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Inspiring Lives 19: Preparing For a Baby After Loss
Losing a baby is one of the most devastating and heartbreaking moments to happen in someone's life. When becoming pregnant again after the loss of a child, it is often difficult to start preparing for another baby, when you're frightened because of the past. We spoke to Michelle, from Dear Orla, who opens up about how she began to prepare for her daughter Esme after having previously lost another child.
Even during my pregnancy with Orla, my firstborn, I was a little hesitant with buying things to prepare for her arrival. Maybe it was because my first pregnancy had ended abruptly at 6 weeks. Maybe it was because I didn’t like the fuss and attention from others. But for whatever reason, I was slow to get things ready. Her nursery was almost finished at 36 weeks, and that week we purchased some newborn clothes. On the day I turned 37 weeks pregnant I washed each little piece and hung them up to dry, ready to pack into my hospital bag. And that evening, I did have to pack one of those outfits and take it to hospital with me. Because sadly that was the day we found out that our daughter had died.
Stillbirth, I have sadly learnt, is something that is actually very common. Babies that are healthy, that are carried by healthy and active mothers who do ‘everything right’ can die without warning and without any apparent cause. Just that week, we had a perfect scan and had seen our baby’s heartbeat. But within days, her heart had stopped beating. Just like that.
Nothing could ever prepare you for the shock and pain of losing your baby, particularly at the end of a smooth pregnancy. My early loss was upsetting, yet I knew that these things could happen. But having your baby die on the day they are full term? This I did not know.
Our daughter Orla was born two days later after a long and emotionally gruelling labour. She was perfect in every way and we spent hours holding and photographing her. We dressed her in the one outfit we had packed (which was far too big for her tiny body – I was convinced that I was going to have a huge baby!). We stroked her hands and feet and smelt her hair. We told her how much we loved her. And then we had to leave her behind.
Walking out of that hospital ward with just your bags and a memory box is a harrowing experience and one I would never wish upon anyone. Being surrounded by the cries of other newborn babies and seeing visitors arriving with balloons and gifts was heart-shattering. Yet somehow, you navigate your way out, down to the lift, out of the hospital doors and home. You are tired and sore from giving birth, but that pales into insignificance compared to the pain in your heart and the ache in your empty arms. It is life altering.
Back at home, many people choose to pack everything away – the nursery, the clothes, the car seat and pram. Some people store them in an attic, out of sight. Others choose to give them away. We decided however to keep everything. Although we weren’t able to bring Orla home, she was still our daughter and will always be a significant part of our lives. In those early weeks, I loved sitting in her nursery and touching all the things that were purchased or given to us with such love. And when we found out that we were pregnant again, we knew that this space and these possessions would be shared with our second baby, as is the normal and expected process when growing your family: the only difference being that everything remained unused and pristine.
If I found preparing for Orla’s arrival difficult, preparing for Esme’s was infinitely more emotionally charged. It was almost impossible to believe that we would get a baby of our own to take home. Every day of that pregnancy was fraught with anxiety. Every quiet moment led to a dark place in my mind, filled with thoughts that this baby too had died. Each and every minute that passed was a minute that our baby had survived – and one that I had too. No one can prepare you for the extremely gruelling challenge that is pregnancy after loss and I have nothing but the upmost respect and admiration for any couple who have endured this.
As Esme’s due date drew closer, she became less of an abstract wish and hope – she became a tentative reality. With each day that passed, my hope that she would arrive safely grew. It was a fine balance of allowing myself to get excited and believe that this might happen, with fearing the worst. Fearing that yet again we would come home empty handed and sit once again in an empty nursery.
Yet there was a part of me that needed to believe that we would get our take home baby. And this baby deserved to have some of their own things; things that weren’t just ‘hand me downs’, even though these were fresh and unused. So, I started to buy things – just a few pieces here and there. But each item was bought with care and attention. Nothing was ever taken for granted, and sadly, there was often the thought: ‘what if this is the only thing they wear?’ We made some additions to the nursery that included Esme as well as Orla, such as rainbows to signify the birth of a baby after the loss of another
But it is only now that I can actually enjoy these things; shopping for clothes, toys, blankets and muslins. Choosing outfits each day for Esme to wear according to the occasion. And although life will always be tinged with sadness and full of ‘what if’s’, seeing Esme share her big sisters room and possessions is actually incredibly special for us. It keeps Orla close to us and shows the world that we are a family of four.
You can find out more about Michelle's story and how to deal with the loss of a child over at her blog Dear Orla. An inspiration to all of us, that even through bad times, we will find the light at the end of the tunnel.
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