have a hiccup of trouble throughout. My labour was causing no concern to my health or Grace’s. After 13 hours of intense labour, I sadly was still at 1cm, my consultant was passing and called in to see how we were doing. He felt for Grace and then noticed how small I was (standing at only 5 feet tall). He stated that Grace was very big for me and he decided to try the epidural and after 1-2 hours if no further development by then I would be going in for a Caesarean Section, which I needed in the end.
The suspense was as awful as any parent feels when your baby is about to be born. I remember the feeling of tugging and pulling in my stomach. Tadhg was holding my hand and smiling from ear to ear with the excitement of our little arrival. The midwives came around from the curtain and said ‘Well what do you think you are having?’ Tadhg turned and said ‘we will guess a boy. Seconds later I felt our baby being placed on my legs, I could feel her nice and warm kicking and moving. The midwives then shouted out ‘No it’s a beautiful baby girl!’ I remember Tadhg and I being over the moon so proud to parents of our little girl Grace. We saw her being taken into another room, thinking she was just getting a look over. Tadhg said he could see others in there. Time passed and we were still waiting, I kept on asking Tadhg , ‘where is she, where is Grace?’ He shook his head not knowing but feeling something was not right. He could see a lot of doctors suddenly in with her. Next thing I remember is a doctor appearing next to us and saying those dreaded words ‘ I am so sorry’.
Personally, I do not remember much the hour after that, my body just shut down, my stats dropped, I just froze and my mind was blank. I remember waking up in recovery where I stayed for over 2 hours where nurses walked in and out every 2 minutes checking all my stats. Up to this point, I still had not met my little Grace yet. My mind was honestly completely blank, I could not understand what just happened. I suppose I was not letting myself as I felt things like this do not happen to us and I will wake up any minute and all will be ok.
How do you physically deal with all the aftermath of birth whilst still being in shock and obviously mourning the loss of the baby you have just given birth to?
Well honestly in this situation you have no choice but to deal with it. I know that sounds so harsh but it is so true. What do we all do when something unexpected happens that is out of our control? We might not like it but we just have to face it head-on. Why? Because you have too… It’s not easy but you just have to try and do the best you can. But also having family and friends around to support you is really important, I would have been lost without them all and especially my husband throughout our loss of our baby Grace as we needed each other to lean on and I know not everyone has a partner going through this but I believe everyone who may go through this needs to talk to someone, a family member, a friend or even your GP.
During this time I was in a lot of pain both physically and emotionally. The word ‘numb’ comes to mind. I wasn’t even thinking straight, I just couldn’t. All of our hopes and dreams had just shattered around us. I did the only thing I knew how to which was to hold Grace and cherish every single moment we had together as a family.
Were you allowed to spend time with Grace? I should imagine this time was bittersweet but your chance to make memories of the beautiful baby girl you would not be taking home.
Yes, thankfully we got to spend four precious days and nights with Grace as a family. We got our own room (the butterfly suite) for bereaved parents and their babies. These rooms are funded by Feileacain Ireland along with the beautiful Cuddle Cot and our very precious memory box with teddies, photos of Grace, locks of her hair, her hand and footprints, support leaflets and so much more. All such beautiful keepsakes to cherish. In my darkest moments, I find that the memories of the days we got to spend with our precious daughter Grace really mean so much from stroking her chubby little cheeks and holding her pretty little hands, admiring every inch of her, from her head to her toe thinking, she is mine, my perfect little baby girl. I know it’s not the happiest of memories but I try to think positive as best I can and I look at her that we were lucky to even meet her and hold her. Sometimes it has played with my mind as if I have to keep repeating those memories in my head to remind myself that it did happen and that it was real. I know that might sound a bit weird; of course, my little girl was born, I have certificates along with all the beautiful photos we have with her to cherish. What I mean in relation to this is, our baby may have entered and left this world after just 40 minutes (for some their babies are stillborn or last a couple of days) but your mind often forgets or blurs some of the details as the weeks and months pass. I always feel that I need to say her name every day and talk to her, look at our pictures of her in our living room, as she will always be part of our family.
I understand to date you still do not know what exactly was the cause of Grace’s passing. This must be very difficult for you. Do you think knowing will bring any final closure or peace to you?
Yes, sadly to this day we still have no answers. All we know so far is that her lungs were solid as if they were glued shut and air could not get in properly, she was just not made for this world. We just hope it will not happen to us again and that may be in the meantime they might find more information to what caused this to happen as she was a perfect baby. But what we do know is that Grace’s condition wasn’t hereditary; neither of us carry a gene that could have caused it; it was, as they say, “one of those things”. I am still unsure how my mind has processed the possibility that this could have happened to us by “chance”. That for some unknown reason we had to be presented with this cruel twist of fate in life that is losing your child. Understanding what roughly happened to our little girl was easy enough. However, for your head and heart to truly comprehend why this had to happen, is an answer I fear will escape me for a lifetime. But I feel together we have gained some peace knowing that it was not genetic, not that it makes it any easier for our future pregnancies but that we know sadly there was nothing that anyone could have done to save her as the hospital went above and beyond our expectations. We could not thank them enough for that.
Are you able to put into words how you felt returning home without Grace? How did you cope, how did you function? It seems like such an impossible thought.
Well, I remember coming home that day from hospital after having to leave Grace behind and come home empty-handed to a silent home, our home. Tadhg had already been home the day before and cleared out all her bedding and clothes etc. around the house as he knew I would not be able to cope seeing all her things I had already and set out for her big arrival. So instead he put them all away safely and changed a few things around in our home and put some fresh flowers here and there to make it a little different than before. I know it can sound a bit weird but I am so glad he thought of it and did that for me, as I know it was not easy for him.
The first couple of weeks home where definitely the hardest for me. The worst thing about those weeks back at home was that I was stuck at home, not being able to walk much, I felt useless. As we own businesses here, Tadhg had to slowly get back out working (which was not easy but I think he needed it to keep his mind active). I remember looking around the four walls of our home and all I could hear was a silence, a silence that should not have been there and rooms where I had envisaged a life with our little one, but instead all I had were memories and the urge to mother my daughter and that I longed for. I quickly came to realise that being home with this lump in my throat, a broken heart and empty arms that life, really does go on. While I sat there in the afternoons in the silence of my own home, people outside were going about their day the same as they have always done. The children made their way home from school giggling with their friends and parents, the locals went about their weekly to-do lists; because they did not know what happened to us. It’s like reality just suddenly hit me in the face. I remember saying to myself ‘Right Rachel, you could sit around here all day every day in grief or take the bull by the horns (so to speak) and slowly tackle the world out there’. I nodded, I knew there was no point in me sitting around here and ignoring the outside world, as one time or another I was going to have to face it and in my eyes, I could see no better time than the present. So I began to slowly go into town and face different people and places at different times when I felt I was able to. I knew the longer I would leave it the harder it would become to face it. I felt I would be reliving it all over again if I left it a couple of months rather than getting my head into a better place again. I knew it was a choice I had to make to create some of the happiness we had in our lives again. But another big thing I found to help me through this process was my job, my passion (home interiors), a bit of gardening and especially starting my own blog.
What I had pictured in my head was one day having a blog where I could talk about all the things I love. So all about home interiors, children and fashion, like so many amazing and inspirational blogs I read daily. A blog that captured my life as a mother, home-maker and businesswoman in Ireland. So I decided to still do my blog and have it as a place for me to share this journey; what has been so far, and what is yet to come. I hope and dream that this isn’t forever, that one day our home will be filled with tiny footsteps, lots of “firsts” and plenty of laughter. It may not be the Motherhood I ever expected but this is my motherhood and so I decided to set up my blog to not only help myself, but others who are going through loss and helping others understand more about baby loss and how to react but also for families struggling with infertility issues. While also for others who just love interiors, baking or gardening just like me!
Living through something like this must change you as a person, how do you feel this experience has changed you?
Yes, I feel it does change you. I do remember after I lost Grace that I lost my personality for a while. I became quiet and that was hard for my family and friends as I am known as a happy-go-lucky person, the one that’s always messing around and laughing. It was suddenly hard for them to know what to say or to do. I can remember about two months after having Grace, Tadhg and I spent an evening at one of our families houses and when we actually arrived back at home later that evening he said it was the first time he heard me really laugh a proper laugh and not a false one since Grace passed away. I will be honest I was scared I might never be my old self again, it was a very scary thought at that time. But my old self slowly crept back in and even now 6 months on from having Grace, yes I do feel I have changed but in a positive way, a good way. I have become a much stronger woman than I was before (so basically, I do not take as much crap as I used too). While also learning that anything is possible, that I am not exempt from life throwing crap at me like I felt I was when I lived in my little bubble before Grace. That I am not invincible that no one is. For this reason, I want to help break the silence on the topic of baby loss. I want couples to know that they are not alone, even though at first you feel like you are, you are not.
What advice would you give to anyone who finds themselves in your position?
Well, I would like them to know that they will be ok, even though it might not feel like it at this minute in time. That you probably do not feel like getting up out of bed in the morning and you may feel like nobody else understands what you are going through or that anyone has gone through what you are going through but they have and they do. There is so much help and support out there and it is so important that you have someone to talk to, from a family member, a friend or even your own GP. It is just so important to have someone to talk to while going this grieving process. The baby loss network online is phenomenal! I have met so many amazing women and new lifelong friends from the baby loss community. They are positive, strong mothers and fathers each with their own story, advice and coping with their grief. It shows us that we are not alone. Another very good piece of advice I would have is to go into your search history or have someone do this for you (I needed my husband to do it as I couldn’t bear it ) and delete any baby-related searches so that you don’t get caught by the online algorithm showing things similar to what you have been searching previously as I learnt this the hard way myself.
Here at Mummy Social, we believe that having mummy friends is a vital part of motherhood. How did your friends react when they heard the news? I should imagine that many did not know what to say. What did you find the most comforting in during this time?
Most of them actually reacted really well considering the circumstances. One of my closest friends wanted to come in to see Grace as she was just as excited as I was about having her. We had talked about Grace endlessly throughout my pregnancy (though at the time we did not know if I was having a boy or a girl). My friend was just amazing and still is. She was going through a pretty tough time herself and it was not easy for her but she still wanted to be there for me in whatever way she could as we always look after one another. She was great with Grace and it really meant so much to me that she came in. As time past and when there were days I really needed to talk to her, she listened and it really helped that she had met Grace and been around us during that time as it gave her a closer understanding. Other friends were either pregnant or just had their babies about 1-2 weeks before I had Grace (and all baby girls as well actually.)
It was hard for them at first as I suppose they just do not want to upset you. They just do not know what to say which I completely understood. But they were so supportive. Support is key if a friend is going through something like this, trust me they need as much as they can get. Also, listen to them and say their babies name, don’t be afraid to say their name, if they are anything like me (so a massively proud mummy by the way) then it may just make their day! I suppose it makes it more real, and each time I or any of my friends say her name it reminds me that she was here. For that reason alone, I never want other people to try to protect me from the reality of it. It’s too late for that after all. I believe that when you fill the space of loss with all of your love, that you really do begin to make their existence more positive. Yes, they are gone, but the love that has been left continues to grow from them being here is something very special indeed.
So if you ever find yourself a friend of a parent who has just lost their baby, please don’t be afraid to talk to them, don’t be afraid to mention their babies name and trust me all they want is you to be you. Give some support, some love and try to make them laugh because I know I needed it.
Interview by Danni, Mummy Social Team
Rachel has a blog which is listed below as well as a charity link.
Click here for the link.